AmeriScan: January 16, 2002

TRI-STATE WATER AGREEMENT DRAWING NEAR

ATLANTA, Georgia, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - After decades of dispute, representatives from Florida, Georgia and Alabama have reached an agreement in principle that, if finalized, would allocate water in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint River (ACF) basin for the next 50 years.

The agreement specifies a formula that would govern how much water each state could draw from each river, and how much would be maintained in the rivers for the benefit of wildlife. Representatives from the states agreed to a 60 day extension of the ACF Compact to work out the details.

"This is a significant milestone, and we have all worked very hard to get here," said G. Robert Kerr, Georgia's lead negotiator for the ACF Interstate Water Compact. Georgia posted its proposed formula on January 11, and Florida posted a different proposed formula on January 14.

"Georgia's and Florida's results are very similar, so we accept in principle Florida's numbers," said Kerr. "We still need to resolve language differences in the terms and conditions of the formula, but this is a giant step forward."

Alabama representatives agreed that the numbers are workable, but that differences in language are yet to be resolved. The three states agreed to extend negotiations until March 18, 2002.

In 1996, Alabama, Florida and Georgia agreed to work together to develop and implement an interstate agreement to manage water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The following year, legislation creating the ACF Interstate Compact was passed by the state legislatures, ratified by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by the President.

The Compact established a framework and timeline for developing the agreement. The Compact also created the ACF Commission, which includes the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

The ACF River Basin includes the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and almost 20,000 square miles of surrounding land that drains into the rivers and its tributaries.

The Apalachicola Bay supports an excellent recreational and commercial fishery - producing 90 percent of Florida's oysters and the state's third largest shrimp harvest, representing a large portion of the region's economy.

"This product represents the good faith efforts of the three states to develop a fair solution that shares abundance as well as adversity," said Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary David Struhs. "Those who enjoy and depend upon the Apalachicola will be pleased with this result, as will our upstream neighbors in Alabama and Georgia."

After 60 days, the ACF Commission will vote on the agreement. Following a unanimous vote to accept a formal agreement, a 60 day public comment period would be available, during which the agreement may be modified. At the conclusion of the public comment period, the three governors must sign the agreement and submit it to the federal commissioner, who has 255 days to review and modify it.

If the Commissioner accepts the agreement or takes no action, the allocation formula would become federal law.

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EPA MUST OVERHAUL SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY AIR PLANS

FRESNO, California, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to a court supervised deadline for approving clean air plans in California's San Joaquin Valley.

The agreement would settle a lawsuit with community, medical, and environmental groups over the agency's failure to oversee progress towards clean air in the San Joaquin Valley. The settlement, if approved by the court, will bind the EPA to take final action on seven local clean air plans by no later than August 23, 2002.

The plans include a Valley wide plan to reduce particulate matter pollution, and six local rules, four of which may offer an unlawful exemption for the oil industry. EPA's failure to act resulted in leaving entire categories of air pollution sources in the Valley unregulated, the groups charge.

"We are pleased with this settlement because it is an important step to ensure that another generation of Valley residents will not be forced to breathe life threatening pollution levels," said Bruce Nilles, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents the coalition. "EPA's prolonged neglect has allowed the Valley's air quality to deteriorate to unhealthy levels, so it will take years for the harm to be undone."

The lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Fresno based Medical Alliance for Healthy Air, the Sierra Club, Latino Issues Forum, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

The coalition sued on November 1, 2001, citing seven instances where the agency was required to approve or disapprove revisions to the clean air plan proposed by the local Air District. The groups alleged that EPA action was long overdue, with missed deadlines ranging from 1994 to 1999.

The revisions include the Air District's plan to attain the national particulate matter standard, as well as specific rules limiting emissions of ozone and particulate matter from internal combustion engines, stationary gas turbines, boilers, generators and residential wood burning.

The groups believe that the EPA must reject the proposed revisions concerning the particulate matter plan and several of the specific rules because they do not meet federal law requirements. If the revisions are rejected, the Air District must develop more stringent new measures to submit for EPA approval, or face serious sanctions.

Residents of the San Joaquin Valley suffer from high rates of respiratory diseases, while big agricultural interests and the oil industry have prevented the local Air District from making progress.

Since passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act, the San Joaquin Valley has never had a federally approved plan to fix its particulate matter problem. On December 31, 2001, the Valley missed it second consecutive deadline for attaining that standard.

In 2001, the San Joaquin Valley violated the eight hour ozone standard on more than 101 days, earning Los Angeles's long held position of dirtiest air nationwide. But while Los Angeles has made notable progress in improving air quality, the Valley has made none, the coalition says.

A copy of the consent decree is available at: http://www.earthjustice.org

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ARIZONA'S CLEAN AIR PLAN WINS EPA APPROVAL

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved Arizona's particulate matter plan, which is designed to bring Phoenix air quality into attainment with federal standards.

The Phoenix metropolitan area now violates both the 24 hour and annual health based particulate matter standards. Particulate matter includes dust, soot and other small particles that can affect breathing, aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, alter the body's defense systems against foreign materials, and damage sensitive lung tissue, contributing to cancer and premature death.

The elderly, children and people with chronic lung disease, influenza and asthma are sensitive to high levels of particulate matter.

The primary cause of particulate pollution in the Phoenix area comes from windblown dust from construction sites, road building activities, agricultural fields, unpaved parking lots and roads, disturbed vacant lots and paved road dust.

"Clean air is everyone's goal and this plan is proof of how federal, state and local partnerships can work together to solve health problems," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "The Phoenix area is making great strides in reducing airborne particulates and EPA looks forward to working with the community as we continue those efforts to ensure that this new plan cuts air pollution, improves public health for asthmatics, children and other sensitive individuals and helps to bring cleaner air to the Phoenix area."

Under the plan, Phoenix must implement control measures for all significant sources of airborne particulates, such as paving, gravel, or stabilizing the surface with water or other dust suppressants.

Farmers will apply best management practices to reduce fugitive dust from agricultural fields, and $16.5 million of federal highway funds will be available to reduce fugitive dust from both paved and unpaved roads.

"Once again, Arizona proves itself to be a national leader in developing controls that will achieve healthful air quality," said Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull. "I am grateful that Governor Whitman came here personally to acknowledge our commitment and hard work, which would not have been possible without the leadership, investment and sacrifice of our farmers, the business community, and all levels of government."

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national health standards for pollutants that threaten public health and the environment. When an area violates a health based standard, the Clean Air Act requires that the area be designated as non-attainment for that pollutant.

Arizona was required to develop a plan to reduce particulate matter in the Phoenix area to healthy levels. The plan, signed on January 14, is designed to bring Phoenix air quality into attainment with federal standards by December 31, 2006.

More information on the plan is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region09/air

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PRECIPITATION FORECASTS IMPROVE WITH NEW TECHNIQUE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - Predictions of seasonal precipitation could improve by 10 to 20 percent thanks to a new technique developed with funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The new method looks at changes in sea surface temperatures in various ocean basins, and then weighs their individual impacts on regional climate to increase the reliability of snow and rain predictions during all seasons. Changes in sea surface temperatures influence atmospheric winds, climate and weather.

"The paper presents results applied to the U.S. continent, where we show that the potential predictability can be raised 10 to 20 percent above traditional methods," said William Lau, a senior researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and lead author of a paper on the study. "The scheme can be applied to other regions as well. It raises the bar for seasonal and inter-annual climate forecasts."

The paper was presented on January 15 at the American Meteorology Society meeting in Orlando, Florida. The study will also be published in an upcoming issue of the journal "Geophysical Research Letters."

Scientists now rely on climate patterns derived from global sea surface temperatures to forecast precipitation for the U.S. winter. For example, rising warm moist air creates tropical storms during El Niņo years, a period of above average temperatures in the waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.

When climatologists use global sea surface temperatures to forecast U.S. winter precipitation, the temperature of the tropical Pacific is the dominant force, and smaller signals, like impacts from temperature changes in other ocean basins, get drowned out.

While the tropical Pacific dictates fall and winter precipitation levels, the strength of that signal falls off by spring through the summer. This phenomenon is called the "spring summer predictability barrier," and nobody knows what causes it. For that reason, summer climate predictions are very difficult to make.

The new technique takes a closer look at climate impacts from specific ocean basins, including the tropical Pacific, the north Pacific, the tropical Atlantic, the north Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean. Lau and his colleagues evaluated the individual influences of each ocean basin on the climate of U.S. regions during each season.

For all regions, regardless of the time of year, there was a 10 to 20 percent increase in accuracy compared to traditional methods. The increases were most notable during the spring and summer, reducing the spring predictability barrier.

Though the method has yet to be used on a real time forecast, it raises the bar for seasonal precipitation prediction, Lau said.

"We hope to develop this into a bonafide forecast scheme to be used for regional climate predictions," Lau said.

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NEW YORK FILES SUIT AGAINST POWER PLANTS

BUFFALO, New York, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - The state of New York has filed a federal lawsuit against Niagara Mohawk and NRG Energy, Inc. for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner Erin Crotty announced the suit, which charges the utilities with violations at the Dunkirk and C. R. Huntley coal burning power plants. The two power plants account for more than 20 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions and 38 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions - the principal causes of acid rain and smog - released by all power plants in New York.

"The public rightfully expects that the Clean Air Act will be vigorously enforced," said Spitzer, "Clean air is a basic right for every New Yorker and essential if we are to reverse the ravages of smog and acid rain. We will make sure that power companies fully comply with the law and compensate the state for the harm caused by acid rain and smog."

Located upwind of the Adirondacks, the power plants are a major source of acid rain and smog in the region. The plants also emit large quantities of fine particulate matter, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma.

The region has some of the highest levels of fine particulate matter attributed to power plant pollution in the state.

The state charged that the companies violated the law by making multi-million dollar improvements at the power plants without upgrading air pollution controls on the smokestacks, as required by the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act. The lawsuit alleges that there have been more than 50 violations of the Clean Air Act over a 17 year span from 1982 to 1999.

Clean air advocacy and environmental groups praised the lawsuit.

"New York's coal fired power plants are dirty relics of a bygone era and the Huntley and Dunkirk plants are the worst of this bad lot," said John Stouffer, legislative director of the Sierra Club's Atlantic Chapter. "The pollution from these plants has clogged the lungs of our children and fouled our lakes for too long."

The lawsuit utilizes a legal strategy similar to the one Spitzer has pursued against other coal burning power plants located in Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

"We believe these legal actions are vital in helping protect New Yorkers from the deadly emissions of power plants which not only take lives and cause debilitating lung diseases, but also cost us all incalculable health care expenses," said Elizabeth Miller, CEO of the American Lung Association of New York State.

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CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR DEFENDS RIGHT TO REVIEW OIL LEASES

SACRAMENTO, California, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has rejected a proposed settlement from the U.S. Department of the Interior in a lawsuit over California's right to review new oil and gas leasing off the California coast.

The federal government has appealed a recent court decision upholding California's rights regarding offshore leases.

"Following the U.S. District Court decision, I made the commitment to vigorously pursue all legal remedies to maintain California's rights should this decision be appealed by the Department of the Interior," Davis said. "I remain adamant in my resolve to maintain California's right to protect its ocean and coastal resources from the adverse impacts of offshore oil and gas development."

The suit, filed in November 1999 by Governor Davis, the attorney general and the California Coastal Commission, challenged the action by the Department of the Interior to reissue 36 leases for oil and gas development off the coast of California, without allowing a legally mandated state review.

In June 2001, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California agreed with the governor and upheld California's right to review these leases for consistency with California's Coastal Management Plan. The Interior Department appealed that decision in August 2001.

The leases in question were first issued between 17 and 33 years ago. Much had changed in the intervening years, and Davis, the Attorney General and the Coastal Commission held that in granting the extensions, the Interior Department failed to first analyze the environmental effects of this action under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Interior Department also failed to first provide for the analysis of those suspensions by the Coastal Commission under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act for consistency with state requirements, the suit charges.

In rejecting recent efforts by the federal government to settle the lawsuit, Governor Davis says he is maintaining his commitment to protect the California coast from unacceptable impacts of new offshore oil drilling.

"Any settlement would have compromised the fundamental principle that California has a right and a duty to review all phases of oil and gas development off its shores," Davis said. "The court made their decision last June based on clear and convincing evidence and we stand by it."

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SUIT SEEKS CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION FOR RARE FISH

LOS ANGELES, California, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit against the federal government seeking an immediate critical habitat designation for the endangered unarmored threespine stickleback.

The suit against the Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) charges that the agencies are violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to designate critical habitat for the rare fish, which occurs in northwestern Los Angeles County and one location in Santa Barbara County.

The unarmored threespine stickleback was listed as endangered in 1970. Critical habitat was proposed for the species in 1980 by the USFWS, with the proposed designation consisting of about 30 river miles along the Santa Clara River, San Francisquito Creek and Soledad Canyon in Los Angeles County and also include San Antonio Creek on the Vandenberg Air Force base in western Santa Barbara County.

The Endangered Species Act gives the USFWS one year to finalize a critical Habitat designation after it has been proposed. Under the law, the USFWS should have finalized the critical habitat proposal by 1981, making the final rule more than 20 years overdue.

Critical habitat is defined as "areas essential for survival and recovery of a species," and its designation adds an additional layer of protection for endangered wildlife. Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are barred from granting permits and funding or authorizing activities that would modify or destroy the habitat areas.

"The unarmored threespine stickleback was once a common fish species in the Los Angeles area, but today it is on the verge of extinction," said Peter Galvin, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "The stickleback's demise has paralleled the loss of water quality and outright destruction of the vast majority of the rivers and streams of southern California."

"The stickleback's last stronghold is the upper Santa Clara River, a river that is currently under increasing threats from rampant urban sprawl, water pumping and a massive proposed gravel mine in Soledad Canyon," Galvin added.

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FLORIDA PROTECTS TRACT ON PLANTATION KEY

ISLAMORADA, Florida, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - The Trust for Public Land (TPL) has purchased a 15 acre tract of native hardwood hammock and mangroves on Plantation Key in Florida.

The tract provides habitat for rare flora and fauna, including the endangered East Indian mahogany tree and the tree snail. The Monroe County Land Authority will acquire the site from TPL later this month and will donate the property to the scenic fishing Village of Islamorada for permanent management.

The property is situated along the old Overseas Highway (State Road 4A) in Monroe County on Plantation Key in the upper Florida Keys, about two hours south of Miami. It is bordered on the north and south by residential development, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by old U.S. Highway 5.

"The site is a particularly beautiful piece of property in our community, and we're so pleased to be able to save it for perpetuity," said Frank Kulisky, mayor of Islamorada. "It represents an untouched portion of Keys native hammock. The village council and the entire village are dedicated to preserving public lands, and the incorporation of our community has allowed us to step up the pace. We've found our relationship with the Trust for Public Land to be outstanding, and we look forward to the culmination of the current acquisition to add to the public lands that Islamorada maintains."

Plans are to name the site after a member of the Keoskie family, which owned the property and worked with TPL on the purchase.

"It has been a great pleasure working with the landowners, the Land Authority, and the Village on the protection of this important community resource," said TPL projects director Kevin Mooney. "The Village recognizes, quite rightly, that communities like Islamorada are defined as much by the spaces between their buildings as by the buildings themselves."

The Village of Islamorada is one of the Upper Florida Keys' most scenic fishing villages. Kulisky said the community does not anticipate doing any significant work on the property, other than cleanup. The site will be kept in its natural state with limited public access via walking trails leading to the water.

"We're anxious to get started on that and maintain another piece of pristine property for our community and our future," Kulisky said.

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REPORT DETAILS PROBLEMS, SOLUTIONS OF OIL DEPENDENCE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) details the security threat posed by America's dependence on foreign oil.

"Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence" argues that additional domestic drilling will not solve the problem, as America uses a quarter of the world's oil, but has only three percent of known reserves. Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would increase world reserves by less than one-third of one percent, the report says.

The only way to end the economic and security risks of this imbalance is to use better cars and better fuels, the NRDC report says. It offers a five step plan to cut the oil needed for our cars and light trucks in half, saving five million barrels per day by 2020.

"Washington has been dragging its feet on energy security. Now we face the risk of finishing another war with Middle East origins without a solution in place," said John Podesta, former White House chief of staff, now a senior fellow at NRDC. "It's time for the president and Congress to reverse course, and tackle this national security priority."

The report presents steps that can be taken now, using American technology and know how, to reduce the oil needed to power America's cars and light trucks. Oil demand could be cut in half by 2020, while giving American consumers the best and safest driving choices in the world, by building better vehicles and making better fuels, the NRDC report says.

"Detroit has the technology to end our oil addiction," said Jason Mark, director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "If cars and trucks live up to their technological potential, by 2010 we can save more oil annually than we currently import from Saudi Arabia."

Raising fuel economy standards - would save almost four billion barrels of oil over the next dozen years, the report argues. By 2012, the nation could save almost two million barrels every day - a savings of 18 percent below current projections.

By 2020, savings would grow to almost five million barrels per day, almost twice as much as the nation's current total imports from the Persian Gulf.

"These proposals are the best way to curb our reliance on Middle Eastern oil," said Podesta. "We can regain control over our future by providing American consumers with the safest and best performing passengers vehicles in the world. This is the road to increase our national security, strengthen our economy, and protect our environment."

The full report is available at: http://www.nrdc.org

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PRESIDENT BARTLET OPPOSES DRILLING IN ARCTIC REFUGE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 16, 2002 (ENS) - Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on NBC-TV's popular show "The West Wing," is calling for Americans to urge their senators to save the refuge from oil drilling.

Sheen sent his message Tuesday in an Email to the electronic network of environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, which boasts almost 500,000 supporters.

"The voices of the special interests are loud and omnipresent," Sheen wrote. "But ours is a strong political democracy where the will of the majority still is the most important factor in determining U.S. policy."

A long time environmentalist and activist for progressive causes, Sheen urged citizens to send Emails or faxes to their senators through the website, http://www.SaveArcticRefuge.org

"We're pleased to have 'President Bartlet's' support in the fight to protect the Arctic refuge. I wish President Bush shared his concerns for the welfare of this unique national treasure," said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. "In trying to exploit the Arctic refuge, the Bush administration is going against the wishes of the majority of Americans who recognize that it just isn't worth it to destroy such a magnificent wilderness for at best only a six month supply of oil."

Sheen called the Arctic refuge "our finest remaining wildlife sanctuary," and warned that, "we could forever lose this incomparable ecosystem that is home to hundreds of bird species, polar bears, muskoxen, grizzlies, wolves, caribou and more."

After a year of public debate, the Senate is scheduled to vote next month on legislation that would increase U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and could open the Arctic refuge and other pristine public lands to oil and natural gas drilling.

"Drilling for oil in the refuge, when it can't reach market for probably 10 years, is definitely not a plan to help us promote energy security," added Sheen. "It is a plan whose overriding purpose is not to help this country but rather to maximize oil industry profits."

Sheen said Congress should adopt an energy plan, "that both provides enhanced energy security and protects the environment for our children and their children" through alternative and renewable energy sources and improved efficiency.

"In my TV role as President Bartlet, I am frequently inspired by the small yet profound contributions our citizens make in building our great country," Sheen said in his Email message. "Now in the real world, I want to urge my fellow citizens to help shape our energy future in a manner that both ensures a vital and secure economy and protects our proud environmental heritage."