AmeriScan: January 28, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - Vice President Richard Cheney said Sunday he will not turn over records of closed door meetings with Enron officials to the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.

During appearances on two of the Sunday morning talk shows, Cheney said once again that he will not release documents relating to the companies, individuals and other outside groups that helped develop the White House energy policy, announced last year. Concerns about the influence of collapsed energy giant Enron have reinvigorated the debate over public release of these controversial documents.

"Now what's happened is we've come back around, as a result of the Enron corporate collapse, some of the Democrats on the Hill are trying to re-energize this and try to turn it into some kind of political debate," said Cheney on "Fox News Sunday."

On the ABC network's "This Week," Cheney insisted that, "Enron didn't get any special deals," as a result of the company's involvement in the energy task force meetings. Congressional investigators have been told that the task force had six meetings with the now bankrupt Enron.

The White House is prepared to go to court to fight efforts by the GAO and others to obtain additional information about the task force meetings.

GAO head David Walker said Sunday night that the Bush administration's position makes it "highly likely" that the GAO will file a lawsuit to obtain the task force documents. The GAO has never before sued an arm of the executive branch over its refusal to cooperate in an investigation.

Cheney said on "Fox News Sunday" that releasing the documents would make it impossible for him or for future administrations to receive unbiased advice from non-government entities.

"What I object to, and what the president's objected to, and what we've told GAO we won't do," Cheney said, "is make it impossible for me or future vice presidents to ever have a conversation in confidence with anybody without having, ultimately, to tell a member of Congress what we talked about and what was said."

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TALLAHASEE, Florida, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - A pair of conservation groups sued the federal government today in an effort to prevent overfishing of large coastal sharks in U.S. waters.

The Ocean Conservancy and National Audubon Society, represented by Earthjustice, filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), charging that the agency has failed to halt overfishing, or to rebuild large coastal shark populations in the Atlantic Gulf, based on the best available science.

The groups also claim that NMFS has short circuited public participation in fisheries management by eliminating opportunity for comment and allowing key management decisions to be made through secret negotiations and by outside parties.

"Once again, fishery managers have caved to industry pressure and failed to provide vulnerable sharks with the protection that their biology warrants," said Sonja Fordham, shark conservation specialist at The Ocean Conservancy. "Instead of defending its science based proposals to halt overfishing, the government stifled the citizen's voice in the management of public resources and allowed the future of these imperiled species to be decided behind closed doors."

Slow growing Atlantic large coastal sharks, including blacktip, sandbar and dusky sharks, have been overfished in recent decades. Based on a 1998 assessment completed by 22 leading shark and fishery science experts, NMFS announced in 1999 a reduction in the shark commercial quota to stop overfishing and begin rebuilding.

However, due to shark fishing industry lawsuits, science based catch levels have never taken effect. In December 2000, NMFS settled an industry lawsuit by agreeing to suspend the quota cuts and subject the 1998 assessment to peer review.

In December 2001, after receiving the opinions of the four review panel members, two of whom had no shark expertise, NMFS once again allowed the previous, excessive catches for the 2002 season.

"What is NMFS thinking?" asked Dr. Merry Camhi, assistant director of the National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program. "There is no question among shark experts that quotas need to be cut and that these animals need more precautionary management. Even the peer reviewers came to that conclusion."

Sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they grow slowly, mature late, and produce a small number of young. As top predators, sharks are crucial to keeping ocean ecosystems in balance.

The sandbar shark population has declined by as much as 80 percent since the late 1970s. Depletion of dusky sharks led to a prohibition on fishing for the species. Now considered candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, dusky sharks continue to be killed incidentally in the coastal shark fishery.

The groups are calling for NMFS to set large coastal shark quotas at the proposed 1999 levels and account for overages caused by overfishing from 1999 through the present. The groups have also asked the court to prevent NMFS from relying on the peer reviews because the agency circumvented federal laws in delegating decision making authority to outside individuals.

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ATLANTA, Georgia, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental justice, climate justice, religious, policy and advocacy groups called today for action from the Bush Administration and Congress on climate change.

The 27 groups will be meeting in New York City this week to plan joint efforts to promote climate change action. The coalition has linked their efforts to issues related to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which starts this September in Johannesburg, South Africa. Preparatory meetings for the summit began today in New York.

"Environmental justice and climate change loom as major environmental issues of the 21st century," said Robert Bullard, who directs the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. "Our industrial, energy, transportation, and sprawl development policies and practices are major contributors to climate change."

The coalition, called the Environmental Justice and Climate Change (EJCC) Initiative, urges President George W. Bush and Congressional leaders to take immediate and just steps on climate change policy. This marks the first time such groups have united to advance one agenda on climate change.

The EJCC Initiative supports energy efficiency, renewable energy, and conservation policies while seeking equitable measures to protect and assist the communities most affected by climate change.

"If Dr. [Martin Luther] King were alive today, we are sure he would fight for environmental justice," said 12 year old Atlantan Illai Kenny of Kids Against Pollution.

People of color, indigenous people, low income people and workers bear a disproportionate impact of climate change, the coalition says. For decades, extreme and unnecessary social, health, and economic impacts of a fossil fuel based society have penetrated these communities, making them the first victims of government inaction on climate change.

"The U.S. is the major contributor to climate change, yet our government has abdicated a leadership role to the long term detriment of the world," said EJCC Initiative co-chair Ruben Solis. "We eagerly await the president's State of the Union address tomorrow to see what, if any, action this Administration will take to transition to a clean, just and sustainable economy."

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RALEIGH, North Carolina, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - North Carolina's Clean Water Management Trust Fund has awarded $6.1 million to buy out swine operations in the state's 100 year flood plain.

The funding, announced by the state's Division of Soil and Water Conservation, represents the second phase of the voluntary program. The objectives of the project are to remove high risk swine production operations from the 100 year floodplain, and to lessen potential hazards from future floods while retaining the land for agricultural use.

The additional funding means another 14-15 swine operations may be added to the program. The first phase of the floodplain buyout program, funded at $5.7 million, eliminated 32 waste lagoons on 14 farms, with the capacity to accept waste from 25,000 hogs.

"The swine buyout program has proven to be an effective mechanism for the long-term protection of water quality and for removing hog farms from the floodplain," said Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Bill Ross. "The Clean Water Management Trust Fund is enabling us to make progress on floodplain issues while ensuring that farming remains an important part of eastern North Carolina."

The additional funding supports a program where environmental and personal property risks are reduced and water quality protection is increased, said Bill Holman, executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

"The first phase of the Division of Soil and Water Conservation's lagoon buyout program successfully increased water quality protection and assisted swine producers," Holman said. "Thanks to additional appropriations from the General Assembly, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund is pleased that we can provide funds to the Division of Soil and Water Conservation for a second phase. Phase two will continue to enhance protection of water quality."

To be eligible for the program, swine operations must be located in the 100 year floodplain, currently operating, or in operation as of August 31, 1999. The farms must have a certified animal waste management plan or a non-discharge permit from DENR.

Through the program, land can continue to be used for low intensity agriculture, such as row crops and pasture based beef production. Lagoon contents will be removed and applied, under DENR supervision, to available cropland in accordance with federal Natural Resources Conservation Service standards. The state will pay the cost of closing the lagoons.

Once closed, lagoons can remain for use as irrigation ponds or fishponds, but not for intensive fish farming. Production houses will be modified so that they will no longer drain to the lagoon, and can continue to be used for storing hay, equipment and other similar purposes.

As part of the agreement, approved farms will have a permanent conservation easement placed on the portion of the property that was used for raising swine. The swine producer will also relinquish the facility's non-discharge permit and waste management system certification.

"The Swine Buyout Program is working, just as we'd hoped it would," said state Senator Charles Albertson. "It's a program we can be proud of, with long range benefits for North Carolina."

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NEW YORK, New York, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling for voluntary water conservation in response to a winter drought and low water levels in area reservoirs

"Basically, what we have here is a failure of nature to cooperate," Bloomberg said at a news conference Sunday. "There are not a lot of storms on their way, as far as we can tell, so this is a problem that is going to get worse."

"The question is, what can we do about it?" Bloomberg asked. "Conservation is the answer."

Noting that the reservoirs which serve New York City are now at just 50 percent of their normal winter capacity, the mayor listed a variety of measures that city residents could take to save water. The list included fixing leaking faucets and appliances, running only full loads in clothes and dish washers, and taking shorter showers.

New York City residents use an average of 1.2 billion gallons of water a day, city officials said. On December 23, the city declared a drought watch, indicating that water officials believed there was just a 50 percent chance that the city's reservoirs would be full next June.

On Sunday, the mayor said that New York would upgrade to a drought warning in a few days, meaning that officials now believe there is just a 33 percent chance of full reservoirs next summer.

On December 18, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) declared a drought emergency in the 13,539 square mile watershed which drains portions of New York State, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Under the emergency order, the commission can call for releases from federal, state and private reservoirs to bolster flows in the Delaware River and tributary streams. This additional volume of water in the waterways helps protect aquatic life and repel the upstream migration of salty water from the Delaware Bay.

The commission had already ordered releases from three huge water supply reservoirs at the headwaters of the Delaware River. Those reservoirs, which are at record low levels, help serve New York City.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - While most conservation planners focus on preserving certain areas, new research shows that an area's surroundings may be just as important.

Two studies in the February issue of the journal "Conservation Biology" show that the diversity and abundance of certain animals living in fragmented habitats is higher when they are near intact or less disturbed habitats.

"We propose that the matrix within which habitat fragments occur is of equal importance," write Ivette Perfecto and John Vandemeer of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the first paper.

The researchers determined the diversity of ground foraging ants in and around La Montanita, a 37 acre tropical mountain forest reserve in southern Chiapas, Mexico. They used ants as an indicator of biodiversity because insects are the most diverse group of species, and ants comprise most of the insect mass in the tropics.

The reserve is a forest fragment that lies between two types of coffee farms: a shady, organic farm that has been planted with native trees, and a sunnier, conventional farm that uses pesticides and herbicides.

One of the keys to conserving broken up habitats is making sure that species can still travel from fragment to fragment. Ants, for instance, need to fly among forest fragments to establish new colonies.

Perfecto and Vandemeer found that the number of ant species was similar in the forest fragment and the shady, organic farm - 23 versus 16 species. But diversity plummeted on the conventional farm, which hosted just seven species.

They also found that while ant diversity on the farms decreased with distance from the forest fragment, this dropoff was much slower on the shady, organic farm. On the conventional farm, ant diversity had already dropped to its lowest level just 65 feet from the fragment.

The researchers conclude that rather than connecting fragments with habitat corridors, in some cases it would be more effective to focus on making the area surrounding the fragments more conservation friendly.

"Attention to the agroecosystem that makes up the majority of the matrix may be key to conservation at the landscape level," they wrote.

In the second paper, Winsor Lowe and Douglas Bolger of Dartmouth College studied how logging near 25 headwater streams in New Hampshire affects spring salamanders. Because amphibians are sensitive to conditions in water as well as on land, they are good indicators of the ecological effects of logging.

The researchers accounted for factors including the time since the last timber harvest, stream sedimentation, the presence of predatory brook trout, and the proximity of other salamander populations.

Lowe and Bolger found that streams had more salamanders when they were confluent with another stream - that is, when two streams ran into each other - than when they were isolated. Confluent logged streams had 40 percent more salamanders than isolated ones.

The researchers speculate that confluent streams might benefit salamanders by letting individuals from an unlogged stream disperse to a logged one.

"Dispersal might help prevent local population extinction in the disturbed streams," they wrote.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has unveiled a new website that features satellite images in near real time over natural hazards around the world.

A new addition to NASA's Earth Observatory (, the Natural Hazards section contains images and information about major environmental events that could be hazardous to human populations.

The Earth Observatory team will first track five categories of natural hazards: wildfires, severe storms, floods, volcanic eruptions, and major air pollution events, such as dust storms, smog and smoke. The images - acquired by NASA Earth Science Enterprise and Earth Observing System (EOS) satellite missions - are available for free to the public as well as news media.

"We are pleased to be able to share these spectacular new images with the world in a timely manner," said Michael King, EOS senior project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We are often able to publish these images within a matter of hours after they are acquired by the satellite sensors."

"We believe the combination of high quality and moderate to high resolution of the scenes we publish demonstrates the significant technological advancements NASA has made in the design of satellite remote sensors," King continued. "We hope the public finds the images informative as well as useful for educational purposes."

Earth scientists around the world use NASA satellite imagery to better understand the causes and effects of natural hazards. The goal in sharing these new images in the Earth Observatory is to help people visualize where and when natural hazards occur, and to help mitigate their effects.

The site will feature both climate or weather induced hazards such as floods and wildfires, and hazards driven by solid earth processes such as volcanoes and earthquakes.

There are plans to expand the section's scope to include other types of natural hazards information, such as earthquakes, coastal erosion and landslides.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, January 28, 2002 (ENS) - Everything about Super Bowl is big and that includes its commitment to the environment, says the National Football League (NFL).

In New Orleans this year, the NFL has incorporated a series of environmental initiatives that affect almost every Super Bowl related event.

For example, solid waste recycling will be a key component of waste management at the Louisiana Superdome, the New Orleans Arena, and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center - three facilities that host most of the NFL sponsored events. Even in facilities that do not normally recycle waste material, the NFL works with facility managers to integrate recycling into their existing operations.

The NFL also sponsors a sports equipment recycling project. In partnership with local schools, used and new sports equipment was collected during the month of January. That equipment has been donated to the local Youth Education Town Center, an NFL sponsored facility that provides youngsters with academic and recreational programs.

Another NFL project, materials donation, matches the needs of local nonprofits with all types of leftover materials or equipment including decorative materials and building materials.

Extra food from Super Bowl events does not go to waste either - the NFL works with the local Second Harvest Food Bank to help them collect and distribute food after each event.

A "Litter Free" campaign, tested by the NFL five years ago when Super Bowl was last in New Orleans, will be run again at the NFL Experience Football Theme Park. Volunteers reward kids and adults with NFL temporary tattoos for keeping the area clean.

The NFL says it has incorporated environmental concerns into the management of Super Bowl for the past ten years, beginning with Super Bowl XXVII, played in Pasadena in January 1993. Since that time, the NFL's Environmental Program has expanded from its initial efforts at solid waste recycling, and has now developed into a comprehensive campaign to reduce all types of waste and to manage resources by combining good environmental practices with sound business decisions.

Supporters and participants include: the New Orleans Super Bowl XXXVI Host Committee, the Audubon Institute, International Paper Company, the Louisiana Superdome, the Ernest C. Morial Convention Center, the New Orleans Arena, Volume Services of America, the New Orleans Saints, River Parish Disposal, Vista Fibers, the City of New Orleans, the Second Harvest Food Bank, Party Planners West, and the New Orleans NFL YET Center.