AmeriScan: January 10, 2003

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Revisions of Dolphin Safe Tuna Label Delayed

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - The Commerce Department has agreed to delay implementation of its new, weaker rules governing the dolphin safe tuna label, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the regulations by environmental groups.

On December 31, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that after new research, it had concluded that the tuna purse seine industry practice of encircling dolphins to catch tuna has "no significant adverse impact on dolphin populations in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean." That same day, nine environmental and animal welfare groups filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Commerce, seeking a restraining order to block the new standards.

The groups have now negotiated a deal with lawyers for the federal government that delays Commerce Department action on the new rule for 90 days. Hearings on the groups' lawsuit are scheduled to begin in 90 days in federal court in San Francisco.

For their part, the conservation groups agreed to withdraw their request for a temporary restraining order against the new tuna labeling rule.

The groups involved in the case include: Earth Island Institute, biologist Samuel LaBudde, Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, and Oceanic Society. These same groups have won two prior cases against attempts to weaken the dolphin safe label.

In 1991, NMFS implemented the "dolphin safe" labeling system as a way of reducing dolphin deaths due to tuna fishing. Under the initial label criteria, tuna harvested in the Eastern Tropical Pacific could be labeled "dolphin safe" only if no nets were intentionally set on dolphins during the fishing trip.

Under the December 31 decision, the criteria have been changed so that tuna harvested in the eastern tropical Pacific by large purse seine vessels can be labeled dolphin safe even if dolphins are encircled, so long as an on board observer certifies that no dolphins are killed or seriously injured during the set in which the tuna were caught. Tuna fishers in the region target dolphins because tuna and dolphins form mixed schools.

Environmentalists contend that the change is "arbitrary and capricious," and fails to account for research showing that dolphins are still being killed in the eastern tropical Pacific tuna fishery. The regulation change came less than a month after a conservation group released an unpublished NMFS report indicating that thousands of dolphins, particularly baby dolphins, are still dying in tuna nets.

This week, two former researchers from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, which conducted the NMFS study, charged that their findings regarding the stress that tuna fishing places on dolphins were suppressed by their superiors. Independent reviewers hired by the government have also questioned NMFS' finding that dolphins are not harmed by tuna fishing.

NMFS Director Bill Hogarth said the agency stands by its decision to change the labeling requirements, and expects to win to win the case "on its merits."

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Initiative Targets Air Pollution from Ground Freight

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is launching a new partnership aimed at reducing air pollution from trucks and other ground freight carriers.

Charter partners in the SmartWay Transport program have agreed to work with the EPA to develop performance measures or goals to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save fuel, and protect public health.

These partners - including Canon USA, Inc., Coca Cola, the American Trucking Association, Federal Express Corporation, UPS, IKEA and Nike among others - will take steps to reduce truck idling, upgrade truck tractor aerodynamics, improve freight moving operations, use wide based tires and automatic inflation systems, and reduce highway speed and weight. These measures will save the companies money and help to protect the environment.

The program is expected to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by as much as 18 million metric tons a year, and prevent emissions of up to 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides a year. By 2012, the EPA says the emissions reductions are expected to be equal to taking 12 million cars a year off the road or saving 159 million barrels of oil a year.

"Our SmartWay truck and rail partners are working with EPA to develop ways to cut emissions and conserve fuel," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Their environmental stewardship will improve air quality and increase efficiency while transporting America's goods and keeping our economy vital."

Participating corporations will earn SmartWay labels that will distinguish them as having made commitments to reducing emissions. This voluntary partnership was developed and modeled after EPA's successful Energy Star Program, which focuses on reducing pollution from consumer products and labeling energy efficient buildings.

The EPA and its charter partners are presently working to finalize how program goals will be met. Among the potential environmental strategies and technologies that partner companies may incorporate are:

More information on SmartWay Transport is available at: http://www.epa.gov/smartway/transport

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Nevada Files Constitutional Challenge to Yucca Repository

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - The state of Nevada has filed another lawsuit in an attempt to halt the construction of the nation's only high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The Bush administration and Congress have approved building of the Yucca Mountain facility, but legal and licensing hurdles are still blocking the underground repository that is supposed to contain 77,000 tons of waste from power plants and defense sites.

Joined by the city of Las Vegas and Clark Country, the state Thursday filed suit in the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, claiming that Nevada has been unfairly selected and unfairly burdened with this repository, contrary to the U.S. Constitution. It is the sixth Yucca Mountain lawsuit filed by the state.

Arguing that the resolution authorizing Yucca Mountain signed by President George W. Bush skirts the 10th Amendment to the Constitution regarding states' rights, the lawsuit asks the court to declare the Yucca Mountain resolution unconstitutional and order the federal government to stop "all activities relating to the development licensing of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

At a news briefing in Las Vegas on Thursday, Nevada's newly elected Attorney General Brian Sandoval said, "At issue is the right of the state not to be singled out and unduly burdened. The proposed dump is not safe, not scientifically sound, and is not legal."

A member of the state's legal team, attorney Charles Cooper who appeared with Sandoval at the briefing, said the state cannot be asked to "endure this burden" of nuclear waste disposal that other states will not bear. "Our point, Nevada's point, is if sovereignty means anything, this type of mandate cannot stay."

On April 8, 2002, Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, a Republican, vetoed the federal Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain proposal, as he was permitted to do under a special process pertaining only to this site. In his veto speech, the governor said he will never support disposal of "the most dangerous waste generated by mankind" in his state because it is not safe.

"For almost 20 years, Nevadans have fought against the transportation and storage of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain," the governor said. "Let me make one thing crystal clear - Yucca Mountain is not inevitable, and Yucca Mountain is no bargaining chip. Trust me, so long as I am governor, it will never become one! Yucca Mountain is not safe. It is not suitable, and, we will expose the Department of Energy's dirty little secrets about Yucca Mountain."

Opponents of the repository say the science behind it is flawed, the underground tunnels will not safely contain the radioactive waste due to the entry of water and the possibility of volcanic action, and that thousands of shipments of waste will endanger people in 43 states through which it must pass to reach Nevada.

But the Bush administration and proponents of the repository say it is safe and necessary for the security of the country. When the Senate approved Yucca Mountain last July, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said, "America's national, energy and homeland security, as well as environmental protection is well-served by siting a single nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Congress has recognized that the Government has safely transported nuclear waste for more than 30 years and, in doing so, has rejected the transportation scare tactics employed by those opposed to Yucca Mountain."

"Without Yucca Mountain, the nuclear waste simply stays where it is," said Abraham. "However, by moving the process forward, we have the opportunity to dispose of nuclear waste that has piled-up at 131 sites in 39 states."

"Moving forward in the process also helps ensure that the clean energy generated by nuclear power will remain an important part of America's energy mix," the energy secretary said.

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Senate Committee Hears Pleas For Safer Tankers

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - The Senate Commerce Committee heard arguments Thursday favoring new measures to reduce the potential for oil spills from ocean going tankers.

Tankers should be kept out of environmentally and economically sensitive areas from oil spills, such as the recent spill from the Prestige tanker in Spain that is devastating European fisheries and beaches, argued World Wildlife Fund (WWF) executive vice president David Sandalow.

Sandalow - former assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science - spoke at a hearing of the Senate committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation concerning the phase out of single hulled tankers and recent oil spills.

"World Wildlife Fund urges the United States to lead efforts to build a global network of 'no-go' zones where tanker traffic is prohibited," Sandalow testified. "International Maritime Organization rules provide an important multilateral mechanism for the designation of such zones, known as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs). PSSAs are areas of the ocean that need special protection because of their ecological or economic significance and their vulnerability to the harmful impacts of shipping activities. Within these areas shipping traffic can be more carefully regulated, or prohibited altogether."

Representative Lois Capps, a California Democrat, is expected to introduce new legislation to speed up the adoption of double hulled oil tankers in U.S. waters. The "Stop Oil Spills (S.O.S.) Act" would speed up the phase out of aging, single hulled tankers like the Prestige, moving the deadline for their replacement from 2015 to 2005.

"The only effective way to avoid oil damage to fisheries and the coastal environment is to prevent these tanker spills in the first place," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "To permit the use of just one thin single sheet of steel to keep huge volumes of toxic petroleum away from the valuable living marine resources on which our coastal economies depend is an obsolete transportation strategy. Recent events make it crystal clear that the time has come to accelerate the transition to double hulled tankers."

The congressional hearing was held to consider the potential need for revisions to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was adopted by Congress in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. Oil from the Exxon Valdez spill continues to pollute Alaskan waters and is still found on the rocky cobbled beaches of the Sound.

A full transcript of Sandalow's testimony is available at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/news

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Draft Plan Would Protect Pygmy Owls

TUCSON, Arizona, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - Habitat surrounding the remnant population of cactus ferruginous pygmy owls in the U.S. should be protected, according to a plan released Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The draft recovery plan recommends strategies for conserving the endangered bird, which was once common in southern to central Arizona. Arizona surveys documented 41 adult pygmy-owls in 1999, 34 adults in 2000, 36 in 2001, and 18 in 2002.

In the plan, all known pygmy-owls in Arizona and the habitat they have occupied since 1993 when formalized surveys began, would be protected. The plan also calls for identifying and maintaining two interconnected systems of habitat: one extending from areas occupied by pygmy-owls in Mexico to the northern edge of the historical range near Phoenix and the other from the Mexican border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument into rural southwestern Maricopa and Pinal counties.

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A cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
These corridors bound the Tohono O'odham Nation - an area presumed to be important to the small owl's recovery.

The Recovery Team divided the owl's historic territory into eight recovery areas to help focus recovery efforts. The USFWS says it does not intend to set aside the entire recovery areas in perpetuity. Each recovery area has specific land management and development recommendations.

The draft plan provides recommendations for livestock grazing, fire management, and recreational activities. The plan also considers augmentation of pygmy-owl populations through the use of nest boxes, moving birds into suitable unoccupied habitat, adding new owls to genetically isolated populations, stimulating birds to produce additional eggs, and captive rearing.

"The Recovery Team has done an exceptional job of distilling what is known of the owl and identifying what still needs to be known," said Dale Hall, USFWS Southwest regional director. "At the same time, they have presented a practical approach to advancing its recovery."

Recovery tasks are prioritized and agencies that could contribute to those tasks are identified. The estimated cost to complete the tasks is $5 million over a five year period.

The recovery plan is not enforceable, and is likely to be opposed by developers in the region. The USFWS hopes that local, state and federal agencies will use the recommendations made in the recovery plan to regulate development.

The USFWS added the Arizona population of the pygmy-owl to the federal list of endangered species in 1997. Last year, the agency released a proposal to designate 1.2 million acres of habit as critical to the survival of the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl.

The public comment periods for the proposed critical habitat designation and the recovery plan - two separate but related documents - overlap.

"After we incorporate comments, the recovery plan will be finalized and shared with other federal, state, tribal and local governmental agencies as best management practices for conserving the pygmy-owl," said Hall. "The document will be our compass for the next planning stage - how to eventually recover the owl so it may be removed from the list of endangered species."

Comments on the plan will be accepted until April 9. The draft recovery plan is available at: http://arizonaes.fws.gov/

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Loyola Marymount Will Install Giant Solar Roof

LOS ANGELES, California, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - The largest solar electric rooftop system at any university in the world and the largest system in Southern California will be installed at Loyola Marymount University early this year.

Due to an innovative partnership between Los Angeles' Loyola Marymount University, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the Southern California Gas Company, and solar electric company PowerLight, the 723 kilowatt hours peak solar rooftop system will be installed at Loyola Marymount's campus in Westchester on three of the university's largest buildings: Gersten Pavilion, University Hall, and the Von der Ahe Library.

"This is a big win for everyone," said Lynne Scarboro, Loyola Marymount University's vice president for administration. "Loyola Marymount will have a cost effective, reliable, non-polluting system that will save us more than $120,000 annually, and we will be contributing to the well being of our planet and, in particular, the well being of Southern California."

Estimated at a total cost of more than $4.3 million, the project expense will be offset by rebates - $3.7 million from the LADWP, and $325,000 from the Gas Company - resulting in an actual cost to the university of just $325,000. LMU receives the $325,000 incentive from the Gas Company as part of a statewide program implemented by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Encompassing a combined 81,000 feet of rooftop, the total project will generate about 880,000 kilowatt hours a year - producing enough clean electricity in the daytime to power about 150 homes in the Los Angeles area and resulting in an annual reduction of carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to driving a car more than two million miles - or the amount that can be consumed by about 233 acres of trees a year.

Construction is expected to be complete on all three facilities by April.

"The installation of this system by Loyola Marymount in partnership with LADWP is an outstanding model of how a coordinated effort can result in reduced traditional energy usage, as well as tangible savings utilizing environmentally friendly renewable energy resources," said LADWP general manager David Wiggs.

By investing in on site solar generation, Loyola Marymount will lower its operating costs, reduce purchases of expensive peak electricity, and aid in addressing California's ongoing energy shortage. In addition to generating electricity, PowerLight's solar roof system provides thermal insulation and protects the roof from weather and UV radiation, resulting in decreased heating and cooling energy costs and extended roof life.

"This formidable solar system means a cleaner environment in Los Angeles, and our incentive program is one, if not the best, mechanism for making LA a solar leader," added Angelina Galiteva, LADWP director of Green LA.

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Chesapeake Islands Donated to Nature Conservancy

CLAM, Virginia, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - A cluster of Chesapeake Bay islands on Virginia's Eastern Shore has been donated to The Nature Conservancy for permanent protection as a natural area.

The remote Accomack County islands harbor numerous species of songbirds and waterbirds as well as the northeastern beach tiger beetle, which is federally listed as a threatened species.

Mrs. Ernest Carroll Justis and John Justis, whose family has owned the islands for several generations, completed the donation to the Conservancy on December 30, 2002.

"This is a very generous and significant gift," said David Harris, director of land programs at the Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve. "It is an important tract, with extensive salt marshes, an upland ridge and beaches that support colonies of rare tiger beetles."

Located southwest of Guard Shore, where Guilford Creek joins the Chesapeake Bay, the tract includes two crescent shaped ridges, or islands, known as Jobe's Island and Cedar Island. Harris said these islands and marshes comprise about 525 total acres, with 75 acres upland and the remainder salt marsh.

Guard Shore and the adjacent marshes have been purchased by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

There are no buildings on the islands except for the remains of a few hunting cabins. The Justis family used the property as pasture for their cattle in the 1920s and 1930s and during spring would drive calves across the marsh to the islands, where the cattle would remain until being sent to market in the fall.

Although the Conservancy owns several parcels on the Chesapeake Bay side of the Eastern Shore, most of its holdings are on the barrier islands of the seaside. The Conservancy has now turned its attention to the bayshore, where one of the East Coast's most critical habitat corridors for migratory birds is under increased pressure for development.

"The Justis property is along a route that ornithologists say is used extensively by migrating songbirds," said Harris. "So protecting a large tract such as this means a great deal. It is the first gift of property we've received since we began focusing on the Chesapeake side of the peninsula."

As part of the transaction, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation will hold a conservation easement precluding any future subdivision or development of the islands.

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Beach Water Pollution Can Be Tracked to Its Source

IRVINE, California, January 10, 2003 (ENS) - A California study may help beachside communities identify the sources of water pollution affecting beach water.

The study has proved instrumental for improving the quality of beach water in Avalon, Catalina Island, a popular California tourist destination. The research shows that it is possible to identify and track the specific sources of water pollution by combining bacteria sampling with genetic testing.

By combining these methods, the researchers found that decaying sewage pipes in the downtown area adjacent to Avalon Bay had been leaking human waste into the shoreline water. As a result of the research, Avalon officials sliplined the city's sewer lines to seal the leaks and are investigating connecting pipes from private businesses and homes for further leakage.

Their work has already decreased bacteria levels along the shoreline by more than 50 percent, and beach closures declined from 31 in 2001 to 15 in 2002.

The approach provides a new method for coastal agencies to comply with tougher beach water quality laws. Beaches are now tested for fecal indicator bacteria using methods that only provide general information on potential sources for pollution. High bacteria content can lead to beach closures.

"Right now, beach communities are faced with bacterial pollution without knowing their sources," said lead author Stanley Grant, an environmental engineer at the University of California at Irvine (UCI).

"The combination of indicator sampling and genetic testing has the potential to make a real difference in efforts to clean up polluted beaches," Grant added.

The study, coauthored by University of Southern California microbiologist Jed Fuhrman, Alexandria Boehm of Stanford University, and Robert Mrše of UCI, was posted Thursday on the Research ASAP site of "Environmental Science & Technology."