AmeriScan: January 13, 2003

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Pentagon Wants Exemptions from Environmental Laws

WASHINGTON, DC, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The Pentagon is mounting a major drive to secure broad exemptions from environmental laws for its domestic training, weapons testing and other readiness activities, according to an internal Department of Defense memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The memo outlines an "action agenda" for conducting "a multi-year campaign," including developing a Congressional "political strategy" for "horse trading [and] coalition building."

"The Pentagon is unquestionably the biggest polluter and most recalcitrant environmental violator on the planet," said PEER general counsel Dan Meyer, a former U.S. Navy gunnery officer. "The Pentagon is the last place that any sane policymaker should want to confer environmental immunity."

The Pentagon plan, presented as "a consensus product" at the staff level for presentation to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calls for:

In the last session of Congress, the Pentagon failed to obtain these statutory exemptions. The memo attributes the defeat of what it calls "the sustainable range effort" to being put on the "defensive" by environmental groups and the need "for more sustained 'Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield.'"

The Pentagon contends that compliance with natural resource protection laws is an "encroachment" on its readiness posture, since realistic training exercises, particularly those involving live munitions, must be adapted or scheduled to avoid nesting sites for migratory birds, critical habitat for endangered species or local clean air standards.

But a June 2002 report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the Pentagon could not quantify the significance of these encroachments and is not consolidating and coordinating exercises to avoid conflicts altogether.

"If the Pentagon devoted the same brainpower towards complying with our anti-pollution laws as it does evading and undermining those laws, everyone would be a lot better off," commented Meyer, who served in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War. "Last year, the Pentagon showed that it could bully EPA and Interior into acceptance of even broader changes, so it is quite likely that it can again get these agencies to agree to subvert the very laws they are sworn to uphold."

According to the memo, the Pentagon expects to win congressional approval during 2003 of exemptions to the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Last year, the Pentagon did win a temporary MBTA exemption leading to a new permit system for shelling of migratory bird nesting sites. Despite this compromise, the DoD will again seek a complete MBTA exemption.

The memo predicts congressional approval in 2004 of changes to the Clean Air Act, and to two rules that deal with the toxic waste implications of spent military munitions: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

Looking further ahead, the memo outlines plans for four other statutory rewrites, including the military's own basic conservation charter, the Sikes Act. The memo cautions that these proposals should be delayed until next session because they "would engender significant opposition, as all four would entail significant changes to major environmental statutes."

"At the same time the Pentagon says it can be trusted to be a good steward, it has stepped up removal of its own civilian natural and cultural resource specialists and replacing them with compliant contract consultants," noted Meyer, whose organization is now litigating against the Pentagon's outsourcing of its own resource specialists.

To overcome opposition, the memo outlines an extensive Pentagon lobbying campaign. Among the targets of what the memo terms an "outreach" effort are state attorney generals, who opposed similar changes last year. The memo also sketches programs to sway the media, industry and "Non-governmental Organizations."

The "Sustainable Ranges 2003 Decision Briefing to the Deputy Security of Defense" is available on PEER's website at: http://www.peer.org/DoD_2003attacks.pdf

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Military to End Vieques Training in May

WASHINGTON, DC, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The Department of Defense has confirmed that it will end all military training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as of May 1, 2003.

Secretary of the Navy Gordon England signed the letter of certification to Congress on Friday confirming that, as planned, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will cease military training on the Vieques Inner Range by May 1. The Department of the Navy has identified training alternatives that it says will "collectively provide equivalent or superior training" to the options now provided by the island of Vieques.

The Navy and Marine Corps will conduct future military training of East Coast units at existing continental U.S. ranges and facilities. The agencies said they also intend to maximize the use of enhanced training technologies.

"We looked at our entire training program and have developed a strategy to provide effective training for our sailors and Marines," England said. "It's important for the Department of the Navy to invest now in a training process that provides ready naval forces today and in the future. This is exactly what our comprehensive training strategy achieves."

The Navy plans to fund more than $400 million in improvements over the next few years to enhance future training efforts.

Vieques lies about seven miles southeast of the eastern end of Puerto Rico and is about 20 miles long and four miles wide at its widest point. The U.S. Navy purchased about 22,000 of the island's 33,000 acres for $1.5 million during the 1940s.

Since 1938, the property has been used to train Navy and Marine Corps forces in the art of sea, air and land combat. An area of about 899 acres on the eastern end of the island is known as the Live Impact Area (LIA) and is used for Naval surface gunnery practice, air-to-surface ordnance delivery, and artillery and tank firing practice.

Training was halted in April 1999 after a stray bomb fired by an F-16 fighter killed base security guard David Sanes Rodriquez and injured four other Puerto Ricans. Live fire training has been banned on the island ever since.

The training has strewn bombs, toxic metals and chemicals across the tiny island, and destroyed much of its coral reef. A variety of medical problems among the 9,400 residents of the island have also been attributed to the bombing.

At various times over the past four years, hundreds of protesters have camped out on the bombing ranges to prevent the resumption of training on the island.

"Today's announcement is a great victory for all of us, Puerto Ricans and New Yorkers," said New York Governor George Pataki, who has long opposed military training on Vieques. "This certification ensures a new beginning for the people of Vieques, who for decades have dreamed of ending this military practice on their soil."

In February 2001, Governor Pataki and Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon met with federal officials to urge them to end the military practices in Vieques. As a result, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued an order to temporarily cease military training on the island.

In April 2001, Governor Pataki lead a delegation of state and community leaders to Vieques to see first hand the impact of the bombings and to raise public awareness of those impacts on the people of the island.

Protest groups have vowed to keep up their pressure until the military leaves the island and cleans up the mess left by years of training exercises. The latest - and perhaps the last - round of training at Vieques was scheduled to begin today with aerial bombing and ship to shore shelling exercises using dummy bombs.

In April 2001, Governor Pataki lead a delegation of state and community leaders to Vieques to see first hand the impact of the bombings and to raise public awareness of those impacts on the people of the island.

Protest groups have vowed to keep up their pressure until the military leaves the island and cleans up the mess left by years of training exercises. The latest - and perhaps the last - round of training at Vieques was scheduled to begin today with aerial bombing and ship to shore shelling exercises using dummy bombs.

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Indian Point Safety Plans Called Inadequate

ALBANY, New York, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - Safety plans at the Indian Point nuclear power plant are "not adequate" to protect the public according to a new report commissioned by New York Governor George Pataki.

On Friday, Pataki announced that James Lee Witt Associates (JLWA) had completed their draft report on emergency plans for communities surrounding Indian Point. Based on the group's findings, Pataki called again on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to review their safety standards for certification of nuclear power plants.

"Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the safety of our nuclear power plants has been a heightened concern for all New Yorkers," Pataki said. "Safety must be our top priority and we must continue to urge the federal government to act to ensure that all of our residents are safe.

"This independent report raises issues that must be addressed," added Pataki. "I again urge FEMA and the NRC to take a hard look at the standards used to certify these emergency plans and determine if they are strong enough to meet the post September 11 reality."

The report notes that safety plans at Indian Point are built on compliance with regulations, rather than a strategy that leads to structures and systems to protect from radiation exposure. The plans appear based on the premise that people will comply with official government directions rather than acting in accordance with what they perceive to be their best interests, the report states.

In addition, the plant's safety plans do not consider the possibility of a radiation release caused by an act of terrorism.

"Simply stated, the world has recently changed," concludes the report. "What was once considered sufficient may now be in need of further revision."

Indian Point's planning problems are considered particularly serious because of the large population concentrations near the plant, the report says. They also do not consider the reality and impacts of spontaneous evacuation, the panic of which could create traffic snarls that would prevent people from leaving the danger zone.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, Pataki called on FEMA and the NRC to conduct a comprehensive review of their standards for emergency plans at all nuclear power plants within the state. When the federal review did not materialize after several months, the governor announced in August 2002 that the state had hired former FEMA Director James Lee Witt to conduct a comprehensive, independent review of all emergency plans, starting with Indian Point.

That review is now complete and, pending public comment, copies of the draft report will be forwarded to the NRC and FEMA for their review. The Indian Point facilities are licensed to operate by the NRC. FEMA is the federal agency responsible for evaluating and exercising the emergency response plans for the Radiological Emergency Preparedness program, which is responsible for the 103 commercial nuclear reactors across the country.

James Lee Witt Associates will issue a final report after comments have been reviewed, summarized and addressed in the report.

The draft report is available for review and public comment at: http://www.wittassociates.com by clicking on "New York Report Page." The comment period ends at 6 pm Friday, February 7.

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Mexico Must Leave More Water in Rio Grande

WASHINGTON, DC, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement last week aimed at settling a long running dispute over Mexico's use of water from the Rio Grande river.

Under the agreement, Mexico will provide at least 400,000 acre-feet of water to the Rio Grande, including 200,000 acre-feet of new water by the end of January, in time for the current growing season. In exchange, the United States must give Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River.

However, 50,000 acre feet of the water Mexico has promised will be contingent on the weather, and could be withheld in dry years.

For the past decade, Mexico has been drawing more water from the Rio Grande than it is entitled to under a 1944 treaty between the two nations. Mexico's water deliveries to the U.S. have fallen more than 1.5 million acre-feet short of treaty requirements, which Mexico has blamed on extreme drought conditions.

In March 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox signed Minute Order 307 of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which required Mexico to deliver 600,000 acre-feet of water by July 31, 2001.

But during the cycle year running from October 1, 2000 through September 30, 2001, Mexico delivered just 427,544 acre-feet of water, according to the IBWC.

The United States and Mexico expect to hold a binational meeting of experts in late January, according to State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher, to discuss how the commitments contained in the two nations' 1944 Water Treaty will be treated within the framework of Mexico's new domestic water allocation plan.

The United States and Mexico will seek to ensure a reliable and predictable water supply during both periods of scarcity and of abundant rainfall. Both countries will also continue efforts toward resolving an outstanding water deficit of some 1.5 million acre-feet.

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California Composters Face New Air Pollution Rules

LOS ANGELES, California, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The Los Angeles region's air quality agency has adopted the nation's first regulation to reduce smog forming emissions from composting facilities in the region.

"Composting facilities have benefited the environment by significantly reducing the amount of waste going into landfills," said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

"However, the region's composting industry generally lacks air pollution controls and is a significant source of air pollution," Wallerstein added. "Each industry must do its part to help us achieve clean air."

All composting facilities emit a total of 6.8 tons per day of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and 4.7 tons per day of ammonia, according to several studies conducted by AQMD and other agencies. In comparison, all of the region's oil refineries emit a total of about nine tons per day of VOCs.

Ammonia and VOCs contribute to the formation of ozone and particulate pollution, two of the region's worst pollutants.

The new rule will require composting facilities and chipping and grinding operations to register with AQMD. Starting on July 1, chipping and grinding businesses, which process green waste for use as a landfill cover, biomass fuel or composting feedstock, must limit the time they hold or process green waste to prevent unintentional decomposition.

Existing co-composting facilities that produce compost from sewage sludge or livestock manure and bulking agents such as green waste must reduce their VOC and ammonia emissions by 70 percent. The rule will be phased in between 2007 and 2009 depending on the size of the facility.

New co-composting facilities must either enclose their active composting phase, use an aeration system for their curing phase, and vent the emissions to a pollution control device such as a biofilter with a minimum 80 percent capture efficiency, or reduce their overall VOC and ammonia emissions by 80 percent.

Although green waste operations account for about five tons per day of VOC emissions and one ton per day of ammonia, AQMD will not require specific add on controls for them at this time.

The cost for controls on existing co-composting facilities, if passed on to consumers, would be about 25 cents per month on average, an AQMD analysis showed.

The rule is expected to reduce VOC emissions by about 1.2 tons per day and ammonia by 1.9 tons per day.

Facilities such as community composting sites and plant nurseries will be exempt from the rule.

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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Toxic Algae May Harm Right Whales

NARRAGANSETT, Rhode Island, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - Toxins from algae blooms could harm northern right whales, a new study suggests.

The right whale is regularly exposed to the neurotoxins responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) through feeding on contaminated zooplankton, shows research published in the current issue of the journal "Harmful Algae." These toxins could affect respiratory capabilities, feeding behavior, and ultimately the reproduction condition of the whale population.

A team of scientists, led by University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) biologist Edward Durbin, describe how north Atlantic right whales, feeding in Grand Manan Basin in the lower Bay of Fundy in late summer, are exposed to PSP toxins from feeding on the contaminated copepod Calanus finmarchicus.

The scientists estimated that the toxin ingestion rates of right whales in Grand Manan Basin are "substantial" and are similar to the estimated minimum lethal oral dose for humans.

"While there is no direct evidence of PSP toxin-related deaths of right whales," said Durbin, "we suggest that during their prolonged summer feeding period in this region, they would be experiencing chronic exposure to PSP toxins."

The toxins are potent sodium-channel blockers in muscles and membranes and affect nerve function. Initial symptoms of PSP toxicity include parethesia and numbness and a weakening of muscles.

In high doses, the PSP toxicity syndrome in mammals is characterized by respiratory difficulties, which may cause death in the absence of ventilatory support.

"Although PSP toxins do not tend to accumulate in most mammalian tissues, chronic effects of repeated PSP toxin exposure will be seen in measures of diving capabilities, including dive times, swimming speeds while at depth, and frequency of dives," Durbin explained. "Impaired diving capabilities in right whales would lead to reduced ingestion rates and may be a possible explanation for their poorer condition and reduced calving rates despite the high concentrations of copepods in Grand Manan Basin."

Other effects of toxin ingestion on "whale fitness" may be greater susceptibility to disease, reproductive failure, disruption of migration and mechanical damage from collisions with ships or fouling in nets and other fishing gear. For example, recovery from dives during periods of PSP exposure would likely be longer than normal, and increased time at the surface would increase a whale's chances of being hit by a ship.

"The significance of ingested PSP toxins on the survival of right whales should not be underestimated," said Durbin. "Few studies have been done on the effects of these toxins on higher mammals, and none on the effects in whales. Our findings are the first to suggest that physiological impairment due to exposure to high dosages of PSP toxins through the food chain may compromise the health of a population."

Northern right whales are the most endangered of the whale species, with fewer than 300 adults remaining.

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Interior Department Praises Everglades Progress

DELRAY BEACH, Florida, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The restoration of the Everglades depends on continued cooperation among the many stakeholders in South Florida, Interior Secretary Gale Norton said last week at the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition.

The 41 member Everglades Coalition held its 18th Annual Conference from January 9-12, to evaluate the progress of the restoration effort, and to preview the issues that will make headlines in the coming year. The meeting came after a year marked by some steps forward, some setbacks, and by debate over controversial and difficult issues.

"The key to our success is the strength of our partnership and our commitment to collaboration," Norton said. "If our dialogue is honest and continuing; if our science is sound and independently verified; and if we work together, rather than at cross-purposes, we will make the right decisions and we will succeed."

"But if we collapse into bickering, if we find ourselves walking away from the table, if we try to effect restoration through an adversarial process, we will fail," Norton cautioned.

Norton said the Interior Department will take steps that will help ensure a continued spirit of partnership, including forming an advisory committee to allow stakeholders to provide input to Interior land managers in South Florida on a wide range of Everglades restoration issues.

"We want to expand our collaboration with members of the Everglades community on issues that affect them every day," she said.

Norton said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service will begin to employ a habitat based recovery strategy for endangered species, including implementing restoration plans for key areas of habitat such as the 107,000 acre east Everglades addition to Everglades National Park.

Interior Department agencies will work to improve the quality and timing of the Everglades science program to ensure decisions are guided by the best available science, Norton added.

"We will develop an overall science action plan to support restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem," she said.

Norton applauded the Army Corps of Engineers for responding to the comments of the department and the many Everglades stakeholders in the development its programmatic regulations for Everglades restoration. The regulations have not yet been published, and many environmental groups have expressed concern that the final rules will favor developers over agriculture and the environment.

"No one is likely to get everything on their wish list in the final programmatic regulations, and we may disagree over the finer points, but overall these regulations - along with the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 and the agreement signed last January by the President and the Governor - will provide the legal assurances envisioned by Congress to ensure restoration occurs," Norton said.

Norton pointed to many successes in recent years, including an agreement between President George W. Bush and Florida Governor Jeb Bush to ensure the state reserves enough water from consumptive use so that the Everglades will be restored.

She noted that the National Park Service has now acquired almost all of the lands within the boundaries of Everglades National Park and that the department will be acquiring the Collier oil and gas holdings in Big Cypress National Preserve, which will protect the preserve for future generations.

On the issue of water quality, Norton said that farmers in the Everglades have implemented best management practices to reduce phosphorus levels that promote the spread of invasive species, and that over the past eight years, the state has constructed storm water treatment areas that are treating millions of gallons of water every day and reducing phosphorus and other pollutants.

She expressed support for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's proposed numeric criterion for phosphorus of 10 parts per billion for water in the Everglades Protection Area, saying "we believe this standard will protect the Everglades."

Norton also highlighted increased research and control efforts for invasive species, including the construction of a $6.2 million invasive species research facility and an additional $1 million last year to eliminate melaleuca and other invasives from 18,000 acres of Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

"As we move forward year by year through this long and challenging process, let us hold on to the vision of a restored and thriving Everglades with healthy and diverse wildlife and the right water in the right place at the right time," Norton concluded. "Let us will ourselves to maintain the spirit of collaboration. Working together, I am confident we can restore the Everglades and make this water once again shimmer with life for generations to come."

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EPA Opens Green Cafeteria

WASHINGTON, DC, January 13, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened a new, environmentally friendly cafeteria today at the agency's Washington DC headquarters.

This state of the art facility will incorporate the latest best practices in "green" cafeteria facilities. Among other things, the cafeteria will feature the use of recyclable products and materials, furnishings and carpet manufactured from post consumer recycled materials, green cleaning products, and energy efficient lighting.

As part of its normal operation, the cafeteria vendor, SoDexHo, will offer a menu featuring foods from sustainable sources, such as organic fruits and vegetables and shade grown coffee.

The cafeteria includes a new "video wall," which will serve as a source for news, information and entertainment in the cafeteria.

The opening of the updated cafeteria at EPA's Washington DC headquarters follows the opening last year of a green cafeteria at the agency's Research Triangle Park (RTP) in North Carolina. That facility includes permanent china and stainless steel service ware to reduce waste, and offers discounts to employees who bring their own reusable coffee mugs.

Disposable cafeteria ware at the RTP facility is starch based, making it biodegradable and compostable. The starch based material also requires less energy to produce than paper or polystyrene containers.

Paper napkins offered at the facility are made from unbleached, recycled paper. And aluminum and glass containers used at the cafeteria are then recycled.