AmeriScan: January 14, 2003

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Corps Dams Must Comply With Clean Water Act

PORTLAND, Oregon, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - A federal district court in Oregon has confirmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must operate its dams in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The court also decided that the Corps had taken steps to comply with the Clean Water Act by adopting the 2001 Water Quality Plan, but ruled that the four lower Snake River Dams are now violating the Act. Conservation and fishing groups, joined by the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon, had argued that the four Snake River dams illegally raise water temperatures in the river.

"Until we brought this lawsuit, the Corps thought it was above the law," said Todd True, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. "Now at least the Corps has begun to address the harm it does to water quality. Of course, we are disappointed with the Court's ruling today because we don't think the Corps actually has done what the law requires to restore water quality in the Snake River. For that reason, we will be reviewing the Court's decision to determine whether we should appeal it."

In Friday's ruling, the Court held that "While the Corps was not free under the facts of this case to comply with the Endangered Species Act without considering its legal obligations under the Clean Water Act, the Corps considered all of the relevant factors when it concluded that the measures set forth [in the federal salmon plan] are consistent with the Corps' obligations under the Clean Water Act."

"The Corps did the bare minimum necessary to defend itself in court," said Jan Hasselman at National Wildlife Federation. "Unfortunately, the court ruled that the Army Corps' bare minimum was good enough, but salmon are still in hot water."

Because high temperatures can be harmful and even lethal to salmon and steelhead, the state of Washington has enacted protective water quality standards in accordance with the Clean Water Act. When the Corps analyzed the costs of keeping and maintaining the four lower Snake River dams, it failed to include the cost of complying with these water quality standards - costs that the federal government estimates could range from $400 to $900 million.

"This decision does not change the fact that the four lower Snake River dams must comply with the Clean Water Act," said Nicole Cordan of Save Our Wild Salmon. "Instead, the court states that the Corps' current plan only needs to take steps toward compliance with the Act. If an attempt to comply with the law is as good as compliance, then I guess I'll attempt to pay my taxes."

The case, National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, was brought by National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Washington Wildlife Federation, and Idaho Wildlife Federation, represented by Kristen Boyles and Todd True of Earthjustice and Stephanie Parent of Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center.

The district court opinion can be found at: http://www.wildsalmon.org/library_files/Opinion583_SJ_3.pdf

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Gulf War Chemicals Can Damage Testes

DURHAM, North Carolina, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - A combination of chemicals given to protect Gulf War soldiers against diseases and nerve gas may have damaged their testes and sperm production, suggest animal experiments performed at Duke University Medical Center.

The new study could explain why some veterans have experienced infertility, sexual dysfunction, and other genitourinary symptoms, said Dr. Mohamed Abou Donia, a Duke pharmacologist.

Three chemicals were given to soldiers to protect them against insect borne diseases and nerve gas poisoning: the insect repellent DEET, the insecticide permethrin, and the anti-nerve gas agent pyridostigmine bromide.

In a study designed to mimic those same conditions, Abou Donia and his colleagues gave rats equivalent doses to what the soldiers received. When given together, the chemicals caused extensive cell degeneration and cell death with various structures of the testes, he found.

The damage was even more severe among rats that were exposed to stressful situations in addition to the chemicals.

Results of the study, funded by the Department of Defense, appear in the January 10 issue of "The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health."

"It appears that moderate stress, combined with the three chemicals, caused the most severe deterioration in testicular structure and sperm production, and these conditions were likely experienced by some Gulf War soldiers in the combat environment," said Abou Donia, principal investigator of the study.

"Interestingly, the chemically treated rats don't look or behave any differently than normal rats, just as the soldiers don't show any outward signs of disease," said Abou Donia. "But under a microscope, you can see clear and well defined damage to a variety of testicular structures."

Abou Donia's team found the most pervasive cell damage within basal germ cells and spermatocytes, which give rise to mature sperm. The three chemicals combined with stress caused these cells to detach from one another, slough off, and develop holes known as "vacuoles."

Such changes are well known stages in the progression toward programmed cell death, known as apoptosis. The more cells that die, the greater the suppression of spermatogenesis or sperm production, Abou Donia explained.

Pathologic exams showed that most of the developing stages of sperm were interrupted, and some of the stages were absent altogether among rats treated with all three chemicals and stressful conditions. Similar cell degeneration occurred in the seminiferous tubules, where developing sperm are produced, and Sertoli cells that support and nurture the developing germ cells.

"On every objective measure, the testes showed severe degeneration in the presence of multiple chemicals, suggesting that the chemicals have a synergistic or additive effect," said Abou Donia.

The testicular damage corresponds to brain changes in the same rats exposed to the chemicals plus stress, said Abou Donia. Findings from those experiments were published in the August 2002 issue of "Neurobiology of Disease."

"The military used these chemicals with the best of intentions, to protect soldiers from indigenous diseases in the Gulf War region," Abou Donia said. "Without protection, there may have been thousands of deaths. But it appears that the precautions prevented one set of problems while creating another. Now, our task is to discern the mechanisms of illness in order to provide the soldiers with maximum protection and the least risk of chemically induced injury."

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Bill Would Offer Tax Credits for Solar Systems

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Representative J.D. Hayworth, an Arizona Republican better known for his opposition to a variety of environmental initiatives, has reintroduced a bill that would offer tax credits to homeowners who install solar systems.

"The ultimate aim here is to expand the use of a clean, renewable energy source by making it more affordable and accessible to more American homes," Hayworth said.

The bill would provide a federal tax credit of 15 percent of the cost of both solar electric and solar hot water systems installed on homes. The language passed both the House and Senate last Congress, and enjoyed the support of the White House, but did not become law because the comprehensive energy bill died in a conference committee.

"The Hayworth bill is a winner for homeowners and for the air we breathe," said Glenn Hamer, executive director of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Solar power is a clean, reliable and renewable resource, but the upfront costs can make some homeowners hesitate. The Hayworth bill will help increase demand for home grown solar power and thus reduce demand for foreign and more polluting energy sources."

The Hayworth bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, of which Hayworth is a member.

"This has been a great January for the solar industry," Hamer said. "First we learned that a first-ever solar electric system has been installed on White House grounds, and now Congressman Hayworth has renewed his fight to expand the use of clean energy on homes coast to coast. We look forward to energizing our hundreds of member companies to urge their Congressmen to support the Hayworth bill."

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Habitat Designated for Three Plants on Lanai

LANAI, Hawaii, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated critical habitat for three endangered plants within the Hawaiian Islands.

A total of 789 acres is included within six critical habitat units on the island of Lanai, slashed from the 19,504 acres proposed for critical habitat status there in March 2002. The critical habitat designation will aid the conservation of the kookoolau, a member of the aster family; the poe, an herb in the same family as ihi and moss roses; and for Tetramolopium remyi, also a member of the aster family.

Although these species are known to exist on other islands, the areas designated on Lanai will be important for their recovery, the USFWS concluded.

The proposed rule excludes a 14,482 acre unit of private land. The USFWS believes that the voluntary conservation measures undertaken by the landowner, Castle and Cooke Resorts, LLC, and included in a recent Memorandum of Agreement will benefit the 28 plant species in the unit for which critical habitat was proposed.

"This rule demonstrates the flexibility of the Endangered Species Act," said Anne Badgley, USFWS Pacific regional director. "The law requires us to consider economic and other impacts of designating a particular area as critical habitat. In this case, we are dealing with only one landowner, and we believe that the plants will benefit far more from voluntary conservation activities by the private landowner than from designating critical habitat."

Critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved.

"Little federal activity is expected to occur on Lanai, because almost the entire island is privately owned," Badgley added. "So the benefits of critical habitat - which primarily result from consultation on federally permitted or funded projects - are minimal."

The USFWS cited new information received during the public comment period and during field visits that supports eliminating some proposed areas from critical habitat designation.

"Working on the ground with our partners and reviewing information provided by the public has allowed us to reduce the regulatory aspects of the Endangered Species Act and yet enhance the opportunity for these plant species to recover," Badgley said.

Castle and Cooke Resorts has committed to construct exclosure fencing around large portions of Lanaihale and East Lanai to protect endangered plants from axis deer and sheep, to control populations of feral ungulates with hunting programs carried out by the public and the staff of the resort; to reduce fire threats by controlling alien grasses, and to propagate and plant native plants within the area. The landowner has also committed to seeking a USFWS review in the event that any federal projects are proposed in the area in the future. This would ensure the protection of threatened and endangered species.

"On Lanai, where 99 percent of the island is privately owned, landowner cooperation and support are essential if we are to prevent the extinction of endangered species and promote their recovery," Badgley added.

The designated critical habitat consists of 789 acres in six units. One unit of 373 acres in northwestern Lanai is identified as critical habitat for Tetramolopium remyi. Although the species does not now exist in the area, it did in the recent past and it is likely that seeds still exist in the ground.

Three other small units totaling 397 acres are designated for the kookoolau along ridgeline slopes in eastern Lanai, including along Kapohaku, Waiapaa, Waiakaiole, and Paliakoae gulches. The two remaining units are for poe and total 19 acres. One unit is on Poopoo Islet off Lanai's southern shore; the other includes the adjacent coastal cliff faces on Lanai.

"We are working with private landowners on other islands as well," said Paul Henson, field supervisor of the USFWS Pacific islands office. "However, each island is different. So the Lanai situation - where we're dealing with only one landowner - is certainly unusual. Along with our partners, we give a lot of credit to Castle and Cooke Resorts for its conservation work in the past, and we look forward to expanding our efforts to recover all of the threatened and endangered plant species on the island of Lanai."

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90 Acres Added to Sawnee Mountain Protected Area

FORSYTH COUNTY, Georgia, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Ninety acres of woods and rock outcroppings will become part of a new park on Sawnee Mountain, thanks to a county purchase facilitated by the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

Forsyth County purchased the property from a private owner using funds from the Georgia Community Greenspace Program, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and general county revenues. It will be managed by the county parks department and the nonprofit Sawnee Mountain Foundation.

The 90 acre purchase brings the total area protected to 715 acres.

"We had already started working on Sawnee Mountain prior to the existence of the greenspace program," said Forsyth County administrator Stevie Mills, "but the greenspace program definitely helped. We are delighted to be able to get this tract of land."

Mills credits the family of Mark Mashburn for making the dream of conserving Sawnee Mountain possible.

"We are very grateful to the family," Mills said. "They made this happen by working with the county and the Trust for Public Land."

The property consists of 90 acres of undeveloped mountain land located on the north side of Sawnee Mountain. It is heavily wooded, has large rock outcroppings, and dramatic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This critical tract of land links properties already assembled and acquired by TPL and conveyed to the county for permanent protection. TPL is a nonprofit organization that protects natural and historic resources.

The Mashburn land also provides better access for passive recreation and hiking to the "Indian Seats" area at the top of the mountain. The property will be managed by the county parks department as well as a private nonprofit corporation, the Sawnee Mountain Foundation.

"I think the Mashburn acquisition is extremely significant in helping the county continue the legacy of protecting the view of and from Sawnee Mountain," said John Kieffer, the former county commission chairman who played an active role in the project.

"This is really a wonderful place that people will be able to enjoy, and it's incredible to think we have something like this in Forsyth County," Kieffer added. "Typically, you would have to go to the north Georgia mountains to see the kind of view you see from the top of Sawnee Mountain."

While relishing the opportunity to protect the Mashburn land, TPL project manager Chris Deming points out that there is more to be accomplished.

"Every time I'm in Forsyth County and I mention to someone what we're working on, people say how glad they are that the mountain is being protected," Deming said. "They have a very special connection with this place. But there is more to do, and we expect to be able to acquire even more land for the park this year."

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Stream Erosion Linked to Decline of American Eels

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Erosion in small freshwater streams could be a contributing factor in the decline in American eel populations recorded over the last two decades, new research suggests.

The observations are a result of a project by researchers at the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Southern Research Station (SRS), the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests to learn more about the American eel in its freshwater habitat.

eel

An American eel with a transmitter attached, ready to be released so that it can provide information that may help protect its species. (Photo courtesy USFS Southern Research Station)
The American eel is found over a large geographic range that extends from Greenland to South America. However, American eels spawn in just one location - the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.

After hatching, eel larvae drift for months on ocean currents before making their way to coastal areas. Now known as glass eels, they move into freshwater estuaries where they develop into the elvers that migrate up streams and rivers to transform first into yellow eels, then into the mature silver eels that migrate back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die.

Because it spends most of its lifespan in streams, the American eel is considered a freshwater fish.

Since the mid-1970s, numbers of American eels have been declining in both Canada and the U.S., prompting concern over the status of this species. Although eels once occupied all of the Atlantic watersheds, little is known about their seasonal behavior or distribution patterns in headwater mountain streams. Barriers to headwater habitats have been identified as a possible factor in eel decline.

This past summer, SRS researchers and their collaborators began assessing the abundance, habitat use, growth and activity of American eels in the headwater tributaries of the James and Potomac rivers in Virginia, using radiotelemetry to track the daily and seasonal movements of individual eels along a stream network. Preliminary results show that the daily activity of eels is influenced by seasonal changes, and that the eels winter in the smaller headwater streams.

The scientists found that the eels were most active during the three to five hours just after sunset in the summer months. During the fall, activity was much more sporadic and varied more between individuals.

Although researchers expected the eels to move out of the smaller streams into larger, deeper streams for the winter, the radiotelemetry studies showed that the eels spent most of their time underneath the boulders and undercut banks of the headwater streams, moving little.

These findings have important implications for how the streams that provide habitat for American eels are managed. High sediment loads from flooding or erosion could fill in the cracks and undercut banks occupied by the eels during the winter, smothering them or forcing them to migrate to less desirable habitats, the researchers explained.

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Two New Clean Coal Projects Funded

WASHINGTON, DC, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - The Department of Energy has awarded $132 million to two power companies to develop new technologies for cleaner burning coal powered electric plants.

Western Greenbrier Co-Generation, LLC (WBC), located in Rainelle, West Virginia, will receive a $107 million grant to develop a clean coal co-production power plant. Wisconsin Electric Power Company, located in Milwaukee, will receive a $25 million grant to develop an integrated mercury and particulate matter emissions control system at the Presque Isle Power Plant in Marquette, Michigan.

WBC, a new public service entity serving the municipalities of Rainelle, Rupert and Quinwood, will team with Parsons E&C, Hazen Research Inc., and Alstom Power Inc. to demonstrate a 75 megawatt (MW) clean coal project that will use waste coal from a four million ton refuse site located in Anjean, West Virginia, as its primary fuel. The waste coal site is a major source of water and soil pollution in the region.

The project will include an innovative boiler system that will help control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and mercury. An integrated co-production facility will use ash from the boiler and green wood waste to produce structural bricks, and will serve as the anchor tenant in a new industrial park.

The facility will use hot water from the power plant to provide district heating and steam from the power plant's turbine exhaust for industrial uses, including drying hardwood in a steam kiln.

The finished project will convert an estimated 1,610 tons per day of coal waste materials from past mining operations, and 220 tons per day of coal into 75 MW of electricity, 20,000 pounds per hour of steam for industrial use and district heating, and 300 tons per day of structural bricks and alkaline ash material suitable for use in remediating acid mine drainage.

If proven successful, the technology could be applied to many regions of the country to reclaim contaminated land where waste coal is now stockpiled, as well as to reduce waste disposal activities from operating coal mines, and would do so at a 40 percent reduction in construction size.

Wisconsin Electric's demonstration project, named TOXECON, is considered one of the best low cost options for control of greater than 80 percent of mercury from coal fired plants. The project will also investigate the capabilities of the proposed system to control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

The objectives of the project are to achieve at least 90 percent mercury removal; determine viability of sodium injection for up to 70 percent sulfur dioxide control; minimize waste disposal with a target of 100 percent utilization; and recover at least 90 percent of the mercury captured in the ash.

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Pheasants Forever, USDA Partner to Protect Habitat

BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - A new partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Pheasants Forever will seek to improve habitat for pheasants and other wildlife.

The partnership establishes a broad working relationship to deliver conservation programs that benefit farmers as well as soil, water and wildlife.

"We are thrilled to formalize our partnership with the NRCS," remarked Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever CEO. "Over the last 20 years, our organizations have worked closely together. The tremendous potential of the 2002 Farm Bill served as a catalyst for the formal partnership. Now is the time to be proactive. Together, Pheasants Forever and the NRCS will be able to accomplish much more for wildlife habitat."

The cooperative partnership, announced Friday, is the first between the two organizations. It establishes a framework of cooperation that encourages conservation projects for wildlife habitat, technical assistance for landowners, information and education materials, collaboration on habitat and wildlife research and development of habitat enhancement techniques.

"Partnerships such as this help promote common sense environmental stewardship practices so working lands are conserved for farmers, ranchers and those who love wildlife," said deputy secretary of agriculture Jim Moseley.

Moseley also announced that the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will create a liaison position with Pheasants Forever that will aid in using new technology and approaches to deliver conservation programs at the local level.

"The agreement will help us work together to enhance the productivity of habitat for pheasants and other wildlife," said NRCS chief Bruce Knight. "Wildlife is an important resource concern in the agency's ecosystem based approach to conservation."

Pheasants Forever, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is dedicated to protecting and enhancing pheasant and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness and education. NRCS provides planning, technical and financial assistance for the conservation of natural resources on private lands.