AmeriScan: January 16, 2003

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Judge Orders Revisions to Spotted Owl Habitat

TUCSON, Arizona, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - A federal judge has chastised the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for excluding 8.9 million acres of forest in Arizona and New Mexico from the designated critical habitat area of the Mexican spotted owl.

On Monday, Tucson Federal Judge David Bury issued a blistering 31 page ruling denouncing the agency for slashing the amount of critical habitat designated for the owl. Bury also ruled that the USFWS illegally withheld critical information from the public and peer reviewers, and refused to consider protecting essential, but currently unoccupied, owl habitat.

Bury ordered the USFWS to issue a new critical habitat proposal in three months and finalize it within six months. The order came in response to a 2001 lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Navajo environmental group Dine CARE, and the Center for Native Ecosystems.


A Mexican spotted owl. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
The Endangered Species Act requires the designation and protection of specific critical habitat zones for all threatened and endangered species. The zone must include "all areas essential to the conservation" of the species, and be managed to ensure the species recovers from endangerment.

It is illegal to "adversely modify" critical habitat areas. Critical habitat designation is opposed by industry groups because is establishes clear definitions of what areas must be protected and what standard of protection must be implemented.

Other aspects of the Endangered Species Act rely on agency discretion and are more susceptible to political pressure and less susceptible to citizen review and legal challenge. Reform of grazing, mining, development, and road construction policies in New Mexico, Arizona and California have shown critical habitat to be a powerful habitat protection and policy reform tool, supporters argue.

The Clinton Administration issued a proposal to designate 13.5 million acres of critical habitat in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado for the threatened Mexican spotted owl on July 21, 2000. Overriding the recommendation of USFWS biologists, the Bush Administration issued a final designation on February 1, 2001 deleting 8.9 million acres, including all 11 national forests in Arizona and New Mexico.

The vast majority of owls, owl habitat, and logging occur on the excluded forests. The final critical habitat designation focused on National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management lands where no logging occurs.

Judge Bury called this designation strategy "nonsensical."

Bury rejected the Bush administration's claim that the Arizona and New Mexico national forests should be excluded because they are being managed under the federal Mexican Spotted Owl Recovery Plan. Bury noted that the U.S. Forest Service had agreed to implement only part of the plan, that it had violated even the part that it agreed to, and that, in principle, a management plan is not a substitute for critical habitat.

"Forest Service's Forest Plans are not adequate and are, in fact legally insufficient," Bury ruled. "The Forest Service's delay and extreme reluctance in complying with not only the ESA but numerous court orders, as well, raises serious doubts about the Forest Service's commitment to protecting the Mexican spotted owl and its habitat. Indeed, the Forest Service made affirmative efforts to block the listing of the owl as a threatened species. Therefore, the adequacy of the Forest Service's protection of the Forest Service's protection of the owl is inherently suspect."

The case could have ramifications for dozens of other cases in which the final critical habitat designation has eliminated thousands or millions of acres of proposed critical habitat. Citing the importance of habitat loss to the majority of endangered species, Bury declared that "Formal designation of critical habitat is a key protection to endangered and threatened species."

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$9.1 Million Fine Issued in Refinery Fire Case

COVINGTON, Kentucky, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - A specialty chemicals and construction company must pay $9.1 million in fines and restitution for its role in a 1997 refinery explosion and fire that injured six people.

Ashland Inc. was convicted on negligent endangerment charges under the Clean Air Act and for submitting a false certification to environmental regulators. The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in Minneapolis also ordered Ashland to pay an estimated $4 million for upgrades to sewers, junction boxes and drains at its St. Paul Park Refinery.

In its previous plea agreement, the defendant agreed to a deferred prosecution for a violation of the new source review performance standards of the Clean Air Act. That prosecution may be in question now, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to revise and weaken the new source review provisions.

Ashland's violations led to an explosion and fire on May 1997 at the St. Paul Park Refinery where one man was severely injured and five others were hurt. The resultant accident was due to Ashland's failure to seal manhole sewer covers used to dispose of flammable hydrocarbons.

Some hydrocarbons leaked, became airborne and reached an ignition source. The initial fire was put out, but a second leak of hydrocarbons from a manhole cover ignited and injured members of an emergency response team.

The false certification violation occurred after the fire, when Ashland told the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in July 1997 that its sewer system was in compliance with the Clean Air Act and Ashland failed to reveal that a manhole cover had been unsealed and a fire had resulted.

As part of the sentence, Ashland will pay $3.5 million to the severely injured man and pay medical coverage for him and his family for the rest of their lives. The other five injured workers will receive $10,000 each.

In addition, Ashland will pay a $1.5 million criminal fine, pay $50,000 in restitution to each of several local fire departments and take out full page notices in two major Twin Cities newspapers concerning this incident and its resolution. Ashland will also pay $3.9 million to the National Park Foundation for environmental projects in the Minneapolis area.

The case was investigated by EPA's Criminal Investigation Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation with the assistance of EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center.

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Manufacturers to Label Mercury Fluorescent Lamps

MONTPELIER, Vermont, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - Fluorescent lamp makers, required by Vermont law to label all lamps sold in state containing mercury, announced plans on Wednesday for "a nationwide program to label fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lamps that contain mercury, as well as their packaging."

After passage of the Vermont mercury law in 1998, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), a trade group representing lamp makers, filed a lawsuit arguing that the Vermont law violated the Commerce Clause as well as other Constitutional provisions. NEMA court documents stated that lamps sales in Vermont accounted for less than $2 million worth of fluorescent lamps purchased each year, representing a tiny percentage of lamp sales nationally - and questioned how "tiny Vermont" would "purport to dictate worldwide lamp labeling requirements."

While NEMA won the first court round, they lost in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and again when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case, setting the stage for NEMA's announcement on Wednesday.

"A harmonized national label is the only labeling approach that makes sense," said NEMA president Malcolm O'Hagan in a prepared statement. "Lamp manufacturers make their products for national and international markets and do not control the distribution system. Disposal requirements vary greatly across local, state, and international boundaries, making anything other than a national label impractical."

Lamp makers are now expected to label an estimated 600 million lamps - and their packaging - sold nationwide each year. By November 30, all lamp makers selling their products in Vermont are required to provide a website and toll free number for consumers to obtain information on recycling and proper management of spend light bulbs.

Manufacturers will also spend $10,000 a year for two years to help educate Vermonters to keep lamps from being broken or thrown in the trash.

While advocates noted that the lamp makers commitment was a step forward, they questioned why they do not label lamps worldwide.

"It's nice to see that lamp makers have finally seen the light," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, who helped drafted the Vermont legislation and win its passage. "Yet we question the practicality of only labeling lamps sold nationally based on NEMA's own statement that lamp makers sell to 'international markets and do not control the distribution system.' Because mercury is both a local and global pollutant, we urge lamp makers to recognize their responsibility and label all lamps worldwide to reduce mercury pollution - and exposure to mercury - both at home and abroad."

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Environmental Group Opposes Army Building Burning

MERRIMAC, Wisconsin, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - A Wisconsin environmental group is opposing plans to destroy by burning as many as 100 explosives contaminated buildings at the closed Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) is asking Representative Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, to help find a safe alternative to open burning of the contaminated buildings - a proposal that nearby residents say will cause more pollution at the closing military base.

In a letter issued this week, CSWAB said that funding should be invested in the research and development of alternative technologies that meet the military's criteria but do not place human health and the environment at risk. The group proposes that Badger be utilized as pilot site.

The proposal could create job opportunities for workers displaced by base closure and could also bring needed federal dollars into Wisconsin.

Disposing of unwanted buildings at closing military facilities is a challenge facing communities across the country. Each year, hundreds of buildings are burned by the Department of Defense, a process which critics say places human health and the environment at unnecessary risk and exacerbates environmental damage caused by past military activities.

"Environmental cleanup at Badger is already a highly complex and challenging problem," said Laura Olah, executive director of CSWAB. "The last thing we need is more contamination."

Plexus Scientific, a contractor working for the U.S. Army, reports that during an open burn materials are "changed from a solid form and are released to the atmosphere where they will certainly be deposited over a large area resulting in contamination of soil and surface water." This method poses potential risks to workers and others posed by the inhalation of vapors and fugitive particulates, Plexus states.

Open burning will, Plexus adds, "cause the release of hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead, zinc, and potentially harmful combustion products from electrical materials, preservative coatings on equipment, paints, plastics, and construction materials into the atmosphere and potentially into soils, groundwater, and surface water."

Finding an environmentally friendly solution is consistent with the recommendations of the Badger Reuse Committee, an independent advisory group funded with Baldwin's help. Last year, the committee of local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and other interested groups approved a plan that stipulates future activities should pose no risk to people or the environment and should not pose the threat of additional contamination of the Badger property.

Planned future uses for the 7,400 acre facility, located next to Devil's Lake State Park and the Baraboo Hills, include conservation, agriculture, education and recreation.

In order to give federal legislators time to find funding and other support for the project, the group is also asking that the proposed open burning be delayed. According to the Army, the first burn could occur as early as February or March.

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Hot Springs Found in Arctic Ocean

SEATTLE, Washington, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have found active hot springs in the icy Arctic Ocean, which may host new varieties of marine life.

The researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and partners around the world were surprised to discover about a dozen hydrothermal vents along the Gakkel Ridge in the Arctic Ocean.

"On the Gakkel Ridge, which is in the Arctic Ocean between Greenland and Siberia, we found evidence of nine to 12 hydrothermal vents along about 680 miles of the rift valley," said Ed Baker, a supervisory oceanographer at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

Baker, who has been studying hydrothermal vents for almost 20 years, said the discovery was among the most remarkable and unexpected of his career.

Using a combination of temperature and light measurements, along with an actual fresh sulfide chimney acquired in a dredging operation, the scientists present the first evidence for hydrothermal venting on the Gakkel Ridge.

"This discovery is significant because it is so unexpected," Baker said. "The tectonic plates on either side of the Gakkel Ridge spread apart, or open, very slowly. In fact, it's the planet's slowest spreading ridge, moving at about a half an inch a year or less. We expected to find no more than four or five vent sites because this sluggish spreading rate creates far less volcanic activity than on most mid-ocean ridges."

Hydrothermal vents, first discovered in 1976 on the Galapagos Ridge in the Pacific Ocean, are seafloor hot springs found along the 30,000 miles of global mid-ocean ridge that forms the Earth's largest volcano. The hot spring water can reach 750 degrees Fahrenheit and is rich in dissolved chemicals.

Colonies of unusual marine life, such as clams, tubeworms, and exotic microorganisms, cluster around these vents, feeding on the chemical soup that spews from the ocean floor.

During a expedition of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy and the German Polastern icebreakers, which were conducting petrological sampling and geophysical surveys along the ridge in 2001, the scientists deployed oceanographic instruments called Miniature Autonomous Plume Recorders (MAPRs) on all dredges and rock cores.

Of 145 successful deployments of the MAPR, 119, or 82 percent, showed evidence consistent with hydrothermal plumes.

Physical evidence came when fresh sulfide chimneys, which are created from the chemicals spewed into the water, and hydrothermally altered rocks were acquired during dredging operations. After photographs from a camera tow showed shimmering water and "abundant" biological activity in the area, the scientists named the area "Aurora."

The unusual marine life found in Atlantic Ocean vent sites are "markedly different" from those found in the Pacific Ocean vent sites, Baker said. Baker and his colleagues suggest that since the Gakkel Ridge is not connected to other parts of the mid-ocean ridge system south of Iceland, it is probably that new species of vent marine life await discovery.

"We are eager to return and see what is living down there," Baker said.

The findings of Baker and his colleagues, including H.N. Edmonds of the University of Texas at Austin, and P.J. Michael of the University of Tulsa, appear in today's issue of the journal "Nature."

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EPA, Customs to Share Hazmat Information

PORT NEWARK, New Jersey, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Customs Service have agreed to share information related to the import of products regulated by a number of environmental laws.

As part of efforts to increase homeland security, the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at improving the EPA's ability to monitor and enforce compliance with federal environmental laws and regulations pertaining to chemical substances, pesticides, hazardous waste, and ozone depleting chemicals.

"This agreement between EPA and Customs is another example of two federal agencies working together to advance homeland security, and ensure the protection of both human health and the environment within the borders of the United States and globally," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "With this memorandum of understanding, our agencies will be better positioned to respond promptly and effectively to potential environmental risks that could also serve to jeopardize the security of our nation."

Operating under the new agreement, Customs will give the EPA access to its confidential Automated Commercial System (ACS), which includes information relating to the names and addresses of importers, consignees, shippers, manufacturers, quantity and value of the imported merchandise and wastes, as well as corresponding Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) codes, which will enable EPA to identify classification data for all merchandise imported into the United States.

Customs also will provide the EPA with specific information related to, among others, chemical substances, pesticides, hazardous waste and ozone depleting chemicals on a routine basis, as well as on an as needed and emergency basis, and allow the EPA to share information with federal, state, foreign and local partners as permitted by law, under strict confidentiality requirements.

"Since September 11th, Customs has worked to eliminate the stovepipes that have hampered past federal law enforcement efforts," said U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner. "Today's agreement between Customs and the EPA represents yet another important step towards achieving the free flow of information that will enhance homeland security."

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USDA Steps Up Mad Cow Surveillance

WASHINGTON, DC, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) more than tripled the number of cattle it tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) during the last fiscal year.

The testing is one of a number of steps the agency has taken to keep the disease, also known as mad cow disease, from entering the United States.

"We remain vigilant at strengthening programs to keep BSE out of this country," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "Our surveillance level far exceeds international testing standards and is just one component of a multi-faceted regulatory and compliance system that is keeping the United States free of BSE."

BSE is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder of cattle belonging to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The disease, which has never been found in U.S. cattle, is believed to spread through animal feed that includes ingredients made from carcasses of infected animals.

In fiscal year 2002, USDA tested 19,990 cattle for BSE using a targeted surveillance approach designed to test the highest risk animals, including downer animals - animals that are non-ambulatory at slaughter - animals that die on the farm, older animals and animals exhibiting signs of neurological distress. During fiscal year 2001, USDA tested 5,272 animals.

Both figures are higher than the standards set by the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the standard setting organization for animal health for 162 member nations. Under the international standard, a BSE free country like the United States would be required to test just 433 head of cattle per year. The USDA is now testing 41 times that amount.

In addition to surveillance, OIE guidelines also require a risk analysis and management strategy, an education and awareness program and compulsory notification requirements in order for a country to claim that it is BSE free. The United States exceeds these criteria in all categories.

In November 2001, Harvard University published a landmark three year risk analysis on BSE, representing the most comprehensive risk assessment ever done on BSE. The detailed assessment, which is now being peer reviewed under USDA guidance, showed that the occurrence of BSE in the United States is "highly unlikely."

"We've exceeded OIE surveillance standards for the last seven years and have doubled surveillance every year since 1999," said Veneman. "We continue to examine our BSE programs and examine additional measures to ensure strong regulatory and compliance systems."

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Remote Sensing Aids Water Monitors, Farmers

MADISON, Wisconsin, January 16, 2003 (ENS) - Remote sensing using satellites could help monitor water quality and crop fertilization, according to two teams of scientists.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers and their cooperators have developed a method of assessing the water quality of Wisconsin's lakes from space. Using images captured 438 miles above the earth, they have completed the first satellite based inventory of the clarity of the largest 8,000 lakes in the state.

"Our research aims to integrate satellite data into the state's day to day lake management programs," said Thomas Lillesand, who led the effort as director of UW-Madison's Environmental Remote Sensing Center. "This won't eliminate the need for conventional water quality monitoring, but it will greatly increase the benefits of ground based sampling."

The researchers hope to monitor lake clarity over time to learn "where lake management activities might be most useful, and which lakes will be most subject to change in the future due to such factors as changes in land use and climate," Lillesand added.

The new statewide water clarity map, daily satellite images of Wisconsin, and an electronic gallery of Landsat images of Wisconsin lakes are viewable online at:

Today's wheat growers also face many environmental challenges, including the use of fertilizer. Growers need to apply enough nitrogen based fertilizer to achieve the highest possible crop yields without over-applying - a situation that could lead to serious environmental effects.

In wheat, a critical factor comes down to timing in order to determine how efficiently plants will use nitrogen fertilizer. Current methods for determining the optimum timing of nitrogen fertilizer application can be difficult, expensive and time consuming.

To assist wheat growers, scientists at North Carolina State University have developed a technique to time nitrogen fertilizer applications using remote sensing, including aerial photography and satellite imagery.

"This is one of the first applications of remote sensing technology for nitrogen management available to growers," said Michael Flowers, project scientist. "With the ability to cover large areas in a quick and efficient manner, this remote sensing technique will assist growers in making difficult nitrogen management decisions that affect profitability and environmental stewardship."

In this 2000-2001 study, scientists used remote sensing in the form of infrared aerial photographs to determine when early nitrogen fertilizer applications were required. By relating the infrared reflectance of the crop canopy to wheat tiller density, the scientists were able to differentiate wheat fields that would benefit from early nitrogen fertilizer applications compared to wheat fields that would benefit from standard nitrogen fertilizer applications.

The remote sensing technique was found to accurately time nitrogen fertilizer applications 86 percent of the time across all field locations. The results of the study appear in the January/February 2003 issue of "Agronomy Journal," available online at: http://agron.scijournals