Court Strikes Down EPA Statement on Human TestingWASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to refuse data from human experimentation used to evaluate the safety of pesticides, it must propose a formal rule, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled today.
In doing so, the court voided an EPA press release dated December 14, 2001, which reversed the agency's previous position of considering the results of pesticide industry human tests on a case by case basis.
EPA lawyers argued that the directives in the press release are not binding regulations because the language allows the EPA to consider third party studies if legally required to do so. They also questioned the timing of the case.
The court rejected the EPA arguments. "We have little trouble determining that the directive announced in the December 14 press release is indeed a binding regulation. This being the case, the agency's other arguments rapidly fall by the wayside," the judges wrote.
Senior attorney Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who helped argue the case, said he is still concerned that the Bush administration might try to use this court decision as an excuse to accept the industry's human tests.
"The court ruled against the EPA on procedural grounds, but it confirmed the agency's authority to reject industry human tests that do not satisfy strict regulations and the highest ethical standards," Olson said.
The EPA would have to reject all industry human tests conducted so far under these criteria, Olson said. "It is unlikely that the agency could consider any industry study that dosed people with pesticides to be ethical."
EPA Allows Court to Weaken Toxics Release InventoryWASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today decided not to appeal a court decision that allows mining companies to stop reporting significant quantities of toxic chemicals they discharge into the environment.
The decision represents the first time a popular right to know program, the Toxics Release Inventory, has been scaled back.
Mining companies have been in litigation with the government over the right to know requirement since 1997, when the EPA first added it to the pollution program.
The mining industry emerged as the nation's biggest polluter, discharging more than three billion pounds of toxic chemicals to air, land and water in 2000, the most recent year for which the agency has released pollution reports.
"The mining industry is the nation's biggest polluter," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "And the Bush administration is helping them make part of their pollution secret."
By not appealing the decision, the agency is allowing the mining industry to wrap the dumping of chemicals, such ashundreds of millions of pounds of arsenic, in a shroud of secrecy, said Lexi Shultz, legislative director for the Mineral Policy Center.
"The decision and the EPA's failure to appeal fly directly in the face of the fundamental principle that the public has a right to know about dangerous toxins that are being put into the environment," said Shultz.
On April 2, a judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of Barrick Gold Corporation, saying that toxic chemicals in the company's waste rock qualify for an exemption from public reporting if they do not exceed a concentration of one percent.
The EPA had originally decided that chemicals in waste rock were not eligible for such an exemption, which was established so that companies would not have to report small concentration releases that presumably presented little threat to the environment or public health.
The Toxics Release Inventory is considered one of the most successful EPA programs and is a model for providing the public with information on toxic pollution by industries nationwide. Since the program was established in the late 1980s, continuously reported toxic emissions have dropped by nearly 50 percent, an improvement largely attributed to companies' responses to publicity about their pollution records.
Senator Seeks End to Garbage Shipments From CanadaLANSING, Michigan, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - Citing environmental and national security concerns, a United States senator is asking citizens to join a petition drive to halt a flood of Canadian trash now being dumped in Michigan landfills.
In January, the city of Toronto, Canada, signed an agreement to send all its trash, more than 1.1 million tons each year, to landfills in Michigan. More than 160 trash trucks from Canada cross into downtown Detroit every day on their way to dump waste at landfills in Michigan.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, says Toronto is now considering a proposal to ship 55,000 tons of human sewage waste into Michigan. And the shipments could stop, she says, if the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) would enforce an already existing treaty.
"Not only does this waste dramatically decrease Michigan's own landfill capacity, but it has a tremendous negative impact on Michigan's environment and the public health of our citizens," the senator wrote in a letter Monday to the EPA. "These trucks also present a clear homeland security risk at the Michigan-Canadian border, since by their nature trucks full of waste are harder to inspect than traditional cargo."
In April 2003, local police officers arrested the driver of a Canadian trash truck at a Michigan landfill with more than 50 pounds of marijuana inside of his truck, and Canadian trucks have been caught at the border with radioactive materials, Stabenow noted.
She said that although Michigan and other states already have protections contained in an international agreement between the United States and Canada, those protections are being ignored.
"Under the Agreement Concerning the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste, which was entered into in 1986, shipments of waste across the Canadian-U.S. border require government to government notification," she wrote.
"The Environmental Protection Agency, as the designated authority for the United States, should receive this notification and then have 30 days to consent or object to the shipment," Stabenow wrote. "It is our understanding, that these notification provisions have never been enforced."
The senator's letter makes no mention of the fact that some Michigan waste winds up in Canadian landfills, too. Toxic waste and sludge from Michigan wind up in landfills and incinerators in Ontario.
"I do not want to sound anti-American," Caroline DiCocco, a member of the Ontario provincial parliament, told the "Macomb Daily," in Macomb, Michigan, in February. "But you are receiving municipal waste, and we are receiving hazardous waste, highly toxic stuff. Can you imagine how victimized we feel?"
Stabenow urges citizens to join the effort by signing a petition set up on her website at: http://stabenow.senate.gov/stoptrash.
Arctic Tundra Studied to Extend Oil Equipment TransportWASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy will assist the state of Alaska in the first scientifically based study to determine when oil companies can transport equipment over the Arctic tundra without damaging the fragile ecosystem. The new tundra study will be conducted during the autumn and winter of 2003 and the summer of 2004.
The most distinctive characteristic of the tundra soil is its permafrost, a permanently frozen layer of ground often 2,000 feet thick. Shallow rooted tundra plants and microorganisms grow in the permafrost.
The tundra ecosystem is sensitive to disturbance and has little ability to restore itself. Disruption of vegetative cover causes permafrost to melt, causing collapse of ground and loss of soil. Automobile tracks cause deep gullies that persist for years.
"Sound science offers the best way to protect sensitive environments," said Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy Mike Smith. "Today, however, all we have is a general rule of thumb for determining when it is environmentally safe to move oil exploration equipment across the Arctic tundra."
"This project will apply the latest in scientific instrumentation and modeling to refine our understanding of the tundra's resistance to disturbances. The result will be better environmental protection and a much more scientific basis for determining when oil operations can be conducted."
The current standard was established more than 30 years ago without the benefit of systematic scientific analysis. The standard now limits oil exploration and ice road construction to time periods when there is a minimum of 12 inches of frozen ground and six inches of snow cover over the tundra.
The Energy Department will provide $270,000 for the study. Another $70,000 in funding and technical services is being provided from Total Elf Fina, Anadarko Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Yale University under an agreement these organizations have with Alaska's Department of Natural Resources.
Research personnel from Yale and the Department of Natural Resources will carry out the analyses and modeling. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory will provide researchers to assist in evaluating the study's design effectiveness and the accuracy of the modeling techniques.
The researchers plan to develop an ecological model that accounts for factors such as snow depth, snow density, ground hardness, and the type of vegetation and soil, and how they interact to protect the tundra from being compacted or deformed.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is responsible for determining when the tundra is ready for cross-country vehicle travel related to oil exploration and development. In 1970, the current standard was adopted under the assumption that frozen ground and snow cover protects vegetation from being crushed or torn and the soil from being rutted or compressed by oil exploration traffic.
Last year exploration activity was permitted for only 103 days before spring thawing reduced the frozen ground and snow cover below the standard. If the scientific studies provide a more credible assessment of the tundra's resistance to damage, it may be possible to extend the number of workdays, still without harming the environment, Energy Department officials hope.
Index Sizes Up State of Global OceansWASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - A new index created by the Marine Fish Conservation Network gathers together a vast amount of information about the world's oceans and their inhabitants.
Do you need to know what percentage of global fish populations are exploited, overexploited or severely depleted? Do you want to find out what country is the global leader in fisheries production? The index will tell you instantly that the answers are 75 percent and China.
Operators of the network, created in honor of World Oceans Day June 8, hope the index will give people a reason to think about what is happening to the oceans.
World Oceans Day was created in 1992 when over 150 countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at the United Nations Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The intention was to stop the worldwide loss of animal and plant species and genetic resources.
"The index provides hard facts, not opinions, about the state of our oceans, and what that means to the fishermen and communities who depend upon them, as well as the American consumer," said Marine Fish Conservation Network executive director Lee Crockett.
"Some of these facts may startle people. We hope that when people read this index they will become more aware of how important, and fragile, the ocean really is," he said.
The index includes sources for all information, and will be of interest to anyone interested in how the United States is protecting its ocean fish populations. Facts on the new index:
See the index at: http://www.conservefish.org.
Short Term Exposure to Estrogen Cuts Fish FertilityRICHLAND, Washington, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - When adult male fish are exposed to short term and low concentrations of a synthetic estrogen, their fertility can drop by as much as 50 percent, according to a study by scientists at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL).
Estrogen is an active ingredient in most oral contraceptives and when excreted, finds it way into lakes, rivers and streams through sewer systems.
The study, conducted with the University of Idaho, says that other studies have focused on how estrogen from contraceptives may alter sex organs of juvenile fish.
But, researchers say, few studies have analyzed how exposure to estrogen affects adult fish as they make their way through rivers, lakes and streams to spawn.
Previous research reported that high concentrations of estrogen could change sex organs, causing juvenile male fish to develop female organs.
The study looked at the impact of a synthetic estrogen called ethynylestradiol, which is the chemical in oral contraceptives. Irvin Schultz, the PNL toxicologist who led the study, said the research reinforces evidence that impacts are not limited to juvenile fish.
"We can see that adult fish are not immune to the effects of estrogen in waterways. Even short term exposure to low levels of synthetic estrogen can impact their fertility," Schultz said. "Our results indicate that the fertility of a healthy male trout that has developed normally still can be affected, if that exposure takes place during a critical sexual maturation stage before spawning."
The scientists studied the possible mechanisms for reduced fertility, specifically sperm motility and decreased hormone levels. While they were able to rule out sperm motility as the mechanism, their research revealed increased - not decreased - hormone levels in the blood plasma of fish exposed to 10 nanograms per liter of ethynylestradiol.
Hormone levels did decrease in fish exposed to a greater concentration of 100 nanograms of ethynylestradiol.
"While other research has shown the visible change that can take place when young male fish are exposed to high levels of estrogen, we are suggesting that low and short term exposure can have just as significant but not physically observable effects," Schultz said.
The study appears in the June issue of the journal "Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry."
Former Sierra Club President Runs for Ford BoardWASHINGTON, DC, June 3, 2003 (ENS) - Saying it is time for Ford Motor Company to improve its environmental record and stress fuel economy, former Sierra Club President Dr. Robert Cox entered the running for a position on the company's board of directors.
"We all want to see Ford continue to create jobs for its workers and profits for its shareholders," Cox said in his announcement. "To do that, it needs to embrace 21st century technology and innovation. That's why I am running for Ford's board."
Cox served as Sierra Club president from 1994 to 1996 and again from 2000 to 2001 and maintains an environmental perspective on the business of automobile manufacturing.
He would urge the company to use fuel economy as an integrating force in its overall business strategy, to recapture lost market share by aggressively marketing hybrid vehicles, and to stop blocking congressional action to address global warming.
The average fuel economy of new Ford vehicles is at a 20 year low. The company was part of the automotive industry lobbying effort that convinced Congress to reject higher fuel economy standards last year.
In a related incident, the Sierra Club has released a new advertisement questioning Ford's commitment to innovation. Released to mark Ford's 100th anniversary, June 16, the ad points out that the Model T, Ford's first car, got 25 miles to the gallon, better gas mileage than the average Ford vehicle gets today.
The technology exists to allow Ford to achieve a fleet wide average of 40 miles per gallon, Cox said. Better engines, transmissions, aerodynamics, and other technologies could be built into vehicles of all sizes while enhancing performance, safety, and affordability.
But five years after Toyota put the first hybrid on the market, Ford has yet to get into the game, Cox notes.
"I want to help make Ford an innovative, technologically advanced, 21st century company," said Cox. "By making fuel economy a priority, Ford can recapture lost market share, keep pace with foreign competition, and help protect the environment."
Tribes Harness South Dakota Wind EnergyROSEBUD, South Dakota, June 2, 2003 (ENS) - The Rosebud Sioux turbine sits atop a 170 foot tubular tower with three blades that have a diameter of 150 feet. Tribal leaders hope it will be the first phase of an intertribal wind development project that will help give communities a source of power and employment for years to come.
Formally dedicated in early May, the turbine will use South Dakota wind to generate clean, renewable electricity to power about 220 homes while reducing emissions by more than 50,000 tons of carbon dioxide over its operating life. The turbine will accomplish this by replacing coal generated power on the most intensely coal fired electricity grid in the country.
It is the second Native American owned and operated utility scale wind turbine built in association with Vermont based NativeEnergy.
The turbine was funded in part by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream, Vermont Businesses for Businesses for Social Responsibility, the Timberland Company, and Stonyfield.
Participating organizations offset their carbon emissions through the purchase of renewable energy credits from NativeEnergy. These purchases helped pay the Rosebud turbine's upfront capital costs. The credits are donated to Clean Air Cool Planet, a New Hampshire based non profit organization working for practical solutions to climate change.