AmeriScan: June 4, 2003

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Appeals Court Backs Interior's View of Mining Act

WASHINGTON, DC, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - A federal appeals court upheld Tuesday a lower court ruling that surface damage from underground coal mining is not covered by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

In the original 1999 case, Citizens Coal Council v. Gale Norton, the group questioned the Department of the Interior's interpretation that a section of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act does not apply to underground mining.

The Citizens Coal Council argued that the statute should protect landowners against subsidence, the collapse of rock and soil layers on surfaces above underground mines.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the Citizens Coal Council.

In their ruling, the three judges of the appeals court admitted that the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) is a "complex and often puzzling statute" that raises questions about interpretation.

It was enacted by Congress to protect the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations and to strike a balance between environmental protection and coal supplies, they say.

"We find that the definition of 'surface coal mining operations' in SMCRA section 701(28) is ambiguous as to whether Congress intended it to include subsidence," the judges write. "We find the secretary's interpretation, while not necessarily the most natural one, is reasonable, and therefore we defer to it."

"This ruling safeguards the jobs of nearly 45,000 miners working in underground coal mines," said National Mining Association President and CEO Jack Gerard, "and of affordable, reliable electricity for millions of American homes and businesses that rely on coal based generation for their electricity."

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Wilderness Ruling Heading For the Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, DC, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration has signaled that it is preparing to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a lower court ruling which found the public has a right to enforce wilderness protections on public lands.

The original case - Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Gale Norton and Bureau of Land Management - centered on whether the federal government should be held accountable for destruction that has occurred in Wilderness Study Areas from uncontrolled off road vehicle use. It sought to compel the Bureau of Land Management to regulate off road vehicle use and close some roads to all vehicles.

The Utah 10th District Court dismissed the suit, but an appeals court upheld the plaintiffs. In May, the Bush administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court explaining that the decision should be thrown out and requesting an extension until June 18 for filing a request for review.

Critics say that if the Supreme Court takes the case and decides in favor of the Bush administration, it would have an impact on public land management across the West.

"If the court sides with the Bush administration, it gives them the green light to hand over our last wild places to big business for their destructive activities," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. "If the Bush administration gets its way, there will be no proverbial hen house to protect."

While admitting that uncontrolled off road vehicle use has impaired the Wilderness Study Areas, the government argues the public cannot hold the Bureau of Land Management accountable for such a violation or enforce promises to prevent such harm in Resource Management Plans.

The state of Utah and several counties also intervened in the suit, asking the court not to close any area to off road vehicle use, no matter how much damage the vehicles cause, claiming the trails at issue rightfully belong to the state or counties.

Maine Poised to Approve Smoke Free Bars

AUGUSTA, Maine, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - Maine's House of Representatives voted today 95-47 in favor of legislation that will make all workplaces, including bars, smoke free. The bill now goes to the full state Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Earlier this month the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee voted 12-1 in favor of the measure. A partial Senate vote on Monday was heavily in favor, and a spokesman for Governor John Baldacci told the Portland "Press Herald" newspaper that the governor will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

The state passed smoke free restaurant legislation four years ago. The new legislation is intended to give workers in bars the same protection from secondhand smoke that now exists in other workplaces such as restaurants.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island are also in the final stages of smoke free workplace legislation, according to the SmokeFree Action Network, a national advocacy organization.

California, Delaware and New York have passed workplace legislation for all workers, and other states have smoke free laws in place covering some towns and cities.

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Lake Breeze Effect Makes Chicagoans Wheeze

CHICAGO, Illinois, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - Chicago has long been known as one of the nation's worst cities for people with asthma. The culprit, a new research group finds, could be the familiar lake breeze effect that moves air pollution back and forth between the city and Lake Michigan.

"High powered instrumentation made it possible for the first time to identify pollutants before and during the lake breeze in Chicago and compare the differences," said researcher Martina Schmeling, assistant professor of chemistry at Loyola University - Chicago.

Schmeling presented her team's research at a Great Lakes Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists have known about the lake breeze effect, a daily atmospheric swapping of air masses between the city and lake that traps particulates in the air.

This is the first time they were able to identify and measure the concentrations of individual pollutants at different times during the cycle.

They found that the initial pollutants react with each other over Lake Michigan, which generates more toxic compounds. As the air mass moves from the lake back toward the city, residents may be exposed to high concentrations of these hazardous substances before they dissipate.

Measurements taken from the Loyola University Chicago Air Monitoring Station found that the lake breeze effect interacts with particulate air pollution from five to seven million commuters in morning rush hour rising over Chicago. That chemical mix gets swept over the lake by offshore winds.

"Above the lake [the pollutants] react with each other, initiated by the intense sunlight, like in a giant reactor," Schmeling said.

Chicago and its suburbs lead the nation in the number of asthma cases per capita per year, and these particulates could be part of the problem, scientists say. "City residents may experience an acute, short term exposure to high concentrations of pollutants as the leading edge of the lake breeze returns to land," said researcher Paul Doskey of the Argonne National Laboratory's Environmental Research Division.

Since the lake breeze effect is most pronounced during early summer, more testing is planned this month. The researchers also plan to study data from Detroit, Toronto and other cities with similar meteorological patterns situated on the shores of the Great Lakes.

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New York Coalition to Lobby for Harbor Rail Tunnel

NEW YORK, New York, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - Leaders from the New York City's business, labor, environmental, community, and urban planning sectors Tuesday announced the formation of a coalition to lobby for the construction of a rail freight tunnel beneath New York Harbor.

The coalition, dubbed MoveNY, was initiated to promote the city's interests in Washington as Congress considers reauthorization of the major federal transportation spending bill, said former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Richard Ravitch, who is now service as a co-chair of MoveNY.

"The Cross Harbor Rail Freight Tunnel is the most vital element in expanding our region's capacity for goods movement and economic growth over the next several decades," said Denis Hughes, president of the New York AFL-CIO and another MoveNY co-chair.

The tunnel would connect New Jersey rail lines to rail lines east of the Hudson River originating in Brooklyn and extending throughout the New York metropolitan area into Long Island, the southern tier of Connecticut, and the region of upstate New York that is east of the Hudson River. Rail freight tunnel construction costs are estimated by MoveNY to be about $2.2 billion.

Congress is now considering reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century as the original bill signed in 1998 expires this year. Billions of dollars will go to major transportation projects, and the MoveNY group hopes that federal funding could pay a major portion of the tunnel's construction costs.

On April 14, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg in reaffirming their support for the tunnel and pledged to work together to ensure federal funding is alloted for its construction.

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Waste Recycling Bill Passes California Senate

SACRAMENTO, California, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - Legislation requiring electronics manufacturers to establish a "free and convenient" recycling system for old computers, televisions and other electronic devices is working its way through the California legislature. It was passed by the California State Senate today on a 24 to 13 vote and now moves along to the Assembly.

Senate Bill 20, by State Senator Byron Sher, was introduced to address the growing public health and environmental threat posed by electronics.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has determined that computer monitors, televisions, fluorescent lamps, and other electronic devices contain hazardous levels of lead, mercury and other toxic materials, and their disposal in solid waste landfills is therefore prohibited.

Sponsored by Californians Against Waste (CAW), the state’s largest recycling advocacy organization, SB 20 is the second legislative attempt to deal with the growing crisis.

Last year’s bill was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis after objections from industry lobbyists. Still, Davis declared in his veto message that he was prepared to support legislation that developed a program similar to one already established by the European Union, in which companies have cradle-to-grave responsibility for any electronic products deemed hazardous by authorities. SB 20 establishes such a program.

A new statewide survey by the California Integrated Waste Management Board shows about six million obsolete electronic devices stockpiled in California homes and businesses, a number that increases by the thousand every day.

"The cost to California taxpayers under the present non-system could be as high as $1.4 billion over the next five years,” said CAW executive director Mark Murray. “It is illegal to dispose of these items in a landfill, so either the companies develop a recycling program or we’re going to have illegal dumps springing up across the state. Local governments simply cannot afford to pay for it any longer."

“We share the belief of our European Union friends that those who profit from these items should have the responsibility for their end-life too,” Murray said.

CAW says that some 80 percent of electronic waste is being recycled in the U.S. is being exported to developing countries like China and India where large family owned businesses, some employing as many as 100,000 low-wage earners, dismantle the e-waste by hand in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.

The bill prohibits any California e-waste included in this program from being exported anywhere that the standards for dealing with it are lower than those in California.

Under the bill, every manufacturer of a hazardous electronic device sold in the state must establish and implement a state certified system for the collection, handling, transportation, processing, recovery, reuse and recycling of the e-waste that results from electronic devices sold by that manufacturer.

By 2010, the program must result in at least 90 percent of all devices sold in the state being diverted into the program.

As an alternative to implementing a plan, manufacturers may remit to the state a fee on each of the devices sold, equal to the net cost of collecting, processing, and recycling the device. The bill also prohibits state agencies from entering into procurement agreements with any manufacturer not in compliance with the new law.

SB 20 is supported by a coalition of local governments, environmental organizations, labor organizations, private recyclers and waste haulers, and non-profit recyclers and thrift shops. The measure is opposed by most electronics manufacturers, with the exception of Hewlett Packard.

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Public Comment Sought on Nuclear License Renewal

WASHINGTON, DC, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced Tuesday that it will hold four public meetings in July to allow input on an update of its "Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants," originally published in 1996.

Generic Environmental Impact Statements (GEIS) identify environmental issues and assess the scope and impact of environmental effects associated with license renewal at any nuclear power plant site.

Separate supplements to the GEIS are prepared to assess specific environmental issues at individual plants when a license renewal application is submitted for that plant.

The commission is asking members of the public to comment on issues that should be considered in its GEIS update at the meetings.

NRC staff will host informal discussions one hour prior to each meeting, answering questions and providing additional information about the scoping process. No formal submittals will be accepted during these discussions. The formal meetings will start at 7 pm on the following dates:

Anyone who wishes to comment can register by contacting Barry Zalcman at: LRGEISUpdate@nrc.gov before June 30. Speaker registration will be available before the start of each session, but individual comment time may be limited.

Written comments should be submitted by September 2, either by mail to the Chief, Rules and Directives Branch, Division of Administrative Services, Mail Stop T-6-D 59, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C., 20555-0001, or by email to: LRGEISUpdate@nrc.gov.

The GEIS, its Addendum 1 that was published in 1999, and subsequent site specific supplements may be viewed on the NRC website at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1437/.

At the conclusion of the information gathering process, the NRC staff will prepare a summary of conclusions and significant issues and will send a copy to interested persons who participated in the scoping process. The summary will also be available through the NRC's Agencywide Documents Access and Management System (ADAMS) on the NRC web site at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams/web-based.html. The NRC will hold additional public meetings for public comment once the draft GEIS revision is prepared.

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Ancient Pollen Used to Study Forest Biodiversity

ARLINGTON, Virginia, June 4, 2003 (ENS) - By analyzing data on tree pollen extracted from ancient lake sediments, ecologists have sharpened their understanding of how forests can maintain a diversity of species.

A new study published in the journal "Nature" indicates that stabilizing processes have been more important than previously thought, and that the loss of species due to human activities could upset that stability in ways that remain poorly understood.

"Quantifying the link between stability and diversity, and identifying the factors that promote species diversity, have challenged ecologists for decades," said Saran Twombly, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"The contribution of this study is unique," Twombly said, "as the scientists used a clever blend of long term data and statistical modeling to test the opposing hypotheses of neutrality and stability as key factors promoting community assembly and diversity."

The scientists examined existing data on pollen from red maple, birch, beech, ash, oak, hemlock and elm trees isolated from cores of lake sediments in southern Ontario.

"This record covers about 10,000 years, so if we look at the relative abundance of different species over that time, which encompasses perhaps several hundred generations of trees, we can estimate long term growth rates," said Clark.

Existing models do not help much in understanding how species to coexist with another species, Clark said, and the study will help ecologists understand forest biodiversity and the forces that sustain or reduce it.

Direct observations to distinguish which model is correct would take centuries, said Clark. "So in this study we came up with a way to test the neutral model based on long term changes in species abundance that are evident in the pollen record."

They found a huge variability within populations. "And this variability means they overlap in ways that determines who is going to win and who is going to lose. And that variability might itself represent a stabilizing mechanism."

Clark emphasized, however, that even though the role of stabilizing mechanisms remains unknown, the results from the study offer cautionary lessons.

"Our findings suggest that forest biodiversity has probably been stabilized in some important ways, so extinction of species should cause us greater concern than if we believed that biodiversity was maintained in the past by continual replenishment of random extinction by generation of new species," he said.

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