AmeriScan: June 5, 2003

* * *

Roadless Conservation Act Introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON, DC, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - With bipartisan support, the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act was introduced today in both houses of Congress. If passed into law, the measure will codify the Clinton era Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protects 58.5 million acres of roadless areas in National Forests from road construction and most logging.

Senators John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat, introduced the bill in the Senate, and Representatives Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican, and Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat, introduced the act in the House

The move was greeted with approval by environmentalists. William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society, said, "Since 1998, the American people have made it crystal clear that they support protecting the wildest places in our National Forests. Time and time again the public has expressed its unwavering support for strong protection of these magnificent wild lands."

When the roadless rule was first proposed, more than 2.3 million public comments were received in favor of protection for roadless areas - nearly 10 times greater than the level of response to any other rulemaking in federal rulemaking history, Meadows points out.

REP America, the national grassroots organization of Republicans for environmental protection, today praised the bipartisan legislation.

"Without question, protecting wild forests is enormously popular. Every time the Forest Service has asked, citizens have overwhelmingly supported protection of roadless forests. This legislation would give the force of law to a conservation policy the public clearly wants," said Jim DiPeso, REP America policy director.

The Bush administration has blocked the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was put in place only during the last month of Bill Clinton's presidency, by court challenges and executive action.

Protecting wild forests does the taxpayers a favor, DiPeso said. "Roadless areas are roadless for a reason. Generally, roadless lands are in remote backcountry that would be expensive to log."

"Keeping these areas off limits to commercial harvest ensures that taxpayers will not be stuck with the tab for Forest Service timber sales that often lose money," DiPeso said. "In addition, we don't need to burden the public with the costs of building more logging roads when the Forest Service can't afford to maintain its existing road network."

The Forest Service faces a maintenance backlog of $8.4 billion for its 380,000 mile network of forest roads.

* * *

Senate Passes National Renewable Fuels Standard

WASHINGTON, DC, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - As part of the comprehensive energy bill now working its way through Congress, the Senate has passed an amendment to establish a national Renewable Fuels Standard designed to achieve average annual use of at least five billion gallons of ethanol by the year 2012.

Ethanol is a motor fuel additive made from corn. A 10 percent ethanol blended fuel is warranted for use by all auto manufacturers marketing vehicles in the United States today.

"This Amendment is positive news for America’s farmers and rural residents," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "By raising the demand for farm products, this proposal would boost prices of corn and other crops, raise income for farmers and create more rural processing businesses. This in turn will create or maintain and estimated 13,000 rural jobs with 23 percent of them arising in farming, 21 percent in food processing and 56 percent in the nonfood sectors."

Passage of an Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) is a top priority for both the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the National Corn Growers Association. Now that the measure has passed in the Senate, the corn growers are watching the House.

“One reason we didn’t get the RFS last year was that the House of Representatives didn’t approve a version of it,” explains Dave Nelson, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA). “By including an RFS provision, the House Energy Committee has really improved the outlook for passage this year.”

Nelson warns that a great deal of work is still needed for the Renewable Fuels Standard to succeed. “There are details like the schedule for increasing ethanol use that we must still work to amend. But the over-all outlook is a lot better for passage – and that could take ethanol use to five billion gallons, using two billion bushels of corn, by 2015.”

Secretary Veneman said, "If the amendment becomes law, ethanol use would more than double over the next decade a dramatic increase in a domestically produced, renewable fuel that reduces carbon monoxide and toxic air emissions. This administration is committed to the kind of programs that support agriculture as an energy solution."

"We look forward to this amendment becoming part of a final bill that the President can sign into law," said Veneman, "so that American farmers, ranchers and consumers can benefit from cleaner air and stronger rural communities."

Western Water Shortages Draw Federal Help

WASHINGTON, DC, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - The heads of the Departments of Interior and Agriculture today signed a formal memo that will enable both agencies to respond more quickly to emerging water supply shortages in the West and speed assistance to the farmers, ranchers and communities in greatest need.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman signed a memo today that is part of Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West, a recently launched proposal under which Interior and Agriculture departments are working with state and local governments to identify the watersheds facing the greatest potential water supply risks in the next 25 years.

The intent of the agreement is that the two agencies will jointly work with states, tribes, and local entities to minimize the impacts of water supply crises that affect communities, farms, ranches, and the environment.

Staff of the two departments will evaluate the most effective ways of addressing the potential water shortages and recommend cooperative planning approaches and tools that have the most likelihood of success.

"This agreement will bring focused federal assistance to Western communities facing severe water shortages," Norton said. "It will enable the departments of Agriculture and Interior to respond quickly and to effectively coordinate existing programs to maximize the benefits of those resources."

Secretary Veneman said, "The USDA Drought Coordinating Council will help identify and marshal resources to address drought related issues. We are working to take action and deploy resources where the needs exist, whether in the wise management of public rangelands and watersheds, or fire prevention and suppression through the Healthy Forests Initiative."

Much of the West has been hit by a multi-year drought that has left several critical reservoirs at historic lows and led to water shortages around the region. In some areas, there is not enough water to meet the needs of cities, farms, tribes, and the environment even under normal water conditions.

The memo calls for concentrating existing federal financial and technical resources in key western watersheds and working to coordinate programs between agencies.

The agreement establishes an interagency Task Force, co-chaired by the deputy secretary of each department, which will identify areas of the country with severe water supply problems that are in need of focused assistance. Interagency Drought Action Teams would then mobilize the appropriate federal resources to help those communities and producers in need.

These teams will include department level policy officials and appropriate staff from bureaus or agencies in each department. "The teams are temporary in nature, and will serve as first responders in the worst of situations." the secretaries said in a statement.

More information on the Water 2025 proposal and the Memorandum of Understanding are online at: http://www.doi.gov/water2025.

Information on relief available to farmers and ranchers is online at: http://disaster.usda.gov.

* * *

Three States Sue to Force EPA to Regulate CO2

HARTFORD, Connecticut, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - Three states filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday, alleging the agency is failing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which they say is required by the Clean Air Act. Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, and it is regulated internationally to curb global warming.

The U.S. government currently does not regulate carbon dioxide emissions which occur when fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are burned. The White House has rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions in favor of voluntary industry efforts.

The attorneys general from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine say that is not enough, arguing that the Clean Air Act requires the agency to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

If the court sides with the states, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) may have to set up national standards to regulate CO2 emissions, and businesses might have to abide by mandatory controls on the emissions.

"EPA's inaction on carbon dioxide is intolerable," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a statement. "Even after abundant opportunity and public urging, the EPA has steadfastly refused to enforce the law and protect the public."

Blumenthal, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, and Maine Attorney General Steven Rowen filed suit against the EPA in federal district court. The lawsuit marks the first time a state has sued the federal government over global warming issues, Reilly said.

Several states are taking steps to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that many scientists believe cause higher temperatures around the world by trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet's surface.

Most industrial nations, with the exception of the United States, the world's largest polluter, have ratified the Kyoto Protocol which requires nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels by 2012.

Not everyone agrees that even if the states' lawsuit succeeds, cleaner air and skies will result.

"The fact that Congress continues to debate the appropriate course for carbon policy is indicative of the near consensus belief that the existing act does not compel action on carbon dioxide," Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a group of power companies.

"If alleged greenhouse effects were enough to trigger a Clean Air Act standard, the act could be used to regulate every tea kettle and dairy cow. Water vapor and methane happen to be more effective greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide," said Segal. "The logic behind the lawsuit is baffling."

* * *

Four Large Blazes Open Fire Season

BOISE, Idaho, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - Four large fires were reported today by the National Interagency Fire Center. The agency says that 52,977 acres have burned to date this year.

Although the Chain of Craters Road is still open for now, a 4,980 acre fire burning at Luhi in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has forced closure of the trail to Napau Crater.

The fire was started by lava from Kilauea Volcano and is burning in grass, brush and rainforest on the island of Hawaii, which is extremely dry for this time of year.

This fire are reburning areas burned last year and are spreading in open forest dominated by uluhe fern. A tall column of smoke near Pu`u O`o may be visible from Volcano, Glenwo od and other areas. No structures or visitors are threatened, and park firefighters are preparing a plan to contain the fire and prevent its spread into the nearby species rich forest.

Along the Tok River in Alaska, another fire has consumed 6,200 acres of black spruce, tundra and mixed hardwoods. Fire officials say it is "smoldering with some isolated torching" and that line construction and mop up will continue today.

A Fire Use Management Team has been assigned to a 2,500 acre wildland fire caused by lightening in the Gila National Forest 27 miles northwest of Silver City, New Mexico. The fire is burning in pinon and ponderosa pine, brush and juniper, with rapid upslope runs on steep slopes.

Another fire is being contained after burning 229 acres of pinon and ponderosa pine in the Santa Fe National Forest approximately three miles west of Barillas Peak, New Mexico.

And near Hanksville, Utah a public campground is threatened by a fire that has burned 1,200 acres so far.

Very high to extreme fire indices were reported in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

* * *

EPA Cites Colorado Farms Pesticide Violations

DENVER, Colorado, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - Citing more than 200 violations, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week sought the largest proposed penalty ever levied against a Colorado farming company for failing to protect its workers from pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

Four other administrative complaints also were filed against Colorado growers. The Worker Protection Standard (WPS) is intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisonings and injuries among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers.

The agency is proposing a civil penalty of $231,990 for David Petrocco Farms of Brighton for 229 violations of the Worker Protection Standard.

The other Colorado growers against whom fines are proposed include Bauserman Farms of Manzanola, Dionisio Farms in Pueblo, Villano Brothers of Ft. Lupton, and MJ Farms in Commerce City.

"Environmental justice is one of the highest priorities for EPA's enforcement program, and this agency will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure agricultural workers and pesticide handlers are protected from harmful exposure to pesticides," said John Peter Suarez, EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance.

"The federal government will not tolerate growers who place their workers in harm's way because they fail to comply with the law," he said.

David Petrocco Farms employs about 250 mostly seasonal workers and averages $12 million in annual sales.

In 2001, the company received a written warning notice about violations that included not displaying pesticide safety, emergency, and application information in a central location for its workers.

In a followup inspection conducted in 2002, inspectors found that the company still failed to post pesticide specific application information about all the pesticides applied within the last 30 days in a central location accessible to all workers.

Specific pesticide application information is crucial in obtaining the best medical care in case of emergency.

Complaints against the four growers include failure to post emergency information and failure to post pesticide specific application information in a central location. The EPA is proposing civil administrative penalties ranging from $2,200 to $23,320.

The Colorado growers have 30 days to either pay the penalty or answer EPA's charges and request a hearing. They also may request an informal conference with EPA officials at anytime to discuss the allegations.

Worker Protection Standards are used to protect more than 3.5 million people who work with pesticides at more than 560,000 workplaces across the United States.

State agencies generally have primary jurisdiction for enforcing Worker Protection Standards. The EPA, however, has primary jurisdiction in Wyoming and partial primary jurisdiction in Colorado. The agency will also prosecute cases referred to it by the states.

* * *

Violations Put Hickam Air Force Base Workers at Risk

WASHINGTON, DC, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - A new internal U.S. Air Force evaluation has uncovered a significant increase in serious pollution, safety and health violations at Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base, identifying major breaches in air quality, hazardous waste and water pollution standards, violations that are responsible for a recent fish kill.

The April 2003 evaluation says the number and severity of violations had risen sharply since a similar evaluation in 1999, with safety and health infractions up by almost half, and pollution offenses up by approximately one-sixth.

The evaluation, released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), found that these numbers do not count several major violations that were remedied on the spot.

PEER, a nonprofit organization that works on behalf of government employees who protect the environment, also released a 2002 audit that attributes violations to inadequate staffing levels for environmental compliance.

"Even supplemented by students, contractors and overhires, many regulatory requirements are not sufficiently covered," the audit said. "And the wing will continue to be at risk for notices of violation, hefty fines and bad press."

The Air Force is proposing to cut dozens more civilian jobs at Hickam Air Force Base as part of a national effort to reduce civilian staffing.

"The Air Force continues to treat pollution and safety compliance as a dispensable afterthought," said PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, a former naval gunnery officer. He said that many of the violations had been cited in prior reviews.

"Repeat failed inspections and critical audits are ignored, as the Air Force proceeds to cut back on the very areas where it needs to beef up," he said.

Besides a fish kill in Manuwai Canal, the evaluation also found outdated fuel spill prevention, control and response plans, improper disposal of hazardous wastes, and inadequate ventilation for workers in enclosed spaces.

Excerpts from "Preliminary Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Findings Report for Hickam Air Force Base & Hickam Satellites, Hawaii" are available at: http://www.peer.org/hawaii/Hickam_Report.pdf

* * *

California Urbanization Pace Quickens

SACRAMENTO, California, June 5, 2003 (ENS) - The state of California might be an agricultural giant, but the pace of urban development is accelerating rapidly, exceeding 90,000 acres between 1998 and 2000, according to a new report from the California Department of Conservation.

Figures from the "California Farmland Conversion Report 1998-2000" show that urban development increased by 30 percent, compared with the 1996-1998 data. There were 91,258 new urban acres in the state, the most in a decade. Prime farmland accounted for 19 percent of the total, while other irrigated farmland comprised an additional eight percent.

The department's Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program maps land use change on 90 percent of the privately owned land in the state. Its biennial report helps decision makers assess the status of California's agricultural land and plan for the future.

"This report is intended to help local policy makers decide how best to balance the needs of a growing economy and agriculture," said Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young.

The report found that of the 48 counties involved in the survey, 29 had net decreases in irrigated acreage. More than 10,000 acres were removed from irrigated farmland categories in Riverside, San Diego and Kern counties.

Riverside and San Diego counties accounted for 29 percent of the new urban acreage. Fifteen new or expanded golf courses or golf course communities were developed in Riverside's Coachella Valley alone.

Farmland losses do not come only from development, the report says. The area of farmland losses also related to conversion to low density residential uses, ecological restoration projects or long term land idling.

* * *