AmeriScan: June 20, 2003

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Court Upholds Standard for Arsenic in Tap Water

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals today unanimously upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2001 arsenic in drinking water rule and ruled that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act is constitutional.

The justices ruled in the face of a vigorous challenge from the state of Nebraska and several water systems represented by a conservative advocacy group.

"This is a big victory for public health and for all Americans who want safe drinking water," said Erik Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who argued the case after the group intervened on behalf of EPA to defend the law and the arsenic rule.

According to a 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences, arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung, and skin cancer and may cause kidney and liver cancer. The study also found that arsenic harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems. It also may cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

The court rejected the arguments of the advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute and the state of Nebraska that the arsenic rule and Safe Drinking Water Act are unconstitutional.

The panel of judges held that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to regulate poisonous chemicals like arsenic in water systems that sell water across state lines.

The court ruling confirmed that the Safe Drinking Water Act is consistent with the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which restricts federal government regulation of states, because the law does not compel states to regulate arsenic in tap water, though they may cede that authority to the federal EPA.

Judge Raymond Randolph, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote the decision, and was joined by Judges Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee, and David Tatel, a Clinton appointee.

This was the third time Nebraska politicians have unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the Safe Drinking Water Act in court. "State officials, siding with industry, keep insisting that it is OK for the people of Nebraska to drink water containing more arsenic than in the rest of the country," Olson added. "It's three strikes, and they're out."

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U.S. Removes Restrictions on Imported Eggs

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - After finding that the regulations were not being enforced, the U.S. Agriculture Department announced it is amending regulations to remove import restrictions on bird eggs from regions where salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 exists.

Salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 is one of several kinds of salmonella bacteria that has been isolated and identified as the cause of numerous outbreaks of salmonellosis in poultry in many parts of the world. It has also been found to cause salmonellosis in humans, a disease that causes intestinal and diarrheal infections that can last up to a week in humans.

Before 1994, salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 had not been found in the United States, and the restrictions were necessary to keep the disease from being introduced into this country.

In May of 1994, salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 was detected in the state of California in a commercial flock of hens. It since has been found in flocks across the United States and everywhere else in the world except Canada.

The change in regulations eliminates restrictions on the importation of eggs from regions where salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 exists and removes regulations regarding poultry disease caused by the bacteria.

The Agriculture Department published the proposal on December 16, 2002. After receiving no public comment, the agency adopted the rule change to make the regulations consistent with its enforcement.

Under the current regulations, the importation of eggs other than hatching eggs from or through regions affected with salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 is restricted, but not prohibited.

In 1999, the last year for which relevant census information is available, the United States imported 5.8 million dozen eggs, which is equivalent to less than 0.1 percent of U.S. production that year.

Eighty percent of these shell egg imports were from China. Imported eggs from Canada, the only region not subject to import restrictions, accounted for less than one percent of all U.S. shell egg imports in 1999.

The United States does not export a significant amount of its egg supply. In 1999, the United States exported 117 million dozen eggs, the equivalent to only two percent of the U.S. nonhatching egg production for that year. Virtually all eggs produced in the United States are consumed domestically.

The agency says it expects that this rule will have little or no effect on U.S. egg producers.

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Uncontrolled Fire Burns North of Tucson

OAKLAND, California, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized the use of federal funds to help Arizona fight an uncontrolled fire burning in Arizona.

By today, pushed by fierce winds, the Aspen Fire had burned 3,000 acres of dry trees and vegetation and destroyed 250 vacation homes, businesses and other structures in the Summerhaven area north of Tucson. The fire started in the late afternoon Tuesday.

Michael Brown, FEMA director and undersecretary for the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approved the state's request for federal fire management assistance on June 18, when the fire began to threaten residents of Summerhaven and other populated areas.

"We are committed to assisting our nation's firefighters in getting them the resources they need to quickly extinguish these fires that threaten people's lives and property," Brown said.

About 600 firefighters were on hand Friday to fight the fire. The National Weather Service was predicting high winds at least through today and breezy conditions through the weekend. Currently, no injuries associated with the fire have been reported.

Federal fire management assistance is provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. The assistance pays 75 percent of a state's eligible firefighting costs under an approved grant for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires.

Eligible state firefighting costs covered by the aid can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.

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Circulation System Drives Sun's 11 Year Cycle

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - The Marshall Space Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and university astronomers have found evidence the 11 year sunspot cycle is driven in part by a giant circulating current within the Sun.

Scientists earlier had believed this drift was a wave like process involving magnetic forces. But the NASA and university astronomers say new evidence suggests this drift is produced by a giant circulation system in which the compressed gases 125,000 miles below the Sun's surface move from the Sun's poles to its equator at about three miles per hour.

The gases then rise near the equator and turn back toward the poles, traveling in the surface layers where the gas is less compressed and moving at a faster rate of approximately 20 to 40 miles per hour. Recent progress in theoretical modeling of the sunspot cycle has emphasized the important role of this circulation.

The astronomers made their discovery by reviewing the positions and sizes of all sunspots seen on the Sun since 1874.

"The sunspots appear in two bands on either side of the Sun's equator," said Dr. David Hathaway, one of the researchers.

"Although the individual sunspots come and go from week to week, the central positions of the bands in which they appear drift slowly toward the solar equator over the course of each 11 year sunspot cycle," he said.

The speed of this circulation system, called a meridional circulation, changes slightly from one sunspot cycle to the next. The circulation is faster in cycles shorter than the average 11 year period and slower in cycles longer than the average period.

The scientists say this is a strong indication that this circulation acts like an internal clock that sets the period of the sunspot cycle.

The circulation also appears to influence the strength of future cycles, as seen in the number and sizes of the sunspots produced, not in the cycle immediately following, but rather in a two cycle or 22 year time lag.

When the flow is fast, it concentrates the magnetic field at the Sun's poles. These stronger fields are then transported downward into the solar interior, where they are further compressed and amplified to become the intense magnetic fields that form sunspots years later.

The Sun is now in the declining phase of the current sunspot cycle that peaked in 2000 and 2001. Because the circulation flow was fast during the previous cycle, the astronomers believe the next cycle will be a strong one, peaking in the years 2010 and 2011.

The findings were published in the May 20 issue of "The Astrophysical Journal."

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Interior to Consolidate Real Estate Appraisals

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton Thursday announced a plan to consolidate all real estate appraisal functions in a new unit in order to provide "greater independence" and "restore public confidence," according to an agency fact sheet.

The plan grew out of recommendations by an interagency work group formed in response to charges by appraisers with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that political interference in Utah land exchanges could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The idea behind the consolidation is to remove appraisers from agency and bureaus so that appraisals can be done objectively and in accordance with professional standards, Norton says.

The Western Land Exchange Project and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claim that much of the political interference has been coming from Secretary Norton herself and her top aides.

They say the key to whether the plan will work is whether Norton will implement the new organization in good faith.

"Government watchdog agencies have issued one report after another on the faulty decision making, political manipulation, and multimillion dollar taxpayer losses that have characterized many of the BLM's land exchanges," the groups wrote in a letter to Kathleen Clarke, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

"While the creation of an Interior wide appraisal office is a large first step towards reform," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represents the BLM whistleblowers, "the key will be how the office is structured, to what extent its managers are insulated from political meddling and whether those managers are qualified appraisers or, as they are today, just political fixers."

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Agencies Promote Logging Leftovers as Energy Source

MISSOULA, Montana, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - An initiative to encourage the use of woody biomass byproducts as sources of renewable energy was announced today by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

The officials signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes consistent policies and procedures across the three agencies to support the use of these byproducts.

Woody biomass, the brush and slash left over after logging and thinning, is considered a potential source of energy. Trees are efficient converters of sunlight into wood using the process of photosynthesis.

The chemicals that make up wood consist mainly of hydrogen and carbon, but in wood, oxygen atoms are also present. In principle, whenever coal, gas, or oil are consumed to supply energy, wood could be used as a substitute to provide heat, electricity and transport fuels.

"The fuels treatment component of President George W. Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative and 10 year National Fire Plan offers an opportunity to convert the renewable biomass wood waste from this work into energy and other usable products," said Veneman.

"This initiative emphasizes our commitment to restore forest health in a way that provides ecological benefits," Veneman said.

President Bush announced the Healthy Forests Initiative in August of 2002, directing federal agencies to help reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire to America's forests and rangelands.

The memorandum of understanding promotes the use of woody biomass byproducts from forest, woodland and rangeland restoration and hazardous fuels treatment projects, consistent with locally developed land management plans.

"Thinning for biomass allows for wildlife habitat improvement with wildlife biologists designing the projects," Norton said.

"These projects go on all the time on private land and are profitable both for the environment, energy and the landowner," Norton said. "A million acres have been thinned in the last 25 years for biomass use and 800,000 of those acres were private."

The memorandum becomes effectively immediately.

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Signup Begins for Grassland Reserve Program

WASHINGTON, DC, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman today announced that the first signups for the $49.9 million in grants to implement the Grassland Reserve Program will begin at the end of the month.

The 2002 Farm Bill amended the Food Security Act of 1985 to include authorization for this program.

"Grasslands provide critical ecological benefits and play a key role in environmental quality, as well as contributing to the economies of many rural areas," said Veneman.

"This voluntary program helps protect valuable grasslands from conversion to other land uses," she said, "thus helping to ensure this national resource is available to future generations."

Grasslands make up the largest land cover on America's private lands. Privately owned grasslands and shrublands cover more than 525 million acres in the United States.

These lands contribute significantly to the economies of many regions, provide biodiversity of plant and animal populations, and play a key role in environmental quality.

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will direct financial resources and technical expertise to help landowners protect and restore these lands.

Approximately 23 million acres of grassland and shrublands were converted to cropland between 1982 and 1997, and about six million acres were converted to urban and other uses, according to a 1997 National Resource Institute study.

Applications for participation will be accepted on a continuous basis at local USDA service centers. Once funding has been exhausted, eligible applicants will remain on file until additional funding becomes available.

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Sodium Enhanced Beef: It's What's for Dinner

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, June 20, 2003 (ENS) - A new study says that consumers find lower quality roasts and beef enhanced with a sodium and phosphate solution taste better than non-enhanced beef products.

The standard components of beef enhancement - 0.4 percent salt and 0.4 percent phosphate - used in the study even elevated often tough and less tasty standard grade round roasts to a quality similar to a more desirable non-enhanced steak like a strip loin.

The findings reflect the complex qualities being juggled by the beef industry, said Susan Brewer, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Consumers who read product labels closely, she added, can seek out enhanced cuts of beef.

While enhancement ingredients vary by producer, the Illinois study considered only standard levels of salt and phosphate. Some producers juggle the percentages or just use salt. They also may include different amounts of water, sometimes flavored with broth or other extracts, and other additives in an effort to boost the taste and juiciness of meat.

For the study, enhancement was done in cuts of beef taken from 12 Angus Hereford steers that had been fed a standard diet or one supplemented with vitamin E, which is being added to many slaughter bound beef cattle as a way to slow the oxidation of the meat.

Oxidation was not studied because only fresh cuts of meat were used, but the taste testers did determine that, in general, the presence of vitamin E in the meat did not produce bad flavors.

Oxidation causes color and flavor deterioration, especially in cooked meat that is not consumed right away and in irradiated beef.

Enhanced steaks without vitamin E had the lowest shear value - meaning they were easier to cut with a knife - and were the juiciest in the view of the consumers. Non-enhanced steaks with vitamin E were the hardest to cut and had the lowest overall acceptability scores.

Taste testers also found that steaks from the cattle not fed vitamin E were saltier and more flavorful - findings that were unexpected and could not be readily explained.

"The predominant effect," the researchers wrote, "appears to be due to enhancement, because, regardless of vitamin E treatment, enhanced steaks and roasts were more juicy and tender, had higher overall acceptability scores and lower shear force values than non-enhanced cuts."

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