AmeriScan: June 26, 2003

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Clean Air Trust Urges Effective Smog Strategy

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2003 (ENS) – Code red smog alerts have people up and down the Eastern Seaboard wheezing for the second day in a row, and in response the nonprofit organization Clean Air Trust is calling upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to better protect people by adopting a more effective smog control strategy.

The trust is urging the EPA to publicly disavow a call by industry for the Bush administration to grant waivers that would permit polluters to increase their emissions this summer.

The suggestion was among those floated in advance of a summit today on natural gas prices in Washington, DC from the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, which includes representatives from plastics, cement, paper, food processing, chemical, steel, pharmaceutical and other industries.

Under a code red alert, everyone is warned to limit outdoor activity, and children, the elderly and people with asthma or other lung problems to stay indoors. Alerts were issued in the Raleigh, North Carolina, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Maryland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in cities and towns across New England.

Many other metropolitan areas in the East and in California issued code orange alerts, a lesser category which urges older adults, young children and asthma sufferers to stay indoors.

Ground level ozone, or smog, is a harmful gas that forms in the air from other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by incompletely burned fossil fuels. It can bother the eyes and nose, cause chest pain and coughing, make it hard to exercise or even breathe, and weaken the body's power to fight disease.

The Clean Air Trust comments will be presented Friday as the EPA holds a hearing on its proposal to adopt a strategy to meet tougher new smog standards set by the Clinton administration in 1997. The trust believes the Bush administration plan will prolong smog problems.

"EPA's proposal is a prescription for cleanup delay and an invitation for polluters to game the system," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust.

"We believe that EPA's proposal would condemn tens of millions of Americans to continue breathing unhealthful levels of smog for years. In a purported effort to offer flexibility, EPA is really giving breaks to big polluters," O’Donnell said.

This year at least 35 states and the District of Columbia have experienced unhealthful smog levels above the new eight hour ozone standard, according to information gathered by Clean Air Trust volunteers based on EPA and state reports.

"However the industry lobby tries to spin this, suspending smog controls would mean more dirty air, and more public health damage,” O’Donnell said. “It would also show that so-called market systems for pollution cleanup don't always work."

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Deputy Director Resigns From EPA

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2003 (ENS) – The Deputy Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced her resignation today. Her last day will be July 11. Administrator Christie Whitman is scheduled to leave the agency on Friday.

“It was a real honor for me to be asked by President [George W.] Bush to serve in his administration at this great agency and a personal privilege to serve as deputy administrator to Christie Whitman. I will be forever grateful to both of them for giving me this opportunity,” she said in a letter to President Bush.

“During our time here, I believe we have accomplished great things that have benefited the environment and strengthened the agency, and I am proud to have been a member of this team,” she wrote.

Fisher’s work at the agency included stints as assistant administrator for prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances and assistant administrator for policy, planning and evaluation. From 1985 to 1988, she was chief of staff to former EPA Administrator Lee Thomas.

Fisher was vice president and corporate officer at Monsanto from 1995 to 2000, where she had management responsibility for government and public affairs and played a key role in addressing the public policies and public acceptance issues raised by biotechnology.

Earlier, Fisher was an environmental attorney at the Washington, DC office of Latham & Watkins and worked in the House of Representatives as a legislative assistant and associate staff member of the House Budget Committee.

In her letter, Fisher wrote that the agency has a talented workforce and cited the Senior Executive Service (SES) Candidate Development Program, a federal initiative to hire the best and brightest candidates, as a reason.

“I firmly believe that the SES candidate program, the professional intern program and the SES mobility initiative will add breadth, depth and vitality to our SES corps,” she said.

“The environmental challenges we face as a country are considerable, but I have great confidence that, with your leadership, hard work and creativity, we will resolve them,” Fisher wrote.

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Former EPA Chief Now Audubon Society Chair

NEW YORK, New York, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - Carol Browner, the longest serving administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has been elected chair of the National Audubon Society Board of Directors. Browner served as EPA administrator in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001.

Browner will be the first woman to chair Audubon and is one of few women to hold such a position at a major conservation organization.

"It is truly a privilege to help lead such a distinguished organization," Browner, who joined the Audubon Board in 2001 and currently oversees its Public Policy Committee, said at the announcement of her election.

Browner will replace Donal O'Brien when he retires this fall after having served 12 years as Audubon chair.

Among her accomplishments are the strongest public health based clean air standards ever for soot and smog, tough vehicle emission standards, and increased funding and strengthened standards for clean water and polluted runoff.

Under her tenure, cleanup of hazardous waste sites resulted in more than three times the number of Superfund cleanups than in the entire history of the program, and she created the Brownfields program to reclaim and redevelop abandoned, contaminated urban properties.

During her tenure, she worked with Congress to pass two pivotal environmental laws, the Food Quality Protection Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Earlier Browner had been head of the Department of Environmental Regulation in Florida and served on the staffs of Senators Albert Gore Jr. and Lawton Chiles.

"Carol Browner is one of the outstanding conservationists of our time," said Audubon President John Flicker. "Again and again she has led the way in fighting to protect America's great natural heritage."

Audubon announced a major new initiative in 2000, the "2020 Vision," to expand the number of people engaged in conservation activities. Key to the program is the building of a network of Audubon nature centers in cities and towns throughout the United States, many in underprivileged areas.

"Carol will chair Audubon at a very important time in its history as it pursues a new vision to enlarge the conservation movement across the country," Flicker said.

The National Audubon Society is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the United States, with more than 500,000 members and volunteer activists, 500 chapters and offices in 27 states.

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Maine Sets Global Warming Reduction Goals

AUGUSTA, Maine, June 26, 2003 (ENS) – With Governor John Baldacci’s signature, Maine today became the first state in the nation to enact a law setting goals for the reduction of global warming emissions.

The legislation requires Maine to develop a climate change action plan to reduce carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2010, 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by as much as 75 to 80 percent over the long term, as agreed to by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

"I am proud that Maine leads the nation in setting responsible climate change goals," said Baldacci. "Maine's law paves the way for others to join us in a responsible approach to address the risks of global warming."

While the federal government has deleted climate change information from EPA reports, Maine is taking action, said Sue Jones of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the group that spearheaded the campaign to pass this law.

"The law will help Maine do its part to help reduce the threat of climate change through energy efficiency, clean renewable energy and other actions that save money and protect the environment," Jones said.

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, forms when oil, coal, and gas are burned. It creates a heat trapping blanket that is raising temperatures around the globe.

"My legislative colleagues recognize the impact climate change will have on Maine's economy, environment, and quality of life," said Representative Ted Koffman of Bar Harbor, the lead sponsor of the bill.

"The challenges posed by global warming will be especially felt by future generations,” Koffman said. “The breakthrough legislation signed today will bring together private and public interests to collaboratively develop a cost effective plan to reduce global warming while saving energy in the process."

Maine joins other eastern states that are tackling global warming issues. In 1999, New Jersey established a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 3.5 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2005 and issued an action plan in December 1999.

In December 2001, New Hampshire issued a menu of policy options to achieve the goals established by the New England Governors-Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Action Plan. The state still needs to develop a plan with specific reductions from state level or regional level policies, and a concrete timeline.

Massachusetts is drafting a climate action plan, designed to meet or exceed the regional goals established by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

In July 2002, Rhode Island published a Climate Action Plan designed to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets of the New England Governors-Eastern Canadian Premiers agreement.

In August 2002, the governor of Vermont issued an executive order establishing a goal of reducing that state's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25 percent over the next decade, consistent with the regional goals.

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Ads Target Bush Rollback of Air Pollution Rules

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - A hard hitting new television advertisement uses cutting edge graphics to spotlight how dirty power plants are causing worldwide health problems.

Carbon dioxide pollution from power plants causes global warming, posing worldwide health and environmental risks, says the ad created by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mercury from power plant smokestacks puts people at risk, while other lethal emissions cause asthma, emphysema and cardiovascular illnesses

“They’re not weapons, but they cause mass destruction,” a voice solemnly intones during the ad.

The spots began airing Tuesday in Washington, DC and other markets.

"Poisonous emissions from power plants harm thousands of Americans every day with asthma, heart attacks and strokes, and every day some of those people die," said Dan Lashof, science director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center.

“One in 12 American women of childbearing age has unsafe levels of mercury in her body," he said.

Solutions exist right now, but most companies are ignoring them, and the Bush administration is putting big power company profits over health and safety, Lashof alleged.

"The White House plan allows twice as much sulfur dioxide and three times the mercury emissions than if we simply enforced the Clean Air Act as it exists right now,” he said, “and it ignores global warming pollution altogether. Americans deserve better than that."

The Natural Resources Defense Council supports the bipartisan Clean Power Act sponsored by Senators James Jeffords, a Vermont Independent, Maine Republican Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, which the group says sets safe, sensible limits on mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, and limits carbon dioxide emissions for the first time.

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McKnight Foundation Invests $8 Million in Renewables

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - The McKnight Foundation announced today it will devote $8.1 million over three years to a renewable energy program in the Upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Most of the program will involve wind energy, and McKnight will work with the Energy Foundation, a San Francisco based national renewable energy leader, to administer the program. McKnight has had a 10 year partnership with The Energy Foundation.

McKnight's investment builds on the McKnight-Energy Foundation program Wind on the Wires, which was conceived to improve and expand the current power grid infrastructure and reinforce alternative energy investments in hard-hit rural areas.

"We believe this investment will help the renewable energy message cross over from the environmental community to a broader audience," said Rip Rapson, president of the McKnight Foundation.

"There is such tremendous potential waiting to be tapped. For example, wind power can be a potent form of economic development and income diversification for those in rural communities,” Rapson said.

“We see the potential for the Upper Midwest to become a world leader in this industry in the 21st century,” said Eric Heitz, president of the Energy Foundation. “We have already seen almost a billion dollars invested in wind power in the region, with hundreds of skilled jobs created and millions of dollars put into the hands of struggling farmers and counties."

Existing wind energy projects in the Midwest create enough power for 250,000 homes in the region, pay more than $2 million per year in royalties to farmers, and eliminate almost three million tons of carbon dioxide from coal fired power plants.

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Lawsuits Filed to Protect Florida Panther

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - The National Wildlife Federation and Florida conservation groups today filed two separate legal actions in Federal District Court seeking action to protect the rapidly diminishing habitat of the severely endangered Florida panther.

In one action, the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Florida Panther Society are asking the court to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop construction of the Florida Rock Industries' Ft. Myers Mine #2 until the mine's effect on the Florida panther is better investigated.

In a second action, the National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Panther Society are challenging the Corps' use of the Clean Water Act's permitting process, which the suit says has resulted in the loss of substantial tracts of habitat deemed essential to the panthers’ survival.

The current estimated population of Florida panthers in the wild is 50 to 70 animals.

In the Ft. Myers Mine case, government wildlife biologists have identified the land the Corps has approved for development as important panther habitat.

"Both the law and sound science argue persuasively against the Corps’ decision to authorize this substantial sacrifice of habitat panther need just to have a chance to survive,” said John Kostyack, an attorney and National Wildlife Federation senior counsel.

Earlier this year, the Corps approved a permit to allow Florida Rock Industries to build the Ft. Myers Mine #2 to extract and process limestone at the center of land characterized by the Florida Panther Society as "essential for maintaining a self-sustaining panther population."

Under the Corps permit, Florida Rock Industries will mine to a maximum depth of 60 feet below existing grade in a 3,212 acre open pit. Mining operations may continue for decades.

In addition to digging the mine, panther habitat will be further disturbed by an accompanying access road, administrative office, gatehouse, asphalt plant, concrete plant and sand plant - all of which are to be constructed in the heart of panther habitat.

Florida Rock Industries proposes to mitigate mine damage by setting aside 802 acres, or 13 percent of the project site, as protected Florida panther habitat.

"Claiming that the destruction of more than 5,000 acres of panther habitat is mitigated by setting aside another 800 acres doesn't meet the test of common sense, much less legal scrutiny," Kostyack said.

"The numbers simply don't add up for the Florida panther or for the Americans who care about them."

The National Wildlife Federation and the Florida Panther Society also filed suit to force the Corps to discontinue the use of four of its nationwide permits in Florida panther habitat because the agency has never evaluated the impact of these permits on the panther.

The Clean Water Act allows the Corps to authorize development with minimal impacts on the environment without any site specific environmental review.

The groups contend that the Corps has used four of these nationwide permits based on arbitrary findings of minimal impact, when in fact the harmful impacts on the panther and its habitat are substantial.

They also argue that numerous developments have gone forward in panther habitat under the four nationwide permits without any effort by the Corps to assess their impacts on the panther, as required by the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.

"Panther recovery depends on the vitality and growth of its south Florida population," said Karen Hill, Florida Panther Society vice president.

"The future of this magnificent cat hinges on whether the Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service provide for panther habitat needs in the agency's development permitting process."

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Whooping Crane Chicks Learning to Migrate

NEDEDAH, Wisconsin, June 26, 2003 (ENS) - A flock of whooping crane chicks arrived by private airplane at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where a field team will spend the summer conditioning the chicks to fly behind ultralight aircraft.

This fall the team from Operation Migration, the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center will guide the young cranes on their first southern migration, leading them by ultralight over Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia before arriving at the cranes’ winter home at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Gulf coast.

They will be the third group of juvenile whooping cranes to take part in a project designed to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes to a portion of their former range in eastern North America. Whooping cranes are among the most endangered birds in North America.

The chicks were flown to Necedah from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, where they hatched.

Only the 10 oldest of 18 crane chicks have arrived so far. The remaining eight will be transported later this month to Necedah.

The whooping cranes were introduced to ultralight aircraft and raised in isolation from humans at Patuxent. Biologists and pilots adhere to a no talking rule, play recorded crane calls and wear costumes designed to mask the human form whenever they are around the cranes.

Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the cranes over the winter and track them next spring during their return migration, which they will undertake unaided by ultralight aircraft.

All but two of the 21 cranes from the 2001 and 2002 flocks returned to Wisconsin on their own this spring. One crane had to be flown by aircraft from Ohio back to Necedah NWR, and another crane remains in north central Illinois.

Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support the partnership by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the estimated $1.8 million budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, donations and corporate sponsors.

As of an April 24 survey, there are 419 whooping cranes in the United States.

For more information on the project and its partners, visit: http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.

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