AmeriScan: March 14, 2003

* * *

California Finalizes Settlement of Colorado River Water Dispute

SACRAMENTO, California, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - After months of negotiations, California state officials finally agreed on a plan to address the state's use of Colorado River water. The agreement was hailed by California Governor Gray Davis, whose office convened months of meetings with state negotiators and representatives from four Southern California water agencies.

"This is a major breakthrough in addressing California's long term water needs," Davis said. "This plan meets the needs of urban communities, rural communities and the environment."

State officials briefed other Western states Thursday about the agreement, which must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The battle over water allocation is a critical issue for several western states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

After California missed a December 31, 2002 deadline to sign a deal that would reduce the state's overdependence on the Colorado River, Interior Secretary Gale Norton cut the amount of water the state can draw from the river this year by 600,000 acre-feet, which officials say is enough water for 1.2 million people.

The newly inked agreement, which is contingent on the Interior Department reversing its cut, creates a baseline for implementing water transfers and resolves longstanding disputes regarding priority and use of river water. It relies on an annual transfer of some 200,000 acre-feet of water from the Imperial Valley in the agricultural center of the state to residential users in San Diego far to the south.

The battle between agricultural and residential water needs has been at the heart of California's water crisis. The Imperial Valley, which is an agricultural area, is the state's biggest user of water from the Colorado River.

"This is major milestone in the history of California water," said Davis. "It is notable that two largely agricultural irrigation districts were able to find common ground with two urban water districts."

Approval by Interior Secretary Gale Norton would allow California to continue receiving surplus water until 2015.

"This historic agreement shows that agriculture can be part of the solution in assessing California's complex water needs," said Bill Lyons, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

* * *

Environmentalists and Utility Devise Mercury Reduction Plan

BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - Three environmental groups joined the owner of a coal fired power plant to offer the Connecticut state legislature a joint recommendation for legislation to establish new mercury emission standards for the state's power plants that burn coal.

PSEG Power Connecticut, which owns a 375 megawatt coal fired power plant in Bridgeport Harbor, issued the recommendation along with nongovernmental organizations Clean Water Action, the Connecticut Coalition for Clean Air, and the Clean Air Task Force

The new standard would result in up to a 92 percent mercury emission rate reduction at Bridgeport Harbor power station.

The proposed mercury standard "is the first in the nation to set stringent mercury emissions limits within a tight timeframe," said former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee Martha Keating, currently an air toxics scientist with the Clean Air Task Force.

The joint proposal would require coal fired power plants in Connecticut to achieve either an emissions standard of 0.6 pounds of mercury per trillion Btu or a 90 percent efficiency in technology installed to control mercury emissions. The new requirements would become effective in July 2008.

The work between the environmental groups and PSEG to come up with the plan is "an example for public policy debates" across the nation, said Thomas Smith, executive vice president of operations and development for PSEG Power, the parent company of PSEG Power Connecticut.

If enacted, the legislation would be the first of its kind in the United States. Implementing the proposed Connecticut standard nationwide would result in an 85 percent reduction in mercury emissions.

Advocates hope the legislation could set a national precedent for controlling power plant mercury emissions. "We will continue to make the case that the goal of supplying the nation with safe, secure, reliable, and affordable energy while improving environmental performance is feasible and achievable," Smith said.

Concern over the health risks from mercury have been rising in recent months, in particular for women and children. An EPA study released last month found that eight percent of women of childbearing age have unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. This puts the number of at risk babies at some 300,000.

Coal fired plants are the nation's largest source of mercury emissions, contributing about 33 percent of the total U.S. emissions from industrial sources.

Currently, coal burning power plants are exempt from clean air standards, but the other two large sources of mercury, which are medical and municipal waste incinerators, are tightly regulated.

The Bush administration faces sharp criticism for its clean air policy, which environmentalists believe rolls back existing efforts to reduce mercury emissions from coal fired power plants.

Keating said this recommended legislation sends "a clear message to other states, the federal government, and the energy industry that reducing mercury emissions is necessary and achievable."

* * *

National Parks in Jeopardy: Watch List Issued

WASHINGTON, DC, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a list today that details upcoming decisions by the federal government that could harm the health, integrity, and future of the U.S. National Park System.

NPCA's "National Parks Watch List for 2003" warns of legislative and agency actions that could impact air quality, land use and management of the National Parks and provides potential solutions to the issues addressed.

The organization felt compelled to develop the list "because we have observed a disturbing trend of political actions and inactions that jeopardize national parks," said Thomas Kiernan, NPCA president.

"The decisions by this administration in the last several months are damaging to the national parks. If this continues through the year, the administration will have created a disastrous legacy in managing our national treasures."

The list details concern over administration actions on clean air policy. Many of the national parks have serious problems with air pollution, which NPCA believes will be increased by the administration's initiative to reform the federal oversight of coal fired power plants and other sources of air pollution.

NPCA sees a threat to national parks from the administration's decision to revise a 19th century right of way claims provision that gives state and local governments, as well as private individuals, increased ability to seek right of way claims on public lands.

"This action could cover some parks with a spider web of paved roads or off-road vehicle trails," NPCA writes.

The organization is wary of accelerated oil and gas leasing inside national parks and on adjacent lands, as well as the administration's steps toward privatizing some 70 percent of the National Park Service workforce. The reversal of the snowmobile ban in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is another target of NPCA's report.

The watch list outlines the impacts to the park system from underfunding, including the administration's failure to fulfill President George W. Bush's campaign pledge to find $4.9 billion to eliminate maintenance backlogs through the park system. NPCA estimates the Park Service only receives two-thirds of the $1.8 billion it needs to properly operate and manage the national parks.

"The Bush administration is failing its responsibility for providing Americans with safe, healthy national parks," Kiernan said. "The administration has begun to roll back the years of progress that have been made in protecting parks and their surrounding environments."

The upcoming decisions and actions outlined on the list "spell hope or decline for our national parks," Kieran said. "Unfortunately, without a change of direction, the administration's actions point toward decline."

For the complete NPCA National Parks Watch List for 2003, go to http://www.eparks.org/take_action/watchlist2003.asp

* * *

Logging in Gila National Forest Appealed Again

SANTA FE, New Mexico, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - Conservationists are protesting a logging program approved by the U.S. Forest Service that is part of a forest restoration project within the Gila National Forest.

The logging project is a component of the Bush administration's policy to thin forests to limit the threat of wildfires, but conservationists say this project violates key environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Forest Guardians and Wild Watershed, two conservation organizations, have appealed for the second time against the project that would allow cutting of trees larger than 18 inches in diameter within the Sheep Basin of the forest.

Forest Guardians won the first appeal because the Forest Service had failed to gather baseline wildlife data for indicator species, including declining songbirds such as the red-faced warbler, cordilleran flycatcher, pygmy nuthatch and hermit thrush.

"If Forest Service projects to restore forest health through thinning are to have any credibility with the American public, they must not cut older, mature trees," said John Horning, executive director of Forest Guardians. "The Sheep Basin project is a good example of how Forest Service, under the Bush Administration's Healthy Forest Initiative, is looking to log forests under the guise of restoring them."

The conservationists contend that the new proposal again fails to detail information on the effect to indicator species in the project area designated by federal agencies.

"Agency decision making that is built on a foundation of ignorance of the status of native fish and wildlife populations is foolhardy," said Horning. "Baseline information on the status of native wildlife is essential if the agency is to make credible and scientifically defensible decisions when managing our birthright."

The groups also believe that because the project is the first in a series of numerous timber sales, that the agency should conduct a full scale Environmental Impact Statement that reviews the cumulative impacts of all of the proposed logging, livestock grazing, and fire suppression activities that have contributed and continue to contribute to unhealthy forest ecosystems.

The conservationists contend that the Sheep Basin project would log thousands of mature trees on 3,800 acres. This is the first in a series of timber sales that would cut up to 90 million board feet and build 50 miles of roads, they say.

The Gila National Forest spans 3.3 million acres of southwestern New Mexico and is inhabted by an array of wildlife, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks, black bears, deer and antelope.

* * *

Iceberg Supercomputer to Power Salmon, Whitefish Research

ARMONK, New York, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - The Arctic Region Supercomputing Center (ARSC) will receive a powerful new supercomputer from IBM that will help researchers gain new understanding of the complex environmental relationships of the Arctic environment, in particular the health and variability of populations of salmon and whitefish.

ARSC supports research on the Arctic, and the "Iceberg" supercomputer will be used primarily to study the growth and demise of salmon and whitefish within the Gulf of Alaska over the last 30 years, a period that has experience significant shifts in fish populations and climate variance.

"This technology will allow us to expand our program into multi teraflop testing and allow scientists and researchers to perform simulations that we hope will allow us to make more informed decisions about our aquatic environment," said ARSC director Frank Williams.

The new supercomputer is capable of calculating five trillion operations per second and will power three dimensional models that will for the first time combine the currents and depths of the ocean with biological information of its aquatic life. Researchers believe it will help them understand shifting fish populations as well as to predict algal blooms.

Researchers at ARSC hope key data generated with the new supercomputer will help ensure populations of salmon and whitefish remain steady and strong.

Salmon and whitefish from the Gulf of Alaska account more than half of all seafood consumed in the United States, including 95 percent of all salmon consumed.

The supercomputer will also be used for research in many other fields including bioinformatics, global climate change, ocean circulation, galactic formation, and Arctic engineering.

* * *

Limiting Water Use in California Oil Fields Could Save Energy

SACRAMENTO, California, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - The California Energy Commission has signed a contract with the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council (PTTC) of Houston, Texas to find ways of cutting electric power consumption while oil is extracted from California's oil wells.

PTTC is a not-for-profit organization that assists independent oil producers make timely and informed technological decisions. PTTC West Coast director Dr. Iraj Ershaghi will direct the demonstration project. He heads the Petroleum Engineering Program of the University of Southern California.

In California's oil fields, eight barrels of water have to be pumped from the ground to get a barrel of oil. The project will analyze the geology of California's oil fields and demonstrate suitable technical solutions to reduce the water to oil ratio by one half during the extraction process.

When implemented in 2,100 targeted wells whose geology allows cost effective water shutoff technologies, the project could result in yearly savings of 148 gigawatt hours of electricity. The estimated dollar equivalent is $21 million.

The most critical issue for the project is to determine the source of the water and the production mechanism. Numerous technologies are available for water shutoff. These range from simple mechanical means such as bridge plugs and casing patches, to more elaborate schemes.

Contract funds of $300,000 from the Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research program will enable the PTTC to examine about 1,000 oil wells throughout California. It will then identify 100 wells with excessive water production. The goal is to mark the oil fields and apply work necessary to diminish water production during oil drilling.

"The resulting reduction of demand for electric power will benefit California's oil producers - majority of which are small businesses lacking resources of time and money, " said Energy Commissioner Arthur Rosenfeld. "The project will help them develop methods to control water production from oil wells."

The project will provide a roadmap for small oil producers to implement cost effective water control technologies. The findings of the project will be passed through small producers through regional workshops.

California ranks as the third largest producer of oil and gas in the United States, behind Texas and Alaska. Its 46,000 wells yield about 271 million barrels of oil and 2.1 billion barrels of associated water annually.

* * *

Private Lands Wildlife Stakeholders Meet in Washington

OLYMPIA, Washington, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - A stakeholder group convened by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to review the state's Private Lands Wildlife Management Area program will meet March 28 in Spokane.

The 18 member stakeholder group, which includes landowners, tribes, hunters and timber and agricultural representatives, is expected to make recommendations on whether the Private Lands Wildlife Management Area program should be continued or modified, and on a funding mechanism if the program is continued.

The meeting, scheduled to begin at 9 am in the Airport Ramada Inn, is open to the general public. The session will include presentations from other western state wildlife agencies on their experiences in private land wildlife management and landowner incentive programs.

One of several sessions planned this year, the stakeholder meeting is focused on evaluating the trial Private Lands Wildlife Management Area program and other efforts to improve wildlife habitat on private lands and increase recreational access for wildlife users.

The group's recommendations will be presented in public hearings for additional input and comment later this year. Final recommendations will be presented to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission for action.

The trial Private Lands Wildlife Management Area program, begun a decade ago, has resulted in creation of three privately managed wildlife areas, in Wilson Creek in Grant County, the Kapowsin Tree Farm in Pierce County, and the Merrill and Ring Tree Farm in Clallam County. The three agreements with private landowners are scheduled to run through this December.

* * *

Atlantic Gear Rule Changes Help Lobsters Escape

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, March 14, 2003 (ENS) - The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management announces that, under mandate from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, it has filed emergency regulations that, in one case, immediately affect the lobster industry.

Rhode Island is required to adopt these measures by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which two weeks ago called for an immediate initial increase in gauge size and a July 1 start date for the additional measures.

The Commission adopted these management measures as an emergency action in response to declining conditions of the lobster populations within inshore and offshore waters of Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

Beginning on Saturday, March 15, the legal minimum gauge size for lobster will increase from 3-5/16 inches to 3-1/32 inches. A second increase scheduled for July 1 will raise the legal minimum gauge size to 3-3/8 inches. The increases will protect a larger percentage of mature female lobsters, increasing their reproductive potential.

Fishermen may adjust their existing gauges or purchase new gauges and plugs.

As of July 1, larger lobsters will be allowed to escape. The agency has mandated an increase in the escape vent size requirement for lobster traps deployed in Rhode Island waters. The minimum dimensions for circular escape vents on lobster traps will be 2-1/2 inches in diameter, while rectangular escape vents must be at least 2 inches by 5-3/4 inches, also an increase. The vent size increase will improve the rate of escape for undersize lobsters and reduce catch and release mortality.