AmeriScan: May 3, 2001

FORD ACKNOWLEDGES IMPORTANCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE

DETROIT, Michigan, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - Ford Motor Company plans to create a "comprehensive business and market focused strategy to address climate change," the company said in its second annual corporate citizenship report to shareholders, released today.

"When climate change emerged as a significant public policy issue in the early 1990s, we were skeptical of the scientific evidence suggesting that human activity made a major contribution to climate change," the report states. "In the late 1990s, as scientific information accumulated, our stance on climate change began to shift significantly."

Today, "senior executives have made very clear their belief that the issue is real," the company report says. "The Company has moved to a position where we see climate change - and our response to it - as a key component of our long term business strategies."

Ford says it has been working with international conservation groups to learn their perspectives on climate change. The company is sponsoring research into climate change mitigation, particularly ways to store or sequester carbon dioxide.

"While these steps are important, we recognize that they are just a beginning," the new report says. "We also recognize that further progress in the fuel economy performance of our vehicles is necessary."

This year, a team of senior Ford executives will work to develop a strategy to reduce the company's greenhouse gas emissions, the report says. Options include using renewable energy sources and working with suppliers to lessen the climate impacts of Ford activities.

"Our shift on this issue was far too slow for some of our critics," Ford notes. "And for some in industry, it seems far too swift. We recognize our importance to the issue of climate change - to one of the world's great concerns. And we see the opportunity before us to be a leading force in bringing about solutions."

Ford said it estimates the annual greenhouse gas emissions from all Ford vehicles on the road, combined with Ford manufacturing facilities, to be about 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent. The company plans to partner with the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development to "act as a road tester of a greenhouse gas measurement and reporting protocol."

"The Sierra Club applauds Ford for recognizing the seriousness of global warming, acknowledging that its vehicles create a large part of the problem and committing to cut that pollution," said Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program. "We hope today's announcement means Ford will make new commitments to curb their emissions and become part of the solution to global warming."

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HOUSE VOTES TO ALLOW HUNTING IN IDAHO MONUMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - The House has passed HR 601, a bill that changes the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho into a national preserve, allowing residents and visitors to continue hunting in the region.

House Resources Chair James Hansen, a Utah Republican, praised the bipartisan effort that resulted in the compromise.

"When the previous administration proposed this monument, Idaho residents were told they could continue hunting on this land. That promise was not kept," said Hansen. "Today, the House of Representatives has honored that promise."

President Bill Clinton used the 1906 Antiquities Act to expand the Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho more than ten fold. The original monument included just 54,440 acres.

Clinton added 661,000 acres of volcanic craters, cones, lava flows, caves and fissures of the 65 mile long Great Rift to the monument. Before it became part of the monument, the area was open to hunting under the jurisdiction of the state of Idaho.

Under the bill, the area would remain open to hunting under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, in consultation with the state.

"By turning this national monument into a preserve, we protect the unique values of the land while allowing local residents to continue enjoying regional hunting as they have done for generations. We honor a federal promise," said Hansen. "We recognize Idaho's important voice in the management of public lands in its backyard."

"I'm thrilled my colleagues in the House of Representatives have overwhelmingly supported my effort to ensure promises made to the people of Idaho are promises kept," said Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, the Republican who sponsored the bill. "Today's passage of my Craters bill, I hope, signals a new appreciation in Washington for the unique nature of life in the West."

The Craters bill now heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

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BILL WOULD LIFT RESTRICTIONS ON FAMILY PLANNING FUNDS

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - The House International Relations Committee has passed a bill calling for the repeal of the restrictions President George W. Bush placed on international family planning assistance.

The committee voted 26 to 22 to adopt an amendment to the State Department Authorization bill (HR 1646) which overturns an order Bush made to reinstate a policy first instituted by President Ronald Reagan, which bars U.S. funding for overseas family planning groups that offer or even discuss abortion - even if they do so using their own money. President Bill Clinton had rescinded the order as one of his first official acts.

Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, introduced the amendment. Every Democrat and three Republicans on the committee voted in favor of the measure.

Environmental groups call the committee's action a victory for population control efforts and for wildlife.

"Today's passage of Representative Lee's amendment is a victory for people and wildlife around the world. International family planning funding is crucial to helping the global environment," said National Wildlife Fund population and environment program manager Karin Krchnak. "The exponential increase in population over the past century has put enormous stress on natural resources and habitat, threatening the health of both people and wildlife worldwide. It is only with access to education that people will be able to ensure a healthy world for themselves and future generations."

The State Department budget bill now moves before the full House, where it is expected to face more opposition.

"Americans will be looking to Congress to protect the health of their environment at home and abroad," said Krchnak. "It will be up to the House of Representatives to take the next step to ensure that people around the world will have access to the education and services that are so crucial to protecting the health of our planet."

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MORATORIUM ON GULF DRILLING COULD BE LIFTED

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - In an article last month, "Inside EPA" reports that a Department of Interior (DOI) study recommends that the Bush Administration lift a moratorium barring ocean floor drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The study is the first official indication from the new Administration that it may lift a prohibition put in place by the former Bush administration almost ten years ago. The unreleased study, "Issues & Strategic Recommendations: Report of the Subcommittee on Natural Gas on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf," is scheduled to be made public on May 23.

According to the "Inside EPA" article, the DOI report recommends that, "DOI, in consultation with industry and affected states, should identify the five top geographic [spots] . . . in the moratoria areas, and if possible, the most prospective areas for natural gas . . . that industry would likely explore if allowed. These five areas would provide the basis for a pilot to see if limited activity . . . is possible in moratoria areas."

The report will influence Interior Secretary Gail Norton's recommendations to Congress and President Bush, according to the "Inside EPA" report.

The moratorium on drilling includes Bristol Bay, Alaska, Washington state, Oregon, California, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and more than 100 miles off the Florida coast. Many commercial fishing groups have supported the moratorium, opposing new offshore oil drilling in some of the nation's most productive fishing grounds.

The DOI Subcommittee report recommends that Outer Continental Shelf exploration be viewed as a source of natural gas to meet national demand over the long term. The report also recommends that Congressional funding be increased to the Minerals Management Service - the DOI agency responsible for overseeing the offshore drilling program - so that it can review prospective drilling sites and environmental and social impacts within the moratoria areas.

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SEABIRDS STILL NOT RECOVERED FROM EXXON OIL SPILL

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - Most seabird populations hit by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska have still to show signs of recovery over a decade after the disaster, say scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Their findings, reported in the British journal "New Scientist," contradict the claims of both Exxon, the oil company responsible for the spill, and other researchers who say that all affected species are well on the road to recovery, if not back to normal.

David Irons and colleagues in Anchorage surveyed seabird populations over eight years in Prince William Sound, scene of the 1989 spill. Of 17 taxa whose numbers were hit by the spill, he found that four showed only a "weak to very weak" recovery from the disaster.

Nine "showed no evidence of recovery," while four continued to show signs of being "increasingly affected" by the pollution from the spill, Irons said.

Seabirds that do not seem to be recovering include cormorants, various gulls, grebes, terns and murres. Most of the 30,000 oil covered carcasses collected in the months after the spill were murres.

Exxon, now part of ExxonMobil, argues that, "the environment in Prince William Sound is healthy, robust and thriving." Its claims are backed by the findings of John Wiens of the University of Colorado, another leading analyst of the spill's aftermath.

Wiens has concluded that, "all of the impacted species show strong evidence of recovery."

But Irons disputes Wiens's methodology. He says Wiens uses a stringent test for showing birds have suffered after the spill, and a less demanding standard for identifying recovery.

"The burden of proof is placed on the data to establish injury, but not recovery," Irons said.

Irons believes that birds are still suffering because food sources in the intertidal zone and shallow waters near the shore, such as mussels, are still contaminated with oil. Populations of other prey species are still much lower than before the spill, Irons says.

ExxonMobil argues that it is unreasonable to expect all bird populations to recover because there are other environmental changes affecting the numbers. "For example, average summer water temperatures have increased in the last 10 years at least three to four degrees above the historical average," the company says.

But Irons believes the oil spill is still to blame. "Lingering effects of the spill and natural variability appear to be acting in concert in delaying recovery of the bird populations," said Irons.

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BIODIESEL FUEL EARNS CREDITS IN GOVERNMENT FLEETS

WASHINGTON, DC, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - Vehicle fleets that are required to purchase light duty alternative fueled vehicles under the Energy Policy Act of 1992 will be now allowed to purchase biodiesel fuel as an alternative, the Department of Energy has decided.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has approved a final rule allowing biodiesel fuel to qualify as an alternative fuel for automobile fleets under the Energy Policy Act. The rule was initiated bby the Clinton administration, but delayed for review by the Bush administration.

"Renewable and alternative fuels are a valuable commodity for our economy," said Abraham. "The continued use of biomass products, like biodiesel in our vehicle fleets, for power generation and for other products and materials will help the environment and help diversify our energy resources."

Biodiesel is a biodegradable fuel for diesel engines produced from animal, plant or waste oils such as soybean oil, rapeseed oil or waste from french fry oil. The Energy Conservation Reauthorization Act of 1998 (ECRA) amended the Energy Policy Act of 1992 to allow fleets that are required to purchase alternative fueled vehicles to meet these requirements, in part, through the use of biodiesel fuel use credits.

Under the new rule, fleets that are required to purchase an alternative fueled vehicle will have the option of purchasing and using 450 gallons of biodiesel in vehicles in excess of 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight, instead of acquiring an alternative fueled vehicle.

With this action the Energy Department has approved the use of biodiesel fuel use credits and does not intend to initiate any further rulemaking action to modify its provisions. The rule was published May 2 in the Federal Register at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html

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TURNING ENVIRONMENTAL DATA INTO KNOWLEDGE

FORT COLLINS, Colorado, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - A three day workshop exploring how environmental data are used to gain knowledge about the environment ends today in Colorado.

Scientists, technology experts, and environmental data industry representatives attended the workshop, "Gaining Knowledge from Environmental Data," which featured state of the art technology and world class presenters.

The conference was sponsored by the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Data and Information Working Group and hosted by the U.S. Geological Survey.

"One of the challenges we face today is effectively using the vast amount of data that are being collected in an effort to address questions about our Earth and its environment," said David Clark of the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. "The workshop will take a look at some of the tools, procedures, and methods that are being developed to help solve this problem."

The workshop examined the process of turning environmental data into information and knowledge. The plenary session with leaders from science, policy, data centers and industry, addressed the big picture - why gaining knowledge from data is important.

Two sessions tackled specific issues related to data and information and how they contribute to gaining knowledge about the environment. A third session on knowledge pulled the pieces together to identify issues and challenges for data centers to address with the science community.

For more information, go to: http://www.globalchange.gov/workshop2001

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ENDANGERED FISH RETURNED TO THE CLINCH RIVER

HANCOCK COUNTY, Tennessee, May 3, 2001 (ENS) - Local landowners and government representatives will walk together today on the banks of the lower Clinch River to witness the release of an endangered fish, the pygmy madtom.

The pygmy madtom, a handsome black and white catfish, is one of the rarest fishes in the nation. This bottom dwelling fish, measuring about two inches in length, is known to occur in just two rivers in the world, the Clinch and Duck Rivers in Tennessee.

"This release event is so exciting because of the species we are dealing with and the unique partnership effort that has gone into restoring this river system to allow the fish to survive and breed in the wild," said J.R. Shute, co-director of Conservation Fisheries, Inc.

Conservation Fisheries, Inc., a nonprofit organization that specializes in captive breeding rare fish for release into the wild, has reared 13 young pygmy madtoms from two separate egg clutches spawned by a pair of pygmy madtoms collected by Professor Rick Mayden from The University of Alabama.

"When my graduate students and I were out collecting in the Clinch River, we managed to collect two pygmy madtoms," said Mayden. "We were thrilled since less than 50 specimens of this species have ever been collected. We were really lucky to catch a male and female adult fish."

About half of the 13 pygmy madtoms will be released this afternoon in time for their breeding season.

"This fish is an indicator species of the conditions of the entire river system," said Bob Butler, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It is sensitive to toxic chemicals and increased sedimentation and serves as an early warning of water quality problems before other biological resources are noticeably impacted."