AmeriScan: May 4, 2001


GENEVA, Switzerland, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - For the first time since 1947, the U.S. will not serve on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission, the major UN body working to promote and protect human rights.

The UN Economic and Social Council elected 14 new members to the Geneva based Commission on Thursday. The Council elected Togo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Uganda, Chile and Mexico from the African and the Latin American and Caribbean Groups.

By secret ballot, the Council elected Bahrain, the Republic of Korea and Pakistan from the Asian States, and Croatia and Armenia from the Eastern European States.

From the Western European and Others Group, France, Sweden and Austria were elected, but the United States did not get a sufficient number of votes. UN spokesperson Fred Eckhard told the press that "this is the first time since the Commission's inception in 1947 that the United States will not serve" on the panel.

House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt warns this could be the first of many international repercussions for the Bush Administration's environmental policies

"Unfortunately, today's action demonstrates that U.S. unilateralism in foreign policy has consequences," the Missouri Representative said. "According to diplomatic sources, the Bush Administration's recent withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty and its willingness to shatter the international arms control framework in pursuit of unproven missile defenses influenced the vote by other nations against our nomination to the Commission."

"This means our government will no longer have a voice on the principal international body that evaluates human rights in countries like China, Cuba, Iran, Libya and Sudan. This is very unfortunate," added Gephardt.

In March, President George W. Bush announced that the United States will not try to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an addendum to a UN treaty on global climate change. Under the Protocol, agreed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, 39 industrialized nations must cut emissions of six greenhouse gases to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

But the Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.

"I hope the Bush Administration shifts course, and learns that our government must work cooperatively with our allies and other nations when possible to have influence abroad. When we must go our own way, we should at least consult with them in advance," said Gephardt. "This Administration's failure to follow these basic diplomatic precepts on critical global matters has undermined our government's ability to sustain its leadership role in the human rights arena."

On Wednesday, the House International Relations Committee voted to support continued U.S. negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, amending the State Department budget bill to include strong language supporting the Kyoto treaty.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - Entergy Corporation, one of the nation's leading electricity providers, has pledged to take voluntary actions to stabilize its domestic greenhouse gas emissions at year 2000 levels through 2005.

The company will also develop a long term target which will include additional emissions reductions to help combat climate change.

Entergy is the first U.S. electric company to announce such a greenhouse gas emissions target. To implement this target, the New Orleans based company will partner with Environmental Defense, a national advocacy group, to develop a program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from Entergy's plants in the U.S. that generate electricity through burning fossil fuels.

Entergy also announced it has become the first U.S. electric company accepted for membership in the Partnership for Climate Action (PCA), a collaboration of international business and environmental leaders dedicated to climate protection.

"The process of intergovernmental debate and negotiation on the terms and conditions to assure economic parity around the world takes time that we may not have," said J. Wayne Leonard, Entergy's chief executive officer. "It is incumbent upon every individual and business to take voluntary initiatives to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the risks we face today. As businesses, we know the right answer without government action to force us to act more responsibly. Entergy's program will demonstrate that companies can do the right thing while remaining competitive and profitable."

To meet its greenhouse gas reduction target, Entergy will undertake a combination of internal actions and investments in emissions reduction projects. Entergy's nuclear assets are not included in this target.

Entergy has established a $25 million Environmental Initiatives Fund to help accomplish its goal through 2005.

"We appreciate, in this period of major uncertainty in the electric generation sector, how important it is for a leading company like Entergy to step up and guarantee that it will reduce its emissions even while it continues to grow its business," said Environmental Defense executive director Fred Krupp. "As we have learned from past experience, it is possible to cut emissions and still provide products to customers and profits to shareholders. Entergy's leadership in this arena should encourage other electric utilities to take similar steps to reduce pollution."

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PORTLAND, Oregon, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of conservation, fishing and business groups is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to save Columbia and Snake River salmon from extinction.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, challenges the new federal plan for operation of the Columbia and Snake River dams. The groups claim that federal mismanagement is driving salmon to extinction and causing irreparable harm to the Northwest.

"The continuing salmon emergency is hurting people, communities, and economies," said Tim Stearns, Northwest regional director of the National Wildlife Federation. "Federal agencies managing the Columbia and Snake Rivers should be steering us out of this mess. Instead they are making it worse."

"Their new salmon plan is weak on science and full of risk for salmon," added Stearns. "Weak as it is, they've tossed even it aside in operating the rivers this year. And the Administration's budget for 2002 totally fails to fund the new plan."

The new federal plan calls for more water in the Snake and Columbia Rivers for young salmon migrating to the ocean, and it requires spilling water over dams so fewer fish are run through turbines and bypass systems.

But due to this year's energy demands, low rainfall and financial problems, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has invoked emergency clauses to abandon these salmon protections. Huge losses of young salmon - up to 95 percent, say salmon biologists - are expected as a result.

"In a couple of paragraphs, the plan essentially issues a license to BPA to ignore the rest of the plan, and wipe out endangered salmon if they deem it necessary," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. "There is no standard, no definition, no accountability, no limits; and certainly no thought to legal protection of salmon. These agencies need to stop the extinction clock, not make it run faster."

Last week, Trout Unlimited released a study forecasting that Snake River wild spring chinook salmon may be extinct by 2016 unless conditions change.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - A government report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the agency responsible for regulating hydropower dams lacks the data to analyze the efficacy of its licensing process.

The report comes just days before that same regulatory agency reports to Congress on ways to make licensing quicker and cheaper for the hydropower industry.

In light of GAO's findings, American Rivers, American Whitewater, and Trout Unlimited - three of America's leading river conservation organizations - and more than 70 grassroots groups from across the country are calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to clean up its licensing process. The groups also urged Congress to strike damaging changes to the hydropower licensing process from legislation now under consideration in both the House and Senate.

The GAO report states that, until it does a better job collecting data on the cost and timing of its process, "FERC will not be able to reach informed decisions on the need for further administrative reforms or legislative changes to the licensing process."

FERC issues and oversees operating licenses for about 2,500 hydropower dams across the country. Licenses last 30 to 50 years, and upon expiration a dam owner must apply to FERC for a new license.

This licensing process requires consideration of ecological health, water quality and recreation in order to bring dams up to modern environmental standards. Over the next decade, the licenses for more than 400 dams affecting 130 different rivers will expire, representing two percent of the nation's energy supplies.

"Congress should not consider any changes to the licensing process until FERC can convincingly demonstrate that the process is flawed," said Matt Sicchio, coordinator of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. "The risk to the long term health of our nation's rivers is simply too high to rely on anecdotes from the hydropower industry."

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VIEQUES, Puerto Rico, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) welcomed its newest addition to the National Wildlife Refuge System on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The refuge lies on the western end of the 52 square mile (135 square kilometer) island - far from the Navy exercises which continue to bomb the island's shores. The Navy owns two thirds of the island and has conducted live fire training there since 1941.

On April 27, the Navy resumed training for the first time since a stray bomb killed a civilian security guard. Under an agreement between former Puerto Rican President Pedro Rosello and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Navy must use dummy ordinance instead of live bombs and bullets for at least the next three years.

Under the same agreement, thousands of acres of the island were to be turned over to Puerto Rico for non-military uses. But under the $310 billion military spending bill signed last October by President Clinton, the federal government decided to transfer some of those lands to the Department of Interior instead.

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge now comprises 3,100 acres including beaches, coastal lagoons, mangrove wetlands and upland forested areas. The marine environment surrounding the refuge contains coral reefs and sea grass beds.

The refuge and its surrounding waters are home to at least four plants and 10 animals on the federal endangered species list including the West Indian manatee, the brown pelican, and four species of sea turtles. In addition to its ecological value, the new refuge includes historical and archeological sites that will be protected under USFWS management.

"The western part of Vieques contains some of the best examples of sub-tropical forest in the Caribbean," said Sam Hamilton, USFWS southeast regional director. "The area contains unique resources that deserve to be protected for the enjoyment of the people of Vieques and all Americans. We are looking forward to working with the citizens of Vieques to protect these important environmental resources."

The USFWS must consider wildlife first, but will work with the citizens of Vieques to determine what priority public uses should be considered for the land.

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LOS ANGELES, California, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - Two men have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for what officials are calling the largest ever seizure of illegal African elephant ivory on the U.S. West Coast.

Media reports list the men as a Gambian native and a former Liberian resident. They have been charged with smuggling at least 260 pounds of ivory, with an estimated value of $375,000.

U.S. customs officials at Los Angeles International Airport discovered 220 pounds of the illegal ivory on April 9 and 11, hidden inside a shipment of furniture and carved wooded objects that had originated in Nigeria. A further 40 pounds of ivory was later confiscated from a Hollywood, California residence following an investigation.

The haul was made up of more than 480 pieces of ivory, both carved and raw, including 38 tusks, some no longer than six to eight inches, indicating that elephant calves were killed to obtain them.

"Though ivory trade has been illegal since 1990, we continue to see seizure of illegal hauls such as this taking place all over the world," said Karen Steuer, director of commercial exploitation and trade in wild animals for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "This is yet more proof of how difficult it is for the range states of the African elephant to control poaching. It's clear from this seizure that the slaughter is indiscriminate, ranging from the very young to mature animals critical to the future of elephant populations."

"Under these circumstances, how can we possibly consider proposals for more trade in ivory? The black market demand is insatiable, and opening up a legal trade will only provide a cover and a market for illegal ivory products," added Steuer referring to a current debate brewing among member states in CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species.

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FORT SNELLING, Minnesota, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated about 201 miles (323 kilometers) of mainland and island shoreline in eight Great Lakes states as critical habitat for endangered breeding populations of the piping plover.

"The Great Lakes breeding population of piping plovers has declined to just 30 breeding pairs, all of which nest in northern Michigan," said Bill Hartwig, regional director for the USFWS Great Lakes/Big Rivers Region. "Today's action will help ensure the population has enough habitat to recover and ultimately be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species."

The designation affects mainland and island shoreline in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Based on information received from the public, the USFWS removed three sites from the final designation because they do not contain elements needed by the piping plover, a small shorebird.


(Photo courtesy USFWS)
The USFWS also scaled back the inland boundary for critical habitat areas from one kilometer to 500 meters (1,640 feet) inland from the normal high water line. The revised boundary reflects information gathered during the comment period that indicates most dune systems do not extend beyond the revised boundary.

"The public played a large role in the designation of critical habitat for the piping plover," Hartwig said. "Based on information we received during the comment period, we were able to refine the designation to include those areas that are truly needed by the plover for its recovery."

Some federally managed beaches may need to restrict use during the spring and summer to allow piping plovers to nest. However, most beaches within critical habitat do not come under federal authority and are not affected by the designation.

The three nesting populations of piping plovers in the U.S. are all threatened by loss of shoreline habitat.

More information is available at:

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PADUCAH, Kentucky, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - The Labor Department will open resource centers across the country to notify energy workers of available benefits under a new program for workers who have been exposed to radiation.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new centers after touring the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky on Thursday.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act provides compensation and medical benefits for workers suffering from specified illnesses as a result of their exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica. The Act's provisions become effective July 31, 2001.

"My sole concern is for the workers who have been wronged by their government in the service of their country," Chao said. "They not only gave their labor - many of them gave their health."

"We are striving to have the energy workers' compensation program up and running as quickly as possible in an attempt to meet the statutory deadline," added Chao. "We will be opening a Paducah resource center to help workers and families know about the benefits that may be available and to file their claims. We will open at least nine centers throughout the country."

Chao visited the Paducah plant to see the cleanup efforts at the facility first hand. She also met with local union leaders and families who have been affected by workers' radiation exposure.

The Labor Department's nationwide outreach program will include the resource centers, a toll free call center, a website with downloadable claim forms, site visits, and a Department of Labor team to consult with the Department of Energy in its continuing former workers' program.

Eligible workers may receive lifetime medical coverage and a one time $150,000 payment.

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - Concluding a two day conference on Thursday, scientists and policymakers agreed that more must be done to address the problem of acid rain.

The conference, organized by the Center for Environmental Information, brought together a range of stakeholders from 25 states and Canada, and featured an overview of the impacts of acid rain as well as policy discussions on how to best address the problem.

More than 50 federal and state agencies, professional associations, research institutes, trade associations, companies and environmental organizations cosponsored the conference, titled "Acid Rain: Are the Problems Solved?"

Despite market based emissions trading program that have reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, scientific assessments make clear the acid deposition problem has not been resolved. Ongoing ecological and economic impacts of acid deposition across the nation require new policy initiatives, the attendees concluded.

New York Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, called for stronger emission cuts and a bipartisan effort to address the acid rain problem.

Representative Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican, chaired a hearing of the House Science Committee that took place in conjunction with the conference. Dr. Charles Driscoll of Syracuse University, who provided testimony at the hearing, reported the results of acid rain research published last month in the journal "BioScience."

Driscoll said that sulfuric and nitric acid have acidified North American soils, lakes and streams, stressing or killing terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals. "Despite marked reductions in sulfur deposition, present regulatory standards are insufficient for protection and recovery of sensitive ecosystems," said Driscoll.

Dr. James Galloway of the University of Virginia told the conference, "It is critical that scientists and policymakers alike take seriously the 10 fold increase in nitrogen emissions that has occurred over the past century. We now know that each nitrogen molecule not only contributes to acid rain, but also adds to ground level ozone, over-fertilization of ecosystems and climate change."

John Kinsman of the Edison Electric Institute noted that the electric utility industry is only part of the source of emissions that cause acid rain, but is the only one that is regulated to prevent these emissions. Despite the fact that electricity production is up, emissions from utilities have decreased.

More information is available at:

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NEW YORK, New York, May 4, 2001 (ENS) - The Rainforest Alliance has awarded a research fellowship for a project to develop and implement sustainable management practices for the production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage.

Tequila is the most popular and best known type of mezcal sold in North American liquor markets.

Catarina Illsley Granich received the organization's Kleinhans Fellowship for Research in Tropical Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), for the period of 2001-2003. The Kleinhans Fellowship promotes the integration of economic development and environmental management.

Illsley, a researcher at the Group for Environmental Studies (Grupo de Estudios Ambientales or AC) - a 24 year old nonprofit group in Mexico - will study current mezcal production practices, and their environmental and social effects on the region. From mezcal's origins as a maguey plant through the manufacturing process to the finished product, Illsley will inventory and analyze the way local resources are used in production.

She will then work to develop natural resource management practices that minimize environmental impacts and increase product output - providing financial incentives for the adoption of environmentally sustainable methods of production.

As someone who has worked in the Guerrero region of Mexico for several years, Illsley says that the project's strength is its emphasis on collaboration among various stakeholders. She will use the partnership between the AC, a well established civil organization, and Sanzekan Tinemi, a regional peasant organization, to consolidate resources and engage all interested parties.

The project's goal is to include the local producers in every step of the product's manufacture - right up to its sale. The regional community will participate in the research and implementation of the management plan, and a bottling enterprise has been funded to encourage further local control and economic benefits for the community.

Mexico City's thriving tequila market should provide an enthusiastic, initial consumer audience, Illsley said.