AmeriScan: May 18, 2001

SNEAK ATTACK POSSIBLE ON ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - More than three dozen national and local conservation groups urged Senate appropriators this week to oppose any legislative move to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from protecting three endangered species along the Missouri River.

The groups expect attempts to re-insert a rider, authored last year by Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act to prevent changes in the operations of six big dams along the Missouri River that are hastening the species' decline toward extinction. President Bill Clinton vetoed a bill containing a similar rider last year.

"If the Corps fails to change dam operations appropriately, the least tern, piping plover, and pallid sturgeon are likely to go extinct on the Missouri River," the groups stated in letters to Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, and Ranking Member Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. The groups assert that changes in dam operations needed to protect these species would also "significantly increase recreation and tourism dollars for riverside communities."

Groups signing the letters include American Rivers, Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, and many local chapters of the National Wildlife Federation, the National Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club.

The Corps of Engineers will hold public hearings this year on options for revising dam operations following a Final Biological Opinion last November from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last year's rider would have prevented the public from considering dam reforms to meet the needs of river wildlife by blocking a key alternative included in an 11 year long study by the Corps set to be released this summer.

"The public deserves a chance to speak out on this issue," said Chad Smith, director of American Rivers' Missouri River Field Office. "This backdoor tactic would effectively take the only alternative that will satisfy the Endangered Species Act off the table."

More information is available at: http://www.americanrivers.org/missouririver/default.htm

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CALLAWAY FINED $55,000 FOR WORKER RETALIATION

FULTON, Missouri, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed a $55,000 fine against Union Electric Company, the operator of Callaway Nuclear Plant near Fulton, for retaliation against security personnel who identified a violation of NRC requirements.

A security guard, employed in a temporary status by The Wackenhut Corporation, notified managers that a guard trainee did not have a high school diploma as required for the job. Wackenhut terminated the trainee, as required, but then also terminated the security guard who identified the concern and reprimanded a security training instructor who brought the concern forward, for reasons that the NRC found to be discriminatory.

The NRC found that this action violated regulations prohibiting retaliation against workers who bring safety issues to management.

Although the retaliatory action was taken by the contractor, The Wackenhut Corporation, Union Electric management participated in the action and is held responsible as the operator of the plant.

Union Electric has since taken measures to reassure workers that they are expected and encouraged to bring forward safety concerns without fear of retaliation.

The NRC is also issuing a notice of violation against The Wackenhut Corporation.

In a letter to Garry Randolph, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for Union Electric, Ellis Merschoff, NRC regional administrator, wrote, "To emphasize the significance of this violation and the importance of maintaining a safety conscious work environment at the Callaway Nuclear Plant, I have been authorized ... to issue the enclosed Notice of Violation and Proposed Imposition of Civil Penalty (Notice) in the base amount of $55,000 for this Severity Level III violation."

The NRC classifies violations on a four level scale, with Level I being the most serious.

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MINING COMPANY JOINS FIGHT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - Rio Tinto, one of the world's leading mining companies, has joined efforts to reduce the emissions that cause global warming and to bring about an effective international agreement on climate change.

The move makes Rio Tinto, based in London, the 33rd member of the Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC), a project of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Rio Tinto is also the first mining company to join the BELC.

Members of the BELC believe enough is known about the science and environmental impacts of climate change to take action to address its consequences. They are committed to taking steps in their U.S. and international operations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Member corporations believe it is possible to address climate change and sustain global economic growth by adopting reasonable policies and transition strategies. They support further negotiations to develop an international climate change regime that is efficient, effective and fair to all nations.

"At a crucial moment in the global climate change debate, Rio Tinto has taken a bold step forward," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. "Like the other members of the BELC, Rio Tinto believes the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of doing what is necessary to protect future generations. And they are demonstrating that businesses can take action against climate change while continuing to grow."

Rio Tinto has a self imposed goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of production by five percent by 2001, based on 1998 levels. Rio Tinto is making progress on achieving this challenging target and by the end of 2000 had reduced on site greenhouse gas emissions by 5.7 percent from its 1998 baseline.

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NATIONAL BIOTECHNOLOGY WEEK ENACTED

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - On Thursday, President George W. Bush declared the current week to be National Biotechnology Week.

"For thousands of years, man has been utilizing and modifying biological processes to improve man's quality of life," said Bush. "Scientific advances have enabled biotechnology to play an increasingly large role in the development of new products that enhance all areas of our lives."

Bush noted that "our ever increasing knowledge of cellular and genetic processes continues to improve the quality of our health care," as well as "continual improvements to the quality and quantity of our nation's food supply."

"Genetic engineering will enable farmers to modify crops so that they will grow on land that was previously considered infertile," Bush stated. "In addition, it will enable farmers to grow produce with enhanced nutritional value. We also are benefiting from crops that resist plant diseases and insects, thus reducing the use of pesticides."

Biotechnology can provide other environmental benefits, Bush said, including "the increased ability of manufacturers to produce their products with less energy, pollution and waste." The development of new biotechnology also promises "to improve our ability to clean up toxic substances from soil and water and improve waste management techniques," he added.

The president said that the U.S. must continue to be "a global leader in research and development," and emphasize the responsible use of biotechnology. Proclaiming May 13 through May 19, 2001 as National Biotechnology Week, Bush called for "appropriate" programs, ceremonies and activities to recognize the importance of biotechnology.

But many citizens groups are wary of bioengineering and are concerned about potential negative effects of genetically modified organisms on human health and the environment. Moral and ethical issues related to the alteration of natural life forms worry many people.

Craig Winters, executive director of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods, says, “There are many unanswered questions about genetic engineering, which is a very young science. Nobody knows the long-term health and environmental impacts of these foods,” he adds. “At the very least, genetically manipulated foods need to be labeled so people can make up their own minds about whether they will consume them or not.”

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EPA APPROVES STATE PLANS TO REDUCE SMOG

NEW YORK, New York, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - In an effort to make smoggy summer days a thing of the past, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given final approval to New York and New Jersey's plans to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution.

Nitrogen oxides are a key ingredient of smog, the unhealthy air that aggravates lung diseases including asthma. EPA's approvals of the New York and New Jersey plans are part of an overall strategy to curb the transport of harmful pollutants across state borders.

Under the strategy, known as the NOx SIP Call,the EPA is requiring 19 states in the midwest, south and northeast and the District of Columbia to place further controls on nitrogen oxides, which are emitted by large industrial boilers and power plants. Each state and the District must meet a set budget that limits nitrogen oxide emissions.

The budgets were calculated based on what would be emitted in that state if all of its power plants and boilers were clean. These budgets will require large reductions in nitrogen oxide emission in the midwest and south, with more modest reductions in the northeast.

The NOx SIP Call will help the entire eastern portion of the country meet federal health based standards for smog, the most persistent and serious air pollution problem in the northeast. This plan will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions a total of about one million tons per ozone season.

New York is reducing its seasonal nitrogen oxide emissions by 16,000 tons and New Jersey is reducing its emissions by 9,000 tons. The plans that EPA has approved lay out these reductions and meet the requirements of EPA's overall plan.

For more information about the EPA's overall strategy to cut nitrogen oxide pollution, visit: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/rto/sip/index.html

The Federal Register notice announcing EPA's approval of the two states' programs is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region02/air

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SIERRA CLUB REPROACHES CONGRESS FOR SUPPORTING GAG RULE

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - The Sierra Club expressed disappointment with the U.S. House of Representatives for upholding the "global gag rule" policy that limits funding for international family planning.

The House approved an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (HR 1646) to maintain the global gag rule, which restricts U.S. funding for family planning programs that offer or discuss abortion. The rule puts more pressure on global natural resources, the Sierra Club says.

This amendment, introduced by Representative Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, narrowly passed by a vote of 218 to 210.

"Global population growth coupled with wasteful consumption is having dire consequences on our environment," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "The rate at which we are consuming natural resources is jeopardizing the health of the planet and threatening the availability of our safe water, healthy forests and clean air for generations that follow."

"Instead of working to protect our environment and families worldwide, the House has restricted international family planning aid, which is crucial to slowing population growth and easing the strain on our natural resources," added Pope.

The global gag rule disqualifies overseas family planning organizations from receiving U.S. funds if they, with their own money, lobby to change abortion laws or provide legal abortion services in their countries. President George W. Bush reinstated the global gag rule just days after his inauguration.

By limiting access to information and services that help families to decide the timing and spacing of their children, President Bush has made it more difficult to protect natural resources that are under pressure from the demands of increasing population, the Sierra Club argues.

The Sierra Club is working to address the connections between population, environment and natural resources by promoting international and domestic family planning assistance.

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DISASTER DECLARED IN PUERTO RICO

CABO ROJO, Puerto Rico, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush has declared that a major disaster exists in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which has been experiencing severe storms, flooding and mudslides since May 6.

The president ordered federal aid to supplement commonwealth and local recovery efforts in Cabo Rojo, Lajas, Gunica, Guayanilla, San German and Yauco. The storm damage is confined to the southwestern section of the island.

Assistance can include disaster housing, grants, emergency home repairs, low cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), named Justo Hernandez as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and additional assistance and municipalities may be added after the assessments are completed.

Federal funds will be provided for the commonwealth on a cost shared basis for approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.

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INTERIM GUIDELINES ISSUED FOR FIELD TRIALS

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has issued interim guidelines to help state wildlife agencies evaluate and oversee field trials on certain public lands.

Field trials are simulated hunts that are used to train and evaluate various breeds of dogs for bird hunting. These trials can involve the use of horses, large areas of land requiring extensive work to prepare and maintain courses and trails, and last from a few days to several weeks.

By working with agencies and field trial organizers and participants to eliminate the negative impacts of some large field trials, the USFWS expects to improve wildlife habitat conditions, while increasing the quality of hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation activities on some of these lands.

Last year, Congress amended the Federal Aid Program's authorizing legislation, known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, to state that, "only field trials that do not adversely affect wildlife or wildlife conservation objectives are viewed as an acceptable use of Pittman-Robertson acquired lands."

"Field trials are a popular activity, and have a place on public lands. However, as Congress made clear, the Service's obligation is to protect the investment that our nation's hunters and anglers have made in wildlife habitat and conservation across the nation," said acting USFWS director Marshall Jones. "We will continue to work with state wildlife agencies and field trial participants to ensure that these activities do not degrade habitat or interfere with other wildlife-related recreation."

Problems with some large field trials were identified by the USFWS, particularly where intensive use of horses damaged wildlife habitat, contributed to soil erosion, and interfered with wildlife breeding, feeding and resting.

Under the interim guidelines, states, in cooperation with the USFWS, will be responsible for developing their own regulations, policies and site specific plans for permitting field trials. Field trials that require significant manipulation of terrain, landscape or vegetation, or intensive site management are not appropriate for lands acquired or managed with Federal Aid funds.

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NEW YORK GRANTS PROMOTE ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES

ALBANY, New York, May 18, 2001 (ENS) - New York State has committed more than $530,000 in grants to local governments, schools and not for profit organizations for 15 projects which promote alternatives to pesticide use in public buildings and schools.

The grant funding is intended to promote non-toxic pest control methods to reduce the amount of pesticides used in the state.

"New York State is committed to encouraging non-toxic alternatives to pesticides to prevent pest infestations and protect the public from unnecessary exposure to chemicals," said Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner Erin Crotty. "These grants will help make our schools and public places cleaner and healthier for our children and local government employees by providing communities with resources and options to control pests through integrated pest management."

The grants are being awarded through DEC's Bureau of Pesticides Management. The grants provide up to $50,000 to municipalities for training in non-toxic pest control methods and for basic building repairs designed to reduce pesticide use by preventing pest infestations. No local matching funds are required.

Most of the grant recipients receiving funding will conduct training projects focusing on non-toxic pest management and alternatives to pesticides, with an emphasis on practical techniques, including hands on training and demonstrations of day to day practices, sanitation measures and landscape pest management. A number of grant recipients will make basic structural repairs to buildings that will prevent, prohibit or reduce pest infestations.