U.S. Warns EU To Stop Excess Catch of Eastern Bluefin TunaWASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - U.S. Commerce Department officials say the European Union (EU) is promoting excess catch of eastern bluefish tuna and warned Thursday that this could prompt the United States to impose sanctions on imports of EU products.
In testimony Thursday in front of a House Resources subcommittee, the Commerce Department's William Hogarth said he was considering a petition brought by environmentalists and governors from some U.S. states to certify the EU for sanctions.
This certification would occur under a provision of U.S. law called the Pelly amendment, which authorizes the secretary of commerce to impose import sanctions on any products from any country that allows fishing practices that diminish the effectiveness of international fisheries conservation regimes.
Critics of the EU fishing policy say it does not comply with conservation measures required by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas(ICCAT).
EU fishing of eastern bluefin is "far in excess of scientifically recommended, sustainable levels," said Hogarth, the assistant administrator assistant administrator of the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service.
Hogarth's warning comes in the wake of an April 25 letter sent by Commerce Secretary Don Evans to the EU commissioners for trade and fisheries lamenting EU actions to block ICCAT from reducing quotas for overfished eastern bluefin tuna.
"Secretary Evans stated that positions such as these have the potential to threaten the long term future of shared resources and to lead to serious friction" in U.S.-EU trade relations, Hogarth said.
Hogarth said his agency is monitoring ICCAT compliance by the EU and its member states in line with his pending recommendation on Pelly certification. He said he would probably make his decision soon after ICCAT meetings in Madeira, Portugal, later in May.
But Hogarth and officials from the State and Interior departments came under sharp criticism at the hearing from some U.S. Representatives, including Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican, who described U.S. policy on global overfishing as "a failure."
Saxton cited a widely publicized report from the May 15 issue of the scientific journal "Nature" that detailed how commercial fishing has wiped out 90 percent of the oceans' large fishes over the past 50 years.
He expressed bitter frustration at what he saw as a lack of national will to tackle global overfishing.
"There is something terribly wrong with our ability to do this job," Saxton said.
Judge's Anger at Interior Department OverflowsWASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - In a blistering eight page memorandum and order, a federal judge has ordered the Interior Department to disclose how much it is paying private attorneys to defend current and former employees from contempt of court allegations.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth denied a motion Wednesday by Interior Secretary Gale Norton to limit the pay to a court appointed Special Master investigating Norton's violations of law. The judge admonished the Interior Department for its continued misconduct.
The payment fracas is part of a larger legal dispute over the government's admitted bungling of trust accounts held for hundreds of thousands of American Indians. The original lawsuit was filed in 1996 by tribes who claimed that the Interior Department had failed in its duty to manage gas, oil, mining and timber royalties from 11 million acres of Indian land.
"The appropriations provisions at issue in this matter appear to represent yet another attempt by defendants to evade the rule of law by any means available to them, no matter how duplicitous or underhanded," the judge wrote. "They also serve to demonstrate defendants' manifest hypocrisy."
Lawmakers defended their actions. A spokesman for Representative Charles Taylor, a North Carolina Republican, told the Associated Press that Congress had taxpayers' interests in mind when it capped an investigator's payments at $285,000 a year.
"Even that is more than Cabinet members make," said spokesman Roger France.
The judge says this only scratches the surface of the defendants' hypocrisy.
"In addition to drafting a provision that would restrict the ability of judicial officials to receive compensation, defendants were simultaneously ensuring that their own attorneys would be fully funded at taxpayer expense," he wrote.
Judge Lambreth said the Department of Interior has no problem with spending taxpayers' money, as long as it benefits them.
"But when ordered to compensate judicial officers whose appointment was necessitated by their own misconduct, defendants suddenly became born again fiscal conservatives," Lambreth said.
"This is an important victory for Indian beneficiaries," wrote Elouise Cobell of the judge's opinion on the Indian Trust website. "It has been more than six years since we filed the case, but we are winning every step of way. We will continue to fight in order to achieve accountability for American Indians and we will prevail.
Dennis Gingold, the lead attorney for some 500,000 Indians seeking a full accounting of billions of dollars of trust revenue, millions of acres of trust land, and other trust assets said that "Judge Lamberth demands honesty and integrity in his court room.
"It is a shame that the Interior secretary and the attorney general do not share his views," Gingold said.
Court Upholds Plan to Reduce Trash in L.A. Area WatersLOS ANGELES, California, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - A federal court has rejected a challenge by a coalition of 22 cities to new federal rules to reduce trash in the Los Angeles area waters.
United States District Court Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong, in a ruling sharply critical of the plaintiffs' case and conduct, upheld the new rules, which aim to eliminate most trash from local rivers, streams, and beaches over the next fourteen years.
The Court criticized the cities for "potentially misleading" the litigants, for utilizing practices that are "reprehensible," and for employing a "'win at all costs' approach [rather] than considered judgment."
The EPA adopted the new rules in order to comply with a consent decree in a case brought by three environmental organizations in 1998, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Santa Monica Baykeeper, and Heal the Bay. The consent decree mandated adoption of new trash reduction rules no later than March 2002.
"This decision demonstrates a keen awareness of the scorched earth tactics that these public entities have let loose to undermine local water quality protections," said David Beckman, NRDC Senior Attorney and lead counsel for the environmental groups, applauded the Court's decision. "The ruling is a stinging rebuke of both the cities' arguments and their tactics. Spending public dollars to fund such litigation is a travesty."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the new rules on August 1, 2002. The rules require incremental steps over a period of some 14 years to reduce and eliminate huge quantities of trash that now pollute many local waters and beaches
According to the EPA and the state's Los Angles Regional Water Quality Control Board, thousands of tons of trash now enter local waters, causing risks to public health, wildlife and the aquatic ecosystem.
"It is now time to get on with the hard work of stopping thousands of tons of trash from reaching our creeks, rivers, and the Bay," said Steve Fleischli, executive Director of Baykeeper.
Military Spending Bill Opens Door to New NukesWASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - The 2004 military spending bill passed Thursday by the U.S. Senate lifts a decade old ban on researching new low yield nuclear weapons and provides some $15 million to research nuclear "bunker buster" weapons.
The bill does, however, require congressional approval for advanced work on either type of weapon, a small victory for Congressional Democrats and other critics.
The House version of the bill allows the research and provides the funding, although slight differences will still have to be resolved.
Many are concerned with the message being sent to the rest of the world by lifting the 10 year old ban on research and development of low yield nuclear weapons less than five kilotons.
A five kiloton nuclear weapon is about half the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
The administration says these plans would make the nation's nuclear arsenal into a more effective deterrent, because these kinds of weapons could reduce the potential for causing civilian casualties and could improve the effectiveness of nuclear weapons in destroying deeply buried and hardened targets.
But both provisions are part of the Bush administration's nuclear weapons policy that many believe blurs the line between the use of nuclear and conventional weapons and could undermine the international effort to contain the world's development of nuclear weapons.
Critics believe that that if the U.S. is perceived to be actively seeking new weapons in its nuclear arsenal, it will be harder to convince others to halt their development.
"A few weeks ago, the Government of Pakistan offered to go nuclear free," said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, during debate on the issue. " They said: We would like to eliminate nuclear weapons on the subcontinent. The Indians would have to agree. That is a very interesting and very positive approach."
"The problem is, how do we reinforce that effort when we are not talking about going nuclear free? We are talking about new nuclear weapons, more sophisticated weapons that can be used," Reed said. "That will not encourage the Pakistanis to give up weapons, or the Indians. I think it will encourage their scientists to start looking at more and new technology."
And critics say the administration's concept of modifying or developing nuclear weapons for use against deeply buried and hardened targets is not only misguided, but fundamentally flawed.
Low collateral, low yield bunker buster nuclear bombs are a "physical myth," said Sidney Drell, a nuclear physicist with Stanford University.
The Senate did unanimously approve a measure that extends the prohibition on the development or use of nuclear armed interceptors as part of a ballistic missile defense system.
Louisiana Sinking, One Third of State's Coast Could Vanish By 2050LAFAYETTE, Louisiana, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - The state of Louisiana lost some 1,900 square miles of coastal land in the 20th century and could lose another 700 square miles by 2050 if no new restoration takes place, say federal and state scientists.
Most of the land lost and under threat is coastal marsh land, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and without a coordinated effort one third of coastal Louisiana will have vanished into the Gulf of Mexico by 2050.
The 1,900 square miles lost between 1932 and 2000 is an area roughly "the size of the state of Delaware," said James Johnston, spatial analysis branch chief at the USGS National Wetlands Research Center.
Based on USGS data, land loss rates have been reduced from 39 square miles per year between 1956 and 1978 to 24 square miles per year from 1990 to 2000. For the entire period, the loss rate has been 34 square miles per year.
Reversing this trend will not be easy, as USGS documented in a peer-reviewed report to be released soon. The report analyzes the recent work of the Louisiana Coastal Area Land Change Study Group, which includes federal and state government agencies and university experts in remote sensing, geographic information systems, ecosystem processes, and coastal land loss.
Data generated from the report indicates that restoring the state's coast will be one of the largest environmental projects ever undertaken in the United States, estimated to cost $14 billion over the next 40 years. State and federal officials, however, estimate that the cost of inaction will amount to more than $100 billion in infrastructure alone.
The report cites many causes of wetland loss, but chief among them are the dams, levees, navigation projects and channels erected along the mainstream and major tributaries of the Mississippi River. These projects, started in 1928 following the watershed flood of 1927, were completed in 1963, coinciding with the first observations of major coastal land loss in Louisiana.
They have resulted in a 67 percent decrease in sediment delivered to the Louisiana coast, a necessary process to keep marshlands replenished.
The continued loss of the states' coastal wetlands could have severe ecological, economic and human impacts.
Louisiana's coastal wetlands make up the seventh largest delta on Earth and contain some 40 percent of U.S. tidal marshes and support the largest commercial fishery in the lower 48 states. The wetlands provide critical habitat for millions of waterfowl and migratory birds, as well as for several endangered and threatened species.
The entire region helps buffer larger populations and property in the state's coastal cities, including New Orleans, from hurricanes and other storms. The U.S. Census Bureau finds that about half of the state's 4.5 million residents live in coastal areas.
Environmentalists Threaten Ford With Consumer BoycottSAN FRANCISCO, California, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - Bluewater Network, a San Francisco based environmental group, is urging Ford Motor Company to commit to environmental protection or the organization will launch a nationwide consumer boycott of the U.S. automaker.
In a letter sent to Ford Chief Executive Officer William Ford Jr., Bluewater Network says the environmental rhetoric of the company should be turned into action and industry leadership.
"By reneging on his pledge to improve SUV fuel mileage, and by personally lobbying Congress not to increase fuel mileage standards, Mr. Ford exposed his company's Matrix-like strategy," said Russell Long, executive director of Bluewater Network.
"First, he convinced the nation that he was an environmentalist, and then fought like a tiger against any regulation to protect the environment," Long said. "It is tough to say where the propaganda ends and the reality begins, but one thing is for sure - he cannot have it both ways."
The letter to Ford calls attention to the environmental and public health consequences of America's inefficient, fossil fuel dependent cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.
Bluewater Network says it is ready to launch a nationwide campaign calling on consumers to boycott Ford that will be timed to coincide with the automaker's 100th anniversary. Henry Ford and 11 associations launched the Ford Motor Company on June 16, 1903 in Lansing, Michigan;
The organization wants Ford to commit to only produce vehicles with zero tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions by 2017, starting with their hydrogen-powered internal combustion vehicle by 2007. It urges Ford to immediately agrees to honor its pledge to increase SUV fuel economy 25 percent, to lobby for national and international standards to double fuel economy and to actively support California's new greenhouse gas law.
Ford has said that increased fuel efficiency would compromise vehicle safety and performance, but environmentalists do not buy this excuse.
"Ford has the technology, but lacks the commitment to lead the automobile industry to protect America's children and future generations," said Long.
"They have developed a clean, affordable hydrogen car that uses a conventional combustion engine, but consumers should not hold their breath - Ford will not sell it."
Critters Shun Adirondack Wildlife CorridorsNEW YORK, New York, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - Using surveillance and other tracking techniques, researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society have found that underpasses, at least in New York's Adirondack Mountain region, are not being used by animals.
Their study, published today in the "Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies," logged only four raccoons passing through one of 19 culverts observed. The culverts are supposed to offer animals a safe way to pass under highways without running the risk of becoming road kill.
The authors say the study points out that new interstate highways planned for the region, including the proposed Adirondack expressway from Watertown, New York, to Plattsburgh, New York, would take a heavy toll on wildlife.
"Any cost benefit analysis regarding the proposed Rooftop Highway must consider not only immediate costs to wildlife in terms of road kills and population isolation, but also the added budgetary considerations needed to attempt to mitigate these costs," said Scott LaPoint, lead author of the study.
LaPoint and his team set up camera traps and used tracking techniques to record animals using both drainage culverts and underpasses designed for wildlife and human use.
Highway underpasses, or "critter corridors" are being tried in a variety of places around the country, but the jury is still out on whether they will help keep wildlife from being killed along highways and roads. Passage rates in the New York study were much lower than the moderate success rates found in a similar Florida corridor system.
The Wildlife Conservation Society study came to no conclusions that explain why wildlife avoid the passageways, but some researchers suspect that with all terrain vehicles that use the culverts might scare them away. More than 20 ATVs passed through the culverts being studied.
Others speculate that wildlife simply might not like the underpasses. WCS researcher and study co-author Dr. Justina Ray said, "A highway engineer's view of a nice underpass may be quite different from that of a white-tailed deer."
New Sierra Club President Focused On Bush Environmental RollbacksSAN FRANCISCO, California, May 23, 2003 (ENS) - The Sierra Club has elected Larry Fahn to serve as its 50th president and Fahn wasted little time in setting his sights on the Bush administration. Fahn, a long time San Francisco Bay area political and environmental activist and 25 year veteran with the Sierra Club, said his priority for the next year is to help educate the American public about the Bush administration's efforts to weaken forty years of environmental progress.
"We face the most environmentally hostile federal government in our nation's 227-year history," Fahn said. "The Bush cabinet and subcabinet are salted with representatives of corporate interests, attorneys and lobbyists for mining, timber, auto and oil companies. Those same interests helped propel Bush into the Presidency. They are seeking a return on their investment."
Fahn said that the Sierra Club, with 700,000 members and a wide ranging grassroots structure, is "uniquely positioned to spread the word, and help defeat those that would threaten our country's natural heritage, and the health of our air, water and wild places."
First elected by the Sierra Club membership to serve on the Sierra Club's national Board of Directors in May 1999, Fahn was re-elected in spring of 2002 and subsequently elected by his fellow Board members to serve as national Vice President for conservation.
Fahn called it a "huge honor" to serve in a role once filled by legendary conservationist John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and served as its first president for more than twenty years.
In his professional life, Fahn serves as Executive Director of As You Sow Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental advocacy and consumer activism.
"Larry passionately believes that everyone has a role to play in protecting our communities and our environment and he has a great track record of helping people work together to get the job done," said outgoing President Jennifer Ferenstein. "We need his vision and leadership now more than ever."