U.S. Signs Treaty on Plant Genetic ResourcesWASHINGTON, DC, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - The United States has joined 76 other countries and the European Union in signing a treaty on Plant Genetic Resources which aims to ensure better use of genetic diversity to meet the challenge of eradicating world hunger, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The United States, along with Japan, was one of two countries who had originally abstained from voting on the Treaty, approved with 116 votes.
"I understand that this signing is a kind of reversal from what we said just about a year ago," Tony Hall, U.S. ambassador to the FAO, said as he added his signature. "But we have seen the wisdom of the treaty and are very glad to sign it."
Countries that have signed the Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources may now ratify it. Others may now accede to the treaty directly, without needing to first sign it. The will enter into force once ratified or acceded to by 40 countries.
The fruit of 23 years of negotiations, the treaty aims to guarantee the future availability of the diversity of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits.
The treaty recognizes farmers' rights and establishes a multilateral system of access and benefit sharing for 64 crops and plants that are fundamental to food security. More plants could be added to this list in the future.
"The speed with which countries have signed this agreement, the fruit of 23 years of discussions and formal negotiations, shows that countries have a mutual interest in preserving their plant genetic resources," said Jose Esquinas-Alcazar, secretary of the FAO's Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. "We are sure that they will also be as quick in ratifying the treaty."
United States Joins Move to Block Conflict DiamondsWASHINGTON, DC, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - The United States joined the 47 governments of the South Africa led Kimberley Process Tuesday to eliminate conflict diamonds from international trade beginning January 1, 2003.
The U.S. made its commitment at a ministerial conference on the Kimberly Process that took place on Novermber 4 and 5 in Interlaken, Switzerland.
The Kimberley Process is a negotiating process seeking to establish minimum acceptable international standards for national certification schemes of import and export of rough diamonds in an effort to stem the flow of rough diamonds from rebel held conflict areas, "thereby contributing substantially to peace and protecting the legitimate diamond industry," according to the Kimberley Process web site.
The Interlaken Declaration is the product of two years of intensive coordination and cooperation among governments in a global coalition, including the diamond industry and civil society, to cut off the use of diamonds to finance rebel movements which have destabilized governments and terrorized people in Africa.
These negotiations led to creation of a global rough diamond certification system, which has been endorsed by the United National General Assembly.
Nongovernmental organizations representing a broad coalition cautiously welcomed the decision to begin the certification system from January 1. But the NGOs such as Netherlands based Fatal Transactions expressed concern that there is still no system for regular, independent monitoring of all national diamond control systems. Without this, the overall process remains open to abuse, they warn.
The United States has worked intensively over the past two years to combat the conflict diamonds trade, according to a statement from the State Department. The creation of this trading system fulfills an international commitment to the innocent victims of conflicts that have been fueled by the proceeds of conflict diamond transactions.
Alaska Earthquake Damage Estimated at $20 MillionJUNEAU, Alaska, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - Sunday's massive earthquake south of Fairbanks, resulted in an estimated $20 million in damage to roads and caused significant damage in Mentasta, Northway, Tetlin, and other communities in the eastern interior, Governor Tony Knowles said today.
The magnitude 7.9 quake caused the most havoc in Mentasta, population 142, where the school and several homes were damaged. Basic utilities such as water, sewer, electricity, and telephone were knocked off line, and home heating oil tanks were toppled in the largely native community.
The state of Alaska is evaluating the need for federal assistance to repair roads and provide other assistance for hard-hit communities, Knowles said.
"Alaska is fortunate to have survived this massive quake with no fatalities and few serious injuries, but there is considerable damage, and federal assistance will likely be needed for us to rebuild," Knowles said. "Most roads have been temporarily patched, but permanent repairs will cost millions."
The state is providing Mentasta residents with drinking water and other assistance. The Department of Environmental Conservation is responding to spilled fuel there and in other communities. The recently paved Mentasta road was severely damaged in the quake, as was the road to Northway and the Northway airport.
Knowles spoke with tribal leaders in Mentasta and Northway this morning. "They described lots of structural damage, and also the terrifying moments after the quake felt by local residents," Knowles said. "Phone lines and other communications went down right away and they were cut off from the rest of the world."
v State transportation workers responded immediately after the earthquake and most roads including the Parks and Richardson Highways have since been reopened. The Tok Cut-off, which dropped by as much as six feet in some places, is passable by one lane and only during daylight hours. A private contractor from Fairbanks is mobilizing equipment to begin repairs on that damaged section of road.
"Alaska is fortunate, too, that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline performed as it was designed, shifting on its supports, but surviving this quake intact and without any leaks," said Knowles, who talked to Alyeska president David Wight shortly after the quake struck. "The system worked, but the pipeline remains shut down while temporary supports are placed under affected sections."
Mike Heatwole of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which maintains the pipeline, says 200 miles of the pipeline were damaged. Alyeska opened the pipeline at four this afternoon, local time, and it is transporting "full production rates from the North Slope," he said.
Oil is flowing through the pipeline at approximately 750,000 barrels a day. Shippers could begin loading oil in Valdez by Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, work on repairing the damaged sections of the pipeline continues.
The Governor's Disaster Policy Cabinet, chaired by Major General Phil Oates, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs, met today to review the latest damage assessment. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also be in Alaska Thursday to inspect the damage.
Feds, State Address Ordnance, Explosives at Idaho LabIDAHO FALLS, Idaho, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - Unexploded ordnance dating back to World War II, explosive residues, and lead contamination at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) will be dealt with under a Record of Decision signed Monday by the Energy Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Idaho.
The INEEL is an applied engineering national laboratory that supports U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) missions in environment, energy, science and national security. The INEEL is operated for the DOE by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.
The unexploded ordnance, or UXO, was left from Army and Navy artillery testing, storage bunker and transportation safety testing, and bombing ranges.
Soils contaminated with the explosives trinitrotoluene (TNT) and royal demolition explosive (RDX) are addressed in the Record of Decision, and so are soils contaminated with lead at a gun range used by INEEL security personnel from 1983 through 1990.
Part of the remedy will be restrictions on access and land use at three artillery and bombing ranges within the INEEL boundary.
A removal and treatment remedy will be applied to five sites where soil is contaminated with TNT and RDX, and to one site, the INEEL Security Training Facility Gun Range, where soil is contaminated with lead fragments.
The selected remedy for the UXO, the TNT/RDX contaminated sites, and the gun range conforms to the preference for treatment outlined in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), known as the Superfund Act.
The decision includes institutional controls for seven other sites at the INEEL - a leach pond, ditch, reactor building and a buried reactor associated with the Boiling Water Reactor Experiments that operated between 1953 and 1964.
Institutional controls will be used for a fuel oil tank near the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I (EBR-I) facility, another leach pond at the former site of Organic-Moderated Reactor Experiment facility, and at the Juniper Mine site.
No further action was required on 41 other sites included in the Record of Decision.
Site wide ecological monitoring will take place to ensure the no action approach remains protective of human health and the environment.
The groundwater downgradient from the contamination areas will be sampled and analyzed for traces of TNT and RDX. If none is found after five consecutive years of monitoring, no further monitoring for these compounds will be required.
If TNT or RDX is found, groundwater monitoring will continue. If the contaminants are detected above levels specified in the Record of Decision, cleanup alternatives will be developed and evaluated, and a preferred alternative will be selected by the agencies after addressing the public's concerns. The Record of Decision would then be amended to reflect the new cleanup project.
Because parts of the selected remedies outlined in this Record of Decision result in contaminants remaining in place at levels greater than allowed for unrestricted use, the three agencies will review the selected remedies every five years.
The Administrative Record can be accessed online at: http://ar.inel.gov/home.asp. More information on the EBR-I/BORAX sites is available in a fact sheet online at: http://www.inel.gov/publicdocuments/factsheet/01-ga51010-01.pdf.
Six Polar Bears Rescued from Circus in Puerto RicoYABUCOA, Puerto Rico, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - Citing violations of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, U.S. and Puerto Rican wildlife officials Tuesday seized six polar bears from the Mexico based Suarez Bros. Circus, which has been stationed in Puerto Rico since May 2001.
The seizure followed an 18 month long campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of Puerto Rico.
"Polar bears are Arctic, marine mammals who normally roam vast distances in frigid climates," explains the Humane Society of Puerto Rico. "In the hands of a traveling tropical circus, these bears are subjected to relentless heat and humidity, confined to small, barren cages, and hit and whipped to make them perform confusing tricks."
The two groups rallied support from polar bear experts, the U.S. Congress, government officials in Germany and Canada, celebrities like Ewan McGregor, Sara McLaughlin, Martin Sheen, and Telemundo host María Celeste Arrarás, and many other individuals worldwide.
A team of zoo professionals and veterinarians assembled by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association will assist in transporting the bears to zoos in the United States within the next few days. The Detroit Zoo is among several zoos that will provide homes for the polar bears.
v PETA had also filed lawsuits against two federal agencies for their roles in allowing the bears to be brought to Puerto Rico and their lack of action to adequately protect the animals.
PETA obtained videotape that shows the overheated polar bears panting constantly and being hit in the face and whipped to perform frightening tricks. The animals are thin, lethargic, and filthy and were forced to live in cramped cages with no relief from the intense heat and humidity.
Reportedly, some of the bears are suffering from parasites, skin disease, severe depression, and a deadly bacterial disease, believed to have been transmitted through rat urine. In 1998, one of the bears died from an untreated heartworm condition.
A seventh bear was seized in March, after Suarez Bros. presented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with fraudulent documentation of her origin. She was flown to the Baltimore Zoo, where she is thriving, PETA says.
"We're ecstatic that months of hard work paid off and that these bears will finally be allowed to live out their lives with the care and dignity that they were denied for so long," says PETA Director of Captive Exotic Animals Debbie Leahy, who is in Puerto Rico, keeping in contact with authorities.
"All animals in circuses suffer abuse and extreme confinement. For these bears, the misery was compounded by the grossly inappropriate tropical climate," said Leahy.
For more information and to view video footage of the bears, visit: http://www.circuses.com.
USFWS: Coastal Barriers Protected by Lack of SubsidiesWASHINGTON, DC, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - Coastal barriers are landscape features, such as islands, spits, or mangrove trees, that shield the mainland from the full force of winds, waves, and tides.
The Coastal Barrier Resources Act, an approach to natural resource conservation that eliminated federal subsidies for development in sensitive coastal areas, has saved American taxpayers an estimated $1.3 billion since 1982, according to a report to Congress from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released today.
Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, the act imposes no regulations on how individuals may develop their land, but it halted federal spending for roads, wastewater systems, potable water supplies and disaster relief in high risk coastal areas.
The act stopped federally guaranteed, low cost flood insurance on designated units of the coastal barriers resources system, which includes areas on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts and some in the Great Lakes.
State and local governments can add their own layers of protection for the barriers land features. Texas, for example, prohibits state backed windstorm insurance on designated coastal barriers. On Dauphin Island in Alabama, the state's coastal construction control line coincides with Federal boundaries.
USFWS Director Steve Williams said, "Simply put, this law doesn't tell people what they can or cannot do with their land. It says that if you want to build something on a coastal barrier covered by the act, the taxpayer can no longer afford to subsidize rebuilding in places that are historically unstable and flood prone."
The act bears the name of the late Rhode Island Republican Senator John Chafee, who was instrumental in shaping the law and a lifelong champion of natural resource conservation.
In 1982, the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System included some 590,000 acres of undeveloped coastal barrier habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The complete coastal barriers report is available online at: http://www.fws.gov/cep/cbrtable.asp
West Virginia Clears Illegal DumpsCHARLESTON, West Virginia, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has completed cleanup of three illegal open dump sites in Wood County. More than 200 tons of trash and 300 tires were removed from the three sites.
"The sites we cleaned up were on Nicolett Road, Narrow Gauge Road and Pleasant Hill Road," said Greg Rote, environmental resources specialist with the DEP. "The sites at Nicolett and Pleasant Hill were small, active sites - people were dumping there on a regular basis. The Narrow Gauge site was a large, older, inactive site, but it had a lot of potential for groundwater contamination."
Rote said cleanup of the Nicolett and Pleasant Hill sites led to finds among the trash that resulted in convictions of those responsible for the dumping.
Dan Fowler, program manager for the DEP's Pollution Prevention and Open Dump Program (PPOD), said the $19,000 cleanup of the sites was accomplished in partnership with the Wood County Solid Waste Authority.
"They picked up half of our contractor cost for the cleanup," Fowler said. "This really is a good example of cooperation because with their help we will now be able to clean up other sites in Wood County that wouldn't have been possible otherwise this year."
Fowler said the cleanups amount to more than just taking things to the landfill. "We have reclaimed 4,467 acres of land across the state as a result of the program and been able to recycle over 25,000 tons of steel," he said.
"Once again, the PPOD program has proven its value," said Environmental Cabinet Secretary Michael Callaghan. "These sites are eyesores and nuisances, and two of these sites were near potential tourist sites. One was along one of the state's scenic rail trails."
In the past year, the Pollution Prevention and Open Dump Program has cleaned up over 850 open dumps across the state, including 32,000 used tires and 4,000 appliances at a cost of approximately $1.3 million.
Since the West Virginia PPOD program began in 1989, over 6,600 open dumps have been cleaned up around the state, with 92,000 tons of trash removed.
Georgia Landfill Operator Faces 35 Years in PrisonAUSTELL, Georgia, November 6, 2002 (ENS) - The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is applauding the conviction of an Austell man, who could be imprisoned for 35 years if he is handed the maximum sentence for operating a large illegal landfill.
On Monday, a Cobb County Superior Court jury convicted Ronald E. Crouse Sr., 64, on twelve felony counts of violating Georgia's open dumping and solid waste laws.
Crouse was accused of operating an illegal landfill on property adjacent to his Austell auto salvage yard. Prosecutors alleged that Crouse collected payment from waste haulers and directed them to dump on the property without the knowledge or consent of the Jadow Corporation, which owns the property.
The waste mostly consisted of concrete, bricks, construction and demolition debris. It covered about four acres to a depth of 20 to 30 feet. Cleanup costs are estimated at more than $1 million.
Senior Judge Conley Ingram ordered a pre-sentence investigation. Crouse remains in jail on a $350,000 bond. Along with the possible prison sentence, Crouse also faces a maximum fine of $600,000.
"This verdict makes it clear that the community will not tolerate people who choose to ignore environmental laws," said Lee Ann deGrazia, a senior EPD legal advisor and special assistant district attorney. "Landfills must be subject to the EPD permitting process in order to ensure public health and safety."
The investigation, which dates back to 1999, was a cooperative effort of the Georgia EPD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region IV Criminal Investigation Division.