AmeriScan: October 4, 2001

DROUGHT COVERS 20 PERCENT OF THE WORLD

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - A new satellite based method for early detection, monitoring and analysis of drought shows that almost 20 percent of the world's landmass has been stricken by drought over the past two years.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service used solar radiation detected from an instrument onboard NOAA's polar orbiting satellites, called the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer. The solar radiation was observed in three wavelengths of the solar spectrum - visible, near infrared and thermal - to study vegetation health, moisture, and thermal conditions.

"Satellite data are important to our understanding of the world's climate, particularly in regions of the world where routine surface measurements are sometimes difficult to obtain," said Felix Kogan, the NOAA scientist who developed the new drought detection methodology. "This method has been tested worldwide for eight years and has proven to be an excellent vehicle for early drought detection and monitoring, as well as for assessing the impacts of droughts."

NOAA is providing information on drought to customers around the world. Many countries in Africa, Asia and North America are experiencing the effects of two year droughts.

In the United States, areas of the southwest and the northwest experienced severe droughts and intensive fire activity during the two year period.

In the Horn of Africa, early drought signs were recorded in January 2000. Over the next four months, the drought expanded and intensified, creating food shortages and outbreak of disease that affected millions of inhabitants in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and other regions.

In Asia, crop producing regions and rangelands of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India, Mongolia and China were hit by severe spring and summer dryness during 2000 and 2001. Unusual summer dryness also affected countries in the Caspian Sea region.

More information is available at: http://orbit-net.nesdis.noaa.gov/crad/sat/surf/vci

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TIMBER LOBBYIST TAKES OVER ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, has been sworn in as the Agriculture Department's under secretary for natural resources and environment.

Rey will oversee the programs of the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal programs most involved in the management and protection of the nation's forests.

For 18 years, Rey served in a variety of positions with several forest product associations including the American Forest and Paper Association, the American Forest Resource Alliance, the National Forest Products Association, and the American Paper Institute/National Forest Products Association, a consortium of national trade associations.

Rey has been involved in almost all of the forestry and conservation legislation considered during the past several sessions of Congress, with principal responsibility for a number of public lands bills.

Since January 1995, Rey served as a staff member with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He was the lead staff person for the committee's work on national forest policy and Forest Service administration, and worked on the controversial Herger/Feinstein Quincy Library Act of 1998 and the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.

Michael Francis, director of the forests program at The Wilderness Society, called Rey's appointment, "yet another volley in President Bush's war on the environment."

"Mark Rey has dedicated his career to advancing the agenda of the timber industry," Francis said. "His view that our national forests are merely places in need of tree removal is embodied in the many destructive proposals he has chosen to champion in his decades as the voice of the timber industry."

"Mark Rey's nomination is the strongest signal yet that the timber industry will have broader influence over the Bush administration's national forest policy," agreed Jane Danowitz, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "Rey, hand in hand with his timber industry allies, would like to take us down a path that leads to more logging, mining, and drilling in our national forests."

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EPA, OSHA POST WORLD TRADE CENTER MONITORING DATA

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are both providing environmental monitoring data from the World Trade Center site and nearby areas in Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey on their websites.

Both agencies have taken hundreds of samples to monitor environmental conditions since the terrorist attacks on September 11, and have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents, visitors or workers beyond the immediate World Trade Center area.

In response to public requests for more detailed information, EPA and OSHA are making the results of environmental and occupational sampling available on their sites on the World Wide Web (http://www.epa.gov and http://www.osha.gov), and will post additional data as it becomes available.

The EPA and OSHA, working closely with other federal, state, and local agencies, have been sampling the air, dust, water, river sediments and drinking water and analyzing them for the presence of pollutants such as asbestos, radiation, mercury and other metals, pesticides, PCBs, or bacteria that might create health hazards. They have found no evidence of any significant public health hazard to residents or visitors to the New York metropolitan area.

"EPA's web site now has more detailed information on environmental monitoring information in New York City that should be very reassuring to residents, tourists and workers, and we will continue to update that site with information as it becomes available," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Our data show that contaminant levels are low or non-existent, and are generally confined to the Trade Center site. There is no need for concern among the general public, but residents and business owners should follow recommended procedures for cleaning up homes and businesses if dust has entered."

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw confirmed that workers on the site should take appropriate steps to protect themselves, but said there is no threat to public health.

"We have more than 200 staffers involved in a round the clock effort, continually monitoring conditions to ensure the safety and health of workers," Henshaw said. "It is important for workers involved in the recovery and cleanup to wear protective equipment as potential hazards and conditions are constantly changing at the site; however, our samples indicate there is no evidence of significant levels of airborne asbestos or other contaminants beyond the disaster site itself."

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SENSITIVE INFORMATION REMOVED FROM FEDERAL WEBSITES

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - Many federal agencies have now removed from their websites sensitive information that could be used by terrorists to target additional attacks on the U.S.

Responding to concerns that information about hazardous chemicals, nuclear shipments, oil and natural gas pipelines and other prime targets could be used by terrorists, agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) have taken some public information off the Web.

Since 1999, the EPA has required facilities that store or use dangerous chemicals to report on the worst case scenarios for chemical accidents or deliberate chemical releases at their sites. That information was to be posted on the web under public right to know laws.

But after some groups and members of Congress raised concerns that these scenarios could be used to plan terrorist or criminal attacks, the EPA agreed to restrict access to worst case scenarios to limited access reading rooms at EPA sites across the country.

Since September 11, the EPA has been reviewing its policy on who can access such information. The agency has also removed most information about chemicals and emergency plans from its risk management program website.

The "Washington Post" reports that the DOT has removed oil and gas pipeline maps and information on the risks of certain chemicals. The CDC has deleted a "Report on Chemical Terrorism," which described industry weaknesses in contingency plans for terrorist attacks, the "Washington Post" said.

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JUDGE UPHOLDS SEQUOIA NATIONAL MONUMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - In a precedent setting case, a federal judge has ruled that President Bill Clinton did not violate the law in establishing the Giant Sequoia National Monument in California.

On Friday, the judge in Washington, DC threw out a lawsuit seeking to dismantle the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which includes almost 330,000 acres of forest ecosystems and the last unprotected giant sequoia groves in the Sierra Nevada. The suit was filed by timber and off highway vehicle groups whose damaging uses of the lands now inside the monument were eliminated or restricted by the new monument.

Reaffirming the President's power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to reserve public land for the purpose of protecting objects of historical and scientific interest, the court held that plaintiffs could demonstrate "no set of facts" that the President had violated the law in establishing the monument. The court also firmly rejected plaintiffs' other challenges to the monument, including allegations that it violated the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

"The ruling is a clear victory for the environment and sends a strong message to those lodging such spurious challenges to well established law," said Earthjustice attorney Michael Sherwood. "As our judge recognized, the Antiquities Act had been challenged six times before and courts have upheld its use each time."

Earthjustice represented a coalition of environmental groups who had sought to intervene in the suit, which was brought by Sierra Forest Products, Sierra Nevada Access Multiple Use & Stewardship Coalition, Tulare County and other groups.

"We are extremely pleased that the judge saw that the case had no merit and decided it should go no further," Sherwood added.

The case could set a precedent for two additional lawsuits now pending, which challenge President Clinton's use of the Antiquities Act in creating several other national monuments in the western U.S.

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SCIENTIFIC REVIEW OF KLAMATH BASIN DECISIONS LAUNCHED

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - The Department of the Interior has signed an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review scientific and technical information regarding aquatic endangered species conservation in the Klamath Basin.

"I believe we should base our decisions on the best available science," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said. "We hope that by seeking this independent review we can assure the many constituencies affected by the Klamath Basin Project that our decisions meet that standard."

Farmers in the Klamath Basin have been deprived of all of the Klamath River water that they traditionally receive from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, due to a decision by the Interior Department that the water must be reserved for threatened and endangered fish. Under the Endangered Species Act, these fish must receive a guaranteed flow of water in the region's lakes and streams, regardless of the effects on other water users.

The purpose of the NAS review will be to examine the underlying scientific information used by the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to evaluate the effects of operations of the Klamath Project on aquatic species listed under the Endangered Species Act, particularly coho salmon and Lost River and short nosed suckers. The Klamath Project, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is located in the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and northern California.

The NAS will consider hydrologic and other environmental parameters (including water quality and habitat availability) necessary for the listed species at critical times during their life cycles. The review will also evaluate probable consequences to these species when water levels and other environmental parameters fall below these conditions.

The NAS review will examine the scientific underpinnings of aquatic conditions necessary to recover and sustain these listed species.

The NAS will evaluate existing scientific information and review the way it was applied in developing the biological assessments which led to the withholding of water from area farmers.

The National Academy of Sciences will provide an interim report by January 31, 2002, and a final report by March 30, 2003.

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CELL LINE TESTS COULD REDUCE ANIMAL TESTING

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. scientists are reducing the number of rodents in chemical safety testing, but the use of human or animal cell lines could reduce the number of animals even further - as much as 30 percent more.

The old LD50 test (which stands for lethal dose 50 percent) rated the toxicity of chemicals by finding the dose that killed half the test animals. About 50 to 200 animals were used in each chemical test.

As now being modified by three more humane alternatives, only eight to 12 rodents are needed to estimate the lethal dose. The tests at issue determine if a chemical or product will cause illness or death in animals after ingestion of a single dose.

Restrictions, warning labels and special packaging, such as child proof containers, are based on the results.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has released two new federal interagency reports on alternative testing methods which could slash the number of animals killed even further.

The reports suggest that cell lines may one day replace much animal testing, but that even today cells grown in cultures can be used to screen chemicals for their relative toxicity, reducing the need for animals by almost a third.

The reports say effective testing - including some requiring animals - remains necessary to reduce the risks of death, disfigurement and injury facing adults and children from chemicals in the workplace and in the home. Some 2.2 million human poisonings were reported to U.S. poison control centers in 1999 alone, with 873 deaths and 13,500 cases involving life threatening symptoms or long term disability or disfigurement.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international trade group that includes several European countries, Japan and the U.S., is removing the old LD50 test from its guidelines. Within a year of final OECD approval, the older animal intensive LD50 method can be replaced by the regulatory agencies of the member governments with tests using fewer animals.

This official, international switch to the new tests is expected in the latter months of 2002.

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EPA RENEWS LICENSE FOR BT COTTON

WASHINGTON, DC, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has renewed its conditional license for a genetically engineered strain of cotton which produces its own insecticide.

Following what the agency calls a "comprehensive and exhaustive review," the conditional registration of cotton containing a gene from a common soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) has been extended for five years, but with some limitations. As part of the continued conditional registration of Bt cotton, the EPA is requiring additional measures to ensure that use of the product does not pose any unreasonable risks to human health or to the environment.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural soil bacterium that produces a protein that is toxic to certain insects, but not to humans or other species. The genetic material from Bt was implanted into the cotton plants, which enables the plants to produce the toxin that controls some insect pests.

"As a condition of EPA's approval of the Bt cotton registration, we have adopted several provisions to strengthen insect resistance management, improve grower awareness and stewardship and prevent gene flow from Bt cotton to weedy relatives," said Stephen Johnson, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. "There has been extensive public input in this review process, and the outcome is a registration that safeguards important environmental concerns while providing cotton growers with a significant option to meet their pest control needs."

The EPA determined that there is "reasonable certainty" that Bt cotton will not pose "unreasonable risks to human health or to the environment."

In order to reduce the possibility of insects developing resistance to Bt, the amended registration requires that some acres be set aside where non-Bt cotton will be grown to serve as a refuge. These refuge fields will support populations of insects not exposed to the Bt toxin, which will help prevent resistance development when they cross breed with insects in the Bt fields.

Other provisions to maximize protection of the public and environment include an EPA requirement that the company developing this product, Monsanto, will conduct monitoring of any potential impacts from its continued use. The registrant must also educate growers about the best methods of planting Bt cotton to minimize any potential development of insect resistance or gene transfer to other plants.

To ensure compliance with the EPA's registration guidelines for Bt cotton, an independent, third party compliance survey will be conducted each year for the duration of the conditional registration.

More information is available at: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides

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ISLAND BIRD PROPOSED AS ENDANGERED SPECIES

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, October 4, 2001 (ENS) - The Rota bridled white-eye - a small forest bird with a distinctive ring of white feathers around its eyes - was proposed as an endangered species Wednesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Rota bridled white-eye exists only on the island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

"We join with the people of Rota today in trying to protect one of their unique and beautiful native birds," said Anne Badgley, Pacific regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Just like the totot, the Rota bridled white-eye is an important part of Rota's natural heritage. This bird is found nowhere else in the world, and we hope to work closely with local residents to ensure it does not disappear forever."

Population estimates for the Rota bridled white-eye have plummeted since the early 1980s, when they numbered almost 11,000 birds. Today, fewer than 1,200 birds are estimated to remain on Rota, an 89 percent decline.

Once numerous and found at low elevations on the island, current Rota bridled white-eye populations are now concentrated in four areas of the island in old growth native limestone forests more than 200 meters (650 feet) in elevation.

Exact causes for the sharp decline in Rota bridled white-eye populations are unknown. Possible factors contributing toward the decline include degradation or loss of habitat due to development, agricultural activities, and natural events such as typhoons; avian disease; predation by rats and black drongos (an introduced bird species from Taiwan); and use of pesticides.

The Rota bridled white-eye was listed as threatened and endangered by the CNMI government in 1991. If this proposal becomes a final rule, federal protection would be extended to the species and a recovery plan outlining activities to be undertaken to recover the species would be developed and implemented.

"The goal of our recovery plans is to recover the species so they become eligible for delisting," said Badgley.

The Rota bridled white-eye is one of 29 species named in a special agreement between the USFWS and environmental groups this summer.