AmeriScan: October 5, 2001


JUAREZ, Mexico, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Mexico's Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT) have announced a set a principles that will guide the two countries in managing cross border environmental issues.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman and SEMARNAT Secretary Victor Lichtinger stressed an approach that will empower state and local governments as well as U.S. tribes to establish their own priorities in protecting the environment and public health in the border region. The two governments will look at regional work groups, with a commitment to locally focused planning.

"I am pleased to be with Secretary Lichtinger to reaffirm our joint commitment to addressing the environmental challenges our countries face along our border," said Whitman. "As the border region grows, so too does the need for smart planning and close cooperation. Economic prosperity and environmental protection must go hand in hand here in the border region. I am pleased that we agree on the need for our agencies to work closely with our state partners to develop a new, results oriented plan for border environmental activities."

Whitman and Lichtinger met at the Juarez wastewater treatment plant, constructed through the efforts of the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission and the North American Development Bank with U.S. and Mexican funds.

"We agree on the importance of broadening our binational effort, giving state, local and U.S. tribal governments greater say and greater participation in setting the agenda for environmental progress," continued Whitman. "We also agree that our efforts to involve all the border region stakeholders - communities, business, academia, non-governmental organizations, and state, local and U.S. tribal governments - must be fully transparent. Both of these steps are in keeping with our shared belief in the importance, indeed the indispensability, of involving those closest to a challenge in its solution."

Whitman also announced that the EPA will fund the inclusion of Mexico in the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) network, which helps pediatricians and environmental health specialists share information and answers questions on how to better serve children impacted by exposure to environmental hazards. The EPA's $155,000 grant will fund a PEHSU unit in Cuernavaca for the first year.

More information on the U.S.-Mexico partnership is available at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - October 2001 is Energy Awareness Month - the 22nd annual energy awareness campaign sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE).

"We observe Energy Awareness Month because meeting our nation's energy needs is a task of immense proportions and utmost importance - now and in the future," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "With strong leadership at all levels of government, beginning with President Bush - and with the sustained cooperation of business, industry, energy providers and concerned consumers - we can implement the sound energy policies and practices that are essential to America's well being and security."

Throughout the month, several exhibits demonstrating the DOE's programs will be displayed in the lobby of DOE headquarters, including: the Clean Cities initiative which supports partnerships that deploy alternative fuel vehicles; fuel cell technology for automotive applications; the ENERGY STAR partnership; and the Federal Energy Management Program.

Today, Abraham accompanied professional crews installing energy efficient weatherization improvements in a home in Arlington, Virginia under the DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development oversees the Virginia weatherization program.

"Installing energy efficient insulation reduces annual energy costs by an average of $300 per household and that means more money in people's pockets," said Abraham. "October, Energy Awareness Month, is a good time to remember that there are things we can do today to lower our energy bills and save energy."

On October 13, homes powered by the clean, non-polluting and renewable power of the sun will be open to people interested in seeing first hand how solar energy is being used in today's homes. The DOE is cosponsoring a tour of more than 800 homes in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

"A visit to see the practical, everyday use of solar power shows families how they can incorporate these technologies in their homes," said Abraham. "Renewable energy use is a key component to President Bush's National Energy Policy. Diversifying resources and increasing the use of solar power meets the President's goals of conserving energy, lowering utility bills and strengthening America's energy security."

More information on the solar homes tours is available through the American Solar Energy Society at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has award a host of grants intended to promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) will receive $99,974 to develop a green rating system for existing buildings that will improve and promote optimal building performance and efficiency. The USGBC will develop, test and promote a comprehensive "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System for Building Operations and Retrofit" that will provide standards and guides for achieving better environmental performance.

The system will address every aspect of a building's environmental impact, from off site water runoff, to indoor building materials that minimize virgin materials, to energy consumption.

The Energy Efficient Building Association (EEBA) will receive $90,850 to promote energy efficiency in residential homes. This is the sixth year that EPA has supported EEBA in their mission to educate builders in energy efficient construction and best management practices for reducing energy consumption in homes.

EEBA will use this grant to reach about 15,000 industry professionals by supporting their annual builder conference, distributing climate specific and other best practices builder guides, and recognizing outstanding builders who use energy efficient building practices.

Energy Rated Homes of America (ERHA) of Oceanside, California will receive $50,000 to increase demand for new energy efficient homes and help homeowners improve the energy efficiency of existing ones. Acting through its Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET), ERHA will use this grant to encourage certified home energy raters to expand their line of services beyond new homes to include rating energy efficiency in existing homes.

The EPA has awarded a grant of $37,000 to the University of Maryland to study the energy efficiency of combining heating, air conditioning and power systems in small buildings. These combined systems have the potential to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide - the main global warming gas - by up to 70 percent, improve indoor air quality and increase the availability of reliable power.

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OAHU, Hawaii, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Army has agreed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to address the existing and potential impacts of its live fire training at Makua Military Reservation (MMR) on Oahu, Hawaii.

Makua Valley

The Makua Valley, site of the Army's live fire training (Photo courtesy Earthjustice)
Malama Makua, represented by Earthjustice, and the U.S. Army filed a settlement Thursday, concluding Malama Makua's three year effort to compel the Army to prepare a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) exploring risks to cultural and environmental resources on the reservation.

In recognition of the possible increased need for training as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the settlement allows the Army to conduct limited live fire training during the preparation of the EIS.

Highlights of the agreement are:

"Every settlement requires compromise, and both sides have come a long way to settle this case," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "The Army has committed to preparing the comprehensive environmental impact statement the Wai'anae Coast community has been demanding for years and will take important, unprecedented steps to address community concerns about cultural access and the removal of unexploded ordnance."

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - A real time gas and water quality monitoring system may become one tool in the effort to protect the nation's water supply.

The monitoring system consists of a miniature sensor array packaged in a weatherproof housing developed by the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories.

"The electronic sniffer is a unique monitor that can be put directly underground - in groundwater or soils where the humidity reaches nearly 100 percent - and detect toxic chemicals at the site [in-situ] without taking samples to the lab," said researcher Cliff Ho. "It has the capability of detecting in real time undesirable chemicals being pumped into the water supply accidentally or intentionally. It will be able to monitor sites containing toxic chemical spills, leaking underground storage tanks, and chemical waste dumps, potentially saving millions of dollars a year in the process."

Traditional monitoring methods for contaminated sites involve collecting water, gas or soil specimens at the location and taking them to a laboratory for analysis. This can become expensive, with each sample analysis costing between $100 to $1,000.

The integrity of off site analysis can be compromised during sample collection, transport and storage.


A closeup view of the sensor housing and cable (Photo courtesy Sandia National Laboratories)
The monitoring system developed by Ho and colleague Bob Hughes is designed to be left at the site. It would send back information in real time on solvents present and their concentrations to a data collection station where information would be downloaded and analyzed.

Telemetry methods can also transmit data from remote stations to a computer that would upload information to an interactive web site, providing immediate access to authorized individuals anywhere in the country.

The heart of the device is an array of differing miniature sensors that can detect volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The array of differing sensors can be used to identify different VOCs by comparing the resulting chemical signatures with those of known samples.

The sensors' waterproof package allows the device to be placed in water or underground.

"The package is modular like a water tight flashlight and is fitted with o-rings," Ho said. "It can be unscrewed, allowing for easy exchange of components."

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is celebrating Children's Health Month with new programs focusing on environmental education, asthma, lead poisoning, sun exposure, safe fishing, smoke free environments and clean water.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman kicked off the month on Monday, which President George W. Bush had designated as Children's Health Day. Whitman announced a new Girl Scout badge dedicated to environmental health, and helped members of Washington, DC area Girl Scout troops complete one of the requirements for the badge.


Whitman helps a Girl Scout troop earn the new environmental health badge (Photo courtesy EPA)
"Partnerships are key to my mission at EPA," said Whitman. "Our work with the Girl Scout organization to create this new badge is one example of the success of these partnerships. During October I will travel around the country to talk about children's environmental health and the many programs EPA has geared towards the issues that affect our children. The events I will participate in will highlight the many partnerships we have made to promote the protection of children from environmental harm."

On Thursday, Whitman joined a fourth grade class at Vilas Elementary in El Paso, Texas, to launch a new program encouraging children to learn more about protecting the environment by collaborating with other students across the nation and around the world.

"EPA's pen pal program will allow students in many different geographic locations to benefit from each other's thoughts and research," said Whitman. "By working cooperatively students can learn about different areas of the country, share ideas for projects and discover information about the environment. Children are a valuable resource as they are often the best advocates. By helping children expand their knowledge about the environment we all benefit from their increased understanding of the world around them."

The Environmental Pen Pal Partners program requires a commitment from each classroom to research environmental information and to share its findings with a partner classroom every two weeks either electronically or by mail. More information about the program is available at:

Bush named October 1 as Children's Health Day, calling it a time to "assess the health and well being of our children and to reaffirm our commitment to nurture and care for them in the best way possible."

Bush urged parents, teachers and neighbors to review their homes, schools and workplaces for cleaning products, toxic gases and other hazards, including lead based paint, radon, carbon monoxide, and allergens that may cause chronic illnesses or respiratory disorders.

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SPOKANE, Washington, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to conduct a formal review of burbot found in the lower Kootenai River to determine whether that population of the fish should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

This review is being conducted in response to a petition filed by American Wildlands and the Idaho Conservation League. The petition demonstrated that burbot in the lower Kootenai are genetically distinct from burbot in the rest of the river, because of the impassable nature of Kootenai Falls in Montana.

The USFWS will evaluate the burbot population that spawns in winter in north Idaho's lower Kootenai River and its tributaries in Idaho and British Columbia. The species also spends part of its life cycle in the south arm of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia.

"Today's determination is the first step in the process of determining whether a species warrants listing under the Act, and we encourage the public to provide scientific data and other information on this population of burbot," said Anne Badgley, USFWS Pacific regional director. "If after the review we find the species is in need of protection, we would then propose it for listing. At that point, the public would have another opportunity to comment and submit scientific data about the species. Only after reviewing those comments would we make a final decision."

The USFWS is asking the public to provide information to help determine:

  1. whether burbot in this portion of the range constitute a distinct population segment;
  2. the current status and threats to the species; and
  3. conservation measures that are already in place to protect and recover the species.

Despite numerous fishing regulations, including the closure of all burbot fishing on the river in the early 1990's, the fish's numbers have declined almost to nothing. Primary threats to burbot include water flow and temperature changes in the lower Kootenai River, which interfere with the fish's ability to get to spawning grounds, and reductions in the river's nutrient level that threatens burbot fry's ability to survive the first stages of life.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - A common Great Plains prairie plant, the partridge pea, could face severe reduction in numbers if climate conditions in the Midwest change to the extremes predicted for the next 25 to 35 years.

If the partridge pea is threatened by changing conditions, other common native species may be threatened as well, says the study published in today's issue of the journal "Science."

"The partridge pea's ability to adapt to rapidly changing climate conditions is likely to be much slower than the rate of climate change predicted for its native habitat throughout the Midwest," said the study's principal investigator, Julie Etterson, a postdoctoral research associate in biology at the University of Virginia. Etterson was a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota when she conducted the study.

According to the climate model used by Etterson for her study, Minnesota's climate in 25 to 35 years is predicted to be similar to today's climate in Kansas, which is drier and warmer than Minnesota's. Under extreme conditions in a worst case scenario, Minnesota's climate could become more like current day Oklahoma - much drier and warmer.

Etterson's study indicates that native prairie plants could be threatened if these predictions hold true.

"The partridge pea's evolutionary response for adaptation to hotter and drier conditions is unlikely to be fast enough to ensure its survival," Etterson said. "Native plants in the Midwest are facing two problems that may negatively affect their future survival. One, the predicted rate of climate change is much more rapid than has occurred previously; and two, the habitat of native plants is fragmented to isolated islands between farms and cities, making it difficult for plants to slowly migrate to areas with more favorable conditions."

Etterson emphasizes that her findings are specific to the species she studied, the partridge pea. But other species facing similar problems could run into similar troubles with climate change.

"The various genes that contribute to drought tolerance tend not to occur together in individual plants," said study co-author Ruth Shaw, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota. "Our comparison indicates that the rates of evolutionary change of these traits will not match the rate at which climate changes toward increasing drought."

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SAN DIEGO, California, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - A workshop being held today in San Diego will focus on invasive species in the southwestern deserts, including the notorious saltcedar.

Saltcedar, an invasive shrub from Eurasia, can siphon off millions of acre feet of water from desert aquifers. Experts estimate that it has spread at an amazing rate of seven feet per hour, averaged over time, up the Little Colorado River.

Other invasive plants such as cheatgrass, red brome and buffelgrass are increasing the frequency and intensity of fire, replacing native species, and damaging wildlands and rangelands. Harsh environmental conditions in the arid Southwest promote strong interactions between physical and biological processes that affect how easy it is to invade desert habitats.

But multidisciplinary research may provide new insight about how invasive plants succeed and aid managers in controlling them.

Today's workshop will focus on invasive species issues in the Chihuahuan, Great Basin, Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will join the California Exotic Pest Plant Council in co-hosting the workshop titled "Ecology and Management of Invasive Plants in Southwestern North America."

Land managers and scientists from federal, state, university and nongovernmental organizations will participate. USGS scientists will speak about invasive species issues -- for example, how climate change will affect invasive species in the desert -- and future multidisciplinary research needs.

More information on the workshop and symposium is available at:

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SAVANNA, Illinois, October 5, 2001 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is considering establishing a new national wildlife refuge on portions of the 13,062 acre former Savanna Army Depot.

If established, the area would be renamed Lost Mounds National Wildlife Refuge, become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System and provide habitat for many species of migratory birds and resident wildlife. The proposal area includes more than 5,000 acres of forested backwaters with sloughs, lakes and flowing side channels which provide habitat for a diversity of fish, shellfish, wildlife and plants.

An additional 4,000 acres of sand prairie/savanna habitat would sustain unique plant communities and 47 state threatened and endangered species.

The USFWS is reviewing three alternatives, including a no action alternative in which no refuge would be established, and the Army would be able to sell or otherwise dispose of the land.

Alternative B would establish the 9,111 acre Lost Mound Refuge, but no public access would be allowed due to safety concerns and possible damage to sensitive upland habitats.

Alternative C, the USFWS preferred alternative, would establish the Lost Mound Refuge and allow for limited public access. Placing limits on public access will give refuge staff the opportunity to manage threatened and endangered species and critical migratory bird habitat while still providing the public with safe, wildlife dependent recreational opportunities.

The USFWS is asking all interested citizens to review the Draft Environmental Assessment of the proposed refuge and provide comments. To view the draft document and submit comments, visit: