AmeriScan: October 11, 2001

NEW HOUSE MINORITY WHIP CALLED ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMPION

WASHINGTON, DC, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Democrats in the House of Representatives have elected environmental champion Representative Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat as the House Minority Whip.

Pelosi will succeed Representative David Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who will step down in January, 2002. Environmental groups are praising the 118 to 95 House vote that named Pelosi as the first woman to hold the minority whip position, and making her the highest ranking woman in the history of Congress.

"Representative Pelosi's election is among the best news for America's environment this century," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "Pelosi is a treasured friend of the environment and we look forward to continuing to work with her to protect our most fragile places and defend human rights around the world."

Pelosi

New House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (Photo courtesy Office of the Representative)
"We are thrilled that House Democrats selected her as their second in command and we want to extend our warmest congratulations to her," added Pope. "Pelosi is a worthy successor of Representative David Bonior, who has always made protecting the environment a priority."

Pope said that Pelosi has championed environmental issues including protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the redrock canyons of Utah, and reducing logging in national forests.

"As a vocal defender of human rights of environmentalists around the world, she has worked alongside the Sierra Club on behalf of Ken Saro-Wiwa and Alexander Nikitin," said Pope. "To slow the threats our growing population has on our environment, Representative Pelosi has been a key supporter of family planning initiatives both at home and abroad."

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ENERGY LEGISLATION BLOCKED IN SENATE COMMITTEE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has barred the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from further consideration of omnibus energy legislation that would open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.

The House of Representatives has already approved an energy package that would allow oil and natural gas exploration on the North Slope of ANWR. Environmental groups and Senate Democrats had hoped to block the drilling provisions in the Senate version of the bill.

But since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, the drive to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil has intensified. Two Democratic members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee - Senators Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana - have said they would vote to approve ANWR drilling, giving the Republican minority a slight edge in any future votes on energy legislation.

"Several members of the other side don't want a vote on ANWR because they know they would lose," Senator Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, told reporters. "They didn't have the votes in committee and we did."

Daschle's move to halt consideration of the existing bill will allow the Senate to craft new energy legislation that could include provisions friendlier to environmental interests, including a pet plan by the South Dakota Senator to boost the use of grain based ethanol as a gasoline additive. That provision would benefit corn farmers in Daschle's home state.

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ACCUMULATED CHANGE COURTS ECOSYSTEM CATASTROPHE

MADISON, Wisconsin, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Subjected to decades of gradual change by humans, many of the world's natural ecosystems - from coral reefs and tropical forests to northern lakes and forests - appear susceptible to sudden catastrophic ecological change, an international consortium of scientists reports today in the journal "Nature."

"Models have predicted this, but only in recent years has enough evidence accumulated to tell us that resilience of many important ecosystems has become undermined to the point that even the slightest disturbance can make them collapse," said Marten Scheffer, an ecologist at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and the lead author of the report.

As scientists have come to assess change over time and over entire ecological regimes, a gradual awareness is building in the scientific community that stressed ecosystems, given the right nudge, are capable of slipping from an apparent steady state to something very different, said Stephen Carpenter a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a coauthor of the paper.

"We realize that there is a common pattern we're seeing in ecosystems around the world," says Carpenter, an authority on lakes. "Gradual changes in vulnerability accumulate and eventually you get a shock to the system - a flood or a drought - and, boom, you're over into another regime. It becomes a self sustaining collapse."

The recognition that many of the world's ecosystems engage in a delicate balancing act has emerged as science has become more adept at assessing entire ecological systems and by a better understanding of how catastrophic ecological change has occurred in the past.

Most ecosystems, the authors write, face a steady diet of change, whether from increased nutrient levels or a ratcheting up of human exploitation. Anticipated changes in global climate are expected to add to what now seems to be a far more precarious situation than scientists had once imagined.

"All of this is set up by the growing susceptibility of ecosystems," Carpenter said. "A shock that formerly would not have knocked a system into another state now has the potential to do so. In fact, it's pretty easy."

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INVASIVE ARGENTINE ANTS HARM ECOSYSTEMS

DAVIS, California, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - The tiny black Argentine ant, a well known household pest, may be disrupting natural ecosystems by replacing native ants, a new report reveals.

A study by a University of California - Davis graduate student, published this week in the journal "Nature," has for the first time shown that when key beneficial species are removed by an invader, the destructive effects can reverberate through the ecosystem.

Caroline Christian, a student at the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, studied the fynbos shrublands of South Africa, an area similar in climate and vegetation to the chaparral of California. The fynbos is renowned worldwide for its high level of biodiversity.

Wildfires sweep the fynbos every 15 to 30 years, killing most mature plants. New plants grow from seeds buried in the ground by native ants.

Christian found that when Argentine ants displace native ants, plants that depend on those ants to bury their seeds do not regenerate after fire.

"There's been a lot of concern that invasive species may disrupt mutually beneficial interactions between plants and animals," said Maureen Stanton, a professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and Christian's thesis supervisor. If those interactions are crucial, there might be cascading effects on the whole community, Stanton added.

Seed burial by ants is key to survival for about a third of fynbos plant species, Christian said. When fresh seeds fall, ants are attracted to them and carry them off to bury in their nests.

Different ant species specialize in seeds of different sizes: Ants that work together deal with bigger seeds, while ants that tend to work alone bury smaller ones. If the seeds are not picked up, almost all are eaten by rodents.

Argentine ants do not bury seeds at all. But they do wipe out two fynbos ant species that prefer large seeds. Two others ant species that coexist with the invader go for smaller seeds.

Large seeds placed in areas invaded by Argentine ants were less likely to be buried by ants and more likely to be eaten by rodents, compared to large seeds in uninvaded areas, Christian said. Small seeds were much less affected.

After experimental burning, invaded areas showed a tenfold drop in the number of new plants from large seeded species, compared to uninvaded areas, Christian said.

"It's sobering, and a wake up call," said Stanton. The study showed the threat from invasive species both to the fynbos and to ecosystems in general, she said.

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NEW EPA OFFICIALS TAKE OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Five of President George W. Bush's nominees for senior positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been confirmed by the Senate and are now fulfilling their duties.

The posts include the assistant administrators for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, Office of Water, Office of Air and Radiation, Office of International Affairs and Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Stephen Johnson, a 20 year career EPA employee, is the new assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. Johnson has responsibility for implementing the nation's laws regulating industrial chemicals and pesticides used in the United States, and for promoting innovative solutions to advance pollution prevention.

Jeffrey Holmstead has been sworn in as assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Holmstead, a veteran of former President George H.W. Bush's administration, is now responsible for implementing the federal Clean Air Act, for regulation of industrial and automotive air pollutants, as well as for EPA's global climate change programs and coordination of EPA's radiation program with other federal agencies.

G. Tracy Mehan is the assistant administrator for the Office of Water, responsible for implementation of the federal Clean Water Act and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Mehan will manage EPA's programs, policies, standards and regulations relating to all water issues in the U.S.

Judith Ayres has been sworn in as EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of International Activities. Ayers, the former director of EPA's Region 9, will be responsible for EPA's international programs, negotiations, policies and technical exchanges with foreign governments.

Marianne Lamont Horinko has been sworn in as assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, serving as the EPA's chief official responsible for oversight of the Superfund program and other initiatives dealing with waste management and recycling. A former EPA official, Horinko was also president of Clay Associates, Inc., a Washington, DC environmental consulting firm.

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TOXIC COATINGS BANNED FROM CALIFORNIA ENGINES

SACRAMENTO, California, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - The California Environmental Protection Agency's Air Resources Board (ARB) has banned the use hexavalent chromium and cadmium in motor vehicle and mobile equipment coatings.

"The elimination of these two substances from automotive coatings will reduce the significant cancer risk that occurs at low exposure levels," said ARB chair Dr. Alan Lloyd. "This reduction will go a long way in protecting public health, especially those who live near auto body repair and paint shops."

The air toxic control measure prohibits the addition of both hexavalent chromium and cadmium to motor vehicle and mobile equipment coatings starting January 1, 2003. The regulation prohibits the sale and use, in California, of any motor vehicle and/or mobile equipment coating that contains hexavalent chromium or cadmium.

Facility owners and operators have until December 31, 2003 to use any remaining coatings containing hexavalent chromium or cadmium. The regulation also provides manufacturers a six month period to deplete their inventories. Auto body and paint shops have a 12 month period to remove non-complying coatings from their inventories.

As of 1996, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Antelope Valley Air Pollution Control District have prohibited the use of automotive coatings that contain hexavalent chromium or cadmium. Statewide, ARB estimates show that 99 percent of the auto body repair and refinishing facilities already use chromium free and cadmium free coatings.

The banning of chromated and cadmium containing automotive coatings in California is not expected to have a noticeable cost impact on most manufacturers and marketers of automotive coatings. For those companies that use chromated paints, the change to non-chromated coatings could result in a six percent cost increase.

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GROUPS SEEK TO BLOCK NEVADA LAND SALE

MESQUITE, Nevada, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups is seeking a stay on a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to offer 6,500 acres (more than 10 square miles) of public lands for development in the Mojave Desert of Lincoln County, Nevada.

The sale is planned for Friday, October 12, at the Mesquite, Nevada city hall in Clark County.

The Lincoln County Land Act of 2000 directs the Secretary of the Interior to dispose of certain public lands in Lincoln County, Nevada, in order to provide for the acquisition of environmentally sensitive land in Nevada.

The environmental groups - the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Land Exchange Project, and the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter - charge that the BLM has failed to analyze the environmental effects that will be wrought by the disposal of more than 6,400 acres of federal land and subsequent planned development.

The groups charge that BLM's environmental analysis neglected to consider the effects that a 13 fold increase in the population of the Mesquite, Nevada, area would have on the local water supply. The BLM has acknowledged that the sources of future water supply needs are unknown, which the groups say shows that the proposed land sale violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"Given the paramount importance of a sufficient water supply to the inhabitants and environment of a desert region, the entire NEPA process for this action is fundamentally flawed and must be reinitiated," the groups argue in their appeal.

The conservationists are working to protect wildlife and water quality in a ecosystem that harbors the desert tortoise, Virgin River chub, woundfin, Southwestern willow flycatcher, Yuma clapper rail and other imperiled species.

Friday's planned sale is opposed by the planning coordinator for Lincoln County and at least 83 other rural residents of Lincoln County. At least four other citizens and conservation groups appealed the land sale, including Lincoln County Concerned Citizens, Nevada Environmental Coalition, Western Watersheds Project and Committee for Idaho's High Desert.

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MAINE RIVERS STOCKED WITH ATLANTIC SALMON

ORONO, Maine, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Almost 800 adult Atlantic salmon are being stocked in three Maine rivers this week in a multi-agency effort to conserve and restore wild Atlantic salmon populations in U.S. rivers.

The stocking in the Dennys, Machias and St. Croix rivers is the final phase of a collaborative project begun in 1997 by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Maine's Atlantic Salmon Commission (ASC) and private aquaculture companies in Maine.

"Atlantic salmon stocking programs usually consist of putting sexually immature fish into the rivers years before they are ready to spawn," said Mary Colligan, head of the NMFS team working to help save the endangered population of wild Atlantic salmon now found in eight Maine rivers. "In this stocking program, we are able to put adult fish into the water just when they are ready to reproduce."

The fish being stocked were spawned from broodstock at the USFWS's Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in 1997, and were transferred as fertilized eggs to freshwater rearing stations run by Atlantic Salmon of Maine, a private aquaculture company. When they reached the smolt (or ocean going) stage in 1999, they were transferred to ASM's marine sea cage facility.

The stocking in the Dennys and Machias is river specific stocking, which means that the fish going into those rivers are offspring of broodstock that were collected from those rivers as juveniles. The scientists plan to stock 84 adult salmon into the Dennys and 109 into the Machias.

"We have made several important changes to this year's stocking effort based on what we learned last year," said Tim Sheehan, a NMFS biologist. "Last year we focused on the movement of the stocked fish in an effort to gauge their ability and desire to seek out suitable spawning habitat. This year we are also going to assess their spawning to see whether these adults are successfully depositing viable, fertilized eggs in the rivers."

The five year stocking program is the first attempt to stock adult Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters.

"This year we are going to monitor every step of the spawning process to see how well these fish are doing, from sperm and egg through to fry," Sheehan said.

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WEATHER AGENCIES TRY TO PREVENT ALASKA DEATHS

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, October 11, 2001 (ENS) - Alaska's harsh winter claimed seven lives last year, and the National Weather Service is trying to prevent a sequel.

This week, forecast offices within the agency's Alaska region are stepping up their efforts to urge Alaskans to take precautions during the upcoming cold season.

Alaska Governor Tony Knowles has proclaimed October 7-14 as Winter Weather Awareness Week in Alaska. Throughout the week, Alaskans will hear public service announcements about severe winter weather broadcast across the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio and participating commercial radio stations.

"It is important to make sure that Alaskans are thinking about the dangers that severe winter weather presents," said Richard Przywarty, director of the Alaska region of the weather service. "This campaign is aimed at reaching out and informing the public of these threats and how best to prepare for them. Hopefully this campaign will avert the loss of life we've seen in previous years."

Alaska's diverse landscape creates different winter weather scenarios that often are hazardous if residents are not prepared. The leading cause of winter related deaths in Alaska are a result of automobile accidents.

"That's where people are most vulnerable, and the chances of long term exposure to the cold air is greatest," Przywarty said. Other dangers include avalanches, hypothermia and exhaustion.

The weather service is encouraging Alaskans to prepare emergency survival kits for the home and car, and making sure families have a disaster plan for handling severe winter weather at home, on the roadways, or in the back country.

"These simple actions could save your life," Przywarty said.

"Deep cold can shut down air travel for weeks, disrupting fuel deliveries and cutting off deliveries of medical supplies," said Robert Hopkins, the meteorologist in charge of the Anchorage forecast office. "Avalanches, black ice, high winds and freezing water are dangers that all Alaskans need to watch."

More information on Alaska's Winter Weather Awareness Week is available at: http://www.alaska.net/~nwsar