AmeriScan: September 1, 2000

AUTOMAKERS EXPLOIT LOOPHOLE FAVORING GAS GUZZLERS

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - A new study from Friends of the Earth (FoE) finds that automakers are exploiting a loophole in the federal tax law that encourages production of more polluting and gas-guzzling vehicles. The loophole translates into billions of dollars each year for the most polluting vehicles - light trucks and sport utility vehicles. The study comes as controversy swirls around steep increases in gasoline prices. While many areas of the country are faced with dramatic prices increases, automakers continue to marketing gas guzzling sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) to consumers.

While other cars are subject to the federal gas guzzler tax, SUVs and light trucks are exempt. "Automakers are avoiding paying taxes and cranking out polluting and gas-guzzling vehicles," said Brian Dunkiel, director of tax policy at FoE. "It's not fair, it's bad for the environment, and it's making America more dependent on foreign oil." Enacted in 1978, the gas guzzler tax is a little noticed environmental measure that applies to less fuel efficient cars. Automakers must pay the tax on cars that get less than 22.5 miles per gallon. The worse the fuel efficiency, the higher the tax. However, SUVs and other light trucks that get less than 22.5 miles to the gallon are exempt. If they were not exempt, automakers would pay more than $10 billion a year in taxes, shows the FoE study. "This is the single largest subsidy for pollution in the world," said Sean Moulton, author of the report. "Why should a gas-guzzling SUV be exempt when a gas-guzzling sports car is not?" The report is available at: http://www.foe.org/gasguzzler

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NEW JERSEY DEDICATES $36 MILLION FOR OPEN SPACE

TRENTON, New Jersey, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman has signed two pieces of legislation authorizing more than $36 million for open space acquisition and other environmental projects. "I am very pleased to join you this morning to celebrate another step in the rebirth of Asbury Park," said Whitman on Thursday. "To date, we have preserved nearly 150,000 acres of open space and farmland, which is halfway toward my personal goal of 300,000 acres by the time I leave office." One of the bills (S-1378) approves more than $7 million for open space acquisition and park development funds for urban aid projects. The bill also includes $500,000 from the Garden State Preservation Trust to help restore Asbury Park's boardwalk.

Later on Thursday, Whitman signed a bill (S-1379) for open space acquisition for Hunterdon and Somerset counties. The bill appropriates $29 million from the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund for the acquisition of open space throughout the state from the Highlands to the Pinelands, along the Shore, the Delaware, and many points in between. "The areas approved by this bill for acquisition emphasize, to a greater extent than ever before, the preservation of greenways along stream and trail corridors," said Whitman. The signing ceremony took place at a 537 acre property purchased by the Green Acres Program, together with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, for more than $4.6 million. The tract was purchased from the Merck pharmaceutical company to help protect the Raritan River watershed. "I urge other corporations to consider Merck's actions and consider selling open land for preservation," said Whitman.

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LAWSUIT FILED TO PROTECT NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - Ten Washington and Oregon environmental organizations have filed a major new lawsuit in federal court to protect the northern spotted owl. Court papers name the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a defendant and charge that the agency neglects its duties under the federal Endangered Species Act. The USFWS has for years authorized the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to "take" - harm, harrass or kill - owls without keeping track of the number of owls taken or the effects on the owl population in Pacific Northwest forests, the suit says. The USFWS also violates the Endangered Species Act by authorizing logging in forests designated as critical habitat for the owl's recovery.

The environmental groups will ask a federal judge to prevent the USFWS from authorizing logging within the range of the spotted owl until the agency analyzes impacts to the species. In 1994, the Forest Service adopted the Northwest Forest Plan which predicted that owl populations would continue to decline by about one percent a year. Recent studies by the agencies, however, show that owl populations are declining by between four to eight percent a year. "This suit demonstrates what scientists already know. Federal land management agencies cannot continue to clearcut old growth forests and meet their legal mandate to protect the spotted owl at the same time," said James Johnston, director of the Cascadia Wildlands Project in Eugene, Oregon. "It is long past time that we end old growth logging on public lands."

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GENOME RESEARCH TO REMEDIATE HANFORD NUCLEAR SITE

RICHLAND, Washington, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - Proteomics, a new area of scientific study, could lead to breakthroughs in cleanup technology for use at contaminated nuclear sites. The Department of Energy and its Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) announced Wednesday that PNNL is preparing to become a key player in the field of genome research and proteomics. Proteomics is the study of the role and function of proteins in living organisms under specific conditions. Genome research is the identification of the precise gene patterns of living organisms. Once developed, the technology could be used to aid in the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Facility in Richland, where plutonium for American nuclear weapons was manufactured from 1943 to 1988. About 60 percent of the nation's nuclear waste is located at Hanford.

Mildred Dresselhaus, director of DOE's Office of Science, said the agency is launching a multimillion dollar annual program at the lab to develop new biological instrumentation expected to accelerate the pace of proteomics research. PNNL officials have long term plans for a major biological research program, including their vision for a new research complex at PNNL in Richland. Dresselhaus said the DOE wants PNNL to join the prestigious Joint Genome Institute, which serves as the central research arm for DOE genomics research and already has provided some of the initial genome discoveries. "Our research will play an important role in Hanford cleanup," said PNNL director Lura Powell. "Microbial systems can be used to clean up the environment, and understanding how they operate can help us design more effective cleanup technologies. Also, the better we understand how environmental contaminants affect the body, the better we can protect our workers and the community."

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PARK SERVICE PUBLISHES ANNUAL NATURAL RESOURCE REVIEW

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - The National Park Service (NPS) has published its "Natural Resource Year in Review - 1999." The fourth annual "Year in Review" report summarizes and analyzes significant natural resource preservation issues and trends in the national park system for the calendar year 1999. "Readers will remember 1999 as a year of great promise for natural resource management in the National Park Service," said Mike Soukup, NPS associate director for natural resource stewardship and science. "The highlight for the year was the planning and initial implementation of the Natural Resource Challenge," a commitment to increase the use of science in park management. "This year's articles reflect the importance of this initiative now and for the future," said Soukup. "They also analyze noteworthy achievements, science highlights, and challenges, providing ample testimony to the complexity of managing national parks in modern landscapes."

Presented as a magazine, the report synthesizes a range of information and brings it together in one location to paint a picture of the calendar year. The "Year in Review" is organized in seven chapters that address:

  1. Innovations in the development and use of legal, administrative and technological tools for managing park natural resources
  2. Challenges in natural resource management
  3. The scientific role of the NPS in monitoring the condition of park natural resources
  4. Parks as laboratories for scientific inquiry and the application of research in resource management
  5. Risks to natural resources in parks
  6. Restoration of those resources
  7. The role of education and outreach in the preservation of park ecosystems
Almost 50 feature articles and 15 brief stories are included, discussing both national and park specific issues. The "Year in Review - 1999" will soon be available at: http://www.nature.nps.gov/pubs/yir/yir99

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FLORIDA GETS TOUGH WITH ENVIRONMENTAL CRIMINALS

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - Florida has launched a comprehensive and cooperative effort designed to identify and prosecute major environmental criminals. The Environmental Crimes Strike Force will be headed by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Division of Law Enforcement and will work in cooperation with other state and federal agencies from the start of an investigation through the arrest and prosecution. "The Division of Law Enforcement looks forward to working with our counterparts on the local, state, and federal levels, and together we will seek out and bring down the Al Capone's of environmental crime in Florida," said Tom Tramel, director of DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement.

DEP Secretary David Struhs also unveiled the Environmental Crimes Hot Line. The Hot Line gives citizens the opportunity to report crimes that can impact the environment or public health. Citizens can offer tips to environmental investigators by calling toll-free: 1-877-2 SAVE FL or 1-877-272-8335. Phones will be attended around the clock, with tips directed to DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement for follow up. "Neighborhoods have become safer through citizen involvement with local law enforcement," said Struhs. "Our goal is to make Floridians, and our environment, even safer through their involvement with environmental law enforcement. While we want everyone to obey anti-littering and other environmental laws, the Environmental Crimes Strike Force’s mission is to target those who would severely threaten the environment or public health for financial gain. To do that, we need more eyes and ears to recognize, record and report major environmental crime. This effort is not targeting inadvertent violations of permit conditions, but real criminals."

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PROFESSOR TACKLES SMELLY SUBJECT: SEWAGE SLUDGE

COLUMBIA, Missouri, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - Stanley Manahan, a chemistry professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is developing a process called ChemChar, which could eliminate raw sewage sludge. "Raw sewage is what goes down the drain," Manahan said. "Once the waste makes its way to the waste water treatment plant and it has been treated, two byproducts result. The first is a clean water product that is distributed in the wetlands and also is filtered out by natural processes. The second byproduct is sewage sludge." Incineration is now used to dispose of sewage sludge. But this requires a substantial amount of fuel to burn since the compound is about 95 percent water, Manahan said. Incineration of sewage also yields an exhaust gas that can be harmful to the environment.

Manahan's experimental process solves both of these problems and produces a positive byproduct, methane gas. The incineration of sewage sludge removes the possibility of leaving living organisms in the waste. Manahan's process also does this, but in a much more efficient manner. In addition, "Sewage sludge can yield an excellent source of power and fuel," Manahan said. "Methane is a good combustible gas for power or electricity." Manahan's process uses waste gasification, a thermal process conducted with an excess amount of fuel. Gasification produces a carbon product and the gas, and could yield benefits for waste management and the environment. "The process ultimately eliminates sewage sludge and results in a mineral material," Manahan said. "Eventually, we get an carbon ash product that can be used as lime on fields. It's an innocuous product that can be readily disposed of or utilized."

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CALIFORNIA RESIDENTS WORRIED ABOUT BEACH CLOSURES

FULLERTON, California, August 31, 2000 (ENS) - More than eight out of 10 of Orange County, California residents - and 91 percent of registered voters - say beach closures due to poor water quality are a "serious" or a "very serious" problem, shows a survey released by the Cal State Fullerton Center for Public Policy and the Orange County Business Council on Friday. Three quarters of respondents to the survey - including 70 percent of survey respondents who live in inland cities - said that all county residents should "pay equally" for beach protection. Among registered voters, just six percent thought the full cost of beach protection should be borne by residents of beach cities, while another 16 percent of county registered voters thought that beach city residents should pay more than residents of inland cities for needed protection.

About nine out of 10 respondents to the survey were ready to agree with any and all of the causes for beach closures proposed in the survey, including polluted runoff, careless beachgoers and weak environmental enforcement. "There is more similarity than difference in these responses to proposed causes of beach pollution," noted political science professor Alan Saltzstein, one of the architects of the survey. "It may be fair to suppose that they are just reflecting their keen interest in the problem, saying ‘yes' to nearly every possible cause." Despite uncertainty among Orange County residents regarding the causes of beach closures, "a call to action seems unmistakable," Saltzstein said. "I think that Orange County residents are saying, ‘Please fix it' without being very fussy about just what needs to be done."

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RARE SOUTHWESTERN CATS WIN FIGHTING CHANCE IN LEGAL SETTLEMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, and the Frontera Audubon Society reached the settlement today with the U.S. Department of Justice that should prevent further damage by Operation Rio Grande, a project of the U.S. Border Patrol that would destroy rare habitat along roughly 50 miles of the Rio Grande River in Texas in an effort to better monitor illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen said, "Our legal pressure has proven worthwhile and may now provide a fighting chance for ocelots and jaguarundis to survive, among other endangered and threatened species in south Texas."

The groups filed suit in 1999 against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and others to cease destructive activities in the region until further assessment of the implications on jaguarundi and ocelots, two endangered cats, could be done. As a result of today's action, the U.S. Border Patrol will now complete an Environmental Impact Statement and will consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for impacts specifically on the two wild cats. The agreement also lists a number of interim activities that the Border Patrol can still conduct. "The cats and their habitat will now be considered before Operation Rio Grande - an endeavor that includes resurfacing roads, clearing vegetation, constructing fences, lighting systems, and boat ramps - can continue," said Schlickeisen. The lower Rio Grande Valley - which includes Starr, Hildago, and Cameron counties - where the project has already begun, is home to more than 2,200 species of plants and animals, making it one of the most biologically diverse regions in the United States. Fifteen endangered species inhabit the valley, including ocelots and jaguarundis which are on the brink of extinction.

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PESTICIDES SUSPECTED IN EASTERN CRAB, LOBSTER DEATHS

NEW YORK, New York, September 1, 2000 (ENS) - The environmental organization FISH Unlimited is calling for an independent investigative committee to look into any possible health or environmental consequences of pesticide spraying in New York and Connecticut in 1999 and 2000. This call comes after the discovery of hundreds of dead blueclaw crabs found in the marshes adjacent to areas sprayed in Great South Bay. Any oversight committee should be made up of user groups, elected officials, environmentalists and others with a history in the mosquito spraying issue, said Bill Smith, executive director of FISH Unlimited. With the deaths of lobsters in western Long Island Sound, crabs in Great South Bay, and fish in Staten Island, Smith will no longer take the word of the Army Corps of Engineers, Suffolk County Vector Control, New York Mayor Rudy Guliani and state agencies that all is well.

FISH Unlimited first raised the issue of a relationship between Long Island Sound dumping and mosquito spraying in the deaths of the lobsters in western Long Island Sound last September. The group secured funding for an independent study of lobsters by ETI Laboratories and the Lobster Institute that will be released shortly. "We are asking that New York State and Connecticut fund this effort, which will analyze sediment samples from the effected areas, as well as to test more lobsters, crabs and fish to see if pesticides are present in them, Smith said.