AmeriScan: September 7, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Federal, state, business and environmental interests have reached a historic accord regarding the restoration of the Florida Everglades. The compromise reached Wednesday makes it far more likely that Congress will pass legislation this year to fund the first $1.4 billion portion of the $8 billion project - the largest wetlands restoration ever undertaken. After years of negotiations, Republican and Democratic lawmakers reached an agreement with the sugar industry and Florida water utilities over water allocations, removing a major source of opposition to the restoration bill. Florida Senators Bob Graham, a Democrat, and Connie Mack, a Republican, released a statement saying the compromise "dramatically increases the chance of enacting the legislation into law this year."

Those involved in closed door negotiations earlier this week would not discuss details of the compromise, but it satisfied most of the diverse interests involved in the project. The Miccosukee Indian tribe, which lives within the Everglades, is reportedly still unhappy with the plan. If passed, the bill would redirect water flow within the 100 mile Everglades system, sending more fresh water into restored wetlands. The 36 year plan requires removing more than 240 miles of canals, dikes and levees, construction of new reservoirs and underground water storage areas, and some 300 new wells. "We have set aside decades of acrimony and are in the same boat and rowing in the same direction," said Stuart Strahl, head of the National Audubon Society’s Everglades restoration office. But, Strahl warned, with just weeks left in the current session of Congress, "passing this legislation now becomes a race against the clock," said Strahl.

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VIEQUES, Puerto Rico, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Six children on the island of Vieques are suffering poisoning from heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, bismuth, mercury and lead, the Association of Licensed Naturopaths of Puerto Rico (ANLPR) announced Wednesday. The group referred to a report by the Doctor's Data laboratory in Chicago, which examined stool samples from a group of Vieques children between the ages of one and 13 and found that the heavy metals detected "were above normal levels." The ANLPR blames this poisoning on U.S. Navy military exercises on Vieques.

"Six children from Vieques who were examined are accumulating potentially toxic metals in their bodies," the organization said. "This is especially alarming in the cases of two little girls who are only one and two years old who may have absorbed these metals from their mothers' placenta, because it may mean that this poisoning is being passed on from one generation to another." The ANLPR - through its scientific committee and its president, Dr. Carmen Colon de Jorge - presented these findings to the Health Department and the Health Commission of the Puerto Rican Senate several months ago, the group said. "The scientific committee has also met and discussed these findings with toxicologists from the Federal Agency of Toxic Substances and Registry of Illnesses to no avail, as the committee has requested these institutions continue investigations and has received no response whatsoever," the ANLPR indicated. The organization added that "the committee has sent a copy of the study to Governor Pedro Rossello and has written to U.S. President Bill Clinton, as well as Puerto Rican lawmakers, and received no answer."

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AUSTIN, Texas, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Texas Governor George W. Bush is appealing the federal government’s denial of his request for emergency funding to fight fires in Texas. The appeal was forwarded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to President Clinton. Governor Bush issued a Proclamation in August declaring a state of disaster in 195 Texas counties based on wildfire threat caused by extreme drought conditions. FEMA denied the request for a federal disaster declaration on August 25. "The strategy of the state of Texas, which has been consistently supported by the federal government, has been to meet a threat before there was loss of life and property," said Governor Bush. "The original request was denied because our state hasn't experienced sufficient losses. The fact is the threat of loss from wildfire in Texas is greater now than it has been in previous years when the federal government has granted emergency declarations."

FEMA has authorized federal funds for six specific wildfires in Texas this year - three just last week. Under those authorizations, FEMA will pay 70 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs that are above $355,097. The figure, called a floor cost, is derived through a formula based on the state's five-year annual average cost for fighting fires. A federal emergency declaration would provide additional funds to the state. President Clinton has declared a state of emergency in Montana and Idaho this year due to wildfires in those states. In Texas, drought conditions and record breaking heat have caused extreme fire danger over most of the state for the past two years. An estimated 29,000 fires have burned more than 550,000 acres of grass, brush and forest across Texas this year.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - The Washington, DC Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) proposed this morning to buy as many as 100 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses for next year. Metro general manager Richard White and his staff presented the proposal to the Metro board of directors at a meeting at Metro headquarters. Metro had planned to purchase 100 diesel buses next year and 30 more in 2002. The Metro board will have 60 days to make a decision on how many CNG buses to buy. The Clean Bus Campaign, DC Mayor Anthony Williams, the DC City Council and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton all urge Metro to buy only CNG buses from now on.

"Our position is unequivocal: No more diesel buses," says Elliott Negin, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Our region is among the top 10 worst in the country for ozone pollution, and ending our reliance on this 19th century technology will help remove nitrogen oxides ­ a major cause of smog ­ from our air." Replacing diesel buses with CNG buses, he added, also will help cut diesel emissions of particulate matter, which contains more than 40 toxic chemicals and is linked to asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and premature death. CNG buses emit almost no particulate matter or toxic chemicals and as much as 60 percent less nitrogen oxides than diesel buses.

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Adult zebra mussels have become established in the lower St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, threatening one of the country’s few remaining pristine river systems east of the Mississippi River, said members of an interagency task force. Task force monitoring during the past four weeks found many of the young, exotic mussels in the lower St. Croix River from Bayport to Prescott, a sign that adult zebra mussels have established themselves in the river and reproduced there for the first time. "We are very concerned about this issue," said Ron Benjamin, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries team leader along the Mississippi River and a member of the St. Croix River Zebra Mussel Task Force. "The discovery is really disappointing because the St. Croix is such a unique resource and we have invested considerable effort in avoiding this situation."

"The St. Croix is was one of the eight rivers protected in the original national scenic riverway legislation in the early 1970s, and it still has all the fauna that were in it when European explorers first came to this area," continued Benjamin. The St. Croix is home to many rare native mussels populations, including rare species such as the endangered Higgin's eye pearly mussel and winged mapleleaf mussel. Zebra mussels could decimate what remains of these native populations. Adult zebra mussels have established themselves in Lake Michigan, the Mississippi River, and are now working their way inland. Populations have been confirmed in 17 inland lakes.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - The Senate voted today to support an appropriations bill rider that would prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from reforming Missouri River dam operations to meet the needs of three federally protected species. The rider was attached to the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill by Missouri Senator Kit Bond, a Republican. An amendment introduced by Democratic Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana to strike the anti-environmental language was defeated 52 to 45. "A vote for this rider was a vote for the extinction of three species," said Chad Smith, director of American Rivers' Missouri River field office. The conservation group has fought to defeat the language in the rider.

The rider would prevent the Corps of Engineers from reforming dam operations to meet the needs of the federally endangered and threatened interior least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon. In particular, the measure would prevent the Corps from reforming dam operations to include a spring rise. River scientists say that increased spring flows are needed to provide a reproductive cue for sturgeon, and to build the sandbars used by nesting terns and plovers. Lower summer flows would ensure that sandbars remain dry during the nesting season, and provide shallow water for young fish. "These fish and birds will go extinct unless dam operations are improved," said Smith. "The science is clear - rising flows in the spring and declining flows in the summer are needed to avoid the extinction of these species." More information is available at:

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TEXAS CITY, Texas, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - The Malone Service Company site in Texas City should be added to the federal Superfund National Priorities List, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this week. Hazardous substances from the site have contaminated the underlying ground water and migrated to Galveston Bay - a National Estuary and major fishery - and associated wetlands. The facility received wastes from a variety of industries, and used a five acre impoundment for waste storage. The impoundment now contains oily solids and contaminated water up to 40 feet deep. A shallow ground water aquifer beneath the site extends to Galveston Bay. An unlined portion of the earthen impoundment comes into contact with the aquifer.

"Adding this site to the Superfund list makes federal dollars available, allowing EPA and the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TRNCC) to speed their cleanup and meet the agencies' commitment to protecting public health and our environment," said EPA regional administrator Gregg Cooke. Chemical analysis of sediment samples collected from Galveston Bay during a 1997 inspection document that chromium and lead have migrated to the Bay. Galveston Bay is the seventh largest estuary in the U.S. The 600 square mile estuary and adjacent wetlands support commercial and recreational fishing, more than 70 species of waterfowl and shorebirds, and 90 species of amphibians and reptiles. More information is available at:

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BROWNING, Montana, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - The first utility scale wind power farm on tribal lands will begin construction next year. The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has signed a development agreement with SeaWest WindPower Inc for the 22 megawatt Blackfeet I Wind Power Project. The facility will be powered by the strong winds that blow across the Blackfeet Reservation from the Rocky Mountain Front onto the Great Plains. "This wind energy project will allow the Blackfeet Tribe to take advantage of one of our most plentiful natural resources on our Reservation," said Earl Old Person, chairman of the Council. "Gaining electricity from the winds here on the Reservation has been talked about for many years. We are gratified that this idea has finally become a reality."

"SeaWest is pleased to work with the Blackfeet to develop such a landmark project," said SeaWest president and CEO Jan Paulin. "The Blackfeet have a tremendous wind and land resource. This project will tap that resource to create highly skilled employment opportunities on the Blackfeet Reservation and a true, commercially viable export industry. It is fitting that through this project the Blackfeet should assume a national leadership position in environmental stewardship." Construction is scheduled to begin in May 2001, and commercial operation is slated to begin in October 2001. The wind farm will generate enough energy for 6,000 homes. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) may purchase surplus power from the tribe.

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GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - A University of Florida (UF) professor has found a way to detect and identify very low levels of air pollution. David Hahn, a UF professor of mechanical engineering, developed the technique - a unique application of a technique called Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy - with the assistance of the Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories. The process begins with an air sampler, located on a rooftop at UF's nuclear sciences building, that filters out large particles and pumps the air into a nearby lab. Next, the air passes through the pulsing beam of a powerful infrared laser, and a small part of it heats up to over 35,000 degrees. The heat vaporizes airborne molecules and particles, resulting in a flash of light and a loud crack. Each atomic element in the vaporized sample produces a different wavelength of light. A spectrometer records these "fingerprints" and determines which elements are present, providing a real time picture of the airborne particles.

Hahn tested his technique over the Fourth of July holiday, measuring increased airborne concentrations of magnesium, a metal used in fireworks, for as long as a week after fireworks displays ended. The increases were so small they posed no threat to human health, but the test demonstrated the technique could also detect low levels of more harmful particles, such as arsenic, chromium or lead. "The test really demonstrated the ability of this technique to measure particulate concentration levels several orders of magnitude below regulatory standards," Hahn said. "That's steadily becoming more important as people involved in pollution control seek to more accurately monitor pollution and better determine its sources."

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NEW HAMPTON, Iowa, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - An estimated 14,000 mink were released from a mink farm in New Hampton today by animal rights activists. The action at Earl Drewelow & Sons Fur Farm is the largest of its kind since the underground Animal Liberation Front (ALF) began releasing mink, fox, lynx and other animals in August 1995. The previous record was 10,000 mink released from Arritola Mink Farm in Mount Angel, Oregon in May 1997. The ALF Press Office has not yet received a claim of responsibility from the ALF, but is presuming that ALF activists were involved. "Although we've not heard from the liberators yet, I've no doubt this is the work of the Animal Liberation Front," said David Barbarash, ALF spokesperson.

"Today's raid marks the 68th action of its kind carried out by the ALF and other people since 1995," said Barbarash. "The war against the fur industry is far from over, as long as animals are kept in cages and killed for vanity luxury items." There have been three previous fur farm raids in Iowa including Circle K Fur Farm in Sioux City, where 5,000 mink and 100 fox were liberated in 1997. In 1998, 330 fox were released from Hidden Valley Fur Farms in Guttenburg, and 3,000 mink were released from Isebrand Fur Farm in Jewell. Numerous fur farm raids have occurred in the neighboring states of Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. The ALF is an international underground movement dedicated to non-violent direct action against all forms of animal abuse.

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Earthworms are threatening Minnesota’s hardwood forests, say University of Minnesota scientists Cynthia Hale, Lee Frelich and Peter Reich. Invading earthworms appear to be causing widespread loss of native forest plant species and affecting the stability of hardwood forest ecosystems, said Hale, a graduate student in the university's department of forest resources. During the last few decades, European earthworm species have moved into hardwood forests in the northern tier of the U.S. "We have documented significant damage in the Chippewa National Forest and in isolated forest preserves in and near the Twin Cities area in southern parts of Minnesota," Hale noted. Hale presented her work during the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America last month.

Minnesota's hardwood forests, which developed in the absence of native earthworms after the last glaciers retreated, contain a thick forest floor that serves as a perfect rooting medium for many species of forest herbs and tree seedlings. In the 1800s European settlers arrived, bringing with them European earthworm species in potted plants. European earthworms have been part of the habitats surrounding human habitation ever since. When earthworms invade a forested area, they consume the forest floor, and herbaceous plant diversity and tree seedling density decrease. Some impacted stands have just one species of native herb and almost no tree seedlings remaining. "Ninety nine percent of the populations of native plant species normally found in hardwood forests, including large-flowered trilliums, yellow violets, and Solomon's seal, are destroyed in affected areas," said Frelich, a research associate in forest resources. "In many areas, the remaining bare soil is simply eroding away."