AmeriScan: September 8, 2000


NEW YORK, New York, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. will contribute satellite images of the world’s forests to the United Nation’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, President Bill Clinton said in a speech Thursday. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is a four year old effort to compile scientific information on the status of natural ecosystems to help decision makers and the public understand ecosystem management needs. Addressing the UN Security Council, Clinton linked vanishing forests to global climate change, predicting that "within a decade - or maybe even a little less - that will become as big an obstacle to the development of poor nations as disease is today." The U.S. will provide the first complete set of detailed satellite images of the world's threatened forests, Clinton pledged.

"This is an excellent example of international scientific and political cooperation that is needed to promote sustainable development," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI). "However, we ask that the U.S. Government expand their donation to include the detailed satellite imagery of all of the earth's ecosystems." Lash added that it is "only through the careful examination of our living planet that we can fully understand and value these resources and design the necessary measures for their protection and use." Results of a new international study indicate that the world's ecosystems are declining due to population pressure and increased consumption. The report, "World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life," will be released September 15 during a meeting of world environment ministers in Bergen, Norway.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - After months of intense negotiations, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted Thursday to ban the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). MTBE is added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly, but can also pose risks to drinking water. Authored by Senator Bob Smith, a New Hampshire Republican, Senate bill 2962 requires the phase out of MTBE within four years, and gives states the choice to opt out of the Clean Air Acts oxygenate requirement. Since taking MTBE and other oxygenates out of gasoline means the loss of air quality benefits, the committee also approved provisions ensuring air quality. These include a limit on the use of increased aromatics - the highly polluting fuel components refiners could use to replace MTBE’s octane benefits.

"This bill is a win all around - it protects air and water quality, supports farmers, and promotes renewable fuels that curb global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Elisa Lynch, Clean Fuels Campaign director of the Bluewater Network. The bill also includes a program requiring expanded renewable fuel use and giving incentives for fuel efficient cars. Ethanol produced from agricultural waste products received a special incentive in the form of a 150 percent credit over corn based ethanol. "Congress now must take the next vital step by expeditiously sending to the President comprehensive legislation to phase out MTBE," said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner. "EPA believes that Americans deserve both clean air and clean water, and never one at the expense of the other."

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NEW YORK, New York, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District is taking stronger measures to protect waters and wetlands in the New York City watershed. These regulations, which took effect Thursday, reflect the Corps’ commitment to protecting the environmental integrity of this watershed. The comprehensive measures will now require developers to participate in a full public interest review for all large projects affecting wetlands and waterways in the New York City watershed. The Corps met numerous times with the major stakeholders in the watershed including federal and state agencies, local agencies and environmental groups in developing and strengthening the regional regulations.

The majority of public comments recommended strengthening regional rules to provide increased environmental safeguards of the New York City watershed. The New York City Council passed a resolution requesting the Corps to require individual Clean Water Act permits prior to the dredging or filling of wetlands in order to protect the public health of almost nine million New Yorkers who rely on the New York City drinking water supply. "The wetlands are the kidneys of many of our ecosystems," said Rich Tomer, acting regulatory branch chief for the Corps' New York District. "Ecosystems like the New York City watershed provide water purification functions through trapping sediments, binding contaminants as well as dispersing and reducing floodflows which can otherwise erode and degrade watersheds."

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PUNA, Hawaii, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - The EPA has signed the final underground injection well permit for Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), which requires immediate safeguards to protect groundwater, ensure safe operation of the system, and protect public health and the environment. The permit, issued Friday under the Safe Drinking Water Act, authorizes PGV to operate three existing geothermal injection wells drilled into Kilauea, an active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. The permit outlines specific requirements for future construction of up to seven new wells.

The Puna facility produces electricity using steam from groundwater that is heated by the underground geothermal resource. The condensed steam, super heated salt water and gases from the production wells are reinjected back into the geothermal reservoir at depths below 3,900 feet. Federal and state underground injection control programs regulate the injection of these fluids and gases. But despite regulatory controls, the geothermal development has raised much concern in Puna and in the Hawaiian environmental community. Gases, particularly sulfur, have created acute respiratory distress in Puna residents. Local herbalists complain that the plants they once relied upon for medicines and sacred uses have been destroyed by the geothermal development. Environmental considerations aside, Hawaii is always seeking new sources of electric power because it must import every drop of oil and gas state residents consume. The final permit and public notice are available on EPA's Region 9 website at:

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NOME, Alaska, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - Families in Nome who could once pull salmon for their tables out of Alaska’s waters must now rely on donations. As part of Alaska Governor Tony Knowles' initiative to aid individuals affected by disastrous reductions in salmon runs, 15,000 pounds of chum salmon were delivered to Nome subsistence families this week. Major General Phil Oates, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, and Bernice Joseph, team chief for Operation Renew Hope, hand delivered the bags of fish. "This is just one step in Operation Renew Hope," said Joseph. "We anticipate delivering more salmon to other areas in need, and of course we're continually working with the state and federal agencies to bring other types of aid to the individuals and communities affected by this disaster."

The fish were caught out of Kotzebue and Unalakleet, processed by Norton Sound Seafood, and delivered to Nome by the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. In Nome, 215 people requested some of the donated salmon. Each received about seven headed and gutted frozen fish. The recipients were expressly grateful for the deliveries. Several said they planned to share the fish with their extended families in the area. Alaska and the federal Department of Commerce have both declared fishing disasters in Alaska salmon runs. Governor Knowles is working with Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican, to secure additional federal funding for individual and community assistance, and scientific research into the causes of the run failure and ways to rebuild runs.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - Three new studies released this month link El Niño cycles in the Pacific Ocean to major human health, environmental and global climate consequences. Ecologists at Cornell University and three other universities announced today in the journal "Science" that El Niño cycles are linked to cholera outbreaks in South America and Asia. Cholera is caused by a bacterium that lives among zooplankton in brackish waters and in estuaries where rivers meet the sea, and infects humans through contaminated water. The scientists found an 11 month lag between El Niños and major cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh, India over an eight year span. Public health authorities will now have an 11 month warning, beginning with the start of an El Niño. But Stephen Ellner, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell, said, "this model will be more useful when somebody figures out how to predict El Niño."

In the September 15 issue of "Geophysical Research Letters," researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California - San Diego, show that warm, nutrient depleted waters ushered in during the 1997-1998 El Niño resulted in a reduction in phytoplankton - the plants that are the base of the marine ecosystem. "When El Niño suppresses the availability of nutrients in the sunlit surface waters, the abundance of phytoplankton declines," said Greg Mitchell, research biologist in the Marine Research Division at Scripps. "Phytoplankton communities are the primary producers for the ocean, comparable to grasslands for terrestrial systems. Success of fish population recruitment, and therefore commercial fisheries, may in part depend on interannual cycles of nutrient and phytoplankton distributions associated with El Niño and La Niña."

In today’s issue of the journal "Science," paleoclimatologist David Lea, associate professor of geological sciences at the University of California - Santa Barbara reveals that the fossil record shows that changes in the tropical Pacific Ocean lead climate change around the globe. "If we can understand the mechanism of climate change then we can see how global warming will play out," said Lea. Just like El Nino and La Nina cause short term world wide climate changes emanating from the waters of the Pacific warm pool, it appears that the tropical Pacific may be the driver of the changes that have lead to past ice ages, he said. Tropical oceans "act as a global heat engine," said Lea, and may be "a major driving force in the waxing and waning of continental ice sheets."

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SAN DIEGO, California, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - Emission reductions in a 120 truck refuse collection fleet will pave the way for construction of a power plant in San Diego County. This project is the first in the nation to offset emissions from a new power plant by reducing emissions from mobile sources. PG&E Corporation and Waste Management, Inc. plan to replace 120 diesel fueled refuse collection trucks with new Mack trucks fueled by clean burning natural gas. As a result, tailpipe emissions from the fleet will be reduced by more than 50 percent. The air emission credits gained through the reductions will be used by the PG&E National Energy Group to offset emissions from the Otay Mesa Generating Project, a proposed 500 megawatt plant to be built outside of San Diego.


One of the natural gas powered garbage trucks to be used in San Diego (Photo courtesy Waste Management, Inc.)

"As we have seen this summer, there is a critical need for new power supplies in California, including the San Diego region. New base load power plants, like Otay Mesa, are the long term solution to the immediate problem," said Thomas King, president and chief operating officer of the PG&E National Energy Group's West Region. "This project is a ground breaking, win-win strategy that helps bring the region the new sources of power it needs while improving San Diego's air quality." San Diego County requires new sources of emissions to be offset by reductions from other sources. Otay Mesa, the first major power plant to be built in San Diego County in about 30 years, will generate enough power for half a million homes.

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RICHLAND, Washington, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - A review team commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) says the agency’s policy of avoiding unnecessary ecological damage from firefighting tactics did not delay fire suppression efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, but that fire management plans and training should be improved. The fire that burned almost 164,000 acres of federal, state and private land this summer was "fought aggressively from the start, with no delay in suppression tactics due to a written policy of using a ‘light hand on the land’ in the area now known as the Hanford Reach National Monument," the national interagency fire review team has concluded.

Firefighters with local fire districts are uncertain about the meaning of the "light hand on the land" policy and appear to believe that it restricts the use of certain firefighting tactics, the reviewers found. Some of the firefighters did not meet qualifications established by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, the reviewers learned. But the fire quickly took precedence over protecting the land, the reviewers found. The Incident Commander, "used his discretion to send the crews directly onto the Arid Lands Ecology area in an attempt to cut off the fire before it could spread. There was no delay in suppression tactics," the team reported. The conclusion is among the draft findings and recommendations of a nine member team asked by USFWS to review the fire. The team's report was expected to be finalized by late August but has been delayed until all team members have had a chance to review it. Many of the team members are now fighting fires across the West.

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - A royal Maya palace now being excavated in Guatemala could become the centerpiece of a new ecotourism center. That is the hope of the expedition leader Arthur Demarest, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "We hope this project will create a model for future archaeological research in developing countries - and especially for the Maya area - using the ancient treasure of the Maya civilization to benefit their descendants," Demarest said. The palace lies at the center of an ancient city named Cancuén, which means "place of serpents." Cancuén is not only a lost city, but also a lost natural world. In addition to the ruins, the site contains one of the last stands of tropical rainforest in the southern Petén region of Guatemala, complete with endangered tropical species including howler monkeys, woolly anteaters and rare birds.


Archeologists Arthur Demarest (right) and Tomas Barrientos at Cancuén (Photo Photo © Christopher Talbot/National Geographic Society, courtesy Vanderbilt University)

Restoration plans include strict environmental preservation measures. An integral part of the planning is to establish an educational program that will train members of the local village in the skills needed to operate an ecotourism center and to preserve and protect the site. Demarest has taken the first step toward this goal by working in collaboration with a nearby village of modern Maya K'ekchi people. He has contracted with the villagers to protect the site from looters. Plans for continued archaeological study, rainforest conservation and indigenous community development are being carried out through the Vanderbilt University's Institute of Mesoamerican Archaeology. "Archaeologists can't just keep excavating ancient Maya ruins while the modern Maya settlements nearby are starving," said Demarest.

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WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2000 (ENS) - Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has named a Community Gardening Coordinator for each state and Puerto Rico to provide advice on establishing or expanding community gardens. "Community Gardens not only produce fresh fruits and vegetables; they can also help create more livable communities by replacing vacant and often trash-filled lots with productive green spaces," said Glickman, in videotaped remarks prepared for the American Community Gardening Association conference in Atlanta. "These gardening projects can be vital for communities, so I have selected coordinators in each state to help faith based organizations, nonprofit groups, state and local governments, and individuals create or expand gardens in their neighborhoods."

The coordinators will offer information and technical assistance to nonprofit groups, Indian tribes, school districts, private businesses, individuals and state, local and federal agencies. They will offer advice on site location and planning, what and when to plant, soil surveys, soil conservation, volunteer recruitment and links with government agencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided technical assistance, national publicity, and limited seed money to local gardening projects, and has created a gardening web site, "Community gardens can bring people together, enhance communities and help fight hunger," said Glickman." And by giving schoolchildren a chance to plant and care for community gardens, we offer them a healthy and productive way to have fun and help improve their neighborhoods." A list of the coordinators is available at: