AmeriScan: December 11, 2000

EXECUTIVE ORDER FINALIZES PROMISE TO NUCLEAR VETERANS

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton has issued an executive order outlining the framework for compensating thousands of current and former nuclear weapons plant workers, or their survivors, whose service to the country has left them sick or dying. "This is one of the most meaningful new federal programs in decades, impacting the lives of thousands of Americans," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "President Clinton's executive order ensures that the compensation program will remain on course for years to come and that all weapons plant workers - past, present and future - can rely on their government to do the right thing, even after the sites where they worked have closed."

The order begins implementing the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, which was enacted in October as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Act provides for compensation of Energy Department workers, or their survivors, who have occupational illnesses from exposure to the hazards associated with building nuclear weapons. The order establishes a Worker Assistance Program within the Energy Department that will help workers with occupational illnesses apply for benefits under state compensation programs. An interagency working group will develop a legislative proposal and address program implementation. "These individuals, many of whom were neither protected from nor informed of the hazards to which they were exposed, developed occupational illnesses as a result of their exposure to radiation and other hazards unique to nuclear weapons production and testing," said Clinton. "While the nation can never fully repay these workers or their families, they deserve fair compensation for their sacrifices. I am pleased to take the next critical step in ensuring that these courageous individuals receive the compensation and recognition they have long deserved."

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THREE PLEAD GUILTY IN MISSOURI ILLEGAL DRUG CASE

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - The last three defendants in a complex clandestine drug manufacturing case pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in St. Louis late last month. William Parsley pleaded guilty to conspiracy, to the disposal of ignitable hazardous waste without a permit in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and to the disposal of corrosive hazardous waste without a permit, also in violation of RCRA. The second defendant, Markus Levis Mancel, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Both face a maximum penalty of not less than 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $4,000,000. The third defendant, Robert Wayne Smith, pleaded guilty to manufacturing more than 50 grams of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine. He faces a maximum penalty of a fine not less than five years in prison and/or $2,000,000, when sentenced.

Six other defendants, Mark Anthony Dorner, Clifford Dorner, Amy Lee Parsley, Carlon Wright, Daniel Johnson and Timothy Chitwood have previously been convicted and are awaiting sentencing. This case involved an extensive investigation that uncovered and closed down numerous illegal clandestine methamphetamine laboratory sites throughout Jefferson County, Missouri. The illegal disposal of drug laboratory chemicals presented a serious environmental threat and puts people at risk due to the explosive, flammable and inherently toxic nature of the chemicals used in the process. The case was investigated by EPA's Criminal Investigation Division with the help of EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center; the FBI; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; and state and local law enforcement agencies in Eastern Missouri.

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MAINE APPEALS ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTING FOR SALMON

AUGUSTA, Maine, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - The state of Maine has appealed the federal government's decision to list Atlantic salmon in eight Maine rivers as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The appeal, filed by the state attorney general's office last Thursday, notes that less than two years after determining that salmon was "not likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future," two federal agencies changed course and decided to list salmon under the Endangered Species Act. The state argues the reversal in policy was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. The federal government's contention that the salmon in the eight Maine rivers listed constitute a "distinct population segment" is not supported by sound science, the suit claims. The state also charges that many of the fundamental reasons the federal government offered to support the listing conflict with positions it has taken in this and other cases.

"This is certainly not how government is supposed to work, and I truly wish we had an option other than court," said Governor Angus King Jr. "However, we feel very strongly that Maine's restoration program is on the right track, and the federal agencies simply aren't listening." King also said that the federal government appears to agree that current restoration efforts may prove successful. In its listing in the Federal Register, the federal agencies noted that significant returns of adult salmon are likely to appear within the next several years. U.S. Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Democratic Representative John Baldacci, all from Maine, said they support the state's appeal. The text of the suit is available at: http://www.state.me.us/governor.

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REPRESENTATIVE JULIAN DIXON MOURNED BY ENVIRONMENTALISTS

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - Representative Julian Dixon, a California Democrat who represented west Los Angeles in the U.S. Congress for more than 20 years, died last week of a heart attack at the age of 66. Dixon was well regarded as a friend to the environment and a leading supporter of public transportation in Los Angeles. A senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Dixon was the ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee and was also known for his work on civil rights issues and congressional ethics. He was a long time proponent of better public transportation and was credited with helping bring commuter rail back to Los Angeles. In 1999, he earned a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters. President Bill Clinton praised Dixon as "a champion for the people of his district, his state and our nation." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner called Dixon, "a dedicated advocate of environmental and public health protection for America's families."

"Representative Dixon was both a friend to the environment and a leader who sought to empower his constituents at home," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director. "His work on transportation issues has set the stage for the resurgence of public transit in California. In his advocacy for commuter rail in Los Angeles, Representative Dixon showed both vision and courage - we will miss his leadership on environmental issues and his personal warmth and friendly demeanor." After Representative Dixon won a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters, he noted that his votes, "reflected an awareness that we are temporary stewards of lands and natural treasures that preceded and will far outlast us. Preserving, if not improving, this wealth is an obligation we owe to future generations."

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CRITICAL HABITAT PROPOSED FOR SAN BERNADINO KANGAROO RAT

CARLSBAD, California, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (UFSWS) is proposing to designate about 55,408 acres in two California counties as critical habitat for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat. The proposed critical habitat includes a mix of federal, tribal, state, county and private lands. The San Bernardino kangaroo rat, which was listed as endangered in 1998, occurs in about six scattered, isolated patches of alluvial sage-scrub habitat throughout San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The species is threatened by continued habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation due to sand and gravel mining operations, flood control projects and urban development. Three of the largest blocks of remaining habitat for the species are mined for sand and gravel, and mining activity in these areas is expected to increase.

kangaroo rat

A San Bernadino kangaroo rat (Photo courtesy USFWS)

The USFWS has been working with landowners, flood control districts and federal and state agencies on habitat conservation for the kangaroo rat. The agency is working with San Bernardino and Riverside counties and local jurisdictions to develop Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plans that would benefit the San Bernardino kangaroo rat. "The designation of critical habitat should not affect our ongoing efforts to develop and implement HCPs," said Michael Spear, manager of the USFWS California/Nevada Operations Office. A lawsuit filed against the Service in 1999 by the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation claimed the USFWS was in violation of the Endangered Species Act for not designating critical habitat at the time the species was listed. The court order the USFWS to propose critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat by December 1, 2000. More information is available at: http://carlsbad.fws.gov. Public comments will be accepted until February 6, 2001, by email at: FW1CFWO_sbkr@fws.gov.

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PANEL RECOMMENDS $75 MILLION OCEAN EXPLORATION PROJECT

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - A major new project should explore the deep ocean regions, says a report by the Ocean Exploration Panel. Acting under a presidential order, the report was written by marine and biological sciences experts who are advising President Bill Clinton and Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta on how to guide ocean exploration. The December 4 report, entitled "Discovering Earth's Final Frontier: A U.S. Strategy for Ocean Exploration," recommends a 10 year program to study all aspects of the ocean. The team of experts put forth the main objectives of an exploration program: map the entire ocean floor, study the interactions of biology and chemistry, develop new sensors and instruments, and teach the public about ocean issues.

A major part of the project, says the executive summary of the report, should be the dissemination of information and the formation of partnerships with universities, nongovernmental organizations and industry to fully explore the ocean. The panel advises that the endeavor receive $75 million a year in funding. While the U.S. government now sponsors no comprehensive ocean exploration program, independent programs have shown the value of these expeditions, the report notes. "Hundreds of new marine species and entirely new ecosystems have been discovered. The benefit attributed to these advances has been enormous; for example, a new industry, marine biotechnology, has shown impressive returns. Understanding biodiversity of the oceans is critical to sustaining their immense global economic value. Furthermore, the deep oceans may hold the keys to the origin of life itself. Despite these gains, 95 percent of the oceans remain unknown and unexplored," says the summary.

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DATABASE LISTS ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY PRODUCTS

WASHINGTON, DC, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - A new website offers information on the environmental performance of more than 600 products and services. The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Database is a tool to make it easier to purchase products and services with reduced environmental impacts. The database is organized like a shopping mall with environmental information for selected products and services located within each store. The database is one of several resources offered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. Organized into 50 categories from appliances to vehicles, the database is a comprehensive resource for conducting pre-solicitation market research, revising performance specifications, developing contract language or establishing evaluation criteria. The EPP database includes more than 330 environmental standards and guidelines developed by government agencies and independent groups.

The database includes voluntary standards and guidelines used to compare the environmental preferability of products and services, contract language and specifications containing environmentally preferable purchasing language, and other sources of information about the environmental preferability of products and services. The database provides product specific information developed by government programs, both domestic and international, as well as third parties. Users are encouraged to submit their own information so the database can be updated. The website includes links to hundreds of environmental purchasing resources, potential suppliers and contracts used by federal, state and local governments and the private sector for purchasing green products and services. The database contains information developed by leading environmental experts in EPA programs and those of other Federal and foreign agencies. More information on this program is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oppt/epp/database.htm

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$10,000 REWARD OFFERED IN SEA TURTLE KILLINGS

PANAMA CITY, Florida, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - Four endangered green sea turtles were drowned in a 70 yard long gillnet found floating in Florida's St. Joe Bay in October. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office for Law Enforcement is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible for deploying the net. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering an additional reward of $1,000 through the agency's Wildlife Alert Program, for information that leads to an arrest. "I discovered the net during a routine patrol of the bay," said FWC officer Mike Nobles. "I estimate that the net had been in the water for about a week. It contained many marine species in addition to the four green sea turtles including pompano, conch, horseshoe crabs, stone crabs and spider crabs."

"The use of monofilament gillnets has been illegal since 1994 when voters overwhelmingly approved a net limitation amendment," said Major Kent Thompson of the FWC's Bureau of Marine Enforcement. "So whoever is responsible for deploying that net is subject to prosecution by the state under that law. Furthermore, whoever is responsible for the net also violated the Endangered Species Act, which is under federal jurisdiction." Breeding populations of green sea turtles off Florida were listed as endangered in 1978. Incidental catch during fishing operations continues to be a threat to the turtle's recovery. "The green sea turtle's recovery is progressing very slowly, primarily due to human interactions," said Gene Proulx, special agent in charge of NOAA's Southeast Enforcement Division. "We will use all the resources at our disposal to pursue the person or people responsible for these turtles' deaths."

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FERRY MONITORS WATER QUALITY IN NORTH CAROLINA RIVER

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - Marine scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University have begun monitoring surface water quality in the Neuse River with the help of the Neuse River ferry and state Department of Transportation staff. They expect the effort, called FerryMon, eventually to become a model for ferry based water quality monitoring throughout the nation. The monitoring equipment sits in a box attached to a water intake line in the vessel's protected sea chest below deck and amidships. Some of the water, needed for the ferry's air conditioning system, is first diverted to devices that record temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll and geographic position once a minute. A telemetry system using a cell phone lets researchers collect data for whenever anytime they wish. Another automated, refrigerated device collects water samples to be tested for nutrients, algal pigments, dissolved organic matter and suspended solids.

Drs. Hans Paerl and Joseph Ramus, professors at the UNC-CH and Duke marine laboratories and project co-directors, will expand their monitoring to the Swan Quarter-Ocracoke and Cedar Island-Ocracoke ferries next spring. "So far the system has been working flawlessly," Paerl said, noting that the state saves money by piggybacking the research onto existing boat traffic. Pamlico Sound, the nation's second largest sound, "holds the distinction of being the largest estuary in the United States about which there is the least known," Ramus said. "Our program will form the basis for evaluating and modeling how the ecosystem responds to human and natural impacts to the sound." The researchers hope to develop information on water quality variations and their effect on algae blooms, fish kills and other aquatic problems.

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FIRST BREEDING PAIR OF CALIFORNIA CONDORS RELEASED

VERMILION CLIFFS, Arizona, December 11, 2000 (ENS) - The first pair of breeding age California condors ever to be released into the wild were released last week at the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona. They joined 15 young condors already flying free in the Grand Canyon area. The pair of condors was transferred in November from the captive breeding program at The Peregrine Fund's World Center for Birds of Prey. Another pair of breeding age condors, eight young condors, and one condor that was released and then recaptured due to his attraction to humans, were also flown to the release site last month. Since arriving, they have been acclimating to the area while being housed in two flight pens atop the Vermilion Cliffs and establishing a social order among themselves. The new condors visited regularly by the 15 wild condors roosting in the area. These additional condors are scheduled to be released on December 13 and December 29.

Biologists hope the mated pairs will be reproductive role models for the younger condors - released since 1996 as fledglings - as they reach reproductive maturity. "The mated pairs have spent their whole lives in captivity so they will be learning survival lessons from the 15 younger birds in the Grand Canyon and southern Utah area," said Nancy Kaufman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest regional director. "These could be the first California condors to reproduce in the wild in over 15 years. Restoring breeding in the wild will greatly advance condor recovery." Bill Heinrich, species restoration manager for The Peregrine Fund, said, "Production in the wild is what recovery of endangered species is all about and the release of adult pairs of condors brings us closer to that goal."