AmeriScan: December 21, 2000


MOBILE, Alabama, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - Exxon Mobil Corporation, the nation's largest oil company, has been ordered to pay $3.5 billion in punitive damages for defrauding the state of Alabama out of royalty payments from natural gas wells in the state's waters. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sued Exxon Mobil last year, charging the company with deducting expenses from the natural gas production royalties paid to the state, in violation of state law. The jury, which took two hours to reach a decision on the fine, placed the damages award on top of the estimated $87 million in back royalties that the company owes the state. Exxon Mobil plans to appeal the sentence, and analysts said the damages award is likely to be cut back.

John Crowder, the attorney representing the state, cited internal Exxon Mobil documents which showed that company employees had pointed out the error in royalty payments to their superiors. Company executives allegedly responded that the state was unlikely to uncover the error. Exxon Mobil argued that the problem arose from marked differences between the form of Alabama's leases and that of most leases in the rest of the nation. "We have always endeavored to fully comply with the requirements of our leases," the company said in a statement. "No evidence of fraud was offered at the trial and none was considered by the jury." But Alabama Governor Donald Siegelman praised the verdict. "The verdict is appropriate because it is against a company that attempted to cheat the people of Alabama," said Siegelman. "What is even more appalling is that this company stated they believed they could get away with their scheme because the people of Alabama were too inexperienced to understand they were being cheated."

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - The Bluewater Network, a national environmental organization, reached a settlement with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding personal watercraft use in the National Park System. Personal watercraft, better known by the trade name jet ski, have been shown to damage air and water quality, visitor enjoyment, public health and safety, natural quiet and wildlife. The settlement is a major victory in Bluewater's campaign to prohibit jet skis from the entire park system. In March, the NPS adopted regulations which banned jet skis operation from about two-thirds of all national parks that permit motorboat activity. But the rule exempted 21 parks from this ban, including Glen Canyon and Lake Mead National Recreation Areas and Cape Lookout National Seashore. In August, Bluewater Network filed suit claiming that the Park Service's jet ski regulations violated a federal law which requires the NPS to leave park resources unimpaired for future generations.

Wednesday's settlement requires these 21 parks to ban jet skis unless they undertake environmental reviews as required by the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the Park Service's own legislative and administrative mandates. The settlement gives the public an opportunity to comment on jet ski use at any park that wants to authorize the craft. Jet ski operation may continue in these 21 parks while the NPS undergoes the rulemaking process. However, the settlement stipulates that the entire process must be completed no later than the fall of 2002. "We believe this settlement will expand the protection of park resources and wildlife from jet ski damage," said Sean Smith, public lands director for Bluewater Network and a former park ranger. "The days of jet skis tearing through our national heritage are numbered."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton has signed two bills that will benefit laboratory animals -the "Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act" (HR 3514) and a bill promoting the use of research methods that do not involve animals (S 1495/ HR 4281). The chimpanzee act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a sanctuary system of lifetime care for chimpanzees that have been used by Federal Government entities for research and that are determined to be no longer needed for research. Clinton said the chimpanzee bill "is a valuable affirmation of the federal government's responsibility and moral obligation to provide an orderly system to ensure a secure retirement for surplus federal research chimpanzees and to meet their lifetime needs for shelter and care." But the president noted that he had "reservations concerning flaws in the bill that the next administration and the Congress should correct to ensure the viability and effectiveness of the proposed sanctuary system."

Clinton warned that "certain aspects of this Act will require amendment to eliminate defects relating to biomedical research and to the viability of the proposed sanctuary system." The president criticized the bill's constraints on the use of "surplus" chimpanzees for additional research, saying the animals should be made available for research use where needed for "valuable biomedical research." The second bill makes permanent the Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). The committee promotes the use of alternatives to animal testing for commercial products such as cosmetics and cleaning supplies, by streamlining the process by which these methods are validated and knocking down institutional barriers within federal agencies that discourage their use. "This legislation will help spare the suffering of millions of laboratory animals, as it paves the way to regulatory acceptance of promising alternative test methods," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president at the Humane Society of the U.S.

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released the first comprehensive strategy for research and monitoring in the nation's coastal waters. The nation's coastline stretches 95,000 miles along oceans, estuaries and the Great Lakes. The Coastal Research and Monitoring Strategy represents the first effort to integrate coastal monitoring and research activities on a national scale to provide thorough assessments of the health of the nation's coastal resources. "Because coastal resources are so vital to our economy and our environment, it is very important to know more about them and what condition they are in so we will know how to protect them better," said NOAA Administrator D. James Baker.

"Millions of Americans visit the nation's coasts each year," added Chuck Fox, EPA assistant administrator for water. "Polluted beaches can threaten public health and lead to lost revenues for businesses. This strategy shows that we must all work together to restore and protect our coastal treasures." The strategy recommends:

  1. enhancing and adapting existing monitoring programs to support an integrated national program;
  2. integrating interagency research efforts to fill data gaps;
  3. conducting periodic national and regional coastal assessments;
  4. improving data management;
  5. establishing mechanisms to assess and adjust monitoring and research to meet changing national coastal priorities; and
  6. developing an implementation plan for further action.
The Coastal Research and Monitoring Strategy can be found on the Clean Water Action Plan Web site, at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - Arctic caribou scientists are urging President Bill Clinton to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of North America's largest, by increasing protection for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. President-elect George W. Bush, who takes office next month, has said he would support opening portions of the Refuge to oil and gas exploration. Six American and seven Canadian scientists signed a letter to President Clinton asking him to use his executive powers to protect the refuge as a national monument. "Designating the Arctic Refuge a national monument is the perfect Christmas gift for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. It is a gift that will keep on giving," said National Audubon Society president John Flicker. "Leading caribou scientists have concluded oil development is harmful to the long term health of the caribou." The scientists' expertise is in the ecology and conservation of Arctic caribou, and their recommendation is based on observations of the effect oil drilling activities have had on the Central Arctic Caribou Herd over the past three decades.

The letter concludes that state of the art technology has not prevented caribou from being displaced from calving areas even in the newer oilfields on the North Slope. No proven technology exists that would ensure unrestricted passage through an oilfield for large groups of Porcupine Caribou, the scientists warn. Considering the high degree of uncertainty regarding oilfield impacts on caribou, ensuring the integrity of the calving grounds and summer range of the Porcupine Caribou Herd is a compelling reason for applying the most precautionary management to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain, the letter says. The scientists argue that the Porcupine Herd is an international resource too important to put at risk. "Caribou and oil development do not mix very well," said Flicker. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge deserves monument protection for many reasons, including the caribou."

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CRANDON, Wisconsin, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - A Crandon man has been convicted for his role in the shooting a bald eagle in Forest County on March 17, 2000. Richard Allen Marvin was charged in Federal Court in Milwaukee last week with possession of a bald eagle. Marvin was fined $1,000 plus $500 restitution, and $25 in special assessment. He was placed on federal probation for one year, during which he is barred from any type of hunting during that time, and must do 50 hours of community service. Marvin drove the truck that the shooter, Michael Pagel, was riding in. The men saw an immature bald eagle off Old 8 Road near the Little Rice Flowage. Pagel shot the bird with a 22 caliber rifle from the truck. Pagel plead guilty to his part in the crime and will be sentenced in February.

Conservation warden Chris McGeshick worked with two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents, Ed Spoon and Marty Hernandez, on the case. The agents were brought in because eagles are protected under the Eagle Protection Act. Wisconsin removed the eagle from their Endangered Threatened list in 1997 when the state's goal of having 360 breeding pairs was reached. Today, more than 1,000 live in the state. Eagle populations in the nation have been on the increase because of the reduction of toxic chemicals in the environment and the changing attitudes of people in protecting these birds. Bald eagles are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as threatened, and have been proposed for removal from the list.

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - "Santa" and his helpers delivered Christmas presents to Staples' corporate executives and shoppers on Wednesday. The gifts were copy paper products made from recycled fiber unlike the ones found in Staples stores. The Coastal Rainforest Coalition (CRC), a nonprofit organization, leads a national campaign criticizing Staples' refusal to sell recycled fiber products. "We are asking Staples' CEO Tom Stemberg not to be the Grinch who stole Christmas, but to give the gift of healthy forests to future generations," said Todd Paglia of the CRC. Staples is the cause of thousands of acres of clearcuts every year to supply the paper and other wood based products that line its shelves, the coalition says. "Ho, ho, ho! When I make my list of who's been naughty and nice, we all know where people who destroy forests end up. Now is Tom Stemberg's chance to give the present of a better future for children everywhere," said Santa - otherwise known as Matt Borus with CRC.

Today, "Santa Claus" paid a visit to Boise Cascade, a wood products company. Santa delivered more than 3,600 letters from children across the country to Boise Cascade's CEO George Harad at the company's corporate headquarters in Boise. The kids asked the logging company to give them their holiday wish: an end to the destruction of old growth forests. The colorful letters sent by kids from the U.S. included drawings of plants and animals and heartfelt messages to the CEO to protect forests. "Please stop logging old growth wood," asked one 10 year old. "The animals need the forest to live in." Joining Santa were local children, parents and other concerned citizens. "Kids love forests and Boise Cascade is destroying them," explained Jennifer Krill of the Rainforest Action Network. "In defiance of children's concern and U.S. public opinion, Boise Cascade continues to be the largest logger of old growth forests in the United States."

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LOS ANGELES, California, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - To the Los Department of Water and Power (DWP), trimming trees is a year round maintenance tactic that helps avert windstorm power outages. To the nation's foresters, it is a preservation effort worth rewarding. For the first time, the National Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the National Association of State Foresters, has honored the DWP with the Tree Line USA Award. The award is given each year to utilities that protect and enhance urban forests. "The DWP delivers low cost electricity to customers, and we work hard to ensure an uninterrupted low, no matter the weather," said David Freeman, general manager of the DWP. "Pruning trees minimizes the potential for falling limbs that cause outages, and it seems, preserves the beauty of a city whose trees are often the source of neighborhood pride."

Members of the Department's Power Distribution Unit have made strides in reducing the amount of outages through their tree trimming program, which includes extensive training for workers. In the last 12 months, the DWP has responded to 136 windstorm outages - down from an average of 240 outages in past years. Utilities receiving the Tree Line USA award meet three goals to be eligible for the honor, including quality tree care, annual worker training and tree planting and education. To maintain quality tree care, the DWP follows the pruning requirements and trenching and tunneling techniques of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), which meets the guidelines set by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Eric Oldar, state coordinator of urban and community forests for the California Department of Forestry, said, "This award is the Department's public statement that it is committed to maintaining urban forests."

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BELTSVILLE, Maryland, December 21, 2000 (ENS) - A new way of tenderizing meat and decontaminating it has just one snag - it involves a hefty explosion. Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have been blasting meat with water at explosive pressures, and they have found their process also kills food poisoning bacteria, such as E. coli, in the meat. "We think it is probably rupturing the bacterial cell walls," said lead scientist Morse Solomon, who outlined the idea at a Honolulu conference this week. The process works by sending a shock wave through the meat to bust the tough, chewy fibers. To create the shock wave, researchers place a slab of meat on top of a steel plate at the bottom of a water filled plastic garbage can. Then they detonate an explosive - equivalent to about a quarter of a stick of dynamite - inside the can.

The water transmits the shock wave through the meat, but the unfortunate garbage can gets blown to smithereens. Solomon says the shock waves penetrate the entire cut of meat, so bacteria deep inside it are killed - achieving a thousand fold reduction in bacteria levels during tests. The process works best on small, garbage can sized batches. A larger tank does not work as well, for reasons that are not yet clear. The meat has to be packaged in robust containers so it is not destroyed. Food processing plants might worry about using explosives, so the ARS is also trying other methods of creating shock waves. The research was reported in this week's issue of the British journal "New Scientist."