AmeriScan: December 27, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has sent a recommendation to President Bill Clinton that he use his executive authority to create five new national monuments in California, Montana and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Clinton has already used his powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act to create 11 new national monuments and expand the boundaries of two others. The Antiquities Act authorizes the President to create national monuments on federal land to protect objects of historic and scientific interest. "These natural landscapes are unique, historic American treasures," said Babbitt. "They need more care and protection than we are giving them now, so I am asking the President to designate them as national monuments." Clinton will review the recommendations and decide whether to create the new monuments before he leaves office next month.

The proposed monuments include:

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - The Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced an environmental settlement with Koch Petroleum Group that is expected to reduce air emissions from three petroleum refineries in Minnesota and Texas by at least 5,200 tons through 2008. Under the agreement filed Friday, Koch will spend an estimated $80 million to install up to date pollution control equipment at two refineries in Corpus Christi, Texas, and one near St. Paul, Minnesota, reducing emissions from stacks, leaking valves, wastewater vents and flares. Koch also will pay a $4.5 million penalty to settle Clean Air Act violations and other environmental claims at its Minnesota refinery.

"This is the first settlement in a federal enforcement strategy for achieving comprehensive, across the board compliance with U.S. refineries," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the environment at the Justice Department. "I hope other refineries will take note." The air pollutants addressed by the agreement can cause serious respiratory problems, exacerbate cases of childhood asthma, and in the case of toxic air pollutants, can cause cancer and death. They include toxic air pollutants such as benzene, and smog causing compounds such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and volatile organic compounds. The agreement also includes measures to improve safety for workers and local communities by reducing accidental releases of pollutants. "Thousands of tons of air pollutants will be eliminated as a result of this agreement," said Steve Herman, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at the EPA. "We are committed to ensuring that all Americans breathe healthier, cleaner air and will take the necessary enforcement action to protect public health and the environment."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - Several pro-environment government actions rank in the federal government's 50 most important achievements of the last half century, as tabulated by the Brookings Institution, an independent nonprofit research group. "Government's 50 Greatest Endeavors of the Past Half Century" is a project on what the federal government tried to do and what it achieved, the Brookings Institution said. The report names U.S. efforts to rebuild Europe after World War II as government's top achievement. Environmental efforts rank as high as number 6 - ensuring safe food and drinking water; number 11 - improving water quality; and number 15 - improving air quality. Several environmental projects cluster around the center of the rankings: protecting the wilderness (24); protecting endangered species (26); and reducing exposure to hazardous waste (27). Also included are efforts to ensure an adequate energy supply (32) and to improve mass transportation (47).

The project began with a cataloging of major laws passed since World War II, followed by the grouping of these statutes by their objective, and the selection of the top 50 endeavors for a national survey of historians and political scientists. The survey results identify government's greatest achievements and failures taking success, difficulty and importance into account. The group polled 1,039 college and university professors - all members of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association - and asked them to rank hundreds of major government endeavors. About 450 of the professors responded to the poll. "Looking back from the edge of a new millennium, it is difficult not to be proud of what the federal government has tried to achieve these past 50 years," said Paul Light, author of the study and director of Brookings' governmental studies program. "Name a significant domestic or foreign problem over the past half century and the federal government made some effort to solve it." The report is available at:

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SACRAMENTO, California, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - The common raven in California is not so common after all, says a team of scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other research institutions involved in new genetics research. DNA sequence data revealed a deep genetic split between common ravens from the southwest U.S. compared to the rest of the world. The research is detailed in the December 22 issue of the "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Biological Sciences." Common ravens range over almost the entire Northern Hemisphere, and look the same across their range. But by sampling 72 common ravens from around the world, the researchers found two distinct genetic groups, which they labeled the "California clade" and the "Holarctic clade."

"The California raven looks like any other common raven worldwide, but genetically it's very different," said research ecologist Dr. William Boarman of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. "We have found that ravens from Minnesota, Maine and Alaska are more similar to ravens from Asia and Europe than they are to ravens from California. The split probably started through geographic isolation over two million years ago, from glaciation during the ice age. When the two forms came back together after the ice age, individual birds may have chosen to continue to mate with only their own type, thus maintaining the two groups." Researcher Dr. Kevin Omland, professor of biology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said, "future research will be required to determine if the two groups are one or two species, or whether they may be remerging into a single clade." Boarman studies ravens in California's Mojave Desert, where over the last 30 years their numbers have risen by more than 1,000 percent, subsidized by human populations that have expanded into the desert. Young desert tortoises, listed as threatened, are often eaten by hungry ravens.

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HARTFORD, Connecticut, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - Regulations to reduce air pollution and manage natural area preserves have been approved by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Legislature Regulations Review Committee. The DEP announced the regulations last week. The regulations will apply to 61 large emission units statewide including the so called "filthy five" power plants. In accordance with a May 2000 executive order by Governor John Rowland, the air quality regulations will reduce air emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) by more than 40,000 tons per year - a 50 percent reduction - and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) by almost 3,500 tons per year - a 20 to 30 percent reduction.

The revised Natural Area Preserve regulations are intended to foster greater protection of the state's natural resources through the development of comprehensive management plans for each preserve. "Today's regulations to reduce air pollution and enhance the management of the state's Natural Area Preserves takes environmental protection in Connecticut to a higher level," said Governor Rowland. "Comprehensive measures are now in place to significantly reduce air pollution from large sources statewide. In addition to improved air quality, we have further strengthened efforts to preserve and protect Connecticut's unique natural features and critical habitats." The DEP regulations rely on a combination of fuel sulfur limits and emission controls. The rules set stricter emissions requirements for 61 large emission units statewide, including fossil fuel fired power plants and large industrial and commercial boilers at large factories and co-generation facilities. DEP will use innovative strategies including emission limits, incentives to use less polluting fuels, extended NOx emission standards and market based approaches to bring about the air pollution reductions.

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ARLINGTON, Virginia, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - The Nature Conservancy, the world's largest nonprofit conservation organization, has named Steven McCormick as its new president and chief executive officer, overseeing operations across the U.S. and in 27 other countries. McCormick will assume his new position on February 1, 2001. McCormick is a long time veteran of the Conservancy, having served 16 years as the executive director of the organization's California chapter, its largest state program. McCormick left the California chapter in May to become a partner in a new law firm specializing in conservation and natural resources. He returns to the Conservancy as president and CEO, filling a vacancy created by the death earlier this year of John Sawhill, the Conservancy's chief since 1990.


The Nature Conservancy's new president and CEO, Steven McCormick (Photo courtesy The Nature Conservancy)

"We are pleased to welcome Steve back to The Nature Conservancy," said Tony Grassi, chair of the Conservancy's national Board of Governors. "Steve is a conservation leader of great vision who for more than two decades has played an influential role in determining the entire organization's strategic direction. Given Steve's remarkable record in California, all of us at the Conservancy are confident in his ability to lead the organization in accomplishing its ambitious conservation goals." McCormick will take the reins of an international organization about to enter its 50th anniversary year, following a decade of unprecedented growth in membership, fundraising and on the ground conservation results. "Thanks to the Conservancy's leadership, its staff, its members and donors and its hundreds of partners, the organization is in its strongest position ever," McCormick said. "With 50 years of conservation success behind us, it is thrilling to think about leading the organization as it embarks on its next half century of work protecting special places in the U.S. and around the world. I look forward to again working with the dedicated, visionary and talented staff and volunteers who are the backbone of the Conservancy."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - Wind energy could go a long way toward solving California's electricity woes, says the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), an industry group. California has been experiencing severe power shortages due to increased demand and unreliable supply. AWEA said wind plants in Wyoming and in Southern California have performed well during the most recent supply crisis in California. New projects will come online next year in Washington, Oregon and Wyoming as well as California, bringing needed additional generating capacity to the region. "Wind energy, especially in combination with natural gas fired power, can help conserve fuel supplies, reduce price spikes, and diversify the electricity generating mix," said AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. "It's time to start putting the vast wind resources of the West to work."

Wind energy offers several benefits for California's electricity system, Swisher said. Because wind energy's "fuel" is free, its price does not go up or down. Adding more wind plants increases overall system reliability, by spreading wind generation capacity across the region to capture variable winds. New high tech wind projects can be online by next winter. California has approved more than 400 megawatts of new wind capacity as part of a state program to encourage new renewable energy sources. An at least equal amount of new wind capacity will come on line next year in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming and Montana. Wind energy also helps prevent smog and global warming. "California today is reaping the results of two decades of short term, quick fix energy policies," said Swisher. "Now is the time for the Golden State to take a longer view, and to begin laying the foundations for the long term energy supply that it needs to continue to be a world class economy. Pollution free electricity from the wind can be a major part of meeting California's needs."

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WASHINGTON, DC, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - In response to the severe fire season of 2000 and recent legislation signed by President Bill Clinton, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) will hire about 3,500 new firefighters. "In the wake of this summer's devastating fire season, we are adding significant new staffing to improve our nations wildland fire suppression capabilities and to reduce fire hazards near populated areas," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. The new positions will support the National Fire Plan, which was developed by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior. The plan outlines actions for restoring the landscapes and helping communities affected by this year's severe fires; reducing future impacts of wildland fires in the wildland urban interface; and ensuring sufficient firefighting resources in the future.

Up to 1,000 of the positions will be permanent. The other jobs will be temporary or seasonal, lasting up to six months per year, with opportunities to become permanent seasonal employees. Most of the 3,500 jobs will be forestry aids and technician jobs assigned to firefighting positions. The deadline for applications has been extended to January 19, 2001. More than 84,000 fires broke out across the nation this summer, consuming almost seven million acres of public lands. At the height of the fire season, more than 28,000 people were deployed to combat the flames. Federal personnel and others from 48 states, four countries and five military battalions battled the fires. More information regarding the new firefighting jobs is available at:

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ARLINGTON, Virginia, December 27, 2000 (ENS) - For the first time ever, a female northern right whale has been tracked every step of her journey between northern feeding grounds off New Brunswick, Canada, and southern breeding grounds off the Georgia and Florida coasts. In late July, a rare female right whale, earlier named Piper by researchers from the Right Whale Consortium, was outfitted with a satellite tracking tag while she was on her summer feeding range around the Bay of Fundy. The research was made possible by technology sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Fewer than 12 calves are born to right whales each year on the breeding grounds and the most recent years have been among the worst - just three calves were seen each year in 1998 and 1999. The species is down to fewer than 350 total individuals and is still declining.

"We have high hopes that Piper is a pregnant female who will calve in the breeding grounds off the coasts of Georgia and Florida near NAVBASE Jacksonville, and thus help to solve a centuries old riddle concerning where breeding female right whales go during the three or more years between calves," said ONR program manager Bob Gisiner. "This species has mysteriously failed to recover since the end of commercial whaling, and poor breeding success may be one of the culprits." The tags send signals to ARGOS satellites once or twice a day, allowing researchers to fix Piper's position. Knowing where the whales are can help ships avoid collisions with right whales, one of the primary risks to the species. "Even untagged whales benefit from a knowledge of which areas are frequented by tagged right whales at what times of year," Gisiner said. "An extra ounce of caution and vigilance in those places and times will go a long way toward reducing the potential for collisions between vessels and whales."