AmeriScan: January 5, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) will dispose of up to 50 metric tons of surplus weapons grade plutonium as part of efforts to cut the U.S. plutonium stockpile. Up to 17 metric tons of the plutonium would be reduced to a powder and immobilized in glass through a process called vitrification. Up to 33 metric tons would be converted to mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The DOE plans to build three new facilities at a cost of $1.4 billion at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina. One facility would disassemble nuclear weapons, remove the plutonium and convert it to oxide powder. The other two would convert plutonium to MOX fuel for use in the Catawba Nuclear Station near York, South Carolina, the McGuire Station near Huntersville, North Carolina, and the North Anna Power Station near Mineral, Virginia.

"This decision sends a strong signal to the world that the U.S. is determined to reduce surplus weapons-grade plutonium as quickly and efficiently as possible to ensure that it cannot be used in weapons again," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said. But some environmentalists and nuclear activists have expressed concerns over the use of MOX fuel. Many believe it is too dangerous to burn MOX in commercial reactors that were not designed to use such fuel. Tom Clements, executive director of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, says his group and others plan to start a campaign to educate the public about the dangers of MOX.

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BEDFORD, New Hampshire, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley said Tuesday he would eliminate tax subsidies for natural resource consuming industries like mining and oil and gas drilling. The pledge was part of a comprehensive proposal to cut tax shelters and loopholes that Bradley says are costing the federal government about $12.4 billion a year. "When a tax break is created to help only a few people, or a company finds a way not to pay taxes, we all end up paying more," Bradley said. "If I am president, we will spend money wisely on the things that make the most difference for the greatest number of people, and we will end the influence of special interests in Washington." Former New Jersey Senator Bradley, who helped write a 1986 law closing some tax code loopholes for individuals, said he spent "an incredible amount of effort" on that legislation. "Then the tax shelter specialists moved to the corporate side," he said.

Closing loopholes, better enforcement of tax laws and more frequent corporate tax audits would increase tax revenues by some $100 billion over 10 years, Bradley said. "We're in this time of unprecedented economic growth, and yet corporate tax revenues have dropped in the past two years." If elected, Bradley would revive the Superfund tax on chemical companies, which expired in 1995. That $2 billion a year tax would raise $20 billion more over 10 years, to be added to a general fund whose purpose Bradley did not specify. Bradley also promised to increase fees for hard rock mining and livestock grazing on public lands.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - Actor Leonardo DiCaprio will serve as chairman for ‘EarthFair 2000’ to be held on the Mall in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2000. "As far back as I can remember, personally, environmental issues have always been of the utmost importance to me," says DiCaprio. "I think it's a great way for all of us seriously to focus on what I feel is an environmental emergency that we face in the millennium." Hosted by the Earth Day Network, EarthFair 2000 will include hundreds of presentations depicting the elements of a sustainable society, including exhibits powered by solar, wind, earth, water and people. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, and has grown to involve thousands of communities around the world in a wide range of events.

A solar-powered stage will feature entertainment and top musical acts from the U.S. and abroad. Energy technology pavilions will feature hands on activities and offer opportunities for direct action. The event organizers will recycle trash from the event, use only renewable energies, and demonstrate ways to hold a sustainable event. More than half a billion people around the world are expected to participate in Earth Day 2000 festivities, with large events planned in London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Seoul, Chicago, Beijing, Atlanta, Tel Aviv, Boston, Manila and San Diego. More than three thousand organizations from 167 countries have already announced plans for events. This is the first Earth Day to focus on a single issue - global warming.

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CORVALLIS, Oregon, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - A level of nitrogen based compounds considered safe for human drinking water is enough to kill some frogs. A new study at Oregon State University (OSU), published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, shows that several frog and toad species are susceptible to low levels of nitrate and nitrite exposure. Moderate levels of the pollutants, in amounts often found in agricultural areas as a result of crop fertilizers, caused reduced feeding activity, physical abnormalities, paralysis and death in some tadpoles and young frogs. "I think this is clearly a significant problem," said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at OSU and expert on global amphibian declines. "Right here in the Pacific Northwest we're having localized extinctions of some amphibians and widespread declines in others. We now have clear evidence that nitrate and nitrite exposure at levels considered safe for humans or fish is enough to kill amphibians."

The OSU scientists worked with five species of amphibians, including the Oregon spotted frog, red-legged frog, western toad, Pacific treefrog and northwestern salamander. In the past 40 years the Oregon spotted frog has disappeared from most of its known historical range in lowlands with intensive agricultural use. The Oregon spotted frog was the most sensitive to environmental levels of nitrates and nitrites - three to four times more vulnerable than red legged frogs and Pacific treefrogs. Levels of nitrite considered safe for human drinking water killed over half of the Oregon spotted frog tadpoles after 15 days of exposure. All five species showed a similar number of deaths at levels of nitrites that were higher, but still well below those that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe for warm water fishes. The study indicates that EPA water quality criteria does not guarantee the survival of some protected and endangered amphibians, the authors said.

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PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - Reversing a lower court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has reinstated the federal government’s lawsuit against Occidental Chemical Corp. over the cleanup of the Centre Country Kepone Superfund Site in State College, Pennsylvania. The appeals court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted within its legal authority when it ordered Occidental to participate in the cleanup plan in March 1997. The plan had been negotiated with Ruetgers-Nease Corp. The agency had named both companies as "potentially responsible parties" (PRPs) that may have contributed to the hazardous substances found at the site. The two companies and their corporate predecessors manufactured pesticides and other chemicals at the 32 acre site. The property was designated as a Superfund site in 1983, making it eligible for federal cleanup plans.

Writing for a unanimous three judge panel, Circuit Judge Walter Stapleton rejected Occidental’s argument that the Superfund law barred EPA from ordering non-settling parties to participate in a cleanup plan negotiated with other PRPs. The court ruled the law gives EPA the "unqualified, express authority" to take legal actions against non-settling PRPs. The case against Occidental now returns to U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for further action.

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OLYMPIA, Washington, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The Washington Board of Natural Resources voted 6-0 Tuesday to protect 25,000 roadless acres in the Loomis State Forest from logging. In compensation for lost logging revenues, the Board will accept $16.5 million from the Loomis Forest Fund, a coalition of over 70 groups working to protect the forest. The money will go towards a school construction trust fund. Under a groundbreaking 1998 agreement, the state agreed to delay logging to give environmentalists time to raise money to compensate the trust fund. The roadless old growth forest lands provide habitat for lynx, pine martins and moose.


It took $16.5 million, but 25,000 acres in Loomis State Forest are now protected from logging forever (Photo courtesy Loomis Forest Fund)

More than 5,000 people and businesses donated money to the fund over the past two years. The fund had an original deadline of July 1, 1999 to raise $13.1 million to preserve the 134,000 acres. But in October 1999, the natural resources board raised the price tag to $16.5 million, citing a new appraisal of the market value of the region’s timber. Frustrated conservationists were unsure whether they could raise the additional funds. Then, on October 20, Microsoft Corporation co-founder Paul Allen announced he would provide the $3.4 million needed to meet the Board’s new price. Philanthropist Allen has used some of the billions he made through the software giant to fund six foundations, including the Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation. In 1997, that foundation gave $3.75 million to the Nature Conservancy and Lummi Indian Nation to buy the 2,240 acre Arlecho Creek Forest, also in Washington state.

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ISELIN, New Jersey, January 5, 2000 (ENS) Starting this month, consumers will be able to buy a car designed to destroy smog as it is driven. Volvo's 2000 model S80 luxury sedans feature a special coating on their radiators. Called PremAir® and developed by Engelhard Corporation, the coating converts ozone in the air that passes over the radiator into oxygen. Ozone is the main component of smog and is linked to respiratory problems. Introduction of the smog eating car will be supported by print and television ad campaigns that emphasize the S80's unique feature with the tag line, "Its real luxury is leaving the world a little better for having gone through it."

Tests have shown that S80s equipped with PremAir convert as much as 75 percent of the ozone that flows through the radiator into oxygen. The hotter and more polluted the air is, the more efficient PremAir becomes. The purification effect on hot days with high ozone levels can outweigh the ozone generated from the emissions of a modern car with catalytic conversion, Volvo says. Volvo is the first company to commercialize the PremAir coating on cars. The radiator coating went into commercial production in December 1999 and the first S80s equipped with PremAir radiators are arriving in Volvo showrooms worldwide this month.

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CARLSBAD, California, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has released a draft recovery plan for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. The Peninsular bighorn was listed as an endangered species in March 1998, and has been protected by California since 1971. Peninsular bighorn sheep occur along about 500 miles of desert mountain ranges from the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains in California to the Volcan Tres Virgenes Mountains in Mexico. The sheep population in the U.S. has declined by about 76 percent since 1971, from about 1,170 to 335 individuals. The species no longer occurs in several historic locations.

Habitat loss, predation, and disturbance from recreational activities have contributed to the decline of the Peninsular bighorn throughout its range. Viral and bacterial diseases are also factors in the sharp decline of the species. The draft recovery plan aims to implement measures to protect habitat and lessen threats to bighorn sheep. It could lead to their eventual removal from the federal endangered species list. Comments on the plan are invited until February 14. To comment or to request copies of the draft recovery plan, contact: Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 2730 Loker Avenue West, Carlsbad, California 92008.

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SANTA FE, New Mexico, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - The Forest Conservation Council, a New Mexico based conservation group, has released a report outlining the economic and social benefits of preserving natural forests. The report, "The Economic Case Against National Forest Logging," written by John Talberth and Karyn Moskowitz, says national forests provide "ecosystem services" which have monetary values. These services include flood control, nutrient cycling, soil production, water purification, carbon sequestering, pollination and pest control. Forest products such as medicinal plants, edible mushrooms, and floral greens add more value, as do forest uses such as recreation, hunting, and fishing. Scenic, aesthetic and cultural values are important quality of life factors for forest dependent communities.

Natural resource economists have estimated that such ecosystem services contribute $4.7 trillion dollars each year to the global economy. In communities near national forests, the number of jobs and amount of income generated by ecosystem services far outweighs the jobs and income associated with logging, the report says. In Alaska, for example, jobs related to environmental quality outnumber logging jobs by 16:1. The U.S. Forest Service has access to models which permit the agency to quantify ecosystem service values. Yet in timber sale decisions, these services are ignored while the value of timber is exaggerated, the report notes. The report calls the agency’s failure to address ecosystem service values a violation of laws and regulations governing national forest management. For a copy of this report, contact John Talberth at Tel: 505-986-1163, or write to Forest Conservation Council, P.O. Box 22488, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87502.

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SANTA CRUZ, California, January 5, 2000 (ENS) - Thousands of elephant seals are returning from fall migrations for the winter birthing and breeding season at Año Nuevo, a major rookery for seals and sea lions 55 miles south of San Francisco. Sophisticated new satellite tracking technologies deployed by scientists at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) show how the animals spent their time at sea. The researchers, led by UCSC professors of biology Burney Le Boeuf and Dan Costa, have found striking differences between male and female elephant seals in their migration patterns and feeding strategies.

The team tracked the daily movements of 47 elephant seals for months at sea during foraging trips. Satellite tracking devices and data recorders attached to the 27 adult males and 20 adult females traced their migration routes and diving patterns with unprecedented accuracy. It appears that male and female elephant seals travel to different areas and feed on very different kinds of prey. Male elephant seals show consistency in their migrations, while females follow more variable routes, pursuing prey that move about in the open ocean. "We are able to monitor continuously the diving pattern of a seal, sea lion, or whale in minute detail for up to a year at sea, and we are learning unexpected things," Le Boeuf said. "Ironically, we now know more about behavior at sea than about some behaviors on land."