AmeriScan: January 6, 2000

FLORIDA COURT RULES OIL COMPANIES CAN BE SUED

GAINESVILLE, Florida, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - A federal appeals court in Florida has ruled that oil companies can be held responsible for cleaning up leaks from underground storage tanks. The court found that federal laws that hold polluting parties responsible for cleanup costs override a Florida state law that requires taxpayers to foot cleanup bills, and protects corporations from lawsuits. A Gainesville couple, Steve and Patrice Boyes, had sued Shell Oil and Tenneco Oil to force the companies to clean up gasoline from two leaky storage tanks that had spread beneath the couple’s land. Shell's gas station spilled 4,600 gallons of petroleum in the 1970s, and Tenneco spilled thousands more at its site in the 1980s. The contamination spread in an underground plume covering some 15 acres.

Last October, U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul dismissed the lawsuit, saying a 1995 state law protected companies from such lawsuits. The law was written after evidence of serious abuses forced the overhaul of the state’s cleanup program, some $200 million in debt by 1995. The backlogged program might have gotten to the Gainesville sites by 2012. On Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal hazardous waste laws take precedence over the state law, and that "the Florida law is an obstacle to the accomplishment" of the federal law's intent. The ruling opens the door to more lawsuits. There are about 16,000 leaking underground tanks across Florida, whose owners could now face similar suits.

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VOLUNTARY GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSION REDUCTIONS TRIPLE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - More than 1,500 voluntary projects to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases are making a major contribution to U.S. efforts to avoid an impact on climate change and global warming. In 1998, 187 companies and other organizations across the U.S. were able to avoid the equivalent of 212 million tons of carbon emissions, almost three times the 74 million tons of reductions reported in 1994. That was the first year of a voluntary reporting program called for by the 1992 U.S. Energy Policy Act. The avoided carbon is 3.2 percent of all domestic emissions for 1998, says the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its new report, "Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases 1998." EIA is the independent statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

More than half the participants in the program are from the electric power sector. Projects at almost all large generating utilities include the use of renewable and nuclear energies, improved plant efficiencies, cogeneration and management programs that reduce consumer power consumption. Other facilities offset emissions through methane recovery projects at landfill sites and tree planting projects. More than six times as many non-electric industry companies participated in 1998 as in 1994. These companies, representing 44 percent of program participants, are engaged in automobile manufacturing, petroleum production and refining, coal mining, chemicals and metals, health care and pharmaceuticals, food, home furnishings and electronic equipment. The Voluntary Reporting Program is part of government efforts to develop low-cost and non-regulatory approaches to limit emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

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VIOLENT WTO PROTESTS OVERSHADOWED MAINSTREAM ENVIRO MESSAGE

WASHINGTON, DC, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - Mark Van Putten, president of the four million member National Wildlife Federation, says a small number of violent protesters at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle last month overshadowed the message carried by major environmental groups, who had planned their peaceful and legal protests for months and did not participate in the violent street demonstrations. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Wednesday, Van Putten said violent protests hurt the cause of environmentalists. "When I turned on the TV at night, I didn't see tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators calling for better environmental protections," Van Putten said. "I saw people in masks breaking windows."

Van Putten said the WTO and world leaders should learn lessons from the disruptions in Seattle. "The old, exclusive and secretive deal making process must give way" to a more inclusive and democratic process. The clock can never be turned back to a time when the environmental and other goals of citizens from democracies across the world could be excluded from trade policy," Van Putten said. Trade leaders will not be able to meet and make decisions without including environmental representatives, he said. "Those who want trade to go forward will have to make peace with environmental and other goals that are necessary to achieving the public interest. Trade policy must accommodate environmental values. We will insist on it."

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WOLF AT THE FARM BUREAU’S DOOR

HOUSTON, Texas, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - On Monday, January 10, the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife will bring a wolf to the door of the American Farm Bureau Federation of America. The group will challenge the Farm Bureau to drop its lawsuit against the reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone National Park, and to "stop using endangered species as scapegoats for the real problems of farmers." At the Farm Bureau's annual national convention, being held in Houston from January 8 to 12, Defenders will call on the Farm Bureau and its president, Dean Kleckner, to withdraw the lawsuit, now in appeals. If the Farm Bureau prevails more than 2000 wolves that live in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho could be removed and slaughtered. Defenders will bring Rami, an ambassador wolf from Mission:Wolf, a Colorado-based wolf refuge and education center, to demonstrate the reserved and shy nature of wolves.

"Rami symbolizes the growing movement among environmentalists, ranchers, and farmers to work together to preserve all of creation," says Defenders president Rodger Schlickeisen. "We firmly believe that most Farm Bureau members are good stewards of the land and realize the importance of keeping ecosystems intact. We don't think the leadership of the Farm Bureau is representing its membership in its quest to have these animals killed. Furthermore, Defenders will not let the same fate that met the Yellowstone wolves last century happen again in this new one." Defenders financially compensates farmers and ranchers for the depradations of wolves.

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EASEMENT PRESERVES VANISHING SOUTH CAROLINA HABITAT

KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - A permanent conservation easement will now protect Little Bear Island, considered one of the most environmentally significant undeveloped islands along the Atlantic coast. Much of this land at the eastern tip of Kiawah Island was slated to be developed into 18 homesites, each with prime oceanfront views. "This may be one of the most important conservation easements ever granted in the U.S.," said Stephen Small, a nationally recognized attorney who was instrumental in drafting the easement. "Little Bear is one of the more critically situated conservation easements we will likely ever hold on Atlantic Ocean coastal property," said R.K. "Kenny" Williams, regional biologist for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. Wetlands America Trust Inc., which now holds title to the conservation easement, is an affiliate of Ducks Unlimited.

"Little Bear Island is an important example of an increasingly rare maritime habitat," said Dana Beach, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. "One of the most extraordinary species of birds in North America, the painted bunting, nests almost exclusively in these types of settings." "By the transfer of this jewel of a sea island into a special trust and with the conveyance of today's conservation easement, the charm and character of Little Bear Island will be memorialized and protected," said Charles "Buddy" Darby, chief executive officer of KRA, L.P., former owner of the land now under easement. "We've been awfully fortunate over the years on Kiawah, and preserving the entire eastern tip of Kiawah for our community has always seemed like the right thing to do."

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BALD EAGLE COUNTS SHOW CONTINUING RECOVERY

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - 'Tis the season for counting wintering bald eagles. The annual Massachusetts Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey will be held Friday from 9 am to 3 pm. Eaglewatchers across the state will record observations of wintering eagles, coordinated by state ornithologist and eagle project leader Brad Blodget. Last year, 66 bald eagles were counted at nine Massachusetts wintering areas from the Housatonic River to Plymouth. A nationwide total of 16,656 wintering bald eagles was recorded in January 1999, up from about 1,000 in the 1960s. Massachusetts survey teams focus on local wintering areas with open water where eagles congregate for access to fish, waterfowl and waterbirds, the staples of their winter diet. As the eagle population continues to rise, additional water bodies are being used by wintering eagles and are added to Blodget's coverage list.

bald eagle

Bald eagles are recovering so well that in 1995, they were downlisted from endangered to threatened (Photo by Robert Fields, courtesy USFWS)

The Massachusetts Electric System has donated a helicopter and crew to help survey Quabbin Reservoir and the Connecticut River. The utility company will incorporate a shoreline flight of the Reservoir and River with regular inspection flights of transmission lines and right of ways in the region. Mass Electric has supported bald eagle conservation work in the state since 1982. Volunteers from the Metropolitan District Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Society and others will assist in the survey. To report eagle sightings or volunteer to check a local river or lake, contact Brad Blodget Tel: 508-792-7270 x152; Email: Brad.Blodget@state.ma.us

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WISCONSIN HAS A VOICE IN FOREST CONSERVATION

MADISON, Wisconsin, January 6, 2000 (ENS) ­ Wisconsin forestry officials are asking the public to help draw up guidelines for a federally funded program that will protect some forest lands from development. The Forest Legacy Program provides grants to states to purchase private forest lands, and to obtain permanent conservation easements on such land. Wisconsin would be the 18th state to establish eligibility for this program. As part of the program application process, states must prepare a plan that identifies environmentally important forests that are threatened by development. "We’re asking the public to help us draw up the criteria that would go into the plan," said Linda DePaul, Department of Natural Resources forester.

In addition to maintaining large blocks of forested land, Forest Legacy seeks to protect water quality, rare plant communities, areas of scenic or historical value and critical wildlife habitat. "We want to complete Wisconsin’s assessment by August 2000," DePaul said. "States are allowed to draw-up their own guidelines based on a combination of public input and that of our professional foresters. For the plan we must develop criteria for what lands can be enrolled, what types of access or recreation would be required or allowed on enrolled lands, and size requirements. How Wisconsin sets up its program is up to the citizens of Wisconsin." To offer input, contact DePaul, Forest Legacy, Wisconsin DNR, PO Box 7921, 101 S. Webster, Madison, 53707; Tel: 608-266-2388; Email: depaul@dnr.state.wi.us.

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RHODE ISLAND YOUNG CORPS GETS MONEY FOR CLEANUPS

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is offering up to $165,000 in grants to communities and nonprofit groups for cleanup and conservation programs. DEM director Jan Reitsma said the grants are available through DEM's OSCAR program (Ocean State Cleanup and Recycling). Each award winner will receive up to $5,637 to employ high school students as well as people with disabilities in the Youth Litter and Conservation Corps (YLCC), formerly known as the Youth Litter Corps. YLCC Clean Teams will continue to perform cleanups on roadsides and in other public places within their communities, but up to half their time will be spent on other conservation and environmental projects.

"The Youth Litter and Conservation Corps has been one of DEM's most successful programs since it began in 1985," said Reitsma. "Thousands of young people and people with disabilities have worked to clean up their communities. This year we're revamping the Corps. The communities and agencies we've funded have told us they want the opportunity for the Clean Teams to do more than pick up trash, although that's very important. From now on, we're encouraging them to take on a wider variety of activities. But the focus will continue to be on young people working to improve their communities and to learn about the environment." Grant applications must be received by January 28. Contact: DEM's Eileen Marino, Tel: 222-3434 ext. 4435, or (in-state only) at 1-800-CLEAN-RI; Email: emarino@doa.state.ri.us

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MIDWEST TIMBER FINED FOR HAZARDOUS WASTE VIOLATIONS

LANSING, Michigan, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has negotiated a settlement with Midwest Timber Inc. resolving alleged hazardous waste storage and disposal violations at the company’s Edwardsburg facility. Midwest Timber will pay $120,000 in penalties and reimburse the DEQ for $12,400 in enforcement costs. Midwest Timber also has agreed to perform supplemental environmental projects worth at least $800,000. The supplemental environmental projects will help to prevent pollution at the Edwardsburg plant by reducing the amount of contaminated runoff from treated timber that reaches soils and groundwater.

The settlement also requires that Midwest Timber perform a study to determine the location and extent of contamination at the facility, ensure that its operations conform to state and federal law, and begin cleaning up the facility. "This agreement demonstrates the success of DEQ’s enforcement program and Michigan’s commitment to properly oversee hazardous waste facilities," said DEQ director Russell Harding. "We appreciate Midwest Timber’s willingness to resolve these issues and will work with the company to ensure that the proper corrective action is taken."

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NO MORE "MAN BITES DOG" IN NEW JERSEY

TRENTON, New Jersey, January 6, 2000 (ENS) - New Jersey is a dog’s best friend - and a cat’s, too. Governor Christie Whitman signed legislation Tuesday that forbids the sale of dog or cat fur, or products made from this fur. The law also prohibits the sale of domestic dog or cat flesh for human consumption. "Coming from a family of animal lovers, I can't imagine that we would even have needed a bill to protect our dogs and cats from such cruelty," said Whitman. "When I became aware of the fact that there were dog and cat fur products on the market, it was something I wanted to stop here in New Jersey. As I often say, I want to continue making our state the best place to live for our many faces - but one family - of New Jersey. My mission also applies to our beloved ‘four-legged’ friends."

Whitman said the bill was introduced following a television report on "Dateline" covering an investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS). The report showed that some two million dogs and cats are killed each year as part of an extensive international trade of dog and cat fur, used to make clothing, toys and other products. It also found cruel methods were used to kill these animals. Dogs and cats are defined as those animals recognized in the U.S. as household pets, excluding wild canines and felines such as coyotes, foxes, lynx or bobcats. The bill was sponsored by Senators Edward O'Connor, a Democrat, and William Gormley, a Republican. The HSUS report is available online at: http://www.hsus.org/bandogcatfur/index.html