AmeriScan: January 10, 2000

2001 BUDGET TO INCLUDE $80 M FOR GREAT LAKES CLEANUP

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton plans to request $80 million to clean up the Great Lakes in his 2001 budget, the White House said. Vice President Al Gore will announce the details of the proposal today. The program would provide grants to state and local governments to help clean some of the most contaminated areas in the Great Lakes. The initiative targets 31 "areas of concern" identified in 1987 by an international commission involving experts from the U.S. and Canada. Twelve additional sites named by the commission are located in Canada, and would not receive funds under the Clinton plan.

Under the program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would provide $50 million in grants to state and local governments. These governments would propose specific projects and would be required to pay at least 40 percent of their cost, bringing the total expenditure to about $80 million. Eligible sites include areas where toxic contaminants, including PCBs, mercury, dioxin and DDT, have concentrated in bottom sediments. The pollution comes from industrial sites along the Lakesí harbors, and from agricultural runoff carrying pesticides. These sites pose a continuing risk, as the toxins can be ingested by fish and diving birds, and are spread around by dredging activities. The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the worldís fresh water, and are the primary drinking water source for most of the regionís 25 million American residents. Congress must decide whether to approve the funding, which will be proposed February 7 as part of Clintonís FY 2001 budget.

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ENERGY DEPARTMENT PLOUGHS $4.3 MILLION INTO BIOENERGY

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - A new Department of Energy (DOE) initiative will bring clean, green biomass energy and biomass based chemicals a step closer to the marketplace. Bioenergy uses natural sources such as corn, trees, crops, agricultural, forest and aquatic resources to make an array of commercial products, including fuels, electricity, chemicals, adhesives, lubricants and building materials. Replacing traditional electric power sources with bioenergy can prevent the release of millions of tons of greenhouse gases. The DOE will offer $4.3 million in grants to support the development of the bioenergy industry. "An integrated bioenergy industry will boost opportunities for American farmers, while enhancing our energy security and protecting the environment," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "Consumers will have a broader selection of products for purchase, while helping the environment."

Projects will be selected in either of two phases. The first phase would result in a laboratory scale demonstration of the proposed technology. The second would build prototype scale hardware and include a detailed design for a pilot scale facility. The awards will be cooperative agreements with a term of 12 months or longer. Grant proposals are due by March 7. Participants must share a minimum of 20 percent of their projectís cost. The DOE will provide $4.3 million for the award program. More information is available at: http://www.eren.doe.gov/golden/solicitations.html, and at: http://www.eren.doe.gov/bioenergy_initiative.

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WHITE HOUSE BACKS AWAY FROM CONTROVERSIAL AIRPORT PROPOSAL

NAPLES, Florida, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - The White House may be withdrawing its support for a proposal to build a new commercial airport on a strip of land between two national parks in Florida. For seven years, the administration has been deciding what to do with the former Homestead Air Force Base, which suffered heavy destruction from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and has never been reopened. The base lies between Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park, and many environmentalists have expressed concern that an expanded airport on the site could threaten the parksí wildlife and ecosystems.

Last week, the U.S. Air Force released a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public comment, which found the airport could be built if a number of steps were taken to reduce its impact on the parks. But important Clinton administration officials disagree. In a speech at the 15th Annual Conference of the Everglades Coalition in Naples on Friday, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said his agency "feels development of a commercial airport could seriously degrade both of these national parks, and remains deeply concerned over its potential adverse impacts to the surrounding pristine landscape." EPA administrator Carol Browner, also at the conference, said, "I don't want to see a commercial airport out there." Babbitt urged consideration of other alternatives that lead to "better development and more jobs at less environmental cost."

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WANTED: CALIFORNIA VOTERS WHO EAT

SONOMA, California, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - If Sonoma County organic farmer Robert Cannard has his way, California voters will soon have the opportunity to assert their right to know whether the foods they purchase contain genetically engineered ingredients. He is the author of a ballot initiative, dubbed "California Right to Know", which will require the labeling of genetically engineered foods at the retail level. The initiative is currently in circulation throughout the state.

Activists say there have been few regulatory restraints,labeling requirements or scientific studies conducted on the long term effects of genetic engineering on human or ecosystem health, other than those conducted by the biotechnology industry itself. Some scientists warn that current gene splicing techniques are crude, inexact and unpredictable. Regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are coming under increasing public pressure to exercise precaution to protect health and safety. The FDA is now being sued by a broad coalition of scientists, religious leaders, and health professionals over the issue of mandatory safety testing and labeling of genetically modified foods. Consumers are unable to choose not to buy engineered products, as current policies do not require labels on these products disclosing their engineered ingredients. Surveys show 74 percent to 91 percent of the American public supports such labeling. Given Californiaís position as the eighth largest economy in the world, supporters hope passage of this ballot initiative would move this issue to the forefront of U.S. public debate.

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12 MONTH PRISON SENTENCE FACES ASBESTOS VIOLATOR

FRESNO, California, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - A California man will spend a year in prison for asbestos violations of the Clean Air Act. Gus Serrano of Rialto was sentenced to one year in prison last week for knowingly violating the Act by illegally removing asbestos containing material from residential buildings at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, California. Serrano was the on site supervisor of a southern California asbestos abatement company, Asbestos Consulting Technicians Technology, which was removing asbestos under a federal government contract.

Serrano and others working at his direction violated numerous asbestos removal work practice standards in February 1997, including failing to wet the asbestos before removing it and failing to ensure that no visible emissions occurred. Inhaling asbestos fibers is a known cause of lung cancer, a lung disease known as asbestosis, and mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the chest and abdominal cavities. The case, settled by the in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Fresno, was investigated by EPAís Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Naval Investigative Service and was prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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TOXIC ALGAE BLOOM KILLED 400 SEA LIONS IN 1998

MOSS LANDING, California, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - New molecular probes used to identify toxic algae have allowed researchers to link an algae bloom to the deaths of more than 400 California sea lions. The marine mammals died in Monterey Bay, California during May and June 1998. Dr. Christopher Scholin, a molecular biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), and colleagues report their results in the January 6 issue of the journal "Nature." Large growths of ocean algae can produce toxic byproducts, which can cause public health threats and close fisheries. But the connection between algal blooms and marine mammal deaths has been difficult to establish. Traditional techniques that uncover the toxic algae work after a bloom has occurred and may miss some blooms.

algae

The toxic algae species Pseudo-nitzschia australis glows when labeled by a radioactive tag (Photo courtesy MBARI)

In this study, the bloom of the algae Pseudo-nitzschia australis and its toxin was first seen in plankton samples using DNA probe tests developed by MBARI and a toxin test developed by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationís Marine Biotoxin Research Program. Dr. Scholin said, "Our early alert and collaboration with marine mammal scientists and public health officials helped us collect the data needed to connect the sea lion deaths with the bloom." The researchers found the algae toxin in anchovies in Monterey Bay, a favorit food for the sea lions. The toxin was also present in the dead sea lions, and their brains showed damage consistent with exposure to the toxin.

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HOW TO SPEND A $5.2 M OIL SPILL SETTLEMENT

LACEY, Washington, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - More than nine years after an oil spill off the westernmost point of the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has released a revised draft plan to complete cleanup of the spill. Natural resource trustees, including the USFWS, the state of Washington and the Makah Indian Tribe, have been working on the assessment and restoration plan for years. In 1991 the Japanese fishing vessel Tenyo Maru sank about 20 miles northwest of Cape Flattery in July of 1991 after a collision with the Chinese freighter Tuo Hai. A spill of mroe than 100,000 gallons of oil fouled beaches from Vancouver, British Columbia, to northern Oregon with the heaviest oiling occurring along beaches on the Makah Indian Reservation and Olympic National Park. The spill killed thousands of seabirds and fouled kelp beds - important to sea otters, salmon and other marine life - along much of Washington's coast.

Claims for natural resource damages were settled by consent decree under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, resulting in a payment of about $5.2 million to federal, state, and tribal authorities. The new plan suggests alternatives to restore, rehabilitate or replace the equivalent of resources injured by the spill using that money. The plan emphasizes restoring seabirds, since they were documented as suffering the most injury from the spill. The plan is available at: http://www.r1.fws.gov and http://www.darcnw.noaa.gov/tenyo.htm. Public comments will be accepted until February 7.

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ALASKA MAKES CLEANUPS EASIER

JUNEAU, Alaska, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has expanded its eligibility requirements for cleanup of some contaminated sites. The Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP), Contaminated Sites Remediation Program is a way for DEC to guide owners or potential owners on cleanup of low and medium risk contaminated sites. "This is a way to get sites cleaned up quicker, for less money, and allows DEC to focus its resources on high risk sites while still helping people with lower risk sites. DECís process can now be used at all low and medium priority sites including those with metals and limited groundwater contamination," said project manager Anne Marie Palmieri. "We are hoping this will enable property owners and buyers to speed up the sales process for moderately contaminated property."

Since the VCP pilot program began in June 1996 there have been 73 applications, with 66 approvals and 20 site closures to date. These sites included leaking residential non-regulated heating oil tanks and U.S. Coast Guard lighthouses. DEC has developed a guidance manual to ensure that cleanups are protective of human health and the environment. The VCP manual and related information are available at: www.state.ak.us/dec/dspar/csites/index.htm

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WEST VIRGINIA COAL COMPANIES FINED FOR MINE RUNOFF

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - The EPA has cited three West Virginia coal companies for unlawful discharges of "blackwater," a mixture of fine coal dust and water, into tributaries of the Kanawha River. In separate Clean Water Act complaints, EPA seeks a $33,000 penalty against Catenary Coal Co.; $22,000 against Elk Run Coal Co.; and $11,000 against Goals Coal Co. "Mine runoff with high concentrations of solids and minerals can literally choke a waterway. Blackwater pollution kills aquatic life and ruins the natural beauty of these streams and rivers. West Virginia and EPA are committed to take appropriate legal actions to fight this pollution," said EPA regional administrator Bradley Campbell.

Catenary operates the Campbells Creek Complex, a coal processing complex in Eskdale. According to EPA's complaint, this facility discharged blackwater into the Pointlick Fork of Campbells Creek on January 8, February 23-24, and April 28, 1999. Elk Run owns a coal processing plant, deep mine, refuse area and ash disposal site in Sylvester. The company was cited for permit violations on February 12, 1999, when a damaged culvert pipe discharged about 1,500 gallons of blackwater into Little Elk Creek, and on March 3, 1999, when a blackwater discharge discolored some 2,200 feet of the creek. Goals owns a coal mine, refuse disposal area and coal preparation plant in Naoma. EPA alleges that the company discharged blackwater into the Big Coal River on February 23, 1999. This discharge was caused by an overflow of coal refuse slurry from the facility's coal washing operation.

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SANDHILL CRANE WATCHING IN TENNESSEE

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee, January 10, 2000 (ENS) - The Eighth Annual Cherokee Indian Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing Days event is set for February 5-6 at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's (TWRA) Hiwassee Refuge and the nearby Birchwood School. Last year, more than 6,000 visitors observed the 35,000 sandhill cranes that passed through the area on their annual migration south, and enjoyed the guest speakers, displays, and related vendors at the Birchwood School. The event, which is free to the public, will feature programs and displays all day on Saturday, February 5, in the Birchwood School and crane viewing on both days at the Hiwassee Refuge.

Dr. George Archibald will present a talk on "The Status of Migratory Populations of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes." Archibald is an international authority on cranes and serves as the Director of the International Crane Foundation at Baraboo, Wisconsin. Programs will also be presented on restoring the river otter to the area, Tennessee's Golden Eagle reintroduction project, a report on the nearby Cherokee Memorial, the Smith Bend Campaign for wildlife, and recent excavations of two prehistoric house sites on Hiwassee Island. Personnel from the TWRA, Tennessee Aquarium, and members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society will be present at the Hiwassee Refuge's new observation facility with telescopes to assist visitors in viewing the thousands of cranes, bald and golden eagles. Principal funding is being provided by Chattanooga's Wildbirds Unlimited. For more information, call Ken Dubke at 423-499-3584.