AmeriScan: January 19, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - Vice President Al Gore announced today that the White House's fiscal year 2001 budget will propose $30 million - double this year's funding - to protect and restore wetlands. Gore said the administration will request a $15 million increase for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, a popular and effective wetlands conservation program, which has protected 3.2 million acres of wildlife habitat in the United States. Last year, the administration proposed and secured $15 million for the North American program in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget. The Fund protects wetlands through voluntary partnerships with state and local governments, farmers and other private landowners, Indian tribes and nonprofit conservation groups.

"America's wildlife and wetlands are part of our heritage. We are committed to expanding voluntary partnerships to protect wetlands and wildlife and increase opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, bird watching and other activities," said Gore. "The administration's proposal to double the funding for North American wetlands protection is a major new commitment to leverage funding to protect key wetlands across the country." Established by Congress in 1989, the North American wetlands program is authorized by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) "to conserve wetland ecosystems and waterfowl and the other migratory birds and fish and wildlife that depend upon such habitats." In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed NAWCA re-authorizing legislation that raised the annual funding authorization from $15 million to $30 million. Because the Fund requires one to one matching funds from its voluntary partners, a total of $60 million could be spent on wetlands protection in 2001, if Congress approves the White House proposal.

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RIO RANCHO, New Mexico, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - Sparton Technology, Inc., an electronics manufacturing firm, will clean up soil and groundwater contamination around its Rio Rancho facility near Albuquerque, New Mexico under a settlement filed Tuesday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Michigan based company must also pay $1 million to the New Mexico Natural Resources Trustee for damage to natural resources. In addition the company will pay a $293,500 fine to the U.S. federal government for failing to meet deadlines on a 1998 cleanup order, and $200,000 in legal costs to the State of New Mexico and the City of Albuquerque. "This settlement will protect drinking water for the City of Albuquerque," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "The comprehensive cleanup requirements and civil penalty embodied in this settlement demonstrate our commitment to ensure that polluters take responsibility for the problems they create."

The Sparton plant produces electronic components for the computer, communications, industrial, transportation, avionics/military, and gaming markets which generated hazardous metal plating and solvent wastes. The pollution - including two probable human carcinogens, trichloroethylene and trichloroethane - seeped into the soil and groundwater in amounts greater than federal drinking water standards and state groundwater standards allow. It fouled the sole source of drinking water for the city of Albuquerque. Last July, EPA and the state of New Mexico applied to have the aquifer listed as a Superfund Site which would provide federal funds for cleanup. Sparton must now install a groundwater recovery system to halt the flow of contaminants. The company will also use a soil vapor extraction system to remove pollutants from contaminated soils. If these systems prove inadequate, Sparton must develop alternative strategies, subject to approval by EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department. A counterclaim by Sparton against the EPA was dismissed by the court.

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BOWIE, Maryland, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - One of the world's most powerful supercomputers is now generating faster and more precise predictions of the atmosphere, resulting in more accurate forecasts for every city in the nation. This new supercomputer is five times - and eventually will be 28 times - faster than its predecessor, which allows NOAA's National Weather Service to improve the accuracy of local and national forecasts and warning lead times for dangerous severe weather. "This new supercomputer puts us closer to reaching our goal of becoming America's no surprise weather service," said National Weather Service director John Kelly Jr. "This gives our forecasters more sophisticated models of the atmosphere and oceans, which act as blueprints for upcoming weather patterns. On a daily basis, we should see a 10 percent improvement in predicting temperatures, humidity and pinpointing when, where and how much rainfall will occur."

The new supercomputer, known as a 786 processor IBM System Parallel, processes data at a speed of 690 billion instructions per second. When upgraded in September with even more advanced technology and additional processors, the supercomputer will process weather data at a speed of 2.5 trillion instructions per second. This final upgrade will provide higher resolution weather forecast models. The supercomputer is located at the Commerce Department's Census Bowie Computer Center in Bowie. "With even more computational power of the new supercomputer, the National Weather Service will only add to the forecast successes from the last century by saving more lives and protecting property," Kelly said.

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - By the year 2100, the city of New Orleans may be underwater. "With the projected rate of subsidence (the natural sinking of land), wetland loss and sea level rise, New Orleans will likely be on the verge of extinction by this time next century," said Dr. Chip Groat, director of the U.S. Geological Survey. "We have the greatest coastal land loss problem in North America. This is more than a serious problem ... it's a catastrophic one. We're living on the verge of a coastal collapse," warns University of New Orleans (UNO) coastal geologist Dr. Shea Penland.

About 40 percent of all coastal wetlands in the U.S. are located in Louisiana, and 80 percent of all wetland loss in the nation occurs in that state. From 1930 to 1990, the Mississippi River Delta lost more than 1,000 square miles of land to the sea. Over the last 50 years, land loss rates accelerated. The current rate is about 25 square miles - or 16,000 acres of wetlands a year. Coastal Louisiana is predicted to lose more than 10,000 acres a year for the foreseeable future. New Orleans is sinking three feet per century - eight times faster than the worldwide rate of 0.4 feet per century. On average, New Orleans is now eight feet below sea level. Without appropriate restoration efforts and work to combat global warming, Louisiana faces the deterioration of the Mississippi River Delta - the largest and most economically profitable in the nation - and the possible collapse of the entire ecosystem. But Penland and other researchers have shown that the coastal ecosystem, while damaged, is intact enough for restoration efforts to succeed in managing the problem. Their work is included in the Coast 2050 - a new multi-agency, $14 billion restoration report/plan for coastal Louisiana.

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DENVER, Colorado, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - A dozen federal and Colorado state agencies have signed an agreement for managing and conserving black-tailed prairie dogs. Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) executive director Greg Walcher said, "This Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reflects the State of Colorado's commitment to adopt a comprehensive, pro-active approach toward species and habitat conservation in partnership with the federal government and in ways that recognize the importance of involving private landowners as valued participants in the effort." The purpose of the agreement is to "develop and implement a program that achieves conservation of the black-tailed prairie dog in Colorado while recognizing that control is necessary and appropriate in areas where prairie dogs conflict with agriculture and other human activities." The state is hoping to avoid a listing for black tailed prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act.

The agencies will establish a Prairie Dog Management Work Group to develop a workplan within 120 days after the last signature is placed on the MOU. The group will have three years to implement the plan with the option of extending the agreement. "The agreement recognizes that long term viability of the black-tailed prairie dog in Colorado is an important goal, not only for the prairie dogs themselves, but also for other species that are dependent upon the species or share the same habitat," Walcher said. "At the same time, the agreement is sensitive to the conflicts that do and will continue to occur between prairie dogs and human activities, such as agriculture. The agreement provides for developing voluntary, incentive-based approaches to engage private landowners in the conservation effort."

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PRINCETON, Indiana, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has approved Indiana's first Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), to protect the endangered least tern. The plan was developed by Cinergy Corp. for the Gibson Generating Station near Princeton. Cinergy can continue to operate the station while providing protection for a nesting colony of the federally endangered birds on Cinergy property. "When endangered least terns began nesting at Gibson Station, we were concerned that the Endangered Species Act might limit or impact our ability to generate and deliver power from our largest generating station," said Tim Hayes, senior environmental scientist at Cinergy. "However, through close cooperation with the USFWS and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, we have developed this HCP which will protect and enhance tern populations while allowing us to continue providing power to our customers."

With approval of the HCP, the USFWS issued an incidental take permit to Cinergy, protecting the company from potential penalties in cases of accidental injury to terns on its property. "Cinergy has for years voluntarily undertaken extra responsibility to safeguard the future of Indiana's only nesting colony of least terns, and the HCP will help them continue that work," said William Hartwig of USFWS.

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DENVER, Colorado, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - The Colorado Wildlife Commission has approved the release of 50 more Canadian lynx into Colorado later this year. The 6-2 vote allows the state Division of Wildlife to continue with the lynx recovery program begun last year. The first shipment of lynx arrived last weekend from British Columbia, Canada and will be released in southwest Colorado this April and May. "We’ve learned a great deal in the first year and we will build on that knowledge as we continue with the recovery effort," said Rick Kahn, a Division biologist. "We feel the high percentage of females in the 14 lynx that have settled down into fairly routine patterns gives us a reasonable expectation of breeding in Colorado this spring. We need to continue with releases this spring if we are to have any confidence that they will establish breeding populations over the next five to ten years."

Kahn said the animals will be kept in the holding facility until they are in prime condition, then released in early spring when prey species are abundant. Ground monitoring conducted over the past month has confirmed that lynx are preying on snowshoe hares, pine squirrels, jackrabbits and cottontails. Last year, four of the first five lynx released starved because they were not in good enough physical condition. Division biologists changed the release protocols to hold lynx at least three weeks. Eight lynx released last March all adapted well and none starved. Another 29 animals released in May also adapted well to their new habitat. Last week, the USFWS postponed for a third time a decision on whether to protect lynx under the Endangered Species Act.

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SACRAMENTO, California, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has proposed regulations that will impose mandatory, statewide rules on the use of the toxic fumigant methyl bromide. The regulations include several new restrictions that will expand the nation's most comprehensive program for regulating the common fumigant which has been shown to destroy the ozone layer. The proposed regulations will ban use of the chemical when children are in school, establish minimum buffer zones around application sites, and set new limits on work hours for fumigation employees. The regulations would also require that neighbors be notified of a farmer's request to use methyl bromide, and establish the right for those neighbors to be later notified of the fumigation schedule. DPR will hold three public hearings on the regulations in March.

"This is the culmination of a years-long process of data gathering and analysis," said DPR director Paul Helliker. "Methyl bromide, because of concerns about its toxicity, has been subject to increasingly tight restrictions by DPR since 1992, in the form of discretionary controls set at the county level. However, with new data on risks and exposure, we now have the solid scientific basis the law requires for statewide environmental regulations." But some environmental groups say the proposed regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. "We're very disappointed that the governor has chosen a path that will protect methyl bromide use and not the people that it's poisoning," said Gregg Small, executive director of the nonprofit group Pesticide Watch.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is seeking comment on the impact on seals and sea lions of a California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) proposal for modification of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. CALTRANS is in the planning stages of the East Span Seismic Safety Project for the Oakland Bay Bridge, which would involve driving large piles into the Bay bottom. One of the hammers that would be used is larger than any pile driving hammer used before in San Francisco Bay. Due to the untested nature of these hammers in the Bay, a pile installation demonstration is needed to determine whether Pacific harbor seals and California sea lions may be disturbed.

The demonstration project will allow CALTRANS to measure resulting sound pressure levels, both in air and under water, record possible impacts to marine mammals, and experiment with measures to reduce potential harm to marine mammals. As the demonstration project could result in disturbance of seals and sea lions in the vicinity of the test, CALTRANS has applied for an incidental harassment authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NMFS says the demonstration will not cause more than incidental harassment of small numbers of harbor seals and California sea lions, and would have a negligible impact on these species. Comments can be sent through February 7 to: Donna Wieting, Chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. Copies of the application are available from the same office.

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ST. LOUIS, Missouri, January 19, 2000 (ENS) - A new measurement of the total particulate matter emissions a vehicle makes per mile (ppvm) traveled shows that rural vehicles emit more pollutant per mile traveled than urban ones. The ppvm measurement may impact future air pollution measures and standards nationwide, says Jay Turner, assistant professor of chemical engineering and civil engineering at Washington University and director of the university's Air Quality Laboratory. Turner studied vehicle emissions in the St. Louis region, measuring particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter - the size range for a standard issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1997. Results from an urban interstate site and a nearby rural Illinois site that Turner surveyed indicate that an average urban vehicle emits between 30 to 40 milligrams of particulate matter per mile traveled. An average rural vehicle emits between 200 to 300 milligrams ppvm traveled.

"We think there is much more heavy diesel traffic outside the city and there are greater road dust emissions in rural areas because of the proximity to open land, and those account for higher rural readings," Turner explains. Road dust includes the dirt a vehicle stirs up as it moves along the road, as well as the suspended fine particulate matter created from tail pipe emissions. Upper respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases such as arrhythmia, and cancer are being linked to these substances. The acidity of the dust, its heavy metal composition and the volume of minuscule particles suspended in the air make automobile particulate matter air pollution a potential public health threat.