AmeriScan: January 21, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - In part to develop cleaner sources of energy and study the complexity of ecosystem interactions, President Bill Clinton said today he will include a $2.8 billion increase in the "Twenty-First Century Research Fund" in his fiscal year 2001 budget. The funding would include a $675 million (17 percent) increase over current funding levels for the National Science Foundation (NSF). If Congress approves this investment, it would double the largest dollar increase ever for the NSF, and NSF funding will have increased by 66 percent since Clinton took office. Clinton wants researchers to tackle cleaner energy for a cleaner environment. "Research can help America create cleaner sources of energy and energy efficient technologies, such as fuel cells that emit only water, cars that get 80 miles per gallon, and bioenergy derived from new cash crops," the White House said.

A major new goal for the increased NSF funding would be studying biocomplexity in the environment, the White House said. Understanding biocomplexity - the dynamic interactions among the Earth's living and physical systems - could contribute to improved environmental stewardship and will promote innovation in biotechnology and public health. The proposal includes a new $497 million National Nanotechnology Initiative. Nanotechnology - the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules - could lead to the creation of materials and products directly from molecular components, requiring less material and producing less pollution. Other possibilities are techniques to remove the finest contaminants from water and air, and doubling the energy efficiency of solar cells.

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PIERRE, South Dakota, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - Wet potholes in the prairies are not just holes in the ground to migrating waterbirds - they are temporary homes. Environmental groups who appreciate this fact have forced the federal government to withdraw new criteria that would have withdrawn wetlands protection for the potholes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said Thursday that the government has settled a lawsuit challenges to wetland determinations in South Dakota. The National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups filed the suit in South Dakota last year challenging the way the wetland conservation provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985 were being implemented by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). On May 13, NRCS ordered its South Dakota field offices to change the criteria for identifying prairie wetlands. The new criteria would overlook protection for thousands of seasonal and temporary wetlands, the environmental groups said. "Our state's prairie potholes are absolutely essential migratory waterfowl habitat," said Chris Hesla, Executive Director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, NWF's state affiliate. "Lose that habitat and you lose the ducks and other waterfowl that depend on it."

Under the terms of the settlement, the NRCS has withdrawn the May 13 memorandum, except for the portion requiring onsite wetland determinations upon request. "The key issue all along has been to protect wetlands in compliance with the law while also ensuring that farmers are treated fairly and can rely on the accuracy of the technical information we provide to them," said Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment James Lyons. "We believe a settlement is in the best interest of everyone concerned in order to resolve this issue in a timely manner," said Lyons. A summary of the settlement agreement is available at:

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BOISE, Idaho, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - Idaho urbanites may have an opportunity to spot wolves close to home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is working to confirm recent reports of wolf sightings along the Boise Front. Roy Heberger, assistant field supervisor of the USFWS’s Snake River Basin Office, says his office has received several unconfirmed sightings just outside the city limits north of Boise, east of town and south of Horseshoe Bend. "The peak of wolf dispersal in the central Idaho and Yellowstone Recovery Areas is midwinter. Given that we have received wolf sighting reports this year where none existed before, we believe that it is likely that wolves are in the area," Heberger said. The wide dispersal of gray wolves shows the success of wolf recovery efforts in Idaho. The gray wolf population has increased from 35 wolves in 1996 to over 100 wolves in 1999.

The USFWS is asking the public to report any sightings. "We encourage anyone to report possible wolf sightings or signs of wolf to us immediately. This can be one of the most economical and effective ways to obtain information about Idaho's expanding wolf population," said Heberger. Public reports of wolf sightings can help the USFWS locate individual wolves and packs, as only one third of the wolves are radio collared. Upcoming flights over the Boise-Mountain Home-northeastern Oregon areas may reveal radio signals, but the agency may not be able to verify whether the public’s reported sightings are dogs, coyotes, wolf-dog hybrids or wolves. To report sightings, call the USFWS at 208-378-5243 or the Nez Perce Tribe at 208-634-1061.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set records in 1999 for enforcement actions and penalties. The agency ordered $3.6 billion in environmental cleanups, pollution control equipment and improved monitoring, an 80 percent increase over 1998; $166.7 million in civil penalties, 60 percent higher than 1998; and 3,935 civil judicial and administrative actions, the highest in the last three years. Criminal defendants were sentenced to a record 208 years of prison time for committing environmental crimes. "The Clinton/Gore Administration is committed to ensuring that industrial polluters pay the price for disregarding America's environmental laws and jeopardizing the public's health," said EPA Administrator Carol Browner. "This year's enforcement statistics again send a strong signal that we will unfailingly take action against those who illegally pollute the environment of our country."

The EPA pointed to one case as setting the tone for environmental enforcement: the largest Clean Air Act case in history. The case was settled against seven diesel engine manufacturers whose products were alleged by the government to have caused millions of tons of excess emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX), a contributor to smog. Under the settlement, the companies will spend over $800 million on producing cleaner engines and pay an $83 million penalty. Future NOX emissions will be reduced by more than 75 million tons over the next quarter century. EPA’s New England office also had a banner year in negotiating innovative environmental projects - activities not required by law - in settling enforcement cases. Almost $7.7 million of supplemental environmental improvements were funded last year through enforcement settlements, a record year for the region and a three-fold jump from the $2.2 million in projects funded in 1998.

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DETROIT, Michigan, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - General Motors said Thursday that the company is not pulling the plug on its electric car program, contrary to media reports last week. GM had announced it would halt production of the company’s EV1 electric car at its Flint, Michigan plant due to flagging interest in the vehicle. If interest revives, the company said it might reinstate production. On Thursday, GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce said reports that the company was canning the EV1 were misunderstandings regarding GM’s goals for its electric car program. "The headlines ... suggested that we were shutting down the EV1 program, and, quite frankly, nothing could be further from the truth," Pearce said, as reported in the "Los Angeles Times."

Pearce and Bob Purcell, GM's director for advanced technology vehicles, also said they were not disappointed by the number of EV1s on the roads, which stands just over 600. "You've got to put a program like this in a different perspective. The issue is not how many you sold in the last 10 days; it's the next 10 years," Purcell said. The first batch of 500 EV1 cars was made with lead acid batteries. The second batch contained updated nickel-metal-hydride batteries that double the vehicle’s range to 120 miles or more per charge. The cars are leased to companies and consumers, mostly in California and Arizona. About 400 of those second-generation EV1 cars are still available to be leased.

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SANTA BARBARA, California, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - The USFWS announced Thursday it has listed the Santa Barbara County population of California tiger salamander as endangered on an emergency basis. The emergency listing is effective for 240 days. The USFWS also issued a proposal to permanently list the population as endangered. "The purpose of the emergency rule provision of the Act is to prevent a species from becoming extinct by affording them immediate protection while the normal listing process is being followed," said USFWS regional manager Michael Spear. "The tiger salamander exists on only 12 to 15 square miles of Santa Barbara County's 2,738 square miles, and there are fewer than 14 breeding ponds for the species left. It faces a serious and immediate threat of extinction."

The USFWS considered listing the California tiger salamander in 1994. Although the agency decided listing was warranted, it was delayed by the need to address higher priority species. Since then, Santa Barbara County has undergone rapid land use changes. Many areas once used as cattle pasture are being converted to intensive agricultural uses, such as vineyards and row crop production. Other lands are being developed for housing. "All of the remaining breeding sites in Santa Barbara are under consideration for conversion," Spear said. "These land uses could cause the elimination of this species by degrading the breeding ponds and destroying upland small mammals and their associated burrow systems that tiger salamanders rely upon for survival." The USFWS says the Santa Barbara salamander population could become extinct within a year without protection.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - A federal grand jury has indicted a Mississippi poulty rendering company and its president on criminal charges that they conspired to dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of slaughterhouse waste into a stream that supplies drinking water to Jackson, Mississippi. The indictment, against Central Industries Inc. and president Tam Etheridge, also includes 70 separate Clean Water Act violations. Between 1975 and 1995, the EPA says the company flushed significantly more blood, feathers and other slaughterhouse wastes that its wastewater treatment plant could handle, sending pollutants into Shockaloo Creek, a tributary of the Pearl River. Central Industries ignored repeat warnings from regulators that they were operating beyond capacity and violating their wastewater discharge permit, and then increased its wastes still further. The company also allegedly dumped truckloads of untreated chicken blood into a wastewater lagoon behind the plant.

"Protecting drinking water supplies is a priority of this administration," said Assistant Attorney General Lois Schiffer of the federal Department of Justice. "We will ensure that companies comply with the Clean Water Act." Several other companies are also named in the indictment, including poultry farms named as conspirators. For an individual, each charge is punishable by a sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. For a corporation, each charge is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the company’s profit resulting from the crime.

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LONG ISLAND, New York, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) launched multiple attacks on Long Island’s fur merchants Thursday morning. Seven fur stores across two counties were targeted with spray paint and other acts of economic sabotage. In a letter sent to the Long Island chapter of the Animal Defense League, and obtained by the Environment News Service, the ALF says the stores were targeted in support of 14 anti-fur protesters who were arrested and charged by Sheboygan County police in Wisconsin earlier this week, after protesting at a fur farm. The protesters, and the ALF, oppose the slaughter of 40 million animals a year for the fur industry. The ALF is an international movement of people who encourage direct action against animal abuse, such as liberating animals from fur farms and pet stores, and destroying associated property.

In the attacks, logs were thrown through the front windows of Bayshore Furriers of Huntington. Windows were also broken at Garden City and Cold Spring Hills fur shops. Stores in Elwood, Jericho and Westbury had locks glued shut, and the slogans "Fur Is Murder!", "ALF", and "In Solidarity With The Sheboigan 14" written on the walls of their buildings and billboards. The ALF stated that this was "part of an open ended attack on all aspects of the animal abuse industry, and we will not stop until all life is free from exploitation and abuse!"

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JACKSON, Wyoming, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - Environmentalists protesting the proposed construction of a nuclear and hazardous waste incinerator near Yellowstone National Park will be out in force at a public comment meeting next Tuesday. Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, a Wyoming nonprofit organization, opposes the construction of the incinerator by the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory (INEEL) in southeastern Idaho. The proposed incinerator would be less than 100 miles and directly upwind from Jackson Hole and the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the largest contiguous ecosystem in the lower 48 states. The environmental group says the proposed site could be dangerous or even lethal, to residents of Jackson Hole and Yellowstone wildlife. Tuesday’s meeting in Jackson will address the final permit for the nuclear and hazardous waste incinerator. "This is our first, and perhaps final, chance to raise questions and voice our concerns about living downwind from a plutonium incinerator," the group says.

The meeting will take place at the Jackson Hole Middle School starting at 7 pm. For more information, Phone: 307-732-2040 or visit: Written comments can be mailed to: Brian Monson, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, 1410 North Hilton, Boise, Idaho, 83706-1255. The deadline for written comments is February 7.

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PORT ANGELES, Washington, January 21, 2000 (ENS) - Hazel Wolf, a 101 year old crusader for the National Audubon Society (NAS), died Wednesday night in Port Angeles. Wolf inspired thousands with her wit, drive, and dedication to the environment. "The entire Audubon family is saddened by the loss of Hazel Wolf," said NAS president John Flicker. "Our grief is tempered only by the fact that Hazel's life was so full of joy and accomplishment. She was an inspiration to all of us who knew her. She challenged us to be better conservationists and better human beings. She will be greatly missed."


Hazel Wolf addresses the crowd after receiving the Audubon Medal, for Excellence in Environmental Achievement in 1997 (Photo by Walt Pomeroy, courtesy NAS)

"Through her hard work and her force of personality, Hazel Wolf made a lasting impression on the Audubon movement," said NAS chairman of the board Donal O'Brien. "No one did more than she on behalf of the environment. She represents the very best in Audubon. We now have a responsibility to continue her important work." Wolf played a prominent role in environmental efforts on local, national and international levels. She cofounded the Seattle Audubon Society, and worked there as a secretary for 37 years. She organized 21 of the 26 Audubon chapters in the region, including the first Canadian chapter, and helped pave the way for the founding of the Leningrad Audubon Society in Russia. Wolf was the recipient of numerous conservation awards, including the Association of Biologists and Ecologists of Nicaragua's Award for nature conservation in 1988. Author Studs Terkel portrayed Wolf in his book, "Coming of Age." She told Terkel that living three centuries was one of her goals. "Then, I'm going," she said. Wolf took the fifty dollars that she was paid for the interview and signed Terkel up as an NAS member.