AmeriScan: January 27, 2000


BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - An endangered North Atlantic right whale was found dead last week off the coast of Rhode Island. The three year old female whale, identified as #2701, was spotted by fishermen floating near Block Island. Fishermen reported the sighting to the Coast Guard who worked with officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to confirm the species and take video for identification purposes. New England Aquarium researchers have identified her from the unique pattern on her belly. The whale has some fishing gear wrapped around her fluke or tail. It is unknown if this entanglement contributed to her death.

Number 2701, born in 1997, was last seen alive on September 12, 1999 in the Bay of Fundy without fishing gear on her fluke. It is unknown how long she has been dead. Because of foul weather, the whale was not towed to shore for an autopsy. The NMFS sent a plane up today to try to relocate the whale. If #2701 cannot be relocated today, that effort may have to be abandoned, said Sue Knapp of the New England Aquarium. With the North Atlantic right whale population numbering about 325, this death is another serious blow to the species. Losing a female right whale, although one too young to reproduce yet, is a critical setback to a population struggling to evade extinction, Museum officials said. Last year two other adult female right whales, Staccato and #2030, also died. Staccato was killed by a collision with a large ship and #2030 died from injuries caused by entanglement in gill net gear.

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OAKLAND, California, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today over the establishment of the nation's largest landfill on the border of Joshua Tree National Park. "If constructed, the Eagle Mountain landfill will bring up to 20,000 tons of garbage per day to the doorstep of Joshua Tree National Park, and do so for 117 years," said Brian Huse, NPCA's Pacific region director. Despite strong opposition from the National Park Service, BLM transferred public lands to the dump developers and issued rights of way allowing garbage to be hauled by train and truck across other BLM lands critical to the survival of the threatened desert tortoise.

Established in 1936, Joshua Tree protects some of the most pristine desert habitat in the world, and is recognized as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. "The National Parks System is considered the crowning conservation achievement of our nation, and Joshua Tree is one of the jewels," said Huse. "BLM's actions will not only tarnish Joshua Tree, but also the entire park system." The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. In December, Donna and Larry Charpied, who farm a native plant, jojoba, near the proposed landfill site, also filed suit against the BLM and other federal agencies that approved the landfill. The approval process for the project took ten years, involved about 20 regulatory agencies, and underwent several environmental reviews. The dump could begin accepting trash by the end of 2001.

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BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered the Central Landfill in Johnston, Rhode Island, one of the largest municipal landfills on the East coast, to take immediate actions to comply with the Clean Air Act. In an administrative order issued Friday, EPA’s New England office ordered the 150 acre landfill, which serves all of Rhode Island, to complete tests, monitoring and design plans required to address gas emissions from the landfill under the New Source Performance Standards of the Clean Air Act. This standard applies to large scale landfills that have been expanded or modified since May 30, 1991, such as the Central Landfill.

The EPA says the landfill’s owners have also failed to: obtain a required operating permit; submit notification reports and control plans; conduct testing on pieces of the landfill gas control system, and; conduct various types of monitoring. The order stems from an inspection of the landfill conducted last July 23 by EPA. Since the spring of 1999 there have been several thousand complaints made to EPA and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) of nauseating odors as far as two miles or more from the landfill. "The problems and the horrendous odors surrounding the Central Landfill are unacceptable," said Mindy Lubber, acting regional administrator for EPA New England. "This order is a first step towards cleaning up an environmental problem that should not be allowed to persist."

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LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - Researchers at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a portable, ultrasensitive air particulate monitor that identifies almost all known elements and their relative concentrations. "I've no doubt that this portable instrument will greatly reduce, or in some cases eliminate, the risk of worker exposure to hazards related to operating processes," said principal investigator Yixiang Duan. "The instrument is ideal for work sites that handle hazardous materials." The inexpensive device takes advantage of the fact that all elements in the periodic table have well characterized atomic energy levels. A miniature microwave plasma source in the device excites the atoms, permitting quick identification of air particulate samples based on the energy levels of those elements. With a minor modification, the device also can identify elements in solution.

The monitor is ideal for facilities that handle highly hazardous materials such as beryllium, Duan said. "The monitor can detect almost all hazardous elements, although our project's initial focus was on creating an ultrasensitive monitor for detecting beryllium air particulates," Duan said. Exposure to beryllium can lead to chronic beryllium disease, which scars the lungs and can be fatal. "There are currently more than 100 cases of chronic beryllium disease within the DOE complex," added Steve Abeln, project leader for beryllium technology at Los Alamos. "A primary deficiency in protecting workers from exposure to airborne beryllium particulates has been that exposure levels were always determined after the fact through laboratory analyses. This instrument can provide real-time feedback to workers, allowing them to take prompt action and avoid overexposure."

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is proposing to use up to four sites within the Gila Wilderness portion of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico to translocate reintroduced Mexican wolves. Translocation involves recapturing reintroduced wolves and moving them to a new location within the recovery area. The USFWS will begin preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) this week on the effects of translocation. The EA is to be completed in early February, with a 30 day comment period to follow before a final decision is issued. Two public hearings will be held during the comment period. The hearings are scheduled for 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Community Center of Reserve, New Mexico, on Wednesday, March 1, and at Light Hall, Western New Mexico University in Silver City on Thursday, March 2.

"Our objective in translocating wolves is to maximize the potential of reintroduced animals to succeed, and to minimize the impacts of wolves on human uses of the same landscapes, such as livestock grazing and recreation," said Nancy Kaufman, USFWS regional director. Wendy Brown, Mexican wolf biologist for the USFWS added, "The four sites that we have proposed to use within the Gila Wilderness were identified because they are remotely located, have good game populations, and are not grazed by livestock." Earlier this month, the USFWS began recapturing the Gavilon pack of Mexican wolves from the Apache and Gila National Forests, where they had preyed on livestock.

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DALLAS, Texas, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - An electric utility in Texas is implementing one of the largest renewable energy proposals in U.S. history. TXU Electric & Gas is seeking bids for 500 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of green power generated from renewable energy sources, enough to supply the annual energy needs of 29,000 homes. The deadline for bids is March 27. "Renewable energy is part of TXU’s commitment to clean air," says vice president Steve Philley. "TXU has been one of the leaders promoting wind energy in the southwest; we are taking the next step in advancing renewables, whether it be wind, solar or other forms of renewable energy." TXU now purchases all of the electricity generated at the Big Spring windfarm, which has eight turbines and a capacity of 137 million kWh per year.

The state of Texas has set a goal of adding 2,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity by 2009 as part of the restructuring of the power industry. There must be a cumulative total of 1,280 MW by 2003 in the state; 1,730 MW by 2005; 2,280 MW by 2007; and 2,880 MW by 2009. One megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts. To achieve these goals, the Public Utility Commission of Texas has established a renewable energy credits trading program that requires each retail supplier of electricity to own or purchase energy capacity using renewable energy technologies or to buy renewable energy credits. TXU is looking to buy renewable energy credits or renewable energy in addition to the credits.

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SIREN, Wisconsin, January 27, 2000 (ENS) ­ Burnett County, Wisconsin has created the state’s first program that gives property owners a tax break for protecting privately owned lands along river and lake shores. The county’s 21 member Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the voluntary program, which rewards participants with a onetime $250 payment and a $50 annual tax credit in exchange for maintaining a 35 foot buffer along the water’s edge. Participating landowners agree not to mow or clear away plants within the buffer area. Shore land provides critical habitat for native plants and animals, and helps maintain water quality. The program also offers technical assistance and shares with property owners the cost of restoring the buffer zone on their property to allow them to participate in the incentive program.

"We’ve had a tremendous response," says Myron Schuster, Burnett County administrator. "It shows we’ve done some education where people now see the value in having a protective buffer along the shore. "But even more than that, I think, it’s because it’s not a regulatory, forceful approach. It’s, ‘if you get into it, and your neighbors get into it, you’re going to have a nice clean lake to recreate in and by golly, besides that, you’ll receive a credit on your property tax.’" State water officials tout Burnett County’s incentive program as a model for other counties, an important tool to have along with more protective zoning laws and education and technical assistance components ­ all of which the county has.

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HONOLULU, Hawai’i, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - Environmental groups filed suit Wednesday against the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce to protect the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Greenpeace Foundation, and Turtle Island Restoration Network say the agencies have violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing the Hawaiian lobster fishery, a critical monk seal food source, to be overfished. The suit seeks to closure the fishery.

monk seal

Hawai'ian monk seal (Photo courtesy Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources)

The Hawai'ian monk seal is one of the world's most endangered marine mammals. Its total population is about 1,350 individuals, and is declining because monk seal pups are starving to death. Meanwhile, lobster boats - which set up to 1,000 traps each night, the groups say - are removing hundreds of thousands of spiny and slipper lobsters from the monk seal’s formally designated critical habitat each year. The plaintiffs are represented in the action by Paul Achitoff of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - Twice an Exxon Valdez spill worth of oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico every year, a new study reveals. But the oil isn't destroying habitats or wiping out ocean life. The ooze is a natural phenomena that's been going on for many thousands of years, says Roger Mitchell of the Earth Satellite Corporation (EarthSat) in Rockville, Maryland. "The wildlife have adapted and evolved and have no problem dealing with the oil," he said. Using a technique they developed in the 1990s to help explore for oil in the deep ocean, EarthSat scientists found that there are more than 600 different areas where oil oozes from rocks underlying the Gulf of Mexico. The oil bubbles up from a cracks in ocean bottom sediments and spreads out with the wind to cover an area of about 4 square miles.

"On water, oil has this wonderful property of spreading out really thin," said Mitchell. "A gallon of oil can spread over a square mile very quickly." When oil spreads out over water, surface tension causes it to act like a super thin sheet of Saran Wrap, flattening down small waves on the ocean surface. To spot the oil slicks, EarthSat scientists use radar data from Canadian and European satellites. The oil slicks stand out in the radar image because they return less of the radar signal than the wavy surfaces. What ends up on the surface is a thin slick, impossible to see with the human eye and harmless to marine animals, Mitchell said. The EarthSat study will be presented today at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Antonio.

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REDWOOD SHORES, California, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - Inventa, a leading e-Commerce professional services firm, announced today that it will sponsor the Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedition this spring. The project will be the most significant cleanup ever undertaken of debris from the high camps of Mount Everest. As part of the "Inventa Everest 2000 Environmental Expedition," a team of eight world renowned climbers and about 20 sherpas will climb to the mountain’s highest camps at 26,000 feet to bring down hundreds of discarded oxygen bottles and tons of trash left by other climbers. This enormous deposit of waste has become a significant problem for villages located below the base camps. Before returning, the climbers will continue on to the summit.

"We're delighted to support one of the most significant environmental efforts of the new century," said David Lavanty, President and CEO of Inventa. "The new Internet economy has to recognize it is involved in issues regarding the larger world as well, and that humans should consider their impact wherever they go." "Our mission is two-fold," says Robert Chang, one of the team members. "In addition to climbing the highest peak in the world, we will make a significant cleanup of a major environment sore spot in what should be one of the most pristine places on earth. We hope to return this unique global treasure at the roof of the world back to its original condition in time for the 50th anniversary of the first ascent in 1953."