AmeriScan: January 28, 2000

SUPREME COURT TO REVIEW EPA SMOG AND SOOT RULES

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition Thursday asking the Supreme Court to review an appellate court decision blocking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing new smog and soot rules. In May 1999, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the 1997 regulations overstepped the EPA’s constitutional authority. The agency had based the smog and soot standards on human health criteria, which the court claimed exceeded the EPA’s legal limitations for setting pollution rules.

In October 1999, the same appeals court upheld the earlier decision. Five judges from the 11 member court supported the EPA, while just four upheld the lower court decision. Because two judges did not review the case, the original court's interpretation was left standing. The DOJ plans to argue that the appellate court used a broad interpretation of a legal doctrine that courts have been interpreting more narrowly since the 1930s.

The Attorneys General of Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as the American Lung Association (ALA), also filed petitions with the Supreme Court yesterday to appear as plaintiffs in the DOJ case. The states and the ALA argued at the appellate court level that their interests are at stake in the case, as the EPA’s smog and soot rules could save thousands of lives each year and ease health problems for millions more. In addition, four states - Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont - have filed briefs as friends of the court, supporting the DOJ case. The opposition includes 104 companies and individuals, including utilities, manufacturers and other industry representatives. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Virginia Representative Tom Bliley, both Republicans, filed friends of the court briefs in support of the opposition at the appellate level.

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FISHERIES AGENCY VIOLATING FEDERAL LAW, JUDGE RULES

SEATTLE, Washington, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in its management of North Pacific groundfish. The groundfish fishery is the largest in North America, and forms a crucial food source for endangered Steller sea lions. U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly ruled that the NMFS is in ongoing violation of the ESA because its studies of the impact of fishing rules on sea lions was too narrow. "NMFS's analysis is admittedly incomplete and its conclusions inconclusive," wrote Zilly. "Meaningful analysis is virtually non-existent."

The ruling is the third by Zilly in a 1998 lawsuit brought by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and Trustees for Alaska on behalf of Greenpeace, American Oceans Campaign and the Sierra Club. In July 1999, Zilly ruled that NMFS had not done an environmental impact study on the entire fishery, as required by law, and called the agency’s assessment of the effects of pollock fishing on Steller sea lions "inadequate." The number of Steller sea lions from the Aleutian Islands to Prince William Sound has fallen from 140,000 in the 1960s to 44,000 in 1996. They were reclassified from threatened to endangered in 1997. "The Fisheries Service has undermined its credibility with the Court in its ability to protect the endangered Steller sea lion," said Paul Clarke of Greenpeace. "Greenpeace has long been skeptical of the Fisheries Service's repeated concessions to the industrial trawl fleet. Now the court has shown that we were not mistaken." The rulings could set precedents for questioning the way the NMFS manages the health of marine ecosystems throughout the country.

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LOS ANGELES AIR AGENCY TARGETS TOXIC AIR

LOS ANGELES, California, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has proposed what it calls the nation’s first comprehensive plan to reduce toxic air pollution. Based on the agency’s study of air toxics, released in November 1999, the plan targets diesel engine emissions and other sources of toxic emissions. That study found that diesel soot accounts for 71 percent of the cancer risk from toxic air pollution. The 24 page overview of the proposed "Air Toxics Control Plan for the Next Ten Years," not yet available online, outlines more than 20 new control strategies to add to current programs from local, state and federal agencies. In addition to controlling diesel emissions from fleets of trucks and buses, locomotives and other mobile sources, the plan targets toxic emissions from gas stations, dry cleaners, metal finishing operations, solvent degreasing, rubber product manufacturing, motion picture film processing and other industrial processes.

Four public consultation meetings on the plan were held this month, and another will be scheduled for mid-February. AQMD chairman William Burke expressed hope the plan would lead to reduced toxic risk for residents with minimal economic impact. Burke authored the agency's environmental justice initiatives. "People have tolerated trucks, trains and buses spewing obnoxious black exhaust long enough," Burke said. "We now know that diesel soot is more than just a nuisance but can cause cancer. It's time for diesel operators to do their share. After all, it is likely that those most affected are our children, and the adverse health effects they suffer may not be known until years later." AQMD is the smog control agency for the region surrounding Los Angeles.

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NUCLEAR REGULATORS TO REVIEW MOX PLANT PROPOSAL

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued its draft plan for the review of a planned mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at its Savannah River site in South Carolina. The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that it plans to construct a MOX fuel plant at Savannah River through a contract with the consortium of Duke Engineering & Services, COGEMA Inc., and Stone & Webster (known as DCS). DCS would build a MOX facility to convert surplus weapons grade plutonium from the DOE into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. Commercial nuclear power plants in the U.S. now use uranium as fuel. The mixed oxide fuel would be a combination of uranium and plutonium. Some environmentalists and nuclear activists have expressed concerns over the use of MOX fuel. Many believe it is too dangerous to burn MOX in commercial reactors that were not designed to use such fuel.

Under NRC regulations, DCS must obtain NRC's approval before beginning construction. NRC must decide if there is reasonable assurance that the MOX fuel plant will be constructed and operated in a manner that provides reasonable protection of worker health and safety, the public and the environment. The draft Standard Review Plan defines the criteria that NRC would use in reviewing the DCS application once it is submitted. The NRC’s draft plan is available at: http://www.nrc.gov/NRC/NUREGS/SR1718/index.html. Public comments will be accepted until March 13 at the same website.

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NEW WILDLIFE REFUGE PROPOSED IN VIRGINIA

STAFFORD, Virginia, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - A new national wildlife refuge has been proposed for Crow’s Nest peninsula in eastern Stafford County. Crow's Nest is 4,500 acres of mature forest surrounded by 700 acres of freshwater tidal marshes. The peninsula has calcium rich soil, rare in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain, which fosters rapid vegetative growth. Deep ravines contribute to the high biological diversity of the area by supporting a variety of habitats. Bald eagles, herons, foxes, beavers, river otters, waterfowl and osprey are among the wildlife living on or near the peninsula. "The Crow's Nest peninsula has one of the largest mature forests in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, certainly the largest in the Virginia Coastal Plain," said Ronald Lambertson, Northeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). "This makes it an extremely important feeding and nesting stop for songbirds during their migration. The marshes, mostly owned by the state, are very valuable for waterfowl, especially nesting wood ducks, as well as for fish and shellfish. The habitat may support two plants protected by the Endangered Species Act."

The USFWS will hold two public open houses to discuss the refuge plans. The open houses will be held on Wednesday, February 9, and Thursday, February 10, at the Stafford Middle School, 2160 Jefferson Davis Highway/U.S. Route 1, across from the Stafford County Government Center in Stafford. Individuals with questions, concerns and comments can drop in from 3 pm to 9 pm on either day to talk with agency staff.

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PREDATOR PROTECTION COALITION TACKLES MINNESOTA RULEMAKERS

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, January 27, 2000 (ENS) - Over a dozen environmental and animal protection groups from Minnesota and around the country have formed the Coalition to Protect Predators, dedicated to protecting rare, threatened and endangered predators. "We formed the Coalition to Protect Predators to confront the many anti-predator attitudes that still exists and to bring about public awareness of the importance of predators," said Linda Hatfield of Help Our Wolves Live (HOWL), one of the Coalition members. The coalition also includes the Minnesota Wolf Alliance, GrassRoots Environmental Effectiveness Network (GREEN) and the Humane Society of the U.S., among others.

The Coalition’s first major battle is over wolf management plans in Minnesota, a state that has been pushing for the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species List. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed management legislation that would allow the killing of wolves without permits if the animals endangered livestock or pets. "That’s really frightening," said Jean Brave Heart, director of the Minnesota Wolf Alliance. "Northern Minnesota has so many hunters. All they’d have to do as say, ‘it took off after my hunting dog’." The state is also considering paying hunters to shoot wolves once an arbitrary population cap is met. "It’s a horrible, horrible plan," said Brave Heart. "It‘s even worse than we thought it would be." The Predator Coalition says Minnesota should, "produce an ecologically sound management plan, based upon preservation of biodiversity, environmental ethics and responsible stewardship before the wolf can be delisted." More information is available at: http://www.nnic.com/mnwolves/

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EL PASO ZOO RELEASES SISSY TO ELEPHANT SANCTUARY

HOHENWALD, Tennessee, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - Sissy, the Asian elephant that was chained and beaten at the El Paso Zoo, has been allowed to retire to The Elephant Sanctuary, an refuge in Hohenwald. The 38-year old elephant arrived at the Tennessee sanctuary Wednesday. At the urging of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the El Paso City Council voted to permit the elephant to be removed from the city's zoo. In November of 1998, El Paso Zoo employees were caught on videotape beating Sissy with wooden clubs for hours while she was restrained by leg shackles until she fell to her knees. On January 12, 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) charged the zoo with multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The zoo's director, David Zucconi, who called the beatings "acceptable," resigned January 13. Zucconi told reporters that such treatment of elephants in captivity is "normal and routine" and was needed to maintain the dominance of zoo staff. Zucconi said the beating was justified because while at the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainsville, Texas, one of Sissy's keepers was killed while in her enclosure.

PETA's elephant specialist, Jane Garrison, said, "Sissy will finally be able to live her life in peace, free from physical and psychological abuse. She'll finally feel the grass under her feet, be in the company of other elephants, and even squeeze her own fresh orange juice!" At the Elephant Sanctuary, the other elephants have accepted the newcomer and she is already enjoying her new life. For a full biography and more details about Sissy, visit http://www.elephants.com/sissy.htm

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CRITICAL HABITAT NAMED FOR ENDANGERED SOUTHWESTERN FISH

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - The USFWS has designated 87.5 miles of the Virgin River and its flood plain as critical habitat for two endangered fishes, the woundfin and Virgin River chub. The designation includes the mainstem Virgin River in southwestern Utah, northwestern Arizona, and southeastern Nevada, and extends from the confluence of La Verkin Creek, Utah, downstream to Halfway Wash, Nevada. "As Federally-listed species, the woundfin and Virgin River chub already are protected by the Endangered Species Act," said USFWS regional director Ralph Morgenweck. "The designation of critical habitat only affects the activities of Federal agencies and has no effect on a private landowner engaged in private activities that require no federal permit or funding."

"There already has been significant progress made by state, federal and private groups toward the conservation of the species," Morgenweck said. "The Service already has engaged in consultations with landowners and others under the other provisions of the Act, and we do not expect the designation of critical habitat to require additional actions on the part of water users." The State of Utah, Washington County Water District, Grand Canyon Trust, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and the USFWS are working on conservation efforts that include additional water flows for the fish, reduction of competition from exotic fish, and the use of hatcheries to propagate native fish. These efforts will help offset water development projects in the region.

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SNOWSHOE HARES MAKING A COMEBACK IN OHIO

COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - After almost a century, Ohio will soon host snowshoe hares again. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife is reintroducing snowshoe hares to the state as part of its wildlife diversity management program. On January 25 more than two dozen hares will be released at the Euclid Rifle and Hunt Club in northeast Geauga County. Collected from the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, these will be the first of up to 100 snowshoe hares to be introduced to northeastern Ohio this year. They have been outfitted with toe tags and some will wear radio collars, allowing wildlife biologists to track their behavior and survival rates. "Northeastern Ohio makes a great reintroduction site for the snowshoe hare," says Division of Wildlife biologist Dave Scott, manager of the project. "The climate in this part of the state will allow them to take full advantage of their ability to cruise over deep snow at speeds up to 27 miles per hour."

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A snowshoe hare (Photo by Bruce Gill, courtesy USFWS)

The snowshoe hare gets its name from its long hind feet, which enable its remarkable speed on snow. Due to their need for a specific habitat, the hares are being released in just the northeast corner of Ohio. Like similar projects involving river otters, trumpeter swans, ospreys, and peregrine falcons, the reintroduction of the snowshoe hare is funded through contributions to the Ohio wildlife diversity income tax checkoff program and through sales of wildlife conservation license plates.

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PEDAL POWER FOR ALASKA WILDERNESS

LOS ANGELES, California, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - On February 6, filmmaker Jeff Barrie will embark on a 4,500 mile bicycle journey across America in a grassroots effort to protect Alaska's wilderness from oil development and promote cleaner, more efficient forms of energy and transportation. Barrie will pedal from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., where the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is being decided. Along the way, Barrie will be showing his award winning documentary film "Arctic Quest: Our Search for Truth." The film tells the true story of five teenagers who travel to Alaska in search of the truth behind a fierce environmental battle over proposed oil development in the Arctic Refuge. Their discoveries shed light on the complexities of this debate, and the film presents a solution through political action and energy efficiency.

Toyota Motor Sales has donated a Toyota Prius to support Barrie’s bike trek. Driven by Alex Tapia, one of the stars in the film, the hybrid Prius uses a combination of gasoline and electric motors to achieve almost 70 miles per gallon. "We'll cross America on less than seven tanks of gas, more than 800 miles per fill up," boasts Tapia. Barrie adds that "by driving cars like this and riding bicycles on those short trips to the market, we could simultaneously protect Alaska's wilderness and clean our nation’s air." Barrie plans to collect thousands of letters from concerned viewers and deliver them to Congress. "I will put the letters in a basket mounted on the front of my beach cruiser. When that’s full, I’ll get a trailer," said Barrie. More information is available at: www.arcticquest.org