AmeriScan: November 29, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2001 (ENS) - With the stated purpose of giving its ombudsman "more independence and the impartiality necessary to conduct credible inquiries," Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman today announced she will reorganize the agency's ombudsman's office.

In January, the citizens' advocate known as the ombudsman will be moved within the EPA from the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), by statute an independent organization within the agency.

The ombudsman was designated by Congress to receive individual complaints, grievances, and requests for information from citizens. The 1984 amendments to a central federal environmental law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) created the office.

Ombudsman Robert Martin says the move weakens his office. "Transferring the ombudsman to the Office of Inspector General would give the false appearance of independence because of the very different missions of these offices," he wrote Whitman on Tuesday.

The EPA said today that because "it was viewed as a valuable service," the ombudsman office was even retained after its authorization expired in 1988.

Martin was a thorn in the side of the Clinton administration, which was ruled incorrect by the Labor Department Tuesday. The ruling came in a whistleblower case brought by Martin's former chief investigator Hugh Kaufman who filed a complaint with the Labor Department against the Clinton EPA for shunting him away from investigating violations into policy studies.

Over time the jurisdiction of the office has expanded to include Superfund and other hazardous waste programs. The ombudsman evaluates the merits of complaints, including those referred by Members of Congress on behalf of citizens.

As part of this shift, the EPA Inspector General will conduct a systematic review of open inquiries for citizens who have sought assistance from the agency. Whitman said, "It is our expectation that the National Solid and Hazardous Waste Ombudsman function will become a part of a more holistic effort within the OIG - addressing public concerns across the spectrum of EPA programs."

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MARINELAND, Florida, November 29, 2001 (ENS) - Strong, thin and invisible, the same qualities that make nylon monofilament fishing line popular with anglers can make it deadly to wildlife that encounter lost or discarded strands.

But environmentally conscious anglers on Florida's Northeast coast will now have the Monofilament Recycling Project to take their snarled and broken lines. University of Florida (UF) researcher Maia McGuire began installing recycling stations at marine fishing spots in Nassau, Duval, St. Johns and Flagler counties this month.

"Manatees, marine turtles and pelicans head a long list of animals that are harmed by swallowing or getting snared in monofilament," said McGuire, extension agent for Sea Grant, a program of coastal research and education affiliated with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "People and property are at risk, too."

McGuire will have 100 stations in place by the end of 2002 at both saltwater and freshwater locations. Constructed from three foot sections of six inch diameter PVC pipe, the stations are mounted on 4x4 posts or existing structures. Decals and signs explain which items should be placed in the stations.

"We want people to deposit any unwanted or discarded monofilament line, regardless of quantity or condition," she said. "Let's get it out of the environment first, then worry about what's actually recyclable."

The recycling stations will also take nylon fishing line spools, nylon rope and nylon cast nets. Tackle shops, marinas and other businesses in a four county area have joined the effort by placing collection bins on their premises.

Marine turtles sometimes mistake floating tangles of monofilament for jellyfish and eat them, causing intestinal blockage. Sea birds may fly or dive into monofilament or eat fish that have been previously hooked and still trail line.

"We surveyed Brevard County anglers and everyone had a story," said Leesa Souto, an environmental scientist who helped start the Brevard County Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program last year. "Some of them didn't involve wildlife," Souto said. "In one incident, a powerboat snagged submerged line and all the passengers were thrown overboard. In another, a scuba diver recovering line underwater became entangled and drowned."

Between 1980 and 1999, one in five manatee rescues involved monofilament entanglement, Souto said. The endangered aquatic mammals can catch their tails or flippers on submerged line and sometimes accidentally consume monofilament while feeding on plants. About 3,200 manatees live in Florida waters.

Developed in the 1930s, monofilament fishing line is made from a single, continuous strand of nylon. Discarded monofilament is believed to last 600 years in the marine environment.

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PORTLAND, Oregon, November 29, 2001 (ENS) Two national conservation groups today called "grossly inadequate" the funding in the fiscal year 2002 federal budget for recovering wild Columbia and Snake river salmon.

Last night, President George W. Bush signed a bill funding the Commerce Department for fiscal 2002. This allocation includes funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and represents the final major piece of the federal funding package for Northwest salmon recovery.

Representatives of American Rivers and Trout Unlimited warned that the funding shortfall keeps "wild salmon and steelhead on the path to extinction." They called for the Bush administration and Congress to "mend broken promises" by doing better in fiscal 2003.

The conservation groups said the $435.6 million in funding for the Columbia/Snake basin's imperiled salmon and steelhead "represents a failure by the Administration and Congress to make good on federal commitments - a failure that could force a resurfacing of the debate over bypassing four federal dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state."

Last December, the Clinton administration announced its plan to recover populations of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake rivers listed under the Endangered Species Act. It is that promise the groups say the Bush administration has not fulfilled.

"Northwest citizens were promised last December that the federal government would fund and implement major new recovery measures while keeping the lower Snake River dams in place. Now, only a year later, the Administration and Congress have failed to deliver on that promise."

The Bush administration's budget proposal last spring had called for $350 million for Northwest salmon, while Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, and Senator Mike Crapo, an Idaho Republican, had each called for double that amount.

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WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2001 (ENS) - Calling it a "noble" mission, Interior Department Secrectary Gale Norton said the Bush administration is seeking to increase the generation of renewable energy on public lands.

Speaking at a "roll-up-our-sleeves" conference entitled "Opportunities to Expand Renewable Energy on Public Lands" Wednesday at the Interior Department headquarters in Washington, Norton said the use of public lands for solar, geothermal and wind power is necessary.

"Our shared mission is both simple and noble," she told about 200 government officials, renewable energy business people and environmentalists. "We must explore ways to better capture the sun's light, the sky's winds, the land's bounty, and the earth's heat to provide energy security for America's families."

The Department of Energy cohosted the working session and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham will join Norton in making recommendations to the president and vice president about ways to increase renewable energy production on public lands.

"Today we seek the best ideas for reducing delays and bottlenecks in producing renewable energy." Panels on renewable energy technologies were chaired by leaders in the fields of geothermal, wind, solar, biomass and hydropower energy.

Norton said the Interior Department produces approximately 40 percent of the nation's geothermal energy.

Renewable energy is already in use for Interior Department operations. More than 600 solar powered facilities, 40 solar hot water systems, 30 wind turbines, 15 geothermal heating and cooling systems, and 6 wind farms are generating electricity. Each year the department uses 200,000 gallons of biofuels in vehicle and marine fleets and operates 1,200 alternative fuel vehicles.

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ALBANY, California, November 29, 2001 (ENS) - California's state fish, the golden trout, already in decline are now facing competition from non-native fish. To safeguard the remaining golden trout, a lawsuit was filed today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its refusal to act on a petition to list the California golden trout as an endangered species. The national fish conservation group Trout Unlimited filed the complaint in federal court in San Francisco.

"The USFWS cannot keep ignoring strictly defined statutory deadlines," said Deborah Reames of Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm which represents Trout Unlimited in this case. "This is especially true where the threats to the species, in this case California's state fish, are so identifiable and imminent."

In the fall of 2000, Trout Unlimited petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list the California golden trout as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. By law, the service is required to make a finding within 90 days after receiving such a petition as to whether substantial scientific or commercial information has been presented to indicate that the listing might be warranted.

Claiming budgetary constraints, the service failed to make such a 90 day finding regarding the California golden trout petition. In February 2001, Trout Unlimited notified the USFWS that if it did not act on the petition, the organization planned to pursue legal action.

"We had hoped to prevent taking this issue into the courts. That is why we delayed any legal action for a year, hoping that the USFWS would step up to the plate, do their job, and take the steps necessary to help save the native California golden trout from extinction. Unfortunately, all we got from them was silence," said Steve Trafton, Trout Unlimited's California policy coordinator.

The California golden trout is native to two high altitude watersheds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Once abundant along 450 miles of the upper South Fork of the Kern River and adjacent Golden Trout Creek, today the trout inhabit a small fraction of that area. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the golden trout is secure in only four percent of its native habitat.