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AmeriScan: September 30, 2002

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Mercury Deposits Contaminate U.S. Waterways

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - Mercury is a leading cause of impairment of American lakes and estuaries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which today released its biennial national summary of water quality.

Mercury, originating from power generating facilities and incinerators, mining, natural rock weathering and other sources, is transported through the air into these waterways, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. Mercury was cited in some 2,240 of the nation's 2,800 fish consumption advisories reported in 2000.

Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to report on the nation's water quality every two years. Today's report is based on water monitoring by the states, territories, jurisdictions and tribes in 2000.

Thirty-nine percent of assessed river and stream miles were found to be impaired for one or more uses, an increase of four percent from the parallel EPA report issued for 1998.

The percentage of polluted estuaries jumped from 44 percent to 51 percent, and the percentage of polluted shorelines increased from 12 percent to 14 percent. The percentage of polluted lakes remained unchanged at 45 percent.

The information in this report applies only to the waters that were assessed for one or more of the uses, such as swimming, fishing, and fish consumption, designated for them by the states. Under the Clean Water Act, states have primary responsibility for water quality monitoring.

States assessed 19 percent of the nation's 3.7 million total river and stream miles, 43 percent of its 40.6 million acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs, and 36 percent of its 87,300 estuary square miles for this report.

G. Tracy Mehan, EPA assistant administrator for water, says the report points out the need for more effective controls to address the nation's water quality problems, especially those originating from diffuse, non-permitted sources such as runoff from agricultural and urban areas, as well as air deposition.

As in the past, these non-point sources dominate as sources of pollution. "EPA and the states need to work together as partners to solve this problem and implement more effective solutions," said Mehan.

EPA found that the percentage of assessed river, stream and estuary waters found to be impaired has increased somewhat from the last report in 1998, "although that difference is more likely due to changes in assessment approaches than actual water quality changes," the agency said.

Many states are choosing to use higher quality data than in the past in making their assessments, the EPA said.

"This is a very disturbing trend," said Nancy Stoner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Water Project, "and given the Bush administration's water policies, it is bound to become even worse."

This 2000 National Water Quality Inventory is the 13th in a series published since 1975. New EPA guidance issued in November 2001 calls for future reports to include information on impaired waters as reported by the states under the Clean Water Act.

EPA is working to improve identification and cleanup of impaired waters through the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) program. This program calls for participation of the public in the identification of impaired waters and in the development of pollution "budgets" used to restore the health of those waters.

EPA is developing a national monitoring strategy to improve water quality assessment and reporting and to ensure that state water quality findings are comprehensive and comparable among states and over time.

The "National Water Quality Inventory: 2000 Report" is available at:

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Against SEC Rules, Firms Hide Environmental Risks

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - Publicly traded companies in the automobile manufacturing, insurance, oil and gas, petrochemical and utility industries are failing to report material environmental issues such as climate change in their filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a report released today by Friends of the Earth.

At a Senate briefing, the organization presented its survey of the 2001 annual Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings of business sectors likely to be impacted by climate change. It shows that while at least one company in each industry disclosed climate risks to its shareholders, most of them did not, in violation of SEC disclosure rules.

"Climate change and climate policies are a bottom line issue for companies and investors," said Michelle Chan-Fishel, coordinator of Friends of the Earth's Green Investments Program. "A handful of companies have complied with SEC disclosure rules and have admitted this risk to shareholders. But most corporations are taking an all too familiar approach of painting a rosy picture of themselves while hiding their true risks and liabilities."

As an example of the right way to convey this information, the Friends of the Earth (FOE) reports that DuPont's SEC 10-K filing mentions the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, explains the protocol's probable effect on its business, and describes its efforts to manage these risks; but DuPont's competitor Dow did not disclose any climate risks to investors.

Ford Motor Company's SEC 10-K filing discusses climate risks, while General Motors did not mention global warming at all, although the burning of oil and gas in motor vehicles is a major contributor to climate change.

FOE reports that 26 percent of companies surveyed provided climate change information, but most of them are European based companies. "European, Japanese and Canadian firms reported at a rate of 56 percent, compared to 15 percent for U.S. firms," the report states.

About half of all electric utilities and oil and gas companies mentioned climate change in their latest SEC filings.

"The petrochemical and insurance sectors provided the least disclosure, with only one out of 15 petrochemical companies and one out of the 14 largest property and casualty companies discussing global warming in their annual SEC filings."

The report's findings also support recent evidence that environmental disclosure among publicly traded companies in the United States is weak and poorly enforced. A 1998 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that 74 percent of companies do not report environmental legal proceedings contemplated and/or initiated by environmental agencies that are likely to result in monetary penalties of over $100,000, despite clear SEC disclosure rules requiring this disclosure.

"Corporations are leaving environmental, product safety and labor problems off the books and out of mind," said Chan-Fishel. "Like financial debt, these represent billions of dollars of hidden corporate liabilities - leaving us all in the dark as to what a company is really worth and whether its leaders are ethical."

The survey is online at:

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Cold War Enemies Cooperate on Commercial Energy

HOUSTON, Texas, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - A high-level two day meeting on cooperation between the United States and Russia in the commercial energy sector opens Tuesday at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The meeting is part of the new bilateral relationship announced during the May summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin held in Moscow.

Among the topics to be discussed at the closed invitation only conference are advanced oil and gas technology, trade in services and equipment, the framework for investment in Russia, the role of small and medium sized businesses in Russia's energy sector, commercial financing options, and U.S. government assistance.

Two U.S. cabinet secretaries - Don Evans of the Department of Commerce, and Spencer Abraham of the Department of Energy - are scheduled to address the gathering.

Representing the Russian Federation will be Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref, and Minister of Energy Igor Yusufov.

Other participants include former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, honorary chair of the Baker Institute at Rice University; and top executives of several U.S. and Russian energy corporations.

According to a fact sheet on U.S.-Russia Commercial Energy Relations issued by the White House in conjunction with the Bush-Putin summit on May 24 Russia is the second-largest producer and exporter of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia, producing about seven million barrels a day with exports of about five million barrels per day

Energy - mostly oil and natural gas - accounts for 40 percent of Russia's exports and 13 percent of its gross domestic product.

In 2001, U.S. companies exported $282 million of oil and gas field equipment to Russia.

Total foreign direct investment in Russia's oil and gas sector as of May 2002 was $4 billion.

The White House says Russia's existing pipeline system limits the growth of its oil and gas exports, and predicts that "major new foreign investment will be needed for Russia to maintain or increase oil production levels."

The Sakhalin I and the Caspian Pipeline Consortium's Tengiz-Novorossiisk pipeline are described as "premiere examples" of U.S.-Russia joint investment projects.

The U.S.-Russia Commercial Energy Summit was organized by the private United States Energy Association in cooperation with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University; the American Petroleum Institute; the American Chamber of Commerce-Moscow; and the U.S.-Russia Business Council.

James A. Baker, III served as secretary of state from January 1989 through August 1992 in the administration of President Herbert W. Bush administration. Baker served from 1985 to 1988 as secretary of the treasury in administration of Ronald Reagan.

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Parks Supporters Jam Capitol Switchboard

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - Thousands of people today telephoned their U.S. representatives and senators, asking them to fund the needs of the national parks as part of a national call-in-day organized by the coalition of Americans for National Parks.

The coalition of Americans for National Parks includes more than 250 private businesses, government municipalities, trade associations, and nonprofit organizations from across the country. The group is working with Congress and the administration to address the parks' $600 million annual operating shortfall.

"We're jamming the switchboard at the Capitol," said Americans for National Parks campaign director Jennifer Coken. "The American public wants our national parks protected."

Coken says the national parks are operating with only two-thirds of the funding needed, creating a wide variety of critical needs ranging from deteriorating infrastructure to the dwindling of wildlife species. Museum artifacts and archaeological sites are not being preserved, public education programs are being reduced, and irreplaceable historic structures are crumbling.

"The national parks are extremely valuable to me," said John Evans, a University of Tennessee student who called Senator Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, on a cell phone from a street corner in Knoxville. "The national parks are a great way to preserve species that would, otherwise, have no place to live."

Hundreds of Arizona students today called Republican Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth asking them to fund the needs of the national parks.

"Northern Arizona has more national park sites than any other Congressional district in the country," said Nate Petrie, a Northern Arizona University student, after a call to Hayworth. "But without proper funding, these important places - and our national heritage - is threatened."

"Even Grand Canyon National Park, one of America's foremost national and international tourist destinations, has critical operating needs," said Coken. "We have to save these precious places. There's just too much to lose."

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Florida Man Jailed for Filling Forested Wetlands

OCALA, Florida, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - Kenneth Therrien will be spending six months in jail and paying a $5000 fine for filling over three acres of wetlands on his property near Silver Springs, Florida. Marion County Judge John Futch handed down the sentence on Thursday on evidence uncovered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection during a criminal investigation.

Marion County has been a hotbed for illegal dredging and filling. Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is working on 60 open investigations into illegal dredging and filling of wetlands in the county.

The Therrien investigation began in response to complaints by a neighbor who feared that Therrien's work would cause flooding on neighboring land. Therrien refused to stop filling the wetlands despite government entreaty on at least three occasions.

Therrien checked with the DEP last November to learn if there were wetlands on his property. In December, the agency confirmed that there were wetlands on the property and told him to stop the filling and return the wetlands to their original state.

Therrien continued filling despite a second visit and appeal by DEP. In view of this disregard of environmental regulations, DEP launched a criminal investigation.

In August, Therrien was found guilty of failure to obtain a permit to fill wetlands, and he was ordered by Judge Futch to offer a plan to restore the property or face jail time.

On Thursday, Therrien refused to offer a restoration plan and was sentenced to six months in jail. A civil case remains open against Therrien to ensure restoration of the property.

"Judge Futch sent a message here that violators will be held accountable when they disregard the regulations," said DEP Central District Director Vivian Garfein. "Even after Mr. Therrien serves his time, he remains on the hook to restore those wetlands."

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Salmon Not Alone in Contracting Fish Disease

DAVIS, California, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - A bacterium thought to only infect salmon may be more widespread than previously thought, according to California Sea Grant research.

Fish pathologist Ron Hedrick, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of California-Davis has found that the P. salmonis bacterium could also infect white sea bass.

The study began after farm raised Chilean salmon consistently got sick and died after being placed in open ocean net pens. Scientists were puzzled because the salmon eggs, not salmon, were flown to Chile and the disease was believed not to be transmitted via eggs.

Also, Chile had no wild salmon living off its coasts, so Hedrick was curious about how the bacterium infected these farm raised Chilean salmon.

Since finding the bacterium in white sea bass, Hedrick now believes that P. salmonis exists in the world's oceans and is neither unique to salmon nor sea bass. Consistent with this, scientists have found similar bacteria in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Hedrick is now working to detect bacterial DNA and antibodies of the bacterium in hatchery and wild white sea bass. If successful, this research will further support the conclusion that the bacterium is present in naturally occurring populations of marine fish.

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Chronic Wasting Disease Spreads in Colorado

DENVER, Colorado, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - An injured elk killed by a Division of Wildlife officer September 6 in Routt County tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the first time an elk with the disease has been found outside the endemic area of northeastern Colorado.

An area resident had first called the Division to report an injured elk along a county road. The wildlife officer found the elk in poor condition suffering from an injured jaw.

The animal was tested for chronic wasting disease as part of the agency's disease surveillance effort. Two different tests performed at Colorado State University's diagnostic laboratory confirmed the elk was infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).

"This is disappointing, but not a surprise," said Jeff Ver Steeg, the Division of Wildlife's terrestrial wildlife manager. "Earlier this year we found 10 wild mule deer with CWD in Routt County, so we knew it was possible that other deer may have the disease in that area. We were hoping that we would not find it in elk."

Nearly 700 deer and elk have been submitted for testing to the Division of Wildlife by Colorado hunters so far in September, and testing has been completed on more than 400 at Colorado State.

Six animals have tested positive so far - two deer and two elk from the established area in northeastern Colorado, one deer west of Chatfield Reservoir and the Routt County elk.

"We are continuing to encourage hunters to submit deer and elk for testing as part of our surveillance program," Ver Steeg said. "When the hunting season is completed and we've had time to evaluate all of the test results, we will determine what additional management we may need to undertake in specific areas."

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk that has been established in a portion of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. About five percent of deer and less than one percent of elk are infected within the established area. The only other area where the disease has been found in Colorado is in Routt County in northwestern Colorado.

An aberrant protein found in the brain, nervous system and lymphatic tissue of deer and elk causes the disease.

State and federal health officials have found no link between chronic wasting disease and any illness in humans or any other species. As a precaution, hunters are urged not to eat the meat of any animal infected with chronic wasting disease or any other disease.

Hunters may submit deer and elk for CWD testing at Division of Wildlife offices around the state. The complete list is available at:

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California Forest Owners Funded to Fight Beetles

SACRAMENTO, California, September 30, 2002 (ENS) - Governor Gray Davis has announced $300,000 in new funding to assist non-industrial private forest landowners affected by the current drought and bark beetle problem that is attacking forests in San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties.

"In response to the massive dieback of pines in Southern California and the current beetle infestation in those stands, I have directed the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) to allocate funds from Proposition 40 along with federal funds to assist affected non-industrial, private forest landowners to respond to this serious problem," Governor Davis said on Friday.

Southern California is in its fourth year of a drought which has weakened trees, allowing beetles to kill them. The dead and weakened trees pose a fire hazard.

"The increased mortality rate of these trees creates safety and fire hazards that cannot be ignored. Through these newly available funds, CDF will be able to assist non-industrial private forest landowners that may not otherwise be able to treat their affected land," said the governor.

The state portion of the funds, $200,000, was made available September 20 as a result of Davis' signature on legislation that released $223.4 million dollars from a Proposition 40 fund. The monies were earmarked for a broad range of resources and watershed protections, including $2 million for the California Forest Improvement Program that is now being put to use.

Landowners must apply for the California Forest Improvement Program cost share program to be eligible to recover up to 75 percent of their costs. Applicants must also have a management plan for their land to qualify for the program, and the program can help cover the cost of developing such a plan. Funds are not available for use on residential lots.

For more information on the California Forest Improvement Program, contact Doug Forrest, Deputy Chief, Resource Management, CDF Riverside office at: 909-320-6116. Residential lot owners should contact their County Agricultural Commissioner for information on local assistance programs.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002. All Rights Reserved.

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