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Saturday, November 16, 2002

CITES Delegates Vote to Shield Endangered Species

Santiago, Chile, November 15, 2002 (ENS) - Environmentalists have declared major victories at the United Nations conference on trade in endangered species. Landmark decisions today to protect mahogany and the entire genus of the seahorse, along with a last minute decision in favor of regulating the trade of basking and whale sharks, capped the two week conference, which also saw a resounding defeat of Japanese efforts to increase whaling.

Read more

Posted by Richard
11/16/2002 08:48:47 AM | PermaLink

Friday, November 15, 2002

The Values of Good Food

In The Pleasures of Slow Food, Corby Kummer describes how Slow Food seeks out artisans all over the world who are baking bread or making cheese or raising cattle, using time-honored, small-scale methods. Many of these traditions are under threatówhether economic, regulatory, or environmental. Slow Food helps the foodmakers by putting them in touch with one another, cutting through red tape, and introducing their products to restaurants and food-lovers around the world. Saving endangered foods is a way of achieving even more ambitious goals: helping small farmers succeed economically, protecting swaths of land, maintaining biodiversity, and preserving traditional ways of life.

In Atlantic Monthly at:

Posted by Richard
11/15/2002 12:02:11 PM | PermaLink

Pro-Industry Senator to Chair Environment Committee

Washington, D.C. -- The Republican leadership has elected new chairs of all Senate committees and subcommittees, choosing leaders who illustrate vividly the shift in legislative priorities that will come with the Republican controlled Congress. The Republican announcements were followed by Democratic decisions regarding Senate leadership on Wednesday, and today, by the selection of California Representative Nancy Pelosi as the new House minority leader.

With the Republican party now holding a four seat majority in the Senate, all committee and subcommittee chairs will be turned over to senior Republicans when Congress returns in January for the 108th Congress. On Wednesday, with little controversy or debate, the party annointed its new Senate leaders, replacing, in many cases, environmental champions with senators who generally vote against increasing protections for the environment.


Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma will take over leadership of the crucial Environment and Public Works Committee, which reviews almost all major legislation concerning conservation and environmental enforcement. As the longest serving Republican senator on this committee, he will succeed Senator Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Independent whose abdication from the Republican party gave power to the Democrats in June 2001.

While Jeffords is widely admired by conservation groups for his pro-environment stance, Inhofe is just the opposite. The League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit group which monitors the environmental voting records of all Congress members, gave Inhofe a 0 percent rating for his lifetime voting record, noting his support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and opposition to increased fuel efficiency standards, among other environmental issues.

Inhofe intends to protect the oil and gas industry, as he has stated many times over the past decade. In these February 24, 1999 comments to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner, he said, "I hope we can work together and provide some regulatory relief to the oil and gas industry. I am concerned not about any specific rule, but about all pending regulations across the entire agency."

Believing that the states "are in the best position to enforce the environmental laws and regulations," Inhofe can be expected to limit the role of federal agencies, particularly the EPA. He said on June 10, 1997, "The EPA should be limited to an oversight role for consistency only and for providing advice to the States. They should not be in the business of second guessing States or playing the big bully on the block."

In contrast, Jeffords scored 76 percent for his votes in the 107th Congress, supporting proposals to require more energy production from renewable sources and opposing a vote to override objections by Nevada lawmakers and citizens and send the bulk of the nation's high level nuclear waste to a repository at Yucca Mountain.

Inhofe is considered one of the most conservative senators, and is a strong supporter of Bush administration proposals to increase domestic energy production and offer new incentives to the oil industry. Jeffords used his tenure as committee chair to launch investigations of industry involvement in administration initiatives like the national energy plan.


A slightly less conservative senator will take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Pete Domenici of New Mexico will chair the energy committee when the panel's senior Republican member, Frank Murkowski of Alaska, steps down to become Alaska's new governor.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over a sweeping array of issues, including energy resources and development, including regulation, conservation, strategic petroleum reserves and appliance standards; nuclear energy; Indian affairs; public lands and renewable resources; surface mining, federal coal, oil, and gas, other mineral leasing; territories and insular possessions; and water resources.

Domenici was in line to chair the Budget Committee, a position he has held before, but opted to take over the energy panel because of the importance of energy issues to his home state of New Mexico. He takes over from Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, keeping state issues front and center on the Energy Committee.

But while Bingaman voted in favor of environmental issues 64 percent of the time in the 107th Congress, according to the LCV, Domenici favored environmental issues just eight percent of the time, and holds a 15 percent environmental voting record over this five Senate terms. While Domenici is considered a moderate voter on many issues, he is expected to support the Bush administration's controversial national energy plan, which emphasizes fossil fuels and nuclear power.

"I am eager to take on this new challenge as chairman of a committee with such import to issues both nationally and in New Mexico," Domenici said. "The task ahead for me is something both new and exciting, and significant in terms of setting natural resource and land policy for the country. I want to find balanced, common sense approaches to these issues."


Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi will chair the Agriculture committee, taking over from Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin. Cochran cast pro-environment votes just eight percent of the time in the 107th Congress, though he did help craft an agriculture proposal supported by many environmental groups: a 1996 bill to phase out federal subsidies for most crops, which has since been overturned by later legislation.

However, Cochran opposed February 2002 proposals to end subsidies for large, polluting factory farms, and to offer money to states to buy agricultural water rights to conserve water for fish and other freshwater species. Harkin, who had an 84 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress, voted in favor of both of these proposals.


The Senate Appropriations committee, which crafts budget proposals for every federal agency, will now be chaired by Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Senate's senior Republican member.

While Stevens, who has an eight percent pro-environment voting record for the 107th Congress, votes as a moderate on some issues, he has not been a friend to conservation groups, and is expected to support the Bush administration in its budget priorities.

In contrast, the Democratic chair, eight term Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, had a 56 percent pro-environment record in the 107th Congress. But both of these senior senators share a fondness for pork barrel spending, particularly when it comes to pet projects in their home states.

Besides taking the Appropriations chair from Byrd, Senator Stevens will also take his title as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, traditionally the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate. Stevens becomes the longest serving Republican in the Senate upon Senator Strom Thurmond's retirement at the end of the 107th Congress.

The U.S. Constitution provides for a President Pro Tempore to preside over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, and the Senate President Pro Tempore is also the third person in line of succession for the presidency, following the vice president and the Speaker of the House.


Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles will be the next chair of the Senate Budget Committee, because the committee's senior Republican, Pete Domenici, will take over the Energy Committee. The Budget Committee is responsible for writing Congress' annual budget plan and monitoring the impact of revenue and spending decisions on the federal budget.

The committee also oversees the Congressional Budget Office, which is charged with providing objective, nonpartisan analysis of the budget and economic impact of legislation.

Nickles, a conservative who has voted against nearly every major piece of environmental legislation during his four terms in office, takes over from Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who voted pro-environment 56 percent of the time in the 107th Congress.

"The Senate Budget Committee is vitally important to guiding the decisions of the Senate and ensuring that our government works efficiently and effectively," Nickles said after his election as committee chair. "I'm looking forward to working with President Bush and Senators on both sides of the aisle to reinstate a realistic, fiscally responsible budget process that will promote economic growth, homeland security and national security."


John McCain, a moderate Republican from Arizona with a 37 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress, will take over the Commerce Committee from Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.

McCain voted in favor of granting so called fast track authority to President George W. Bush, allowing the White House to negotiate trade agreements that Congress may reject but may not alter, a power that some say will result in less emphasis on environmental and human rights protections in international trade.

McCain has usually voted in favor of boosting vehicle fuel efficiency and supporting alternative fuels and public transportation.


Virginia Senator John Warner will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking over from Carl Levin of Michigan. This committee determines priorities for the nation's military, and will play a major role in determining whether to exempt military training centers and operations from a variety of environmental laws.

For example, the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill sent to President George W. Bush late Wednesday includes a provision to exempt the military from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning the armed services cannot be penalized when their operations kill protected birds on American soil.

Warner said last week that as committee chair, he would work to "provide the support and resources necessary for our men and women in uniform, active and reserve, to successfully perform their current missions around the world; and to assist our military in building the capabilities necessary to transform the force to successfully confront future threats."

Warner voted in favor of environmental issues 16 percent of the time in the 107th Congress, compared to Levin's 72 percent record.


Susan Collins of Maine, a junior senator who begins her second term in January, will chair the Governmental Affairs committee, which oversees the actions of all government agencies. She takes over from environmental champion Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who used his position as chair to launch investigations of Bush administration efforts to overturn or undermine environmental legislation.

Collins has a 64 percent pro-environment record for the 107th Congress, compared to Lieberman's 88 percent record.


The remaining committee successions include:

* Banking, Housing and Urban Development: Richard Shelby of Alabama, a conservative and former Democrat who switched parties in 1994, will take over from Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. Shelby opposes government regulation of big business, and almost never votes in favor of environmental issues.
* Finance: Charles Grassley of Iowa will take over the Finance Committee from Max Baucus of Montana, reversing the switch that took place in June 2001 when the Democrats took control of the Senate. Grassley, a conservative who rarely votes in favor of environmental issues, has said that his priorities as Finance chair will include reforms to welfare, Medicaid, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
* Foreign Relations: Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana becomes senior Republican and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee due to the retirement of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Lugar, who held the Foreign Relations chair 16 years ago before leaving to chair the Agriculture committee, succeeds Joe Biden of Delaware.
* Health, Education, Labor and Pensions: Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a moderate, will take over from Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts as chair of the Senate Health Education committee, which oversees some of the nation's largest domestic programs. Gregg is known for his willingness to work with Democrats on liberal issues such as the environment and education, and has a 44 percent pro-environment voting record for the 107th Congress.
* Judiciary: Conservative Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah will resume the chair of the Judiciary Committee, putting him in a position of approving the Bush administration's nominees to the federal bench. He succeeds Patrick Leahy of Vermont, whose 96 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress stands in sharp contrast to Hatch's four percent record.

By Cat Lazaroff

Posted by Richard
11/15/2002 08:14:34 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Court Curbs Logging of Charred Trees

Opening myself up to the handful of rightists who read this blog -- I love the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals...
A federal court has dealt a blow to efforts to cut down trees still standing after a massive forest fire near Lake Tahoe, setting the stage for a showdown over the Bush administration's forest fire policy. A temporary stay issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week forbids Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the biggest timber companies in California, from cutting any fire-damaged trees that still have green needles on them in a 17,000-acre area of the Eldorado National Forest. The company won a $1.7-million contract there this year to conduct a salvage logging operation that targets commercially valuable timber in a burned-over area of the forest.,0,4807181.story?coll=la%2Dnews%2Dscience

Posted by Richard
11/14/2002 10:52:09 AM | PermaLink

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Judge Drops Frog Habitat Protections: Four million acres, home to the imperiled red-legged frog, are opened to development

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has eliminated protection of nearly 4 million acres of habitat in 28 California counties for the imperiled red-legged frog, the athletic amphibian immortalized in Mark Twain's story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

The frog, the largest in the Western United States, has been on the endangered species list since 1996, its plummeting population attributed to the steady loss of wetlands throughout much of the state.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon issued his ruling after the Bush administration proposed a settlement with industry groups, asserting that the frogs would not be irreparably harmed.

The ruling paves the way for developers to bulldoze, grade and otherwise alter land considered vital to the species' survival. Developers still must obtain special permits, however, before taking any action that could kill individual frogs. Most of the affected land is in the San Francisco Bay Area and is privately owned.

About 200,000 acres of public land in the Angeles National Forest and portions of national forests in the Sierra Nevada will remain protected.
The ruling is the latest in a series of recent rollbacks of habitat protection for dozens of threatened and endangered species, delighting developers and infuriating environmental groups.

"We're very pleased," said Richard Campos, general counsel for the Home Builders Assns. of Northern California, which along with the California Chambers of Commerce and the Alliance for Jobs, sued the U.S. Interior Department to nullify the habitat designation.

"It's a serious blow to the protection of the California red-legged frog and aquatic and wetland areas throughout California," said Peter Galvin, of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has sued the government successfully dozens of times to have critical habitat designated for imperiled species, including the red-legged frog.

"An important layer of protection has been removed," Galvin said. "This is part of a trend of industry groups suing to undo environmental protections, and the Bush administration falling all over themselves to reach sweetheart settlement deals."

In this case, as in several others, the administration agreed with developers that the federal government failed to adequately assess the economic impacts of restricting development on large areas of land.

Under federal law, the costs to industry and the public of designating critical habitat for an endangered species must be considered, and if they outweigh the benefit to the species, then habitat need not be designated.

A report prepared by two UC Berkeley economists for the home-builders group concluded that economic losses because of construction delays or cancellation caused by the frog habitat would average $100 million a year, or $2 billion over 20 years. U.S. Fish and Wildlife consultants had estimated far lower annual figures of $5 million a year.

As part of the settlement of the frog case, Leon ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service, a division of the Interior Department, to redo its economic impact analyses by 2004 and decide by 2005 whether the costs outweigh the benefits of protecting the frogs' habitat.

The judge in his ruling cited arguments by the Fish and Wildlife Service that no serious harm would come to the frogs during the study period.

Critical habitat, one of the most contested parts of the Endangered Species Act, requires mapping out what land is necessary for the species' survival. Proposed projects on private lands designated as critical habitat can be halted if they involve the use of federal funds for roads, or have other federal connections.

In the last year, various industry groups have successfully sued to overturn critical habitat protections for dozens of fish, bird and insect species, in California and other Western states.

Many but not all judges have been following the lead of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in May 2001 that the process used to designate critical habitat did not adequately analyze economic impacts on property owners and others who make a living from the land.

Judges have vacated critical habitat for 19 salmon species, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, the arroyo Southwestern toad, and the San Diego fairy shrimp.

In two cases, courts have ordered economic analyses to be redone but kept critical habitat designations in place. Pending cases in which industry groups are seeking to invalidate critical habitat involve the Western snowy plover, the Northern spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, the Alameda whip snake, the Arkansas River shiner and the loach minnow.

Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mitch Snow dismissed environmentalists' charges that the Bush administration was orchestrating the successful challenges to critical habitat. "How can you have a sweetheart deal when it's a judge ruling, not the Bush administration? There are three branches of government, there is a separation of powers here."

Snow said federal officials are "caught between a rock and hard place," between competing lawsuits by environmentalists and developers over critical habitat. At the same time, Snow said, his agency hasn't received enough funds from Congress to adequately analyze habitat needs or economic impacts.

Over the last several years, fish and wildlife officials have lost dozens of lengthy, costly lawsuits brought by environmentalists to have critical habitat designated, only to have industry groups turn around and sue them to have the designations undone.

Snow said it was no surprise that the economic analysis argument was holding up in court.

"It's almost predictable if you don't have enough time and money to do this right, and courts are saying, 'Well, do it anyway.' Well, surprise, people are going to sue."

By Janet Wilson, LA Times

Posted by Richard
11/13/2002 08:43:48 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Staples Paper Practices to Change Under Forest Pressure

U.S. office supply giant Staples Inc., which has been under pressure from environmentalists intent on saving old-growth forests in Canada and Indonesia, says it plans to make an announcement today on its paper procurement practices. Owen Davis, a spokesman for Framington, Mass.-based Staples said yesterday the company has been looking at changes in its practices but he would not elaborate. Environmental groups said, however, they expect a new procurement policy that will help protect forests.

Posted by Richard
11/12/2002 09:47:36 AM | PermaLink

Tracking Ocean Health Through Fish Stocks: Trouble Ahead

The world fish catch is a useful measure of the productivity and health of the oceanic ecosystem that covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface. The extent to which world demand for seafood is outrunning the sustainable yield of fisheries can be seen in shrinking fishery stocks, declining catches, and collapsing fisheries.

The world fish catch in 2000, the last year for which global data are available, was reported at 94.8 million tons. After decades of steady growth, the oceanic fish catch has plateaued and since the late 1980s has fluctuated between 85 million and 95 million tons. Some three fourths of oceanic fisheries are fished at or beyond their sustainable yields. In one third of these, stocks are declining.

Get the full story:

Posted by Richard
11/12/2002 09:46:32 AM | PermaLink

Monday, November 11, 2002

Logging Forests in the Name of Water? What Next...

Colorado's population growth rate is 2.3 percent a year -- equal to that of Ghana and El Salvador, and faster than that of the Philippines.

One consequence of rapid population growth within the state is that water conservation and allocation are rapidly rising issues.

What can be done?

The latest proposal is for huge swathes of State and National Forests within Colorado to be cut down in order to boost water flow.

While the idea may sounds ludicrous, it is getting a serious hearing in Washington. Rep. Scott McInnis, who chairs the House Forest Health Subcommittee says logging for water "... is right near the top of the list of things we need to look at."

Bush Administration forest czar Mark Rey says, "We are eager to work with the state as we go through the forest plan revision process to see under what circumstances we can agree to increase water yield for aquatic species and downstream users."

No one seems to be talking about slowing population growth.

For more information about Colorado's "logging for water" proposal, see the article in the Nov. 9, 2002 edition of The Denver Post at:,1413,36%257E23447%257E981901%257E,00.html

From the Population & Habitat Program, National Audubon Society

Posted by Richard
11/11/2002 03:29:03 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Nations Vote to Protect Minke, Bryde's Whales

Santiago, Chile (ENS) - Countries in favor of conserving minke whales and Bryde's whales won two votes at the meeting of Parties to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today, turning down proposals by Japan to transfer these two species to a lower level of protection under the treaty.

The delegates from 160 countries voted to keep Bryde's and minke whales listed on the convention's Appendix I, ensuring that they can not be traded internationally. Japan had proposed to list them on CITES Appendix II, which would allow closely regulated international trade.

The minke whale proposal received 41 votes in favor, 54 votes against, five abstentions, and six spoiled votes. The Bryde's (pronounced Broo-dahs) whale proposal received 43 votes in favor, 63 against, three abstentions, and two spoiled votes. Both votes lacked the two-thirds majority required to approve the proposal.

The Parties must accept these results in the meeting's plenary session late next week before they will become final.

Benin, Cuba, Dominica, Greenland, Grenada, Cote Ivoire, Senegal and Zimbabwe voted with Japan, on the basis that the whale stocks are abundant and whaling supports the livelihoods of poor coastal populations.

Canada, Chile, the European Union, Georgia, Mexico, India, Israel, the United States and the International Environmental Law Project, among others, opposed Japan's proposals, on the basis that a lowered level of protection would cause enforcement problems. Australia pointed to problems in distinguishing robust from endangered whale stocks.

Conservationist groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), are optimistic that the votes' results will carry through the plenary session, and ensure that international trade of whale products will not be allowed.

Still, they remained alert to the potential for a Japan stronghold on several small island nations and vote swapping with Southern African pro-ivory trade nations that could swing the votes in the final decision phase.

"We are pleased that Parties to CITES stood firm on the conservation of these whale species," said Vassili Papastavrou, IFAW whale expert, and member of IFAW's delegation to the CITES meeting in Santiago.

"Japan did not manage to reach a simple majority on either vote, showing clearly that the world does not support commercial whaling," said Papastavrou. "We need to ensure that Parties remain strong and do not allow these results to be reversed next week. It would be disasterous for whales, as it would bring Japan another step closer to realizing its goal of re-opening the global whale trade."

Japan's position on whaling as advanced by the Ministry of Fisheries is that, there are more than 10 million whales throughout the world and they eat too much of the fish that humans should be consuming.

"The quantity of marine living resources they consume is estimated to be some 180 million tons a year in the Antarctic alone and 500 million tons in all the oceans of the world combined. This represents approximately five times as much as the total of the resources now being harvested by the world's marine fisheries - 90 million tons," the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries says.

For the last four CITES meetings, held at 30 month intervals, Japan has submitted proposals to downlist certain species of whales. At each of these meetings, the Japanese proposals have failed.

A majority of the CITES Parties, along with the CITES Secretariat, stated that Japan's proposals undermined the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the international body charged with the responsibility to conserve whale species. An ongoing global IWC ban on commercial whaling has been in force since 1986.

"Japan was unable to circumvent the IWC whaling moratorium by playing one Convention off another," said Kitty Block, international lawyer for the Humane Society of the United States.

Today, across the Pacific Ocean from the CITES conference, the Japanese whaling fleet set sail for Antarctic waters.

"Today was a great victory for the whales," said Block. "However, it is ironic that on the very day the CITES Parties refused to allow Japan to kill whales and trade in their meat, Japanese whaling ships began a five month expedition to kill 400 minke whales in Antarctic waters."

Japan circumvents the ban on commercial whaling by conducting it under the scientific research provisions of the International Whaling Commission. The meat from the slaughtered whales ends up as food in sushi shops and markets because the IWC rules require that the whales taken for research be utilized rather than discarded.

The whaling issue will next be debated on an international level at the June 2003 meeting of the International Whaling Commission, in Berlin, Germany.

The 12th Conference of Parties to the CITES Convention opened November 3 and continues through November 15.

Posted by Richard
11/10/2002 02:43:51 PM | PermaLink