The Environment

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  Oil Spill On Nearly 100 Miles Of Mississippi RiverJuly 24, 2008 22:21 A sheen of oil coated the Mississippi River for nearly 100 miles from the center of this city to the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday following the worst oil spill here in nearly a decade. The fuel-laden barge that collided with a heavy tanker on Wednesday was still leaking.

The thick industrial fuel pouring from the barge could be smelled for miles in city neighborhoods up and down the river, even as hundreds of cleanup workers struggled to contain the hundreds of thousands of gallons. Some environmentalists worried about reports of fish and bird kills in sensitive marsh areas downstream, though officials said they had so far heard of only a handful of oil-covered birds. Booms to protect areas richest in wildlife, at the river’s mouth, were being deployed, officials said.

The Mississippi remained closed to all boat traffic, stranding about 65 vessels. The effect on the area’s economy was thought to be significant, with this city’s port estimating a loss of at least $100,000 a day and probably more as the river remained closed, and petrochemical facilities dependent on it for shipping were threatened with a bottleneck, the Coast Guard said. Some suburbs stopped drawing drinking water from the river.
  Epa E-Mail Concluded Global Warming Endangers Public HealthJuly 24, 2008 20:18 Under a subpoena threat from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the Environmental Protection Agency late Wednesday sent the panel a copy of its Dec. 5 proposal to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act -- as a brief loan.

Three Senate Democrats -- Boxer, Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) -- huddled together with their aides to review the documents, which were e-mailed to the White House Office of Management and Budget last year in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision on the matter. The senators had to return the document after reading it.

The White House never opened the document and instructed EPA to retract it. Instead, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson backed away from the conclusions that he and his staff had reached and last week issued an "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking" that invited public comment on the question of whether to regulate emissions linked to global warming. It took no stand on the question the court had asked it to address: whether global warming poses a threat to human health or public welfare.

Boxer and her aides were allowed to take "reasonable notes" on the original proposal, which had concluded that greenhouse gases endanger public welfare. Among the points in the e-mail:

· "The Administrator believes that there is compelling and robust evidence that observed climate change can be attributed to the heating effect caused by global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

· "Based on the evidence before him, the Administrator believes it is reasonable to conclude current and future emissions of greenhouse gases will contribute to future climate change.

· "The Administrator is aware that the range of potential impacts that can result from climate change spans many elements of the global environment, and that all regions of the U.S. will be affected in some way.
  Destruction Of Wetlands May Cause “Carbon Bomb”July 21, 2008 16:49 Threatened by climate change, development and dehydration, wetlands throughout the world could release a “carbon bomb” if they are destroyed, scientists reported Sunday.

These wetlands contain 771 billion tons of greenhouse gases, 20 percent of all the carbon on Earth and about the same amount of carbon as is now in the atmosphere, the ecologists told an international conference.

If all the wetlands on the planet released their carbon, it would substantially increase the climate-warming greenhouse effect, according to Paulo Teixeira, coordinator of the Pantanal Regional Environment Program in Brazil.

"We could call it the carbon bomb," Teixeira told Reuters during a telephone interview from Cuiaba, Brazil, where the conference is being held.

"It's a very tricky situation."

Nearly 700 scientists from 28 countries are convening this week at the INTECOL International Wetlands Conference to search for ways to protect the endangered wetlands.

The wetlands are not merely swamps, but also include river deltas, marshes, mangroves, peat bogs, tundra, lagoons and river flood plains, which together account for 6 percent of the planet’s land surface and store 20 percent of its carbon. Furthermore, they produce one quarter of the world's food, purify water, recharge aquifers and buffer violent coastal storms.

  Judge Returns Gray Wolf To Endangered-Species ListJuly 18, 2008 21:37 A federal judge in Montana has restored protection to gray wolves in Northern Rockies. They were taken off the endangered-species list March 28 after federal officials said the species — once hunted, poisoned or trapped to the verge of extinction — was "thriving."

The order, by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, is expected to halt public hunts being planned by officials in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The National Resources Defense Council claims that 106 gray wolves have been killed in those states in the 118 days since being removed from the list. An estimated 2,000 wolves now live in the Northern Rockies after a decade-long restoration effort.
  State Supreme Court Gives New Protection To Endangered SpeciesJuly 18, 2008 08:43 The California Supreme Court gave new protection to the state's endangered species Thursday, ruling unanimously that developers, loggers and other commercial interests may be required to compensate for unforeseen wildlife losses.

The ruling, which affects both public works and private development, threw out a long-term logging plan approved by the state for 200,000 acres in Humboldt County, a plan that lower courts put on hold several years ago.

The state high court said the Department of Forestry had approved an "unidentifiable" plan that was still a work in progress and then delegated its completion to the logging company.

Justice Carlos R. Moreno, writing for the court, called the Forestry Department's action illegal and an abrogation of its duties.

The California Department of Forestry "failed to proceed according to law," Moreno wrote.

The decision grew out of lawsuits that followed the historic Headwaters Agreement, a 1996 pact between Pacific Lumber Co. and the state and federal governments. It was designed to resolve litigation and disputes over the logging of old-growth forests.

The battle between loggers and environmentalists centered on land that had been in timber production for 120 years and was home to the marbled murrelet, an endangered bird. After Pacific Lumber was acquired by Maxxam Inc. in 1996, Pacific began cutting down old-growth redwoods at a faster rate to offset Maxxam's debt. The deforestation led to litigation and huge protests.

The pact required Pacific Lumber to sell part of its land to the government for conservation and to obtain environmental permits.
  White House Buries Climate Change Deaths ReportJuly 17, 2008 14:34 The White House buried a report prepared by US government scientists which detailed a rising death toll from heat waves, fires, disease and smog they predicted would be caused by global warming.

Environmental advocates accused President George W Bush's administration of delaying the release of the 149-page report so that it could avoid regulating greenhouse gases.

It was prepared as part of a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling under the Clean Air Act, which found the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gases unless there was a scientific reason not to, but was not made public until Monday.

The report lays out for the first time the scientific case for the grave risks that global warming poses to people, and to the food, energy and water on which society depends.

"Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. Global warming, they wrote, is "unequivocal," and humans are to blame.

It suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise and allergies could worsen because climate change could produce more pollen. Smog, a leading cause of respiratory illness and lung disease, could become more severe in many parts of the country. At the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.
  Coral Reefs Face ExtinctionJuly 12, 2008 12:25 You don't have to be a marine biologist to understand the importance of corals — just ask any diver. The tiny underwater creatures are the architects of the beautiful, electric-colored coral reefs that lie in shallow tropical waters around the world. Divers swarm to them not merely for their intrinsic beauty, but because the reefs play host to a wealth of biodiversity unlike anywhere else in the underwater world. Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of total marine species. Take out the corals, and there are no reefs — remove the reefs, and entire ecosystems collapse.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what appears to be happening around the world. According to a comprehensive survey by the Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) published Thursday in Science, one-third of the more than 700 species of reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. Compare that to a decade ago, when only 2% of corals were endangered. Using criteria established by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — a group that publishes an annual Red List of threatened animals — that makes corals the most endangered species on the Earth. The assessment's results, presented at the annual International Coral Reef Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, come just a week after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that more than half of the coral reef ecosystems in U.S. territory are in fair or poor condition. "We're losing the coral in the coral reef," said William Platt, a coral reef expert with NOAA.

The causes of the coral's demise are manifold, but they all come back to one culprit: us. Overfishing — especially the kind that uses dynamite or poison to kill whole schools of fish — destroys the coral directly, while polluted runoff from agriculture simply chokes them. Development in booming coastal economies from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia further threaten the delicate reefs. Tourism — in the form of diving and snorkeling — can also cause damage. As with so many other endangered species around the world, there doesn't seem to be enough space for healthy coral reefs and unchecked human development. "It's just a litany of bad actions," says Brian Huse, the executive director of the Coral Reef Alliance. "Over the past 35 to 50 years, we've lost 25% of our reefs worldwide. Put it altogether, and you can see why."

Disease plays a role as well, with whole coral colonies wiped out by sudden sickness. That rise in illness may be linked to warmer sea temperatures, which is caused by climate change. And it's global warming that poses the most serious threat to the survival of coral. Corals have a symbiotic relationship with a kind of algae that provide nutrients and energy through photosynthesis — not to mention the vivid colors we associate with coral reefs. When corals are stressed by rising temperatures, the algae are expelled by the coral, turning the reefs bone white. That's a "bleaching event," and bleached coral are left weakened and defenseless against disease. Increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere also lead to more acidic seas, which impairs the ability of corals to form their skeletal reefs. (In acidic water, the reefs simply dissolve.) "Corals appear to be particularly sensitive to the buildup of CO2," says Kent Carpenter, the lead author of the Science study and the director of GMSA. "The corals will be the canary in the coal mine in terms of the effect climate change will have on our oceans."

  Risk Of Extinction 'Underestimated'July 06, 2008 21:00 Endangered species may be 100 times more at risk of extinction than most experts believe, it was claimed.

Methods used to determine which species should be on the "Red List" of those facing extinction greatly underestimate the danger, according to one US evolutionary biologist.

Dr Brett Melbourne, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, says they overlook a key factor - random differences between individuals in a given population.

Such differences may include variations in male-to-female sex ratio, as well as physical size or aspects of behaviour. Their influence on survival rates and reproductive success has an unexpectedly major impact on extinction risk, a study led by Dr Melbourne found.

"When we apply our new mathematical model to species extinction rates, it shows that things are worse than we thought," he said.

"By accounting for random differences between individuals, extinction rates for endangered species can be orders of magnitude higher than conservation biologists have believed."

Currently, extinction risk models are mainly based on just two factors, said Dr Melbourne, whose research appears in the journal Nature. One is the number of random events adversely affecting individuals within a population - for instance, the accidental drowning of a rock wallaby. The second is the impact of external, random events such as temperature and rainfall fluctuations that can influence birth and death rates.

To test the new mathematical models, Dr Melbourne's team studied populations of beetles in laboratory cages.

"The results showed the old models misdiagnosed the importance of different types of randomness, much like miscalculating the odds in an unfamiliar game of cards because you didn't know the rules," said Dr Melbourne.