In This Issue
The controversy over teaching intelligent design in public schools produced widely divergent results in two key states, Kansas and Pennsylvania. In Kansas, the state Board of Education voted to redefine “science” to include non-natural explanations of the world such as intelligent design. The vote, expected for months, approved the new language criticizing evolution by 6-4.
The standards are used to craft statewide achievement tests. Local school boards still decide how science is taught in the classrooms. Even so, the vote was viewed as a big win for proponents of intelligent design, who believe the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Critics say intelligent design is a form of creationism – a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation – and that it should not be taught in science classes. Teaching creationism in public schools was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. The vast majority of scientists agree that intelligent design does not meet the standards of science and should not be included in science classes.
The Kansas decision came as voters in Pennsylvania replaced all eight school board members who approved a similar policy in some of the state’s schools.
Since October 2004, schools in Dover, Pennsylvania, have been ordered to read out a prepared statement on intelligent design in biology classes. Teachers must tell pupils that Darwin’s theory of evolution is unproven, and that the universe is so complex that it may have been created by a higher power. Several Dover parents filed suit, accusing the school board of introducing religion and creationism into schools, in breach of the US constitutional separation of church and state. The case will likely be decided by January 2006.
ESA President Nancy Grimm offered comments on the Kansas state Board of Education decision: http://www.esa.org/pao/PressRoom/pressReleases2005/kansasEduDecision.php
Using the Healthy Forests Restoration Act as a template, the Chairman of the House Forests Subcommittee introduced legislation that could expedite the planning process for salvage logging on public lands to under five months.
The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act from Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) would give the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) thirty days to evaluate and make recommendations for any restoration work following catastrophic events on over 1,000 acres such as major wildfires or hurricanes. Following the review period, the Forest Service or BLM would propose emergency restoration and reforestation projects.
The bill is designed to streamline a process that can often take several months, and in some cases, years, as the Forest Service and non-governmental actors often disagree over the necessity and scope of salvage projects. Walden said there is no reason the planning period should take so long. If expedited restoration work is deemed necessary, a streamlined process for environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act would occur, similar to the current Healthy Forests Act, Walden said.
The bill gained support from Western lawmakers and the timber industry, who have complained the time required to approve salvage projects on federal lands has caused the trees to lose value to the point where the project is not cost effective.
But critics would prefer legislation offered by Forests Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom Udall (D-NM) last month that would create pilot projects for dealing with forests following natural disasters such as fires. H.R. 3793 would require third-party monitoring of some forest rehabilitation projects in order to protect “wildlife habitat, water quality and forest resiliency.”
At a Senate hearing, Senators and witnesses sharply criticized a National Park Service (NPS) proposal of management policy changes.
The agency began reviewing its management policies, last modified in 2001, after congressional Republicans complained the old version shifted the management focus too far in favor of conservation at the expense of public access and recreation. But criticism from a bipartisan group of senators suggested that the new proposals go too far in the other direction.
Much of the criticism from Senators and witnesses focused on a proposed change removing language stating that Congress intended and the courts have interpreted the 1916 Organic Act to make conservation predominant when in conflict with providing for the public enjoyment of resources. The proposed draft replaces that key section with language stating, “the service must balance the sometimes competing obligations of conservation and enjoyment in managing the parks.”
“That lowers the longtime standard for management of national parks,” former NPS Deputy Director Deny Galvin told the panel. “I can find no instance in reviewing 80 years of policy statement where the word ‘balance’ is used to discuss the fundamental purpose of our park system.”
“There’s no reason to do this unless you’re trying to undermine protections of the parks,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “If the idea is to continue the bias toward conservation that ought to be made clear because I think it’s been confused.”
NPS observers have been on edge since August, when a leaked draft proposal revealed policy changes that would have dramatically altered national park management. The August draft, prepared by Paul Hoffman, Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, would have changed the management policies to recognize preservation of parks as an objective only to avoid permanent and irreversible damage of park resources and values.
The “official” version released in October for public comment is widely seen as an improvement by critics. NPS Deputy Director Steve Martin told the Senate Parks Subcommittee that NPS is not finished making changes to the policies, and the Service is open to suggestions.
The United States and fifteen nations committed to boost national recovery of methane emissions to use as an energy source, the Bush Administration announced. The action plans aim to collectively reach annual reductions by 2015 in methane emissions of up to 50 million metric tons of carbon equivalent or recovery of 500 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The agreement was reached at the second annual Methane to Markets Partnership meeting in Buenos Aires.
If these projections are achieved it would be equivalent to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions of 33 million cars, planting 55 million acres of trees, or eliminating emissions from 50 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.
The administration launched the Methane to Markets Partnership in November 2004 in a voluntary effort to advance the recovery and use of methane as an energy source. The nations pledged to identify the largest emissions sources, improve methods of estimating emissions and minimize emissions through cost-effective recovery, which then can be used in energy production. The partners anticipate their actions will reduce the greenhouse effect, but there are no binding individual targets for emission reductions by each nation.
U.S. partners in the initiative are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. All together, the Methane to Markets partners represent more than 60 percent of global methane emissions.
The United States is one of the world’s largest emitters of methane. Approximately 65 percent, or 119 million metric tons of carbon equivalent, of its human-induced methane emissions come from coal mines, landfills, and natural gas and oil systems. In the last ten years, the U.S. created methane-recovery programs with each of these industries. As a result, total U.S. methane emissions in 2003 were more than ten percent lower than emissions in 1990.
Thousands of contaminated industrial and military sites left over from wars in Iraq must urgently be cleaned up to stop them from further harming people’s health and the environment, a United Nations agency said.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has assessed five contaminated sites, including chemical and petrochemical factories, mines, military scrap-yards and sites polluted by depleted uranium. Leaking heavy metal wastes contaminate the soil, ground and drinking water, UNEP said. The agency estimates it will cost about $40 million to tackle the operation’s next stage, which includes cleaning up an additional twenty areas and assessing other sites, implementing environmental legislation, and buying back military scrap material. Most importantly, Iraq must build a hazardous waste treatment facility, according to UNEP.
African governments and international development agencies launched a regional partnership, TerrAfrica, to address land degradation and increase sustainable land management in Africa. The initiative was announced at a United Nations Conference of the Parties on Desertification in Nairobi, Kenya.
Kalonzo Musyoka, Kenya’s Minister of Environment, welcomed formation of the group, which he said will fight one of the most serious problems facing Africa. “Land degradation and a low productivity in the agricultural sector are inter-linked and important reasons for critical food shortages experienced in many of our African countries,” he said. “TerrAfrica represents a new and collective business model for addressing desertification and land degradation.”
It is estimated that 65 percent of the continent’s population is affected by land degradation, which often is a byproduct of efforts by farmers to get more out of the land. At least over three percent of the continent’s agricultural Gross Domestic Product is lost annually to soil and nutrient loss in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Mathaai challenged TerrAfrica to not only talk about desertification, but also work with farmers at the grassroots level.
“No matter how many policies we put in place, no matter how much we talk in these international [forums] until we can go down to work with those farmers, until we can stop the deforestation…I can assure you there will be another TerrAfrica in another 30 years,” said Professor Mathaai.
Sources: BBC.co.uk; Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; The New York Times; Voice of America News