Volume 12, Issue 16 ~ April 15-21, 2004
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Got an Envionmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: earthtalk@emagazine.com.
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

For Earth Day: 5 Issues to Write Your Congressperson About
Adapted from Take Action, Earth Day Network, www.earthday.net/do_good/

1. Clean Air and Water
A little compromise made back when the Clean Air Act was first passed lets power plants built before 1978 spew dangerous and illegal levels of pollutants until the plants are renovated. Now the Bush administration is considering relaxing the rules and allowing power companies to upgrade their plants without installing state-of-the-art pollution-control technology. The Bush administration has also recommended that Congress reduce the involvement of citizens and states in implementing the Clean Water Act and protecting streams from hydropower operations.

Tell Congress to reject these changes and put people and health first.

2. Food and Agriculture
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is deciding whether to approve the first application by a company to sell genetically engineered salmon. But not enough research has been done to know whether these fish could wreak havoc on the environment in ways we’ve yet to imagine — and there’s no guarantee these farmed fish won’t escape and breed with their wild cousins.

Similarly, large companies like Kraft and Kellogg are moving forward with genetically modified ingredients in some packaged foods without a clear understanding of the potential health or environmental risks.

Write the FDA, Kraft and Kellogg and urge them not to move forward with genetically modified foods until we know more about the potential consequences of bioengineering.

3. Climate Change and Clean Energy
The oil industry wants Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling in exchange for very weak measures addressing climate change and energy efficiency. But oil will soon be an historical footnote as wind power, hydrogen and other clean, renewable energy options move closer to center stage.

Send a letter to President Bush and to your members of Congress urging them to support legislation that reduces carbon emissions, protects the Arctic and promotes real energy efficiency.

4. Pollution and Toxic Waste
One in four Americans lives within four miles of a Superfund site, a previously occupied manufacturing or chemical facility that has left behind a poison legacy that needs to be cleaned up. These sites, which include some of the most toxic waste dumps in our nation, pose a threat to land, water, air and people. By law, polluters must pay for cleanup, but corporate lobbyists are hard at work trying to absolve them of responsibility, which means either the sites won’t be cleaned or they will be cleaned instead with taxpayer dollars.

Want to know who’s polluting in your community? Go to Environmental Defense’s Scorecard (www.scorecard.org) and type in your zipcode.

Ask your members of Congress to strengthen, not weaken, Superfund legislation.

5. Recycling and Solid Waste
Although 30 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. is recycled or composted, that means that some 70 percent of paper, cardboard, glass, metals, plastics, rubber, leather, textiles, wood, food, yard trimmings and inorganic waste is still incinerated or buried in landfills.

There are some positive trends: In 1960, just 6.3 percent of total U.S. waste was recycled, only a fifth of what is being recycled today. And in a more recent year’s comparison, some 68 million tons of waste were recycled or composted in 2001, compared to 34 million tons just 10 years earlier.

Urge your local and state representatives to support efforts that will further these positive trends and increase recycling.

And write to the companies you patronize to encourage them to undertake less wasteful practices such as over-packaging and the use of disposable containers.

5. Oceans and Fisheries
Fisheries around the globe are being depleted rapidly by overfishing. Catches are getting smaller and so are the fish, as the fishing industry reels in younger and younger fish as their species dwindle. If you eat fish, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide to learn which fish are best to eat and which are best to avoid (also because of mercury contamination). You can download a convenient pocket card to carry as you shop for fish.

Pollution is another problem. Major cruise lines, like Royal Caribbean, are dumping thousands of gallons of sewage into our oceans. Cruise ships are not required by Congress to have discharge permits, so they legally can dump sewage as close as just three miles offshore. The cost to outfit these ships with advanced wastewater treatment systems would have little to no impact on the cost of a cruise, yet Royal Caribbean chooses not to do this.

Take action to let Royal Caribbean know what you think.

6. Transportation
The average American driver spends 443 hours driving every year — and American cars, trucks and buses spew 12 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, ground and water in the process. More cars and trucks are bad for the environment and terrible for human health; roads encroach on valuable farmlands and open spaces; and nobody likes traffic jams. Unfortunately, congressional support for the U.S. passenger rail system, which could mitigate many of our woes, continues to fall.

Ask your members of Congress to stand up for Amtrak, and to support investment in high-speed rail corridors and public transportation of all kinds.

7. Population
Human birth rates, especially in poor, developing countries, continue to soar well above the replacement level of two children per couple, and population is growing well beyond the “carrying capacity” of these impoverished countries. This has a profound effect on the environment, not to mention human misery.

A very strong majority of Americans supports U.S. family planning aid to developing countries. However, the Bush administration recently rescinded $34 million appropriated by Congress for United Nations Population Fund family planning efforts, and it halted condom shipments to nearly 30 developing countries, including some with high rates of AIDS.

Write President Bush and your representatives and urge them to go along with the American public and support United Nations Population Fund, a crucial agency that plays a major role in expanding access to family planning and maternal health care around the world.

9. National Parks, Forests and Wilderness
Air pollution, road development and inadequate funds for upkeep are just a few of the problems facing America’s national parks. From Glacier Bay to the Mojave Desert, some of our nation’s most spectacular regions are endangered.

Write to the National Parks Service and ask them to protect the parks from these ongoing threats.

Roadless areas need protection, too, to preserve our forests and other wild areas. The Bush administration has decided to roll back a plan put in place by the Clinton administration to ban road-building and logging on nearly 60 million acres of some of the wildest land remaining in the United States. Two million Americans have said they favor the “roadless rule.”

Ask your representative to sponsor legislation protecting roadless areas.

10. Protect Animals
Dolphin deaths dropped a whopping 97 percent after “dolphin-safe” labels started appearing on tuna cans in 1990. But now the fishing industry, with the support of the Bush Administration, is trying to redefine what it means to be dolphin-safe, a move that will only compromise the well-being of these graceful and intelligent animals.

Write Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and Secretary of State Colin Powell to tell them to stick with the current definition of “dolphin-safe.”

Norway still hasn’t signed the international whaling moratorium, and Japan continues to conduct “scientific” whaling, though the spoils of this activity are ending up in pricey Tokyo restaurants. Let the Japan and Norway embassies know that killing whales is not acceptable.

Coming next week: 10 Personal Actions that Can Make a Difference for the Environment


  • To locate your senator: www.senate.gov; to locate your representative in Congress: www.house.gov

  • President George W. Bush: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 • president@whitehouse.gov

  • Secretary of State Colin Powell: U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520 • 202-647-4000

  • Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans: Room 5516, U.S. Department of Commerce, 14th & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20230 • 202-482-2000, devans@doc.gov

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration: 5600 Fishers Ln., Rockville MD 20857 • 888-INFO-FDA• www.fda.gov

  • National Park Service: 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240 • 202-208-6843

  • Kellogg’s: P.O. Box CAMB, Battle Creek, MI, 49016 • 800-962-1413 • www.kelloggs.com

  • Kraft Foods, Inc.: 1 Kraft Ct., Glenview, IL 60025 • 800-323-0768, www.kraftfoods.com

  • Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch • www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp

  • Royal Caribbean Cruises: 1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33143 • 305-539-6603

  • Embassy of Japan: 2520 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 • 202-238-6700 • jicc@embjapan.org

  • Norway Embassy, 2720 34th St. NW, Washington, DC 20008 • 202-333-6000 • emb.washington@mfa.no

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Last updated April 15, 2004 @ 1:12am.