Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet

Funding Delays Cripple Family Planning Programs

In its waning hours, the 104th Congress boosted funding for 1997 international family planning programs to $410 million, including $25 million earmarked for United Nations programs. That sounds good, but funding restrictions dictate that only $114 million can be spent next year, forcing many programs to shut down unless citizens convince Congress to release funds earlier.

Activists are fighting for the money to be released on March 1, 1997, instead of July 1, as scheduled. That will happen only if Congress is convinced that to wait longer would cripple local population programs abroad. President Clinton is expected to report to Congress by Feb. 1 that delaying payments would be fatal for these programs.

Last year, clinics dealt with a 40 percent cut in funding and a switch in U.S. policy to disburse aid in monthly installments instead of a lump sum. While many scaled back to meet last year's budget shortfalls, program managers have indicated that they cannot survive another year of reduced funding.

Programs like the one in Leogane, Haiti, would be hardest-hit. Haiti has the second-highest fertility rate in the Western Hemisphere, with the average woman bearing five children. The U.S. Agency for International Development has established seven family planning clinics in Leogane, which distribute information on family planning. Clinics like these are rare in Haiti and the local government doesn't help fund the seven in Leogane, said Mona Meitre, who manages the clinics.

"The president and Congress can release population funds this spring and assure that women and children in the poorest regions of the world continue to receive critical family planning services," said Karen Kalla, population program director for the Sierra Club. "If the clinics are forced to close, thousands of women and children in these countries will have nowhere else to turn."

EPA Strategy Going Up in Smoke

The Environmental Protection Agency failed its first test to strengthen hazardous waste regulations for cement and light aggregate kiln incinerators. So say Club volunteers in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas regarding an EPA-approved operating permit for a cement kiln in Chanute, Kan., that will endanger community health in all three states.

As part of its 1993 National Combustion Strategy, the EPA proposed to take "bold new steps" to reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated in the United States and ensure the safety and reliability of hazardous waste incineration. Ash Grove Cement in Chanute was the first of 27 cement and lightweight aggregate kilns to receive a permit to burn hazardous waste under the strategy. But a coalition of local citizens and environmental organizations, including the Club's Lone Star, Oklahoma and Kansas chapters, fear the EPA permit will set a weak national precedent, and is appealing the permit and asking for a peer review to analyze the quality of the agency's work.

Cement and lightweight aggregate kilns have a history of polluting. During the 1980s, in an effort to remove hazardous waste from landfills, Congress allowed these facilities to burn certain high-energy waste on an interim basis with little regulation. The EPA issued stringent rules for new kilns in 1991. However, existing facilities that had burned or planned to burn hazardous waste would be exempt; they were not required to conduct environmental impact studies, public hearings, trial burns or risk assessments. "The cement kiln industry in the U.S. has been exploiting the environmental exemption loophole for far too long," said Marti Sinclair, Oklahoma Chapter air quality chair.

Club activists say the permit is based on a risk assessment that doesn't comply with guidelines limiting the discharge of dangerous levels of mercury, lead and particulate matter into the air. It also fails to set limits for dioxin, a known hormone disrupter and a suspected human carcinogen. Oklahoma activists assert that Ash Grove will compound pollution problems in the tri-state area given the presence of three other large waste incinerators.

Razing Manitoba

In 1992, the Canadian Parks Council called for completing a coast-to-coast network of protected natural areas by the year 2000. The initiative, signed by Canada's federal, provincial and territorial governments, stipulates that natural heritage, critical wildlife habitat and representative ecosystems be placed off-limits to resource extraction. But Manitoba environmentalists say that their province's failure to implement that commitment is devastating prime park lands.

Manitoba is the only Canadian province that allows full-scale resource extraction (including mining, logging, oil-and-gas exploration and hydroelectric development) in its parks, despite making the same commitment as other provinces to the initiative. Prairies Chapter Conservation Chair Alice Chambers says the province is now entrenching resource extraction and development as the primary focus of most of its southern parks in its latest land-use proposal.

In contrast to the large land base owned by the U.S. government, the federal government of Canada has jurisdiction over only about 4 percent of the nation's total acreage, which makes enforcement of national standards virtually impossible. Compounding the problem, the Manitoba Natural Resources Department has little clout in an industry-driven provincial government.

Manitoba's Grass River Park is a case in point. Despite important woodland caribou wintering and calving grounds, high water quality and excellent fishing and recreational opportunities, 98 percent of the park is open to some form of development or resource extraction.

Manitoba activists are doing what they can to pressure their representatives to abide by national commitments, but they say that outside assistance would be most effective -- especially from the United States, which imports Canadian provincial park timber as newsprint, lumber and paper bags.

"If activists outside Canada question Canadian representatives about their commitment to a national network of protected areas, the embarrassment factor is much greater," said Chambers.

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