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No streams are unpolluted, many animal and plant species face extinction

WASHINGTON -The United States may have no streams left that are free from chemical contamination, and about one-fifth of animal species and one-sixth of plant types are at risk of extinction, says a private report on the nation's ecosystems.

The findings are in an ambitious study commissioned five years ago by former President Bill Clinton and released Tuesday by the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment.

The report tries to document in one place the sort of statistics about natural resources that until now were dispersed among several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department.

But perhaps more important than any particular findings, administration officials and lawmakers said, is that the report for the first time proposes an objective set of ecological "indicators" about the nation's environmental health. The study offers 103 indicators but says completed and adequate data is available for only 56 percent of them. For example, the only national data on nonnative or invasive species are for birds and freshwater fish.

"This report is, at one level, a road map of what we need to do to gather adequate data," said Republican Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee.

The Heinz Center plans to update its study every five years. William Clark, a Harvard University government professor who oversaw the mammoth project, said the purpose was to "help raise the factual basis of the debate" over difficult environmental issues.

"This report is going to mean a great deal for our environment," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said at a ceremony. "Environmental indicators are clearly the tools that we need to do our job well."

Each year the federal government spends more than $600 million collecting environmental data, but the center's experts say that information still isn't comprehensive. At the same time, those experts say, the government spends billions of dollars on pollution controls and cleanups: $120 billion in 1994, the last year for which such figures are available.

Members of the center's team of 150 experts and others compared the need for indicators to the role that factors such as interest rates, unemployment, and inflation play in helping gauge the economy. Environmental, industry, government, and academic groups all participated in the report's making.

Copyright 2002, Associated Press
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