AmeriScan: April 14, 2004

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Pacific Northwest Called Perfect for Green Power

SEATTLE, Washington, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - With its well trained and highly talented workforce, intellectual capital, and entrepreneurial spirit, the Pacific Northwest is uniquely poised to lead the country, and the world, in the development of these clean energy technologies, said Congressman Jay Inslee, a Democrat, at the forum he hosted in Seattle Monday.

Inslee calls the 10 year, $300 billion proposal, the New Apollo Energy Project because it parallels the fervor of the drive to put the first people on the moon during the Apollo Space program of the 1960s.

He calls it "a bold, new energy policy that will marshal the resources of the federal government to provide a vision" of how to break the U.S. addiction to Middle East oil, thereby improving homeland and national security.

The project would address the threat of global warming, and expand the U.S. economy, creating millions of new jobs, according to a report released at the forum by University of California-Berkeley Professor Daniel Kammen of the Energy and Resources Group at the Goldman School of Public Policy where he heads the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

The Kammen report compares 13 recent studies of how a shift towards clean energy technologies would result in job creation. The study estimated that 188,000 to 240,000 jobs would be created by renewable power projects, versus 86,000 jobs by the current policy of rapid development of natural gas.

In a statement introducing the report, Inslee said, "Across a wide range of assumptions and approaches, these studies confirm that supporting renewable and efficient energy systems will create more American jobs than would a comparable investment in traditional fossil fuel based systems."

Such a policy would also reduce the U.S. foreign trade deficit and reestablish the U.S. as a leader in this growing market, said Inslee and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, who also signed the statement.

Kammen and his team, Kamal Kapadia and Matthias Fripp, examined the assumptions used in each of the 13 studies, and developed a job creation model which shows their implications for employment under several future energy scenarios.

They found that the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar of investment, than the fossil fuel based energy sector.

Jobs in the fossil fuel sector are declining for reasons that are, for the most part, not related to environmental regulations, said the Kammen report, which acknowled that a shift from fossil fuels to renewables in the energy sector, at whatever scale, will create some job losses. These losses can be adequately mitigated, ameliorated or alleviated through a number of policy actions, the report says.

Embedding support for renewables in a policy context of support for energy efficiency, green building standards, and sustainable transportation will enhance net positive impacts on the economy, employment and the environment, the Kammen team concluded.

The Kammen report recommends at least a 10 percent investment tax credit for renewable energy systems or combined heat and power systems with an overall efficiency of at least 60 to 70 percent.

Kammen supports a federal renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent by 2020 to help build renewable energy markets. That would mean a federal requirement that all states buy at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

"A number of studies indicate that this would result in renewable energy development in every region of the country with most coming from wind, biomass, and geothermal sources," the report says.

The Kammen team recommends a public benefits fund financed through a $0.002/kWh charge on all electricity sales. Such a fund could match state funds to assist in continuing or expanding energy efficiency, low income services, the deployment of renewables, research and development, as well as public purpose programs the costs of which have traditionally been incorporated into electricity rates by regulated utilities.

And finally, the Kammen report "strongly" supports the idea of a carbon tax, which is also supported by many of the studies analyzed.

"Somebody's going to make a buck and solve these problems, and we want it to be us," said Inslee. "Over the last 20 years, we've created the software industry, we've created the biotech industry, but our cars get less gas mileage than they did in the 1980s."

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San Francisco Test Drives Fuel Cell Cars

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome will be driving one of the few hydrogen fuel cell cars in existence to some official events this year. The city's Environment Department has leased two fuel cell vehicles from SF Honda, and they will be rotated among various city officials including Mayor Newsom.

“In these times when breaking our dependence on fossil fuels and gaining energy self-sufficiency is critical, San Francisco is demonstrating the viability of clean, alternative technologies,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“San Francisco is poised to become the premier stop on California’s hydrogen highway,” the mayor said.

The Honda FCX cars will fuel up at a new hydrogen fueling station to be built by the end of April at the City’s Central Shop facility, which already services the City’s other alternative fuel vehicles.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity and heat in the process with no other emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the Honda FCX can travel 170 miles between fuelings. The cars have a braking system that recharges the vehicle’s ultra-capacitor, as well as an advanced computer system that monitors and regulates their performance.

The Honda FCX is the first fuel cell vehicle to be certified by the California Air Resources Board and the EPA, and is considered a zero emission vehicle.

“Ten years ago fuel cell vehicles seemed like science fiction, but the fact that we’re able to drive these cars today on the streets of San Francisco makes me believe that eliminating harmful vehicle emissions is not only possible, but certain,” said SF Environment director Jared Blumenfeld.

While San Francisco was able to lease these vehicles as part of an early demonstration program, fuel cell cars will not likely be commercially available to the public for another 10 years. Funding for this program came from a variety of sources including the Goldman Fund, PG&E, Transportation Fund for Clean Air, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The hydrogen fuel cell pilot project will demonstrate how well these vehicles will perform in San Francisco’s hilly terrain.

The city’s Fire Marshall, health and safety officials and fleet maintenance personnel will have opportunities to understand hydrogen’s unique properties, paving the way for the future use of this fuel. The city will share its experience with other fleet operators and municipalities in the Bay Area and beyond.

"San Francisco is demonstrating great vision by taking part today in what will likely be the transportation standard of the future. This program helps bring the vision of a hydrogen economy closer to reality, and demonstrates the Honda FCX is a practical vehicle for today’s world," said Gunnar Lindstrom of American Honda Motors.

The city’s currently operates over 700 clean air vehicles, including street sweepers, parking control vehicles, and police squad cars that run on natural gas; zero emission battery electric vehicles in the vehicle pool; and neighborhood electric vehicles for use in parks and open spaces. Other city sponsored programs include low emission taxicabs and a fleet of natural gas long haul garbage trucks.

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Yucca Mountain Nuclear Information Falls Short

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - The technical positions behind the Department of Energy's (DOE) license application to build and operate a high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada may not be supported by enough information for authorization unless substantial changes are made, a branch of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said Monday.

During weeklong audits during the months of November, December and January at the DOE and Bechtel SAIC facilities in Las Vegas, a team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards evaluated the quality of technical information in three documents that the Department of Energy is preparing to support its Yucca Mountain application.

The three documents - chosen because their subjects are of high or medium significance to repository performance - are on the general and localized corrosion of the waste package outer barrier, the commercial spent nuclear fuel waste form degradation model, and the drift degradation analysis in the Yucca Mountain tunnel.

The evaluation team found that, "if DOE continues to use their existing policies, procedures, methods, and practices at the same level of implementation and rigor, the license application may not contain information sufficient to support the technical positions in the application."

This could result in the NRC issuing a large volume of requests for additional information in some areas, which could extend NRC staff’s time for review and could prevent the NRC from making a decision regarding a construction authorization to DOE within the three years required by law, even with a possible extension to four years, the report said.

The NRC has made no determination on the technical adequacy of the documents evaluated, known as Analysis Model Reports. This would be done during the review of the license application. Conclusions drawn from the results of this evaluation indicate neither NRC acceptance nor rejection of any DOE documents.

The NRC team found that the DOE and its contractor, Bechtel SAIC Company, had used several good practices and found the technical information was much improved over what was presented in the DOE’s Total System Performance Assessment for Site Recommendation in 2001. The information was up to date, more comprehensive and contained more data, the team said.

But the evaluators identified concerns with both "the clarity of the technical bases and the sufficiency of technical information used to support DOE’s explanation of the technical bases."

The team also had concerns with the effectiveness of DOE’s corrective actions. The number and similar pattern of concerns found in the three documents that NRC reviewed "suggests that other DOE documents may have similar limitations," the team said.

Copies of the report, “U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Staff Evaluation of U.S. Department of Energy Analysis Model Reports, Process Controls, and Corrective Actions,” will be available on the NRC website by clicking here.

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Conflict Over Threatened Bull Trout Resurfaces

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - To determine how threatened bull trout have fared since they were listed for protection in the lower 48 states in 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a five year review as required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). But conservation groups say the Service is manipulating public opinion by withholding information on the benefits of protecting clean water needed by the fish.

“The purpose of the review is to ensure that the species has the appropriate level of protection under the ESA,” said Dave Allen, director of the Service’s Pacific Region. “Reviewing the latest information will also lead to better management and improved conservation of the species.”

The review considers scientific and commercial data that have emerged since the current listing - species biology, habitat conditions, threat status and trends.

If the Service finds that a change in the species’ classification is warranted, the agency may propose to reclassify or delist the bull trout. Any change would go through a separate formal rulemaking process, including public review and comment.

The Service says it is "temporarily suspending" work on the draft Recovery Plan chapters for the Columbia River, Klamath River, and St. Mary-Belly River distinct population segments of bull trout, which were released in November 2002, pending completion of the five year review.

The Service will continue to finalize the draft Recovery Plan chapters for the Jarbidge and Coastal-Puget Sound population segments and release them for public comment this spring to ensure that all the population segments have draft Recovery Plan chapters provided for public review.

After the public comment period has closed for these two chapters, further work on them will also be suspended pending completion of the five year review.

Separately, bull trout critical habitat work is continuing on a revised schedule. The Service's court settlement with two conservation groups that sued to force critical habitat designation for the threatened fish calls for a final designation of critical habitat for the Columbia and Klamath River population segments to be completed by September 2004.

An economic analysis of this critical habitat proposal was released on April 5, and the Service says public comments on it and the critical habitat proposal will be accepted until May 5.

But conservation groups that sued the Service to obtain critical habitat protection for the threatened fish, say the Service is slanting the information available to the public by withholding important data.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan Monday demanded that the Service release the full cost-benefit analysis of designating critical habit for bull trout in the Pacific Northwest.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service misled the American public when they released their censored version of this economic analysis last week," said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. The cost-benefit analysis the government released did not include the 59 pages of benefits in the original cost-benefit analysis by Bioeconomics of Missoula, Montana.

In a letter sent to John Young, the Region 1 Bull Trout Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Oregon, the two groups charged that the economic analysis was changed when the original cost-benefit analysis showed the positive economic benefits of protecting clean water. A copy of the censored cost-benefit analysis with the benefits included was attached to the letter.

In addition, conservation groups say they have been left out of the consultation process. The cost-benefit analysis released to the public states that the extractive industries were given a chance to comment on the full version of the cost-benefit analysis. Comments were solicited from the mining and logging associations such as American Forestry and Paper Association and the National Mining Association, but not from municipal water departments, conservation groups or the general public.

"Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident," said Steve Kelly of Friends of the Wild Swan. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has demonstrated a pattern of stalling, delaying and driving up legal costs to thwart the honest efforts of determined citizen groups to recover bull trout and enforce compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973."

In January 2002, the Service and the two conservation groups reached a court settlement establishing a schedule for the proposal of critical habitat for bull trout. The two groups sued the Service for not designating critical habitat after listing bull trout as threatened in 1999. At the time, the Service said it was unable to complete critical habitat determinations because of budget constraints.

The Service says its proposed critical habitat for the Jarbidge, St. Mary-Belly, and Coastal-Puget Sound bull trout population segments will be released for public comment in late June or early July. Final critical habitat for these population segments will be designated in June 2005.

The Service is asking anyone with new scientific or commercial information concerning the status of the bull trout to submit it to John Young, Bull Trout Coordinator, Attn: 5-year Review, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, 911 NE 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97232. Comments can be faxed to: 503-231-6243, or emailed to:

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Habitat for California Jumping Frog Proposed Again

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday reproposed 4.1 million acres in 28 California counties as critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. This native amphibian is believed to have inspired Mark Twain’s short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."

The Service originally established 4.138 million acres of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog on March 13, 2001 in response to a December 1999 federal court order won by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Jumping Frog Research Institute, the Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation.

The habitat encompasses California coastal forested watersheds from the North Fork of the Feather River south to the Los Angeles National Forest. Covering parts of 28 counties, the land is 68 percent privately owned and 32 percent under the jurisdiction of federal, state or county governments.

A lawsuit challenging the critical habitat designation was filed in the Northern District Court of California on June 8, 2001. Plaintiffs included the Home Builders Association of Northern California, California Chamber of Commerce, California Building Industry Association, California Alliance for Jobs, and the Building Industry Legal Defense.

Most of the 2001 designation was vacated by the court on November 6, 2002. The court cited deficiencies in both the final rule establishing the critical habitat designation, and the economic analysis done in anticipation of the rule. It ordered the Service to conduct a new economic analysis and publish a new critical habitat proposal by March 2004, and a final revised rule by November 2005.

This proposed rule is published in accordance with the November 6 consent decree.

Under the most recent plan, the South Fork Feather River unit has been deleted, and the South Fork Calaveras River unit also has been deleted from the proposed critical habitat determination.

Part of the East Bay-Diablo Range Unit has been excluded from the proposed critical habitat determination because it is encompassed by the San Joaquin County Habitat Conservation Plan.

And farther south, part of the Santa Rosa Plateau/Santa Ana Mountains unit has been excluded because it is encompassed by the West Riverside County Habitat Conservation Plan.

This proposed critical habitat designation does not take in:

"To help ensure that the final critical habitat is designated as accurately as possible, we encourage people to review our proposal in detail," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Service’s California/Nevada Operations office. "We are particularly interested in comments on economic impact, on the scientific accuracy of the primary constituent elements defined in this proposal, and whether the two recently discovered populations of California red-legged frogs in Youngs Creek, in Calaveras County, and in artificial ponds in Nevada County should be included in designated critical habitat."

Due to "budget and time constraints," Thompson said, this reproposal reflects the critical habitat designation made by the Service in 2001. But it may be revised based on public comments, the economic analysis that will be prepared on the reproposal, and the review of other information available to the Service.

"We are already working with the military, local governments and landowners on species management programs for the frog and other threatened and endangered species," Thompson said. "Our goal is to work cooperatively with all landowners and local governments to recover this threatened amphibian that for many Americans has become a beloved icon of California’s Gold Rush era."

A complete set of maps and legal descriptions for the proposed critical habitat designation can be found in the 2001 critical habitat rule, which was published on March 13, 2001 (66 FR 14626.)

Amphibians are particularly sensitive to disease, pollution, toxic chemicals, radiation and habitat destruction because they breathe partially, and in some species, completely, through their skin. Thompson says, "The worldwide occurrences of amphibian declines and deformities may be an early warning to us of serious ecosystem imbalances."

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Trumpeter Swan Hunting Allowed Over Scientific Advice

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed findings of a scientific panel he convened, leaving in place a ruling that allows hunters to shoot rare trumpeter swans, according to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national association of government employees.

In a letter dated March 26, Director Steve Williams rejected a PEER complaint that the Service illegally relied on false information when it denied trumpeter swans legal protection last year. Still, Williams ordered the agency’s work to undergo a “peer review process.”

PEER’s complaint alleges that the Service violated the Data Quality Act when it determined that Rocky Mountain trumpeter swans do not constitute a distinct population segment, thereby blocking an effort to protect the swans under the Endangered Species Act from hunts in Utah, a state in the birds’ migratory flyway.

Enacted in 2000, the Data Quality Act requires federal agencies to use only information meeting the highest standards of “quality, objectivity, utility and integrity.” Williams' decision on trumpeter swans was the first appeal brought under the Data Quality Act.

“Mr. Williams ruled the data wasn’t broken but that he will fix it right away,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that FWS has not released a copy of its scientific advisory panel’s findings to PEER.

PEER contends that the Service relied on an in-house report that was not peer-reviewed, ignored peer-reviewed work that contradicted their in-house study, and misinterpreted the one peer-reviewed study they did use.

“The purpose of the Data Quality Act is to enhance the transparency of science used in the regulatory process but Director Williams has managed to make his agency’s scientific process even more opaque,” observed Ruch, whose organization has a Data Quality Act lawsuit pending against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the time the decision was made, PEER released a white paper written by Service employees, titled "Swan Dive: Trumpeter Swan Restoration Trumped by Politics," charging that the agency contorted its biology in order to authorize swan hunters in Utah to shoot trumpeters, which had previously been protected.

“This is yet another instance of politics trumping science under the Bush administration, in this case to the detriment of the trumpeter,” said Ruch. “Director Williams should explain why he overruled his agency’s top scientists.”

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Florida Buys Black Bear Habitat for Preservation

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - Three land acquisitions in the Florida panhandle, totalling 2,716 acres were approved Monday by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet. They will protect the waters of the Apalachicola River, black bear habitat and rare evergreens found only along the river’s bluffs.

“The Florida Panhandle is recognized nationally for its biological diversity,” said Florida's new Environment Secretary Colleen Castille “Adding thousands of acres to one of Florida’s state parks is a fitting way to protect rare wildlife and water quality within the Apalachicola River,” she said.

Located in Gadsden and Liberty counties, two parcels totaling 1,100 acres were purchased through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Each acquisition protects a mile and a half of shoreline along the Apalachicola River, preserving some of the last remaining land supporting the rare Florida yew and torreya trees.

Endangered and threatened wildlife found among the deep ravines and high plateaus of the conservation area include the gopher tortoise, bald eagle, and Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites.

The area’s waterways are inhabited by more than 130 species of fish and shellfish, including grouper, flounder, striped bass, shrimp and blue crab.

In a separate decision, the governor and Cabinet voted to acquire an additional 1,600 acres to attach to the 171,498 acre St. Joe Timberland Florida Forever project. This acquisition includes more than two miles of waterfront property along Crooked Creek and Short Creek, which empties into the Apalachicola River. Surrounded by wilderness, the purchase protects critical habitat for the Florida black bear.

Purchased for less than appraised value, the properties will be managed as additions to Torreya State Park, known for its steep river bluffs, hardwood forests and deep ravines.

Both purchases are made possible by the 10 year, $3 billion Florida Forever program established by Governor Bush to conserve environmentally sensitive land, restore waterways and preserve Florida's cultural and historical resources.

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Public Offered Real Time Weather Radar Data

WASHINGTON, DC, April 14, 2004 (ENS) - High-resolution radar data from the national network of Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) is now available in real time to government, university and private sector users, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Monday.

The data represents the highest resolution picture of what the radar system is "seeing" in real time, as the antenna spins, NOAA said. As a result, faster, higher resolution and more detailed weather products will be developed.

NEXRAD is used to warn the people of the United States about dangerous weather and its location. Meteorologists can now warn the public to take shelter with more notice than has been possible with any previous radar system.

There are 158 operational NEXRAD radar systems deployed throughout the United States and at selected overseas locations. The maximum range of the NEXRAD radar is 250 nautical miles.

The NEXRAD network provides information on severe weather and flash flood warnings, air traffic safety, flow control for air traffic, resource protection at military bases, and management of water, agriculture, forest, and snow removal.

This action supports the National Research Council's recommendations to enhance the availability and dissemination of NOAA National Weather Service data.

"Making this critical data available in real time will lead to a new era in weather forecasting as a result of new products and services yet to be developed using this enhanced, real-time information," said retired Air Force Brigadier General David Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service will distribute the NEXRAD data through four top-tier sites, said Tim Crum with the NOAA Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Three of these sites - Purdue University, University of Oklahoma, and The Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolinas - have agreed to make Level II data available to all private sector users equally on a cost-recovery basis without restriction on redistribution or use.

The fourth site, the National Weather Service Telecommunication Operations Center, will make data available through a Family of Services approach if there is interest from the commercial community.

Users are free to determine their source of Level II data, either from these four sites or from private companies and universities that will receive the data from the top-tier sites, said Crum.

To make Level II data available, the National Weather Service has developed a new system that cuts delivery time from months to seconds, increasing the amount of information saved and decreasing processing costs.

Data will be electronically collected and transmitted in real time to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center for archiving.