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AmeriScan: April 15, 2004

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Clean Power Focus of North American Energy Summit

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - A two year project to explore clean energy and energy efficiency opportunities in the American West is the first result of the three day North American Energy Summit that opened here Wednesday.

Hosted by the Western Governors' Association (WGA), participants represent national, state, provincial and tribal governments; industry; academia; and environmental groups, and officials from Canada and Mexico. On Thursday, they will help craft recommendations for action needed to ensure a secure, affordable and environmentally responsible energy system.

A letter to participants from Governors Bill Richardson of New Mexico, WGA Chairman, and Arnold Schwarzenneger of California, WGA's co-lead for energy issues, outlines the two year clean energy project. The two governors call for development of at least 30,000 megawatts of clean energy in the West by 2015 and an increase in the efficiency of energy use by 20 percent by 2020.

"The West is blessed with vast energy resources," the governors wrote, mentioning sources that have been developed, such as oil and gas, coal, and hydro, and other possibilities "relatively untapped, and hugely promising" - solar, wind, zero-emission coal, biomass, and energy conservation.

"We are committed to an approach that will help secure a diversified energy supply, energy efficiency, and best practices in energy development," the two governors wrote.

Richardson and Schwarzenneger suggest the formation of a clean energy working group of diverse stakeholders to create a set of western clean energy policy proposals for presentation to the Western Governors Association by June 2006.

Today Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow gives the conference's keynote address. Energy Department Under Secretary Robert Card will moderate a panel on natural gas prices, and Guy Caruso administrator of the Energy Information Administration will moderate a panel on high prices and disruptions in delivery of all petroleum products.

David Conover, director of the Energy Department's Climate Change Technology Program will run a panel called "Hedging Against Climate Change," and David Garman, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy will conduct a panel on what it takes to achieve a hydrogen economy.

Other Energy Department officials will handle panels on electricity distribution and a reliable grid, coal power, and the role of nuclear energy.

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EPA Honors Environmental Achievers

WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has presented awards to 29 individuals and organizations from around the world, including two individuals from Colombia and Mexico, for their work to protect the Earth's climate and stratospheric ozone layer.

The awards, presented by EPA at an April 13 ceremony in Washington, went to Marta Pizano, director of Hortitechnia Limited, a horticultural consulting firm in Bogota, Colombia; and to Julia Martinez, from the Mexican government's National Institute of Ecology in Mexico City.

Other award winners include Dean Stanbridge, from the Steritech Group in Milton, Canada; and David Cohen, the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts. Cohen's city hosted a "fun-and-fitness walk" to draw public attention toward creating solutions to global warning.

EPA said the award recipients have demonstrated "ingenuity, leadership, and public purpose" by achieving "reductions of ozone depleting and heat trapping gas emissions."

The agency said the award winners' "significant contributions" help mitigate the health and environmental risks of climate change, including increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, worsened air pollution, ecological and agricultural disruption, sea-level rise, and the spread of infectious diseases.

The public is concerned about climate change, EPA said, due to widespread media coverage of the effect of greenhouse gases on global warming.

In another award presentation, to celebrate Earth Day 2004, on Friday Kim Nelson, assistant administrator for the Office of Environmental Information, and Benjamin Grumbles, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Water, will present an EPA Community Service Award to the Earth Conservation Corps for work in restoring the Anacostia River in Washington, DC and planning for the new Anacostia Riverwalk. The 20 mile walking trail will benefit the environment and the people who work and live near the river.

The award will be followed by demonstrations in a computer lab setting of "Window to My Environment," EPA's teen website and on-line water resources information.

Founded in 1989 as a White House initiative, the Earth Conservation Corps is a community nonprofit organization that focuses on reclaiming both the environment and at-risk youth in low-income communities. The Corps provides environmental education, job training for the future "green job market," and community service projects for disadvantaged, at-risk youth.

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Minnesota Hosts International Cattle, Swine Disease Research

WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will contribute $8.8 million to two international research collaboratives seeking to control and eliminate Johne's disease in cattle, sheep and goats and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) in swine. Both research projects will be conducted over four years at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the financial contributions on Wednesday, saying the two diseases cause more than $800 million a year in losses to the industry and the consuming public.

"These grants will support critical research, education and extension activities to develop practical applications against these diseases," said Veneman.

The two grants are the largest ever to be awarded for animal disease research by the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service.

PRRS first appeared in the United States in 1986 and is found worldwide and in all major swine producing areas of the United States. PRRS results in reproductive failure in adult females and pneumonia in nursing pigs and can lead to death. It spreads easily among herds.

Johne's disease (JD) is a chronic, infectious, wasting disease of cattle. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea and weight loss, decreased milk production, reduced fertility, and eventually death.

"An estimated 22 percent of all U.S. dairy herds are infected with Johne's disease," said the USDA in a statement announcing the grants, but the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine says "approximately 40 percent of all dairy farms in the United States are infected with the bacterium that causes JD."

Johne's disease results in "more than a billion dollars of economic loss every year," the university said. The impact is especially severe in larger dairy herds, and is estimated to cost up to $200 per year for each cow in the herd.

Several studies also suggest a link between the bacterium that causes JD and a severe autoimmune disease, Crohn’s disease, in humans.

The JD research project is led by Vivek Kapur, BVSc, Ph.D., professor of microbiology at the Medical School and co-director of the University’s Biomedical Genomics Center. A total of 72 researchers from 23 other universities, state and federal governmental agencies, and stakeholder groups such as the National Milk Producers Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association will participate.

The research goals are to understand how JD is transmitted, to develop new diagnostic tools to track the disease in herds, to study how JD progresses, and to develop a vaccine or methods of boosting herd immunity.

“PRRS is, by far, the most significant disease affecting swine,” said Michael Murtaugh, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine.“We are working with the swine producers, veterinarians and allied industries to maximize the resources available to solve this problem and reach our ultimate goal – eliminating PRRS regionally, if not nationally.”

"Project collaborators include more than 100 scientists and education experts from two dozen institutions in 20 states as well as experts in Canada, Mexico, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia," said Joseph Jen, USDA undersecretary for research, education, and economics.

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Dominion Settlement Will Fix Acidified West Virginia Streams

PICKENS, West Virginia, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - More than 100 miles of West Virginia streams that have been damaged by acid rain will benefit from the settlement of a five state air pollution suit against Virginia based power utility Dominion Resources, Inc. for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

At a ceremony Wednesday along the Right Fork of the Buckhannon River in Pickens, West Virginia officials placed limestone sand into the water to neutralize the excess acidity, demonstrating how the state will utilize its $2 million portion of an overall $1.2 billion settlement agreement.

The settlement between Dominion Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was reached in April 2003 and resolves violations filed against the company's Mt. Storm Power Station in June of 2000 and a lawsuit brought by the state of New York.

The company made modifications to Mt. Storm's generating units that the EPA says were made without obtaining the proper permits in violation of the Clean Air Act. The company believes it acted in accordance with the regulations and conducted only routine maintenance on the units.

As part of the settlement, Dominion agreed to install state-of-the-art emissions-control equipment on its largest coal fired generating units in both Virginia and West Virginia.

In West Virginia, the settlement will fund a three year program to treat more than 100 miles of streams impaired by acid rain with limestone sand to restore them to viable trout fisheries.

West Virginia officials Stephanie Timmermeyer, director of the Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality, and Department of Natural Resources Director Ed Hamrick traveled to Pickens to place the first in the series of limestone sand treatments in the stream to neutralize the acidity.

"This is just the beginning of restoring acid precipitation impaired streams in West Virginia," said Timmermeyer. "The $2 million will fund our restoration efforts on at least 10 streams annually.

"Since we estimate that 25 percent of our high elevation cold water streams suffer from acid precipitation damage," she said, "this fund will help us make headway in restoring and protecting some of our most scenic streams."

The money from the settlement will be placed in the West Virginia Aquatic Habitat Restoration account within the West Virginia Wildlife Endowment Fund. The money will remain in the account in perpetuity.

Only the income from the investment of the $2 million will be spent on stream treatment. At least 20 streams over the next three years will benefit from the application of limestone sand.

Hamrick praised the environmental benefits of the project, as well as the recreational benefits. "The average mile of trout stream brings about $40,000 annually to the state's economy," he said. "Anglers buy equipment, spend money to travel, and have other expenses that have about an $800,000 impact on the state's economy through this project alone."

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Refineries Push Houston Smog Level to Danger Zone

COLLEGE STATION, Texas, April 15, 2004 (ENS) – Houston's air pollution levels are nearly double the national standard during summer days, smog concentrations that could pose a serious health risk to the city's inhabitants unless controlled, a Texas A&M University researcher has found.

Renyi Zhang, associate professor of atmospheric sciences, modeled Houston's air during the summer months. He found that at night, the city's ozone level was near zero, but during the day it zoomed to more than 200 parts per billion (ppb), far higher than the U.S. standard of 120 ppb.

The reason for the high daytime rating, Zhang says, can be traced to the huge refineries and petrochemical complexes in the area, plus the large amount of auto exhaust in Harris County. The highest ozone levels were found around the city's southeastern edge near the huge petrochemical plants.

"These plants emit large amounts of highly reactive volatile organic compounds and nitric oxides," Zhang says. "At midday, the ozone readings are very high because of the industrial emissions, coupled with auto exhaust. It creates very big problems for Houston's air, and ozone levels are far above acceptable federal standards."

"At night, however, the ozone readings register almost zero, forming an urban scale ozone hole which is caused by nitrogen oxide emissions from the refineries and petrochemical plants and power plants," says Zhang. "Nitrogen oxides eat up ozone at night."

High ozone levels can be harmful to plants, animals and humans. During the daytime, sunlight catalyzes ozone formation from volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emitted from cars into ground level ozone, or smog.

The fourth largest U.S. city, Houston has one of the worst ozone levels in the country, due to the fact that 50 percent of the nation's petroleum refining capability is within the city limits.

"There are around five million people in the greater Houston area, and many of these people could have health problems associated with breathing bad air, such as emphysema and asthma," Zhang explains.

"We were surprised by these ozone levels, from near zero to far above acceptable," Zhang said. "It shows that Houston needs to find a way to curb its emissions." He suggests alternative energy sources and more efficient means of transportation.

Zhang's study, which was funded by the Texas Air Research Center and NASA, is reported in the current issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

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San Francisco Recycles, Reuses Majority of Waste

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - Recycling is part of life in San Francisco, with new statistics showing that the city kept 63 percent of all waste materials from going to the landfill in 2002, up from 52 percent the year before.

Recycling improved in many areas in 2002, with aggressive recycling and reuse of materials at construction and demolition sites accounting for the majority of the increase, the city’s Environment Department (SF Environment) said Wednesday.

Residential and commercial programs were up about three percent, according to the figures for calendar year 2002, which SF Environment just filed with the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

San Francisco generated 1,882,490 tons of waste material in 2002. Of this 702,012 tons went to landfill, San Francisco’s lowest disposal tonnage since 1995.

SF Environment says 1,180,478 tons were diverted through recycling, composting, reuse, source reduction and other efforts.

A full six percent of the tonnage collected in 2002 came from the demolition of just one complex - the Letterman Hospital in the Presidio, a project that processed 122,000 tons of concrete for recycling and reuse, making use of half the material for construction on-site.

Three of the top four recyclers identified in SF Environment’s waste stream analysis were city agencies or facilities - the Recreation and Parks Department, the Department of Public Works, and the de Young Museum.

For instance, rather than disposing of sand that blew onto the Great Highway, the Department of Public Works started using this sand to fill erosion hotspots on Ocean Beach. This added nearly one percentage point of waste diversion.

“San Francisco’s commitment to recycling is truly remarkable,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom, congratulating businesses, residents, Norcal Waste Systems, and SF Environment.

“Recycling is tied directly to the economy, so the more construction we have going on, the more tonnage we can expect to recycle,” observed SF Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld.

“If construction goes down we may see a drop in our recycling numbers next year, but the important thing is to keep our core recycling and composting programs moving in the right direction, as well as capture everything available in the construction realm.”

San Francisco’s core recycling programs, including the “Fantastic Three” three cart recycling program, are increasingly popular. More San Franciscans are using the composting collection program for food scraps and yard trimmings, with about 60,000 tons collected in 2002 – double that of 2001. This program, the most successful of its kind in the nation, now serves nearly 150,000 residences and over 2,000 businesses.

“Residents and businesses alike are utilizing the improved recycling programs including the color-coded carts,” said Mike Sangiacomo, president and CEO of Norcal Waste Systems. “Recycle Central at Pier 96 and our new construction material recycling facility give San Francisco the ability to effectively sort recyclables and grow core programs by three percent over last year.”

State law requires cities and counties to file recycling statistics with the California Integrated Waste Management Board. San Francisco has already met and surpassed the state mandated 50 percent recycling, and is focused on attaining the 75 percent goal the Board of Supervisors adopted in 2002.

Mayor Newsome, who sat on the Board of Supervisors for that vote, expressed support for "mandatory recycling" to achieve the 75 percent recycling target by 2010. The mayor would "hold manufacturers accountable for the environmental impacts of their products and packaging,” he said.

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Japanese Shipper Fined $2M for Dumping Oily Wastewater

PORTLAND, Oregon, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - MMS Co., Ltd, a Japanese company that manages the vessel Spring Drake, has pled guilty to four felony charges connected to the dumping of oily wastewater at sea. The 27,000 gross ton bulk cargo ship which sails under a Panamanian flag, dumped the wastewater in various places along the Oregon and California coasts.

As a result, MMS will pay a $2 million fine and must establish an environmental compliance program to prevent future environmental pollution by MMS's ships.

The case was simultaneously filed in courts in Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. MMS entered the guilty pleas on April 5 in United States District Court in Portland to resolve the charges in all districts.

Large ships such as the Spring Drake generate waste oil from a variety of sources, including the process used to purify the heavy fuel oil that powers the ship.

Like other ships of its size, the Spring Drake has equipment, including an oil water separator, to process oil wastes. Federal and international laws require that oily water be processed through the separator so that any water discharged into the sea contains no more than 15 parts per million of oil.

In addition, United States law requires ships like the Spring Drake to maintain an Oil Record Book that documents all transfers of oil on the ship, including discharges to the sea.

In pleading guilty, MMS admitted that crew members on the Spring Drake, operating under the authority of the ship's chief engineer, used a bypass device called a "magic pipe" that allowed them to pump inadequately treated wastewater contaminated with oil directly into the ocean.

In a separate proceeding, Shashank Pendse, the Spring Drake's Chief Engineer, pled guilty to falsifying the ship's Oil Record Book. He was sentenced to 30 days in federal prison.

The violations were discovered when Spring Drake was in Portland on January 30, 2004, picking up a load of wheat. A routine inspection by the United States Coast Guard revealed evidence that the ship was violating international ocean pollution regulations.

The fine attributable to the San Francisco case will be $500,000, half of which will be placed in the Northern Coastal California Restoration Fund, a fund which will be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Fund was created in March to receive monies to be used to conserve fish, wildlife, plants, and the habitats on which they depend in the Northern California Bay Area.

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Bush Administration Keeps Snowmobile Noise Under Wraps

WASHINGTON, DC, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - New models of snowmobiles with four-stroke engines - touted as quieter than two-stroke engines by the Bush administration - are nearly as noisy, and loud enough to damage hearing, according to leaked internal administration documents.

The documents were obtained and released Wednesday by the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees (CCNPSR), a group of 230 retired employees and senior leaders of the National Park Service.

According to a January 27, 2004, Yellowstone staff meeting report (available at http://www.hastingsgroup.com/yellowstonestaff.pdf), Yellowstone officials tested noise from four-stroke snowmobiles that were certified as "best available technology" and approved for use in the winter stillness of Yellowstone National Park by the Interior Department.

The minutes that meeting record the park's safety officer informing other senior staff that based on the tests of the new snowmobiles, "Four-stroke snowmobiles are almost as loud as two-stroke snowmobiles for the operator."

The four-stroke snowmobile test results, compiled in an as yet unreleased study conducted in March for the National Park Service, show that 18 out of 20 snowmobile tests generated peak noise levels in excess of 100 decibels.

That level is far above Yellowstone's new snowmobile noise standard, which promised to reduce snowmobile noise "at full throttle to no more than 73 decibels."

"The recorded sound level for 18 of the 20 snowmobiles is louder than a pneumatic drill and many times noisier than outboard motors or busy traffic," CCNPSR says.

The March report showed that average noise levels experienced by snowmobile riders over several hours approached unsafe levels. "Maximum noise levels were clearly unsafe and triggered a warning to park workers," the CCNPSR said.

An employee newsletter distributed by the Yellowstone Park's Safety Office cautioned that the noise levels were "extremely loud" and "hearing protection (ear plugs) is required when exposed to noise above 85 decibels." (The Safety Office document may be viewed online at ttp://www.hastingsgroup.com/safetyoffice.pdf.)

The National Park Service cautioned employees riding the machines to wear earplugs, but visitors to the park who are also riding these machines have not received any warning.

The administration has said nothing about the much higher-than-expected noise findings publicly or in court, says the CCNPSR. Instead the administration maintains that new four-stroke technology has solved the noise problem for visitors to Yellowstone who are trying to enjoy the more subtle sounds of geysers and mud pots.

"We are releasing these documents today because the American people are being misled about efforts to restore quiet to their first national park," said Bill Wade, coordinator of the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees. "Instead of being candid with the public, this administration continues to suppress or misrepresent information in order to benefit the snowmobile industry. Snowmobiles loud enough to make earplugs necessary have no place in a national park where the emphasis is supposed to be on preserving the natural quiet."

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Basinger's Diamonds Are Abused Animals' Best Friend

NEW YORK, New York, April 15, 2004 (ENS) - Actress Kim Basinger is offering dozens of precious gems from her collection for auction at Christie's Auction House next week to benefit the Performing Animal Welfare Society, known as PAWS. The pieces to be auctioned include Basinger's 3.7 carat diamond engagement ring from ex-husband actor Alec Baldwin.

PAWS' founder and director Pat Derby said the actress has been a longtime benefactor of the organization. "She has been such a devoted friend to all animals - recently serving as PAWS' Free the Elephants campaign spokesperson as well as hosting numerous special fundraising events for us over the years."

The Performing Animal Welfare Society was founded in 1984 as a safe and humane home for abused, retired and surplus elephants, lions, bears and other captive wildlife.

Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer and author together with co-founder, Ed Stewart, created two 130 acre sanctuaries in Northern California which provide the animals with a natural refuge. Currently, PAWS is constructing a 2,300 acre sanctuary in San Andreas, California.

Without Basinger's commitment, PAWS would not have been able to proceed with the sanctuary in San Andreas, ARK2000, Derby said.

"Today PAWS is in full gear at the ARK2000 sanctuary building new tiger habitat areas. We are making preparations for the transfer of 39 tigers, seized from horrendous conditions at an animal breeding facility in Southern California," Derby said.

State officials discovered starving animals living in squalor and 90 dead tigers, including 58 cubs found in freezers. The facility owners have since been charged with 17 felonies of animal abuse. "This tragic case represents everything that is wrong about captive breeding facilities and why ARK2000 is desperately needed." Derby said.

PAWS' five elephants - Annie, Rebecca, Minnie, "71," and Mara - are all living at ARK2000. The new elephant habitat consists of rolling hills, grass, trees and their own lakes.

"These elephants have lived most of their lives on chains or have endured years of abusive training and exploitation before coming to PAWS. So we take extra care to make certain their lives here are full of natural stimulation and quiet tranquility. ARK2000 is a peaceful place for them." Derby said.

ARK2000 is intended as a teaching tool for the general public, officials, and the media about the problems associated with keeping and breeding wildlife in captivity, and will serve as a training tool and observation site for wildlife behaviorists and veterinarians.

The benefit auction will take place on April 19, 20 and 21. Potential bidders can view the jewelry in a Christie's catalog or visit the Auction House website. Bids may be made in person at Rockefeller Center in New York, online or by fax.



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