AmeriScan: April 11, 2005

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Mobil Fined Nearly $1 Million for Air Pollution on Navajo Lands

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a settlement with Mobil Exploration & Producing U.S. Inc. worth nearly $1 million for alleged Clean Air Act violations that affected air quality on the territory of the Navajo Nation.

The violations took place at Mobil’s oil production facility on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area near Aneth, Utah.

The company will pay a $350,000 penalty and spend about $500,000 on operation improvements to control air pollution at its oil field.

Mobil will also spend $99,849 on a public health project that will provide X-ray equipment, an X-ray processor and a pulmonary function testing machine to the Montezuma Creek Community Health Center in Montezuma Creek, Utah.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for Utah, alleges that Mobil operated unpermitted equipment, exceeded air pollution emission limits for sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, failed to monitor its main flare and equipment leaks, and failed to notify the EPA that the company was demolishing its gas plant that may have contained asbestos.

Sulfur dioxide emissions can cause injury to both human health and the environment. High concentrations of sulfur dioxide can cause serious health problems, including respiratory illness. Sulfur dioxide pollution causes acid rain, which damages waterways and vegetation, and also causes decreased visibility, which has been a problem at many national parks.

Volatile organic compounds are a key component of smog that aggravate respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. As part of the settlement, Mobil has agreed to immediately comply with interim air pollution limits, obtain air pollution permits, investigate and correct all significant flaring events from its main flare, and better control air pollution from its main flare.

The EPA has resolved three other enforcement actions in the Aneth area within the last three years. Through separate agreements, the EPA settled Clean Water Act cases against Mobil in 2004 and Texaco Exploration and Production, Inc. in 2002, as well as a Clean Air Act case against Texaco Exploration and Production, Inc. and its contractor Envirotech Inc. in 2002.

“Companies that operate and manage our nation's oil fields have an obligation to the community to be in compliance with environmental laws,” said Wayne Nastri, the EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest region. “Today’s action not only ensures that Mobil will better control air pollution from its oil field, but also provides much needed diagnostic equipment to the local health center for residents who live near Mobil’s operations.”

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Alaskan Refuge Oil Cleanup Restarts for Malaysian Shipwreck

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - The Unified Command in charge of the wrecked Malaysian cargo ship Selendang Ayu response is transitioning from winter to spring operations with the arrival of Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams (SCAT) on Unalaska Island.

The 738-foot-freighter Selendang Ayu grounded and broke in two on December 8, 2004, just offshore of Spray Cape, Unalaska, Alaska. The vessel was carrying soybeans and approximately 470,000 gallons of fuel oil.

Heavy weather and rough seas prevented most cleanup operations during the winter months. Although some of the oil remaining on board was removed to shore, an undetermined amount leaked into the sea.

Shoreline cleanup assessment involves teams of trained observers surveying the affected coastal area to provide an accurate assessment of shoreline oiling conditions on each beach.

The SCAT teams will provide information for decisions regarding shoreline treatment and cleanup operations and tactics, using a standard set of terms and definitions for documentation. Teams represent the interests of federal and state agencies, the responsible party, and representatives of owners of oiled property.

After receiving training, teams began shoreline assessments on Wednesday. The initial SCAT process is expected to continue for up to six weeks.

The full extent of the area to be surveyed includes - Umnak Island East, the coastline from Cape Tanak to Otter Point; Unalaska Island from Konets Head on the Southwest end to Brundage Head on the Eastern end; Unalga Island and the Baby Islands shoreline; and Akutan Island West including the coastline from Open Bight to Battery Point.

The Unified Command expects shoreline cleanup crews to begin acting on SCAT clean-up recommendations about April 15.

Many of the lands in the spill area are managed as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts seabird populations of both national and international significance. It provides nesting habitat for an estimated 40 million seabirds, representing 80 percent of all seabirds in North America.

The refuge is also inhabited by endangered sea otters and Steller sea lions. Harbor and fur seals, walrus and polar bears are also found in the refuge.

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EPA Removes Spilled Oil from Delaware River, Trenton Island

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - In the aftermath of the flooding that hit the city of Trenton's Island community, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been retrieving drums and cylinders floating in the Delaware River near the Island section of Trenton.

The thirteen 55 gallon drums that have been recovered so far have been mostly empty, as are the approximately 100 containers of various sizes that have retrieved to date.

The EPA will ensure that all the material collected will be properly disposed of. The agency has also vacuumed an estimated 2,500 gallons of oil contaminated water from residential basements in the Island section of the city.

Nearly 6,000 New Jersey residents were evacuated after some of the worst flooding in 50 years wreaked havoc on the region, submerging homes, businesses and roads. An estimated 3,200 homes were affected.

"EPA is doing its part in the flood recovery efforts," said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan. "We've teamed up with the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team in our drum recovery efforts and we're working closely with the city of Trenton to identify other areas where our help is needed."

EPA is using $200,000 from the federal Superfund program and $40,000 from the Oil Spill Liability Fund to finance the work, which began on April 5 in response to a request from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to help the city address problems caused by the flooding.

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Fish and Wildlife Service Permit Fees Go Up

WASHINGTON, DC, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is raising its permit fees for a wide variety of activities. Fees for rehabilitation of migratory birds, the public display of marine mammals and the traveling exhibition of rare species, among others, are going up.

The Service is handling some functions differently under this new permit schedule. The agency will begin issuing "passport'' documents for personally owned pets and traveling exhibition live animals. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a passport can be issued for personal pets and traveling exhibition animals in lieu of a typical CITES permit. The passport is valid for three years and is issued for a single animal.

Migratory Bird Rehabilitation Permit application fees are going from $25 for a three year permit to $50 for a five year permit. "While we recognize that migratory bird rehabilitators provide benefits to injured wildlife, the Service nevertheless incurs substantial costs when processing these permits," the agency said today.

The new fees were first proposed in August 2003, and are now being imposed to partially offset the increased costs of processing these applications.

While the Service's proposed new fee schedule will more closely conform to the Federal user fee policy by recovering a greater portion of the direct and indirect costs of providing special services than is currently being recovered, the proposed fee increases are not great enough to recover the full cost of administering the Service's permit programs.

Administrative costs include research and analysis, policy development, consultation, outreach, publication of notices in the Federal Register, and overall management of the permit programs.

Remaining costs, not captured through permit application fees, must be met with money appropriated for base funding of Service programs.

The Service will review permit application fees on a regular basis, using the cost of living index, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as other factors that impact the cost to the government of providing these services, to determine when it is appropriate and necessary to adjust fees.

For a complete listing of the new fee schedule, log on to:

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Wyoming Offers Solar, Wind Powered Water Pumps for Livestock

CHEYENNE, Wyoming, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - The state of Wyoming is making solar and wind powered pumps for stock water available to ranchers to help them cope with the six year long drought gripping the West.

Developed by the University of Wyoming Electric Motor Training and Testing Center, the technology can help ranchers who typically rely on surface water for their livestock.

The new pumps would allow them to reach underground water supplies in remote areas of their ranches. As livestock rarely venture far from water sources, more watering locations can mean an improved utilization of the range.

Governor Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, said, “With Wyoming’s ongoing drought, surface water is not as readily available as we might like. My hope is that this new technology can help ranchers water their livestock using the means and areas that make the most sense for their operations.”

The project is funded through the state’s petroleum violation fund, administered by the Wyoming Business Council. It aims to publicize uses of renewable energy and promote conservation. The solar and wind powered pumps will replace less efficient diesel engines that have been pumping water for livestock.

During this pilot stage of the project, state officials hope to deploy between two and four pumps in each of the state’s 23 counties. As the program progresses, the goal is to generate matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, private resources and other conservation programs to help provide pumps to all ranchers who qualify.

Each rancher receiving a pilot pump will be asked to provide such services as concrete pads for the pump or fencing the system. They will also be expected to allow public access to the solar or wind powered stock water pumps for demonstrations.

Bob Yeik, who ranches on about 5,000 acres west of Yoder, has been running a solar-powered pump on a 2,000 acre pasture. “It’s operated now for about two summers, and has been very satisfactory watering more than 100 head of cattle during the summer months,” Yeik said. “Without it, I would have had to consider a new windmill tower or running a mile and a half of electric line in there, which was going to cost me a large sum of money. We are up to now quite happy with the pump.”

The program has attracted the support of the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts.

Ranchers are asked to submit applications providing basic information on their operations to a committee formed by conservation districts, rural electric cooperatives, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension and rural ranching organizations, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture.

The pilot is being launched, said Department of Agriculture Director John Etchepare, to give ranchers a chance to see what is relatively new technology in action.

“In all of the years I was in ranching, having reliable water sources was a number one priority,” Etchepare said. “We were almost totally dependent on our windmills for our livestock and wildlife water. Let me assure you that the wind does not always blow in Wyoming. This new technology comes highly recommended and looks to be a very valuable resource for Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers.”

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Painted Lady Butterflies Migrate in Record Numbers

DAVIS, California, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - Millions of painted lady butterflies that flew into California's Central Valley in the last week of March could be just the advance guard of one of the largest migrations of the species on record, said Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis and an authority on butterflies.

Shapiro said he is getting reports of "billions" of butterflies around Trona, near Death Valley, and in the San Fernando Valley. More waves of butterflies are likely to appear in central California over the next few weeks as the insects take wing.

"This may be the biggest migration of modern times," Shapiro said.

Painted lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, spend the winter in the desert. As caterpillars turn into adults in the spring, they migrate north in search of fresh food and breeding grounds, powered by a supply of fat they have built up over the winter.

When the fat supply is depleted, generally after reaching the Central Valley, they begin visiting flowers to feed and also begin laying eggs. The caterpillars feed on weeds such as thistles, mallows and fiddleneck.

They are normally of no economic importance, although there are records of them wiping out crops of borage and comfrey - both plants in the same family as fiddleneck - at herb farms.

Painted ladies migrate every year, but usually in fewer numbers. This year, high winter rainfall in southern California has created a bumper crop of plants for the caterpillars to eat, fuelling a population boom, Shapiro said.

The butterflies take about three days to reach the Central Valley, and the current generation will fly as far as southern Oregon. Their offspring will fly on to reach British Columbia by summer, before heading south again in the fall.

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Nanotechnology Used to Produce Hydrogen for Fuel Cell Cars

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey, April 11, 2005 (ENS) - Scientists seeking ways of producing hydrogen to power fuel cell vehicles have used fossil fuels, nuclear power, and now a more efficient, environmentally friendly technique using nanotechnology - materials that operate at the scale of billionths of a meter.

Rutgers scientists are using nanotechnology in chemical reactions that could provide hydrogen for fuel cell powered vehicles.

In a paper to be published April 20 in the "Journal of the American Chemical Society," researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, describe how they use nanotechnology to make a finely textured surface of the metal iridium that can be used to extract hydrogen from ammonia.

The hydrogen is then captured and fed to a fuel cell.

"The nanostructured surfaces we're examining are model catalysts," said Ted Madey, professor of surface science in the Physics Department at Rutgers. "They also have the potential to catalyze chemical reactions for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries."

An obstacle to establishing the hydrogen economy has been the safe and cost-effective storage and transport of hydrogen fuel. The newly discovered process could contribute to the solution of this problem.

Handling hydrogen in its native form, as a light and highly flammable gas, poses engineering challenges and would require building a new fuel distribution infrastructure from scratch.

Now Madey's team has demonstrated that by binding hydrogen with atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia molecules, the resulting liquid could be handled like gasoline and diesel fuel.

Using nanostructured catalysts based on the one being developed at Rutgers, pure hydrogen could be extracted under the vehicle's hood on demand, as needed by the fuel cell, and the remaining nitrogen released back into the atmosphere. The atmosphere is normally four-fifths nitrogen, so the nitrogen emissions are not viewed as polluting.

Madey says that the problems of industrial catalysts that produce unwanted byproducts or catalysts that lose strength in the reaction process can be minimized by tailoring nanostructured metal surfaces on supported industrial catalysts, making new forms of catalysts that are more robust and selective.

In their paper, Madey, postdoctoral research fellow Wenhua Chen, and physics graduate student Ivan Ermanoski describe how a flat surface of iridium heated in the presence of oxygen changes its shape to make uniform arrays of nanosized pyramids.

The structures arise when atomic forces from the adjacent oxygen atoms pull metal atoms into a more tightly ordered crystalline state at temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius (600 degrees F).

Different temperatures create different sized facets, which affect how well the iridium catalyzes ammonia decomposition. The researchers are performing additional studies to characterize the process more completely.

The Rutgers researchers are conducting their work in the university's Laboratory for Surface Modification, which provides a focus for research into atomic level phenomena that occur on the surface of solids. It involves the overlapping disciplines of physics, chemistry, materials science and engineering.

Their work is supported in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

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