AmeriScan: April 4, 2007

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Commerce Department Imposes Gag Order on Government Scientists

WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2007 (ENS) - An order has been issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce that controls what federal government climate, weather and marine scientists can say to the media or in public, even when they are speaking as private citizens.

Under rules posted Thursday, these federal scientists must obtain agency pre-approval to speak or write, whether on or off-duty, concerning any scientific topic deemed "of official interest," according to agency documents released by a national association of government employees in natural resources agencies.

"This ridiculous gag order ignores the First Amendment and disrespects the world-renowned professionals who work within Commerce agencies," said attorney Jeff Ruch, executive director with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The only exception to the pre-approval requirement, is that "In an emergency, and especially where there is an imminent risk to life or property, an official communication related to the emergency may be made, so long as the procedures of the relevant operating unit (if any) are followed and applicable law is complied with," the order states.

The new order will become effective in 45 days and would repeal a more liberal "open science" policy adopted by NOAA on February 14, 2006.

The agency rejected a more open policy adopted last year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. The new policy was rushed to print despite an ongoing Commerce Office of Inspector General review of communication policies that was undertaken at congressional request.

"Under this policy, National Weather Service scientists can only give out name, rank, serial number and the temperature," Ruch said.

The new administrative order on "Public Communications" covers the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, which includes the National Weather Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA Ocean Service, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.

It forbids NOAA scientists from communicating any relevant information, even if prepared and delivered on their own time as private citizens, which has not been approved by the official chain-of-command.

Any "fundamental research communication" must "before the communication occurs" be submitted to and approved by the designated "head of the operating unit."

While the order states that approval may not be withheld "based on policy, budget, or management implications of the research," it does not define these terms and limits any appeal to within the Commerce Department.

National Weather Service employees are allowed only "as part of their routine responsibilities to communicate information about the weather to the public."

"Scientists must give the Commerce Department at least two weeks "advance notice" of any written, oral or audiovisual presentation prepared on their own time if it "is a matter of official interest to the Department because it relates to Department programs, policies or operations."

Ruch says that while claiming to provide clarity, the order "gives conflicting directives." On one hand it tells scientists that if unsure whether a conclusion has been officially approved "then the researcher must make clear that he or she is representing his or her individual conclusion."

Yet, another part of the order states non-official communications "may not take place or be prepared during working hours."

Ruch warns, "This conflict means that every scientist who answers an unexpected question at a conference puts his or her career at risk by giving an honest answer."

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2007 Arctic Sea Ice Nearly Matches Record Low

BOULDER, Colorado, April 4, 2007 (ENS) - The maximum extent of Arctic sea ice in winter of 2006-2007 was the second lowest on satellite record, narrowly missing the 2006 record, according to a team of University of Colorado at Boulder researchers.

The Arctic sea-ice extent, the area of ocean covered by at least 15 percent ice, was 5.7 million square miles in March 2007, slightly higher than the record low of 5.6 million square miles measured in March 2006.

The declining sea ice has been blamed on higher winter temperatures in the Arctic, a result of rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and strong natural variability in the ice, said researcher Walt Meier of CU-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC.

"This year's wintertime low extent is another milestone in a strong downward trend," said Meier. "We're still seeing near-record lows and higher-than-normal temperatures, and we expect this downward trend to continue in future years."

While researchers monitor Arctic sea ice year round, they pay special attention to the months of March and September because they generally mark the annual maximum and minimum sea-ice extents for the year, Meier said.

Sea ice usually stops growing, or recovering, from the summer melt each March.

A review study led by CU-Boulder research scientist Mark Serreze of NSIDC and published in the journal "Science" last month indicated Arctic sea-ice extent trends have been negative for every month since 1979, when reliable satellite record-keeping efforts began.

The September minimum measurements indicate the Arctic has been losing about 38,000 square miles of sea-ice annually.

The researchers have been using satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as data from Canadian satellites and weather observatories for their studies.

CU-Boulder's NSIDC is part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint venture of CU-Boulder and NOAA.

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Nevada Power Settles Air Violations for $90 Million

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, April 4, 2007 (ENS) The power company that lights up Las Vegas today agreed to a joint settlement with the federal government and the state of Nevada that will require the utility to spend nearly $85 million on cleaner technology and pay a $1.11 million fine.

The settlement resolves allegations of air pollution control violations at Nevada Power's Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, NDEP, U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today that as part of the settlement, Nevada Power will also fund more than $4 million in energy conservation projects for the Clark County School District over the next seven years, saving the district at least $500,000 per year in energy costs.

"I am pleased that this case has been amicably resolved," said Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons. "I applaud NDEP for its determination in carrying out this enforcement action and its dedicated efforts to protect the state's air quality. Nevada Power, to its credit, has accepted the penalty, and embraced additional proactive measures that will result in energy cost savings for the school district and other air quality improvements in southern Nevada."

In July 2005, after a year-long investigation, NDEP's Bureau of Air Pollution Control issued 56 violation notices to Nevada Power for alleged air pollution control violations at its Reid Gardner plant in Clark County.

Most of the alleged violations involved failure to comply with emissions limits and failure to adequately monitor and record operational data necessary for NDEP to ensure that the company was complying with the state's air quality requirements.

NDEP Administrator Leo Drozdoff said, "In addition to reducing air pollution in southern Nevada and assisting the school district with energy conservation, this settlement has led to a much-improved working relationship between NDEP and Nevada Power's management and staff."

In September 2005, NDEP and Nevada Power requested EPA's participation to help with negotiations and to resolve federal Clean Air Act violations of Reid Gardner's emissions permit and federal smoke regulations.

The state of Nevada will receive 70 percent, or $770,000 of the $1.11 million civil penalty, which reflects the state's level of effort in this case. The federal government will receive 30 percent or $340,000.

"NDEP's strong lead on this case helped propel us to today's settlement," said Wayne Nastri, regional administrator for the EPA Pacific Southwest region. "We were able to strike an effective state/federal partnership building on NDEP's extensive investigation and the federal government's experience negotiating large power plant cases."

As part of the settlement, Nevada Power agreed to replace the fuel oil igniters with cleaner-burning natural gas igniters. The utility will install and operate a baghouse system to reduce particulate emissions in three units at the plant by more than 300 tons per year.

The utility will also develop and implement an environmental management system to ensure compliance with the stringent emissions monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements contained in its operating permit.

The plant's operations also must be audited by a third-party auditor, and the findings reported to NDEP and the EPA.

Additionally, Nevada Power will install a new advanced combustion system in one unit that will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 1,000 tons per year.

Through this settlement, Nevada Power has agreed to permanently retire the greater of 30 percent or 282 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions from the Clark County air pollution inventory.

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License for Uranium Enrichment Plant Challenged in Court

WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2007 (ENS) Two anti-nuclear nonprofit groups filed a brief Tuesday in the DC Court of Appeals challenging the legality of the license for Louisiana Energy Services' proposed uranium enrichment plant near Eunice, New Mexico.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, NIRS, and Public Citizen claim that the license was issued illegally.

"Our brief shows that the license violates the law because the NRC issued an environmental impact statement and then decided it was incomplete and had to supplement it after the public hearing," said Michele Boyd, legislative director of Public Citizen's Energy Program.

"Congress intended for the public to have the environmental impact statement for consideration at the time of the hearing," she said.

Approved on June 23, 2006, the license was the first to be issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, for a full-scale, uranium enrichment plant.

NIRS and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit against the NRC challenging the license in August 2006.

"The license also violates NRC's regulations because it determined that the waste could be disposed in shallow-land burial, even though the regulations do not allow it and radiation doses to the public would far exceed regulatory limits," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS.

The brief details many other problems with the environmental impact statement. For instance, the groups claim that no adequate waste disposal exists for the 133,000 metric tons of depleted uranium waste that would be produced by the enrichment plant.

Louisiana Energy Services, LES, is a consortium of U.S. and European energy companies led by Urenco, a grouping of British, Dutch and German government and corporate entities.

The consortium includes industry giants such as Exelon Corp., Entergy Corp., Duke Energy and Westinghouse Electric Co.

Each of these companies has an interest in greater ownership of the nuclear fuel chain and collectively formed LES for the purpose of developing a new domestic uranium enrichment facility.

The NRC will file its brief with the Court of Appeals on May 2, and LES will file its brief on May 17. NIRS and Public Citizen will file a reply brief on May 31.

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University of California Adopts Green Purchasing, Climate Policies

OAKLAND, California, April 4, 2007 (ENS) - The University of California has adopted a new environmental sustainability policy that includes provisions on energy, global warming, waste recycling, green building and transport, and eco-friendly purchasing for its 10 campuses that is winning praise from environmentalists.

With the March 22 announcement, UC became the first university in the nation to adopt guidelines for buying greener electronics, disposing of e-waste, and takeback recycling.

With over 200,000 UC students, the university purchases more than 10,000 computers each month and disposes of about onemillion pounds of e-waste each year. UC students themselves buy millions of computers, cell phones, MP3 players, and other electronics every year.

The UC's passage of the Sustainability Policy comes after a year-long effort of the student run Toxic Free UC campaign sponsored by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

"With this new policy, UC and UC students can use their purchasing power to move electronics companies to make greener products that are less toxic and more easily recyclable. The UC is truly taking the lead toward a more sustainable future," said Maureen Cane, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition's campus organizer.

Under its new policy, UC will buy only products registered under EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, a program of the nonprofit Green Electronics Council.

Similar to the federal government's Energy Star program for energy efficiency, EPEAT measures laptops, desktop computers, and monitors according to a set of environmental standards such as reduction in harmful chemicals, designs that are more easily recycled, and product longevity.

The UC has outlined a set of responsible recycling criteria that must be met by any manufacturer or recycler that handles UC e-waste, including a ban on export and prison labor.

In addition, on March 29, UC joined the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, an effort to address global warming by neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions on campuses and accelerating research and educational efforts to equip society to re-stabilize the Earth's climate.

"The University of California is pleased to take part in this important effort to safeguard the environment," said UC President Robert Dynes. "As a public research university, we have an obligation to continue our leadership role in the area of environmental stewardship."

To find out more about the university's new sustainability and climate policies, visit:

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April 14th is Step It Up Day

WASHINGTON, DC, April 4, 2007 (ENS) - On April 14th people will gather at more than 1,225 places throughout the country for Step It Up 2007 with the message that Congress needs to "Step It Up and required that the country cut emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 80 percent by 2050.

At least one action connected with this burgeoning movement is planned in each of the 50 states in the period from April 13 through Earth Day, April 22.

The organizers say the goal of cutting emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide 80 percent by 2050 is essential. "That won't prevent global warming - it's already too late for that - but it may be enough to stave off the most catastrophic effects," they say on the Step It Up website.

In an open letter on the site, environmental writer Bill McKibben says to get Congressional action on climate change, he is working with others to start a new movement.

"A few of us are trying to organize a nationwide day of hundreds and hundreds of rallies on April 14. We hope to have gatherings in every state, and in many of America's most iconic places: on the levees in New Orleans, on top of the melting glaciers on Mt. Rainier, even underwater on the endangered coral reefs off Key West," writes McKibben.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski will be a featured speaker at the DC Step It Up action, which promises to be one of the nation's largests events and is coordinated by Courtney Fryxell, Student Conservation Voters Coordinator. At the rally in front of the Capitol, participants will spell out "80% x 2050" with people and have an aerial photo taken to send to Congress.

In California, 148 actions are planned, and not all of them are rallies. In the Bay Area town of Portola Valley, people are starting a global warming investment club to focus on new and emerging businesses in the areas of energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Los Angeles, people are hiking to the famous Hollywood sign on the 14th, and in San Diego, participants in a "Prayers for Plants Walk" will learn about local native plants and wish them well at Torrey Pines State Reserve.

In San Francisco, Burning Man event enthusiasts are holding a "Green House" in celebration of this year's theme, the Green Man, "to help burners green their burn!" The event will include a recycled fashion show, music, and speakers and displays on alternative energy, grey water treatment, biodiesel, Leave No Trace practices and principles, green vehicles, even green RVs.

To find events in your area, or to post an event, visit: