AmeriScan: April 11, 2007

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First National Renewable Fuel Standard Established

WASHINGTON, DC, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has established the nation's first comprehensive Renewable Fuel Standard, RFS, program.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, joined by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Nicole Nason explained at a news conference Tuesday that the RFS program requires American refiners, blenders, and importers to use a minimum volume of renewable fuel each year between 2007 and 2012.

The minimum level or standard which is determined as a percentage of the total volume of fuel a company produces or imports, will increase every year.

For 2007, 4.02 percent of all the fuel sold or dispensed to U.S. motorists will have to come from renewable sources, roughly 4.7 billion gallons.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard offers the American people a hat trick – it protects the environment, strengthens our energy security, and supports America's farmers," said Johnson.

"Increasing the use of renewable and alternative fuels to power our nation's vehicles will help meet the president's Twenty in Ten goal of reducing gasoline usage by 20 percent in 10 years," Secretary Bodman said.

"While we must look at increasing the availability of renewable and alternative fuels, we must also continue to improve the fuel efficiency of our passenger cars and light trucks," said Nason, whose agency is charged with determining the legal minimum fuel efficiency of the nation's vehicles.

Authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the RFS program requires that the equivalent of at least 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into motor vehicle fuel sold in the U.S. by 2012.

The program is estimated to cut petroleum use by up to 3.9 billion gallons and cut annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 13.1 million metric tons by 2012 - the equivalent of preventing the emissions of 2.3 million cars.

The RFS program will promote the use of fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, which are produced from American crops.

William Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies is critical of the new Renewable Fuel Standard. "We believe alternative fuels can play an important role in our nation's energy strategy. However, we are troubled that EPA has published a final rule that, by its own admission, will cause significant increases in harmful air pollutants."

"Nitrogen oxides, expected to increase between six and seven percent, are precursors to fine particulate, which is known to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year, and also contribute to ozone formation, eutrophication of waterways and visibility impairment," said Becker, whose organization represents state and local air pollution control officials.

"Volatile organic compounds, expected to increase between four and five percent, are also ozone precursors," he said. "These emissions increases will thwart states' efforts in fulfilling their important clean air responsibilities."

The RFS program is based on a trading system that provides a flexible means for industry to comply with the annual standard by allowing renewable fuels to be used where they are most economical.

While the RFS program establishes that a minimum amount of renewable fuel be used in the United States, more renewable fuel can be used if producers and blenders choose to do so.

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California County Sued to Force Climate Change Planning

SAN BERNARDINO, California, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - Conservation groups in California's Inland Empire filed a lawsuit today to require San Bernardino County to address global warming in its recently approved General Plan.

San Bernardino County, the largest county in the lower 48 states, approved its long-range plan last month without addressing how to plan for climate change. The General Plan is the county's blueprint for growth over the next 25 years.

The lawsuit, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.

"Global warming is already affecting San Bernardino, and its impacts are only going to get more severe," said Jonathan Evans, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Allowing rampant growth alongside increasing wildfires, increasing drought and limited infrastructure is a disaster waiting to happen."

"The 2003 Old Fire, which destroyed over 1,100 homes at a cost of over $1.2 billion, is a dire indicator for the future," the groups said in a joint statement today.

The plaintiff groups say the county avoided requests from the Attorney General of California and conservation groups to analyze greenhouse gases and climate change in its blueprint for the future.

"We're trying to get county leadership to stop thinking in their habitual, fossilized, pro-development manner and to see their role with fresh eyes," said Drew Feldmann of San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. "In light of global warming, issues such as zoning, housing, and transportation pose new problems that require new solutions."

Global warming is increasing large wildfires and drought across the West, the groups point out. Decreased snow pack and higher temperatures have put pressure on water supplies and created a year-round fire season in southern California. The length of the active wildfire season has increased by 78 days, and the average burn time has increased by 29 days.

Global warming-related fires will cost Californians the most where forests are next to major metropolitan areas like the San Bernardino metropolitan area.

At the same time, San Bernardino County continues to experience high population growth in mountain and foothill communities adjacent to national forests.

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NOAA, NASA Restore Climate Sensor to Next Generation Satellite

WASHINGTON, DC, April 11, 2007 (ENS) – NASA and NOAA today announced a plan to restore a key ozone layer climate sensor to the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, NPOESS, program.

The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite, OMPS, Limb will be returned to a satellite which is set to launch in 2009. NOAA and NASA have agreed to share equally the cost to restore the climate sensor, but the agencies have not released the cost figures.

A recent restructuring of the program had removed the sensor from the NPOESS Preparatory Project, NPP, mission.

"This sensor will allow us to move forward with the next generation of technology for weather and climate prediction," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The NPP mission collects and distributes remotely-sensed land, ocean, and atmospheric data to the meteorological and global climate change communities as the responsibility for these measurements transitions from existing Earth observing missions such as Aqua, Terra and Aura, to the NPOESS.

It will provide atmospheric and sea surface temperatures, humidity sounding, land and ocean biological productivity, and cloud and aerosol properties.

The OMPS Limb will measure the vertical distribution of ozone and complements existing NPOESS systems. It will give scientists a better understanding of the structure of the atmosphere.

"Having the OMPS Limb will give scientists a more complete picture of the content and distribution of gases in the atmosphere, and whether that distribution is good or bad," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

The agencies will give conditional authority to Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, California to proceed with restoration of the instrument.

The effort will be contingent on successful negotiations between the company and the government on the full cost of the effort. Northrop Grumman Space Technology is the mission prime contractor.

Restoring the OMPS Limb sensor directly addresses one of the recommendations of the recently released National Research Council's report "Earth Science Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond."

With the launch of the first spacecraft in the new series planned for 2013, NPOESS will bring improved data and imagery that will allow better weather forecasts, severe-weather monitoring and detection of climate change.

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Manatees Face Delisting From Endangered to Threatened

WASHINGTON, DC, Apri 11, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have concluded that the West Indian manatee no longer fits the Endangered Species Act definition of endangered and made a recommendation to reclassify the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened.

The recommendation is the result of a five year status review of the West Indian manatee that includes both the Florida and Antillean subspecies of manatee.

When asked whether or not the Service's recommendation actually changes the manatee's Federal status or level of protection, officials said no.

"The five-year review is an internal staff analysis which makes a recommendation on the classification of the species," said Dave Hankla, field supervisor for the Service's Jacksonville, Florida office. "It is not a decision document and does not change the West Indian manatee's current federal status as endangered, nor does it change existing federal conservation and protection measures, such as refuges, speed restrictions or sanctuaries."

Reclassifying a species requires a more formal administrative process.

"Before a classification change can occur, a separate proposed rulemaking process is required," said Noreen Walsh, assistant regional director for the Ecological Services program in the Service's Southeast Region office. "That formal proposal process would include ample opportunity for stakeholder and public review and comment."

The review finds that the "best, current, minimum population estimate of the statewide manatee population" is approximately 3,300 animals in Florida. But the study acknowledges this estimate is from 2001.

Jennings and Hankla acknowledge there are still some uncertainties in the Florida manatee's status, but say "the good news is the manatees appear to be doing well overall."

In Puerto Rico, the information on manatee survival is scanty. "Our review of the available Antillean manatee literature and data lead us to conclude that, while the population is small, it does appear to be at least stable, maybe even growing slightly," said Edwin Muniz, field supervisor for the Service's Boquerón office in Puerto Rico.

Critics say the downlisting would allow for more development and construction in manatee habitat and would ease boat speed restrictions when boat collisions are the major cause of manatee wounding and mortality.

They point out that more manatees died in 2006 than in any previous year. The 417 manatee deaths recorded in 2006 was an all-time high fatality total, following a near-record fatality year in 2005.

The Service's Manatee Five-Year Review is available online at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida

To read the ENS report "Manatee Protections to Be Cut Despite Record Death Toll," click here.

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Louisiana Governor OKs Bayou Water Quality Project

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has approved a $4 million water quality project with funding through the new Coastal Impact Assistance Program.

The Coastal Impact Assistance Program, CIAP, is a federal program authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to assist coastal producing states in mitigating the impacts from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas production. Louisiana is one of the seven coastal states selected to receive funds to implement this program.

"We have made great progress in improving water quality across Louisiana," the governor said, announcing $4 million worth of new funding for the Beau Bayou project.

The CIAP program will provide $540 million of Outer Continental Shelf mineral revenues to Louisiana over four years. Thirty-five percent, or $189 million, is dedicated to coastal parishes.

CIAP funds can only be used for conservation, restoration and protection of coastal areas, including wetlands, and mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

Improving water quality is a key objective for Governor Blanco, who set water quality goals for the state through the Clean Waters Program.

Currently, 310 water bodies in the state are considered polluted for fish and wildlife and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is working to make 77 of them clean enough to support healthy fish and wildlife populations.

The Beau Bayou is part of the Atchafalaya Basin, an area of hardwood forests, cypress stands, marshes and bayous on the southwestern shore of the Mississippi River Delta.

The Beau Bayou project was initially contemplated as an Atchafalaya Basin Program project. Preliminary design work on the project was completed with Atchafalaya Basin funds in 2004. The Beau Bayou project will now be funded with federal revenues through the Coastal Impact Assistance Program allotted to St. Martin Parish.

A detailed study of the area will be performed and plans and specifications will be prepared for dredging to eliminate poor water conditions in the area. Once the plans are completed, the project can move forward to construction. The estimated cost of this project will be $4 million funded at full federal expense pending final approval of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program due by 2008.

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District, announced its intention to prepare a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, DSEIS, to evaluate water management features for the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System, Louisiana Project, including the Beau Bayou project.

Dependent on funding, the Corps said the earliest that the DSEIS is expected to be available is in the fall of 2012.

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Storm Surges Common Factor in Hurricanes, Tsunamis

PRINCETON, New Jersey, April 11, 2007 (ENS) - The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina of 2005, two of the world's worst recent natural disasters, stemmed from different causes on opposite sides of the globe, but had much in common, a team of researchers has found.

Yin Lu "Julie" Young. an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, is part of a large National Science Foundation-funded research initiative that has been studying both natural disasters.

"A lot of the hurricane damage along the Mississippi coastline came from storm surges - not from high winds or levee flooding that occurred in the New Orleans area," said Young. "Storm surges result in very different mechanisms. When it comes to forces on a structure, what happens in a storm surge is very similar to what happens in a tsunami."

During a storm surge, structures that were built to withstand the downward force of gravity now must cope with a totally different force - the upward and lateral push of water. In addition, buildings have to withstand assaults from debris caught up in the surge.

"Eighteen-wheeler containers, freed floating barges and boats can all become projectiles that will strike objects in their path," said Young. "Large debris may also become lodged between structural elements like columns and lead to complete collapse of the structures."

As the storm surge recedes, the researchers found, the sudden decrease in downward pressure on the saturated soil causes the sand to liquefy and to flow out as a heavy slurry. This can lead to the collapse of buildings, highways or bridge abutments, as well as the emergence of gigantic potholes along coastal roads.

Young's collaborators are Ronald Riggs and Ian Robertson, professors at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and Solomon Yim, a professor at Oregon State University. The team members have just published their study in the "Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering."

The group prepared a report for the Federal Emergency Management Agency proposing building code changes. "If you consider the gravitation, wind, seismic and wave forces, as well as the surrounding soil composition, a building can be designed such that it should be available for immediate occupancy after a minor event, and be able to remain structurally intact to allow for safe evacuation during a Category 3 hurricane like Katrina," said Young.

"We hope to present our findings widely so that engineers can learn from this and modify future design codes to minimize damage," she said.

During two field visits, the team took more than 2,000 photographs of the destruction to the Mississippi coast. An exhibition of photos selected from that collection opened today at Princton.