AmeriScan: April 19, 2007

* * *

Raging Southeast Georgia Fires Force Evacuations

WAYCROSS, Georgia, April 19, 2007 (ENS) – Firefighters made progress today against two wildfires that have forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes in Waycross and destroyed 14 houses as they spread over more than 45 square miles of parched southeast Georgia.

The fires are creeping nearer to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, with one touching the outer edges of the refuge, said Eric Mosley, spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission, GFC.

"This one will go into the history books of wildland fires in Georgia," said Frank Sorrells, GFC Waycross District Ranger, of the Ware County Sweat Farm Road fire. "We're pulling equipment and personnel in from all over Georgia and more are on standby to put out this dangerous fire.

The fire has scorched an area 11 miles long and one mile wide and is spreading into the Okefenokee Swamp. The Okefenokee Swamp Park has been evacuated.

Smoke from the fires is affecting areas as far away as Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida.

U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republicans, today praised authorization of federal funding to respond to the fires in southeast Georgia that have burned over 20,000 acres of federal, state, and private land.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue made the request Tuesday, and funding has been made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The authorization includes a 75 percent federal cost share to be applied to all fire management assistance grants.

"Our firefighters, forestry officials, and rangers did a terrific job responding quickly to the fires threatening this treasured area of our state and notifying our citizens of this disaster," said Senator Chambliss.

* * *

Bill Would Protect Alaska's Bristol Bay From Energy Development

WASHINGTON, DC, April 19, 2007 (ENS) - Legislation introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives would permanently prohibit oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay, Alaska and the surrounding waters in the Bering Sea.

Congressmen Jay Inslee of Washington and Maurice Hinchey of New York, both Democrats, and Wayne Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican, are co-sponsors of the bill.

On January 9, 2007, President Bush rescinded a long-standing presidential moratorium that prohibited drilling in Bristol Bay.

In July, the Minerals Management Service will release a five year plan that is expected to recommend oil and gas development in Bristol Bay and other areas along U.S. coastlines.

Bristol Bay is the center of the Bering Sea commercial salmon, halibut, herring and crab fisheries, which generate more than $2 billion annually. Many Alaskan natives rely on the healthy ecosystem for food, and recreational hunters and fishermen flock to the bay each year.

Bristol Bay hosts five national wildlife refuges. It is inhabited by walruses, harbor seals, northern sea otters, and endangered species, such as stellar sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world's most endangered whale species, the north Pacific population of northern right whales.

"Congressmen Inslee, Gilchrest and Hinchey are coming to the rescue of Bristol Bay, and all the people who depend on it, at its time of greatest need," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "Oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay is a risk we can't afford to take. It would jeopardize the nation's most important fishery, hundreds of communities reliant on fishing and a treasure trove of wildlife."

Republicans for Environmental Protection, REP, a national grassroots organization whose membership includes elected officials, also came out in support of the legislation, saying opening Bristol Bay to drilling would do little to enhance America's energy security.

"The bay's clean, cold waters produce some of the highest quality, wild-caught seafood in the world, including sockeye and Chinook salmon, king crab, cod, and halibut. The Bristol Bay fishery supports the local fishing economy, and supplies grocery stores and fine dining establishments across the nation," said REP Government Affairs Director David Jenkins.

"Putting all of that natural bounty at risk for what amounts to 10 days worth of oil and three months worth of gas makes neither economic nor environmental sense," Jenkins said.

"True energy security for America will not be found by putting an abundant renewable resource at risk for relatively small supplies of depletable fossil fuels. It can only be found through greater fuel efficiency and diversifying the nation's energy choices," said REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso.

* * *

New Jersey Metal Factory Slapped With Million Dollar Fine

TRENTON, New Jersey, April 19, 2007 (ENS) - Tyco International (US) Inc. will pay more than $1.1 million to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act at its former metal forming and finishing facility in Hamburg, New Jersey, the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, announced today.

In a companion case, the facility’s current owner, Shan Industries, has agreed to and has already completed a retrofit of equipment used in metal finishing at the facility that is intended to limit emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

The facility uses trichloroethylene, TCE, to degrease and chromium to electroplate metal parts, for items such as writing implements and automotive fuel filters.

TCE and chromium are among the most toxic of hazardous air pollutants. Repeated or long-term exposure can cause serious health effects, the EPA says.

In complaints filed with the settlements, the federal government charged that Tyco and Shan failed to comply with design, testing, operating, monitoring and reporting requirements. Tyco was in violation of the regulations from at least February 1999 until it sold the facility in January 2000.

Under the settlement, Shan has agreed to follow reporting requirements and will pay a $101,000 penalty. Shan acquired the facility from Tyco in January 2000 and completed alterations to the degreasing equipment in July 2006. The settlement requires reporting of monitoring, certifications and repairs to the degreaser on an annual and semiannual basis.

Matthew McKeown, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said the penalty "should serve to deter future violators from failing to comply with the laws that protect the environment and public health."

"Tyco and Shan are both held accountable for the violations at the premises," said Alan Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. "They must install the appropriate air pollution controls and pay the penalties."

* * *

Louisiana Governor Expands Recycling at the Mansion

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, April 19, 2007 (ENS) - For Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and First Gentleman Raymond Blanco, the first step in environmental protection begins at home. In celebration of Earth Day 2007 and as part of the Governor's environmental preservation agenda, the Blancos will be doing more recycling at the Governor's Mansion. The Blancos' initiative expands the family's current recycling policy and is the first major recycling effort at the Mansion to provide capacity for major events. The Governor's Mansion hosts thousands of visitors and hundreds of events each year.

"Our sound environmental policy is making a real difference, but it is only part of the conservation equation. Each and every day, even through the smallest actions, all of us can make a real difference for the environment," Governor Blanco said.

"My family and I are proud to launch a major recycling initiative here in the people's house and encourage other families to make recycling a priority in their homes as well. Together, we will preserve the natural resources that make Louisiana a special place."

Recycling Foundation of Baton Rouge is working with the First Family to collect white paper, newspaper, cardboard, plastics, aluminum and glass items discarded at the Mansion at no cost.

"We are proud to work with the First Family to establish a recycling program at the Governor's Mansion. Education and leading by example are the best ways to encourage participation in residential recycling. Having the leader of our state take this initiative reinforces the importance of protecting our environment," said Steven Cheatham, vice oresident of the Recycling Foundation of Baton Rouge.

During the past six months, The Recycling Foundation of Baton Rouge tracked an increase of 31 percent in the tonnage of recyclable materials collected at the curb in East Baton Rouge and the City of Lafayette. In that same time period, the number of residents participating in curbside recycling programs in the two metropolitan areas increased by nearly 10 percent.

The Recycling Foundation collects an estimated 1,300 tons of recyclable material from the curb in Baton Rouge every month.

* * *

Poll: Nearly 40 Percent Care About Green Travel

NEEDHAM, Massachusetts, April 19, 2007 (ENS) - Known for featuring real advice from real travelers, the travel company TripAdvisor has conducted an ecotourism survey that found many people are willing spend more to be green.

The new survey of more than 1,000 travelers worldwide found that 38 percent of respondents said environmentally-friendly tourism is a consideration when traveling.

Sixty-six percent believe environmentally-friendly measures in travel are making a difference.

"A significant number of TripAdvisor survey respondents are environmentally-conscious, which sends a message to the travel industry to ratchet up eco-friendly offerings," said Michele Perry, director of communications for TripAdvisor.

Thirty-four percent of travelers surveyed would pay more to stay at an environmentally-friendly hotel. Twenty-five percent would be willing to pay a five to 10 percent premium, and 12 percent would pay a 10 to 20 percent premium.

"Travelers are willing to pay more to be green," said Perry.

The survey found that 38 percent of travelers have stayed at an environmentally-friendly hotel, and nine percent specifically seek out environmentally-friendly hotels.

When asked what qualities are most important to making a hotel eco-friendly, conserving energy ranked number one, followed by conserving water and using recycled paper.

Seventy-eight percent of travelers said they decline to have their sheets and towels changed to save water and energy, when provided that option by hoteliers.

Eleven percent of those polled have taken an ecotourism trip, and 25 percent are considering booking ecotourism travel.

Twenty-four percent of respondents believe that air travel should be avoided, when possible, to help preserve the environment.

Thirty-eight percent of travelers surveyed would pay more to take an eco-friendly flight and 26 percent would pay a 5-10 percent premium.

Only three percent of travelers surveyed have purchased carbon credits. Personal carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gases emitted by planes and ground transportation can be bought on a voluntary basis from some travel agencies and airlines. These companies partner with firms that use the carbon offset fees to fund renewable energy generation, tree planting, or energy efficiency techniques.

* * *

South Pole Research Featured in Global Earth Day Broadcast

WASHINGTON, DC, April 19, 2007 (ENS) - Air quality research and ozone monitoring at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole will be showcased as part of a global Earth Day telecast scheduled for Friday, on ABC-television news programs.

Stephen Padin, the South Pole station science leader, will be featured on the network's broadcast "Planet Earth 2007: Seven Ways to Help Save the World." Padin is spending the southern winter at the world's most remote scientific observatory.

Stephen Padin says hello from the South Pole. He is a senior scientist with the University of Chicago Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. (Photo courtesy U. Chicago)
Padin will discuss what it is like to spend eight months of darkness at the Pole and what scientists are doing there. He will also talk about long-range scientific research to track levels of carbon-dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere since people first wintered at the Pole 50 years ago.

The condition of the Earth's protective ozone layer also is monitored at the Pole.

The various reports in the daylong broadcast will air on "Good Morning America," "World News with Charles Gibson," an hour-long "20/20" anchored by Diane Sawyer and "Nightline."

The South Pole has the most pristine air on the Earth and the record of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere derived from measurements at the Pole, which has shown steady growth for 50 years, is one of the oldest and most comprehensive in existence.

Padin lives in an elevated station that replaced one built in 1975. He oversees the operation of the South Pole telescope, a 75 foot tall, 280 ton device that will allow scientists to study the evolution of the universe.

Padin's work is part of the research taking place for the International Polar Year, a concentrated, global campaign of research in the polar regions. The National Science Foundation which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and chairs the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, is the lead U.S. agency for the International Polar Year.