AmeriScan: April 23, 2007

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Ag Secretary Supports Out of Country Food Aid Purchases

KANSAS CITY, Kansas, April 23, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration's proposal to use up to 25 percent of emergency food aid funds to buy food located near crisis sites would increase U.S. capacity to get food quickly to where it is needed, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said at an international conference last week.

"When rapid response is essential, we ask simply for the flexibility to save lives," Johanns told reporters after addressing the International Food Aid Conference Wednesday in Kansas City. The U.S. is the largest donor of food aid in the world.

The annual conference, which drew representatives from 28 countries, is the largest gathering devoted to food aid in the United States. It was cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, which each administer parts of the U.S. food aid program.

Johanns said he is "guardedly optimistic" Congress will agree to the local or regional purchase and distribution proposal. He said local purchases would avoid the often time-consuming process of loading and shipping U.S.-grown commodities to sites in need of immediate food assistance.

He said, however, that the USDA does not anticipate frequent use of the local purchase option and that food grown in the United States would continue to be the first choice in meeting global needs.

In the last two decades, the number of food aid emergency situations around the world has doubled to an average of 30 a year, Johanns said.

"The frequency of these emergencies places more stress on the food aid distribution system and makes it even more important for us to respond quickly and with flexibility when there is a crisis," he said.

Johanns said he expected U.S. commodity producers who in the past have opposed similar proposals because of potential lost sales would not oppose the current proposal.

"When the emergency is so dire, so pressing, so critical, if we can get food to these people faster I believe the American farmer will support that," he said.

Some representatives of nongovernmental organizations involved in distributing U.S. food aid say local purchases should not be limited to a percentage of emergency aid funding or limited to emergency situations only.

The proposal is one of several changes the administration is proposing to the new multi-year Farm Bill now being considered by Congress. The current Farm Bill is set to expire at the end of 2007.

USDA also is asking Congress for authority to accept in-kind food aid donations, which is food purchased or donated and then delivered to targeted populations.

Johanns told reporters that the growing demand for crops for biofuel production would not compete with future food needs of the world's growing population.

"The focus of our initiative in renewable fuels for this Farm Bill is not corn-based," said Johanns. "We believe corn-based ethanol will be a part of the future, but it's focused on cellulosic ethanol - $1.5 for research and development, $2.1 billion for loan guarantees to build cellulosic ethanol plants."

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California Court Order Could Halt Water Flow to San Francisco

SACRAMENTO, California, April 23, 2007 (ENS) - California State Water Project pumps sending water to the San Francisco Bay Area, Central and Southern California must be turned off on June 17 unless the state complies with permit procedures designed to protect endangered fish, an Alameda County Superior Court judge has ruled.

The ruling by Judge Frank Roesch in the case of Watershed Enforcers v. Department of Water Resources followed filing of a lawsuit last December by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

The Alliance alleges that the state does not have the appropriate permit to "take" spring and winter-run salmon and delta smelt during pumping operations at the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant near Byron, in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The Department of Water Resources, DWR, asserts that it does have a "take" permit through a series of documents formalized over the past 15 years.

"We are disappointed that the Alameda court has denied our request for a hearing to present additional information on the Department's actions to address methods of compliance with the state's endangered species act," said DWR Director Lester Snow on April 18. "Instead, the 60-day clock starts ticking on what would be a devastating blow to the state's water system if the State Water Project's Delta pumps are stopped."

State agencies currently are engaged in a formal process to develop the Delta’s largest and most comprehensive habitat conservation plan, says Snow. This plan will ensure that water users do their part to contribute to the recovery of Delta fish species.

"We intend to appeal the decision, but at the same time have also applied for a consistency determination with the Department of Fish and Game that we hope will be granted in early May," Snow said.

A determination that the State Water Project's operations under the federal fish opinions is consistent with state law would address the court's finding and allow the DWR to keep water moving throughout the state.

Snow said the ruling is "one more indication of how unsustainable the Delta is. Every time there is an issue or a conflict, we end up in court – but not to solve the bigger issues of the Delta."

This is one reason that Governor Arnold Swarzenegger has initiated a "Delta vision process" Snow said. Included in the Governor’s growth plan is a proposed $1 billion for Delta sustainability issues.

"We want to address Delta environmental issues in a comprehensive fashion rather than leaping from one court case to the next court case," said Snow. "We are committed to fixing the problem, we’re committed to protecting Delta smelt and other endangered species, and we’re committed to maintaining the economy of the State of California."

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Feds Urged to Regulate Solid Waste Along Rail Lines

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2007 (ENS) – A loophole in federal law allows piles of garbage 20 feet high to accumulate along rail lines across the country. The trash, mostly construction debris that can include elevated levels of arsenic and mercury, is kept at sites along rail lines before being shipped to landfills in other states.

On Thursday, the federal Surface Transportation Board, STB, was asked to regulate this practice by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over railroad issues and oversees the confirmation of STB board members.

"Unregulated waste facilities, whether on a rail line or not, are bad for our communities, the senator said. "States like New Jersey need the ability to regulate them to protect the health and safety of their residents - and it's critical for the Board to act today to make sure states have those rights."

"While I have a bill that would give states the tools they need, the Board could resolve this problem far sooner. I urge the Board to act quickly."

Lautenberg and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, have sponsored the Clean Railroads Act of 2007 to close the federal loophole and allow New Jersey and other states to regulate solid waste facilities on rail property for environmental, health, and safety reasons.

The case before the Surface Transportation Board concerns an attempt by New England Transrail, a New Jersey company, to assert that it can operate a solid waste processing facility along rail lines in Massachusetts without abiding by pertinent regulations because it is in effect a railroad and therefore subject only to the STB and not state regulators.

The Board will determine if it has jurisdiction over solid waste processing. If it does not, jurisdiction would then fall to the states.

Representatives of the state of New Jersey testified Thursday. "Rail facilities should not be allowed to operate solid waste transfer stations in complete disregard of public health and safety," said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson. "DEP has been fighting hard to make sure these facilities operate in an environmentally safe manner."

This has been a priority issue for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, which is trying to clean up the Meadowlands - 32 square miles covering the Hackensack River and its marshes and 14 municipalities in Bergen and Hudson counties. The area was viewed as a dumping ground for years until the commission over the past three years has revitalized formerly blighted areas and preserved 8,400 acres of wetlands and open space.

"We are proud to stand with Senator Lautenberg and officials from Massachusetts to defend the rights of residents to a healthy environment and a community in which safety standards are upheld," said NJMC Chairwoman Susan Bass Levin, also the commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.

New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner said the case has far-reaching implications for New Jersey and other states.

"If the federal government continues to allow solid waste facilities to disguise themselves as railroads so that states are preempted from regulating them, it will undermine our ability to police the industry, and to keep undesirable elements - including organized crime - out of the industry," said Rabner.

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Recycling Bug Hits Nation's Capital

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2007 (ENS) - In celebration of Earth Day, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is encouraging morning rail commuters to recycle their newspapers. On Friday, volunteers from the U.S. EPA assisted commuters in recycling their newspapers at seven Metrorail stations spanning the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland.

Area youth groups have decorated the newspaper recycling bins at the Metro stations and volunteers from the District Department of Public Works, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and Arlington County were available to answer commuters' recycling questions.

"Last year, Metro recycled 2,400 tons of newspapers. That’s 200 tons or 400,000 pounds of newspapers every month," said Joan LeLacheur, Metro’s acting director for environmental management. "Metro also recycles items found in its rail yards and bus garages including scrap metal, used oil, paints, greases and solvents, rail ties, light bulbs and batteries."

"At Metro, every day is Earth Day," said Metro General Manager John Catoe. "With nearly 1.1 million people each weekday choosing to take Metrorail or Metrobus instead of driving, Metro riders keep more than 325,000 vehicles off the region’s already congested roadways each day, saving thousands of gallons of gasoline and reducing vehicle emissions."

On Sunday, Earth Day, Dell Inc., TechTurn, the EPA, and the National Recycling Coalition partnered to encourage Washington, DC area residents and businesses to recycle unwanted computer equipment.

Any make or model of computers, monitors, printers, scanners, keyboards, mice, and laptops brought to Freedom Plaza Sunday will be collected and safely recycled for free. TechTurn will process the electronics equipment dropped off during the event.

"We cannot think of a better day or more appropriate place to partner with consumers and make a difference for the environment," said Joe Strathmann, Dell senior manager of asset recovery services. "Through public-private partnerships and initiatives, we are sending a clear message that no computer should go to waste."

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Asthma Trigger Found in Crab and Insect Shells

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 22, 2007 (ENS) - The shells of crabs and beetles owe their toughness to a common compound called chitin (pronounced kahy-tin) that now appears to trigger airway inflammation and asthma, scientists have found.

Insects, molds and parasitic worms – all common sources of allergies or inflammation - produce billions of tons of chitin a year. Humans and other mammals lack chitin, but have specialized enzymes to break it down.

Richard Locksley, MD, director of the Sandler Asthma Basic Research Center at the University of California-San Francisco, and his team discovered that chitin triggers an allergic inflammatory response in the lungs of mice, as well as increased production of an enzyme made by lung cells that destroys chitin.

This and other results support the possibility, still under study, that chitin causes inflammation and allergy, and that the chitin-destroying enzyme in the lung could play an important role in regulating the body’s response.

The results of the team's studies on inflammation in mice were reported April 22 in an early online publication by the journal "Nature."

"Now that we’ve demonstrated that chitin can trigger this kind of allergic inflammation in mice, we want to determine whether chitin naturally present in the environment can contribute to allergic or inflammatory responses," said Dr. Locksley.

"Asthma is increasing in all industrialized societies," he says, "not only in some of the less-served areas of large cities, but even in the suburbs. This is a huge health problem that impacts enormous numbers of children everywhere."

Locksley thinks that the presence of chitin in molds, worms and insects, which can all invade humans by penetrating skin or mucus membranes, may have pressured vertebrates to maintain "chitin-recognition molecules."

He speculates that people normally mount an immune attack against an allergen or parasite in response to chitin, among other signals.

This kind of inflammation is important in repelling the foreign allergen or parasite. In turn, the inflammatory cells themselves trigger cells in the invaded tissue to ramp up production of the chitin-disabling enzyme.

Shellfish processing workers often have "crab asthma," an industrial hazard that has attracted the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Chitin exposure may be particularly high among industry workers, who need to remove and destroy the hard chitin shells of crabs and other crustaceans," Locksley says.

He suggests confirming the chitin levels in shellfish processing plants, and, if they are high, considering ways to reduce exposure to chitin among workers.

The cleanliness and lack of bacteria in many industrial nations may explain the sharp increase in the rate of asthma and other allergies, Locksley explains. Modern societies have cleaned up living conditions so that people are exposed to far less dirt, and antibiotics and microbicides have reduced the numbers of bacteria in the environment.

Bacteria are known to degrade chitin, and Locksley suggests that the reduction in bacteria may lead to an increase of chitin in the environment – largely from molds and insects. He says this may explain the findings of several studies that the highest childhood asthma risk tends to be associated with the lowest exposure to bacteria.

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Schwarzenegger in "Pimp My Ride" Biodiesel Makeover Show

NEW YORK, New York, April 23, 2007 - In celebration of Earth Day, MTV's "Pimp My Ride" show set California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger up with a 1965 Chevy Impala outfitted with a 800 horsepower diesel engine that will run on biodiesel.

"I would like to thank MTV and the entire 'Pimp my Ride' crew for shining the spotlight on the importance of alternative fuels and the fight against global warming, said Governor Schwarzenegger.

"I am very encouraged by the great potential in converting vehicles to run on biodiesel as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said the governor, who last year set the nation's first alternative fuels standard in California.

During the episode, the audience meets Kristoffer from North Hollywood, California who has had nothing but car trouble with his 1965 Chevy Impala. He is rescued by rap superstar and car enthusiast Xzibit who takes his car to Galpin Auto Sports, G.A.S. for the ultimate ecological transformation.

During the show, car customization specialist Mad Mike and the "Pimp My Ride" crew at G.A.S. put together the transformation plan.

The audience joins Mad Mike as he visits Imperium Renewables to learn how alternative fuels are created and used.

General Motors adds to the restoration of the '65 Chevy Impala with its Duramax diesel engine, found in the latest Chevrolet and GMC trucks.

The crew then decides to test out how the new biodiesel Impala, now nicknamed the "Bio Rocket," fares against a Lamborghini Gallardo in the ultimate race.

Governor Schwarzenegger visits G.A.S. to help with the final touches and provides his eco-approval. With the race and transformation, Kristoffer gets jolted when his new pimped-out masterpiece is unveiled before him.

Since he took office in November 2003, Schwarzenegger has been criticized for his fleet of seven gas-guzzling Hummers that get only 10 miles to the gallon. Hummers emit over three times more carbon dioxide than average cars, they give off more smog-producing pollutants and dangerous particulates.

But the governor says his vehicle preferences have changed. He has given up most of his Hummers, and likes the biodiesel makeover on the "Pimp My Ride" episode so well, he asked that mechanics install the same engine in one of his two remaining Hummers.

"I am pleased that the power of MTV's message will reach an audience throughout California and the nation to reinforce the benefits of alternative-fuel vehicles and protecting our environment," he said.

The "Pimp My Ride" biodiesel episode airs as part of the thinkMTV year long, 12-step campaign "Break The Addiction" engaging, empowering, and educating millions of young people to make smart, everyday choices that improve their lives and help curb the impact of climate change.