AmeriScan: April 24, 2007

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U.S. Groups Petition to Protect Panama World Heritage Site

PARIS, France, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and more than 30 other organizations from the United States and Panama Monday petitioned the World Heritage Committee to list La Amistad International Park as a World Heritage site In Danger due to the planned construction of four hydroelectric dams.

The World Heritage Committee is part of UNESCO and is responsible for implementing a 1972 treaty to protect natural and cultural areas of outstanding universal value.

La Amistad, Spanish for the word friendship, is a World Heritage site designated in 1990 and shared by Panama and Costa Rica. It protects the largest and most diverse virgin rainforest remaining in Central America. It is one of the last refuges for such endangered species as the jaguar, ocelot, Central American tapir, resplendent quetzal and harpy eagle.

One of the world’s largest power companies, the AES Corporation, based in Arlington, Virginia, is planning to construct a series of hydroelectric dams in the Changuinola River basin of Panama, putting the exceptional natural values of La Amistad at risk, according to the petitioners.

The Changuinola River flows from the heart of La Amistad and is one of the only free-flowing rivers remaining in Central America. The four dams would permanently alter more than 600 miles of stream and flood tribal lands.

"The dams, roads, bridges and power lines slated for construction would devastate unique native species, destroy a dynamic, free-flowing river, and open this remote jungle for development," said Peter Galvin, conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

La Amistad supports more than 215 species of mammals, 600 species of birds, 115 species of fish, and 250 species of reptiles and amphibians. It also contains one of the highest levels of endemism in Central America, supporting several hundred plant species and 40 bird species that are found nowhere else in the world.

Additionally, the park supports several indigenous tribal communities that live along its border, including the Naso and Ngobe tribes in the Changuinola River basin.

"We must act now to protect La Amistad or else risk losing this international treasure," said Ezekiel Miranda, an environmental leader who lives near La Amistad.

The dams have been promoted as a way to offset greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, but a growing body of scientific evidence shows that dams and reservoirs, particularly those in the tropics, increase rather than decrease greenhouse gas emissions because they create a significant amount of methane, says Galvin.

Once La Amistad is listed as "In Danger," the World Heritage Committee and Panama must adopt a plan for corrective measures and take all efforts to restore its values. The World Heritage Committee can also allocate financial assistance from the World Heritage Fund.

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Crabs Show Effects of Oil Decades After Spill

WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - Nearly 40 years after a fuel oil spill polluted the beaches of Cape Cod, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researchers have found the first evidence of lingering, chronic biological effects on a marsh that otherwise appears to have recovered.

Through a series of field observations and laboratory experiments with salt marsh fiddler crabs, doctoral student Jennifer Culbertson and colleagues found that burrowing behavior, escape response, feeding rate, and population abundance are significantly altered when the crabs are exposed to leftover oil compounds from a 1969 spill.

The study builds on previous work by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, WHOI, which showed that oil compounds from the 1969 wreck of the barge Florida are still lingering in the sediments eight to 20 centimeters below the surface of Wild Harbor in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Burrowing fiddler crabs in the marsh still will not dig more than a few centimeters into the sediments in the areas most affected by the spill, the scientists found.

The findings were published in the online version of "Marine Pollution Bulletin" on April 19, 2007 and will appear later this spring in a printed edition.

Culbertson’s experiments and field work were conducted in the summer of 2005 and 2006 in the Great Sippewissett and Wild Harbor marshes of Falmouth.

On the surface, these neighboring marshes look quite similar, with common plants and animals, sediment types, and geologic histories. The difference is that WHOI researchers have detected residues of No. 2 fuel oil buried in the sediments Wild Harbor, while Great Sippewissett has no detectable residues of the 1969 spill.

Researchers observed the escape response of the crabs, both in the marsh and in the lab. After catching fiddler crabs from both marshes, the scientists fed them sediments from either the oiled or clean marsh and swung a 5 by 5 cm weighted black square in front of the crabs to test how long they took to move away from it.

Crabs fed with oiled sediments were significantly slower to respond, which matched what Culbertson observed in the wild.

"It was shocking that you could bend over and poke the crabs, even flip them over, and they were slow to get up," said Culbertson of the fiddler crabs which are difficult to observe, no less catch, when healthy. "It was as if they were drunk."

There were half as many crabs in the oil-tainted marsh and those remaining consumed food much more slowly than the crabs in the unpolluted marsh.

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Oil Contamination Attorney Invites Schwarzenegger to Ecuador

SACRAMENTO, California, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the landmark environmental lawsuit against Chevron (formerly Texaco) in Ecuador, has asked California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge the oil company to clean up the 18 billion gallons of toxic waste it allegedly dumped into the Amazon.

The request came in a letter from Fajardo to the governor, ahead of Chevron’s annual general shareholder meeting next Wednesday.

Chevron is the defendant in a class action lawsuit that alleges the oil giant dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and abandoned more than 1,000 toxic waste pits, most filled with carcinogens such as chromium and barium.

The lawsuit, now underway in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, alleges that clean up will cost at least $6 billion, making it one of the largest environmental liabilities in the history of the oil industry.

The damage allegedly has led to widespread health problems, including cancer, and the devastation of indigenous groups.

Fajardo, a 34 year old farmer who grew up in poverty and struggled to get his law degree, is pitted against some 30 Chevron lawyers in Ecuador and the United States who are litigating the unprecedented case.

In the letter, Fajardo invites the governor to visit the Ecuadorian Amazon where Texaco (now Chevron) once drilled and to ask Chevron what the company proposes to do to clean up the toxic mess and help the communities whose lives and lands have been ruined.

He writes, "Chevron destroyed over 1,700 square miles of once pristine rain forest with petrochemicals and seepage, and in the process poisoned generations of people. We can no longer drink the water in our villages and towns because the water is contaminated. I stand with 30,000 Ecuadorians in asking for your help."

Fajardo writes, "Instead of trying to help my people, Chevron has time and again funded studies to discredit our health problems and downplay the economic impact their drilling had. I know that you have close ties to this company. For instance, I have read that Chevron has donated over $600,000 to your campaigns and inaugurations. I also have read that your former Chief of Staff was a lobbyist for Chevron."

"However," writes Fajardo, "I have faith because I know you are a man of the environment. You are making California a leader in the United States on almost every environmental issue. You are what they call a 'green' governor."

The trial, which began in 2003, is expected to conclude this summer. The verdict is expected in early 2008.

Fajardo will be in the San Francisco Bay Area next week, accompanied by Luis Macas, the leader of Ecuador’s largest national indigenous organization and a former presidential candidate.

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New York State Pursues Clean Energy Goals

ALBANY, New York, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - New York Lt. Governor David Paterson will tour the state this week to promote the government’s new clean energy agenda. He will inspect current renewable energy facilities and report on how this industry can be expanded.

Last week, Governor Eliot Spitzer announced a comprehensive plan for reducing energy costs and curbing pollution in New York State.

The plan focuses on energy efficiency, conservation, and investment in renewable energy sources as the keys to achieving economic and environmental goals.

"Nowhere is the need for a creative new approach more apparent than in our energy sector," Spitzer said. "We have some of the highest electricity costs in the nation and our thinking on energy policy is as outmoded as our aging power plants."

"But we can make real progress toward economic and environmental goals with a comprehensive program that focuses on energy efficiency and conservation, and investment in new technology," the governor said.

Under the new plan, New York State will reduce electricity use by 15 percent from forecasted levels by the year 2015 through new energy efficiency programs in industry and government.

The state government will create new appliance efficiency standards and set more rigorous energy building codes.

Governor Spitzer proposes to invest $295 million for renewable energy projects throughout the state. He will propose power plant siting legislation that creates an expedited review process for new wind power projects, re-powering projects that reduce emissions, and other power plants that have very low levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

The overall plan was met with approval from the energy industry and environmental organizations.

Chairman and CEO of KeySpan Energy Corp., Robert Catell said, "As the lead policy maker for New York, Governor Spitzer is correctly addressing a critical issue. We must use less energy. And the energy/utility industry, which maintains relationships with New York's consumers, must be part of the solution."

Air and Energy Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ashok Gupta, said, "Energy efficiency is the key to meeting our energy needs, lowering consumer bills, making New York more competitive and reducing global warming pollution. Governor Spitzer's commitment to energy efficiency will make New York the benchmark against which all other states will be measured."

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USDA Spends $180 Million for Rural Water, Wastewater Upgrades

WASHINGTON, DC, April 24, 2007 (ENS) – The federal government is spending nearly $180 million to fund 61 new rural water and wastewater community systems in 29 states, Agriculture Under Secretary Thomas Dorr announced Monday.

"These projects will build and improve rural water and sewage systems, and rural communities will benefit through cleaner water, recreation and wildlife resources," Dorr said. "USDA is working with communities across America to provide investment financing and an improved quality of life for local residents."

In Thurston, Nebraska a $322,000 loan and $253,000 grant will help the tiny village construct a controlled discharge lagoon system. Work will include construction of a lift station and reworking existing lagoon cells to provide a higher maximum water level and achieve required capacity.

When this project is complete, Thurston will be back in compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and will have a wastewater facility that will be able to handle the capacity demanded by the community.

In Aroostook County, Maine, a $12 million loan will go to the Tri-Community Recycling and Sanitary Landfill to install an impervious barrier covering two old cells and an active gas extraction and dispersal system for the original landfill.

Part of the money will be used to install a composite liner for two new vertical expansion cells, install an active gas extraction and dispersal system and purchase additional land for buffering purposes.

Another loan, for $28.9 million goes to Earth Resources Inc. in Franklin County, Georgia, to construct a 20 megawatt renewable energy generation facility that will be fueled by 80 percent wood waste and biomass, and 20 percent chicken litter, making it a 100 percent renewable energy project.

The project will construct six tenths of a mile of line and related interconnection facilities to connect the plant to the Georgia power grid.

Earth Resources has signed a 15 year contract with a local electric company to sell all the energy produced by the new system.

A complete list of the loan and grant recipients and projects can be found at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rd/newsroom/news.htm

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National Sustainable Design Expo Opens Today

WASHINGTON, DC, April 24, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. EPA's National Sustainable Design Expo opens today on the National Mall in Washington, showcasing innovative energy technology such as generating energy from ocean waves and producing fuel from algae. It is open to the public without charge today and tomorrow.

"Green designs not only help protect our planet by using renewable fuel sources and less toxics, but they also ring up big sales at the cash register." said Dr. George Gray, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. "There are great environmental challenges facing the U.S. in the coming decades. Smart companies are seeing these challenges as a golden opportunity to create a brand new market - green technologies."

The Expo showcases novel, commercially available products for green buildings and construction materials, innovative alternative energy technologies, strategies for rainwater collection and purification, and the latest in consumer products.

Co-sponsored by the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, the Expo will include exhibits by government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

A highlight of the Expo is EPA’s third annual People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Award, a national competition involving 41 teams of college and university students who will exhibit their novel design projects.

Former P3 projects proved that green designs save energy and are profitable. Several of those projects have become new commercial ventures.

The 2005 P3 team from Oberlin College team founded the Lucid Design Group after designing a real-time energy monitoring system. Within two weeks, the technology reduced electricity consumption by 32 percent and water use by 20,000 gallons in two dormitories. Oberlin implemented the project campus-wide and is now the first college in the U.S. to save energy through real-time monitoring.

Last year, Duke University students designed a house with enough audiovisuals for a theater that ran on electricity generated by solar panels. Home Depot was so impressed that it partnered with Duke to create The Home Depot "smart home" as a live-in laboratory where the company can learn how to construct green, energy efficient homes, and then market the technology through its stores.

More than 40 partners in the federal government, industry and scientific and professional societies support the EPA’s P3 Award competition.