AmeriScan: April 26, 2007

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Acid Maker Must Spend $50 Million to Cut Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2007 (ENS) - Sulfuric acid manufacturer Rhodia Inc. will pay a $2 million penalty and spend $50 million on air pollution controls at eight production plants in four states, to resolve allegations that the company violated the federal Clean Air Act.

The pollution controls are expected to reduce harmful emissions from company production plants in Texas, Louisiana, California and Indiana by 19,000 tons per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

Rhodia's plants produce sulfuric acid by burning compounds containing sulfur, creating sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is then converted to sulfur trioxide, which combines with water to form sulfuric acid.

Air pollution is created when unconverted sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist are released to the atmosphere.

The government's complaint alleges that Rhodia modified its plants, increasing emissions of sulfur dioxide, without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment.

Today's settlement will ensure that the proper pollution equipment will be installed to reduce future emission levels.

The company will meet new, lower emission limits for sulfur dioxide at eight sulfuric acid production units - two in Houston, Texas, and one in Baytown, Texas; two in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; one each in Martinez, California, and Dominguez, California; and one in Hammond, Indiana.

To meet these limits, the company will install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment at several plants and change operating procedures at several others.

The states of Indiana and Louisiana, California's Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the city of Hammond, Indiana, joined the federal government in today's agreement and will receive shares of the civil penalty.

Rhodia is the first sulfuric acid manufacturer in the nation to agree to a company-wide "global" compliance agreement. As a result of these actions, actual emissions at some of the Rhodia plants will decrease by more than 90 percent.

The Justice Department and the EPA expect to reach similar agreements with other sulfuric acid manufacturers. The EPA is focusing on improving compliance among industries that have the potential to cause major amounts of air pollution, including the cement manufacturing, glass manufacturing, and acid production industries.

"Today's settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants by 19,000 tons per year," said Grant Nakayama, EPA assistant administrator for the office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Sulfur dioxide can impair breathing, aggravate respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, and cause acid rain. This will improve air quality for millions of people around the nation."

The consent decree, lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The company is required to pay the penalty within 30 days after the court approves the settlement and to begin meeting stricter emission limits at some of the plants by July 1, 2007.

View a copy of the consent decree at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html

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Corn Growers Back Patent Reform to Protect Against GMOs

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2007 (ENS) The American Corn Growers Association, ACGA, Wednesday joined with rural and agricultural groups in support of the bipartisan, bicameral Patent Reform Act of 2007.

Family farmers have been struggling for years against lawsuits that claim they have willfully infringed on the patents of genetically modified organisms, GMOs. The bill, introduced in Congress recently, would protect farmers from companies that claim farmers "willfully" used their patented varieties, when in fact the genetically modified pollen was carried into their fields by the wind.

In a letter sent today to the bill's primary sponsors, the organizations called for comprehensive reform of the current patent system, which leaves farmers vulnerable to attack by corporate agri-business.

"To protect family farmers from anti-competitive behavior of giant agribusinesses, Congress must reform the patent system," said Larry Mitchell, chief executive for ACGA, which represents 14,000 members in 35 states.

"ACGA is not anti-technology - we are pro-farmer. Many ACGA members are very progressive and many choose and use the newest in technology, much of it patented, but farmers should not be subjected to oppressive patent abuse."

In their study entitled Monsanto vs. the U.S. Farmer the Center for Food Safety writes that as of January 2005 Monsanto had filed 90 lawsuits against American farmers in 25 states that involve 147 farmers and 39 small businesses or farm companies. In those with recorded judgments farmers paid a mean of $412,259 to Monsanto.

These allegations of infringement are unwarranted because farmers in many cases are sued after their fields are contaminated by pollen that naturally drifts over from a neighboring field. It has been proven that pollen - including patented GMOs - can drift up to five miles under certain circumstances, which is impossible for an individual farmer to obstruct or control in any way.

"ACGA supports legislation like the Patent Reform Act of 2007, which would help level the playing field for small farmers," said Mitchell.

ACGA has standing bylaws that prohibits the organization from accepting funding from corporate agriculture so ACGA represents farmers - not seed, chemical, food processing, grain trading or crop insurance companies.

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Bush Aquaculture Bill Bad for Oceans, Group Warns

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2007 (ENS) A Bush administration bill to permit hundreds of thousands of fish to be raised in industrial size cages off America's coasts could harm oceans, fish, and people, the consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch said today.

Depending on the species, a pound of farmed fish requires two to six pounds of wild fish to be caught and ground up as feed, the goup said.

Increased catch of feeder species, such as menhaden and whiting, would endanger wild fish populations and the coastal communities that depend on them, the group says.

"As Americans gear up for summer vacations at the beach, it is outrageous that Congress would consider Bush administration legislation that could harm one of our most precious natural resources the ocean," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.

The NOAA Fisheries bill, The National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007, or H.R. 2010, would allow for the construction of large-scale fish farms in deep waters from three to 200 miles off the U.S. coast.

The bill acts as a permitting mechanism, says Food & Water Watch, ignoring the environmental and community impacts resulting from raising carnivorous finfish, such as tuna or halibut, which eat wild fish.

The legislation, transmitted to Congress on March 12, would create a regulatory framework that allows for safe and sustainable aquaculture operations for fish and shellfish in U.S. federal waters, three or more miles off the coast.

The 2007 Act includes requirements to ensure that offshore aquaculture proceeds in an environmentally responsible manner that is consistent with stated policy to protect wild stocks and the quality of marine ecosystems and is compatible with other uses of the marine environment.

With an $8 billion seafood trade deficit, the United States is dependent on farmed seafood imported from other nations to meet domestic market demand.

Food & Water Watch objects to the Bush plan because "it lacks substantial environmental provisions, lacks consumer protection initiatives, contains weak provisions for protecting the financial interest of traditional fisheries-dependent communities, and, ignores regional rights and jurisdiction over the planning, regulation and monitoring of open ocean fish farms."

Intensive aquaculture can rely on heavy doses of antibiotics, chemicals, hormones, and fish feeds with known carcinogens.

A research team evaluating a fish farm off the coast of Hawaii found the facility had "grossly polluted" the seafloor and that some types of sea life were "severely depressed" due to the waste produced by the farm.

In addition, industrial-sized fish farms can attract and concentrate parasites and diseases that can spread to wild fish populations. Escaped non-native or farmed fish could compete with wild populations.

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Hawaii Senate Fires Champion of Marine Monument Safeguards

HONOLULU, Hawaii, April 26, 2007 (ENS) - The man who spearheaded the protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a National Marine Monument has lost his job.

Peter Young, chair of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, DLNR, an appointee of Republican Governor Linda Lingle, was not reconfirmed for a second four year term by the Democratically controlled Hawaii State Senate.

In a 15-8 vote along party lines on Tuesday, the senators rejected Young, citing management difficulties in several of the department's divisions that they said, taken together, threatened protection of the state's natural resources.

While some initially opposed him, Hawaii environmentalists grew to respect Young for his advocacy of a federal policy of no commercial fishing in the monument waters. They applauded for his protection of state waters out three miles from all Northwestern Hawaiian island shores in a state marine reserve.

Environmentalists objected to the state Senate hearing process, much of which took place behind closed doors where the lawmakers heard evidence that Young was not able to hear or to answer.

At a news conference April 18, while the hearings were in their fifth day, Earthjustice attorny Isaac Moriwake said a trial would have been preferable to the state Senate hearings where Young "doesn't have an opportunity to even hear what the accusations are, let alone respond to them directly."

"Further, in a trial, basic rules of evidence apply," Moriwake said. "Hearsay, leading witnesses, speculation, these are all prohibited, and yet these hearings have been filled with such questionable testimony."

By contrast, beginning in 2005, Young led a pioneering effort to bring transparency to the traditionally secretive DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources.

He ensured that the state Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Refuge rules required all DLNR NWHI permit applications to be submitted through a Land Board hearing process for public scrutiny.

In an April 12 opinion obtained by the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands hui, a conservation coalition, the state Office of Information Practices re-affirmed and provided legal support for Young's efforts to open up records on NWHI permits to full public scrutiny.

"This is a tremendous breakthrough!" said Dr. Stephanie Fried, an Environmental Defense senior scientist based in Hawaii. "The state's public information authority has spoken: the NWHI permitting process must be fully open to the public. What a wonderful lasting legacy for Peter Young to have established. Generations to come will be grateful that he worked hard to provide the legal underpinning and set the precedent for the highest levels of transparency."

Over 1,300 local residents, fishers, Native Hawaiians, environmentalists, cultural practitioners, representatives of ocean recreation, construction, architecture, accounting and pest control businesses, educators, students, scientists and public officials signed a petition or individually called on the state Senate to re-confirm Young for a second term.

Rick Gaffney, a recreational fisher and advocate for Hawaii's 10,000 plus recreational boat owners, said Young is "the best DLNR head this state has had in several decades. His efforts have always been to conserve our fisheries for current and future generations."

Young first encouraged Governor Lingle to visit the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The governor then persuaded President George W. Bush that the 1,200 mile long chain of islands should be protected.

"If Peter Young is judged by the Senators on a mission of protecting and enhancing our cultural and natural resources, he should be confirmed unanimously," Governor Lingle said last week. But in this Democrat vs Republican tug of war, the more numerous Democrats prevailed.

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Carbon Dioxide Captured Directly From the Air

NEW YORK, New York, April 26, 2007 (ENS) - The capture of carbon dioxide, CO2, directly from the air has been successfully demonstrated by scientists at Columbia University and Global Research Technologies, LLC, a technology research and development company based in Tucson, Arizona.

The "air extraction" prototype has demonstrated that carbon dioxide can be captured from the atmosphere, the scientists said last week.

"One of the most critical challenges we face is the dramatically increasing and completely unprecedented level of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere," they said. "The air extraction device is one critical solution to help the world reduce dangerous amounts of CO2 in the air."

It has been too expensive to re-outfit many of the world's existing power plants to make them more eco-friendly, although they emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Building new technologies is easier and cheaper than adding retrofits to existing infrastructure, the scientists said. The new GRT device captures the emissions from existing power plants without imposing retrofit costs.

The carbon capture technology was developed by GRT and Klaus Lackner, a professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The technology company began development of the device in 2004 and has recently successfully demonstrated its effectiveness.

The air extraction device, in which sorbents capture carbon dioxide molecules from free-flowing air and release those molecules as a pure stream of carbon dioxide for sequestration, has met a wide range of performance standards in the GRT research facility.

"This is an exciting step toward making carbon capture and sequestration a viable technology," said Lackner. "I have long believed science and industry have the technological capability to design systems that will capture greenhouse gases and allow us to transition to energies of the future over the long term."

The GRT's demonstration could have far-reaching consequences for the battle to reduce greenhouse gas levels.

The technology shows, for the first time, that carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles on the streets of Bangkok could be removed from the atmosphere by devices located in Iceland.

This could present a solution to three problems that until now have posed intractable obstacles for advocates of greenhouse gas reduction - how to deal with the millions of vehicles that together represent over 20 percent of global CO2 emissions, how to manage the emissions from existing infrastructure, and how to connect the sources of carbon to the sites of carbon disposal.

"This significant achievement holds incredible promise in the fight against climate change," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, "and thanks to the ingenuity of GRT and Klaus Lackner, the world may, sooner rather than later, have an important tool in this fight."

A device with an opening of one square meter can extract about 10 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. If a single device were to measure 10 meters by 10 meters it could extract 1,000 tons each year.

On this scale, one million devices would be required to remove one billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

According to the U.K. Treasury's Stern Review on climate change, the world will need to reduce carbon emissions by 11 billion tons by 2025 in order to maintain a concentration of carbon dioxide at twice pre-industrial levels.

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KFC Will Post Acrylamide Warnings in California

SACRAMENTO, California, April 26, 2007 (ENS) - The KFC Corp., which serves Kentucky Fried Chicken, agreed Tuesday to comply with a 1986 voter-approved initiative requiring companies that expose consumers to harmful substances to provide a "clear and reasonable warning."

The company agreed to warn California customers that its fried or baked potatoes contain acrylamide, a chemical known to cause cancer.

Acrylamide, a byproduct created by the reaction of chemicals in food and high heat, is found in French fries and potato chips at high levels. For example, a serving of fries or potato chips has about 82 times more acrylamide than is allowed in drinking water under U.S. EPA standards.

Proposition 65, the initiative demanding the exposure warnings, was approved by 63 percent of California voters.

In settling a lawsuit with California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., the KFC Corp. iagreed to supply consumers with acrylamide warnings to comport with Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act.

The company, without admitting wrongdoing, also agreed to pay $208,000 in civil penalties and $133,000 to fund Proposition 65 enforcement actions.

A hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Wendell Mortimer Jr. is scheduled May 29, when the California Department of Justice and the KFC Corp. will request the court's approval.

The settlement was the first as part of an ongoing Proposition 65 enforcement action against major food and beverage producers including Frito-Lay Inc., Pepsico Inc., H.J. Heinz Co., Kettle Foods Inc., Procter & Gamble Distributing Co., Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Co., Wendy's International Inc., McDonald's Corp., and Burger King Corp.