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AmeriScan: August 3, 2004

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Southeast Battens Down the Hatches for Hurricane Alex

MIAMI, Florida, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - The first hurricane of the 2004 season - Hurricane Alex - is forming off the coast of North Carolina, according to warnings issued by the NOAA National Hurricane Center in Miami. The entire North Carolina coast is under a tropical storm warning.

High surf and rip currents will affect much of the southeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. coastal areas for the next couple of days and locally heavy rains are expected.

A hurricane warning was issued at 5 pm Monday from Cape Lookout to Oregon Inlet North Carolina, including the Pamlico Sound, meaning that the storm is expected to strike within 24 hours. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," weather officials warned.

The center of Alex is expected to pass very near the North Carolina Outer Banks today. Total rainfall accumulations of two to three inches, with isolated higher amounts, can be expected. Coastal storm surge flooding of one to two feet above normal tide levels can be expected on Atlantic shorelines, weather officials said.

Storm surge flooding of two to four feet above normal tide levels can be expected inside Pamlico Sound.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore has been evacuated in advance of the storm said, Chief Ranger Wouter Ketel. The park was closed to visitors and all services were shutdown as of 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon, and will remain closed until further notice.

For tips on preparing to endure a hurricane, visit the American Red Cross at: http://www.redcross.org/article/0,1072,0_312_3065,00.html

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Reactor Pressure Causes Columbia Generating Station Emergency Scram

RICHLAND, Washington, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - Nuclear engineers are investigating the cause of automatic shutdown at the Columbia Generating Station on Friday. Plant officials declared an emergency when pressure inside the reactor increased to a level that triggered the plant to shut itself down.

There was trouble during the shutdown when two control rods did not insert into their proper positions, and control room staff had to insert them manually. Another piece of equipment, the wetwell-to-drywell vacuum breaker, also malfunctioned.

The plant had been operating at full power, but it is now completely shut down. Investigation into the cause of the automatic shutdown, called a scram, and the actual control rod position, and the other problems is ongoing.

Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck told ENS that investigators have identified "a faulty electronic controller card which controls the governor valves that feed steam to the turbines, and those turbines are what spins the generator."

There are four governor valves, Peck explained, and during normal operations at least two and sometimes three of the valves are full open. One is partly closed to regulate steam flow, which maintains pressure level in the reactor vessel, he said.

"When that controller card failed, that valve fully closed which produced an increase in pressure in the reactor vessel, restricting the steam flow to the turbines. Pressure increased, and there was an automatic shutdown," Peck said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Operations Center notified its own local officials, state of Washington officials, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protectioni Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and all emergency equipment was poised and ready for action.

But plant personnel brought the incident under control and all concerned breathed a temporary sigh of relief.

Operated by Energy Northwest, the Columbia Generating Station is Washington State's only operating commercial nuclear power plant. The boiling water reactor and produces 1,150 megawatts of electricity - enough to meet the needs of a city the size of Seattle.

The electricity Columbia produces is sold to Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the federal agency that sells power throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and parts of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and northern California.

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California Approves New Wind Power Transmission Line

FOLSOM, California, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - A new transmission line project designed to carry wind energy from the Tehachapi and Antelope Valley area to customers throughout California met with "swift and hearty approval" from the California Independent System Operator (ISO) Board of Governors on Thursday.

The new line is needed to carry power from an expansion of wind turbine generators planned for the area.

The Tehachapi range already holds more than 600 megawatts of wind generation, making it California’s largest concentration of wind turbines. As much as 1,100 megawatts worth of new wind projects are planned for the region.

The new clean and renewable generation is expected to help California utilities meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires 20 percent of the energy the investor-owned utilities deliver to their customers to come from renewable resources by the year 2017.

Expansion of California’s wind generation is expected to play a major role in meeting that goal.

“We’ve already seen a significant expansion in wind generation in California, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Marcie Edwards, Interim CEO of the California ISO. “Our Board recognizes that and today took action to ensure that this growing, clean, and renewable source of energy in the Tehachapis can make it to the grid.”

The California ISO studies and approves new transmission proposals as part of an overall grid planning process. In this case the benefits of the new line were clear. The existing transmission infrastructure in the Tehachapi wind resource area is inadequate to accommodate the new generation planned for the area. There are projects totaling 700 megawatts worth of new generation already in the Cal ISO interconnection queue.

With ISO approval in hand, Southern California Edison plans to apply to the California Public Utilities Commission for final permission to build the project.

The 25 mile Antelope-Pardee line will cost about $94 million to build. It could be energized as early as December 2006.

Southern California Edison originally proposed building a 230 Kilovolt (KV) transmission line to handle a 500-megawatt expansion in wind production in the area. However, many companies plan to expand their wind production there, and the California Public Utilities Commission believes the area could eventually produce as much as 4,000 megawatts.

Based on that, Edison will build the project to 500 KV design standards. However, the line may initially be energized at 230KV and upgraded to 500 KV at a later date.

The California ISO is a not-for-profit public benefit corporation charged with managing the flow of electricity along California’s open-market wholesale power grid. The mission of the California ISO is to safeguard the reliable delivery of electricity, and ensure equal access to a 25,000 circuit miles of transmission lines.

As the impartial operator of the wholesale power grid in the state, the California ISO conducts a small portion of the bulk power markets. These markets are used to allocate space on the transmission lines, maintain operating reserves and match supply with demand in real time.

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Biodiesel Popularity on the Rise

PERU, Indiana, August 3, 2003 (ENS) - Two more biodiesel facilities have opened up at petroleum loading racks, streamlining the process of distributing biodiesel nationwide, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

With its grand opening on Friday, Peru, Indiana’s Countrymark Co-op became the nation’s first soy biodiesel rack injection unit with custom-blending capabilities.

CHS celebrated extending its location offerings of rack-injected biodiesel with a site in McFarland, Wisconsin.

IN April, CHS opened the nation’s first facility to offer pre-blended B2 - two percent biodiesel mixed with petroleum diesel - and B5 at the petroleum loading rack at its terminal in McPherson, Kansas.

In the past, petroleum distributors obtained pure biodiesel (B100) and petroleum diesel fuel from separate supply sources and blended themselves.

Access to pre-blended biodiesel increases operational efficiencies for the distributor while maintaining integrity of the product, and will significantly increase availability to consumers, the National Biodiesel Board points out.

Although the majority of biodiesel customers are large fleets at public utility companies, the farm is becoming a market for the fuel. United Soybean Board research shows 31 percent of farmers use biodiesel, with up to 50 percent using it in some states.

“Farmers believe in biodiesel and want to use their own product,” said Bob Metz, chairman of the National Biodiesel Board and South Dakota soybean grower.

“They’ve invested millions of dollars in biodiesel commercialization through the soybean checkoff. By using biodiesel, we are investing in the life of our farm equipment while helping the biodiesel industry thrive. The result ultimately will be sustained higher soybean prices.”

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Lapsed Storm Water Permit Gets Irving Oil in Hot Water

BOSTON, Massachusetts, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has filed a complaint against Irving Oil Terminals Inc. of Delaware over the company's discharges of storm water without a permit for a facility in Revere, Massachusetts. The illegal discharges took place over an 18 month time period.

As part of the administrative process, the EPA says it will be proposing a penalty which will reflect the seriousness of the violations. The statutory maximum penalty for the alleged violations is $157,500.

Irving Oil operates an oil terminal in Revere, which collects and treats storm water prior to discharging it into the Chelsea River. The facility's federal water discharge permit expired on November 1, 2002. The company continued operations, and did not reapply for the permit until May 10, 2004.

"The progress we've made in cleaning our country's waters in the last three decades is due in large part to the system of permits we have in place to ensure that discharges are not harming water quality," said Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA's New England Office.

"Companies, like all of the parties we regulate, need to fulfill their responsibilities to make sure they have proper environmental permits and are complying with those permits."

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Wolf Kill Costs Idaho Vigilante Dearly

MOSCOW, Idaho, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - The killing of a gray wolf has cost a Lewiston, Idaho man $21,252 and the loss of his hunting privileges nationwide for one year.

Robin Shafer pleaded guilty to the killing of a gray wolf on Thursday in federal court in Moscow. He was ordered to serve one year of probation with nationwide revocation of hunting privileges, and to pay the fine to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Shafer was charged with violating the Endangered Species Act, including the killing, possession, and transport of a gray wolf, a threatened species.

Shafer admitted that he had shot and killed the wolf during a 2003 elk hunt near Elk River, Idaho, and that he had taken the tail of the wolf to his Lewiston residence. The wolf, an adult female, was not radio-collared.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Idaho Department of Fish and Game began investigating the case in late 2003 after the department received a tip from a concerned citizen.

State and federal investigators found the carcass of what appeared to be a wolf with its tail missing under about four feet of snow near the campsite Shafer had used during the 2003 elk season. The remains were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon for confirmation.

The investigation indicated that the wolf had not been attacking or threatening Shafer when he shot it, and that he had transported the wolf carcass to his camp to show it to others.

Shafer is believed to have killed the wolf because of his opposition to the reintroduction of the species into Idaho. Sentencing Shafer, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams said, "Regardless of whether you agree with the law or not, you can not engage in vigilantism."

Federal investigators requested that the court order Shafer to pay the restitution to an Idaho Fish and Game account where it will be used to help offset costs of the state's gray wolf management program.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is arranging payment of a monetary reward to the concerned citizen whose call initiated the investigation. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Law Enforcement Field Supervisor, Craig Tabor, said, "We hope that this penalty will serve as a deterrent to others who would take the law into their own hands, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to provide funds that will support Idaho's increasing role in wolf management."

The Interior Department is taking steps to hand more responsibility for wolf management to the states, including Idaho.

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Starving Wild Horses to Come Off Wyoming Range

WORLAND, Wyoming, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - Citing the threat of imminent starvation, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced an emergency removal of all wild horses from northwest Wyoming, according to documents released Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Between August 5 and 8, the BLM will permanently remove approximately 140 wild horses from the 83,000 acre Fifteenmile Wild Horse Herd Management Area between Casper and Cody because range conditions have deteriorated to the point where the current 210 horse herd can no longer be sustained. Seventy horses will be left in the area.

"Responsible range management has been utterly abandoned by BLM in Wyoming," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization nearly a year ago requested an investigation by the Interior Office of Inspector General into obstruction of BLM-Wyoming's enforcement against overgrazing violations.

"Things are pretty pathetic when an 83,000 acre refuge can no longer support 200 head of horses," Ruch said.

BLM Field Manager Bill Hill explained in an open letter Friday that, "The Fifteenmile HMA [Herd Management Area] is in the midst of a fifth consecutive year of severe drought. Forage and water availability for wild horses is severely limited, and currently is not adequate to sustain the existing wild horse population until the next growing season.

"Since the wild horse population in the Fifteenmile HMA is currently over the Appropriate Management Level (AML), a removal was scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2004. However, with the current decline in forage and water availability, immediate removal of excess wild horses to the lower range of the AML is necessary to ensure that the wild horses remaining within the HMA have adequate forage and water to survive and maintain satisfactory physical condition.

"Removal of excess wild horses will also help to sustain the long-term productivity of the rangeland resources on the public lands that wild horses depend on," wrote Hill.

A continuing drought is the principal cause of the poor forage but PEER says the BLM has contributed to the problem by catering to cattle ranchers while ignoring deteriorating range conditions. Keeping the maximum number of cows on the range despite a continuing drought overtaxes the land and can lead to permanent damage

The BLM is making a bad problem much worse by allowing cattle to graze in the Wild Horse Herd Management Area. PEER accuses the BLM of refusing to pursue grazing trespass reports.

The agency has permitted the maximum amount of cattle allowed in surrounding grazing allotments while admitting "there is competition for forage and water between livestock and wild horses.

And, says PEER, the agency has refused to assess the carrying capacity of its rangelands, thus leaving BLM in a passive position where it waits until emergencies to occur before it acts.

This is the same region where a local environmental group, Western Watersheds Project, is suing BLM for mismanagement of its range program.

The investigation by the Office of Inspector General into PEER's complaint of enforcement obstruction ended months ago but the report is still under wraps.

"Parts of the public range in Wyoming resemble the most devastated stretches of the Sahel in Africa," Ruch said. "As long as ranchers can use political chits to keep the maximum number of cattle on the range even in drought-stricken areas, the downward spiral in Wyoming will continue."

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Shrinking Glaciers Trigger Alaskan Earthquakes

GREENBELT, Maryland, August 3, 2004 (ENS) - Retreating glaciers in southern Alaska may be opening the way for future earthquakes, new research by scientists from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) demonstrates.

The study examined the likelihood of increased earthquake activity in southern Alaska as a result of rapidly melting glaciers. Southern Alaskan glaciers are very sensitive to climate change, said Jeanne Sauber of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

Many glaciers have shrunk or disappeared over the last 100 years. The trend, which appears to be accelerating, seems to be caused by higher temperatures and changes in precipitation, she said.

As glaciers melt they lighten the load on the Earth's crust. Tectonic plates, mobile pieces of the Earth's crust, can then move more freely.

In southern Alaska, a tectonic plate under the Pacific Ocean is pushing into the coast, which creates very steep mountains. The high mountains and heavy precipitation are critical for glacier formation. The colliding plates create a great deal of pressure that builds up, and eventually is relieved by earthquakes.

The weight of a large glacier on top of these active earthquake areas can help keep things stable. But, as the glaciers melt and their load on the plate lessens, there is a greater likelihood of an earthquake happening to relieve the large strain underneath.

Even though shrinking glaciers make it easier for earthquakes to occur, the forcing together of tectonic plates is the main reason behind major earthquakes.

Sauber and Bruce Molnia, a research geologist at USGS, Reston, Virginia, used NASA satellite and global positioning system receivers, as well as computer models, to study movements of Earth's plates and shrinking glaciers in the area.

The researchers believe that a 1979 earthquake in southern Alaska, called the St. Elias earthquake, was promoted by wasting glaciers in the area. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale.

Along the fault zone, in the region of the St. Elias earthquake, pressure from the Pacific plate sliding under the continental plate had built up since 1899 when previous earthquakes occurred. Between 1899 and 1979, many glaciers near the fault zone thinned by hundreds of meters and some completely disappeared.

Photographs of these glaciers, many taken by Molnia during the last 30 years, were used to identify details within areas of greatest ice loss.

Field measurements were also used to determine how much the glacier's ice thickness changed since the late 19th century. The researchers estimated the volume of ice that melted and then calculated how much instability the loss of ice may have caused. They found the loss of ice would have been enough to stimulate the 1979 earthquake.

"Historically, when big ice masses started to retreat, the number of earthquakes increased," Sauber said. "More than 10,000 years ago, at the end of the great ice age, big earthquakes occurred in Scandinavia as the large glaciers began to melt. In Canada, many more moderate earthquakes occurred as ice sheets melted there," Sauber said.

"In the future, in areas like Alaska where earthquakes occur and glaciers are changing, their relationship must be considered to better assess earthquake hazard, and our satellite assets are allowing us to do this by tracking the changes in extent and volume of the ice, and movement of the Earth," Sauber said.

The study appears in the July issue of the "Journal of Global and Planetary Change."

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