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AmeriScan: August 9, 2005

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Power Purchase Pact Signed for World's Largest Solar Facility

ROSEMEAD, California, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - A massive, 4,500 acre solar generating station may soon be built 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles in Southern California. When completed, the proposed power station would be the world's largest solar facility, capable of producing more electricity than all other U.S. solar projects combined.

Southern California Edison (SCE), the nation's leading purchaser of renewable energy, and Stirling Energy Systems today signed a 20 year power purchase agreement for the electricity to be generated by the facility. The agreement is subject to California Public Utilities Commission approval.

Plans call for development of a 500 megawatt (MW) solar project using innovative Stirling dish technology. The agreement includes an option to expand the project to 850 MW. One MW is roughly enough electricity to power 400 typical homes.

Initially, Stirling would build a one MW test facility using 40 of the company's 37 foot diameter dish assemblies. Subsequently, a 20,000 dish array would be constructed near Victorville, California, during a four year period.

dishes

Stirling dishes at Sandia National Laboratory (Photo by Randy Montoya courtesy Sandia)
"At a time of rising fossil-fuel costs and increased concern about greenhouse-gas emissions, the Stirling project would provide enough clean power to serve 278,000 homes for an entire year," said SCE Chairman John Bryson.

"Edison is committed to facilitating development of new, environmentally sensitive, renewable energy technologies to meet the growing demand for electricity here and throughout the U.S," he said.

Although Stirling dish technology has been successfully tested for 20 years, the SCE-Stirling project represents its first major application in the commercial electricity generation field.

Experimental models of the Stirling dish technology have undergone more than 26,000 hours of successful solar operation. A six-dish model Stirling power project is currently operating at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"We are especially pleased about the financial benefits of this agreement for our customers and the state," said Alan Fohrer, SCE chief executive officer. "The contract requires no state subsidy and provides favorable pricing for ratepayers because tests have shown the Stirling dish technology can produce electricity at significantly lower costs than other solar technologies."

The Stirling dish technology converts thermal energy to electricity by using a mirror array to focus the Sun's rays on the receiver end of a Stirling engine. The internal side of the receiver then heats hydrogen gas which expands.

The pressure created by the expanding gas drives a piston, crank shaft, and drive shaft assembly much like those found in internal combustion engines but without igniting the gas. The drive shaft turns a small electricity generator. The entire energy conversion process takes place within a canister the size of an oil barrel. The process requires no water and the engine is free of emissions.

Tests conducted by SCE and the Sandia National Laboratories have shown that the Stirling dish technology is almost twice as efficient as other solar technologies such asparabolic troughs which use the sun's heat to create steam that drives turbines similar to those found in conventional power plants, and photovoltaic cells which convert sunlight directly into electricity by means of semiconducting materials like those found in computer chips.

An Edison International company, Southern California Edison is one of the nation's largest electric utilities, serving a population of more than 13 million via 4.6 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within central, coastal and Southern California.

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Protection Enhanced for Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - To expand protection for the Florida’s coral reefs and underwater resources, Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet today approved a management agreement between the State of Florida and the National Park Service for for Dry Tortugas National Park.

The agreement provides the next steps for implementing a comprehensive management plan and enhancing protection for archeological treasures, coral reefs and wildlife habitat over 100 square nautical miles.

The vote approves the establishment of a Research Natural Area (RNA) located adjacent to the Tortugas North Ecological Reserve, established by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the State of Florida in 2001.

This vote preserves a marine ecosystem 70 miles west of the Florida Keys that includes dense and diverse hard and soft coral, seagrass habitats, sharks, lobsters, grouper and other marine life. This step also completes the original 197 nautical mile reserve first proposed four years ago creating the largest marine reserve in North America.

The National Park Service’s management plan separates the park into a 54 square nautical mile Natural-Cultural Zone and a 46 square mile Research Natural Area. Upon implementation, available activities within the Natural/Cultural Zone would continue to include recreational fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and boating.

The Research Natural Area would be reserved for non-extractive recreation, research and educational activities, with a square mile radius surrounding Fort Jefferson remaining open for recreational fishing. Commercial fishing is not permitted within the park.

"This is a major step forward for ecosystem management in Florida," said David White, regional director for The Ocean Conservancy. "The Research Natural Area will provide a living laboratory for generations of marine scientists and managers to measure the effectiveness of other management efforts around the country."

"It will also provide an opportunity for divers and other visitors to experience a healthy, fully protected coral reef ecosystem, with a natural diversity and abundance of native marine species. Fishing will also be improved in areas outside of the reserve. There's really something in this for everyone," says White.

The Park Service plan balances resource protection, scientific research, and public recreation, by keeping more than 50 percent of the Park's waters open to recreational fishing, including areas that were identified by fishermen as the most popular fishing sites. The RNA increases the size of the existing ecological reserve and adds important shallow water habitats that are considered essential for research and conservation of the marine ecosystem.

The Park Service held 11 public comment hearings to receive recommendations and edits to their proposal. Out of the 6,104 opinions that were received during this period, 97 percent supported the management plan and the establishment of the proposed Research Natural Area.

The Ocean Conservancy and its members worked to make the Tortugas Ecological Reserve a reality for over 10 years. "It was a long process," said White. "But in the end, the Governor and Cabinet demonstrated great leadership for our oceans and have helped establish a living legacy that will benefit future generations."

The Pew Ocean Commission, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and the Coral Reef Task Force National Strategic Plan all recommend an ecosystem approach to managing marine resources, raising public awareness and fostering a stronger sense of ocean stewardship among the public.

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Bottom Trawling Banned in Huge Alaska Marine Protected Area

WASHINGTON, DC, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - Today NOAA Fisheries formalized the decision to designate the largest marine protected area in U.S. waters - bigger that the entire states of Texas and Colorado combined.

The new Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area will prohibit bottom trawling in an area exceeding 274,000 square nautical miles. The agency’s decision also includes protections for other areas and new measures to identify and conserve essential fish habitat in Alaska.

The decision is consistent with a February recommendation from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Today’s approval of the Record of Decision formalizes unprecedented new ocean habitat protections in the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Beyond the Aleutian Islands Habitat Conservation Area, other protections in the Aleutians include a Bowers Ridge Habitat Conservation Zone where all mobile bottom-tending fishing gear will be prohibited, and six Aleutian Islands Coral Habitat Protection Areas where all bottom contact fishing will be prohibited.

In the Gulf of Alaska, 10 habitat conservation areas will be closed to bottom trawling to protect habitats for rockfish and other species. Five small areas in Southeast Alaska will be closed to all bottom contact fishing to protect uncommon habitats including red tree corals. Additionally, 15 areas surrounding seamounts – underwater mountains – will be closed to bottom contact fishing.

The decision caps a four year re-evaluation of the way essential habitats are identified and the effects of bottom trawling and other fishing activities on sea floor habitats.

“This decision demonstrates the commitment by NOAA and the North Pacific Council to manage fisheries carefully and takes risk-averse steps to ensure sustainable fisheries into the future,” said Sue Salveson, NOAA Fisheries’ acting regional administrator for Alaska.

NOAA prepared an environmental impact statement to study threats to fish habitat in Alaska in response to a 1999 lawsuit by environmental groups. The nationwide lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, challenged whether the agency and five of the eight regional fishery management councils were doing enough to regulate the effects of bottom fishing on Essential Fish Habitat.

The court found that the agency had met the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, but needed to conduct more thorough analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The analysis, completed by NOAA Fisheries in April, found no indication that fishing in Alaska has more than minimal adverse effects on the habitats that support commercial fisheries. Nevertheless, the environmental impact statement noted considerable scientific uncertainty, which prompted the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to support sweeping new restrictions on fishing as a precaution.

The new closed areas focus on protecting relatively undisturbed habitats where only limited fishing takes place. The measures were developed with extensive input from the fishing industry and environmental groups, and have been praised by all sides as a reasonable compromise.

“The development of these measures was contentious, but we’ve been impressed by the cooperation from stakeholders on all sides of the issue,” said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for habitat conservation.

In addition to the new restrictions on fishing to protect habitat, the agency’s decision includes a preferred alternative for identifying essential fish habitat in Alaska, which incorporates improved scientific information and delineates important habitats more precisely for many species.

The decision also specifies that future efforts to identify habitat areas of particular concern will emphasize specific sites rather than broader categories of habitat.

The Record of Decision and the complete Environmental Impact Statement for Essential Fish Habitat Identification and Conservation in Alaska are available on the internet at www.fakr.noaa.gov/habitat/seis/efheis.htm.

Later this summer NOAA Fisheries will propose regulations to implement the new fishery closures, which likely will take effect next year.

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Southwestern Alaska Sea Otters Listed as Threatened

WASHINGTON, DC, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - The southwest Alaska Distinct Population Segment of the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, was designated as a threatened species today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

This means that any Federal agencies that fund, authorize or conduct any activities which might affect this population of sea otters must consult with the Service before proceeding. Individuals who believe that activities they may conduct might harm these sea otters are asked to contact the Service to inquire about permits.

The Service has also proposed a special rule associated with Alaska Natives' traditional and cultural uses of this population of sea otters. This special rule would align provisions relating to the creation, shipment, and sale of authentic Native handicrafts and clothing by Alaska Natives under the Act with what is already allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The proposed rule would provide for the conservation of sea otters, while at the same time accommodating Alaska Natives' subsistence, cultural, and economic interests.

The sea otter listing was requested in a petition filed on January 11, 2002 by the Sea Otter Defense Initiative (SODI), a project under the Earth Island Institute.

SODI and Defenders of Wildlife said today the Service is taking an important step forward to head off the possible extinction of this sea otter population, which has experienced a drastic rate of decline. In a little over two decades, the population has declined from an estimated high of 127,000 to an all time low of 41,474, according to FWS.

The SODI ESA petition recognized the distinct status of this population from other sea otters in Alaska. SODI and Defenders have worked cooperatively with the Fish and Wildlife Service since filing that petition to provide additional information and encourage this action.

SODI Director Cindy Lowry said, "This population of sea otters has shown one of the most dramatic and serious declines of any species to be considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Hopefully, listing this sea otter population will bring into play the kind of research and protective measures necessary to reverse this decline or bring about the recovery of what was once a healthy and thriving population."

Jim Curland, marine program associate with the Defenders of Wildlife, said sea otters are crucial to the entire marine ecosystem.

"This listing decision is not only about protecting sea otters, as important as that is," he said. "Instead, it is an action that signals our commitment to the protection of the marine environment. Sea otters are well known to be a "keystone species," in the oceans, one that helps kelp forests thrive and supports the overall health of the marine environment by promoting biological diversity. Without sea otters, the ecosystems of these islands in Alaska will face daunting challenges."

SODI and Defenders of Wildlife announced their intention to continue to work directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure prompt establishment of a Recovery Team and Recovery Plan process.

This proposal was published in the Federal Register today, and public comments are requested. Comments may be submitted to: [email protected].

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Utah Marchers Protest Las Vegas Water Grab

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - Dozens of citizens of the Snake Valley are running and caravaning 223 miles across Utah’s West Desert to Salt Lake City to protest the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to pipe their water to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Organized by the North Snake Valley Water Association, the Water Express Run began before dawn on Monday in Baker, Nevada. Participants ran north through Gandy, Partoun, Trout Creek, and Callao, then followed the Pony Express Trail east to Fairfield before heading north to arrive at the Federal Building in Salt Lake City sometime Wednesday.

Runners are carrying letters to county commissioners, state legislators, Utah’s congressional delegation, and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman thanking them for their help in protecting Snake Valley water and urging their continued support for the citizens’ fight against what they call "the Las Vegas water grab."

The Snake Valley Citizens Alliance (SVCA) fears the export of 25,000 acre feet per year of Utah’s water to supply Las Vegas will devastate their remote West Desert communities.

“Snake Valley is in a water deficit due to the prolonged drought. There is no surplus water,” says SVCA organizer Ken Hill. “Piping our water to Las Vegas will have severe, permanent impacts on farming, ranching, wildlife, recreation, and the environment in the region.”

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to pump groundwater from the valley through a series of pipes and wells to plan for growing Las Vegas. The agency hopes to be able to deliver water to Las Vegas by 2015.

"We are growing at a rate of about 7,000 to 8,000 people per month, and we'll cross the three million population mark shortly," said Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority authority.

The authority's plan is going through an environmental impact review by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Critics of the proposal say it could dry up the region's aquifer, affecting the growth of indigenous plants and local wildlife.

Mulroy argues that data show the valley has a "safe yield" of 100,000 acre-feet of water per year, and that only 20,000 acre-feet are currently in use. The water authority's proposal seeks to tap into about 25,000 acre-feet, she said.

An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot.

Mulroy said the proposal is preliminary and calls the Snake Valley march an "emotional outpouring."

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Lawsuit Filed to Keep Central California Water for Salmon

OAKLAND, California, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - A coalition of commercial and recreational fishing groups, conservation organizations and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe filed suit in federal District Court in Oakland today challenging government approval of a plan to change water management throughout California.

The suit was filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA Fisheries, and the Interior Department. It takes issue with an October 2004 biological opinion concluding that the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources could strip away salmon habitat protections and increase water exports.

The plaintiffs claim that many threatened populations of salmon are further jeopardized by the policy - Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley and Central California Coast steelhead, and threatened Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast coho salmon.

The lawsuit also challenges the Bureau's long term operating plan for the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project, claiming that the Bureau failed to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the plan.

"Exporting more water south is going to cause huge problems for the salmon we have fought so hard to protect," said Mike Sherwood lead attorney from Earthjustice, which is representing the organizations in the lawsuit.

Hal Candee, senior attorney and co-counsel from the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The biological opinion's conclusions contradict its own findings in an obvious attempt to conform with a preordained outcome. This is political science, not sound science."

Concern over limiting water for the fish in favor of exports is coming from many quarters.

"Our brothers, the salmon, are already listed as endangered and threatened due to the dams and their operating procedures," warned Gary Mulcahy of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, whose history and survival has been linked with the salmon of the Central Valley. "This is not just a question of just water, and fish. It is the basic question of life itself. We ask, how much more 'no jeopardy' can the salmon withstand?"

A recent letter from California State water and wildlife officials to State Senator Mike Machado expressed concern about environmental impacts of the plan.

On May 17, the directors of the Department of Water Resources and the California Department of Fish and Game wrote, "the State anticipates increased impacts to winter-run and spring-run Chinook will occur as a result of the changes in water project operation and less stringent temperature compliance requirements."

Central Valley salmon and steelhead depend on adequate water flows in the rivers and through the Delta. They require cold water for successful migration and reproduction.

Government scientists who wrote the biological opinion included several key pieces of evidence in the document that the plaintiffs rely on to show that the proposed operational changes would eliminate crucial spawning habitat and likely lead to temperature increases that would be deadly to the fish.

New state monitoring data shows an unprecedented decline in a wide array of Delta fish species, including threatened delta smelt and striped bass. Scientists note that record high water exports have occurred in three of the last five years.

"The Delta is already in crisis, the data are in," said Tina Swanson, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Bay Institute. "This biological opinion allows new degradation of upstream habitats, including reversing protections we know have helped salmon populations during the past 10 years. This is not the time to be adding to the already enormous stresses on the ecosystem and the species that depend on it."

"When political appointees manipulate the findings of government staff scientists, we are all in trouble," said Zeke Grader of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The facts about the health of the Delta and the fate of our fish are being papered over because certain special interests have the ear of the Bush administration."

A July letter from Congressman George Miller, a Democrat, to Congressman Richard Pombo, a Republican, raises questions about the health of the Delta due to water exports. http://www.house.gov/georgemiller/pdfs/72705waterletter.pdf

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Ranking of Top Corporate Air Polluters Now Called Toxic 100

AMHERST, Massachusetts, August 9, 2005 (ENS) - Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts (PERI) announced today that their ranking of the worst corporate air polluters will now be called the Toxic 100.

PERI has changed the index's name from the Misfortune 100 to the Toxic 100 under threat of legal action from Fortune Magazine/Time Inc.

The Toxic 100's top five are General Electric, or GE, Georgia-Pacific, Eastman Kodak, Boeing, and US Steel, said James Boyce, director of PERI's environment program.

The Toxic 100 index identifies the top air polluters among all corporations that appear in the Fortune 500, Forbes 500, and Standard & Poor's 500 lists of the country's largest firms.

“The Toxic 100 informs consumers and shareholders which U.S. corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air,” said Boyce. “We measure not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed," Boyce said. "Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents.”

The Toxic 100 index is based on air releases of hundreds of toxic chemicals from industrial facilities across the country. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of releases, but also the relative toxicity of different chemicals, nearby population, and other factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks.

The data on chemical releases come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) for the year 2000. The TRI data have been widely cited in press accounts that identify the “top polluters” in various states and localities. But prior reports were subject to three key limitations:

  • Raw TRI data are reported simply in total pounds of chemicals, without taking into account differences in toxicity. Yet pound-for-pound, some chemicals are up to ten million times more hazardous than others.
  • TRI data do not take account of the numbers of people affected by toxic releases – for example, the difference between facilities that are upwind from densely populated urban areas as opposed to those located far from population centers.
  • TRI data are reported on a facility-by-facility basis, without combining the different plants owned by the same corporation to get a picture of overall corporate performance.
The Toxic 100 index tackles all three problems. It includes toxicity weights and the number of people at risk – taking into account smokestack heights, prevailing wind patterns, local topography, and population density – using data from the EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators project.

PERI researchers added up facility-by-facility data from the EPA to get corporate rankings.

The Political Economy Research Institute addresses basic issues of human and ecological well-being through research written for the general public, policy makers, and academic audiences. For more information, visit: http://www.umass.edu/peri.

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