AmeriScan: December 4, 2006

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Bush Poised to Allow Oil Drilling in America's Fish Basket

WASHINGTON, DC, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - Sometime this week, President George W. Bush is expected to lift a presidential moratorium protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay from oil and gas drilling that was imposed by his father.

The presidential moratorium, banning exploration and production in the Outer Continental Shelf of the North Aleutian Basin was imposed in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound two years earlier.

The area includes the commercial fishing grounds of Bristol Bay, described by Professor Rick Steiner of the University of Alaska's marine advisory program as "the breadbasket of entire Bering Sea."

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, says lifing the moratorium would be a mistake.

"The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 showed the world the devastation and destruction that oil spills could have on Alaska’s fragile waters," she said today. "Oil spills would devastate Bristol Bay’s prolific fishing industry, Native American communities, tourism industry, abundant marine life, and diverse and endangered wildlife."

The area is currently included in the Minerals Management Service's five year plan to develop the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas development.

Aaron Saunders, press secretary to Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said that the senator "has voiced his support for the president to lift the moratorium."

Environmentalists are ringing alarm bells. "We strongly urge President Bush to leave Bristol Bay alone," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "Oil and gas drilling would jeopardize the nation's most important fishery, hundreds of communities reliant on fishing and a treasure trove of wildlife."

Bristol Bay hosts four national wildlife refuges, commercial crab, halibut, and pollock fisheries worth a billion dollars, and the world's largest runs of sockeye salmon.

The region supports marine mammals such as walruses, harbor seals, northern sea otters and endangered species, including stellar sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world's most endangered whale species, the north Pacific population of northern right whales.

Pelosi says the Democrats' solution to meeting Americans' energy needs does not lie in drilling Bristol Bay.

"Our fragile coasts, from Alaska to California to Florida, require greater protection than a mere presidential moratorium that can be easily lifted," she said. "Lasting protection under the law is essential. So is a comprehensive plan that builds our economy around clean, homegrown, renewable energy sources and exciting new technologies."

"While the Bush administration dances to the oil companies’ tune, Democrats intend to achieve energy independence within 10 years."

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Five Homes Destroyed in California Wildfire

LOS ANGELES, California, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - In Ventura County, California early Sunday morning, a fire driven by strong Santa Ana winds destroyed five homes and damaged five others. The Shekell fire is threatening 500 other homes as well as infrastructure and power lines in the surrounding canyons and hillsides.

Over 13,600 acres have been burned, but the fire is now estimated to be 70 percent contained. Full containment expected on December 5, 2006 at 6:00 pm, fire officials said.

The fire started in an area of heavy brush, eucalyptus groves and orchards northwest of Moorpark, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The cause of the fire is still not determined and is under investigation.

Fire officials called for mandatory evacuations of about 200 homes, and voluntary evacuations of other areas.

As hundreds of residents packed up valuables and fled, other residents stayed and saw flames 35 feet high come to within 100 yards of their homes.

Over 1,745 firefighters have been fighting the fire, hampered by winds of 35 to 75 miles per hour.

State and local firefighters are on the scene, and are assisted by water-dropping helicopters targeting the fast moving fire. There were 49 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection crews on the fire. An additional 30 strike teams were requested from the Los Angeles Region.

Nine air tankers were standing by awaiting improved wind conditions for use on this fire. Two other fires were reported in an area south of Camarillo and in Norco. Both fires have been contained or are under control. One fire fighter was injured in the Norco fire.

The Shekell fire has cost $3.2 million to date. The state requested a Fire Management Assistance Grant Program declaration, which was approved.

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Two Year Underground Mine Fire to Be Extinguished

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - An agreement to contain and extinguish the Dolph Colliery underground mine fire that has been burning since 2004 has been reached between the state of Pennsylvania and the federal Office of Surface Mining.

The fire in Olyphant Borough, Lackawanna County was started when flames from a burning automobile spread to a coal refuse pile, which eventually ignited the #2 and #3 Dunmore coal seams on the site of an abandoned colliery.

The fire has been growing and threatens to destroy a new sewer line, and could affect the new U.S. Route 6/Governor Robert P. Casey Highway if left to burn unchecked.

"Pennsylvania has 38 underground mine fires, the most of any state in the nation," Governor Ed Rendell said. "This is just a small part of the $5 billion abandoned mine problem we face that hinders economic growth and threatens public health and safety."

"Waste coal piles and exposed coal seams are an invitation to disaster," the governor said.

The Wilkes-Barre office of the Office of Surface Mining began monitoring the fire in September 2004 and excavated a cutoff trench to try to isolate fire in the waste coal. But they were too late. The fire had already jumped into the underlying coal seam and abandoned underground workings at the Dolph Colliery.

This threatened the viability of the newly-constructed Jefferson Township sewer line, which has a daily flow of 100,000 gallons and sits in the immediate path of the fire.

The Lackawanna County plan, accepted by both federal and state agencies, includes the excavation of a trench around the mine fire. The trench will function like a fire break built around a forest fire to isolate it from fuel sources. Starved of fuel, the mine fire will burn itself out, ensuring the protection of residents and nearby infrastructure.

Funding for the project will be split roughly 50/50 between state and federal agencies.

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Poll: U.S. Economy Vulnerable to Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - A majority of Americans is worried about global warming, according to a new poll commissioned by the Earth Day Network.

Pollsters found that 58 percent say global warming will have a "great to extreme" impact on their children's future, and two out of three agree it will adversely impact the U.S. economy over the next 10 years.

The poll of 1,020 adults, taken by the Opinion Research Corporation from October 26 to 29, also found a majority of Americans, 61 percent, believe it is "very to extremely" important for their government leaders to require higher fuel efficiency standards in automobiles.

Nearly half say it is that important for oil companies to be taxed for their contributions to global warming.

These poll results are the second in a two-part series commissioned by Earth Day Network to highlight the current U.S. public sentiment about global warming.

The first part of the series, released just before the November 7 elections, showed that global warming will be a major issue in the 2008 presidential election, but more for Democrats and Independents than for Republicans.

"Americans are worried about their kids, the economy and even national security because it's linked to our dependence on foreign oil," said Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers.

Earth Day Network, www.earthday.net, was founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and promotes environmental citizenship and year round progressive action worldwide.

"Our poll confirms that climate change is growing as a major concern for the average American," Rogers said, adding that "those who have made personal changes to address the problem are voting for candidates who actively address global warming, but it also shows that we have some more educating to do at every level - all the way up to Capitol Hill."

More than half of Americans, 55 percent, say it would be "very to extremely" beneficial to national security to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, compared to only 12 percent who see little or no benefit at all, 30 percent who fall somewhere in between, and three percent who do not know.

When asked to rate the importance of six solutions being considered by government leaders to solve global warming, the greatest percentage, 61 percent, chose higher fuel efficiency standards, followed by 55 percent who selected higher energy efficiency requirements for electronics and appliances and tax breaks for industries which invest in renewable energy.

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Danish Off-Shore Wind Study Bolsters U.S. Wind Farmer

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - Energy Management Inc., developer of Cape Wind, the first U.S. off-shore wind farm in Nantucket Sound, is pointing to a new Danish study to calm local fears that the big wind turbines will be unsightly and will harm fisheries and wildlife.

Danish energy and environment government agencies released the results of an eight year study on the impacts of the world’s two largest offshore wind farms, Horns Rev and Nysted at a monitoring conference held in Denmark on November 27 to 29.

Craig Olmsted, Cape Wind vice president of project development, attended the conference. "Listening to the scientists at the conference who had done the studies it was really clear – offshore wind farms in Denmark have been good neighbors, to birds, fish and people."

The report, "Danish Offshore Wind – Key Environmental Issues," was prepared by the Danish Energy Authority, Danish Forest and Nature Agency, and Dong Energy and Vattenfall, the companies that own the two offshore wind farms.

The report contains positive comments from the International Advisory Panel of Experts on Marine Ecology.

The report confirms that both Danish offshore wind farms will be doubled in size in the coming years.

The report finds that birds rarely collide with the turbines. "The Thermal Animal Detection System (TADS) provides empirical evidence that waterbird collisions are rare events. Collision risk modelling and bird tracking by radar as well as visual observations show that many waterbirds species tend to avoid the wind farm, changing flight direction some kilometers away to deflect their path around the site."

Fish appear to be unaffected by the structures. The Danish report states, "At both wind farm sites, fish were often found swimming around the artificial reef structures apparently searching for food and shelter. Yet fish populations at the wind farms appear to be similar to what they were before the construction of the wind farms."

Benthic organisms such as mussels increased at the wind farm sites by a factor of at least 50, the report found.

The Rodsand seal sanctuary just four kilometers from the Nysted wind farm is the only known breeding site for the grey seal in Denmark, but the report found seals to be unharmed by the turbines.

"Both wind farm areas were found to be part of much larger foraging areas used by the seals. No general change in behavior at sea or on land could be linked to the construction or operation of the wind farms."

The reaction of Danish people to the wind farms is positive, the study found.

Survey results in the report indicate a positive attitude toward existing and future offshore wind farms in Denmark is held by about 80 percent of the general population, by almost 90 percent among residents who live closest to Horns Rev and about 75 percent for residents of Nysted.

The report, "Danish Offshore Wind – Key Environmental Issues," is online here.

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Next Generation Windows Open to Energy Savings

WASHINGTON, DC, December 4, 2006 (ENS) - Window glass that changes from clear to dark, coated with a substance that quells heat emissions, an unsealed internal plastic triple pane, krypton gas, and an insulating frame - it's not science fiction, it's a new commercial window prototype.

The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, today sketched the features of the new window for the first time. When widely implemented in the marketplace, the high-performance features of the prototype could save billions of dollars annually in energy costs.

"DOE is investing in research to develop and commercialize the products of tomorrow, such as this next generation of window, so that by 2020 we can build homes that are zero net energy," said DOE Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Andy Karsner.

The new advanced window concept is the result of collaboration between DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and SAGE Electrochromics, Inc. of Faribault, Minnesota.

Continued research and development is expected to lower the cost of the energy saving glass and will allow today’s prototypes to be incorporated into affordable, mass produced products from many window suppliers. Consumers can currently purchase dual pane dynamic windows from SAGE Electrochromics.

The Energy Department's long-term window development goal is to produce windows that are as energy efficient as today’s walls.

By incorporating advanced technologies, windows can actually become a net-energy provider for homes, says Karsner. Advances in window technology will also ensure that their solar heat gain is very low in summer, which could cut electricity demand as people leave their air conditioners turned off.

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