AmeriScan: December 8, 2006

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Prototype Telescope Spots Solar Tsunami

SUNSPOT, New Mexico, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - The prototype of a new solar patrol telescope in New Mexico recorded a tsunami-like shock wave rolling across the visible face of the Sun following a major flare on Wednesday.

The shock wave, known as a Moreton wave, also destroyed or compressed two filaments of cool gas at opposite sides of the solar hemisphere.

"These large scale blast waves occur infrequently, however, are very powerful. They quickly propagate in a matter of minutes covering the whole Sun, sweeping away filamentary material," said Dr. K.S. Balasubramaniam, of the National Solar Observatory, NSO, in Sunspot.

"It is unusual to see such powerful waves encompassing the whole sun from ground based observatories," he said. "Its significance comes from the fact that these waves are occurring near solar minimum, when intense activity is yet to pick up."

The Sun is currently near a low point in its 11 year cycle of activity.

The flare was seen around the globe. It was largest electromagnetic energy emission recorded on the Sun in the last 30 years, said the Shernberg State Astronomy Institute in Moscow.

"Outbursts on the Sun like this have been extremely infrequent over the past 30 years," said Igor Nikulin of the Shernberg Institute. "What is more, we have never had a chance to observe such emissions with the Sun at its minimal activity."

This large, "naked eye" sunspot region had an outburst just a day before the shock wave, and seems to have built up tremendous energy in a short period of time, said Balasubramaniam.

A shock wave propagated like the splash from a rock thrown into a pond. This was seen as a brightening from compressed and heated hydrogen gas.

The flare also had a small white light component at one corner of the sunspot that brightened to about 100 times the average brightness of a Sun for a few minutes.

"Solar flares and mass ejections have consequences on the near-Earth space environment and impact communications," Balasubramaniam noted.

Solar flares send radiation to Earth in about eight minutes. They can cause disruptions in spacecraft operations, electric power systems, high-frequency communications and low-frequency navigation systems.

The Optical Solar Patrol Network, OSPAN, telescope was developed by NSO and the Air Force Research Laboratory as an advance over the older Solar Optical Observing Network in operation since the 1970s.

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Bill to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism Introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON, DC, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - Congress adjourned today until the newly chosen 110th Congress opens in January, but two Democrats squeezed in a bill to help prevent nuclear terrorism.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California Thursday introduced legislation in both chambers of Congress to help prevent nuclear terrorism.

The Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Act of 2006 would create a senior advisor to the President to focus solely on preventing nuclear terrorism.

The bill would also require the President to develop a comprehensive plan to work with the international community to secure the nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build a nuclear weapon.

"There's no larger threat to global security than loose nuclear materials in the hands of a terrorist or rogue nation," said Congresswoman Tauscher. "The question is, what are we doing about it? For too long, the answer has been not nearly enough."

In addition, Senator Clinton wrote today to the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, and the new Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, urging that they hold hearings in the next Congress "to discuss how best to address the serious cracks in the international nonproliferation regime, with the aim of creating a new nonproliferation blueprint for the security of the United States and the world."

"Unfortunately, our nation’s influence as a leader in nonproliferation has been eroded by this administration’s actions," Clinton wrote.

"The abandonment of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the administration's interest in developing new nuclear weapons, have hurt our standing within the global nonproliferation community," she wrote, "We must restore our nation’s status as a leader in preventing proliferation worldwide."

"The possibility that terrorists may acquire and use a nuclear weapon against the United States is an urgent threat to the security of our nation and the international community,” wrote Senator Clinton. "We must do everything in our power, working in concert with other nations, to make that these dangerous materials are as secure as possible in order to prevent such an attack. This legislation is an important step toward achieving that goal.”

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Washington State Revises Water Quality Standards

OLYMPIA, Washington, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - The Washington state Department of Ecology has revised a portion of the state's water quality standards that are intended to make dozens of watersheds across the state healthier for salmon and trout.

The state's revised water quality standards require colder water, and in some cases more dissolved oxygen, to assure healthy summertime spawning and rearing habitat for the endangered fish.

"These more-protective water quality standards have been a long time coming so we're going to implement them right away to benefit Washington's endangered salmon and trout," said Ecology Director Jay Manning.

"Colder, oxygen-rich water, when combined with healthier river flows we are working to achieve, is good news for fish and good news for polluted receiving waters, such as our troubled Puget Sound," Manning said.

The changes are tailored to specific rivers and include major rivers that drain into Puget Sound, such as the Nooksack, Skagit, Stilliguamish, Snohomish, Green, Puyallup and Nisqually.

In Eastern Washington, rivers affected include the Snake, Yakima, Wenatchee, Methow, Okanogan, Naches and Walla Walla rivers.

Starting December 21, Ecology will begin applying the new standards to new wastewater discharge permits and to new water quality improvement plans, known as Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies.

Existing permits and plans will be implemented over time to make sure the new standards are met, the agency says.

Ecology will begin using the new standards for developing the state "303(d)" list of impaired waters beginning with the 2008-listing cycle.

Ecology will begin implementing the new surface water quality standards to the fullest extent possible under state authority while awaiting formal approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

The state agency submitted the latest changes to the EPA on December 6.

Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission said, "Improving water quality is one of the best things we can do for people, salmon and the health of Puget Sound. These stronger water quality standards provide a huge increase in protection for salmon. Restoring and protecting habitat is the single most important action we can take to save our wild salmon."

The water quality standards rule making documents, including final rule language and maps, are posted on Ecology's website at:

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Waste Heinz Field Vegetable Oil to Power Pittsburg Fleet

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - Pennsylvania is distributing more than $3 million in Alternative Fuel Incentive Grants, AFIG, to stimulate the production, distribution and use of biofuels made in the state.

Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty announced the $3 million investment of AFIG funds during an event at Heinz Field, which will provide much of the waste vegetable oil used to produce biodiesel for the city of Pittsburgh’s fleet.

Over 400 food concession stands dot the Heinz Field stadium, many of them serving foods fried in vegetable oil that will soon be reused to power the city's vehicles.

The city received a $303,675 grant to cover the cost of almost 1.2 million gallons of biodiesel and to provide biodiesel storage tanks at city refueling sites.

"Pittsburgh’s purchase represents a far-reaching combination of environmental protection and economic development,” McGinty said.

"By combining the recycling of waste vegetable oil with the local production of cleaning-burning biodiesel that will fuel its fleet, the city is supporting innovative new businesses, reducing waste and lowering emissions of soot and pollutants that form smog," she said. "This is high-performance public policy that truly deserves our support."

The AFIG grants leverage more than $40 million in private funds for the production of almost 64 million gallons of clean-burning biodiesel annually, as well as for the installation of storage tanks that are needed to distribute and sell biofuels.

The grants cover 100 percent of the added costs to eligible applicants who purchase high-percentage biofuels blends for use in their fleets.

For the first time, AFIG offered incentives to Pennsylvania producers of biodiesel and ethanol - five cents a gallon to Pennsylvania producers of biodiesel or ethanol, up to 12.5 million gallons in 12 month periods.

The grant round also includes $75,000 for Greater Philadelphia Clean Cities’ E85 Corridor project, which previously received $283,380 in federal funding.

The project will convert at least 12 fueling stations to provide E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, along a 200 mile corridor stretching from central Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia suburbs.

The state is investing $30 million over the next five years to build re-fueling and production infrastructure to support wide distribution of the alternative fuels.

By emphasizing investments in ethanol and biodiesel, AFIG supports Governor Ed Rendell’s PennSecurity Fuels Initiative to produce and use 900 million gallons annually of clean, domestic fuel, an amount equal to what the state is expected to import from the Persian Gulf 10 years from now.

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California Curbs Emissions from Chrome Plating Process

BAKERSFIELD, California, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - The California Air Resources Board, ARB, Thursday adopted new regulations that will reduce emissions of hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen released during the chrome plating and anodizing processes.

Identified by the ARB as a toxic air contaminant in 1986, hexavalent chromium is a known human carcinogen with no known level of exposure considered safe. It is one of the most toxic chemicals ARB has identified.

Inhalation of hexavalent chromium in the workplace causes lung and nasal cancers, respiratory irritation, nasal and skin ulcerations and lesions, perforation of the nasal septum, and allergic reactions including dermatitis and asthma.

"Hexavalent chromium is an especially potent toxic air contaminant so the measures the board adopted are very stringent," said ARB Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer. "This issue is especially important to the communities near these businesses."

The regulations require that chrome plating or anodizing businesses reduce their hexavalent chromium emissions to the fullest extent achievable by technology.

New businesses will not be allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of residential or mixed use areas. All currently operating businesses will be required to apply emission controls that ensure maximum cancer risk reduction.

In addition, all facilities must implement housekeeping measures to diminish contaminated dust.

Employees responsible for compliance with California's regulation must attend ARB staff-conducted training every two years. And the regulation contains provisions that prohibit the sale of electroplating equipment to untrained people.

Once implemented, cancer risks near chrome plating businesses would be reduced by up to 85 percent, according to the ARB.

These regulations are in addition to other ARB hexavalent chromium control measures. Earlier the ARB addressed chrome plating and chromic acid anodizing in 1988 and 1998, cooling towers in 1989, motor vehicle and mobile equipment-coating in 2001, and thermal spraying in 2004.

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New Mexico Oil Company Fined for Songbird Deaths

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico, December 8, 2006 (ENS) - The deaths of 34 migratory songbirds in an open oil pit has cost a New Mexico oil production company $11,150. It is a second offense for the company's owner, a former New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Commissioner.

The dead birds were discovered in an oil pit belonging to the Ray Westall Operating, Inc. near Carlsbad, New Mexico by Bureau of Land Management, BLM, employees on August 15, 2002.

The birds recovered from the pit were identified as western kingbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, pyrrhuloxias, lark buntings, and cactus wrens.

The discovery was referred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement for further investigation. The Service recommends that oil pit owners place netting over the tops and sides of the pits to prevent birds and animals from entering.

Ray Westall Operating did not have netting on the oil pit that ensnared the migratory songbirds found by the BLM. The company was charged with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and found guilty in Las Cruces Federal District Court on July 19, 2006.

On November 29 the company was ordered to pay an $11,108.50 fine, a $50.00 special assessment fee and was placed on two years probation.

The owner of the company, Ray Westall, is a former New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Commissioner who has a previous conviction for the same offense.

In February 1999, the year before his appointment to the commission by then New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Westall was fined just under $5,000 for allowing protected songbirds to die in another open oil pit in his oil production business.

At the time, the fine was the largest ever levied in New Mexico’s oil patch, according Fish and Wildlife officials.

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