AmeriScan: February 14, 2004

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Bulk Carrier Floated off Honolulu Reef

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - The bulk carrier Cape Flattery was re-floated off a reef about 400 yards off the entrance to Barber's Point Harbor on Friday with the assistance of three tugs.

Biologists said the 555 foot Hong Kong-flagged ship that went aground February 2 had caused a lot of damage to big coral heads. Divers will do a detailed assessment this week.

All but enough fuel oil to operate the vessel's engines and about 9,000 metric tons of the ship's cargo of granular cement had to be off-loaded before she could be floated off the reef.

In the off-loading of the cement last week large quantities were spilled onto the ocean floor where it solidified like a pavement, destroying all the marine life in its path.

The vessel was towed by tugs to safe anchorage about one mile offshore. Assessments of the internal spaces on the vessel and the hull will be conducted prior to the ship being allowed to enter port, said the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Motor Vessel Hawaii Responder, an oil spill response vessel operated by the Marine Spill Response Corporation remains at the scene, standing by to respond to any reported pollution in the water. There are no current reports of pollution. A helicopter overflight of the area will be conducted this morning to verify that there is no oil in the water.

John Naughton, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries biologist, told reporters that divers might try to set the large corals upright and attach them into place with adhesives before they roll shoreward, damaging other corals that survived the grounding.

Throughout the operation, a Unified Command comprised of federal, state, and the vessel owners and their representatives monitored the cargo offload and the re-floating efforts.

The Coast Guard said the cause of the grounding remains under investigation.

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Oil Addicts Anonymous Open Chapters Across the Midwest

CHICAGO, Illinois, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - A new organization is being founded this month in cities across the Midwest - Oil Addicts Anonymous - modeled after the multitude of successful 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Organizers say, "The first step on the road to recovery is simple: admitting we have a problem. Join hundreds of patriotic citizens by taking the first step together."

The first chapter was founded in Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday by citizens who said they came together to admit that "we as Americans are addicted to oil" and are "ready to take responsibility for this harmful addiction."

"My name is Austin King and I'm an oil addict,” declared Madison, Wisconsin Alderman Austin King. “Having recognized that we all have a problem here, we must work vigilantly to kick the habit. At the national level, we must hold corporations like Bank One and Ford accountable for keeping us hooked and enabling our oil addiction. At the local level we need to must work to stop suburban sprawl, support walkable infill development, and invest in public transportation, bicycle accommodations, and pedestrian safety."

The United States consumes more oil and emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation on Earth, campaign organizers point out. With less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes more than a quarter of the world’s oil. According to statistics from the Energy Information Administration and the United States Census Bureau, Americans use more oil per person than any other developed nation.

These facts are persuasive to many university students to want to help protect the environment. Two more chapters of Oil Addicts Anonymous were formed the Thursday in Illinois at the University of Illinois in Urbana and Illinois State University in Normal.

Organizers are in the middle of a 10 day hybrid car tour through the Midwest to help found chapters today in Richmond, Indiana; Tuesday in Detroit; Wednesday in Ann Arbor; and Thusday in East Lansing, Michigan.

The 10 day tour will culminate in Chicago with a weekend action summit cosponsored by the University of Chicago ECO aimed at giving citizens the skills they need to intervene and break their oil addiction.

Rainforest Action Network is spearheading the campaign, and at least 15 other organizations are participating.

Sarah Connolly, an organizer with Rainforest Action Network’s Zero Emissions Campaign, says the campaign is targeting the Ford Motor Company because the overall average fuel efficiency of Ford’s fleet today is 18.8 mpg, last among the top six automakers.

“Under Bill Ford, Jr.’s watch, Ford Motor Company’s EPA fuel efficiency ranking has plummeted to an abysmal last place for five straight years,” said Connolly. “From subcompacts to SUVs, Ford's current cars and trucks get fewer miles per gallon on average than its Model-T did 80 years ago. Gas guzzling is a dangerous addiction, and Ford Motor Company doesn’t know when to say when.”

The other immediate target of the campaign is JPMorgan Chase, a financial firm oil investments. "They financed the OCP oil pipeline in Ecuador, which transports heavy crude oil from Ecuador’s eastern rainforest region to the Pacific coast, damaging fragile ecosystems and communities along its entire route," Oil Addicts Anonymous organizers point out.

In 2002, JP Morgan Chase was the largest financer of U.S. oil and gas companies, arranging loans worth more than $18 billion, representing more than a third of the market.

In August 2003, JPMorgan Chase was chosen to lead a consortium of international banks in the takeover of the Trade Bank of Iraq. The purpose of the Bank was to facilitate imports of much-needed equipment and supplies, while freeing up exports, particularly of oil.

Participating organizations include: Campus Greens, Four Lakes Green Party, Green Progressive Alliance, the Indy, Madison InfoShop, MASH, Peregrin Forum, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Student Peace Action Network, Students for Environmental Concerns-UIUC, Students Improving the Lives of Animals, VIP Environment, Wisconsin Environmental Jewish Initiative, and the Wisconsin Environmental Law Society.

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Yellowstone Visitors Choose Snow Coaches Over Snowmobiles

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton will be making an official visit to Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, and she will see an unexpected drop in popularity of the snowmobiles the Bush administration has promoted since it took office in 2001.

A growing number of Yellowstone visitors are choosing to tour the wintertime sights of the park in comfortable, heated snowcoaches instead of climbing aboard noisy, polluting snowmobiles.

At the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the number of snowmobiles going through last onth dropped 17 percent from January 2004, which in turn had experienced a 66 percent decline from January 2003.

But the number of snowcoaches at the West Entrance is up 20 percent over last January, part of an upward trend in snowcoach use over the last few years.

The Wilderness Society, which advocates snowcoach use over snowmobiles, says three studies conducted by the National Park Service and verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have shown that full snowcoach access is the best way for Americans to enjoy the Park while protecting its wildlife, air quality, and natural quiet. The Park Service concluded that snowcoaches place less strain on Yellowstone’s budget than snowmobiling due to reduced need for environmental monitoring, road grooming, and law enforcement.

In November 2002, the Bush administration reversed a ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, despite widespread support for the measure and 10 years of research detailing the negative impact from the machines on the health of the parks and their employees.

Court battles were won by the snowmobile industry, which says that its newer machines use quieter, less polluting four-stroke engines, and that recreationists should be free to explore public lands using the machines of their choice.

West Yellowstone, a town of about 900 residents, is known as the "Snowmobiling Capital of the World" and hosts the World Snowmobile EXPO every March. But town officials notice the switch. "A transition is happening, absolutely," said MarySue Costello, director of the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, told the "Billings Gazette" on Wednesday.

Randy Roberson of Yellowstone Vacations rents snowmobiles in West Yellowstone, and the company has recently added several "luxury" snowcoaches to its fleet. "The positive response is just unbelievable," Roberson told the Gazette. "A lot of our snowmobile customers are converting to snowcoach customers."

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Violations at Arizona Nuclear Plant Affect Core Cooling Pump

ARLINGTON, Texas, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials will hold a public enforcement conference with representatives of Arizona Public Service Co. on Thursday, to discuss two apparent violations of NRC requirements at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station before they make a decision on what enforcement action to take.

Arizona Public Service (APS) operates the facility, located near Wintersburg, Arizona.

The enforcement conference will be from 8 am to 5 pm in the NRC’s Region IV office in Arlington, Texas.

NRC officials conducted a special inspection last summer after operators at Palo Verde discovered air trapped in a section of piping that could interfere with the performance of pumps needed to supply water for emergency core cooling and containment spray during some accident conditions.

“APS officials corrected the problem when it was brought to their attention, but the NRC has identified two related apparent violations of potential safety significance that we want to discuss with them,” said NRC Region IV Administrator Bruce Mallett.

The conference is an opportunity for APS representatives to provide the company's perspective on the apparent violations and to offer any other information that they believe the NRC should take into consideration in making an enforcement decision.

No decision on the apparent violations or any enforcement action will be made at the conference. Those decisions will be made later by NRC officials.

The public is invited to observe the meeting and will have at least one opportunity to communicate with the NRC officials after the business portion, but before the meeting is adjourned. Certain portions of the meeting may be closed to the public if proprietary information is discussed. Persons interested in participating in the conference by telephone can do so by calling 800-952-9677 and asking to be transferred to the meeting.

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First Commercial Coal Gasification Plant in Siting Stage

COLUMBUS, Ohio, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - American Electric Power has commissioned a company to evaluate the feasibility of transmitting electricity from three potential sites on the Ohio River being considered by AEP for a commercial scale clean-coal power plant, the first of its size in the country.

The technology that would be used is called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). In an IGCC plant coal is converted into a gas and moved through pollutant removal equipment before the gas is burned in gas turbines that drive electric generators.

The heat produced by the gas turbines is recovered in boilers that produce steam to drive a steam turbine also coupled to an electric generator.

The integrated process results in fewer emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and mercury, in addition to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

“We are moving forward to build advanced coal-based generation that offers enhanced environmental performance,” said Michael Morris, chairman, president and chief executive officer of AEP.

"Our success with this project will set a new industry standard for using coal - America’s most abundant resource - while providing much needed low cost generation that will be as environmentally responsible as possible," Morris said.

The three potential sites included in the filings with PJM are on land currently owned by AEP and meet the criteria identified by the company as necessary for building and operating the plant, including acreage, contour, proximity to water source, accessibility, timely permitting and other environmental factors.

PJM Interconnection, an independent electric transmission provider, will evaluate a site in Mason County, West Virginia, adjacent to AEP’s Mountaineer Plant; a site in the Great Bend area of Meigs County, Ohio; and a site in near Vanceburg in Lewis County, Kentucky.

Other sites might be considered before the final decision is made, Morris said.

Regulatory factors in each state will play a key role in final site selection. “We will not site a plant until we are comfortable about our ability to recover the costs of constructing and operating the plant,” Morris said. “Over time, we expect to build several new plants, so cost recovery will be a critical part of our decision.”

The filings with PJM begin transmission interconnection feasibility studies to determine the transmission network upgrades and estimated cost needed at each potential site to connect a new plant to the existing transmission grid.

Based in Columbus, Ohio, American Electric Power owns more than 36,000 megawatts of generating capacity in the United States and is the nation's largest electricity generator. AEP is also one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, with more than five million customers linked to an 11 state electricity transmission and distribution grid.

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Jewel Food Stores Agree to Stop CFC Leaks

CHICAGO, Illinois, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached an agreement with Jewel Food Stores, Inc. to resolve alleged violations of federal regulations to protect stratospheric ozone.

Under the agreement filed in the federal district court in Chicago on Wednesday, Jewel will take steps that will prevent over 145,000 pounds of future releases of ozone-depleting refrigerants - such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - that destroy the Earth's protective stratospheric ozone layer.

The agreement resolves a complaint alleging that Jewel violated EPA commercial refrigerant leak repair, testing, recordkeeping and reporting regulations.

This is the agency's second and largest settlement with a grocery store and the second settlement under the commercial refrigerant leak repair regulations of the Clean Air Act.

Under the agreement, Jewel will retrofit at least 37 of its supermarkets in and around Chicago with systems that use non-ozone-depleting refrigerants by the year 2007.

In addition, the company agreed that, in any new stores built in and around Chicago after the agreement takes effect, it will only install commercial refrigeration units that use an EPA approved refrigerant that does not deplete the ozone layer.

Jewel will also retrofit any unit that has more than three significant leaks in a year in any of its other stores. The company will also pay a civil penalty of $100,000 for alleged past leaks of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

"We commend Jewel for agreeing to make improvements to its refrigeration systems," said Acting EPA Region 5 Administrator Bharat Mathur. “Through these environmental efforts Jewel has demonstrated its willingness to be a good corporate citizen.” The agreement will be subject to a 30 day public comment period.

Other steps include Jewel’s implementation of a company specific, EPA approved, refrigerant management plan to ensure compliance with the regulations governing ozone depleting refrigerants.

When CFC refrigerants deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, dangerous amounts of ultraviolet rays from the Sun strike the Earth. Production of some of these chemicals was stopped in 1995, and federal law strictly controls their use and handling.

Jewel-Osco is the Midwest Division of Albertsons. The Jewel-Osco chain operates 204 food and drug combination stores and 77 freestanding drug stores in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.

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Lead Polluted Soil Removed From New Jersey Road

CAMDEN, New Jersey, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed more than 630 tons of lead contaminated soil from an unpaved road adjacent to the Barry Bronze Bearing Company in Camden, New Jersey. The soil was contaminated with lead from metal casting operations at the site.

The Barry Bronze Bearing Company, located at 2204 South 7th Street, manufactured metal castings from 1928 until August 1997. Sand from the casting process was used as road fill along Bulson Street.

An operating railroad line runs along Bulson Street, and the street is used by the community.

In the spring of 2004, the city of Camden asked EPA to evaluate contamination at the site. As part of this assessment, EPA collected some 150 samples along Bulson Street and found elevated levels of lead in the soil.

Based on these samples, the Agency decided to excavate the contaminated surface soil. EPA started field work in mid-October, and completed excavation activities in mid-December. Contaminated soil was shipped to an EPA approved disposal facility located in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

Once the contaminated soil was removed, the EPA spread about 550 tons of stone along Bulson Street over the excavated areas. The agency also installed a fence along the north side of Bulson Street, and improved drainage on the north side of the train tracks. In the spring, EPA will plant vegetation along an embankment.

Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system, particularly in children. Lead also damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same whether it is breathed or swallowed.

At high levels, lead may decrease reaction time, cause weakness in fingers, wrists, or ankles, and possibly affect the memory. Lead may cause anemia, a disorder of the blood. It can also damage the male reproductive system. The connection between these effects and exposure to low levels of lead is uncertain.

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Undersea Hot Spots in Motion May Form Seamounts

SAN DIEGO, California, February 14, 2005 (ENS) - Undersea mountains formed by volcanoes, or seamounts, rise thousands of feet off the ocean floor in chains that span thousands of miles. Scientists thought they understood how seamounts are formed until Friday when researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego published new information.

Since the mid-20th century, the belief that the earth's surface is covered by large, shifting plates has shaped conventional thinking on how seamount chains develop. Textbooks have taught students that seamount patterns are shaped by changes in the direction and motion of the plates.

As a plate moves, stationary "hot spots" below the plate produce magma that forms a series of volcanoes in the direction of the plate motion, scientists have believed.

Now, Anthony Koppers and Hubert Staudigel of Scripps have published a study that counters the idea that hot spots exist in fixed positions. The paper in the Friday issue of the journal "Science" shows that hot spot chains can change direction as a result of processes unrelated to plate motion.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, Staudigel led a research cruise in 1999 aboard the Scripps research vessel Melville to the Pacific Ocean's Gilbert Ridge and Tokelau Seamounts near the international date line, a few hundred miles north of American Samoa and just south of the Marshall Islands.

Gilbert and Tokelau are the only seamount trails in the Pacific that bend in sharp, 60 degree angles similar to the bending pattern of the Hawaii-Emperor seamount chain, which includes the Hawaiian Islands.

Assuming that these three chains were created by fixed hot spots, the bends in the Gilbert Ridge and Tokelau Seamounts should have been created at roughly the same time period as the bend in the Hawaii-Emperor chain, the conventional theory holds.

Koppers, Staudigel and a team of student researchers aboard Melville spent six weeks exploring the ocean floor at Gilbert and Tokelau. They used deep-sea dredges to collect volcanic rock samples from the area.

For the next several years, Koppers used laboratory instruments to analyze the composition of the rock samples and calculate their ages.

Koppers says they were surprised to find the Gilbert and Tokelau seamount bends were 10 and 20 million years older than previously thought.

Instead of forming 47 million years ago, as did the Hawaiian-Emperor bend, the Gilbert chain was found to be 67 million years old and the Tokelau 57 million years old.

"I think this really hammers it in that the origin of the alignment of these seamount chains may be much more complicated than we previously believed, or the alignment may not have anything to do with plate motion changes," said Staudigel.

Although they do not have positive proof as yet, Koppers and Staudigel speculate that local stretching of the plate may allow magma to rise to the surface or that hot spots themselves might move. Together with plate motion, these alternate processes may be responsible for the resulting pattern of seamounts.

Koppers and Staudigel will go to sea again next year to seek additional clues to the hot spot and seamount mysteries.

"Seamount trails are thousands of kilometers long and even if we are out collecting for several weeks, we still only cover a limited area," said Koppers. "One of the things holding us back in developing a new theory is that the oceans are humongous and our database is currently very small we are trying to understand a very big concept."