AmeriScan: February 28, 2005

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U.S. Private Sector Tsunami Relief Donations Top $1 Billion

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. private sector donations for Indian Ocean tsunami relief and reconstruction are estimated to have topped $1 billion, a Bush administration official said Friday.

Speaking at the Washington Foreign Press Center Friday, Karin Torgerson, special assistant to the president and deputy director of USA Freedom Corps, said of the total to date, $290 million came from U.S. corporations and foundations.

Torgerson said that the final figure might be much higher, since 43 charities have not yet reported the funds that they have received.

The efforts of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have been successful in focusing attention on the needs of the region following the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 300,000 people dead or missing and presumed dead. Millions of others in 11 countries were left homeless by the giant wave.

The two former presidents visited Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives from February 19 through 21 to learn more about the needs in the region to help them in their efforts to encourage additional donations.

The trip helped to focus the world’s attention on the continuing needs in the region and helped to build and sustain good will in the region on behalf of the United States, said Torgerson.

The Bush administration has also pledged $950 million to support the rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas devastated by the tsunami, as well as to cover the costs of U.S. government relief efforts, according to a February 9 fact sheet released by the White House.

Ambassador Douglas Hartwick, the U.S. State Department’s senior coordinator of the Tsunami Reconstruction Task Force, described the visit by the former presidents as “moving testimony to the fact that America cares deeply about the people affected by this tragedy.”

“The unique nature of the two former presidents coming together and traveling around this affected region is something that is most unusual, and I think everyone from the various presidents and prime ministers that we met with acknowledged that fact,” he said.

Hartwick said the immediate relief and some recovery efforts are now “behind us,” and the emphasis now is shifting toward reconstruction. “This is something that will be done over the next two, three, four years, not the next two, three, four months,” he said.

Former President Clinton will begin serving as the United Nations special envoy for tsunami aid on March 1.

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Westinghouse Licensed to Export Nuclear Equipment to China

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a license authorizing Westinghouse Electric Co. to export to China the reactor systems, components and associated equipment and engineering services to build and operate four pressurized water nuclear reactors.

The equipment would be for two new third-generation nuclear power plants planned for the country's southern and eastern coast.

Two of the new reactors would be built at the Sanmen Nuclear Power Plant in east China's Zhejiang Province at a site on the Yellow River, where a large dam and hydroelectric installation already exist.

Two other reactors would built at Yangjiang Nuclear Power Plant in south China's Guangdong Province.

A second license was also issued, authorizing Westinghouse to export enough low-enriched uranium fuel to be used in the initial core and in one refueling for each reactor.

Westinghouse submitted the application for the license to export the reactors on February 25, 2004, and the application for the fuel export license on August 26, 2004.

After reviewing the applications and associated information, the NRC concluded that approving these exports to China will not be adverse to the common defense and security.

The NRC also agreed with the conclusions reached by interested Executive Branch agencies that approving these exports is fully consistent with U.S. legal requirements.

With the approval of China's State Council, the country's highest governing body, the two projected nuke power plants will be installed with two pressurized water reactors of one million kilowatts each in first phase construction, but will eventually be expanded to six generating units each, according to the Chinese official state news agency, Xinhua.

Should China accept Westinghouse’s bid for constructing the plants, shipments of the reactor systems and components are expected to begin around mid-2007.

The four pressurized water reactors are scheduled to begin power generation by 2011.

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Treaty Curbing Tobacco Smoke Takes Effect Without USA

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - Tobacco smokers will no longer be allowed to taint the indoor air in 57 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. But the world's first global public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), took effect on Sunday, without the United States.

The treaty sets minimum standards for tobacco control policies and encourages member nations to adopt stronger laws to control tobacco use. The world's leading cause of preventable death, tobacco smoke claims the lives of an estimated 4.9 million people each year.

In the United States, about 440,000 people die each year from illnesses related to tobacco, and nearly one-third of all cancer deaths are attributable to tobacco use.

The treaty requires ratifying nations to eliminate all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, with a narrow exception for nations such as the United States, whose constitutions may not allow a total ban.

It also requires warning labels to occupy at least 30 percent of the front and back of every pack of cigarettes sold. It also prohibits false, misleading and deceptive language - such as “low tar,” “light” or “mild” - that imply that a tobacco product is less harmful than others.

The treaty commits nations to protect nonsmokers from secondhand tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces and public transportation; urges strict regulation of tobacco product contents; and calls for higher tobacco taxes, global coordination to fight tobacco smuggling, and promotion of tobacco prevention, cessation and research programs internationally.

The first treaty ever negotiated under the authority of the World Health Organization (WHO), it was unanimously adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2003 and has since proven to be one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in United Nations history with 168 nations signing on and 57 countries ratifying it.

The United States signed the treaty in 2004, indicating its general support, but President George W. Bush has not sent the treaty to the U.S. Senate for consideration. A two-thirds majority approval by the Senate is required for the United States to ratify the treaty and become a voting member of the FCTC's international governing body.

“Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of signing treaties and never ratifying them," said John Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "The stakes in tobacco control are too high for this treaty to meet the same fate. The United States should join with nations around the world, including allies like the United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico, that have ratified the treaty to save lives."

"It would be a tragedy for the United States not to join the FCTC. Our nation should be leading on this issue, not watching from the sidelines. We should ratify the convention, implement it, and help low-income nations do the same," said Stephen F. Sener, MD, national volunteer president, American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society is a strong supporter of the treaty and encourages swift U.S. ratification.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 500 million people alive today, including 250 million children, will die premature deaths because of tobacco use.

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Bush Funds Rocket Fuel Disposal Project in Armenia

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - The United States will contribute over $1 million toward a project of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to eliminate rocket fuel component stocks in Armenia, says the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan.

These rocket fuel components, known as melange, are kept in inadequate containers that pose an environmental risk in addition to the inherent security risk, the U.S. Embassy said. These types of stocks are found in other states of the former Soviet Union, as well as in Armenia.

The OSCE said that in response to a request from Armenia in April 2004 for technical and financial support for the recycling of 872 tons of melange, the OSCE Office in Yerevan arranged for international experts to advise on the environmentally sound recycling of the chemicals.

The method of neutralizing the melange chosen by the OSCE will result in the added byproduct of a liquid fertilizer for use by Armenia's farmers.

The U.S. Embassy said the United States is the primary source of funds for this project, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the budget. Other countries such as Germany, Finland and Canada have also contributed - particularly to the project’s crucial initial phases, which were completed in 2004.

On February 22, a memorandum of understanding on the elimination of the rocket fuel component stocks was signed by Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, the head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, and Serzh Sargssian, the minister of defense of Armenia and secretary of the National Security Council.

"The office will continue to support this important activity," said Pryakhin, "which aims to improve both the environment and the security of the Armenian population."

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Congressional Delegation Heads for Arctic Wildlife Refuge

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - A Congressional Delegation is visiting Alaska later this week to view the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay and Alpine.

Led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, and Senator Lisa Murkowski, daughter of Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, the delegation will include Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton.

Domenici said Thursday that the delegation is going to Alaska with the idea of opening up the wildlife refuge to oil and gas drilling, a plan that conservationists and some native people oppose. He is calling for greater energy self-reliance after oil prices climbed to a four-month high of $51 a barrel last week.

“World events, tight supplies and soaring prices demand that we produce more of our own energy and conserve more of the energy we produce," Domenici said. "The case for greater self-reliance has never been more compelling. The case for environmentally-sensitive energy development in Alaska has never been sounder."

Critics of drilling in the refuge say any oil produced there will not reach the market for 10 years, and less than six months worth of oil lies under the refuge at the most. They fear the pristine nature of the refuge will be forever spoiled if oil rigs and pipelines are constructed there.

Domenici says it is possible to extract oil without harming the environment. “New technology allows oil to be developed 10,000 feet from an oil pad - a drilling distance 10 times greater than it was in 1978," he said.

"Senators and cabinet secretaries will see ice pads and ice roads that melt by spring, leaving the land unmarred," Dominici said. "We will see for ourselves how American ingenuity and innovation protects our environment and our wildlife while allowing us to develop our own energy."

The Congressional Delegation will also visit with the Inupiaq Eskimos – the only native people who live on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

George Edwardson, a Inupiaq geologist, mining and petroleum engineer since 1968, lives in Barrow, Alaska about 350 miles west of the refuge. Edwardson says the amount of oil and gas in the refuge will not pay for the development of the resource and construction of the pipeline to take it to market.

Instead, he believes that the real motivation of the petroleum developers is to do directional drilling, horizontally out to sea. "And once they can find it out there, then my country can use what it always does, the law of supply and demand," Edwardson said. "When you use the law of supply and demand, environmental regulations are not important, people's lives are not important."

Instead, Edwardson, other Inupiaq and Gwi'ichen native people of the region, and many conservationists believe that high fuel efficiency standards will avoid the need to drill in the refuge at all.

But Senator Domenici does not agree. “I am ready to craft a bipartisan energy bill that does more for conservation than we’ve done in years," he said. "But conservation alone won’t get us there. Our energy strategy must include our best technologies. It’s time to rely more on American resources and American know-how for our energy and less on foreign regimes.”

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Ohio Would Dump Federal Tailpipe Test

COLUMBUS, Ohio, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - The Ohio EPA has recommended ending the federal tailpipe emissions E-Check program in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas on December 31, 2005.

The state says it is taking the opportunity of ending the unpopular emissions testing program when its 10 year contract with Envirotest Systems expires.

While the air quality has improved in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas, these areas do not meet the new ozone standard. So the Ohio EPA will need to replace E-Check with stronger controls on other types of air pollution sources. The agency has provided a list of options to the state General Assembly that includes emissions reductions from industry, power plants, or consumer products, or the use of cleaner-burning gasoline.

The agency will seek legislative approval to extend the existing E-Check contract with Envirotest Systems for two years only in the Cleveland-Akron area, where ozone levels are among the highest in the country. The agency would increase the new car exemption to exempt more motorists from having to take the test.

The state agency cites lack of flexibity as the reason for its plan to stop the E-Check in the Cleveland-Akron area. "We have thoroughly analyzed the E-Check program and concluded that we can, and should, end it in Cincinnati and Dayton," said Ohio EPA Director Joe Koncelik. "We don't have that flexibility in the Cleveland area."

The Ohio EPA has filed legal challenges to the federal requirements and supports federal legislation that would give states more flexibility in deciding how to comply with the new ozone standard.

During the two-year contract extension in the Cleveland-Akron area, the state agency would explore more comprehensive changes to the vehicle emissions testing program and negotiate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on future control strategies and deadlines for meeting the new ozone standard in the Cleveland-Akron area.

Across northeast Ohio, currently, vehicles two years old and newer are exempt from E-Check. The Ohio EPA is proposing to exempt vehicles four years old and newer.

About two million cars in Northeast Ohio go through E-check every two years, said Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer.

The E-Check program helped the state meet the old one-hour ozone standard, the state agency says. Over the past 10 years the E-Check program in 14 Ohio counties eliminated 100,000 tons of vehicle emissions annually, the Ohio EPA says.

But now the new eight-hour ozone standard is in effect. The federal government has designated Northeast Ohio a "moderate" ground-level ozone pollution area under the Clean Air Act regulations. It is one of five regions in the nation that could be bumped up into the "serious" category, which would require more mandated emission controls to meet the new standard.

The state has until 2007 to craft a plan that shows how the standard will be met and then three years to achieve it.

"Vehicle emissions technology has evolved over the last 10 years, making vehicles today cleaner than they were in the 1990s and reducing the effectiveness of the E-Check program," the agency said. "Ohio EPA believes that national and regional pollution controls that will be required by U.S. EPA will help Ohio meet the new ozone standard in many areas of the state."

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51 Drinking Water Contaminants Up for EPA Evaluation

WASHINGTON, DC, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - Adenoviruses most commonly cause respiratory illness, but they may also cause various other illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, cystitis, and skin rashes.

As a group of organisms, adenoviruses are one of the 51 candidate contaminants that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering whether or not to regulate as a component of drinking water.

They are on the second Drinking Water Candidate Contaminant List (CCL) published in the Federal Register on Thursday. The first list of 60 contaminants was published in March 1998.

The second CCL carries forward 51 of the original 60 unregulated contaminants from the first CCL, including nine microbiological contaminants and 42 chemical contaminants or contaminant groups.

The EPA currently has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants. Still, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the agency must periodically release a Contaminant Candidate List. The EPA says it uses this list of unregulated contaminants "to prioritize research and data collection efforts to help us to determine whether we should regulate a specific contaminant."

Besides adenoviruses, the list of micro-organisms under investigation includes the Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that researchers believe is responsible for the majority of peptic ulcers.

Also on the Contaminant Candidate List are cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, the oldest known fossils, more than 3.5 billion years old.

On the chemical side of the list is 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane, a substance that the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says can cause liver damage if ingested.

Also on the list of chemicals are aluminum and boron, and Diazinon, an insecticide that is now illegal in the United States. As of December 31, 2004, it became unlawful to sell outdoor, non-agricultural products containing diazinon in the United States.

On the candidate list for study also is perchlorate, the explosive component of rocket fuel that can adversely affect the human thyroid gland and has contaminated drinking water in 35 states.

To see the second Drinking Water Candidate Contaminant List, log onto: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/ccl/ccl2_list.html

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Low-Emissions Cars Share the Oscars Spotlight

LOS ANGELES, California, February 28, 2005 (ENS) - Last night's Academy Awards ceremony attracted worldwide attention, and in the spotlight a small group of stars chose to showcase their environmental awareness by arriving in low emission Toyota Prius hybrid cars.

Orlando Bloom, Penelope Cruz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman, Salma Hayek, Tim Robbins, Charlize Theron, and Robin Williams are among those who came to the Oscars in the advanced technology vehicles.

Bloom, actor and Oscar presenter at this year's Academy Awards, said, "Hybrid cars help us conserve natural resources and preserve the planet. Choosing a hybrid is something everyone can do today to help reduce our negative impact on the environment."

The hybrids were part of Global Green’s 3rd annual “Red Carpet - Green Stars” campaign. Global Green organizes fuel efficient transportation each year to allow celebrities the opportunity to demonstrate their concern for promoting energy independence, combating global warming and protecting the environment.

Global Green USA, the U.S. affiliate of Green Cross International led by Mikhail Gorbachev, works in cooperation with individuals, industry, and governments to create a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure future.

Past participants in the effort have included Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Calista Flockhart, Harrison Ford, Marcia Gay Harden, and Sting.

The partial zero emission Prius, for example, is EPA rated to get up to 60 miles per gallon in the city - 55 mpg combined city and highway - and produces almost 90 percent fewer emissions than the average vehicle.

“By foregoing gas-guzzling limos, Oscar attendees show their support for fuel efficient cars to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce air pollution, and stem climate change,” said Matt Petersen, president of Global Green USA. “By choosing to ride in a fuel-efficient car, like the Prius, they send a strong message to the American people and the world that we can all be part of the solution to global warming and our addiction to oil.”