AmeriScan: February 9, 2007

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Virgin Offers $25 Million Prize to Defeat Global Warming

LONDON, UK, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - Former Vice President Al Gore and Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson today announced the Virgin Earth Challenge, a $25 million global science and technology prize to encourage a technology that will remove at least one billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere per year.

The Virgin Earth Challenge will award $25 million to the individual or group who demonstrate a commercially viable design which will result in the net removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least 10 years without countervailing harmful effects.

This removal must have long term effects and contribute materially to the stability of the Earth's climate.

Sir Richard will adjudicate the prize with a panel of five judges - all world authorities in their respective fields - Gore; British diplomat and environmentalist Sir Crispin Tickell; Tim Flannery, author of "The Weather Makers;" Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Dr. James Lovelock, an independent scientist, most famous for his Gaia theory that the planet functions as a superorganism.

The panel of judges will be assisted in their deliberations by The Climate Group and Special Advisor to The Virgin Earth Prize Judges, Steve Howard.

The timing of the announcement of the Virgin Earth Challenge follows the announcement last week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that temperatures on Earth could increase by as much as 6.4 degrees C by the end of this century. If this were to occur, said Sir Richard, it would result in "most of life on our planet being exterminated."

Gore said, "Carbon dioxide levels already are far above anything measured in the prior 650,000 year record, and just last week in Paris scientists gave us their strongest warning yet of the consequences of inaction. So the dangers are clear. But the opportunities, if we take action now, are innumerable, and Sir Richard's initiative to stimulate exploration of this new approach to the climate crisis is important and welcome."

Dr. Hansen said, "I think we have a very brief window of opportunity to deal with climate change ... no longer than a decade, at the most. This is why I am supporting the Virgin Earth Challenge as a judge - we must explore all means, both known and unknown, to help alleviate this crisis."

Sir Richard said, "We would also like to call on governments and members of the international community to join us in The Virgin Earth Challenge by matching or adding to the prize pot available to encourage the greatest number of entrants of those who could come up with a solution which could save our planet."

"If the greatest minds in the world today compete, as I'm sure they will, for The Virgin Earth Challenge," Sir Richard said, "I believe that a solution to the C02 problem could hopefully be found - a solution that could save our planet - not only for our children but for all the children yet to come."

The creation of the Virgin Earth Prize is one of a number of initiatives including investment in renewable energy research, development and production as part of Virgin Group's Gaia Capitalism project, and $3 billion Clinton Initiative pledge of September 2006.

To find out more visit, www.virginearth.com

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Hawaiian Forests Most Threatened U.S. Bird Habitat

WASHINGTON, DC, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - Hawaiian forests, where 30 Hawaiian birds are listed as Endangered or Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, topped the American Bird Conservancy's new list as the most threatened bird habitat in the United States.

The Top 20 Most Threatened Bird Habitats, released on Thursday, shows that large portions of the American landscape are no longer providing adequate habitat for many native bird species.

Rainforests in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, Florida wetlands, longleaf pine forests in the Southeast, tallgrass prairies in the Midwest, sagebrush in the Intermountain West, coastal beaches, and seabird nesting islands were all among the most threatened habitats.

The second most threatened bird habitats are the open ocean and sea bird nesting islands.

The third most threatened bird habitats are the sagebrush areas of the Western states - Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada.

"Millions of Americans love to watch birds, whether on organized outings or in their own backyards," said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. "Without action to conserve these dwindling habitats, there will be fewer and fewer bird species for everyone to enjoy."

The primary causes for the loss of the 20 most threatened bird habitats include invasive species, sprawling development, fire suppression, agriculture, deforestation, poor habitat management, overgrazing, pesticides, and water diversion.

The report identifies threats in each habitat, lists birds of high conservation concern, and offers solutions and opportunities to restore lost habitat.

Bird watching and other wildlife viewing by 66 million Americans contribute $43 billion annually to the nation’s economy, according to a 2006 report by the Outdoor Industry Foundation. Retail sales of birding gear, birding trips, and state and federal tax receipts comprise a substantial portion of this.

"As well as a biological imperative, it makes good economic sense to conserve bird habitats," said Fenwick. "In addition to the direct economic benefits of bird watching, birds play an important role in maintaining the ecosystems on which humans ultimately depend."

The Top 20 Most Threatened Bird Habitats in the U.S. is online at: www.abcbirds.org/habitatreport.pdf

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Carbon Neutral Pro Bowl Sets Recycling Goal

HONOLULU, Hawaii, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - To make this year's Pro Bowl a carbon neutral event, Community Energy, a green energy marketer and developer, is donating renewable energy credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions from Saturday's Pro Bowl and the National Football League Pro Bowl Tailgate Party.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, will work with the NFL to calculate the net carbon savings from its Pro Bowl activities.

To raise funds and help keep the event litter-free, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hawaii and Honolulu Recovery Systems are working with the EPA and the NFL to collect and recycle bottles and cans in the parking lot at Aloha Stadium while fans are tailgating.

"America has embraced recycling, with millions of Americans regularly recycling at home and in the workplace," said Susan Bodine, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "EPA and our partners are working to build on this success by showing Americans that public events can be recycling events."

This year the collection has been expanded to include additional parking lot areas, with the goal to collect over 12,000 cans and bottles, yielding $600 through deposit rebates.

Community Energy has committed to match the money raised, with proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hawaii.

The Pro Bowl effort is part of EPA's goal of reaching a 35 percent recycling rate nationwide and one of the public space recycling projects undertaken by EPA's Recycle on the Go program. Recycle on the Go encourages recycling at concerts, sporting events and other locations. By working with partners, EPA aims to make recycling easy and convenient.

The EPA and Aloha Stadium authorities say they will meet after Pro Bowl 2007 to discuss how to further "green" Aloha Stadium.

Information about Recycle on the Go: www.epa.gov/recycleonthego

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FY 2008 Budget Cut $100 Million for Coal to Liquid Fuel Project

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell is asking President George W. Bush to restore funding in the federal budget for development of the nation’s first plant designed to convert waste coal into zero-sulfur diesel fuel.

A promised, $100 million, no-interest loan to help with construction and startup costs for the $800 million plant in Schuylkill County was removed from the proposed federal budget that was released on Monday.

The loan was promised by the Department of Energy in 2003.

The plant operator, Waste Management and Processors Inc., began preliminary work at the site in the fall of 2006 and was preparing to start construction this spring.

"The president, in his State of the Union address, promised to promote clean coal technologies and lead the charge for cutting America’s reliance on oil, but his new budget instead cuts funding for a very promising solution to our energy needs," Governor Rendell said.

"I am calling on the president to reverse course, keep his word and restore the funding for America’s first waste-coal-to-diesel plant."

The proposed plant would convert 1.7 million tons of waste coal per year into 60 million gallons of non-petroleum based liquid fuel. Forty million gallons of the total is planned to be converted into zero-sulfur diesel fuel and 20 million gallons into naptha, a gasoline production feedstock.

"We are doing far more than simply funding research," Governor Rendell said. "We have assembled a coalition of government and private businesses that will purchase nearly all the product generated by the plant for the next 10 years, guaranteeing that this new technology will have the opportunity to survive and compete in the energy marketplace."

U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Tim Holden, whose district encompasses the plant, have worked toward development of this project for nearly a decade. Governor Rendell promised to work with both of them, along with newly-elected U.S. Senator Robert Casey Jr. and the rest of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, to coordinate a united, bipartisan effort to restore funding for the plant.

In addition to creating liquid fuels to reduce imports of foreign oil, the proposed plant would - at no cost to the taxpayers - reclaim dangerous abandoned mine sites and remove waste coal piles that pollute waterways.

Pennsylvania has over two billion tons of waste coal, and more than 180,000 acres of abandoned mine lands left over by the unregulated mining practices of the past.

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New Jersey Sues U.S. EPA Over Pennsylvania Power Plant Pollution

TRENTON, New Jersey, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - New Jersey Attorney General Stuart Rabner today filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, for failing to act on a petition from New Jersey objecting to a proposed operating permit for a coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania.

"This facility is directly across the river from New Jersey and has emitted more than 30,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually. As a result, it contributes to New Jersey’s inability to attain its clean air goals for sulfur dioxide," said Governor Jon Corzine said. "We will take every action we can to force EPA to do its job and to protect the citizens of this state."

Filed with the U.S. District Court in Trenton, the lawsuit also names as a defendant EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

The lawsuit charges that EPA has violated the federal Clean Air Act by failing to grant or deny a petition filed by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in July 2006. The petition objected to Pennsylvania’s proposed issuance of a revised operating permit for a coal-fired plant known as the Portland Generating Station.

The Portland facility is owned by Reliant Energy Mid-Atlantic Power Holdings, and is located directly across the Delaware River from Warren County, New Jersey.

The Portland plant is located upwind of New Jersey’s Highlands, and prevailing winds carry its air pollution directly into the state.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must grant or deny the New Jersey petition within 60 days of its filing. The DEP petition was filed on July 21, 2006, but EPA has yet to respond to it.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson called the EPA’s failure to act on the New Jersey petition "unconscionable."

"The EPA continues to show little concern for the environmental and public health issues we have raised regarding the Portland Generating Station," said Jackson. "With today’s filing, we are putting the EPA on notice that we will not tolerate being ignored."

DEP’s petition to the EPA objected to Pennsylvania’s proposed approval of a revised permit for the Portland Generating Station because:

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Forest Service Eliminates Some Oil and Gas Environmental Reviews

WASHINGTON, DC, February 9, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service today announced a final rule that permits it to approve applications for oil-and-gas exploration on Forest Service land already under federal leases without further environmental review.

The rule is a categorical exclusion for land under lease that has already undergone environmental analysis consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act guidelines.

The additional analysis previously required by a new oil-and-gas exploration and development application took a minimum of six months.

With the new rule, the Service says, an application can be processed much faster unless there are extraordinary circumstances such as the presence of threatened or endangered species or their designated habitat, wilderness areas, inventoried roadless areas, wetlands, and archeological or historic sites. The categorical exclusion will not apply in these areas.

This change in policy is a response to Executive Order 13212 issued by President George W. Bush to expedite the increased supply and availability of energy to the nation. It allows for streamlining the application process for permits to drill and other energy-related permits in an environmentally sound manner.

The Bureau of Land Management, BLM, acts as the onshore oil-and-gas leasing agent for the federal government. The BLM schedules and conducts competitive bid lease sales, collects the bonus bids and issues leases to the successful bidders.

No permit for oil-and-gas exploration for development on National Forest System lands will be approved by the BLM without the Forest Service analyzing and approving the proponent's surface use plan of operations covering proposed surface-disturbing activities within the lease area.

The new rule was published in the Federal Register for public review and comment on December 13, 2005. There was a 60 day comment period and comments received during that period were considered in the preparation of the final rule. The final rule will be effective immediately upon its publication in the Federal Register.

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