AmeriScan: February 16, 2007

* * *

Pennsylvania Governor Apologizes to Snow-Trapped Motorists

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Edward Rendell today said Pennsylvania's response to this week's snow emergency was "unacceptable" and called for a thorough investigation into how the situation was handled by state agencies.

The governor contracted James Lee Witt, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to perform an independent review that will complement an investigation by the Governor's Office of Administration.

The Valentine's Day storm blanketed much of the state with snow and sleet, and dumped seven inches of snow on Interstate I-78, and on Interstates 80 and 81, which then iced over.

Traffic backed up for 50 miles on the interstate highways as one tractor-trailer after another slid on the icy roads and slammed into each other and other motorists. Disabled vehicles blocked snow removal efforts, stranding drivers in their cars overnight Wednesday and into Thursday.

Hundreds of motorists were trapped for as long as 24 hours before the National Guard, state police, highway workers and rescue agencies could get traffic moving again by applying scrapers, salt and chemicals to the roadways. Some sections of the highways are still closed.

"PennDOT is using all available resources, and taking additional steps to deal with the icing situation on Interstates 78, 80, and 81," said Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler. "We will make a final assessment on Saturday to ensure the pavement conditions are safe and then move swiftly to reopen all affected roadways."

Biehler said sections of the closed interstates have four to six inch thick sections of compacted ice. The continued frigid temperatures, in the teens, have hampered the effects of salt and magnesium chloride to break it up. These materials become most effective when temperatures get into the high teens and twenties.

Because of the difficulty of the problems, PennDOT is bringing in additional graders and PennDOT crews are continuing to work around the clock. The agency wants to avoid having the remaining ice cause recurring traffic problems and a new round of blockages, said Biehler.

Governor Rendell said state workers, some of whom worked without rest for the past 48 hours, should be commended.

"It is not a good day for state government," said Governor Rendell in a news conference today. "As the chief executive of the commonwealth, I take full responsibility for what appears to be a complete breakdown of communications and personally apologize to anyone who was stranded."

The governor proclaimed a statewide disaster emergency and transferred funds up to $1 million to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for disaster-related expenses incurred by agencies throughout the state.

For additional severe weather safety information please visit the PEMA Website at http://www.pema.state.pa.us.

* * *

All States Complete Wildlife Action Plans

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved wildlife action plans for all 56 states and territories, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced today.

For the first time, all state and territorial fish and wildlife agencies have established comprehensive conservation plans that, together, provide a nationwide blueprint of actions to conserve imperiled species and prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered.

"The plans identify what species and habitats are declining, but not yet officially threatened or endangered," Kempthorne said. "By using this information we can act now before it's too late."

"The states possess a wealth of knowledge about the conservation issues and wildlife species within their borders," said Kempthorne. "These plans tap into this expertise and demonstrate our commitment to conservation partnerships with the state wildlife agencies."

"Working together with them, as well as with tribes, local governments, conservation groups and private landowners, we can help prevent wildlife from becoming threatened or endangered," he said.

Completion of its plan allows each state and territorial fish and wildlife agency to continue to receive grants under the State Wildlife Grant program enacted in 2001.

The plans were reviewed by a national team that included representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several state fish and wildlife agencies.

The in-depth approval process took more than a year for some action plans. The final nine plans were approved today by the Service, covering Massachusetts, Ohio, Colorado, Arkansas, American Samoa, Guam, California, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

Each plan must provide information on low and declining populations of wildlife and the habitats they require, identify problems impacting these populations, identify needed research and survey efforts to improve conservation, and determine priorities.

The state plans also must contain specific actions. For example, Alabama will use some of the grant money to establish a facility dedicated to captive breeding the state's fish, mussel, snail and crayfish species of highest conservation concern for reintroduction back to the wild.

Agencies will revise and update their plans at least once every 10 years.

To learn more about a particular state's plan, visit: www.wildlifeactionplans.org.

* * *

Less Air Pollution Would Mean New California Dams Not Needed

STANFORD, California, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently called for new dams in Northern California and near Fresno to store more water from Sierra snowmelt - an initiative criticized by environmentalists.

Now a Stanford University scientist says the elimination of aerosol pollution would offset some of the need for additional dams by increasing rainwater supply.

"The aerosol pollution in California could be causing an annual loss of water supply equivalent to the storage in the planned upper San Joaquin River dam, with a capacity of 1.3 million acre feet," said Stanford civil and environmental engineering Associate Professor Mark Jacobson.

Jacobson co-authored the study with the late Yoram Kaufman from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who died in May 2006.

Aerosol particles created by vehicle exhaust, forest fires, dust and other contaminants can accumulate in the atmosphere and reduce the speed of winds closer to the Earth's surface, Jacobson explains.

This reduction in wind speed results in less wind power available for wind-turbine electricity and also in reduced precipitation, according to the study by Jacobson and Kaufman.

Their study, based on NASA satellite data of aerosol accumulation, measurements of wind speeds over the South Coast Basin in California and in China, and computer model simulations over California as a whole and the South Coast Basin, was published online December 27, 2006 in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters."

In California, the wind reduction means a two to fice percent reduction in water supply, which "translates into 0.5 to 1.25 million acre feet less a year," Jacobson says. An acre foot is the volume of water needed to cover one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot.

This contributes to water scarcity in the state, which with its growing population will require an additional four to six million acre feet of water supply by 2010, according to the Association of California Water Agencies.

Jacobson advocates replacing existing motor vehicles with cleaner ones, such as battery-electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and substituting fossil-fueled power plants with networked wind farms.

These actions would reduce particle emissions practically to zero, he says. The second-best option would be adding particle traps to existing vehicles and other sources of pollution.

Aerosol particles may be responsible for the slowing down of winds worldwide. Slower winds evaporate less water from oceans, rivers and lakes.

"If we want to solve the global warming problem, we have to replace most of the existing energetic infrastructure with wind and other renewable-based energy," says Jacobson, whose next step will be to study the effect of greenhouse gases on winds.

* * *

Diesel Schoolbuses in Northeast Get Pollution Controls

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - Eight organizations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont received a total of $3.8 million today from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles.

The funds are part of the Northeast Diesel Collaborative, a partnership of public and private entities in eight Northeastern states.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced the funding today at a ceremony in New Haven. He said the government is committed to "making that black puff of diesel smoke something you only read about in history books."

Much of the funding will be used to retrofit diesel-fueled school buses with advanced pollution control technology. Communities will also be able to use funds to offset the cost of switching to a blend of biodiesel fuel.

Local Governments for Sustainability will retrofit up to 100 school buses in five communities in four states, including, Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Cambridge and Springfield, Massachusetts; and Hamden, Connecticut.

In New York, Erie County’s Department of Environment and Planning will retrofit up to 128 school buses. The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, NYSERDA, will retrofit more than 1,000 school buses.

President and CEO of NYSERDA Peter Smith said, “Each day, school children ride on buses that emit harmful greenhouse gases, pollute our air, and pose health risks. The grant announced today will provide NYSERDA with additional resources to assist school districts in their efforts to make buses cleaner and help reduce dependency on fossil fuels."

The rail transport industry will share in this round of grants. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey received $125,000 to retrofit five New Jersey diesel locomotive utility track vehicles with idle reduction technologies to reduce diesel pollution. It also plans to add diesel oxidation catalysts to two or more of these same locomotive engines.

Diesel exhaust particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and pose serious health risks, including aggravating the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems in healthy individuals.

The Northeast has some of the highest asthma rates in the nation, including a childhood asthma rate above 10 percent in all six New England states and rates near 15 percent in areas of New York City.

* * *

Smoke-Free Homes for Head Start Kids

WASHINGTON, DC, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - Sherry Pierce of Arkansas' Black River Area Development Head Start program is using new tools and outreach techniques to teach parents about the dangers of secondhand smoke to their children.

Asthma is a growing problem for Head Start families, and for the nation as a whole. About 20 percent of children with asthma are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.

Pierce says the families of her Head State children used and appreciated the Smoke-free Homes Kits that are central to the education effort.

By taking steps to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, Head Start families can reduce or prevent serious health risks such as more frequent and severe asthma attacks, upper and lower respiratory tract infections, and acute middle ear infections.

"Every parent hopes their child will grow up happy, healthy and strong," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection's Office of Air and Radiation. "By providing a smoke-free home environment, parents can keep their children on the path toward a promising future."

Head Start children and their families could face fewer asthma attacks due to a new agreement between the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS. The agencies have decided to work together to educate Head Start families about the risks their children face from secondhand smoke and other environmental asthma triggers.

"Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease among Head Start children," said HHS Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Wade Horn. "I look forward to working with the EPA to educate Head Start families on creating the healthiest homes possible for their children."

The EPA will work with Head Start state collaboration offices to educate Head Start staff and families about comprehensive asthma environmental management practices and secondhand smoke prevention.

* * *

AAAS Offers Free Town Hall Meeting on Global Climate Change

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 16, 2007 (ENS) - Teachers, students, scientists, science-center professionals, business leaders, policymakers, and the general public are invited to attend a town hall meeting on Communicating and Learning About Global Climate Change offered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, at its annual meeting.

The town hall meeting takes place Sunday, February 18 from 1:15 to 5:30 pm at the Hilton San Francisco, Ballroom Level Continental Ballroom 4-6.

It features top climate experts and will include a demonstration of the Wedge Game, a hands-on strategy for explaining the impacts of different strategies for reducing greenhouse gases. Registration for this free event is required either in advance or on-site.

AAAS is partnering with Bay Area museums, universities and others to host Family Science Days Saturday and Sunday, a free series of events with hands-on activities and stage shows for children and families also at the San Francisco Hilton.

The program features Adam and Jamie from the popular television show Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel; Billinda the Robot Dog; how to make robots at home; authors of science books for children; and demonstrations such as how the same vegetable oil used to make French fries can be transformed into biodiesel fuel.

The Kinetic City team from AAAS will unveil its brand new Science Gym - a duffel bag full of science activities. Science Gym combines physical education with science learning using jumping, running, and dancing activities that boost both pulse rates and science IQ. Young volunteers from the audience will demonstrate the games and win prizes.