AmeriScan: February 26, 2007

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Weather Makes Life Miserable Across the Country

WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - A major storm system with gusty winds hit the Midwest on Saturday and Sunday bringing severe weather to most of the region.

Heavy snow accompanied by high winds created blizzard conditions over much of the central and northern Plains, causing the closure of many highways on the Plains on Saturday. At least seven traffic deaths resulted.

A strong storm system moved eastward across the Southeast Saturday night and Sunday accompanied by tornadoes, damaging winds, large hail and torrential downpours.

The area from eastern Texas to the Florida and Georgia Atlantic coasts was affected by severe weather during the weekend.

Tonadoes devastated a five mile long stretch of southern Arkansas about 90 miles southeast of Little Rock, wrecking homes and businesses and injuring at least 27 people.

Winds blowing up to 60 mph whipped up dozens of grass fires across Texas. Three homes near Midland were burned down and 6,500 military residents of Fort Hood were forced to evacuate Saturday after a downed power line started a fast-moving grass fire, authorities said.

Power was knocked out to 170,000 customers, mainly in Iowa and southern Missouri, but also in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

"We're not talking about outage restoration time in number of hours," said Ryan Stensland, a spokesman for Alliant, which serves about 500,000 residents in Iowa. "We're talking about this in number of days."

Interstate Power and Light Company, IP&L, an Alliant company, has all crews mobilized to restore electric services to about 68,000 customers in its Iowa and Minnesota services area after still without power after the storm damaged the company's electric distribution and transmission infrastructure.

Due to the widespread damage, an additional 500 crew members from contractors, IP&L's Wisconsin sister utility, Wisconsin Power and Light Company, and other utilities from Missouri, Kansas, Ohio and Virginia arrived today to work on the restoration effort alongside 600 Alliant Energy employees.

"Mother Nature didn't leave many areas of Iowa and Southern Minnesota untouched," said Vern Gebhart, vice president of customer operations. "When we experience damage from other natural events such as tornados, it is usually localized; the damage from this storm is some of the worst our utility has ever seen.

Vermonters are still cleaning up after last week's snow storm, and the state emergency management agency is hoping the snow removal does not cause another problem - flooding.

Vermont Emergency Management, VEM, is asking companies and municipalities that are removing snow following last week's storm not to push or dump excess snow into the state's rivers.

Many towns and private land owners have been forced to truck snow off-site due to the volume of snow on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. The agency is asking those who are trucking snow to find a dump site away from rivers and streams due to flood concerns. VEM is also asking those businesses that are located along a waterway not to plow snow into the waterway.

Many factors are raising the possibility of spring floods, including ice on rivers and the deep snow pack on the ground. The city of Montpelier is dealing with particular concerns. The cooperation of contractors in lessening the impact of the existing snow on the state's rivers is appreciated.

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Western Governors Agree to Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - Today, the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington signed a pact to address climate change with a new western regional initiative that commits the states to set clear reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions and a market-based strategy to achieve those reductions.

"Today's announcement shows how the West continues to lead the way in addressing the most pressing environmental challenge of our time," said Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. "Together, we are putting ourselves on a path to reduce greenhouse emissions and create a sustainable energy future a model and example for rest of the nation."

The agreement, the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, commits the states to identify within the next six months specific greenhouse emission reductions levels and, within the next 18 months, a market-based approach, such as a cap and trade system, for implementing those targets.

Governors from the four partner states commemorated the announcement in a Washington, DC signing ceremony that took place at the same time as Governor Kulongoski's remarks. The Oregon governor had been scheduled to join them at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, but was unable due to weather related travel delays.

"As I stand here, my fellow governors are signing the same agreement in DC, committing our five states to within the next six months set state specific reduction targets and develop regional greenhouse gas reduction targets," said Governor Kulongoski. "Our regional strategy will deliver a cleaner environment and healthier economy. It also sends a message to Congress and the White House that if they fail to enact policies at the national level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do our nation's part to combat global warming that states will do it on our own."

The new initiative builds on existing greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the individual states as well as two existing regional efforts.

Seven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, a cap-and-trade program initially covering carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the region.

Initiated in 2003 by then New York Governor George Pataki, seven states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont - are participating in the RGGI effort.

Legislation was signed in April 2006, that requires Maryland to become a full participant in the process by June 30, 2007.

Eight Midwestern states are working with the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, LADCO, to develop a framework for a voluntary Midwest registry of greenhouse gas emissions. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin are participating.

The registry will provide the mechanism for greenhouse gas-emitting companies to track their emissions and reductions and will provide a validated list of greenhouse gas emission reduction credits available for possible trading.

Arizona and New Mexico launched the Southwest Climate Change Initiative in 2006.

"I look forward to continuing to work with other governors to advance our regional efforts and the Legislature to enact the ambitious agenda we've put forth," said Governor Kulongoski. "Together, we can ensure a transition to new sources of energy, new technologies and cutting-edge policies that significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, grow our economies, and protect our environment for future generations."

Environmentalists support the Western governors' effort. "Western states are already experiencing the serious effects of global warming, and our Governors have demonstrated true leadership in developing solutions," said Oregon State Public Interest Research Group environmental advocate Jeremiah Baumann. "This regional global warming solution will benefit the environment on a global scale."

Some believe a strong effort on the part of the states is what it will take to get the federal government to set national limits for carbon dioxide emissions.

"There is no question that state leadership will be critical to getting real global warming solutions put in place," said U.S. PIRG environmental advocate Emily Figdor. "Thanks in no small part to the states, Congress is now beginning to seriously debate global warming policy."

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Energy Secretary Seeks Fast Track for Efficiency Standards

WASHINGTON, DC, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman today sent legislation to Congress requesting authorization to speed up the process of establishing energy efficiency standards and bringing more efficient products to market sooner.

Under the proposed legislation, establishing a streamlined process would be achieved through a direct final rule when manufacturer, stakeholder, and government consensus exists.

More than 30 products could be included if legislation is enacted - refrigerators, central air conditioners, furnaces, water heaters, clothes washers and dishwashers; as well as smaller home equipment such as ceiling fans, torchiers, dehumidifiers, and fluorescent and incandescent lights.

Also covered would be plumbing equipment, including showerheads, faucets and toilets.

Commercial air conditioners and furnaces, water heaters, commercial refrigerators and freezers and ice cream freezers might also be included along with traffic signals and pedestrian control modules.

"If enacted, this legislation would amount to real, more immediate energy savings for Americans," Secretary Bodman said. "We look forward to working with Congress and stakeholders to speed up the process to put into place mandatory standards that can really help raise the bar for efficiency standards."

DOE would be able to prescribe energy efficiency standards by direct final rule when all relevant interests jointly negotiate and submit an agreed proposed standard.

Bodman says use of the proposed expedited rulemaking authority would be limited.

In response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, representatives of relevant interests including manufacturers, efficiency advocates, and state officials would negotiate on their own and submit a joint comment to the Energy Department proposing an energy conservation standard for a product.

If the Energy Secretary determines that the jointly proposed standard meets the substantive requirements of the law for that product, he would be authorized to publish a notice of direct final rulemaking, incorporating the recommended standard.

If there is no objection to the standard, the direct final rule would become effective 120 days after the notice is published.

If "any person" files a significant adverse comment on the notice of proposed rulemaking, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, EERE, would review that comment.

The Energy Secretary would be required to withdraw the direct final rule and move forward under the procedures of existing law, "if the comments deemed by EERE were found to be significant and legally relevant."

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Navy Plans to Land Jets Next to Wildlife Refuge

RALEIGH, North Carolina, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - North Carolina Governor Mike Easley on Friday criticized the U.S. Navy for failing to back off its proposal to build a jet landing strip beside a national wildlife refuge. For the first time, the governor urged Congress to withhold money for the construction.

"I believe this matter can be resolved, but spending millions of dollars to build the proposed outlying landing field next to a world-renowned wildlife refuge for migratory birds is not an acceptable resolution," Easley wrote in a letter to North Carolina's congressional delegation, according to the Raleigh based "News & Observer" newspaper.

"Congress controls the purse strings for this project, and Congress should withhold funding until the Navy is willing to consider reasonable alternatives," the governor wrote.

The Navy has released a supplemental environmental impact statement, SEIS, justifying its decision to build a $230 million landing field near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina.

The SEIS comes after a district court ruling in 2005 found that the Navy's initial environmental impact statement was flawed and filled with inaccurate assessments on how the landing field would affect surrounding wetlands.

The court ordered the Navy to prepare the supplemental environmental impact statement to address the problems found in its original planning document.

Concentrations of ducks, geese, tundra swans, raptors and black bears are found in the refuge which is also a reintroduction site of the endangered red wolf.

In the immediate area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found increasing bald eagle and red wolf populations, both threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The Navy's SEIS recognizes the presence of these species, but says construction of the landing field should proceed anyway.

The report also states that the landing field would discourage waterfowl on more than 17,000 acres of farmland by converting land to crops and grasses that waterfowl avoid.

"Just as they have done for the past four years, the Navy has come to its own predetermined conclusions, despite clear evidence that building a landing field near Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is not justifiable, safe or consistent with the Navy's intended goals," saidd Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

"The Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge had record numbers of snow geese and tundra swans this year. Scheduling nearly 30,000 yearly fighter jet landings smack dab in the middle of the wintering area for tens of thousands of these birds is a recipe for disaster," he said.

The Wilderness Society, too, opposes the Navy's plan. "The Navy must select an environmentally preferable site for its proposed landing field and special use airspace. It would be thoughtless and reckless of the Navy to build an Outlying Landing Field in such an environmentally sensitive and valuable area as Washington County, North Carolina," said the environmental group.

Last year, red wolf pups were born on the end of the proposed runway site. Other alternative sites the Navy publicly stated it would re-examine would not put the lives of pilots at risk or destroy the integrity of a federally protected wildlife refuge, say the conservation groups.

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Beaver Returns to New York City

NEW YORK, New York, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - The beaver, the state mammal of New York, and whose image adorns the official seal of New York City, has returned to the Big Apple after an absence that dates to 1800, when the animal was hunted to local extinction.

Employees from the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS, have discovered a beaver and its lodge in the Bronx River along with numerous gnawed tree stumps.

WCS wildlife experts say the animal probably swam downstream from Westchester County, where beavers are still sometimes seen.

The beaver is nicknamed "Jose" after Congressman Jose Serrano, a Democrat who has been a Bronx River advocate for years.

"The return of the beaver to the Bronx River is not only an enormous success in our ongoing environmental restoration project, it's also a great victory for our community," said Congressman Serrano, who has helped secure $14.5 million in federal grants for the Bronx River's restoration over the past five years. "I've always felt that what's good for the environment is also good for the Bronx and its citizens."

"This is a symbolic moment for our great city," said Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and CEO of the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society. "New York City is the epitome of an urban environment. The fact that an animal which represents the wild frontier of North America can live and thrive in a river that runs through the Bronx Zoo is proof that we can coexist with nature anywhere on the planet. Anything is possible."

The beaver is North America's largest rodent, with a combined head and body length between two and three feet. Beavers usually weigh between 25 and 55 pounds, with occasional animals weighing up to 90 pounds.

The beaver is known as one of nature's great engineers, altering its environment by felling large trees with its teeth and constructing dams and lodges.

Historically, the beaver skin trade was central to the founding of New York. During 1626, when the Dutch purchased the island of Manhattan from Native Americans, traders shipped 7,246 beaver pelts back to the Netherlands.

By 1671, with the city renamed New York by the English, the trade climbed to 80,000 skins annually. Beaver pelts were used as currency. The central role of the beaver in New York City's history is commemorated on the city's official seal.

One block south of the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan is Beaver Street, another sign of the rodent's impact on the city's founders.

In pre-colonial America, beavers in North America are estimated to have numbered more than 60 million. By 1800, beavers had vanished in the United States east of the Mississippi, and by 1930, the beaver was near extinction and in need of protection.

Today, the beaver has rebounded in much of its traditional range.

"Having beavers back in the Bronx River is certainly one of our proudest achievements," said Linda Cox, Bronx River Administrator for the New York City Parks Department and executive director of the Bronx River Alliance, which was created in 2001 to help restore and protect the Bronx River corridor and greenway. "It's proof positive that our efforts to bring the river back to ecological health have been successful."

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Tejon Ranch Bullets Help Condors, Development Could Harm

LOS ANGELES, California, February 26, 2007 (ENS) - Tejon Ranch Corporation announced Friday that non-lead ammunition will be required for all hunting and predator control on the 270,000 acre Tejon Ranch starting this fall, to protect the endangered California condors who forage in critical condor habitat on the ranch.

The switch to non-lead ammunition will reduce the threat of lead poisoning, which is the leading cause of death for reintroduced condors, still teetering on the brink of extinction.

"We applaud Tejon Ranch's decision to get the lead out for condors, and if the state's largest private landholder can go lead-free, then the rest of California should be able to follow suit," said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The California condor was so close to extinction in 1987 that the last five wild birds were then rounded up to start a captive breeding program. The government began releasing condors in 1992, and there are now about 130 condors in the wild, 68 of them in California.

Of 127 condors released in California from 1992 through 2006, 46 birds died or disappeared and are presumed dead. Scientists say poisoning from scavenging carcasses tainted by lead ammunition is likely responsible for many of the deaths.

But while they are pleased with the new lead-free ammunition rule, condor conservationists worry that residential and industrial development planned for Tejon Ranch will destroy and disturb the recovery of these giant scavangers.

The planned Tejon Mountain Village would convert 38,500 acres of oak-studded mesas and canyons in the Tehachapi mountains much of which is designated critical habitat for the condor - into luxury homes, golf courses, commercial space and hotels.

The proposed 11,000 acre city of Centennial would add 23,000 houses in the southern Tehachapis, in habitat for other imperiled wildlife.

These developments would introduce thousands of buildings, roads, people, vehicles and pets into what is now a largely undeveloped and natural landscape. Tejon Ranch is seeking an unprecedented federal permit to "take" condors in their development plans. In this context, "take" means to kill, harass or harm.

In May 2006, Tejon Ranch announced the signing of a joint venture agreement with DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Arizona to jointly develop the Tejon Mountain Village.

"Tejon Mountain Village has all the ingredients for success," said Drew Brown, managing director and CEO of DMB Associates, Inc said in May 2006. "It's located just an hour or so north of Los Angeles, the landscape and views are spectacular and the environmentally sensitive plan respects the land. Together with Tejon Ranch Company, we're looking forward to turning this wonderful location into a special place where residents and guests can enjoy this beautiful natural setting."

The development of Tejon Mountain Village is part of the Tejon Ranch Vision, or master plan for the future of the Ranch. The Tejon Ranch Vision begins with conservation, which is represented by the 100,000 acre Tejon Ranch Preserve the Ranch unveiled in June 2005 with its conservation partner, The Trust for Public Land.

In addition to Tejon Mountain Village, Tejon's master plan for the development of its landholdings includes expansion of Tejon Industrial Complex.

Center biologist Ileene Anderson said, "Tejon's proposed 28,500 acre Tejon Mountain Village will devastate the heart of the condor's critical habitat."