AmeriScan: February 27, 2007

* * *

Beekeepers Alarmed by Bee Losses

AUSTIN, Texas, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - U.S. beekeepers are baffled by an alarming die-off of honey bees across the nation. Two dozen states have been affected by "colony collapse disorder" (CCD) and as more beekeepers in cold wintering locations get into their colonies, the number of states affected is expected to grow.

Industry experts say the situation has beekeepers fighting for commercial survival and crop growers wondering whether bees will be available to pollinate their crops this spring and summer.

"This has become a highly significant yet poorly understood problem that threatens the pollination industry and the production of commercial honey in the United States," said Maryann Frazier, apiculture extension associate at Penn State University.

"During the last three months of 2006, we began to receive reports from commercial beekeepers of an alarming number of honey bee colonies dying in the eastern United States," Frazier said. "Since the beginning of the year, beekeepers from all over the country have been reporting unprecedented losses."

"There is little doubt that honey bees are going to be in short supply this spring and possibly into the summer," Frazier added.

Reports on their losses coming from beekeepers vary widely. Some commercial beekeepers are reporting their losses as about the same as the last several years. Others report losing thousands of colonies: one lost 11,000 of his 13,000 colonies; another 700 of 900; another 2500 of 3500; another virtually all of his 10,000.

Researchers are scrambling to determine what is causing the affliction and to develop management strategies and recommendations for beekeepers.

They contend that mites and associated diseases, some unknown pathogenic disease and pesticide contamination or poisoning are likely factors causing or contributing to CCD.

Initial studies of dying colonies revealed a large number of disease organisms present, with no one disease being identified as the culprit.

Ongoing case studies and surveys of beekeepers experiencing CCD have found a few common management factors, but no common environmental agents or chemicals have been identified.

* * *

Environmentalists Endorse TXU Buyout

AUSTIN, Texas, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - Environmentalists are pleased with the anticipated $45 billion buyout of Texas-based energy giant TXU by an investment group - particularly the group's promise to scrap eight of TXU's proposed 11 coal-fired plants.

"What we're witnessing is the beginning of the end of investments in old-fashioned coal plants," said David Hawkins, a former top EPA official and head of Natural Resources Defense Council's climate program and the first environmental leader called by the buyers' group to help craft the green aspects of the deal. "These are very big investors coming to the energy table with very big ideas about where the competitive market is heading. Strategies to fight global warming and save energy are crucial for anyone hoping to succeed in today's electricity industry."

Arrangements with the two buyout firms, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group, go beyond the commitment to withdraw permit applications for eight of eleven pulverized coal power plants proposed in Texas.

The prospective owners say they will also support a mandatory nationwide limit on global warming emissions paired with a market-based emissions trading system, endorsing the position of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.

The new company would aim to limit its total CO2 emissions from its generating operations and reduce them over time, and pledge not to propose any additional traditional pulverized coal plants outside Texas.

The new investors also plan to invest $400 million in initiatives to help customers reduce their energy needs over the next five years.

"It's time for the financial industry to prohibit any further investments in new coal plants and infrastructure, and for Congress to mandate emissions reductions and offer incentives that would allow American ingenuity to help create a 21st-century energy plan that will make us proud," said Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Michael Brune. "The commitments by TXU's new owners should be binding, not voluntary, and the three Texas coal plants TXU still intends to build are three plants too many."

* * *

Reed Canarygrass Mellow in Europe, Aggressive in America

BURLINGTON, Vermont, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - A new study of reed canarygrass has led to the discovery of a novel mechanism that explains why some plant species become aggressive when introduced in new territory.

In its native European range, reed canarygrass does not push out other species or expanding its terrain. But, first introduced into the United States in the mid-19th century, it has run rampant, choking out native plants in wetlands. The grass is now considered an invasive pest in about ten states and its range is growing.

According to research published in the Feb. 27 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," the invasive power of this grass, comes not from any one individual plant, but from this history of multiple introductions from different regions of Europe.

Over decades, U.S. farmers and others have planted the grass as livestock feed, for erosion control, and for wastewater treatment, taking plants from places as far apart as France, the Czech Republic and Finland.

These multiple introductions, and subsequent interbreeding, create a kind of biological stacked deck, the researchers said. By drawing on genetic variety from across the European continent, new strains have emerged in the United States with higher genetic diversity and more potentially advantageous qualities than their species brethren across the Atlantic.

"It's not that you're taking the ones in France and moving them to the US and they're suddenly invasive," said study coauthor Jane Molofsky, associate professor of plant biology at the University of Vermont. "It's that you move some plants, and then you move some from somewhere else and they recombine here to form something better, genetic superstars."

This has significance far beyond the headache of reed canarygras, the researchers concluded, showing that invasive species can evolve extremely rapidly.

* * *

Targeting Barnyard Emissions

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - Improving control of ammonia emissions from large poultry and hog farms is more economical and efficient than trying to control the effects of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from some industrial plants, according to a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University.

"In most farms, handling of animal manure is a major source of ammonia being released both to air and water," said Peter Adams, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Our research shows that increased control of livestock feed, efficient use of nitrogen on farms, low-emission fertilizers and other improvements to manure handling on farms are cost-effective ways to reduce ammonia emissions and airborne particles."

The research, featured in the 2007 winter edition of "Environmental Science & Technology", shows that ammonia is a significant contributor to dangerous airborne particle concentrations along the eastern United States - concentrations that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deems hazardous to human health.

Essentially, people can smell ammonia in concentrations over five parts per million (ppm). And it starts to burn the eyes at 20 ppm.

"While you can only smell the high ammonia concentrations on or near a farm, the more serious health threat occurs further away as a complex set of chemical reactions occur in the atmosphere that convert ammonia into microscopic, airborne particles of ammonium nitrate. Better farming practices could decrease ammonia emissions from farms and potentially save farmers money," Adams said.

The potential savings from controlling ammonia manure emissions from farms is $8,000 per ton in the winter, Adams said, whereas targeting emissions from large power plants can cost millions.

* * *

Honeywell Fined $500,000 for Arizona HazWaste Violations

PHOENIX, Arizona, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - Honeywell International, Inc. will pay a $500,000 penalty under a consent judgment with the state of Arizona for hazardous waste violations in Mohave County.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, ADEQ, Director Steve Owens announced the settlement on Friday. The consent judgment is subject to court approval.

In September 2005, ADEQ inspectors discovered that the Honeywell Aircraft Landing Systems facility in Kingman, was operating two natural gas-fired hazardous waste thermal treatment units without the required hazardous waste treatment permit.

The facility is an repair and overhaul station for aircraft wheels and brakes certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I am committed to enforcing hazardous waste laws," Goddard said. "These laws protect our communities, and I will continue to seek penalties from companies that violate these laws."

Owens stated, "Arizona's hazardous waste laws and regulations were established for protection of the public and the environment. This penalty reflects the serious nature of the violations at Honeywell's Kingman facility."

ADEQ issued a Notice of Violation to Honeywell Kingman on November 15, 2005, for thermally treating its hazardous waste without a permit, failing to submit signed manifests, failing to properly label each container and tank as hazardous waste, failing to inform employees of proper handling and emergency procedures and failing to comply with personnel training requirements.

ADEQ also found that Honeywell was underreporting its hazardous waste, inaccurately classifying it as solid waste by using an incorrect regulatory level for cadmium, an element that may irritate the digestive tract, cause kidney disease and damage the lungs.

Cadmium stays in the body and can build up from many years of exposure to low levels of the heavy metal.

* * *

Feds Offer Rewards for Info in Bald Eagle Deaths

WASHINGTON, DC, February 27, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for killing two bald eagles in eastern Oklahoma and one bald eagle in eastern Washington state.

The bald eagle is America's national bird. Bald eagles are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They are also protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, both of which make killing a bald eagle a federal crime.

The Service is offering up to $2,500 reward for information in the eastern Oklahoma eagle deaths. The shooting of the two eagles is believed to be unrelated.

One of the dead bald eagles is an adult whose carcass was recovered in Adair County near Westville, Oklahoma on January 27, 2007. After examination, federal officials said a "clear bullet wound" was identified, indicating the bird was shot.

The second eagle was an immature bird whose carcass was recovered at Sumners Ferry boat ramp on the Arkansas River, near Gore, Oklahoma on February 5, 2007. An examination of this eagle by Service law enforcement revealed it had been shot.

Service Special Agent Jerry Monroe said the eagle carcasses are being sent to the Service's forensics laboratory for further examination. It is possible that evidence such as bullet fragments will be recovered from the carcasses.

Service investigators believe the perpetrators may have been seen. "We believe somebody in the areas where the bald eagles were killed has additional information that will help finalize this investigation," said Monroe.

Anyone with information about this or any other bald eagle killings in Oklahoma should contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement office at Edmond, Oklahoma at 405-715-0617. Officials said people providing information may either remain anonymous or be eligible for the reward.

Another adult bald eagle was found shot and killed January 23 near Prosser in Benton County, Washington.

State officials contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Office of Law Enforcement in Richland after road crews discovered the dead eagle along Griffin Road, south of the Johnson Road intersection. Forensic examination showed the eagle had been shot.

This shooting is one of numerous eagle shootings in eastern Washington in recent years.

Service special agents are investigating, and a reward of up to $1,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of those responsible. Anyone with information about this eagle's death is asked to call Special Agent Corky Roberts at 509/375-6202.

* * *