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AmeriScan: January 3, 2005

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Earthquake Zone Like Asia's Right Off U.S. West Coast

CORVALLIS, Oregon, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The newest studies on the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of the Pacific Northwest have identified what scientists at Oregon State University call a "clustering" of great earthquakes of the type that would cause a major tsunami. The research yields a historical record with two different implications.

"The Cascadia Subduction Zone has the longest recorded data about its earthquakes of any major fault in the world," said Chris Goldfinger, an associate professor of marine geology at Oregon State University (OSU) and one of the leading experts on this fault zone.

"So we know quite a bit about the periodicity of this fault zone and what to expect. But the key point we don't know is whether the current cluster of earthquake activity is over yet, or does it have another event left in it."

This subduction zone has just experienced a cluster of four massive earthquakes during the past 1600 years, and if historical trends continue, this cluster could be over and the zone may already have entered a long quiet period of 500 to 1,000 years, which appears to be common following a cluster of earthquake events.

But it is possible that the current cluster of earthquakes may have one or more events left in it – some clusters within the past 10,000 years have had clusters of up to five events – and within a cluster, the average time interval between earthquakes is 300 years. Since the last major Cascadia earthquake occurred in the year 1700, the next event may well be imminent.

According to Goldfinger, there are only two places in the United States with active subduction zones, or major areas where one of the Earth's great plates are being subducted, or forced underneath the other. One is in Alaska, the site of the great earthquake of 1964. The other is the Cascadia zone, a 600 mile long fault zone that runs from Cape Mendocino in California to Vancouver Island in southern British Columbia.

The two most recent major earthquakes on this fault occurred in the year 1700 and approximately the year 1500, Goldfinger said. Those two events were only 200 years apart, and it has now been 305 years since the last one.

Major studies have been done on this fault zone, many of them at OSU, and they have identified 19 to 21 major earthquake events during the past 10,000 years.

During at least 17 of these events, the entire fault zone appears to have ruptured at once, causing an earthquake around magnitude 9, and major tsunamis.

"There's some variation in intensity, the last event in 1700 appeared to be about average," Goldfinger said. "To track these events we use radiocarbon dating of deposits of sand called turbidites, which come from marine landslides. These deep-sea cores give us a pretty accurate picture of when and where an earthquake event happened."

According to Goldfinger, there are remarkable geologic parallels between what just happened in East Asia and what could happen in the Pacific Northwest. The Asian event happened where the India plate was being subducted beneath the Burma microplate, and it ruptured – for the first time since 1833 - along a 600 mile front that is just about the same length as the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

That earthquake happened as the Indian plate moved towards the northeast beneath Asia, just like the Juan de Fuca plate is in the Pacific Northwest before it disappears beneath the North American plate.

Another OSU scientist says Native American stories tell of a severe tsunami. "From northern California to Vancouver, B.C., the Native American stories tell of battles between gods along the coast, whales carried over the land and dropped, rivers becoming salty during the flood, and canoes thrown into trees," says Ray Weldon, who researches and teaches about of geologic hazards.

Weldon, who has lived in Indonesia and has relatives in Thailand, says the Asian tragedy brings home the need for U.S. coastal residents and tourists to learn about and take precautions against tsunamis.

"For an earthquake as strong as the one that hit southeast Asia, the shaking at the Oregon coast would last for up to 90 seconds and be great enough to cause significant damage and loss of life," he says. "Most significantly, a tsunami will arrive at the coast as soon as minutes following the shaking to within a half-hour."

The question, Goldfinger says, is not whether or not the Cascadia Subduction Zone will break again, but when.

To view maps of Oregon communities at risk for tsunamis, go to http://sarvis.dogami.state.or.us/earthquakes/Coastal/Tsumaps.HTM. Links to more information about Oregon's tsunami warning system, mitigation efforts and details about historic earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest are available at the website for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, http://www.oregongeology.com/earthquakes/Coastal/TsunamiIntro.htm.

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Tanker That Fouled Delaware River Headed for Repairs

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The oil tanker Athos I left the Grows Terminal in Morrisville, Pennsylvania on Thursday, with a temporary patch on her hull. The vessel responsible for one of the worst oil spills in Delaware River history is enroute to Atlantic Marine Inc. in Mobile, Alabama for permanent repairs.

On Friday, November 26, 2004, at 9:15 pm, the 750 foot, single hull tanker, registered under the flag of Cyprus, was reported to be leaking oil into the Delaware River en route to its terminal at the CITGO asphalt refinery in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

Two punctures in the tanker's hull - one foot by two foot and one foot by six foot in size - were later confirmed by U.S. Coast Guard divers, and now appear to have been caused by a 15 foot curved piece of submerged pipe located 700 feet from the CITGO dock.

An undetermined amount of heavy Venezuelan crude oil spilled into the river and spread along 126 miles of shoreline. The oil impacted the tidal portion of the Delaware River from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, which links northeast Philadelphia, to Palmyra, New Jersey, south to the northern Atlantic shoreline of Delaware and the southern Atlantic shoreline of New Jersey.

Officials from the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could not place an exact figure on the amount of oil spilled, but they said on December 1, 2004 that some 473,500 gallons of oil were unaccounted for.

Oil recovery operations on the Delaware River will continue throughout the winter months, but the Coast Guard says cleanup progress is expected to be slowed due to harsh weather conditions.

Over 1,700 responders are working in the command center and along the Delaware River, and 83 vessels are deployed in the response effort.

The Coast Guard says that 49,695 gallons of oil and oily liquid and 1,817 gallons of submerged oil have been recovered from the river, and 4,573 tons of oily solids (cleanup materials and oil) have been collected.

According to the Coast Guard, 23 waterfront facilities have been "grossly decontaminated" to date.

In addition, 22 percent of the impacted shoreline has been grossly decontaminated.

Experts report 257 birds have been cleaned; 155 birds have been released and 162 birds are reported to have died as a result of the spill.

Oil now affects about 57 miles of shoreline from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to south of the Smyrna River in Delaware, mainly light patches of oil and a very light sheen.

The incident is still under investigation, and officials say obtaining final results of the investigation could take several months.

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New Rules Imposed on Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Discharges

WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a Final National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit for discharges from oil and gas extraction activities in the eastern portion of the Outer Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.

The permit became effective on January 1. It authorizes discharges from offshore oil and gas exploration, development and production facilities located in, and discharging to, all federal waters of the eastern portion of the Gulf.

“This oil and gas permit provides for the highest level of protection ever required under a general permit for the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jimmy Palmer, EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta. “It establishes more stringent limits on specific pollutants. The development of this permit considered the concerns of all interested parties. EPA is committed to protecting sensitive environments.”

Three permitting options were considered. Alternative A was the issuance of a general permit to include limits and permit conditions addressing the use of non-aqueous-based drilling fluids for existing new sources in areas in the general permitting coverage area.

Alternative B was the issuance of a general permit that is unchanged from the previous general permit, which did not include permit limits and/or conditions pertaining to the use of synthetic-based drilling fluids, and Alternative C was no issuance of any general permit. Alternative A, EPA’s preferred alternative, has been found to be what the EPA terms "adequately protective of the offshore marine environment."

The general permit is protective of state coastal waters as well as federal waters, Palmer said. To comply with the federal consistency provision of the Coastal Zone Management Act, the permit requires that a permit applicant must provide evidence that the proposed oil and gas extraction project has received a determination of consistency from the state where it is located before the EPA will grant a permit.

The public review of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) and proposed general permit did not reveal any additional significant adverse impacts not addressed in the statement, the EPA said.

Although the present knowledge of the fate and effects of synthetic-based drilling fluids (SBFs) is considered adequate, an understanding of the long-term impacts of the use of these fluids will only come from ongoing study, the agency admitted.

If new pertinent technical information becomes available, that data would be evaluated by the EPA relative to the present limitations and conditions of the general permit. To facilitate this, a re-opener condition is included in the permit.

General permit coverage for all permittees under the previous general permit will end on January 30. days from the effective date of this permit, and permittees must submit to the EPA a new Notice of Intent to apply for the new permit.

The final NPDES general permit includes best conventional pollutant control technology and best available technology economically achievable limitations for existing sources and New Source Performance Standards limitations for new sources.

The final permit and the amendment to the fact sheet are online at: www.epa.gov/region4/water/permits/

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Energy Department Awards $21 Million for Nuclear Research

WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The Bush administration is pumping an additional $21 million into nuclear energy research. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has announced 35 research awards to U.S. universities totaling $21 million over three years to further the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, the Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative and the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative.

The Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative is transmutation of spent nuclear fuel, an effort conceived in two phases. The first emphasizes advanced technical enhancements to the current commercial nuclear power infrastructure by reducing the volume of spent nuclear fuel requiring placement in a geologic repository through extraction of uranium.

The second phase would require the introduction of next generation nuclear energy systems to reduce the toxicity of nuclear waste.

"Successful implementation of these technologies would enable the United States to reclaim the significant energy value contained in spent fuel and significantly reduce the need for a second U.S. repository," John Herczeg of the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology told a meeting of his Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) colleagues in 2002.

"The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has invested over US$100 million in transmutation research and development over the past three years," he said then.

Generation IV nuclear systems are a group of nuclear reactor technologies that could be deployed by 2030. The DOE says they represent improvements in economics, safety and reliability and sustainability over currently operating reactor technologies.

The goal of the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative is to demonstrate the economic commercial scale production of hydrogen using nuclear energy by 2015 through thermochemical "cracking” of water, using water and high temperature heat as the process inputs. Several other processes are being piloted including high-temperature electrolysis of water.

The Energy Department has restructured its Nuclear Energy Research Initiative to provide U.S. universities with the opportunity to participate directly in the agency’s priority efforts to develop the nuclear technologies that Abraham says "could pave the way to an economy that relies less on imported fossil fuels and will allow the nation to meet its long-term environmental goals."

The awards announced December 23 are the first to result from what Abraham says is a new approach to peer-reviewed nuclear technology research and development. They are intended to engage students and professors in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) major nuclear energy research and development programs.

“This vitally important research will benefit both our advanced technology development efforts and our academic system to have America’s best and brightest students and professors work with us to conduct this challenging research,” Abraham said. “The awards we announce today will bring us a step closer to a better, more secure energy future and also help develop the scientists and engineers that will keep the United States at the forefront of technology well into the future.”

But environmentalists are not convinced that nuclear development will produce a more secure energy future. "Nuclear power can neither address our short-term energy problems, nor can it effectively combat global climate change," says Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a Washington, DC anti-nuclear advocacy group.

"We need to implement cost-effective energy efficiency solutions and to invest in the technologies of the 21st century," he says.

The 35 projects were selectedfrom 160 proposals from universities all over the United States. The selected projects will be conducted at 25 U.S. universities in 22 different states. Many of the participants represent institutions that have not participated in DOE nuclear technology programs in recent years.

The DOE will now enter into negotiations with the 25 universities selected to reach final cooperative agreement terms including award dates.

The research projects and additional information on other DOE nuclear science and engineering educational initiatives that are sponsored by the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology are available at www.nuclear.gov.

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Catawba Indian Nation Signs Environmental Agreement With EPA

WASHINGTON, DC, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The Catawba Indian Nation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have signed a Tribe/EPA Environmental Agreement, only the second one signed between the federal government and any Tribal government in the Eastern United States.

The intent of the agreement, signed late last month, is to help the Tribe develop the capacity to overcome environmental problems, protect surface waters for traditional practices such as fishing, improve drinking water services, monitor both indoor and outdoor air quality, and promote economic and social development in an environmental friendly manner.

The agreement describes the working relationship between the Tribe and EPA in language specific enough for planning purposes, but general enough to allow either party flexibility in meeting important goals.

For instance, the Tribe is planning to test homes for the presence of radon, a colorless, odorless naturally occurring gas that can enter homes through the foundation. Long-term exposure to high levels of radon may cause serious health effects, including lung cancer. Radon is responsible for thousands of cancer related deaths each year in the United States. The agreement allows the Tribe discretion as to when and how this testing will be done.

“This is the first time the Catawba Indian Nation and EPA have written down where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as a team,” said Catawba Chief Gilbert Blue.

“This agreement, only the second one signed between the Federal government and any Tribal Government in the Eastern United States, is historic,” said Jimmy Palmer, regional administrator of EPA Region 4, “and will provide a blueprint for action for our respective governments.”

Blue said, “Jimmy Palmer and I have been talking about the need for such an agreement for some time. It is now a reality.”

The Catawba Indian Nation consists of 2,800 members, many of whom live on 700 acres of Tribal land located near Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Tribe received federal recognition in 1993 and has been operating as a sovereign governmental entity since that time.

The Tribe’s current environmental functions include monitoring the quality of drinking water and the air environment, managing the indoor air environment, and collecting and disposing of solid waste.

Employees of the Tribe’s Department of Planning and Development are also active on local, state and national environmental councils and groups, studying new ways of protecting the environment and improving public health.

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Dry Cleaning Chemical Found in East Norriton Wells

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun to provide bottled water to residents whose wells are contaminated by a dry cleaning chemical. The contamination has been found in groundwater and residential wells in the Rahway Avenue area of East Norriton, Pennsylvania, over 200 times the legal limit in several cases.

The water is being provided because sampling by the Montgomery County Health Department (MCHD) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) revealed perchloroetheylene, or perc, in the water in some residential wells. Perc is an ingredient used in dry cleaning processes and machine degreasers.

“When EPA became aware of the problem, we offered to assist Pennsylvania in any way we could. Protecting public health is our top priority and when the state asks for our help, we respond,” said EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh.

So far PADEP and MCHD have tested 35 home wells. Results from those wells range from non-detect, to about 1120 parts per billion (ppb). EPA’s safe drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level for PCE is five ppb.

Health advisories from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Pennsylvania Department of Health, and MCHD recommend drinking bottled water until the contamination is addressed. Using well water for showering, dishwashing and cooking should be fine, as long as the cooking water is not ingested.

EPA and PADEP and East Norriton Township are working to identify all homes in the Rahway Avenue area with private drinking water wells. The agencies are contacting property owners in this area to test their wells for contamination, and to provide bottled water. Further investigation will be conducted to determine the extent and the source of the contamination.

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Alaska's Kensington Gold Mine Gets Go Ahead

JUNEAU, Alaska, January 3, 2004 (ENS) - A gold mine is once again in the works for a site 45 miles north of downtown Juneau. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released by the U.S. Forest Service late last month concludes that the Kensignton gold mine can be developed with minimal environmental impacts.

The EIS was preparted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Alaska’s Departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation, and Fish and Game prepared the EIS.

The Kensington mine already has been approved and permitted twice - once in 1992 and again in 1997. Since then, the company changed its plans to lower capital and operating costs, said Rich Richins, vice president of mine developer Coeur Alaska.

The EIS evaluates four development alternatives for the mine project, including the development plan that was originally permitted in 1997. Coeur Alaska received permits to operate the mine in 1997, but changed its mine plans and re-applied in 2001. Coeur’s latest proposal would move the mine’s facilities closer to Berners Bay, allowing the daily transport of workers from Juneau by ferry across the bay.

The proposed underground mine contains approximately 1.9 million ounces of gold, and would employ about 250 workers for at least 10 years.

Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski welcomed the positive EIS. “This action by the Forest Service today represents a major step in our efforts to see the Kensington mine open and workers on the job,” said the governor. “Kensington will be one of the most significant resource development projects undertaken in Southeast Alaska in many years and demonstrates this administration’s efforts to revitalize the economy of Alaska through responsible resource development."

“State and federal agencies have been working cooperatively to complete the EIS. The result is a thorough evaluation which clearly shows the mine can be developed with minimal effects on the environment,” Murkowski said.

But some Juneau residents who attended a public meeting about the Kensington Mine last February say they did not get a fair opportunity to voice their concerns.

Some worry about the proposed tailings disposal in Lower Slate Lake. "I don't think just because you put a dam in front of a creek that you can dump the mine waste into the creek," Juneau resident Aaron Brakel told the "Juneau Empire" just after the meeting.

But now the EIS will now be used to guide state and federal agencies as they finish the permitting process. Agencies are expected to make decisions on the issuance of mine permits in the coming months. Murkowski says the state will continue to work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Marine Fisheries Service to resolve any remaining concerns they have over permitting issues.

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Imperiled Mexican Parrots Seized by Customs and Repatriated

SAN DIEGO, California, January 3, 2005 (ENS) - Ninety rare parrots, smuggled into the United States for the black market pet trade, were returned to Mexico by federal authorities on December 20, 2004, at Otay Mesa, south of San Diego on the U.S./Mexico border.

The parrots, which were recovered during two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigations of bird trafficking, are species native only to Mexico that are protected under international treaty as well as U.S. and Mexican law.

"We were pleased to send these birds home where they belong and hope they may eventually thrive again in the wild," said Kevin Adams, who heads the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. "Their recovery in the United States and return to Mexico reflects a shared commitment to wildlife conservation in both countries."

The Service works with Mexican authorities, including that country's Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (PROFEPA), and with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to police wildlife trade along the border and uphold wildlife protection laws and treaties.

"Such enforcement partnerships were essential to rescuing the repatriated birds from the illegal trade," Adams said. The birds, which included 68 lilac crowned Amazon parrots and 22 red headed Amazon parrots, were among those seized in two separate foiled smuggling attempts earlier this year that involved interagency assistance. Prosecutions in both cases are being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego.

In one incident, the defendant, who has pleaded guilty to smuggling and wildlife trafficking charges, was under surveillance by Service special agents before his arrest. CBP inspectors stopped the suspect at the San Ysidro border crossing on August 28 as he was returning from an overnight trip to Mexico; they discovered 128 birds hidden in the side panels and under the rear seats of his pickup truck.

ICE agents assisted the Service with its investigation of the subject, who eventually admitted smuggling birds on as many as 20 occasions. Birds seized at the time of his arrest included 48 lilac crowned Amazons as well as orange-fronted conures, cardinals, and mockingbirds.

In the second case, CBP stopped a Los Angeles resident returning from Mexico via Otay Mesa on October 30, 2004. The man had 45 parrots, including lilac-crowned and red-headed Amazons, concealed behind the rear seat of his car. He pleaded guilty to in late December. Both defendants await sentencing.

Of the birds seized in the two investigations, 90 were available for repatriation. As officials at the repatriation event pointed out, parrots and other wild birds remain a target for smugglers, despite efforts to meet consumer demand for these exotic pets through captive breeding. Illegal trade and loss of habitat have depleted wild populations.

Bird smuggling also represents a potential threat to the health of poultry and people. Wild-caught parrots may carry psittacosis, which can infect humans, and exotic Newcastle disease, a rapidly transmitted avian virus that spreads easily to poultry. An outbreak in the fall of 2002 forced the destruction of more than three million chickens in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Federal regulations require that all imported wild birds, including parrots, spend a minimum of 30 days in USDA quarantine facilities - like the one in Otay Mesa - after they arrive in this country. Smuggled birds typically bypass this health screening. The birds returned to Mexico on Monday all completed the required quarantine period after being seized by the Service.

Both lilac crowned and red headed Amazons are among the more than 300 parrot species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The red headed Amazon parrot is listed on CITES Appendix I, a level of protection reserved for species facing an immediate threat of extinction. All commercial trade of wild Appendix I species is prohibited.

Although the lilac-crowned Amazon had been listed for many years on CITES Appendix II - a level of protection that allows commercial trade with permits - CITES nations agreed this fall that increased protections requested by Mexico were needed for the species. Commercial trade of these wild birds will be prohibited beginning in April.



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