AmeriScan: January 12, 2005

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Hawaii Tsunami Warning Center Did All It Could

HONOLULU, Hawaii, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on the island of Oahu did all it could to warn the Indian Ocean countries of the impending tidal wave from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on December 26, said Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who visited the center Tuesday.

More than 150,000 people perished in the giant waves that destroyed coastal areas in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean. It was the first tsunami wave in the region in living memory, and those countries have no tsunami warning systems in place.

Scientists at the Pacific Tsumani Warning Center in Hawaii, who were aware of the earthquake and resulting tsunami within an hour of their occurance, have been criticized by officials of the affected Asian countries for not doing more to warn them.

"I'm here today basically to thank and congratulate the employees of the Pacific Tsumani Warning Center for their excellent response to the Indian Ocean event that we've just had," Lautenbacher told a news conference. "I'm proud to show off this operation center, which is the heartbeat of our network to warn Hawaii as well nations around the Pacific Rim of potential tsunami events that may generate from earthquakes."

Lautenbacher, who did his doctoral thesis on tsunamis, said the scientists in Hawaii handled the warning very well. "It went according to the procedures that are in place, and they were able to get out a bulletin within 15 minutes or so that there was no event in the Pacific Ocean and the event that had occurred wouldn't endanger the people that have signed up to be part of this warning system."

Responding to critics who said the Hawaii center could have done more, Lautenbacher said, "The only warning system that the world has agreed to set up is this one in the Pacific Ocean that the United States funds and manages today. There are no sensors in the Indian Ocean to tell if a tsunami has been generated."

"It takes two people to make a warning work. It takes the people who send it and the people who receive it," the NOAA administrator said. "Here the rapid warning system is to put it on the satellite information system that provides weather warnings and dangers around the world."

"What we do is provide the front end. We broadcast it, and the other side has to be set up to receive it. If they're not set up to receive it, if they don't have people on station to perform that mission, then obviously the warning will not work."

But Dr. Charles McCreery, the center's director, said Tuesday that scientists there did not learn of the tsunami until several hours later when they read news reports on the Internet about it striking Sri Lanka. "We didn't know anything even after the waves hit Thailand," he said.

Lautenbacher said the NOAA tsunami warning system for the Pacific has recently been upgraded. "We now have six new technology buoys in the open ocean that give us the ability to detect tsunami waves on the ocean itself instead of waiting for the tsunami to hit land somewhere where a gauge might be."

The NOAA administrator said his agency has plans to improve the tsunami warning system for the United States, the Pacific Rim and around the world. "President [George W.] Bush made a strong statement that the world needs to have a warning system. We certainly have the expertise and the experience starting at the heartland of this center to provide that expertise and help for the world."

Lautenbacher said U.S. experts will be participating in the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan next week.

The United States is also an originator and supporter of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems that will integrate the data from thousands of individual pieces of technology owned by dozens of countries that are gathering environmental information from around the Earth.

Lautenbacher is one of four co-chairs of the Group on Earth Observations that is organizing the System of Systems. The framework of a 10 year implementation plan was agreed last year, and on February 16, the plan will be presented to ministers of 53 countries and 33 international organizations for their signatures at the third global Earth Observation Summit in Brussels, Belgium.

"That holds great promise for the future of hooking together the thousands of sensors not only for tsunami warning but for other issues of environmental warning and disaster reduction, as well as agriculture, energy, water quality, air quality, tourism, transportation - all of the issues that depend on having good, sound environmental information available for decision makers and available for scientists."

Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska also toured the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center Tuesday, but he declined to meet with the media. Stevens, a Republican, is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a position that puts him third in the line of succession for the presidency, after Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Pacific Tsumani Warning Center in Hawaii and the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska are the operational centers of the 24 hour U.S. tsunami warning system for the Pacific Rim.

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La Conchita Landslide Death Toll Rises to Six

SANTA BARBARA, California, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - Six people are now confirmed to have died in the landslide that covered much of the small coastal town of La Conchita Monday afternoon.

Heavy rains that persisted for days soaked the steep hillside above the town of 260 until it broke away and crashed into the houses below. Thirteen people are still missing, and rescue workers dug carefully through the debris starting just after midnight Tuesday morning in an attempt to locate survivors. No survivors have been rescued.

Ventura County officials say that out of the approximately 156 homes in La Conchita, 14 have been destroyed, and 16 homes are damaged. The town was evacuated, and residents are still being told to stay away, although 18 people refused to obey the evacuation order.

Further inland, the town of Lake Piru was also evacuated Monday to safeguard residents from a spillover of the Santa Felicia Dam. But on Tuesday morning the danger had passed and the evacuation order was lifted, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks said.

The heavy rains in the Southern California area have ceased and the forecast today is for clear weather. Still, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) advised state and federal agencies about the continuing possibility of landslides and debris flows in seven counties of southern California - San Diego, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara.

The USGS warned that these counties are likely to experience landslides in the next 24 hours.

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Water Discharged by Puerto Rican Power Plant Too Hot

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to deny a request by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for a waiver from the temperature limits for cooling water that it discharges from its South Coast Power plant. The agency has determined that the discharge has the potential to harm aquatic life.

Under its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, the oil-fired South Coast Power plant, located within the municipality of Guayanilla in southern Puerto Rico, is authorized to take in seawater from Guayanilla Bay, as well as discharge wastewater and storm water back into the bay.

"High temperatures can harm important species and the ecosystem," said Kathleen Callahan, EPA Acting Regional Administrator. "EPA will work with PREPA to ensure it meets the temperature requirement set by the Commonwealth."

Under the Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit regulations establish effluent limitations and monitoring requirements to protect human health and the environment.

At the South Coast plant, an average of 870 million gallons per day of cooling water, and trace amounts of wastewater and storm water are discharged through an open canal into a small cove and then into Guayanilla Bay. The temperature of the discharge does not meet Puerto Rico's water quality standards for temperature.

PREPA operates four large power plants that discharge cooling water under the terms of EPA issued NPDES permits. PREPA has thermal variances pending at all four plants. The proposed decision on the South Coast plant permit is the first of the four.

EPA says that PREPA has begun an analysis of the options for addressing the temperature standard requirement.

EPA will renew the required NPDES permit, allowing PREPA to continue discharging, but PREPA must do so at a temperature not exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The NPDES permit also requires that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available to protect aquatic organisms from being killed or injured by being pinned against screens or other parts of the intake structure. The permit also sets requirements to prevent aquatic life from being drawn into cooling water systems and subjected to thermal, physical or chemical stresses.

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Las Vegas, Phoenix Meet Air Standard for Carbon Monoxide

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - Over the past five years, the Las Vegas Valley, which includes the Clark County cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson, has met the federal public health standards for carbon monoxide, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Monday.

"The hard work by Nevada and Clark County in achieving the federal public health standards means cleaner air for the Las Vegas Valley," said Deborah Jordan, director of the air division for the EPA's Pacific Southwest office.

Las Vegas may meet the standards for colorless, odorless carbon monoxide, but the air still shows high levels of particulate matter from blowing dust raised by the construction projects constantly going up across the valley.

"The County has made great strides in reducing carbon monoxide and we will all continue to work together to help reduce other pollutants such as particulate matter," said Jordan.

"This is good news for us, and an important step along the way toward our goal of achieving cleaner air for the Valley" said Christine Robinson, director of Clark County's Department of Air Quality and Environmental Management. "Our efforts to deal with this pollutant are working, and amount to a real success story for everyone who lives in Clark County."

The EPA requires that Clark County test the air for carbon monoxide continuously - 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The county analyzes carbon monoxide air samples collected at eight monitoring stations throughout the area. The area met the standards when the air was measured over eight-hour and one-hour periods.

The county's air quality improvements can be attributed to better controls on motor vehicle emissions, cleaner burning fuels, and an enhanced vehicle inspection and maintenance program.

Last week, the agency's regional administrator for Phoenix, Arizona announced that the Phoenix metropolitan area has met the federal health standard for carbon monoxide for the past seven years. "Meeting the carbon monoxide standards will translate into fewer hospital visits and overall improved public respiratory health for Phoenix residents," Wayne Nastri told the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce 2005 Environmental Preview Conference.

After the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments setting the standards, the Phoenix area did not meet the moderate carbon monoxide standard by the Dec.ember 31, 1995 deadline. In 1996, the EPA reclassified the area as having a serious carbon monoxide problem.

The Phoenix area has not violated the federal carbon monoxide standard in the last seven years, despite its growth into one of the country's major metropolitan areas. The EPA also approved the state's plan that shows how the region will continue to maintain healthy levels of carbon monoxide in the area.

"We will continue working with stakeholders to address additional regional air pollutants, such as coarse particulate matter and ozone, for all Phoenix residents," said Nastri.

Carbon monoxide is produced when fuel is burned inefficiently. Exposure to elevated levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of depth perception and manual dexterity as well as fatigue, chest pains and breathing difficulties. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with asthma are especially susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide pollution.

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Radon Testing Encouraged This Month

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - January is National Radon Action Month in the United States, and the U.s. Environmental Proection Agency (EPA) says this is a good time to test a home for radon - a radioactive gas that causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

Radon is the second leading cause of cancer, after smoking, and recent European tests show the two together are much riskier than exposure to either smoke or radon alone. Smokers are at a 25 times greater risk of lung cancer from radon than non-smokers, the most comprehensive test ever done in Europe showed earlier this month.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It is harmless when dispersed into outdoor air. But when it becomes trapped inside buildings, it can be harmful at elevated levels.

Radon typically moves up through the ground through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Any home can have a radon problem, whether it is new or old, well-sealed or drafty, with or without a basement.

Testing for radon is the only way to know if it is present as it is colorless and odorless. The EPA says winter is the best time to conduct a test because doors and windows are sealed tight against the cold, which ensures a more accurate radon reading.

Radon test kits are easy to use and inexpensive. “With all the damage our home experienced from the fall floods, maintaining good indoor air quality was important. The radon test kit was simple to use and the results provided peace of mind that our home was radon free,” said Judith Katz, director of the EPA’s regional Air Protection Division.

The EPA recommends that the radon test be conducted in the lowest livable level of the home, such as the basement, during the colder months of the year. Tests can also be taken during other times of the year if windows and doors have been closed for 12 hours prior to testing.

EPA recommends that houses with radon levels of four picocuries or more of radon should be vented to prevent accumulation of the gas indoors.

Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction, but the EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to limit radon entry. Sealing alone has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently.

In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon. These systems do not require major changes to ahome, but they prevent radon gas from entering from below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation.

The cost of making repairs depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problems, the EPA says. To learn more about how to receive a discounted radon home test kit or for more information about radon, and how to contact your state radon office, go to , or call 1-800-SOS-Radon.

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Montana Postpones Bison Hunt to November

HELENA, Montana, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission agreed Monday to postpone the hunting season for bison in southwestern Montana that was set to begin Saturday.

Commissioners stressed they were not opposed to hunting bison and directed the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department (FWP) to continue to address bison hunting options with the expectation a three-month hunting season over a larger area of southwestern Montana would be held next fall and winter.

Such a hunt would be expected to run November 15 through February 15, 2006. The hunt approved late last year was to run for 30 days and only in an area north of Gardiner.

The Commission decided Tuesday to enter the more than 8,300 applicants in a drawing for 10 bison hunting licenses that could be used for a hunting season beginning in November.

Via conference call the commission voted 3-2 to conduct the drawing, and it was conducted Tuesday. The $3 fees will be refunded to all unsuccessful applicants at an estimated cost loss of $25,000 in drawing fees and an additional cost of $20,000 to do the refund.

"The commissioners indicated that it is their intent to move forward with a bison hunt in the fall," said FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim. "The 10 successful applicants would be offered the opportunity to obtain a license for the anticipated 2005-06 season."

The intent of the 2003 law authorizing a bison hunt is to allow Montana hunters to harvest wild, free-roaming bison under fair chase conditions and to reduce damage to private property by altering bison behavior and distribution, the FWP said.

Officials said the hunt is not expected to regulate bison populations. Population regulation will continue to be handled through the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

The Buffalo Field Campaign, a bison conservation group that has campaigned to stop the hunt, was "happy" over the decision not to hold a hunt this season.

"The buffalo are not in the clear by a long shot," the Buffalo Field Campaign said. "While the hunt is cancelled for this year, the buffalo are still under attack because the current management plan that allows for the hazing, capture, test-and-slaughter of our last wild buffalo continues."

Public bison hunts take place in Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. In Montana, the last public bison hunt took place in 1990.

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Locke Leaves Washington With Columbia River Initiative

OLYMPIA, Washington, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - In one of his last actions as Governor of Washington state, Gary Locke signed an agreement with state and tribal officials that will allow the state to obtain a intermittent releases of water from Lake Roosevelt, when needed, from April to August each year.

Locke signed the Lake Roosevelt agreement with Colville Tribal Chairman Joe Pakootas and state Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings on January 4.

The outgoing two-term governor, a Democrat, will hand the keys to the governor's mansion to incoming Governor Christine Gregoire today. Gregoire, also a Democrat, won the post by 129 votes only after a hand recount of all ballots cast in the state.

The agreement with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation is an important component of Locke’s Columbia River Initiative, a new proposal for managing Columbia River water resources for the next 20 years.

“The Columbia River is under significant pressure to provide electricity, supply water for municipal growth, irrigate crops and nurture salmon at the beginning and end of their lives,” Locke said. “Through this agreement, the state and Colville Tribes are pledging to help manage the river in a sustainable way that benefits us all.”

Lake Roosevelt is the reservoir created by Grand Coulee Dam, and forms the southern and eastern boundary of the Colville Reservation. The agreement addresses the effects a new lake drawdown may have on tribal resources, including water supplies, lake fisheries, cultural resources, power revenues, exposure of lakebed contamination and potential harm to other tribal resources.

“Lake Roosevelt is an important resource to the Colville Tribes, and we have a very strong interest in any activity that affects it,” Pakootas said. “Grand Coulee Dam profoundly changed our way of life. We are pleased the state recognized this and approached us in such a positive manner regarding the new drawdown.”

Under the agreement, water will be released from the lake to support downstream fisheries, irrigation and municipalities, and to ease the effects of drought. The amount of water released will range from up to 82,500 acre-feet (1 foot of lake elevation) during a normal year to no more than 132,500-acre-feet (1.65 feet of lake elevation) during a drought year.

“This new agreement not only offsets further impacts to the Colville Tribes, but also recognizes a meaningful role for the Colville Tribes in Columbia River management policy,” Pakootas said.

On December 17, 2004 the governor unveiled a plan calling for the investment of $79 million over the next 10 years to improve water conservation, develop new water storage capacity, and acquire water for economic and environmental purposes in the Columbia Basin.

Also in December, the governor signed an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), to secure water to jumpstart the Columbia River water management program.

The state’s agreement with the Colville Tribes will make water stored in Lake Roosevelt and managed by USBR available to farmers whose rights now may be interrupted during drought and for new and future municipal uses. A portion also would be dedicated to improving river flows for fish migration.

The state Department of Ecology has filed a rule proposal to govern how the regulatory portion of the water management program would be implemented. More information on the proposal, agreements, and information on the economic and science studies supporting the plan is online at:

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Oceana to Launch Conservation Catamaran

MARINA DEL REY, California, January 12, 2005 (ENS) - On Friday morning, one of the largest catamarans in the world will be launched as the latest conservation ship to document the problems facing the world's oceans. The catamaran is a project of the international marine conservation organization Oceana, based in Washington, DC.

Actor and activist Ted Danson will christen the 71 foot catamaran The Ranger, and on Saturday the ship will depart on Oceana’s first transoceanic expedition, planned as a five month voyage of 11,000 nautical miles.

The double-hulled ship is expected to travel from California to Central America, Africa and Europe in 2005, stopping in key marine biodiversity hostpots in a dozen countries, documenting marine wildlife and habitat and exposing the effects of pollution and destructive industrial fishing on the oceans, Oceana says.

The catamaran was built in 1986 for Seventh Day Adventists as a hospital ship. Oceana says it was built as a workhorse of the ocean - safe, tough, reliable, comfortable and inexpensive to operate. The ship has crossed the Pacific a dozen times on medical and church missions before Oceana purchased it.