AmeriScan: January 19, 2005

* * *

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Named as UNICEF Chief

NEW YORK, New York, January 19, 2005 (ENS) – Outgoing U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was named Tuesday as the new executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who announced Veneman’s appintment, said her "extensive experience as well as her personal commitment to UNICEF's values and mission, make her an eminently suitable person to lead UNICEF."

With more than 7,000 people working in 157 countries, the 58-year old agency is the world's leading body addressing the needs of youngsters, ranging from running massive child immunization campaigns to mobilizing urgent aid in unexpected emergencies such as last month’s devastating Indian Ocean tsunami.

Veneman "has focused strongly on new ways of feeding the hungry around the world - thus making an important contribution to the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals,” Annan said. “And she has been a long-term and steadfast supporter of programs to advance the welfare of children, both at home and abroad.”

The secretary general cited Veneman's establishment of the "Leaders of Tomorrow" initiative to strengthen education programs to foster the next generation of agricultural leadership.

Annan also praised her work to share American expertise with other nations to help them improve their own nutrition.

Venenam promised “results not rhetoric, benefits not banalities” in the search for solutions to the plight of children around the world.

“Children today must face issues that no child, no human being should have to confront – malnutrition and hunger, illiteracy and disease, especially the scourge of HIV/AIDS, exploitation and suffering, wars and natural disasters,” Veneman said. “The challenges are imposing, but there is also a vast reservoir of will to solve them. I am committed to tapping into that potential.”

On May 1, Veneman will replace the current Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who is completing her second five year term.

* * *

White House Neighborhood to Be Planted with Elms

WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2004 (ENS) - The green bleachers now covering the sidewalks in front of the White House for the Inaugural Parade Thursday will soon make way for a small forest of elm trees.

The planting of 88 Princeton American elms along Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th to 17th streets planned for spring will be one of the largest U.S. elm plantings in decades. Planting of the disease resistant variety will mark a milestone in the 75 year effort to combat Dutch elm disease that killed nearly 100 million elms since its accidental introduction to the U.S. in the early 1930s.

First Lady Laura Bush spoke of the trees at November ceremonies to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue to pedestrians, saying she is proud to carry on the White House elm planting tradition begun in 1826 by President John Quincy Adams.

"President John Quincy Adams was very fond of the American elm, and a tree that he planted in 1826 graced the southeast lawn of the White House until 1990," Laura Bush said. "A year later, Barbara Bush planted a tree propagated from the Adams elm on the White House grounds. And I'm really happy to continue the tradition by planting elms here along the avenue."

"Rows of mature American elms will be planted this spring," the First Lady said. "The American elm will provide a spectacular promenade and welcome shade for pedestrians. These elms will replace native elm trees that once lined the south side of the avenue."

A national leader in reintroducing American elms is the Casey Trees Endowment Fund, a Washington, DC group working to reverse the declining tree canopy of the capital city.

In less than two years the group has planted over 500 disease tolerant elms in scores of neighborhood projects across Washington, DC. This spring the group will plant 100 more elms.

Casey Trees will co-sponsor special events and activities this spring in conjunction with the historic plantings at the White House and throughout the city.

American elms, with their arching form and tolerance of harsh city conditions, were once the best loved and widely planted urban tree.

Studies by the National Arboretum proving tolerance to the disease by a handful of varieties, including the Princeton elm, and the increasing availability of those trees through the nursery industry, is making it feasible for communities to again plant American elms.

* * *

Iowa Wind Farm Starts Generating Power

SCHALLER, Iowa, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - More than 100 wind turbines began spinning in Iowa as the first phase of MidAmerican Energy’s $323 million wind facility went into service on December 31, 2004.

The 107 wind turbines at the Intrepid Wind Project site, located in Sac and Buena Vista counties in northwest Iowa, will generate 160.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply electricity to some 43,000 homes.

“We’re pleased to reach this milestone of the 310.5 megawatt wind project on time and under budget,” said Tom Budler, MidAmerican Energy’s wind project manager.

“This places MidAmerican more than half way to fulfilling its commitment to help meet Governor [Tom] Vilsack’s goal to have 1,000 megawatts of new renewable energy generation in Iowa by 2010.”

The wind project is MidAmerican’s first owned and operated wind generation facility. The company currently purchases 112.5 megawatts from a wind farm near Alta, Iowa.

Infrastructure construction – wind turbine foundations, substation, underground electric line and access roads – for Phase 2, the Century Wind Project, located in Wright and Hamilton counties near Blairsburg in north central Iowa, is on schedule and nearly complete. Turbine erection will begin this spring. When the Century Wind Project is on-line this summer, 100 turbines will generate enough electricity to serve approximately 42,000 homes.

When the wind project is complete, wind, water and biomass will be the source of more than eight percent of MidAmerican’s electric generating capability.

MidAmerican announced plans to build the wind facility in March of 2003 following Governor Vilsack’s challenge to state regulators, business leaders and utility companies to work toward achieving 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy generation in Iowa by 2010. When the wind project is completed, MidAmerican will own or have under contract 439 megawatts of renewable energy.

* * *

Conservationists Seek Immediate Right Whale Protections

YARMOUTH PORT, Massachusetts, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - Three marine mammal conservation groups are calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) to "immediately undertake aggressive efforts" to protect North Atlantic right whales.

In the last six weeks, four right whales have been found dead, three of them mature females and, at least two of them, pregnant. This alarming rate of right whale mortality threatens the entire species with extinction.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the International Wildlife Coalition (IWC), and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) said that the right whale is one of the most endangered mammals on earth, and with a population numbering less than 350 individuals, each death is significant.

These whale conservationists know several of the dead whales by names they have been given over the years by humans familiar with their lives. Most recently, on January 12, the body of a female right whale named Lucky, was found 15 miles east of Cumberland Island in Georgia. Lucky, named for scars she received from a previous ship-strike, was pregnant with her first known calf, the conservationists said.

On January 10, another right whale, a 45 foot female named Bolo, was found dead 75 miles east of Nantucket.

In December, a dead right whale that had not been named was found 86 miles east of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

On November 24, a 49 foot pregnant right whale was killed off the Virginia coast after it was apparently struck by a Navy vessel on November 17. This pregnant female and her full term fetus both bled to death.

"To say the last 12 months have been devastating to right whales is an understatement," said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, biologist for the IWC and WDCS. "The incoming secretary of commerce must take immediate action or else leave a legacy of overseeing the extinction of a majestic species."

Most right whales that die as a result of contact with humans are killed by shipping and fishing activities which are prevalent in the whales' breeding, feeding, and migratory corridors along the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, the NOAA Fisheries is obligated to protect the species from harmful human activities. The agency acknowledges that if a single North Atlantic right whale is killed by contact with humans each year, the entire species may go extinct.

The three groups are urging NOAA Fisheries to issue its proposed fishing regulations to minimize the risk of entanglements which were scheduled for release in March of 2004.

Currently, there are no mandates requiring ships to alter course or change speed in right whale habitats, although last week the U.S. Navy ordered its vessel commanders to exercise greater caution when operating in right whale migratory corridors.

"Each death is a tragic loss," said Erin Heskett, senior program officer for IFAW. She called for immediate imposition of shipping regulations, such as speed restrictions and re-routing "before this entire species disappears right before our eyes."

* * *

Industrial New Jersey City Monitored for Air Toxics

PATERSON, New Jersey, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Monday announced a $500,000 grant to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for an Urban Community Air Toxics Monitoring Project.

The state agency will measure and track air toxics coming from industrial, commercial and mobile sources in the highly industrialized urban area of Paterson, the third largest city in the state. The information collected will help environmental officials better address public exposure to, and risk from, toxic air pollutants.

"New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had one of the strongest applications for the air toxics monitoring grant in the country," said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Kathleen Callahan. "The first step in addressing harmful exposure to air toxins is understanding the risks. This project will further both Agencies' work to address the concerns of communities in industrialized areas."

"This monitoring project is a good example of governments working together for a common cause: protecting the health of residents exposed to hazardous air pollutants in industrialized urban areas," said DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell. "This air toxic initiative is particularly important in Paterson, where children suffer from a higher rate of asthma and are the most vulnerable to air pollution."

The DEP, along with the Environmental Occupational Health and Sciences Institute, will use advanced techniques to measure air toxics. Also called hazardous air pollutants, air toxics are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects or adverse environmental impacts.

The DEP will then examine data to determine the concentration of the air toxics, identify the sources, field test new sampling and analysis techniques, characterize the environmental justice concerns and develop tools so that the DEP and the local community can identify risk reduction strategies.

The state and federal agencies selected Paterson, in Passaic County, for the Air Toxics Monitoring Project because it is an urban community with a high population density and an elevated level of asthma in children living in the area.

With the grant, DEP will place three new monitoring stations in the area. In order to facilitate the assessment of children's exposure to the harmful effects of air toxics, two of the monitoring stations will be at Paterson public schools - one at Public School #10 on Mercer Street in Paterson and the other at Public School #2 located on Passaic Street in Paterson.

The Environmental Occupational Health and Sciences Institute will hire high school student interns to assist with the sampling efforts. DEP will also hire high school students to help take samples and will teach the students about the nature of air toxics, how they are regulated and the health risks they pose.

The other monitoring station will be in a commercial area. Paterson has a high level of commercial activity with its many dry cleaning, photo labs, commercial heating/boilers, salons and print shops. In addition, major highways contribute to emissions from cars, trucks and buses, and metal fabrication industries add to industrial emissions. These are all factors that can potentially degrade air quality.

This study will serve as a pilot project so NJDEP and the local community can better address exposure and risk issues related to air toxics. NJDEP's partnership with the Environmental Occupational Health and Sciences Institute will enable the development of new and advanced ways for measuring air toxics.

* * *

Pfizer Fined for Failing to Notify Officials of Explosion

GROTON, Connecticut, February 19, 2005 (ENS) - The pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. has agreed to pay $22,500 to settle claims by the federal government that it failed to properly notify state and federal officials of a chemical release from its plant in Groton, Connecticut.

Pfizer will pay the penalty to settle claims it violated two federal laws: the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

The agreement stems from an explosion and release of a hazardous substance in June 2002 at Pfizer’s Global Research and Development facility on Eastern Point Road in Groton. The explosion led to the release of about 1,400 pounds of tetrahydrofuran from a chemical warehouse.

The release resulted in property damage, serious injuries to several employees and a major emergency response operation involving numerous federal, state and local organizations.

Under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, any release of 1,000 pounds or more of tetrahydrofuran must be reported.

During a chemical accident investigation of the incident, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that Pfizer had failed to comply with the reporting and notification requirements of both laws.

Specifically, Pfizer failed to immediately notify the National Response Center of the release, in violation of CERCLA, and failed to immediately notify the State Emergency Response Commission in violation of EPCRA.

“By failing to fulfill its notification requirements, Pfizer deprived the emergency responders of critical information during the early stages of the response to the explosion," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office in Boston.

“Those responding to an emergency need immediate information about a chemical release in order to know how to safely approach the scene and initiate proper mitigation procedures,” Varney said.

* * *

Freighter Engineers Sentenced for Dumping Oil at Sea

WASHINGTON, DC, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - Two chief engineers of a freighter ship were each sentenced Thursday to two years of probation and a fine of $3,000 for their roles in concealing the overboard ocean dumping of waste oil from the M/V Kent Navigator through false log books and statements designed to deceive the U.S. Coast Guard.

The defendants, Chief Engineers Alfredo Lozada and Felipe Arcolas, both of the Philippines, worked aboard the Kent Navigator, which is owned and operated by Petraia Maritime Ltd.

The government’s investigation began when the U.S. Coast Guard received an anonymous tip that a vessel bound for Portland, Maine was illegally discharging its waste oil and its bilges while at sea.

MARPOL, which is a treaty ratified by the United States, and U.S. law limit the oil content of discharges from ships to no more than 15 parts per million. Oil pollution control equipment, called an oil water separator, is equipment required by these laws that, when operated correctly, will prevent discharges of oil in excess of 15 parts per million.

The Coast Guard inspected the Kent Navigator when it entered the port and found oily residue in piping that led to overboard discharge valves and inoperable oil pollution control equipment.

The Coast Guard’s investigation revealed that while the vessel was at sea, Lozada and Arcolas directed the ship’s crew to discharge waste oil tanks and bilge tanks directly overboard, and also discharged the bilges in a way that circumvented the ship’s oil water separator. These discharges were made in the middle of the night while at sea, and resulted in discharge of what officials called "significant quantities" of oil, although no figures were given.

To conceal this activity Arcolas and Lozada falsified records in the ship’s Oil Record Book making it appear as if the discharges were made using the required pollution control equipment when in fact they were not. They also made false statements to the Coast Guard while in port that the ship’s pollution control equipment functioned properly.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby ordered that Lozada and Arcolas spend the first month of their probation confined to their temporary residence in Portland where they have been living since they were removed from their ship last summer by the Coast Guard and charged with making false statements.

The two will be allowed to return to their homes in the Philippines to serve out their probation terms, subject to U.S. court supervision.

* * *

Verdopolis Designs a Greenprint for Cities of the Future

NEW YORK, New York, January 19, 2005 (ENS) - Creating stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant cities is the focus of a four day conference - Verdopolis: The Future Green City - that opens February 8 in Manhattan.

The nonprofit organization Earth Pledge is organizing the event, inspired by the realization that in 2005, for the first time ever, more than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas and face an increased strain on resources, energy, and infrastructure.

Central to Verdopolis is the LeadersSummit, where thinkers and designers meet to discuss the latest developments in sustainability across sectors. A few of the speakers scheduled include Chris Walker, director of Greenhouse Gas Risk Solutions at Swiss Re; Eric Chivian, MD, director of the Center for Health and Global Environment at Harvard Medical School; Alice Waters owner of Chez Panisse restaurant; and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT Anna Tibaijuka.

Verdopolis will feature FutureFashion, a group runway show of eco-friendly fashion by famous designers, and FutureCity, an interactive and informative exhibition, as well as animation, video architectural design, and interactive installation to express and reflect upon the green metropolis of the future.

“Our mission is to enable people to recognize themselves as co-authors in the creation of the future city,” explains Earth Pledge Executive Director Leslie Hoffman.

The Leaders Summit will include an intensive IDEO U Innovation Workshop, a hands-on, day and a half long interactive session focused on applying creative problem-solving principles that will help create the future green city. IDEO’s exclusive Innovation Workshops have been used by Stanford University, American Express, Nokia, and others.

“A benchmark has been reached; sustainability is now a mainstream concern requiring interdisciplinary creativity and collaboration,” Hoffman said.

The Verdopolis schedule of events is timed to culminate as the most anticipated public artwork display of the year unfurls - The Gates Project for Central Park by Christo and Jeanne-Claude Javacheff. They are creating 7,500 “gates” each 16 feet tall and billowing with saffron colored fabric along 23 miles of Central Park footpaths.

On February 7, weather permitting, approximately 700 non-skilled workers in teams of 7 will elevate The Gates assemblies. The fabric panels will not initially be seen because they will be restrained in cocoons which will remain closed until Saturday, February 12, when all the cocoons will be opened, in one day, weather permitting.

Central Park

The gates that will adorn Central Park for 16 days will be unfurled on the last day of the Verdopolis conference. (Artist rendering courtesy Christo and Jeanne-Claude)
The Gates will remain in Central Park for 16 days, then the removal will start. All materials will be recycled - 5,290 tons of steel, vinyl tubing 60 miles in length, all the steel and aluminum hardware, and 116,389 miles of nylon thread woven into the fabric "gates."

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have donated the merchandising rights to the charitable foundation Nurture New York's Nature and Arts which is sharing these rights with The Central Park Conservancy.

Neither New York City nor the Park administration will pick up any of the expenses for The Gates. As Christo and Jeanne-Claude have always done for their previous projects, The Gates will be entirely financed by the artists through C.V.J. Corp with the sale of studies, preparatory drawings and collages, scale models, earlier works of the fifties and sixties, and original lithographs on other subjects.

All Verdopolis events take place on three floors at 4 Columbus Circle at 58th Street at 8th Avenue. For additional information, or tickets, which are $1,300 for the week-long series of events, log onto A limited number of student tickets are available through 212 725-6611x232.