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AmeriScan: January 28, 2005

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Former EPA Chief Takes Aim at Republican Extremists

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - A former New Jersey governor, in 2001 Christine Todd Whitman was tapped for the top environmental job in the administration of incoming President George W. Bush. Two years later, disillusioned with the President's reversal of position on regulating the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and tired of fighting the "social fundamentalists" she left to found a consulting business and to write a book.

"It's My Party Too" will be published on Monday, and it is already attracting plenty of publicity for its message that is critical of the Bush administration's environmental policies, among other issues.

The book argues that "conservative extremists" are the faction that has turned the Bush administration away from environmental protection.

"You have people who are saying that if you believe that government has a role to play in protecting the environment, then you're not a good Republican," Whitman told John Stewart on "The Daily Show" Wednesday night.

As the government's environmental point person, there was no way that Whitman could win with that faction of the party she has served all her life.

"I remember a group of western Republican congressmen telling me early in my tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency that if they ever read a favorable editorial in the New York Times about the Bush administration's environmental policy, “we might as well still have a Democrat president,” she writes.

"What the leaders of this coalition forget is that not every question of governing hinges on a question of rigid principle, and on most questions there is ample room to find productive middle ground," Whitman writes. "Indeed, from my experience in politics, on most questions the middle ground is the only productive ground."

The leaders of these groups seek to impose rigid litmus tests on Republican candidates and appear determined to drive out of the party anyone who ­doesn't subscribe to their beliefs in their entirety.

"Pushing their ideological stances on abortion rights, race relations, the environment, tax policy, and isolationist foreign policy, the conservative extremists are not only violating traditional Republican principles, she argues, but are also holding the party back from achieving a true majority.

"If we believe that protecting the environment is essential and is a public responsibility and a Republican issue, we must insist on advancing a pro-active agenda that actually results in cleaner air, purer water, and better­protected land," Whitman writes.

Within her own party Whitman and other moderates are called RINOs - Republicans in Name Only.

"There is no doubt," she writes, "that compromise on the environment is perhaps more difficult today than at any time in the past 35 years. Yet I believe that the party that succeeds in truly presenting a sensible moderate positioin on the environment stands to reap significant policy gains and political rewards. The Republican Party has the heritage and the record over the past four decades to make it the logical party to do so."

What remains unclear to Whitman is whether or not her party "has the vision and the will to move away from the extreme anti-environmentalist posture it has assumed in an effort to solidify its 'base.'"

Whitman says it is a challenge that Republican moderates must address.

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States Could Craft Greenhouse Markets After NOx, SO2 Trades

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - Action by U.S. states to reduce air pollution through emissions trading is working, according to a report released Thursday by the World Resources Institute (WRI) at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This success may point to the future for greenhouse gas emissions controls to combat climate change in the United States.

Nine Northeast states and the District of Columbia set up a market for permits to emit nitrogen oxides (NOx), a smog-forming gas implicated in a variety of health problems. The states worked through a regional Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) and launched the "OTC NOx Budget Program," which resulted in significant reductions of emissions.

The same steps and processes used to tackle NOx pollution could be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of global warming, according to the WRI report.

The authors conclude that greenhouse gas caps set by states or regions are "critical first steps toward an evolving, global solution" and "send economic signals for innovation and investment in low-emission technologies."

As noted by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at the start of the Davos economic summit, the European Union initiated a greenhouse gas emissions market this year, which will help European countries meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol treaty on global warming.

"With the Kyoto treaty coming into force in February, everyone is looking to see what the U.S. will do. Most of the action is at the state level," said Andrew Aulisi, coauthor of the report.

"The irony is that federal law drove the states to work together to deal with the NOx problem, but the absence of federal law on greenhouse gases appears to be creating the same result. The states have shown that they can take the lead and serve as incubators for programs like emissions trading," Aulisi said.

In a cap and trade system, the government defines the total amount of pollution that regulated sources can emit over time, with the long-term goal of decreasing emissions. Regulated firms have the options of reducing emissions or buying permits, called "allowances," from other firms. Companies with higher costs save money by buying allowances from firms with lower costs, and the firms with lower costs make money by reducing emissions and selling their excess allowances.

The WRI report notes that compliance was nearly perfect with the OTC NOx cap and trade program, and it appears that there was little displacement of emissions to surrounding regions. In addition, the program had no effect on economic vitality of the region, and the cost of reducing emissions was lower than the initial forecasts.

The OTC program began in 1999 with nine states and the District of Columbia. Today, the program covers nearly all the eastern half of the United States.

"Once states and regions get started with emissions trading, an important question emerges about the expansion of those systems over time and their linkages to other trading programs," said Jonathan Pershing, coauthor of the report.

"Northeast states are designing a cap-and-trade system, Northwest states are requiring new power plants to invest in emissions reductions, and Midwest states want incentives for projects that capture greenhouse gases through improved agricultural practices. We will eventually need an integrated system that can bring all of those economic signals together," Pershing said.

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Utah Will Require SO2 Emissions Control for Parks' Sake

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - The Interior Department and the state of Utah have signed an agreement that addresses haze and visibility issues around national parks in Utah and the Colorado Plateau, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson announced today.

The agreement clarifies the circumstances under which industrial sources of sulfur dioxide (SO2), such as power plants, may become subject to Best Available Retrofit Technology requirements now that Utah's Regional Haze State Implementation Plan and a five state regional emissions cap is in place.

Utah is the first of the five states - Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Oregon - that adopted the emissions cap to pursue a memo of agreement under the Western Regional Air Partnership Market Trading Forum policies for addressing specific industrial sources.

“Air quality is a regional issue and is best solved when regions work together with state and federal land managers to reduce emissions,” Manson said. “This is an important step in our efforts to assure clean air and scenic views in areas the Department of the Interior manages and the public enjoys.”

The agreement completes Utah's portion of a regional plan for protecting the visibility at national parks on the Colorado Plateau. It aims to ensure that national parks in Utah and on the Colorado Plateau will have cost effective, pollution reduction plans.

The sites that are expected to benefit from this agreement include Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks.

The agreement is based on policies the 13 state Western Regional Air Partnership developed over the last eight years. It includes 13 tribes, and representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The partnership was formed in 1997 to address regional air quality issues in the West, and its first effort has been to provide technical and policy support to implement the recommendations of the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission.

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Yellowstone Detonates Explosives for Avalanche Control

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - Despite internal warnings about “serious hazards” to visitors and staff, Yellowstone National Park is expanding a program using 105 mm artillery rounds to clear a remote mountain road during winter months, according to an agency memo released Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Rather than close its East Entrance for winter, Yellowstone is more than doubling its avalanche control spending even though the road serves only 12 visitors per day.

The park's eastern gateway, Sylvan Pass, is the only place in the national park system where high explosive projectiles are used for avalanche control.

The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that it fires 200 rounds a year at Sylvan Pass, which lies seven miles inside the park’s East Entrance Station and 57 miles from Cody, Wyoming. NPS grooms the road for snow coaches from December 1 to April 7.

An internal assessment of alternatives for avalanche control at Sylan Pass says that the existing operation poses “serious hazards for visitors and employees” and that the expansion it adopted would “increase [the] potential for mass casualty incident.”

Apart from the inherent danger of working with explosives, howitzer crews must “cross 4 major avalanche zones during high hazard to reach the gun and perform a mission.” One ranger died in an avalanche while checking the road in 1994.

Unexploded ordnance litters the area and complicates winter travel and road grooming. In addition, park staff must search for and remove unexploded ordnance prior to spring road opening. This summer, re-opening the road after a mudslide became slow and dangerous work because all debris had to be screened for un-detonated shells.

“The comp-B explosive in the projectile is toxic when released into the environment after detonation,” according to the NPS memo. Yet, the agency admits that its use of howitzers has never undergone any environmental assessment.

“Shoot first and ask questions later should not be the posture of our Park Service,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

“Something is wrong when the Park Service rejects alternatives that would reduce the risk to visitors and its employees while saving taxpayers money because of ‘fiscal impact to the town of Cody and…established contractors.’”

The total cost of this operation is now $149,000, but that estimate does not include costs for training to maintain a crew qualified to handle and fire high explosives, howitzer maintenance, storage, and security for ammunition.

Only 12 people per day, 1,800 during the whole season, visited the park through the East Entrance during the last winter season, 2003-2004. That translates into a taxpayer expense of $83 for each visitor to the park.

This year, the park service has decided to supplement its howitzer operation by engaging a contractor to drop explosives from a helicopter for an additional $200,000. The annual cost for the new program has risen to $350,000, or approximately $194 for each passenger trip.

There is no dedicated source of funds for this program, which must come out of the park’s operating budget. Ruch said, “For $194 a trip we could fly each visitor to the other side of the park."

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Judge Keeps Kalmiopsis Wilderness Untrammeled

EUGENE, Oregon, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - A group of investors who paid $150 to patent a mining claim in the Siskiyou National Forest, will not be able to develop unregulated motorized access to build a destination resort in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, Federal Magistrate John Cooney has ruled.

In his order dated January 10, the judge ruled that the "undisputed evidence" before him demonstrated that the claims brought by the plaintiffs in the case Alleman v. United States of America, Siskiyou Regional Education Project and Wilderness Watch, had no merit.

The Court held that it need not even reach the substance of the plaintiffs' claims because the investors were not the proper parties to bring the suit and that they had waited too long to file their case.

In a decision with national significance, the judge ruled that - by its language explicitly prohibiting permanent roads within a Wilderness Area - the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 should have placed the public on notice that the United States did not believe that there were any permanent roads or historic rights-of-way located within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

So, any claims that a party wished to bring asserting that such access rights did exist should have been brought within the 12 year statute of limitations imposed by law, no later than 1976. Plaintiffs did not file this suit until 1999, long after the time allowed.

The Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area was one of the original Wilderness Areas created by the 1964 Act.

Barbara Ullian, speaking on behalf of plaintiff Siskiyou Regional Education Project said that "the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, along southwest Oregon's rugged Pacific Coast, is watershed to three spectacular National Wild and Scenic Rivers - prized for their wild salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout - and host to many rare plants. Its worth every effort to protect this Wilderness from development and motorized activities which have already cased irreparable harm to the watershed of the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River."

George Nickas, executive director of plaintiff Wilderness Watch, quoted from the text of the Wilderness Act in noting that the Kalmiopsis was selected by Congress for early inclusion in the Wilderness program because it perfectly reflects the congressional intent that such regions be "recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

Attorney for the conservation groups, David Bahr of the Western Environmental Law Center, said, "The Court ruled in our favor across the board and rejected each of plaintiffs' arguments; its as clean a win as one could hope for."

Bahr noted that after an initial investment of $150, the investors had demanded hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to settle the case.

The decisive victory is important, he said, "because, at its root, this case really represents an attempted two-bit shakedown of the American taxpayer allowed by the continuing abuse of an obsolete mining law enacted seven years before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb."

The investors have said they will appeal.

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Two Federal Agencies to Oversee Coastal Development

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today agreed to work together to help coastal communities grow in ways that benefit the economy, public health and the environment. The partnership was formalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement Thursday.

Under the agreement, coastal communities will receive the latest information and technology for reusing previously developed land and providing more housing and transportation choices, while preserving critical natural areas and limiting air and water pollution.

Local government staff and officials will be instructed on successful policies, ordinances and initiatives as well as on how to assess the impacts of management actions on sensitive coastal areas.

"Today's agreement provides another tool to help coastal communities advance environmental, economic, and public health," said Steve Johnson, the EPA's acting administrator.

"This agreement will facilitate the development of management strategies that ensure continued conservation of coastal and marine habitats while at the same time make certain that coastal zone residents continue to benefit from the tremendous economic potential available there," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

Officials from the two federal agencies will announce the agreement at the Fourth Annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference being held through Saturday at the Deauville Beach Resort Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.

The conference, co-sponsored by EPA and NOAA, is looking at a range of growth issues nationwide. More than 1,000 participants, including local elected officials, real estate developers, government agencies and citizen leaders, are attending this event.

In the past 20 years, the rate of all land development nationwide has grown 30 percent, twice the rate of population growth, and the populations of coastal watersheds are growing rapidly. Today 55 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast.

The partnership is the second between NOAA and EPA that is focused on coastal communities. In 2003 the agencies established a joint program to assist local port and harbor communities redevelop brownfields in three test communities - New Bedford, Massachusetts; Bellingham, Washington; and Tampa, Florida.

EPA's Office of Water and Office of Policy Economics, and Innovation will work with NOAA to implement the new agreement. For more information, visit: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/noaamoa.html

NOAA support will come from the National Ocean Service's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, the NOAA Coastal Services Center, and NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program. NOAA's Ocean Service is found at: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov

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Ice Age Dating Confirms Global Warming Science

COLUMBUS, Ohio, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - Critics who dismiss the importance of greenhouse gases as a cause of climate change lost one piece of ammunition this week. In a new study, scientists found further evidence of the role that greenhouse gases have played in Earth’s climate.

In Thursday’s issue of the journal "Geology," Ohio State University scientists report that a long-ago ice age occurred 10 million years earlier than once thought. The new date clears up an inconsistency that has dogged climate change research for years.

Of three ice ages that occurred in the last half-billion years, the earliest ice age posed problems for scientists, explained Matthew Saltzman, assistant professor of geological sciences at Ohio State.

Previous studies suggested that this particular ice age happened during a time that should have been very warm, when volcanoes all over the earth’s surface were spewing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

With CO2 levels as much as 20 times higher than today, Earth in the late Ordovician period - 460 to 440 million years ago - was not covered with ice.

Critics have pointed to the inconsistency as a flaw in scientists’ theories of climate change. Scientists have argued that today’s global climate change has been caused in part by buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere resulting from fossil fuel emissions.

But, critics have countered, if CO2 truly raises global temperatures, how could an ice age have occurred when a greenhouse effect much greater than today’s was in full swing?

Saltzman's team has found that this ice age did not begin when CO2 was at its peak - it began 10 million years earlier, when CO2 levels were at a low.

“Our results are consistent with the notion that CO2 concentrations drive climate,” Saltzman said.

Saltzman and doctoral student Seth Young found that large deposits of quartz sand in Nevada and two sites in Europe - Norway and Estonia - formed around the same time, 440 million years ago. The scientists suspect that the sand formed when water levels fell low enough to expose quartz rock, so that wind and rain could weather the rock into sand.

The deposits were found in three different sites, suggesting that sea levels may have been low all over the world at that time, likely because much of the planet’s water was bound in ice at the poles, Saltzman said.

Next, the scientists examined limestone sediments from the sites and determined that there was a relatively large amount of organic carbon buried in the oceans - and, by extension, relatively little CO2 in the atmosphere - at the same time.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that the ice began to build up some 10 million years earlier than when volcanoes began pumping the atmosphere full of the CO2 that ended the Ordovician ice age.

For Saltzman, the find solves a mystery. Though scientists know with a great degree of certainty that atmospheric CO2 levels drive climate change, there are certain mismatches in the geologic record, such as the Ordovician ice age that seems to counter that view.

“How can you have ice when CO2 levels are through the roof? That was the dilemma that we were faced with. I think that now we have good evidence that resolves this mismatch,” Saltzman said.

Scientists at the three sites had attributed these quartz deposits to local tectonic shifts, but the new study exposed that view as incorrect.

“If sea level is dropping globally at the same time, it can’t be a local tectonic feature,” Saltzman said. “It’s got to be the result of a global ice buildup.”

Saltzman wants to confirm these findings by examining sites in Russia, where he hopes to gather more evidence of sea level drop, and in parts of South America and North Africa, which would have been covered in ice at the time.

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NASA Satellite to Map Outer Edge of Solar System

GREENBELT, Maryland, January 28, 2005 (ENS) - A satellite that will make the first map of the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space has been selected as part of NASA's Small Explorer program, which consists of rapid, small, and focused science exploration missions.

The first mission designed to detect the edge of the Solar System, the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite will be launched in 2008.

As the solar wind from the sun flows out beyond Pluto, it collides with the material between the stars, forming a "shock front," NASA explains.

IBEX contains two neutral atom imagers designed to detect particles from the termination shock at the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space.

IBEX also will study galactic cosmic rays, energetic particles from beyond the Solar System that pose a health and safety hazard for humans exploring beyond Earth's orbit.

IBEX will make these observations from an elliptical orbit that takes it beyond the interference of the Earth's magnetosphere.

Dr. David McComas of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas will lead the $134 million IBEX mission.

"Explorer missions continue to efficiently address NASA's objectives, because of the competitive character of the Explorer Program. Dr. McComas and his co-investigators submitted a compelling proposal," said NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Dr. Ghassem Asrar.

"It had sufficient details to convince other independent scientists, engineers, technologists, cost analysts, and program managers this is an exciting and breakthrough experiment for NASA to sponsor," said Asrar.

The Explorer Program is designed to provide frequent, low cost access to space for physics and astronomy missions with small to mid-sized spacecraft.

NASA has launched six SMEX missions since 1992. The missions include the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager launched in February 2002, and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer launched in April 2003.

The next SMEX mission is the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) mission, scheduled to launch in September 2006. AIM will study the Earth's highest clouds for clues to climate change.

NASA has decided to continue studying another proposed mission, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). It is the first telescope capable of detecting black holes in the local universe with 1,000 times more sensitivity than previous missions sensitive to energetic X-rays. A decision on proceeding to flight development with NuSTAR will be made by early 2006.



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