AmeriScan: January 3, 2007

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A Silver Lining in Colorado Snow Clouds

DENVER, Colorado, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - There is an upside to the two late December blizzards that left Coloradans buried under up to 15 feet of snow in some places. After a dry 2006, there is likely to be a refreshed Colorado snowpack and the possibility of an abundant water supply for the coming year.

When the first blizzard began on December 21, Colorado's statewide snowpack was about three percent below average. By the next day, the snowpack was counted at 20 percent above average.

"It's a very good storm for the South Platte River Basin, which supplies the metropolitan Denver area," Scott Entrekin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder told the "Rocky Mountain News."

On December 28, a second blizzard hit the state, prompting Governor Bill Owens to declare a second statewide emergency and continue deployment of the National Guard in support of requests for assistance.

The southeast portion of the state experienced blizzard and whiteout conditions with high winds and very low visibility. Conditions were so bad on some of the highways that Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows were unable to get through. Many stranded motorists were rescued by the National Guard equipped with small unit support vehicles.

But the snow that causes snarled traffic and power outages in the winter mountains melts in the spring to fill streams and reservoirs.

Trina McGuire-Collins of Denver Water said the snow accumulation is good for Denver's water supply especially since the two blizzards came early in the winter season. But she says Denver residents cannot count on just one or two big storms to supply the entire year if the weather turns hot and dry.

Colorado was drier during the past year than it was a year ago, and every drop of precipitation is treasured.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor weekly report, compiled by four federal agencies, shows that lakes and reservoirs in the Colorado Plains remained at low levels despite the snowy precipitation.

The most recent drought report issued December 28, 2006 shows that only 54.3 percent of Colorado is drought-free compared with 69.6 percent at the same time last year.

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Western Wildfires Linked to Atlantic Ocean Temperatures

BOULDER, Colorado, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - Western U.S. wildfires are likely to increase in the coming decades, according to a new tree-ring study that links episodic fire outbreaks in the past five centuries with periods of warming sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic.

Warmer waters in the North Atlantic correspond with episodes of drought and subsequent fires in the West as shown by fire scars in annual tree rings studied by the researchers, said Dr. Thomas Kitzberger of the University of Comahue in Argentina, who led the study.

Colleagues included researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research Inc., a private lab in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The study linked increased prevalence of western wildfires in recent centuries with 60 year long sea surface temperature shifts of about one degree Fahrenheit in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Known as the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, these changes are natural and have been occurring for at least the last 1,000 years.

Previous tree-ring studies have linked fires in different regions of western North America to drought associated with the warm El Niño phase or cool La Niña phase of the El-Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon in the Pacific.

But the new study is the first to correlate the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation with increased North American fires on such a large scale, said the authors.

The team analyzed nearly 34,000 individual fire scar dates from tree rings, primarily ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, at 241 sites, the largest record of tree rings linked to past wildfires ever assembled.

Wildfire frequency in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and South Dakota was found to be affected.

"This study underscores the value of building large networks of high-resolution fire history data to better understand how climate may affect fire regimes over large areas of the globe," said Kitzberger.

The team used data from the International Multiproxy Paleofire Database that is maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The paper was published the week of December 25 in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

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California Electricity Users Offered Greenhouse Gas Offset

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - Pacific Gas and Electric Company has won approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, to launch ClimateSmart - a new voluntary program that offers customers the option to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions associated with their energy use.

The climate protection program is scheduled to launch in spring 2007.

Conceived and developed by PG&E, ClimateSmart allows residential and business customers to pay a small amount on their monthly utility bills based on energy usage, which will fund environmental projects aimed at removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air.

The amount removed from the air will equal the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the customer's energy use, making them climate neutral.

Tom King, CEO of PG&E said, "By empowering our customers to actively engage in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, we are leading the way in preserving California's environment and addressing the challenges associated with climate change."

PG&E created the program as a part of its overall climate protection and environmental leadership strategies, including the support of state regulation of greenhouse gases such as AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, enacted by California last year.

PG&E anticipates that ClimateSmart will receive approximately $20 million in its first three years, with a goal of removing two million tons of carbon dioxide from the air. The company says this reduction would be the equivalent of taking 350,000 cars off the road for one year.

The first carbon reduction projects will focus on forest restoration and conservation projects in California.

"I commend PG&E for bringing this application to us," said Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. "As the warnings about the threat of climate change mount daily, it is increasingly apparent that we will need to pull out all the stops to prevent very dire consequences.

"This means we need both mandatory programs and market-based measures as well as voluntary actions by individuals and businesses, which this program encourages," Peevey said.

PG&E plans to enroll as the first participant in the program by committing more than $1 million of shareholder funding over the next three years to make the energy use in the company's offices, service centers, maintenance facilities, and other company buildings completely climate neutral.

Devra Wang, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's California energy program, approves of the ClimateSmart program. "PG&E has demonstrated its leadership in addressing global warming, first by supporting California's new landmark law to limit the state's global warming emissions, and now by pledging to reduce its own emissions and helping its customers reduce their emissions," she said.

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Seattle Green Factor Becomes Law

SEATTLE, Washington, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - On December 21, 2006, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels signed legislation that will increase landscaping requirements in the city, in part to reduce runoff. It incorporates the new Seattle Green Factor which promotes tree planting, garden walls and green roofs.

Created by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, the Green Factor applies to new development in neighborhood business districts.

It encourages the planting of layers of vegetation and larger trees in areas visible to the public and in the public rights-of-way adjacent to developments.

There are additional bonuses for using rainwater harvesting and/or low-water use plantings.

Under the legislation, all new multi-family buildings in a neighborhood business district must have 30 percent of their parcel landscaped with trees, bushes, vines on trellises, or green roofs.

"It helps with water quality and replenishes groundwater, creates habitat - even contributes to reducing global warming," said City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck, chairman of the Planning Committee.

When a new project is proposed for development in Seattle’s commercially zoned areas, applicants must demonstrate how they intend to meet the new landscaping requirement.

An electronic worksheet available on the Internet helps applicants calculate their score. The worksheet keeps a running score so applicants can test different landscaping arrangements to meet the requirement.

The Seattle Green Factor, SGF, could help meet environmentalists' requests for standards that encourage stormwater management features, including trees in city neighborhoods.

But the Seattle Planning Commission has raised concerns about impacts on businesses. In a November 2006 letter to Steinbrueck, the commission wrote, "Under the Seattle Green Factor, the requirement for open space is being replaced with a requirement for environmentally-beneficial landscaping."

"It is our understanding that the SGF is intended, among other objectives, to be an incentive to developers to provide more and better landscaping in the right of way. It also incentivizes green roofs. We support these worthy goals," the commission wrote, "but are concerned about the Green Factor’s impact on small businesses and raise questions about its implementation."

Critics say vegetation could be a haven for rodents, and in rainy Seattle, the stormwater system will still overflow during heavy rain events.

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Lawsuit Filed to Clear San Joaquin Valley Air

FRESNO, California, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - A coalition of public health, community, and environmental groups, has mounted a court challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's declaration that the San Joaquin Valley has attained federal clean air standards for particulate matter (PM-10).

In October 2006, the EPA declared the San Joaquin Valley had met the standards for PM-10, because the Valley went from 2003 through 2005 without violating those standards.

Sources of particulate matter pollution include activities that generates dust, soot, or smoke.

With this finding, the EPA waived a court ordered obligation to adopt measures to clean up the region's air.

On December 27, Earthjustice on behalf of Latino Issues Forum, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, and the three Sierra Club Chapters in the Valley filed a lawsuit against the EPA in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The coalition seeks to have the EPA decision overturned by the court.

The groups claim that in finding the Valley has met the standards, the EPA ignored significant contradictory data from pollution monitors in the southern region of the air district that show the air pollution problem continues.

"The EPA chose to cherry pick the data from spots where the air is cleanest and ignores those where it is not," said Kevin Hamilton of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air. "People suffering respiratory illness from this pollution aren't buying this data shell game."

The San Joaquin Valley encompasses the area of California's Central Valley that lies south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Stockton. Although most of the valley is rural, it contains the cities of Stockton, Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, and Visalia.

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New Jersey Meadowlands Mayors Support Kyoto Protocol

LYNDHURST, New Jersey, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - The 14 mayors of the Hackensack Meadowlands Municipal Committee have voted to support the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that sets greenhouse gas reduction targets for 35 industrialized nations, but not the United States.

President George W. Bush has declined to send the protocol to the Senate for ratification, saying that limiting greenhouse gases would hurt the U.S. economy.

By its vote late last month, the committee joins the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Meadowlands District seven percent below levels recorded in 1990 by the year 2012.

"Realizing that we live in an urban area, we have to take responsibility for the air we breathe," said Hackensack Meadowlands Municipal Committee, HMMC, Chairman and Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell. "The actions we take now will set the trend for the future, creating cleaner and better communities."

The vote affects municipalities in the 32 square mile Meadowlands District, five miles outside of Manhattan.

"We are proud of the leadership and foresight the Meadowlands mayors have shown through their efforts to protect our environmental security for this generation and those to follow," said Susan Bass Levin, NJMC Chairwoman and New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Commissioner.

"By joining in support of the Kyoto Protocol, the mayors have shown how to transcend the type of parochialism which threatens to exacerbate global climate change. They are seeking a better future for the nearly 500,000 residents who call this region home."

By supporting the Kyoto Protocol, the 14 Meadowlands mayors say they are taking a bi-partisan, regional lead in recognizing the effects local climatic disruptions are having on the world environment, including increased risks of flooding, rising sea levels, extreme heat waves, and greater concentrations of smog.

In July 2006, the NJMC Board of Commissioners voted to endorse the treaty to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

The HMMC will encourage each of the member municipalities to endorse the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and implement individual policies to resolve global warming. To date, 333 mayors representing 53.5 million Americans have endorsed the treaty.

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