AmeriScan: January 12, 2007

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Only Environmental Bill in First 100 Hours Up for Vote

WASHINGTON, DC, January 12, 2007 (ENS) - The last of the six designated bills up for consideration during the House Democrats' first 100 legislative hours is the legislative program's only environmental measure.

Introduced today with 199 cosponsors, H.R.6 will shift roughly $13 billion in oil industry subsidies toward renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The House is scheduled to vote on H.R. 6 on January 18.

Specifically, the measure ensures oil companies that were awarded the 1998 and 1999 leases for drilling paid their fair share in royalties. It also closes loopholes and ends giveaways in the tax code for Big Oil, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says on her website.

The bill creates a Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve to invest in clean, renewable energy resources, promoting new emerging technologies, developing greater efficiency and improving energy conservation.

Over the last several years, profits and subsidies for Big Oil have climbed, as has our dependence on foreign oil, Pelosi says. In 2006, the big five oil companies made $97 billion - nearly five times their profits in 2002. Gas prices have topped $3 per gallon at the pump.

The United States now has a record dependence on foreign oil, which has climbed to 65 percent, and the country is sending about $800 million per day to the Middle East and other oil producing countries.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is critical to bolstering our national security and creating good-paying new jobs.

American farms abound with crops that can be used to fuel our cars and trucks - from corn to soybeans to switchgrass," Pelosi points out. In 2005, the ethanol industry supported the creation of more than 150,000 jobs in all sectors of the U.S. economy, boosting U.S. household income by $5.7 billion, according to a report for the Renewable Fuels Association.

Pelosi says that the President's current budget funds renewable energy and energy efficiency at below the 2001 level, in real terms, and provides nearly 50 percent less for research on renewable energy than was promised in the energy law.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America, IPAA, is opposed to the measure. "If the goal is to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, then this bill falls far short," said IPAA President Barry Russell today.

"The American oil and natural gas industry is our most precious and primary defense against increased oil imports," Russell said. "This is a time to encourage American investment in energy projects here at home, not discourage it. This bill takes capital from U.S. oil and natural gas companies that otherwise would be spent on domestic energy exploration."

The IPAA represents more than 5,000 oil and natural gas companies, most of them small, independent businesses, who drill 90 percent of the oil and natural gas wells in the United States.

But there is broad bipartisan support for ending the addiction to oil by investing in clean renewable fuels, Pelosi says, quoting an Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll taken last August that found 52 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. government should invest in alternative energy sources to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

The measure is popular with conservationists. "In a 180 degree shift from energy policies that line the pockets of polluting industries, the introduction of H.R. 6 is clear signal that Congress is ready to start solving our energy problems," said Kate Johnson of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.

"We also commend Speaker Pelosi’s commitment to building a new energy future, and look forward to working with Congress to continue to move America’s energy policy in this new direction well beyond the first 100 hours," said USPIRG.

The House has already passed four of the six bills scheduled for the First 100 Hours - anti-terrorism measures, a minimum wage increase, expanding federally funded stem cell research, and a bill to make the government negotiate for lower Medicare prescription drug prices.

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Bush Signs Oceans Legislation into Law

WASHINGTON, DC, January 12, 2007 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today signed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act into law.

Passed in the final hours of the last Congress, the measure strengthens current law by requiring an end to overfishing and by requiring that science, not politics, dictate how many fish can be caught per year.

The legislation also strengthens penalties for illegal fishing in international waters.

"The act sets a firm deadline to end overfishing in America," the President said, "contributes to replenishing America's fish stocks; strengthens enforcement of America's fishing laws; and implements international agreements on fishery management and the protection of polar bears."

Environmentalists are pleased with the law. Sarah Chasis, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Oceans Initiative, said, "Signing this bill into law is an exciting and significant step toward restoring our oceans. We hope that the administration will craft regulations that will bring the letter of this law to our waters."

"Our oceans are in serious trouble and fisheries management is just a part of the puzzle," Chasis said. "We look forward to working with the President and Congress to tackle other critical needs, including passage of healthy oceans legislation to protect, maintain, and restore the sustainability and productivity of ocean ecosystems."

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U.S. Completes Oil Spill Cleanup in Lebanon

WASHINGTON, DC, January 12, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, in consultation with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, has completed a project to clean oil from 68 miles of Lebanon's shoreline from Byblos to Enfeh.

The cleanup was required as a result of an oil spill that took place in July 2006 during the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict when Israeli bombs struck the Jiyyeh power utility 20 miles south of Beirut.

Restoration focused on areas of high economic importance including commercial harbors, public beaches, and several historic sites.

More than 36,000 bags of oil-contaminated waste were collected and more than 220 local laborers, including fishermen, were hired and trained to perform critical cleanup functions.

In addition, local businesses were used to provide and operate heavy equipment, and also to supply support services.

USAID says those trained now possess a valuable skill and will be able to serve as experienced responders for future oil spill operations in Lebanon and internationally.

In addition to cleaning Byblos Port, a World Heritage Site, over 100 affected fishing boats were cleaned and repainted.

The $5 million project was funded as part of the more than $230 million U.S. commitment to Lebanon for humanitarian, reconstruction and security assistance announced by President George W. Bush on August 21, 2006.

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Dow Chemical Must Cleanse Tittabawassee River of Dioxins

LANSING, Michigan, January 15, 2007 (ENS) - New results from sampling along and in Michigan's upper Tittabawassee River have identified several areas with elevated levels of dioxins and furans that require short term response activities, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday.

The sampling results identified eroding river banks with concentrations up to 84,000 parts per trillion (ppt) TEQ, the combined toxicity of dioxins and furans, and certain in-channel deposits with concentrations up to 87,000 ppt TEQ.

The elevated sampling results are located within areas along and in the first 6.5 miles of the Tittabawassee River.

The dioxins and furans found in the Tittabawassee River originated from a Dow Chemical factory in Midland, Michigan.

Dioxins are a family of chemicals produced by combustion and other industrial processes. Some dioxins have been linked to cancer.

The sampling was taken as part of the ongoing study and investigation being conducted by the Department of Environmental Quality, DEQ, and Dow Chemical.

The chemical profile of the in-channel and eroded bank samples are consistent with earlier sampling results from the same general area showing a mixture consisting mainly of furans with a small percentage of dioxins.

Dow has proposed a conceptual approach and schedule for a focused pilot corrective action plan, PCAP, to address these areas.

Preparation for implementing the interim actions is underway with Dow developing the final plan and initiating the permit application processes with state and federal agencies for the work to be done in and along the Tittabawassee River.

The public will have an opportunity to ask questions about short and long-term actions that will be developed during the February 8, 2007 Tri-Cities Community Meeting from 7-9 pm at The Horizons Center in Saginaw Township.

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New Jersey to Site Homes on Abandoned Brownfields

TRENTON, New Jersey, January 12, 2007 (ENS) - New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson today announced efforts to revitalize more than 200 blighted properties in the state through the designation of Brownfield Redevelopment Areas.

Brownfields are properties that are abandoned or underutilized because of actual, suspected or perceived contamination.

The latest designations involve a commercial district that has languished since the 1970s, a former center for the hat manufacturing industry, and a South Jersey port area that once was prosperous.

"Redevelopment of brownfields is a key component of restoring the economic vitality of our cities and older suburbs," Jackson said. "In addition to removing environmental threats, cleaning up these properties and making new investments in their redevelopment preserves open space by taking pressure off undeveloped land."

Under DEP's Brownfield Development Area program, designated communities identify clusters of brownfield sites for coordinated remediation and reuse.

The 3.5 acre Neptune-West Lake Avenue Brownfield Development Area, for instance, was once the core of a thriving commercial district, but many properties were abandoned or burned down during races riots of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Redevelopment plans call for 202 market-rate and affordable residential units, 95,000 square feet of commercial space, 60,000 square feet of office space, a municipal park, a police substation, a learning center and a public plaza.

The Orange/West Orange Central Valley Brownfield Development Area was once a center for hat manufacturing. The planned end use for this area includes 1,500 market-rate residential units and 250,000 square feet of commercial retail space. An additional component calls for 800 residential units and a public park.

With the three new designations, DEP now oversees 18 Brownfield Development Areas in the cities of Bayonne, Camden, Elizabeth, Newark, Paterson and the state capital, Trenton.

Municipalities with designated Brownfield Development Areas are eligible for up to $5 million in assistance each calendar year from the state's Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund.

City Works, a nonprofit development company working on Neptune's redevelopment plans, and HANDS Inc., a nonprofit committed to redevelopment in the Oranges, plan to apply for additional site investigation money through a pilot program authorized by the Legislature.

DEP is accepting applications from municipalities interested in being included in the Brownfield Redevelopment Areas program in 2007.

The deadline for applications is March 31. For more information, go to: http://www.nj.gov/dep/srp/brownfields/bda/announce.htm

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Forest Owners' Children Polled on Forests' Future

MADISON, Wisconsin, January 12, 2007 (ENS) - It has taken nearly a century for Wisconsin’s forests to recover from clearcut logging that left a cut-over patchwork. State forestry officials give credit for recovery to residents who own nearly 60 percent of Wisconsin's forests and who, in partnership with Department of Natural Resources, DNR, foresters and other conservationists, have brought about forest renewal.

"A new challenge now faces Wisconsin and the nation," says Paul Delong administrator of the DNR Division of Forestry. "Who will be the next stewards of the state’s forests? Will it be the children of current landowners? And will these offspring maintain the same commitment to the land as their parents?"

DeLong says those questions are at the heart of a landmark survey that will begin this year targeting the children of Wisconsin forest landowners to determine their views on a wide range of forest and land ownership issues.

The study is a cooperative effort of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the DNR.

"Data from this study will have a major impact on all state residents," DeLong says. "Sustaining forests is a very long-term undertaking. We need to be looking decades down the road to ensure their conservation. This study will provide data to help us chart a course for the future."

In the next few weeks, researchers will contact an estimated 300 Wisconsin private non-industrial forestland owners to seek permission to interview their children about the family forestlands.

The telephone interviews will focus on the attitudes and values of those who will be making decisions about how they will deal with forested land they will likely inherit from their parents, and whether they will retain ownership of the land.

"Within a relatively short period of time, there will be a major shift – in Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. – in the ownership of privately owned forest," says Al Sample, president of the Pinchot Institute.

"We are facing the largest intergenerational transfer of private forest lands in our history, most of which will take place within the next two decades," Sample said. "Previous studies have shown that the new owners of forest lands don’t necessarily share their parents’ values or the hands-on commitment to keeping this property undeveloped."

As a group, forest landowners throughout the United States are aging and now 60 percent of all private forestland in the U.S. is owned by people 55 and older. More than 20 percent of those owners are over 70, according to Brett Butler, a U.S. Forest Service researcher who oversees the National Woodland Owners Survey.

A Pinchot Institute-U.S. Forest Service study done in 2002 found nearly half of landowners 55 and older had already retired.

Results from national studies conducted in 2002 and 2005 found that about 9 in 10 forest landowners are non-joiners – people who have no affiliation to any forest landowner group. This group of landowners is the most likely to sell, develop, or subdivide their land, and 85 percent of these non-joiner forest owners have adult children.

"With forest and open space in the U.S. disappearing at an average of 6,000 acres each day - four acres a minute," Sample said, "we’re concerned that this lack of involvement could result in even higher rates of forest loss in the future."

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