AmeriScan: January 18, 2007

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25 Percent of Energy From Renewable Sources by 2025

WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - A bipartisan group of senators and representatives has re-introduced House and Senate Concurrent Resolutions calling for a new national renewable energy goal - 25 percent of the nation's energy supply from renewable sources by 2025, the so-called 25x'25 goal.

The resolutions are backed by the Energy Future Coalition, an organization that includes business, labor, and environmental groups led by such high profile figures as Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group and Ted Turner, chairman of the board of the United Nations Foundation and the Turner Foundation.

"Today we have Republicans and Democrats, rural and urban interests, and representatives from a diverse array of farm, forestry, business and environmental organizations coming together behind a common energy goal for the nation," said 25x'25 Steering Committee Co-Chair Bill Richards. "Our alliance has gained unprecedented support for such an approach."

The resolutions were first introduced last June, but the proposal did not become law.

"We are excited that the sponsors moved so quickly to re-introduce the bill and applaud them for their leadership," Richards said. "We look forward to working with them to advance the 25x'25 goal and the enabling policies that will bring this vision to life."

Lead sponsors in the Senate this year include Democrats Ken Salazar of Colorado, Barack Obama of Illinois, both senators from Iowa - Tom Harkin, a Democrat, and Charles Grassley, a Republican; and Republicans Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

"Global oil and natural gas reserves are concentrated in tumultuous regions that include nations hostile to the United States," said Senator Lugar. "Our national security and economic prosperity demand that we move to a more sustainable energy future. I applaud members of the 25x'25 coalition for their leadership in promoting renewable energy."

In the House, lead sponsors are Democrats Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Mark Udall of Colorado and Republicans Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Zach Wamp of Tennessee.

"Setting the goal of 25x'25 is the critical first step in moving toward an America that is more secure, more environmentally sound, and more energy self- sufficient," said 25x'25 Steering Committee Co-Chair Read Smith. "Goals are important. Goals were important when we electrified rural America, when we built the interstate highway system, and when we sent a man to the moon. We urge all Americans to join with us in this historic opportunity."

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Automakers’ Case Against California on Hold

FRESNO, California, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - A federal judge in Fresno Tuesday postponed trial of the auto industry’s lawsuit against California’s limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles until the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision in a related case.

Judge Anthony Ishii decided to wait for the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA before holding a lengthy and costly trial on the auto industry’s lawsuit.

The California Air Resources Board adopted the nation’s first regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars in compliance with a 2002 state law.

The standard requires automakers to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 22 percent by the 2012 model year and 30 percent by the 2016 model year.

“Judge Ishii has rebuffed the auto industry’s latest effort to block California’s landmark global warming law,” said David Doniger, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in both the California and Supreme Court cases. “He has decided to wait for the Supreme Court’s word on whether the federal Clean Air Act covers the pollution that causes global warming.”

In the Massachusetts case, California, 11 other states, and environmental organizations, including the NRDC, are challenging the Bush administration’s claim that the Clean Air Act gives it no power to curb global warming pollution.

Judge Ishii ruled that the two cases pose such similar issues that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Massachusetts case is likely to control the outcome of the California case. The high court is expected to rule by June.

The automakers claim California’s global warming pollution standards conflict with the federal fuel economy law. Judge Ishii found that is basically the same argument the Bush administration and the auto industry are making in the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court decides the federal Clean Air Act does cover greenhouse gas emissions, then California’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles will be clear.

The state of California and all other parties – including both plaintiffs and defendants – agree that California cannot enforce its standards until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants it a waiver under the Clean Air Act.

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BP to Build Five U.S. Wind Farms This Year

HOUSTON, Texas, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - BP Alternative Energy North America Inc. today announced that it expects to begin construction on five wind power generation projects in the United States in 2007. Located in four states - California, Colorado, North Dakota and Texas - the projects are expected to deliver a combined generation capacity of some 550 megawatts, MW.

When complete, the projects will exceed the company’s previously announced target to build 450 MW by end of 2008.

BP’s U.S. wind portfolio includes the opportunity to develop almost 100 projects with a potential total generating capacity of some 15,000 MW. These projects are the result of several agreements and acquisitions the company made in 2006.

In July, BP announced a strategic alliance with Clipper Windpower to supply up to 4,250 MW of wind turbines over the next five years.

Later in the year, BP acquired two U.S. wind development companies - Greenlight Energy Inc. and Orion Energy LLC.

“Today’s announcement marks an important step in delivering BP’s commitment to producing low and zero-carbon electricity,” said Robert Lukefahr, president of BP Alternative Energy North America Inc.

Construction is already under way on the Cedar Creek project in Weld County, Colorado, a development venture between BP Alternative Energy North America Inc., and Babcock & Brown Operating Partners LP.

This 300 MW wind power generation project will be comprised of 274 wind turbines. Initial operation is expected in the second half of 2007 and when fully commercial, the project will generate enough carbon-free electricity to power 120,000 homes.

The four other projects are smaller. In California, the Yaponcha wind power generation project is the re-powering of an existing wind energy facility in San Gorgonio Pass which expects to have a capacity of 20 MW.

A 65 MW wind power generation project is planned for North Dakota, a 60 MW joint project with Clipper Windpower is going up in Central Texas, and in West Texas a project in excess of 100 MW is in the works.

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Enviros Fight Roads Through Death Valley National Park

FRESNO, California, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups today filed legal papers to oppose a federal lawsuit by Inyo County that could let bulldozers cut new roads through Death Valley National Park, the largest national park in the lower 48 states.

Intervention papers were filed in U.S. District Court, Fresno by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm representing the coalition. The environmental groups seek the right to defend the park against the proposed road building.

Inyo County filed suit in October seeking rights-of-way for highways through park wilderness, the right to tear down Park Service barriers and the right to build new two-lane highways in roadless desert canyons and valleys.

The environmentalists say building highways in these areas would permanently disrupt the desert stillness of Death Valley National Park and threaten the imperiled desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep and other park wildlife, as well as one of the park's most important ancient rock art sites.

Highway routes named in the Inyo County lawsuit would run through Greenwater Canyon, Greenwater Valley and Last Chance Canyon.

All three areas were found to be roadless in 1979, and were designated as wilderness when Death Valley National Park was created in 1994.

"These wilderness areas in Death Valley National Park established by Congress reflect the strong national interest in seeing their integrity protected," said George Barnes of the Sierra Club, one of the key citizens who helped obtain national park status for Death Valley.

"It's in the public interest to ensure that the natural and archeological treasures in Death Valley National Park are protected. This is our legacy for future generations," said Deborah DeMeo, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "This suit threatens to destroy one of the parks' main attractions - it's stark, pristine desert beauty."

Ted Zukoski, attorney for Earthjustice, views Inyo County's action as the latest attempt by off-road organizations, counties and states throughout the West to take over little-used tracks on federal lands on the basis of a Civil War-era law called R.S. 2477 that was repealed 30 years ago.

"Use of this ancient, repealed law threatens to degrade some of America's most spectacular lands, from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, and Canyonlands National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. And now Death Valley's natural wonders are under attack," Zukoski said.

Organizations represented by Earthjustice in this legal action include The Sierra Club, Friends of the Inyo, California Wilderness Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association.

To view a map of the region at issue, click here.

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Delaware Estuary Focus of Science and Environmental Summit

CAPE MAY, New Jersey, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - From January 22 to 24, several hundred scientists, resource managers and environmentalists from throughout the tristate region will assemble in Cape May for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s second Delaware Estuary Science Conference, a biennial event.

For three days, these experts will consider the current issues and future needs of the Delaware Estuary, one of the most industrialized ecosystems in the world.

In addition, the Delaware Estuary Environmental Summit, a new event occurring simultaneously with the science conference, will bring together environmental organizations to showcase and discuss activities that have resulted in environmental improvements.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Linking Science, Management and Policy to Set Achievable Environmental Goals in the Delaware Estuary.”

Salt water from the Atlantic ocean and fresh water from the Delaware River and its tributaries mix in the estuary. This mixture of water types creates a unique environment that is critical for the survival of many species of fish, birds, and other wildlife.

Marshes and other wetlands, which fringe the estuary, protect marine life and water quality by filtering sediment and pollution from upstream sources. The estuary creates natural protection from damaging storm waves and floods. The region includes portions of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania from the mouth of the Delaware Bay upriver to Trenton.

One of the largest tidal estuaries in the world, the Delaware Estuary faces many environmental challenges. The overharvest of fish and shellfish, contaminants in fish, and the loss of important wildlife habitat and vital wetlands are issues currently being studied by regional scientists.

“In 2005 we brought together representatives from agencies, nonprofits, and academia, groups which rarely interact directly with one another, and this resulted in fertile discussions about science and management needs for the region,” said Dr. Danielle Kreeger, science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. “This time, the focus is on how to address those needs and chart meaningful environmental targets.”

Environmentalists at the conference will be celebrating Dupont's announcement earlier this month that the company is pulling out of the Army’s plan to ship VX nerve agent waste from Indiana to Dupont’s Chambers Works plant in Salem County for treatment and dumping into the Delaware River.

After three years of fighting the dumping, Delaware Riverkeeper Network said its lawsuit, filed December 21, 2006, played a big part in Dupont’s backing out.

The suit challenged the transport of VX hydrolysate from Indiana to New Jersey based on a federal statute that bans the transportation of chemical weapons across state lines and complained that federal environmental regulations were not being followed by the Army.

The two concurrent events are sponsored by 19 regional and national organizations and businesses, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, DNREC’s Delaware Coastal Programs, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

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World's Largest Flower Evolved from Tiny Blossoms

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetss, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - The plant with the world's largest flower - typically a more than three feet across, with a bud the size of a basketball - evolved from a family of plants whose blossoms are nearly all tiny, botanists write this week in the journal "Science."

Their genetic analysis of rafflesia reveals that it is closely related to a family that includes poinsettias, castor oil plants, the tropical root crop cassava, and the trees that produce natural rubber.

The research team from Harvard University, Southern Illinois University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the University of Wisconsin was led by Harvard's Charles C. Davis.

"For nearly 200 years rafflesia's lineage has confounded plant scientists," says Davis, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "As a parasite living inside the tissue of a tropical vine, the plant lacks leaves, shoots, or roots, making it difficult to compare to more conventional plants."

"Most efforts to place plants in the botanical tree of life in the past 25 years have tracked ancestry using molecular markers in genes governing photosynthesis," said Davis. "Rafflesia is a non-photosynthetic parasite, and those genes have apparently been abandoned, meaning that to determine its lineage we had to look at other parts of the plant's genome."

Davis and his colleagues determined that over about 46 million years, rafflesia's blooms, which now weigh up to 15 pounds, evolved at an accelerated pace. Then, after increasing in size by a factor of roughly 79, the plant reverted to a slower evolutionary pace.

Scientists looked at some 11,500 base pairs of DNA to determine that the giant flower's closest relatives are in the Euphorbiaceae family, many of which have blossoms just a few millimeters in diameter.

"The power of nucleic acid comparisons is revealed as well as ever in this stunning deduction," says botanist Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. "The massive increase in flower size is one of the most significant among living organisms, and could never have been deduced by conventional methods."

Found growing on the jungle floor in parts of southeastern Asia, rafflesia has a carcass-like appearance. Its blooms are a mottled blood red, reek of decaying flesh, and in some cases even emit heat, much like a recently killed animal. These traits help the flower attract the carrion flies that pollinate it.

Rafflesia was first discovered in Indonesia's Sumatran rain forest some 180 years ago by Sir Stamford Raffles, governor of the East India Company's establishments in Sumatra, and Joseph Arnold, a naturalist and physician.

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