AmeriScan: January 23, 2007

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U.S. Groups Buy Colombian Forest to Protect Rare Species

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - The chestnut-capped piha is a robin-sized bird restricted to a few tiny remnant forest patches in the Antioquia Department of Colombia, in the Central Cordillera of the Andes.

The bird is so restricted in its distribution that it evaded discovery until 1999, and has been identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as a priority conservation species.

Now, support from the American Bird Conservancy, ABC, and partners has allowed for the purchase of more habitat in a move to protect the chestnut-capped piha and other endangered species.

"Thanks to the generous support of Conservation International, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, Robert Wilson, and Robert Giles, ABC has funded the purchase of an additional 1,310 acres," said George Fenwick, the ABC president.

The reserve will be owned and managed by ABC's Colombian partner Fundación ProAves.

Local residents named the bird, Arrierito Antioqueño or "little herdsman of Antioquia" for its call, reminiscent of the whistles made by horsemen herding cattle.

The species clings to existence in an area devastated by gold mining in the early 20th century and later by deforestation for pasturelands.

Only 370 acres of the bird’s habitat had been protected, but even this limited sanctuary is at risk from timber extraction clearing the last subtropical forest fragments surrounding it.

The reserve is also important for globally threatened frog species, whose last remaining habitat within the Central Cordillera is shrinking. Seven vulnerable and four endangered frog species occur within the new reserve, as do five additional species so new to science that they are still awaiting formal descriptions.

At least one of these species is believed to be found only at this site, known as La Forzosa, and belongs to one of the most globally threatened amphibian groups, the harlequin toads.

The reserve also contains populations of other rare birds, including the black tinamou - known from one other site in southern Colombia, and one in central Peru - sharpbill, Stiles’ tapaculo, Parker’s antbird, semi-collared hawk, red-bellied grackle, multicolored tanager, black-and-gold tanager, and a wintering population of the rapidly declining cerulean warbler – a migratory songbird that nests in North America.

"The area is such a remarkable center of micro-endemism that scientists believe more species may be there waiting to be discovered," said Claude Gascon of Conservation International, based in Washington, DC. "The new Arrierito Antioqueño Bird Reserve will ensure that the piha, its habitat, and the astonishing biodiversity contained there are better protected and can thrive into the future."

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Auto Dealers Aim to Cut Energy Use By 10 Percent

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - The National Automobile Dealers Association, NADA, today announced its participation in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Challenge.

NADA is challenging its 20,000 member dealerships to reduce energy use at more than 43,000 facilities nationwide by 10 percent or more.

"America's auto dealers are delivering more than great cars," said Bill Wehrum, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "They are driving energy savings up and costs down, while leading the way to a healthier environment and a stronger economy. NADA's response to the Energy Star Challenge is an example of exceptional leadership at work."

Launched in 2005, the Energy Star Challenge encourages businesses across America to reduce energy use by 10 percent or more.

Automobile dealerships are energy intensive operations that require high quality lighting, both indoors and outdoors, and first-rate climate control.

EPA estimates if auto dealers cut their energy use by 10 percent they would save nearly $193 million and prevent more than one million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

NADA members will assess and track the energy performance of their facilities using EPA's rating tool, Portfolio Manager.

The energy information entered into Portfolio Manager by NADA members will allow individual dealerships and the industry as a whole to monitor the significant reductions that will result from operational improvements.

NADA members will receive the publication "Putting Energy into Profits: An Auto Dealer Guide" as well as webcast training and expert support.

Launched in 1992, Energy Star is a government program that helps businesses and consumers protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.

EPA data shows that last year Americans using Energy Star rated appliances and other equipment saved $12 billion on their energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to 23 million vehicles.

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Michigan Signs Onto Midwest Greenhouse Gas Registry

LANSING, Michigan, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - The state of Michigan today signed a Resolution in Support of a Voluntary Midwest Greenhouse Gas Registry, joining seven other Midwest states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The states have been working with the Lake Michigan Air Directors Consortium, LADCO, to develop a framework for a voluntary Midwest registry of greenhouse gas emissions.

All of the funding for the development of the registry framework has come from private foundation monies, and efforts for the registry were initiated by LADCO after receiving a grant from the Joyce Foundation in August 2005, at the request of Michigan and Wisconsin. An additional grant from the Energy Foundation was awarded to LADCO for further development of the registry.

The registry will provide the mechanism for greenhouse gas-emitting companies to track their emissions and reductions and will provide a validated list of greenhouse gas emission reduction credits available for possible trading.

This program will give participating companies the ability to register reductions now should the federal government require emission reductions in the future.

The registry will work in conjunction with registries already in place from the Northeast to California to become a multi-state registry involving more than 30 states.

"This is an important first step for Michigan and the Great Lakes Region to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gases," said Steven Chester, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality. "We look forward to continuing our partnership with companies around the state to improve the quality of our air and the environment."

To view the Michigan greenhouse gas inventory, click here.

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Arizona Will Pay Vehicle Recyclers for Mercury Switches

PHOENIX, Arizona, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, ADEQ, Director Steve Owens Monday asked Arizona vehicle recyclers to participate in a free, voluntary program to reclaim switches containing mercury from scrapped vehicles.

ADEQ is asking Arizona's more than 200 vehicle recyclers to join the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program, formed last year by representatives of dismantlers, automotive steel and scrap industries, environmental groups, a national association of state government environmental agency officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Mercury is an extremely toxic substance, and this program will help prevent toxic mercury from contaminating our air and water," Owens said. "This program is a free, easy way for auto recyclers to help protect our children and families from exposure to toxic mercury, as well as protect our precious natural resources from contamination."

When vehicles are crushed and shredded for recycling, the mercury in vehicles' lighting switches and antilock braking systems may be released into the environment.

Mercury switches in cars account for as much as 11 tons of mercury pollution each year. The national program seeks to cut 75 million tons of mercury emissions over the next 15 years.

The national program established a $4 million fund to pay recyclers for their efforts on a first-come, first-served basis.

Arizona recyclers will receive $1 per mercury light switch or assembly received, and $3 per antilock braking system module received. Recyclers do not need to remove the switches from the assemblies.

As many as 3.6 million cars in Arizona may be eligible for the program.

Mercury is a liquid metal that accumulates in fatty tissue and muscle and has been linked to a variety of health effects, including toxicity to the brain and nervous system.

Exposure to mercury at elevated concentrations can cause learning disabilities and impair motor function in children.

Over the past several years ADEQ has issued fish consumption advisories for 12 lakes throughout the state, because of high levels of mercury found in certain fish in those lakes.

Owens said that reducing the release of toxic mercury is a priority for the ADEQ. In November, the agency adopted rules to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in Arizona by 90 percent over the next seven years.

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Contaminants in Chesapeake Bay Sediments Mapped

WASHINGTON, DC, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - The major portion of the Chesapeake Bay, called the mainstem, has minimal sediment contamination but major western tributaries of the bay show elevated contaminant levels, according to new research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

Toxic contaminants enter the bay from rivers and streams as well as from windblown dust, stormwater runoff, spills and direct discharge.

Researchers from the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science collected sediment samples from the Chesapeake Bay between 1998 and 2001 to determine where and how severely the sediments are contaminated by toxic chemicals.

The comprehensive contaminant report, "Magnitude and Extent of Contaminated Sediment and Toxicity in Chesapeake Bay," covers the entire mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay, along with its major western tributaries - the Patuxent, Potomac, Rappahannock, York and James rivers.

"NOAA shares in the widespread public concern that the ecological functions of the bay are becoming impaired and that has the potential to impact human health," says John Dunnigan, director of the NOAA Ocean Service.

"Understanding the impacts and sources of contaminants to the nation's largest estuary is part of a long-term commitment to understanding the bay's ecosystem."

NOAA's study examined a variety of toxic contaminants found in Chesapeake Bay, including metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), persistent chlorinated pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) - and the organisms exposed to them.

In addition to contaminant hot spots in Baltimore and Norfolk harbors, contaminants accumulate in the Susquehanna Flats and the deep trough areas west of Kent Island and south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the researchers found.

The Hart Miller Island area, where dredge spoil from Baltimore harbor and its approach channels are deposited in a containment facility, shows metals at higher concentrations than at other location in the mainstem.

The study also found benthic species richness, abundance and diversity went down as contamination levels and toxicity increased.

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Massachusetts to Limit Nutrients Impairing Cape Cod Bays

BOSTON, Massachusetts, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MassDEP, will hold a public meeting Thursday seeking comment on a draft document identifying the need to limit and reduce the nutrient nitrogen in seven coastal water bodies on Cape Cod.

The affected waters are Cotuit Bay, North Bay, Prince Cove, Prince Cove Channel, Warren Cove, Seapuit River, and West Bay.

The seven coastal water bodies - with watersheds in Barnstable, Sandwich and Mashpee - are currently impaired by excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen.

"This cleanup plan charts a new path for enhancing recreational opportunities and restoring ecological health on Cape Cod," said MassDEP Acting Commissioner Arleen O'Donnell. "The Cape Cod Commission and the towns of Barnstable, Sandwich and Mashpee have taken great initiative and have been committed to providing the leadership necessary to improve future water quality conditions."

Steady population growth and increased land use development, particularly during the last several decades in southeastern Massachusetts, has created an overabundance of nitrogen in Cape Cod harbors, bays and estuaries. The primary controllable source of nitrogen is wastewater discharged both from septic systems and wastewater treatment systems.

Stormwater runoff, leaching lawn fertilizers, discharges from agricultural land uses, and atmospheric deposition also contribute varying quantities of nitrogen.

Nitrogen is the primary cause of eutrophication that can lead to loss of eelgrass beds, which are critical habitats for insects, shellfish, and fish; and periodic algae blooms.

Periodic extreme decreases in dissolved oxygen concentrations that threaten aquatic life can result from excess nitrogen and reductions in the diversity of bottom-dwelling animal communities occur.

The embayment restoration plan for these estuaries, formulated by MassDEP and the University of Massachusetts/Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, is proposed as part of a comprehensive six-year, collaborative project intended to improve estuarine water quality in 89 embayments along the southeastern Massachusetts coastline.

At the public meeting, MassDEP staff will present a draft Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for limiting nitrogen to the amounts that the water bodies can absorb without violating water quality standards and impairing uses such as fishing and recreational activities.

The plan calls for reducing watershed sources of nitrogen by up to 85 percent. Most of the reductions will be from better treatment and handling of wastewater, but nitrogen from stormwater and fertilizer use should also be controlled wherever possible.

The meeting will be held Thursday, January 25, from 7-9 p.m. in the Town Council Hearing Room of the Barnstable Town Hall, 367 Main Street in Barnstable.

The public comment period ends Friday, February 9. Written comments can be submitted to: michael.ackerman@state.ma.us.

A copy of the MassDEP Draft TMDL Report for Total Nitrogen and a further explanation of the TMDL Program is available on MassDEP's website at: www.mass.gov/dep/water/resources/esttmdls.htm. The Final Technical Report for the Three Bays TMDL can be found at: www.oceanscience.net/estuaries/reports.htm

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