AmeriScan: July 29, 2003

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Eastern States: More Air Pollution With New EPA Rule

WASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - Nearly 1.6 million additional tons of air pollution would be emitted in 12 key states under a new rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to alter the Clean Air Act's New Source Review permit requirements, according to research by state governments and an environmental group released today. The report, entitled "Reform or Rollback? How EPA's Changes to New Source Review Affect Air Pollution in 12 States," was sponsored by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP)and the Council of State Governments/Eastern Regional Conference (CSG/ERC). The New Source Review requires permits and the installation of pollution controls that conform to the best available technology if a production unit is physically changed in a way that significantly increases air pollution. The new EPA rule allows refineries, cement kilns, chemical plants and any manufacturer except utilities to avoid those permits and pollution controls so long as the new project is not expected to increase emissions above their highest level in the past 10 years. Under the old rule, emissions were usually not allowed to increase above the highest level in the most recent two years. The report found that emissions are likely to increase under the new rule because emissions in the past tended to be higher than they are today for many plants, and also because other federal limits are not as stringent as the New Source Review (NSR) provisions, and are unlikely to check emissions growth. "The new NSR rule could increase air pollution in many cities and counties nationwide," said Eric Schaeffer, former chief of civil enforcement for the EPA and current director of the Environmental Integrity Project. The EPA reopened its New Source Review rule on July 25 in response to widespread concern that the agency had not considered the rule's environmental impacts. "EPA owes the public an objective and transparent evaluation of whether this new rule will increase emissions," said Schaeffer. "States should not be forced to implement this rule until that evaluation is complete." The report found that total emissions of five pollutants - sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter - could increase by nearly 1.6 million tons a year from 1,282 plants. States included in the study were Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In some states, emissions could increase by more than 50 percent above 1999 levels. The EPA has stated that emission increases are unlikely, because other federal permit requirements would limit emissions growth. But the EIP and CSG/ERC review of permits for six plants found that that these other permit requirements either did not apply, or were unlikely to apply. As a result, "emissions from key production units at the six plants could increase at least 1,780 tons, and as much as 2,413 tons a year," the report states. "The report provides important information on a controversial issue," said Pennsylvania State Senator Ray Musto, chair of the CSG/ERC Energy and Environment Committee. "I think the results of the study are very timely, and will be useful to state environmental officials as they consider the changes proposed by EPA."

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EPA Faces Public Access Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Sierra Club today filed a suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allegedly attempting to block citizen access to key information about toxic pollution. Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that filed the case on behalf of Sierra Club, also has asked the court to reopen an existing case challenging a related EPA action.

"It is a cornerstone of public health protection that sources of toxic air pollution must control their emissions at all times," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "But the Bush administration wants to keep the public from knowing if they actually do so."

The case arises from the EPA's failure to implement a settlement reached in 2002. New rules written by the agency in effect allowed polluters to ignore emission standards whenever it is in a period of self-defined "malfunction."

Pew says the rules advanced the position that polluters should "comply with emission standards except when [they] choose not to do so'."

The Sierra Club challenged the loophole in court and the agency agreed to fix it by requiring polluters to minimize emissions at all times and by ensuring that their plans and procedures for dealing with 'malfunctions' would be available for public review.

But the EPA has not implemented the settlement, according to Marti Sinclair, chair of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Strategy Team.

"Instead of ensuring that malfunction plans would be available to the public, as it had promised, the agency put up new barriers to keep this information secret," Sinclair said. "The agency's failure to keep its word left us no choice but to go back to court."

The suit is in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In addition, the agency's failure to implement the agreement affects a separate deal regarding the deadline for permit applications for more than 80,000 major sources of toxic pollution that the agency has, so far, not regulated.

According to Earthjustice, EPA's failure to regulate these sources by the Clean Air Act's November 15, 2000 deadline had triggered a separate permit process under which each individual source had to apply for a special permit and individualized emission standards from its State permitting authority.

The settlement agreement had allowed additional time for EPA to complete its standards before these permits were due, but that issue will now go before the court as well.

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MIT Study Says Nuclear Power Too Important to Scrap

WASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - The option of nuclear power should be retained because it is an important carbon free source of power, according to a new report from researchers with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.

The researchers made this recommendation as part of "the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary study ever conducted on the future of nuclear energy," according to co-chair Dr. John Deutch, an MIT chemistry professor.

Nuclear power is not the only non-carbon option, the report's authors said, and should be pursued as a long term option along with other options such as the use of renewable energy sources, increased efficiency, and carbon sequestration. But the benefits of nuclear should not be overlooked.

"Taking nuclear power off the table as a viable alternative will prevent the global community from achieving long term gains in the control of carbon dioxide emissions," Deutch said.

"Fossil fuel based electricity is projected to account for more than 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020," said Deutch. "In the U.S. 90 percent of the carbon emissions from electricity generation come from coal fired generation, even though this accounts for only 52 percent of the electricity produced."

The prospects for nuclear energy as an option are limited, the report finds, by four unresolved problems: high relative costs; perceived adverse safety, environmental, and health effects; potential security risks stemming from proliferation; and unresolved challenges in long term management of nuclear wastes.

The study examined a growth scenario where the present deployment of nuclear power worldwide is expanded to nearly three fold by mid century, keeping nuclear's share of the electricity market about constant.

Currently, the United States has 104 nuclear reactors, nearly 25 percent of the world's total of 437 operational reactors.

"There is no question that the up front costs associated with making nuclear power competitive, are higher than those associated with fossil fuels," said Dr. Ernst Monizm, an MIT physicist and cochair of the committee. "But as our study shows, there are many ways to mitigate these costs and, over time, the societal and environmental price of carbon emissions could dramatically improve the competitiveness of nuclear power."

The study offers a number of recommendations for making the nuclear energy option viable, including increased emphasis on environmental safety and security, new federal initiatives for waste management along with some economic incentives.

It also recommends providing countries that forego proliferation risky enrichment and reprocessing activities a preferred position to receive nuclear fuel and waste management services from nations that operate the entire fuel cycle.

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California Conservationists Worry About Recall Impact

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - A group of California's environmental organizations say a vote to recall Governor Gray Davis is a vote against the environment. The organizations worry that the environmental record of the financial backers of the recall campaign, in particular U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, do not bode well for the state's environment should Davis be recalled.

"The recall threatens to roll back decades of environmental progress on cleaning up our drinking water, our air and the coast," Michael Stanley-Jones, California Director of Clean Water Action. "We want voters to know the truth about who is behind the recall effort."

Analysis released Monday by the California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and Sierra Club California, find that Issa - who spent some $1.7 million of his own money on the recall effort - has voted against the environment 95 percent of the time.

"Darrell Issa's environmental record does not reflect the views of the majority of Californians who overwhelmingly support strong environmental safeguards," said Julia Bott, treasurer of Sierra Club California. "It is a step backwards to let an extremist who has led the assault on our national environmental laws to buy his way into Sacramento. The recall is bad for California's environment."

The Issa for Governor campaign refuted the allegation that Issa, who owns a hybrid car, is anti-environmental.

But the environmental groups say his voting record does not support this stance. In 2001, Issa earned a zero percent on the Sierra Club 2001 congressional vote watch - the organization says he cast an anti-environmental vote on every single key vote.

Issa has a cumulative congressional score of five percent on the League of Conservation Voters' chart.

The groups say he voted in favor of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and supported provisions in the 2003 energy bill to make it easier to develop new offshore oil drilling projects. In addition, Issa supported the Bush administration's rollback of the Clean Water Act and opposed efforts to boost the fuel efficiency of sport utility vehicles.

"The recall campaign is an attempt to recall our environmental protections," said Rico Mastrodonato, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters."If you care about your health, if you care about the environment, you will vote 'no' on the recall."

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Leopards, Lions Rescued in California Go to New Sanctuaries

COLTON, California, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - Twelve leopards and two African lions are leaving Tiger Rescue in Colton today after the facility's owners were arraigned Friday in Riverside Superior Court on 63 charges of related to the condition of the tigers and other animals on the property.

During an April raid on the property, officials found 90 carcasses of adult tigers, and 58 dead cubs entombed in freezers.

State officials claim the owner kept his big cats in cramped, filthy cages without adequate food, water or shelter and allowed them to breed illegally.

Lawyers for John Weinhart and Marla Smith pleaded not guilty on their behalf. A trial date has been set for September 22. Weinhart is also facing criminal charges in San Bernardino County for neglect of the 54 animals at Tiger Rescue, according to the "San Bernardino County Sun" newspaper.

The leopards and lions are moving to new homes at two animal sanctuaries in Colorado and Indiana. The animals are the first to be transported since a court gave approval for their removal last week.

Later this week, a male cougar will move to his new home at the Austin Zoo in Texas.

The leopards, lions, and cougar, along with the 39 tigers still in need of placement, all will be sterilized and microchipped to guarantee they are not exploited for the breeding industry, roadside attractions, or the exotic animal trade, according to The Fund for Animals, an animal advocacy group based in New York which is helping to coordinate the placement of these animals.

Fund for Animals President Michael Markarian said, “These unfortunate animals have lived through so much cruelty, and it is crucial that they only go to responsible sanctuaries and zoos that won’t exploit them for commercial profit. There are thousands of big cats in private hands in the United States, threatening the safety of our communities and the welfare of the animals. The breeding and private ownership of big cats must be halted.”

The Fund for Animals has been paying for food for the 54 big cats and assisting the California Department of Fish and Game with their care since May, when a court ordered the facility’s owner away from the animals.

The Fund is also caring for 18 tiger and leopard cubs at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ramona, 12 of them from the Tiger Rescue facility.

The Fund for Animals is seeking reputable, accredited animal sanctuaries and zoos to take in the remaining tigers. The organization is accepting donations for the care and transport of the big cats, and is also urging citizens to tell their members of Congress to support The Captive Wildlife Safety Act, H.R. 1006 and S. 269, which will ban the interstate commerce in tigers, lions, leopards, and other big cats for the exotic pet trade.

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Automakers May Have Misled Public About Gas Mileage Laws

WASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - The Big Three U.S. automakers have a history of misleading Congress and the public about laws to promote better gas mileage, according to a new white paper released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The report "Life in the Slow Lane: Tracking Decades of Automaker Roadblocks to Fuel Economy" says that Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have issued "untruths, contradictory statements and wildly dire predictions" to persuade Americans to drive larger, less fuel efficient vehicles.

Automakers say that the vehicles they offer reflect market demand and that increased gas mileage mandates distort the market, compromise safety and cost jobs. But USC contends that the U.S. Big Three consistently advance the false arguments that drivers do not want cars that get better gas mileage, heavy cars that get low gas mileage are safer and the best way to improve fuel efficiency is for the industry to do it voluntarily.

"Do the automakers really expect Americans to believe that consumers are clamoring for less fuel efficiency?" said Julie Anderson, a spokeswoman for UCS. "Study after study shows that the technology exists right now to build cars and trucks that are just as safe or safer than vehicles on the road today and can get 30, 40, or even 60 miles per gallon."

UCS, a nonprofit research organizations, reports an array of research that shows automakers have the potential to improve the fuel economy of cars and light trucks - such as minivans and sport utility vehicles - far in excess of current standards. It says that corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standard increases for light trucks to 22 miles per gallon in 2005, 27.5 mpg in 2008 (the present standard for cars), and 30 to 33 mpg in 2010 are both feasible and technologically achievable.

The CAFE standard for cars is 27.5 mpg and 20.7 mpg for light trucks.

The Bush administration recently issued a final rule to increase CAFE standards for light trucks by 1.5 mpg over the next three years.

The administration has been sympathetic to the views of U.S. automakers, who contend that mandated increases in fuel economy will cost them billions of dollars and will force them to compromise safety of these vehicles. U.S. automakers had discussed challenging the 1.5 mpg increase, but now appear willing to try and abide by it.

"Detroit's credibility gap on fuel economy is nothing new," the UCS report says. "In the 28 years since Congress adopted CAFE standards, the auto industry has repeated the same core arguments against tighter standards and arguments that do not stand up to scrutiny. The industry's record of predicting the effects of CAFE on the job market, consumer choice, technological potential, and safety has been dismal. To hear Detroit tell it, CAFE is the reason the sky is falling on the auto industry."

Stronger CAFE standards are technologically feasible and are "the only way to stop automakers from dancing around the issue of fuel economy and set them on the path to making significant improvements," according to UCS.

But Americans clearly love their light trucks, in particular SUVs, and low fuel economy has not stopped record purchases of these vehicles. Light trucks account for more than 50 percent of all new U.S. vehicle sales and are the biggest moneymakers for U.S. automakers.

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Single Gene Controls Leaf Form

DAVIS, California, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists say a single gene controls whether a plant makes feathery leaves like a tomato or umbrella like leaves like Oxalis.

"It is a very surprising finding, that modifying one gene in the tomato alters the leaf from one form to another," said Neelima Sinha, a professor of plant biology at UC Davis who is senior author on the paper, published in the July 24 issue of the journal Nature.

Sinha explains that the same mechanism is shared by a wide group of flowering plants and that plant leaves fall into two main groups - simple, single blade leaves and compound leaves with multiple leaflets.

Compound leaves have either a series of alternate leaflets on each side of a stem, like a tomato, or leaflets arrayed in a circle around a point at the end of the stalk.

Sinha and her colleagues genetically manipulated the gene, called Phantastica (PHAN), in tomato plants so that it was turned down or turned off.

Low-PHAN tomato plants made palmate, umbrella like leaves or needles with no leaflets at all, the researchers reported.

In plants with normal leaves, PHAN was switched on throughout the upper surface of the leaf and in plants with palmate leaves, PHAN expression was reduced to the tip of the leaf.

Plants with needle shaped leaves showed no PHAN expression at all.

Sinha explained the results showed that when PHAN is switched on in part of the leaf, it creates an area where leaflets can form and that the size and shape of this domain determines the shape of the leaf.

The researchers found similar patterns of PHAN gene expression and leaf shape in live specimens of other plants from the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory and more than 500 dried plants from the UC Davis Herbarium, showing that the same mechanism is used to control leaf shape even in distantly related flowering plants.

Sinha says this suggests that there may be a limited number of ways to change the shape of a leaf.

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Bacteria Are Social Climbers

PRINCETON, New Jersey, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - Bacteria actively move around their environments to form social organizations, according to a study by Princeton University scientists.

The researchers placed bacteria in minute mazes and found that they sought each other out using chemical signals. Previous scientific evidence had indicated social interactions among bacteria, but many thought clusters formed only when bacteria randomly landed somewhere, then multiplied into dense populations.

The discovery that they actively move into gatherings underscores the importance of bacterial interactions and could eventually lead to new drugs that disrupt the congregating behavior of harmful germs, according to Jeffry Stock, a Princeton professor of molecular biology and coauthor of the paper.

"It makes sense, but it is surprising that it is as pervasive as it now seems to be," Stock said.

For the study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Science, the researchers observed the gathering behavior in E. coli as well as in V. harveyi, a marine bacteria that glows when it achieves a high density population.

They found that when placed in mazes the bacteria congregated in small rooms and dead end pathways.

Stock explained that biologists had previously believed that bacteria's ability to move and follow chemical signals - a process called chemotaxis - was primarily a means of dispersing and seeking food. This study shows that chemotaxis may also be important for facilitating cooperative behavior.

Disrupting chemotaxis could be a route to attacking biofilms, a common type of bacterial interaction in which they form a colony that is resistant to antibiotic drugs and chemicals, the researchers said.

In addition, clustering also allows bacteria to perform a coordinated activity called quorum sensing in which they turn on certain genes only when they sense that they are part of a dense population.

Some disease causing bacteria are believed to rely on quorum sensing in mounting a successful infection.

"Our paper points out that you do not necessarily need growth to achieve quorum sensing," said Peter Wolanin, a postdoctoral researcher in Stock's lab. "The bacteria can actively seek each other out to engage in collective social behavior."

The researchers also have developed a mathematical model that simulates the bacterial congregation and plan further research to investigate the relation between bacterial behaviors and the size and geometry of their physical environment.

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Six Ginseng Dealers Charged with Illegal Sale

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, July 29, 2003 (ENS) - Charges were filed and search warrants were served today on six ginseng dealers for violations including failing to obtain certification to ship the forest herb out of the state and falsifying records. Indiana conservation officers conducted a two year investigation that resulted in charges against Indiana residents Mike Bell of Connersville, Brent Duncan of Bloomington, Phil Welty of Wabash, Russel Lynch of Seelyville, and Qiyue (Sonny) Suo of Louisville, Kentucky, and Solid Gold Health, a health food store in Fon du Lac, Wisconsin. Exporting ginseng that has not been certified is a class A misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to a $5,000. Also, violating Indiana's ginseng law and regulations could result in suspension of a dealer's license for up to five years. Ginseng is a million dollar a year business in Indiana, which is the third leading state in exports. Ginseng harvesting and sales are monitored and regulated by state and federal government agencies to prevent over harvesting of the popular native plant species that is used in medicinal products sold worldwide. Wild Indiana ginseng is used primarily in Asia. "Indiana has a ginseng harvest season and other conservation measures so that ginseng will forever remain an important part of our forests," said John Bacone, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources division of nature preserves. "The regulations allow for harvest only after the ginseng seeds have ripened, so that the plant can continue to reproduce naturally in Indiana forests," said Bacone. Twenty-three of Indiana's 42 registered dealers reported in 2002 that they purchased 3,192 pounds of wild ginseng, paying an average of $325 per pound. It takes about 350 plants to make a pound. In Indiana, ginseng may be harvested on private property between September 1 and December 31 with the permission of the landowner. It is not lawful to harvest ginseng on a state park or other property managed by the Department of Natural Resources. Ginseng may be purchased for resale and exported between September 1 and March 31 by dealers who have a license from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

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