AmeriScan: July 31, 2006

* * *

California Heat Wave Claims 141 Lives

SACRAMENTO, California, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - The two week heat wave across California seems to be easing with slightly lower temperatures forecast for the next few days. Intense triple-digit heat blasted the central and southern portions of the state last week, causing deaths of humans and animals, power outages, and crop destruction.

Officials blamed the heat for 141 fatalities across the state. Most deaths from the heat were elderly people who died in homes without air conditioning in the Central Valley, where temperatures hit 115 degrees for several days in a row.

On Monday in the Central Valley, temperatures are expected to be lower, reaching a high of 100 degrees.

"While people don't need to be told it's hot outside, they do need to be reminded how to take care of themselves, children, elderly and even their pets when the weather gets this hot," said Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Acting Director of Public Health and County Health Officer for Los Angeles County.

"When the temperature is this high, prolonged sun exposure may cause dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke," Fielding warned.

The air quality is forecast to be unhealthy for sensitive persons in the San Gabriel Mountains and the San Fernando, Santa Clarita, and San Gabriel Valleys. In these areas, individuals with heart disease or asthma or other lung disease should minimize outdoor activity. Poor air quality can make people even more susceptible to heat-related illness.

Aid workers are going door-to-door to check on older residents.

The heat generated an increased demand on the state's electrical grid, causing power outages at a time when air conditioning is most needed. More than one million people have been left without power at some point during the heat wave.

With California's heat wave nearing two weeks, some cities and counties are offering cooling centers where residents can go if their air conditioner fails or if they can't afford one.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has directed the California Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA) to coordinate with all local fairgrounds in the state to provide cooled buildings to Californians needing relief from the heat wave.

California has 78 local fairs overseen by the DFA. Of those, 75 operate facilities that would be opened to the public under this request. The fairgrounds will establish a building or buildings on the premises where people may gather for as long as necessary until the heat wave ends.

The Department of Consumer Affairs has also established a toll-free number: 1-800-952-5210, to help residents find the nearest cooling center.

* * *

Whitney Glacier Melt Floods California Highway

WEED, California, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - High temperatures and increased precipitation have caused Whitney Creek, located 10 miles north of Weed, to flow over its banks, flooding Highway 97.

"Unusually warm weather is melting glaciers causing increased flow in Whitney Creek," said Shasta-Trinity National Forest Hydrologist Steve Bachmann. "Additionally, debris has plugged the creek causing the water to rise."

Bachmann says the water flow will not stop until Whitney Glacier which feeds the creek on Mt. Shasta, stops melting. "Only colder weather can accomplish that," said Bachman.

The U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and the California Highway Patrol are working together to mitigate the potential of flooding across Highway 97.

CalTrans scraped the area adjacent to Highway 97, in an effort to reduce pressure on the creek and prevent any substantial amount water from entering the roadway.

Forest Service crews and a dozer are working up-stream to remove sand, rocks and boulders, and to correct the creeks flow path, further reducing the potential for flooding.

Forest Service officials are advising the public to be aware of higher temperatures and of increased rainfall while traveling along Highway 97 near Whitney Creek.

* * *

BLM Faces Legal Challenges to Lease of Colorado Roadless Lands

DENVER, Colorado, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - Gunnison County, businesses dependent on outdoor recreation, conservation groups and private landowners filed formal challenges Wednesday to portions of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) August 10 oil and gas lease sale in Colorado.

The sale would lease 20,000 acres of roadless areas within three national forests, BLM lands proposed for wilderness protection, state wildlife areas, as well as private lands.

The upcoming oil and gas lease sale would auction off inventoried roadless lands within Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison; White River; and Manti-La Sal National Forests.

The sale threatens key watersheds, some of Colorado's most scenic unspoiled areas, wildlife corridors, and habitat for lynx, black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, and Colorado River cutthroat trout.

"A huge wave of oil and gas drilling is sweeping over Colorado's West Slope, and now it's threatening some of the wildest, most scenic areas of our forests," said Jeff Mead, who operates Mamm Peak Outfitters, which guides hunting trips in the Mamm Peak Roadless Areas, which is blanketed with 4,000 acres of leases.

Mead pointed out that petroleum leases and development are now surrounding and creeping onto Battlement Mesa and Grand Mesa near Collbran.

"A thoughtful approach to energy development means balancing development with other important values, like wildlife habitat, drinking water supplies, and recreation. It makes no sense to destroy the reasons people love to live, work, and play on the West Slope for a few weeks' supply of gas."

The roadless leases come just weeks before the Colorado Roadless Area Task Force is scheduled to complete its recommendations to Governor Bill Owens, recommendations that could lead to protection of roadless forest from damaging road construction and drilling.

"The Forest Service shouldn't be pushing to drill while the task force is working with the public and the governor to complete recommendations on how to protect these lands. It undermines the task force's work," said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director Wilderness Workshop based in Carbondale.

The protest also comes days before a federal judge in San Francisco will hear arguments challenging the Forest Service's policy allowing development in national forest roadless areas. The court hearing Tuesday in San Francisco will focus on how the Bush administration abandoned roadless area protections on national forests that were enacted in the final days of the Clinton administration.

Decades of logging and mining, and government subsidized road-building have created a web of roads across Colorado's seven national forests. Only six percent of these national forests are more than two miles from a road.

"Businesses, property owners, hunters and outfitters, conservationists, and local governments all agree that some places are just too valuable to bulldoze, drill, and develop," said Tony Prendergast, a Western Colorado Congress member and former backcountry ranger for the Forest Service who enjoys horseback riding in the Clear Fork roadless area which BLM is proposing to lease.

"The broad range of folks protesting this sale demonstrates that Coloradans want oil and gas companies and BLM to take a more balanced approach to gas development," he said.

More information, including maps showing leases in Forest Service roadless areas, photos of some of the threatened Forest Service roadless areas, is available on the Colorado's Forest Legacy website.

* * *

Feds Schedule Eight Listening Sessions on Cooperative Conservation

WASHINGTON, DC, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - The secretaries of Interior, Commerce and Agriculture, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality are inviting members of the public to share their concerns.

The dates and locations of the first eight listening sessions on cooperative conservation and environmental partnerships were announced Friday. These sessions are the first of at least two dozen to be held around the country.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is expected to participate in sessions in Spokane, Boise, Fairbanks, and Colton. Announcements will follow for other dates and times and the Cabinet secretaries or other federal officials, who will attend.

The meetings follow the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation in August 2005. The conference identified three broad approaches to improving conservation results: promoting cooperation within the federal government, promoting cooperation between the federal government and others, and eliminating barriers to cooperation in existing policy.

The meetings will focus on issues, programs, and policies mentioned frequently at the conference.

Government officials want public input on such questions as:

The meetings will be held at:

People who wish to pre-register for a particular session may do so online at: http://cooperativeconservation.gov

* * *

Developer Must Clean Defunct Tacoma Smelter Site

TACOMA, Washington, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - The federal government has expedited cleanup of 97 acres at the Asarco Smelter Site in Tacoma and Ruston, Washington, under a legal settlement reached Thursday.

The agreement will allow Asarco to sell the Asarco Smelter property, which is part of the Commencement Bay Nearshore/Tideflats Superfund Site, to developer Point Ruston LLC based in Lacey, Washington. The U.S. Justice Department says the sale ensures that the cleanup work required on the contaminated land will be completed.

Point Ruston intends to undertake residential and commercial development on the purchased property and will clean up the land to residential environmental standards.

Under this agreement, Point Ruston will assume all cleanup obligations on the property owned by Asarco and assume cleanup obligations on adjacent land which was also contaminated by Asarcos past operations. This land will also be open to public access.

The land is the former site of a smelting facility operated by Asarco from 1912 to 1985. A by-product of the smelting process, called slag, was used by Asarco as fill material throughout the facility and was also poured into Commencement Bay to extend the shoreline of the smelter site by 500 feet.

An estimated 15 million tons of slag and other wastes from past smelter operations contaminate the property and are a continuing source of groundwater contamination and pollution of marine sediments offshore.

In 1997, a consent decree between the EPA and Asarco mandated cleanup of the uplands portions of the smelter property and the adjacent properties. In 2000, EPA issued an administrative order requiring Asarco to perform the sediment and groundwater work. While Asarco has performed some of the work required, much of the cleanup has yet to be implemented.

On August 9, 2005, Asarco filed for bankruptcy protection under chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Texas. On January 30, 2006, the Bankruptcy Court approved the sale of the property to MC Construction and the sale agreement was later assigned to Point Ruston.

As part of pre-conditions of the sale set forth by the Bankruptcy Court, Point Ruston was required to reach an agreement with the EPA on cleanup of the property.

Granta Nakayama, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, said, "This agreement is a giant step in transforming this site from a highly contaminated former smelting facility to a residential development. The cleanup and redevelopment of this land is a win all around. It enhances the environment, improves the local community, and promotes economic development."

The U.S. government has agreed to release a lien against the property in exchange for $1.5 million at closing and payments over time that may reach $4 million. These funds will be placed into a special account to be used to clean up contaminated sediments in areas not covered by this agreement. As part of the settlement, Point Ruston will also pay EPAs oversight costs.

Residential yards in north Tacoma that were contaminated by the fallout from the Asarco Smelter are not covered in this agreement. The cleanup of these yards is being funded using funds from Trust Fund using money from a previous settlement with Asarco.

The Justice Department lodged the amendment to the existing consent decree Thursay in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and judicial approval. View the decree at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

* * *

New Jersey Addresses Public Concerns Over Remediation Hazards

TRENTON, New Jersey, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing to expand the Technical Requirements for Site Remediation to enhance public notification of remediation work. The new system will require more direct communication with the public when sites are of high local concern.

The proposed rules will be in the New Jersey Register in August 2006 with expected adoption in the fall. Meanwhile, the The DEP Office of Community Relations has developed an interim guidance for those who wish to enhance outreach in communities where remediation work is taking place.

Officials caution that this guidance should not be construed as an alternative to the state statutes guiding remediation in New Jersey. At any site, the party responsible for conducting the remediation must do so pursuant to New Jersey's Technical Requirements for Site Remediation.

But the state says early, two-way communication with residents, business owners and local officials affected by remediation activities is critical to a successful investigation and cleanup, especially when future uses include public recreation or housing.

With an effective outreach strategy, the parties responsible for the remediation can anticipate the needs and concerns of the community and deal with them proactively.

Effective outreach creates a forum to share information and raise and address community concerns about future use early in the remediation process. This effort can save time and money and build critical community support.

Risk of exposure to hazardous materials during the remediation can be a local concern, even when all technical requirements are met. Whether these concerns are scientifically based or perceived, they pose a real obstacle to progress if not addressed.

"We often hear from the public that they do not know what is taking place on the property next door or across the street," says the Office of Community Relations.

The guidance encourages the remediating party to notify nearby property owners and tenants and the community living and working nearby prior to any field activities associated with remedial investigation or a single phase remediation, either by the posting of appropriate signage or by direct notice.

The DEP is urging developers to recognize "sensitive populations" and inform the DEP, the municipal clerk, and the local health official before starting any field activities associated with the remedial investigation or a single phase remediation.

In addition, the DEP is asking developers to be aware of Environmental Justice Petition Neighborhoods. For more information, call 609-292-2885 or visit the NJEP Environmental Justice website at: www.nj.gov/dep/ej.

The new guidelines were covered during a brownfields to greenfields redevelopment conference hosted by the DEP on Friday that brought municipal officials, environmental commissioners and nonprofit organizations together to discuss new approaches to brownfield redevelopment.

* * *

New Chili Sauce: Some Like it Hot - Elephants, Not So Much

NEW YORK, New York, July 31, 2006 (ENS) - Conservationists who love hot sauce can now purchase Elephant Pepper chili products that help protect elephants in southern Africa.

The Elephant Pepper line of African hot sauces, jam and relish is available in the United States for the first time, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“Chili peppers give farmers an economically feasible means of keeping elephants away from valuable crops through non-lethal methods,” said Loki Osborn, project director for the Elephant Pepper Development Trust, a project supported by WCS. “The chilies grown by the farmers are used to make great hot sauce products, all of which are now available in the United States.”

Osborn originated the idea of Elephant Pepper in 1997, when he found that chili peppers could be used as a means of stopping elephants from destroying crops in the Zambezi Valley, which straddles the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

While electric fences and other deterrents are prohibitively expensive, chilies provide farmers with a cost-effective means of warding off the elephants without inflicting them with permanent damage.

Elephants do not like capsaicin, the chemical in chili that makes them hot.

Farmers use chili peppers to deter potential crop raiders in three ways: as a protective buffer crop to surround core crops of maize, sorghum and millet; by mixing crushed chilies with used grease, which the farmers apply to simple string fences; and by mixing crushed chili with animal dung to make briquettes which they burn at night, creating a noxious smoke to keep elephants out.

The chilies also are harvested and sold to the Elephant Pepper brand for hot sauce products, which are marketed in South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, and now the United States.

Proceeds from the sales of Zambezi Red, Baobab Gold, Chili Jam and Chili Relish are donated to the trust to support to the development of more chili growing projects.

“The response by the American public to our product has been overwhelming,” said marketing manager Nina Gibson. “Still our major challenge is to identify a distributor who would like to get involved with this socially responsible brand, and contribute to economic development in Africa. The brand needs a partner who will see the long term benefit of the project.”

The U.S. launch is supported by USAID-Market Access Trade and Policies and the AGOA-Southern Africa Global Competitiveness Hub. People can support the project by buying sauces on www.elephantpepper.com or donate to the project on www.wcs.org/elephantpepper.

“This is a great example of how conservation and development can be successfully combined into a win-win situation,” said Dr. James Deutsch, director of the WCS Africa Program. “The Elephant Pepper product line now offers U.S. consumers a means of supporting both elephants and sustainable development in Africa.”

* * *