AmeriScan: July 30, 2007

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Congress OKs Toxic Train Protections for Major Cities

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Congress Friday overwhelmingly passed homeland security legislation (H.R. 1) that, among many other measures, will help protect 46 U.S. cities from attacks against trains carrying hazardous materials.

The legislation implements recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. It requires railroads to route hazardous cargo shipments around, rather than through, major U.S. cities where possible.

Passage of the legislation is a victory for citizens concerned about "toxic trains" says Friends of the Earth, which has led the battle to re-route them.

"It's reckless to ship toxic cargo through cities that could be terrorist targets," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "We should be re-routing these shipments outside of cities, to rail lines where terrorist attacks are less likely and where the potential risks to humans from a huge toxic release are significantly lower. That's what this legislation will accomplish. President Bush should sign it immediately."

Friends of the Earth and citizens concerned about "toxic trains" have mounted a sustained nationwide effort to re-route such trains since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Their efforts have helped bring about the passage of city council re-routing ordinances in 11 major cities and the introduction of legislation in three state legislatures.

U.S. railroads have resisted such safety measures, which they see as the beginnings of governmental re-regulation, Blackwelder said.

Blackwelder points to a finding of the U.S. Naval Research Labs that one railcar of chlorine gas could kill 100,000 people in half an hour if a mishap occurred at a crowded civic or sports event in a major city.

Chlorine gas is used for water treatment. An April 2007 report by the Center for American Progress found that 37 drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities receive chlorine gas by rail but they endanger more than 25 million Americans living near these facilities and millions more in cities and towns along the rail delivery routes.

"After attacks on transportation systems in Madrid and London, it's important to improve security in the U.S.," said Fred Millar, Friends of the Earth consultant and longtime hazmat transportation expert.

The only voluntary re-routing that citizen pressure has achieved is the partial re-routing of hazardous materials away from the CSXT Railroad line running four blocks south of the U.S. Capitol. Still, hazmat cargoes on another CSXT route run just 20 blocks north of the Capitol.

But CSXT is moving along the safety track. On July 17, the company entered into a unique rail security partnership with the states of New York and New Jersey that represents a model CSXT hopes to use with other states in its system.

"We're pleased to be the first railroad and among the first private industries to formalize security partnerships with the states in order to jointly safeguard both the communities we serve, and our ability to move the goods so critical to the economy," said David Brown, CSXT vice president and chief transportation officer.

The partnership provides New Jersey and New York security officials with access to CSXT's online Network Operations Workstation System so they can track the location of CSXT trains and the contents of rail cars in a nearly real-time environment.

CSXT will work with state law enforcement officials on training and preparedness, and provide round-the-clock access to CSX security professionals.

"We are pleased to continue our tradition of working closely with our colleagues in New Jersey on security issues of mutual concern in order to protect the citizens of our two great states, and the rail network that helps support the region's economy," said New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

"Ensuring that our freight rail system is secure is a top priority for my administration," said New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.

"CSXT deserves credit for stepping up and serving as a model for a collaborative public-private security initiative," he said. "We hope it is one that other private sector companies will emulate."

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Montana Fire Races Unchecked Across 10,000 Acres

KALISPELL, Montana, July 30, 2007 (ENS) - Hot, dry, windy weather whipped a lightning-sparked wildfire near Glacier National Park into an 10,000 acre inferno today.

The Skyland Fire is between one and two miles wide, and roughly 11 miles long from being driven by the wind the last three days. It is burning about 32 miles east-southeast of Kalispell through the area burned by the 1998 Challenge fire with heavy snags and downed fuels and also in areas of advanced regeneration.

Fire officials expect the fire to continue to spread at a rapid rate to the north and east until cooler weather comes into the area and winds subside.

The good news, say fire officials, is that cooler weather is expected as early as Tuesday. That will result in cooler temperatures that will make fire suppression easier and allow firefighters to get in closer to the fire and take direct action.

The fire has extended its reach to Dog Gun Lake on the Blackfeet reservation's western boundary. Residents along the Heart Butte Cutoff Road between the Two Medicine River and Little Badger Creek have been warned to evacuate by the Blackfeet Disaster Planning Group.

There was a one vehicle rollover accident near the firefighters' base camp when a truck under contract with the fire left the road. One of the two occupants was flown to Kalispell Regional Hospital. The accident is under investigation.

Hwy 2 is open to traffic with escorts. Travelers will be escorted through the Skyland Fire area corridor continuously until the threat to public safety has been eliminated, law enforcement officials said.

Travelers should expect delays possibly as long as two hours, and the highway is subject to complete closure based on fire activity.

Roadblocks are at East Glacier to the east, and milepost 185 at the Forest Service Bear Creek Trail access to the west.

An alternative to traveling Highway 2 is the Logan Pass road, but vehicles over 21 feet in total length are not permitting on this route.

Near-record heat and low humidity also allowed wildfires elsewhere in Montana to spread. A fire north of the capital of Helena is keeping people away from recreation areas and homes. The huge blaze was 10 percent contained on Sunday, fire managers said.

Elsewhere, a dozen homes were evacuated Sunday in California's Santa Barbara County as a wildfire spread across 1,000 acres. The three-week old blaze had appeared to be standing still when it suddenly flamed up again. The fire had burned over about 32,000 acres since it started July 4 and was 70 percent contained on Sunday.

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New Material Sponges Up Pollutants, Leaving Water Clean

ARGONNE, Illinois, July 30, 2007 (ENS) - A unique type of porous material that can cleanse contaminated water and potentially purify hydrogen for use in fuel cells has been developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

Porous semiconducting aerogels were discovered by Argonne materials scientists Peter Chupas and Mercouri Kanatzidis, along with colleagues at Northwestern and Michigan State universities.

When the researchers submerged a speck of the aerogel in a solution of mercury-contaminated water they found that the gel removed more than 99.99 percent of the heavy metal.

The researchers believe that these gels can be used not only for environmental cleanup but also to remove impurities from hydrogen gas that could damage the catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells.

"When people talk about the hydrogen economy, one of the big questions they're asking is ‘Can you make hydrogen pure enough that it doesn't poison the catalyst?'" Chupas said. "While there's been a big push for hydrogen storage and a big push to make fuel cells, there has not been nearly as big a push to find out where the clean hydrogen to feed all that will come from."

The aerogels act as a kind of sieve or selectively permeable membrane. Their unique chemical and physical structure will allow researchers to "tune" their pore sizes or composition in order to separate particular poisons from the hydrogen stream.

"You can put in elements that bind the poisons that are in the stream or ones that bind the hydrogen so you let everything else fall through," Chupas said. "For example, gels made with open platinum sites would extract carbon monoxide, a common catalyst poison."

The research team had not intended to create the aerogels, but their discovery proved fortunate, said Kanatzidis. Originally, the researchers had used surfactants to produce porous semiconducting powders instead of gels.

When one of the researchers ran the synthesis reaction without the surfactant, he noticed that gels would form time after time.

Kanatzidis says that because the material maintains its cohesion, it possesses an enormous surface area - one cubic centimeter of the aerogel could have a surface area as large as a football field.

The bigger the surface area of the material, the more efficiently it can bind other molecules, he said.

The paper, entitled "Porous semiconducting gels and aerogels from chalcogenide clusters," appears in the July 27 issue of the journal "Science."

The initial research into porous semiconducting surfactants was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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$16 Million Earmarked to Advance Bush Nuclear Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2007 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, today announced that four consortia have been selected to receive up to $16 million from the federal government for technical and supporting studies to support President George W. Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, GNEP.

Under the Bush GNEP plan, "the nations with secure, advanced nuclear capabilities provide fuel services — fresh fuel and recovery of used fuel — to other nations who agree to employ nuclear energy for power generation purposes only," the DOE explains.

Today's announcement is part of $60 million in funding announced by Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell in May to engage industry experts in conceptual design of proposed GNEP facilities.

Subject to Congressional appropriations, the $60 million in funding opportunities would be made available through September 2009.

But even before the transfer of Congressional power to the Democrats last November, the GNEP program did not meet with Congressional approval. In May 2006, the House Appropriations Committee cut GNEP spending to $120 million for the 2007 fiscal year, less than half what President Bush had requested.

GNEP critics say the nuclear fuel reprocessing being considered by the Bush administration is unaffordable and unreliable.

The recipient consortia are all nuclear energy giants - AREVA Federal Services, LLC; EnergySolutions, LLC; GE-Hitachi Nuclear Americas, LLC; and General Atomics.

Based in France, the AREVA Group is the world's largest vertically integrated nuclear supplier. AREVA runs nuclear fuel fabrication facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia and Richland, Washington. The company plans to market its Generation III nuclear power plant design in the United States.

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, EnergySolutions LLC was formed in 2006 by merging BNG America, Duratek, Envirocare of Utah, and the D&D division of Scientech to form a vertically integrated company. It is one of the largest providers of services to transport, process, and dispose of radioactive materials.

EnergySolutions Federal Services, together with AREVA Framatome and Burns & Roe, formed Uranium Disposition Services to process 700,000 metric tons of the DOE's depleted uranium hexafluoride - a byproduct of weapons production - for disposal and reuse.

General Electric Co. and Hitachi formed GE-Hitachi Nuclear Americas, LLC on July 9. Based in Wilmington, North Carolina and Japan, the company intends to capitalize on rising demand for electricity and increasing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Its advanced boiling water reactor has made progress with U.S. regulators, and this month was submitted to British regulators for assessment.

General Atomics, based in San Diego, California, has been a U.S. government defense contractor and facilities operator for 40 years.

The DOE is asking grant recipients to provide technology development roadmaps, business plans, and a communications strategy for a GNEP nuclear fuel recycling center and advanced recycling reactor.

On another Bush administration nuclear project, the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory last week issued a request for expressions of interest to provide engineering design services for the conceptual design phase of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant, NGNP.

The NGNP seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enabling nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels in the petrochemical and transportation industries with a high temperature reactor capable of producing hydrogen, electricity and/or process heat.

The Energy Department seeks to complete the design and construction of a prototype Next Generation Nuclear Plant at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2021.

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NSTAR Offers Wind Power to Massachusetts Customers

BOSTON, Massachusetts, July 30, 2007 (ENS) – NSTAR Electric customers who want to support renewable energy and reduce their impact on the environment will have the option to purchase electricity generated by wind power by this fall.

The Green program announced Friday by NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts, allows customers to purchase half or all of their electric supply directly from wind farms in the Northeast, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

The program is the result of a collaborative effort between the company and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Conservation Law Foundation, and Environment Massachusetts.

"Now more than ever, our customers are looking for ways to meet their energy needs in a sustainable way that has minimal impact on the environment," said Thomas May, NSTAR chairman, president and CEO. "We wanted to offer a green rate that not only gives customers a choice but also helps stimulate renewable energy development."

NSTAR has signed two 10 year contracts - one with PPM Energy to receive 30 megawatts of clean electricity from the Maple Ridge Wind Farm in upstate New York, and another with TransCanada Corporation for 30 megawatts from the Kibby Wind Power Project currently under development in Maine.

Customers who opt to enroll in NSTAR Green will pay a premium of either 1.75 cents or 3 cents/kWh more than the active Basic Service price, depending on which option they choose.

"We are very excited by NSTAR's long term commitment to wind energy and by their green power program," said Alan Nogee, Clean Energy Program director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "This program gives customers the choice of paying a little more to get electricity generated with zero air pollution or global warming impacts, and will reduce the cost of supplying renewable energy to all customers."

NSTAR has worked to make NSTAR Green a one-stop-shopping option. Pending approval from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, NSTAR will begin enrolling customers in the fall, with service beginning in January.

"The long-term commitments at the heart of this initiative are key catalysts to bringing renewable energy online in New England," said Phil Warburg, President of Conservation Law Foundation. "This is an important step forward in the battle against climate change."

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Public Comment Invited on Apache Trout Recovery

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30, 2007 (ENS) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its plan of action for recovering the threatened Apache trout, the Arizona state fish.

The Apache trout or Arizona trout, Oncorhynchus gilae apache, is a species of freshwater fish in the salmon family. The recovery plan identifies actions to bolster populations in the wild, establishes benchmarks for measuring the progress of recovery, and estimates the costs of recovery.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe are partners in the recovery of Apache trout and in the preparation of the draft plan.

The golden-colored trout with black spots is endemic to the White Mountains in east-central Arizona.

The species was restricted to 13 known populations by the 1950s, all on lands administered by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Due to on-going recovery actions over the past six decades, the species is now found in 25 populations on the Tribe's Fort Apache Indian Reservation and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

"Apache trout are making good progress and this plan lays out a blueprint for recovery," said Benjamin Tuggle, director of the Service's Southwest Region. "We appreciate the many groups that work together to reduce threats and secure a better future for this native."

The main threats to the species are adverse land use practices resulting in habitat destruction and negative interactions of predation, hybridization, and competition with introduced nonnative species.

The goal is to establish at least 30 self-sustaining populations within the species' historic range and to reduce threats to the point that the populations are self-sustaining. At that point, the fish can be removed from Endangered Species Act protection, Tuggle said.

The species is being propagated by state and federal fish hatcheries for recovery of wild populations, recreational fishery opportunities or restoring populations that may be lost due to catastrophes.

The Service has been reviewing the status of the Apache trout to determine whether its current listing of threatened under the Endangered Species Act is accurate. Begun in 2006, the review will consider any new information received during the public comment period for the draft revised recovery plan.

If the Service recommends that the Apache trout should be reclassified under the Endangered Species Act or removed from the list of threatened and endangered species, there will be a separate rulemaking process with another opportunity for public comment.

The public will have until September 25 to provide comments on the draft recovery plan. The plan and other documents pertaining to Apache trout biology and management are available at: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/. Search under Apache Trout. Comments may be emailed to Stewart_Jacks@fws.gov.

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Arizona Black Mountain Bighorn Sheep at Risk

KINGMAN, Arizona, July 30, 2007 (ENS) – The Arizona Game and Fish Department has extended its public comment period for the draft Black Mountain Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Plan by two weeks to August 15.

"This is an important document that is going to drive our agency's efforts in regards to the conservation of bighorn sheep in the Black Mountains," said Bob Posey, the department's Kingman regional supervisor. "It's vital the public has a window of opportunity to comment on this document."

The bighorn sheep in the Black Mountains near Kingman are facing a variety of issues, including predation, habitat fragmentation, drought, and competition with non-native species. This document addresses these concerns and defines future management efforts.

"These sheep belong to the public," said Kevin Morgan, habitat program manager in Kingman. "For this reason, it's important the public provide input to help us best manage this important resource."

In 2006, following substantial declines in the Black Mountains area desert bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis nelsoni, herd in northwestern Arizona, the Arizona Game and Fish Department convened a team of regional biologists to draft this comprehensive management plan for the sheep population and their habitat in the Black Mountains.

The purpose of this plan is to provide a strategic aproach to decision making for an area that contains one-third of all the bighorn sheep in Arizona.

Over the past 10 years, master-planned urban developments containing over 30,000 residental homes have followed several transportation enhancement projects through the Black Mountain range, and more highways and developments are proposed.

Invasion and establishment of non-native grasses now provide fuel for wildfires which change native plant associations and degrade bighorn sheep habitat.

Mountain lion predation on bighorn sheep is prevalent. The sheep compete with wild burros for feed and water and are vulnerable to disease transmission from escaped domestic goats.

These issues, coupled with new data regarding sheep distribution and habitat use in the Black Mountains, has created the need for a new management paradigm for bighorn sheep.

In the recovery plan, 18 conservation issues are identified, and 56 strategies to manage the sheep are recommended. See it online at: http://www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/w_c/bhsheep/BHSPlanDraft.pdf. Comments can be emailed to: sheepmgt@azgfd.gov

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.