AmeriScan: June 18, 2007

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U.S. Food Scientist Wins 2007 World Food Prize

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - Dr. Philip Nelson of Purdue University was today named recipient of the $250,000 World Food Prize for 2007. The U.S. food scientist is being honored for his post-harvest technologies that allow the large-scale clean storage, packaging and transportation of fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Nelson was announced as the 2007 Laureate by Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

"Dr. Nelsonís pioneering work, which began with tomatoes and later included a variety of seasonal crops, has made it possible to produce ultra-large scale quantities of high quality food," said Quinn. "This food can then be stored for long periods of time and transported to all corners of the world without losing nutritional value or taste."

Nelson
Dr. Philip Nelson is the 2007 World Food Prize Laureate. (Photo courtesy Purdue University)
Dr. Nelsonís research led to the discovery of methods and equipment to preserve perishable food at ambient temperatures in very large carbon steel tanks - beginning with 100 gallon tanks and increasing in capacity to eight million gallons.

By coating the tanks with epoxy resin and sterilizing the valves and filters, food products can be stored and removed without reintroducing contaminants. As a result, pathogen-free food can be distributed to plants around the world for final processing and packaging.

Nelson also developed a "bag-in-box" technology for preserving and shipping foods in flexible sterile bags stored within cardboard containers or reusable wooden boxes.

Nelson's work is "tearing down barriers to a food secure world," said UN World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran at the ceremony.

"It's quite an honor to be recognized and also very humbling because of the past winners," Nelson said.

"This award also recognizes the profession of food science and Purdue," said Nelson, who spent his entire 47 year career at the Iowa university, where he is now a professor of agriculture. "Without the support and facilities that were available at Purdue, the aseptic technology wouldn't have happened."

Consumers benefit from Nelson's work every time they visit a supermarket or restaurant, said Purdue Dean of Agriculture Randy Woodson.

"Without his work in aseptic processing, much of the world could not enjoy orange juice, tomato products and other perishable foods," Woodson said. "He's become a recognized leader in the food processing industry, as evidenced by the more than 150 companies that interacted with Purdue's Food Science Department last year alone."

Humanitarian feeding programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and managed by Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes are using Nelson's technologies to provide bacteria-free packaged milk and biscuits as part of school nutrition programs in the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Also present at the announcement ceremony was World Food Prize Selection Committee Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug who established the World Food Prize in 1986.

The $250,000 World Food Prize will be presented to Nelson at an October 18 ceremony in Iowa, where the foundation is based. http://www.worldfoodprize.org

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Google Puts the Sun to Work

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - In the last 24 hours, Google has produced more than answers to search questions from millions of Internet surfers - the company produced 7,795 kilowatt hours of electricity from the Sun.

For the first time today, Google switched on a solar power system that has been in the planning and building stages since last October.

At the Googleplex in Mountain View, solar panels now cover the rooftops of eight buildings and two newly constructed solar carports that will power the company's plug-in hybrids.

About 90 percent of the installation's more than 9,000 solar panels are now in place. When finished, it will be the largest solar installation on a corporate campus in the United States, and one of the largest on any corporate site in the world.

The amount of electricity that will be generated is equivalent to powering about 1,000 average California homes. Google will use that electricity to power several Mountain View office facilities, offsetting one-third of the company's peak electricity consumption at those buildings.

Those solar carports will house Google's new plug-in hybrids, re-engineered Toyota Prius cars that get 73 miles per gallon because they run mainly on electricity.

Google engineers, with the assistance of engineers in other companies, added an external plug and additional batteries to a regular hybrid car so that it runs on electricity with gasoline, or biofuels, to extend the driving range for longer trips.

To accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrids, Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, today announced the RechargeIT initiative at www.google.org/recharge/.

Google.org awarded $1 million in grants and announced plans for a $10 million request for proposals to fund commercialization of plug-ins, fully electric cars and related vehicle-to-grid technology as part of RechargeIT.

"One of Google.org's core missions is to address climate change, said Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives with Google.org.

In the United States, Reicher points out, transportation contributes about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, with more than 60 percent of those emissions coming from personal vehicles.

"By accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrids and vehicle-to-grid technologies," Reicher said this new project, RechargeIT.org, "aims to reduce emissions and dependence on oil while promoting clean energy technologies and increasing consumer choice."

Google.org grants:

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Mexican Aquarium Joins Coastal Ecosystem Learning Network

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - Latin America's largest aquarium has become part of a network of 20 Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers.

At a ceremony Thursday in Veracruz, Mexico, Coastal America designated the Acuario de Veracruz, the Veracuz Aquarium, as its first International Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center.

Bryon Griffith, director of the U.S. EPA's Gulf of Mexico Program and chair of the Gulf of Mexico Governorís Alliance Federal Working Group, presented the federal partnership commitments to the Veracruz Aquarium.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett represented the Coastal America federal agencies and the White House Council on Environmental Quality at the ceremony.

Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran and Mexican Environment Secretary Dr. Martin Vargas Priesto were in attendance.

The commitments include library and educational materials, an ocean news kiosk, exhibit development and educational curriculum, seminar exchange programs and technical support.

In addition, five Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers, CELCs, have committed to provide staff training and educational resources in areas of importance to the Acuario de Veracruz.

The Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, a private-public partnership, will provide travel support so that the staff of the Acuario de Veracruz can travel to its CELC partners for training.

"As a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center, the Acuario de Veracruz will join a network of aquaria delivering a strong public message about the importance of our coastal resources," said Scarlett.

A nonprofit institution that opened in 1992, Acuario de Veracruz houses nearly 2,200 aquatic animals from around the world in more than 1.2 million gallons of fresh and marine water.

President of the Acuario de Veracruz Marcelino FernŠndez Rivero said, "The common focus on environmental education is tremendously important and the Learning Center network has shown its dedication to this effort. We are looking forward to contributing our resources, knowledge, and regional diversity to further achieve environmental awareness and stewardship among the public."

Representing the CELC network, Jerry Schubel, president of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, said, "As we must all work together to protect our one ocean and one planet, we are excited that the citizens of Mexico will have access to the resources and educational information of the Veracruz Aquarium."

The Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center network was established in 1996 by Coastal America, an interagency federal partnership that works to protect, preserve and restore the nationís coastal ecosystems.

The federal partners are the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, State, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Executive Office of the President, as well as the Defense Department, the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy.

To learn more about Coastal America, visit www.coastalamerica.gov.

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California Paves the Way for Greater Use of Ethanol

FRESNO, California, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - To allow for more ethanol in California gasoline in line with new laws and regulations, the California Air Resources Board approved changes to its reformulated gasoline regulations Friday at a meeting in Fresno.

The Board revised its predictive model, a tool used by oil refining companies to formulate lower-emitting gasoline in California.

The model gives refiners flexibility in meeting emission limits defined in new Air Resources Board, ARB, regulations.

"Clean fuels are essential to reaching healthy air goals in California," said ARB Chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer. "This action helps fuel providers develop the optimum formula for the cleanest burning gasoline, and it allows ARB to forecast emissions from vehicles throughout the state."

Sawyer says the greater use of ethanol will reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. These heat-trapping emissions have raised the temperature of the planet to levels scientists say will cause rising seas and extreme weather events.

The new predictive model will allow increased use of ethanol in California's gasoline as part of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Low Carbon Fuel Standard executive order, issued last year in an attempt to curb climate change.

The governor called the ARB's decision "an important step toward diversifying California's fuel supply with alternative and, in this instance, renewable fuels."

The goal of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is to ensure that the mix of fuel sold in the California market delivers, on average, lower greenhouse gas emissions.

By 2020, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard is expected to produce at least a 10 percent reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions, replace 20 percent of on-road fuels with lower carbon alternatives, and more than triple the size of California's renewable fuels market.

While many alternative fuels exist in the market, ethanol is one that can be blended into today's gasoline with no change to our current cars," the governor said. "This action allows fuel providers to blend up to 10 percent ethanol into gasoline, while still ensuring we're meeting California's tough air quality standards."

Last year, California adopted the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which commits the state to an economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Under this law, by June 30, the state must establish a list of "early-action measures" that can be implemented before the state adopts a plan to ensure the 2020 emissions reduction target is met.

"Concerned citizens want to see real reductions in global warming pollution as soon as possible," said Jason Barbose of the nonprofit group Environment California. "The science says it will be harder and more expensive to solve global warming the longer we wait."

"It is critical that government continue reducing barriers so that alternative fuels can increasingly penetrate our transportation fuels markets," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "Only then can we reduce dependency on oil and give our consumers a weapon against gas price increases while maintaining air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

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Proposed Energy Corridors Could Harm National Parks

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - Newly proposed energy corridors could damage national parks and their scenic views, and worsen air pollution, a nonprofit conservation organization said today.

The National Parks Conservation Association, NPCA, testified against the proposed siting of new electricity transmission lines in or near parks at the public meeting hosted by the Department of Energy, DOE.

The DOE is considering the designation of two new energy corridors, which would allow construction of power lines and other facilities across public and private lands in multiple states.

"Siting electricity transmission facilities through national parks or within their scenic viewsheds would be unnecessary and ill-advised," said National Parks Conservation Association Pennsylvania Program Manager Cinda Waldbuesser.

"America's national parks are not blank spots on a map in which to site new power lines," she said.

The new corridors are proposed for two areas where consumers are currently suffering electricity transmission capacity constraints or congestion.

The proposed Mid-Atlantic Area National Corridor includes counties in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and all of New Jersey, Delaware, and the District of Columbia.

The proposed Southwest Area National Corridor includes counties in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

As proposed, the New York Regional Interconnect, part of the Mid-Atlantic Area National Corridor, would pass through 73 miles of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River and impair the resources the park was established to protect, said Waldbuesser. "National parks and other protected lands should be considered off-limits."

The construction of new electricity corridors is proposed within the scenic viewsheds of Gettysburg National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield, Monocacy National Battlefield, Shenandoah National Park, Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

Waldbuesser also expressed concerns about increased generation from Midwestern power plants resulting in greater pollution, worsening unhealthy air conditions downwind in Pennsylvania.

"These draft designations set us on the path to modernize our constrained and congested electric power infrastructure," said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. "I am confident the departmentís actions will help facilitate the infrastructure growth necessary to meet the demands of our growing economy."

The Department of Energy is issuing the "draft National Corridors" to encourage a full consideration of all options available to meet local, regional and national demand - more local generation, transmission capacity, demand response, and energy efficiency measures.

Bodman explains that the DOE is not directing the construction of new transmission in a certain area, nor is it determining the route for any proposed transmission project. Nor is the DOE asserting that additional transmission capacity is the only solution to resolve electricity problems in these regions.

Public comments will be accepted through July 6, 2007. Visit: http://nietc.anl.gov/

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Conservationists Can Join Death Valley Wilderness Lawsuit

FRESNO, California, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - Conservation groups must be included in a lawsuit over a California country's attempt to open roads through remote desert areas of Death Valley National Park, a federal judge has ruled.

In a lawsuit against the National Park Service, Inyo County is seeking rights-of-way so that it can tear down park service barriers and build two-lane highways in roadless desert canyons and valleys of the largest national park in the lower 48 states.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii decided Thursday that the conservation groups have an obvious interest in protecting the park's natural values, and therefore have a right to help fight efforts that would imperil the wilderness.

Judge Ishii noted that the National Park Service is forced to balance competing interests in determining how the park may be used. As a result, the agency may not be bound to "preserve the wilderness character of the lands adjacent to the contested rights-of-way," Judge Ishii said.

The ruling allows six conservation groups to join the lawsuit - the Sierra Club, Friends of the Inyo, California Wilderness Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

The groups are represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm. "Inyo County's land grab could undermine the very reasons Death Valley is such an iconic American landscape - its quiet, its beauty, its wildness," said Ted Zukoski, attorney at Earthjustice. "The court understood that, and understood that those with the strongest interest in protecting Death Valley should have a seat at the table."

The conservation groups contend that road activities would "permanently disrupt the desert stillness" and disturb rare species such as the desert bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise. One of the park's most important petroglyph sites is also at risk, they warn.

"This is a good day for Death Valley," said George Barnes, a Sierra Club volunteer who has worked to protect the California desert for nearly 40 years. "The court's ruling means the folks who have worked for decades to preserve this magnificent desert will be there to defend it from attack."

"Routes" for roads mentioned in the lawsuit include Petro Road, Last Section Road, and Last Chance Road. All three areas have been protected from off-road vehicle use for over a decade, and were found to be "roadless" in 1979.

"Death Valley provides refuge for over 1,000 kinds of plants and rare animals, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world, said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "Maintaining roadless areas is a critical step in protecting these creatures who cannot speak for themselves."

Inyo County is one of many governmental agencies and special interests that are laying claim to federal lands under a repealed Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477.

Those who support the use of R.S. 2477 say the law establishes rights-of-way that were originally granted by the federal government for settlement of the western frontier.

Today they "provide virtually all the public access to and across the hundreds of millions of acres of public and private lands in the West and Alaska," according to the Public Access Homepage, http://www.rs2477roads.com/.

"These rights-of-way and the public's continued access to these public and private lands has been increasingly threatened by a small group of special interests, growing numbers of private landowners, and some state and federal bureaucrats," according to the Public Access group.

This group wants to use R.S. 2477 not only to build roads through roadless public lands, but also to force "ranchers, farmers, vacation home owners and other private inholders" to open their private property to the public.

"Use of this old loophole is spreading," said Kristen Brengel, of The Wilderness Society. "It threatens some of America's most cherished lands, from Canyonlands and Zion National Parks in Utah to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. And now Death Valley's natural wonders are at risk."

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Feds Urged to Investigate Deadly Fungus in Eucalyptus Trees

WASHINGTON, DC, June 18, 2007 (ENS) - Scientists and environmental groups are asking federal agencies to investigate the public health and environmental risks of a pathogenic fungal organism, Cryptococcus gattii, associated with certain eucalyptus tree species under cultivation in Alabama.

Inhalation of the spores can lead to fatal fungal meningitis, the groups warn.

They are asking the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine if the fungus is present in genetically engineered eucalyptus trees being grown by the ArborGen company in Alabama.

The Sierra Club, Global Justice Ecology Project, Center for Food Safety, Dogwood Alliance, and Southern Forest Network signed a letter of request sent Thursday to the government agencies.

Dr. Rachel Smolker, a research biologist with Global Justice Ecology Project, said, "Cryptococcus gattii is considered by the Centers for Disease Control as an 'emerging infectious disease.' Inhalation of spores causes respiratory and central nervous system infection leading to fatal fungal meningitis. It affects other mammalian species in addition to humans."

"Cases of C. gattii disease are increasing and spreading geographically, possibly associated with the introduction of eucalyptus species worldwide," she said.

The groups point out that eucalyptus species are not native to the United States and have been introduced in California, Florida and now Alabama.

Yet, they say, U.S. public health officials, environmental and government regulatory agencies have failed to assess the increased public health risk associated with planting alien eucalyptus trees.

"Given the advancing state of our understanding of C. gattii, any further introduction of eucalyptus should not be permitted without a thorough assessment of the risk of also inadvertently introducing or providing widespread habitat for this dangerous pathogen," the letter warns. "Doing so could put millions of Americans at risk of exposure."

The fungus has been isolated from eucalyptus in India, Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Africa, Mexico, Southeast Asia and California.

"We know the Cryptococcus gattii pathogen is associated with eucalyptus trees in other countries and a federal investigation is urgently needed to fully assess ArborGen's proposed Alabama outdoor field trials of genetically engineered eucalyptus," said Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club.

He says the fungal spores can be transported through the environment "via multiple pathways."

Dr. Joseph Heitman, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Duke University Medical Center, and an expert on Cryptococcus said, "Introducing large numbers of eucalyptus trees in the United States has the potential to provide a suitable habitat for Cryptococcus gattii."

Researchers at ArborGen used genetic engineering, classic hybridization and cloning to produce 355 eucalyptus hybrids being grown in Alabama.

The concerned scientists say, "We understand that monocultures facilitate emergence of pathogens and that a pathogen that can affect other mammalian species as well as humans is of particular concern."

"Federal agencies need to fully evaluate the risks of this new fungal pathogen before allowing potentially adverse field trials to continue in Alabama and risk release of C. gattii into the environment," they warn.

"The risk may or may not be independent of genetic engineering, however, a precautionary approach would be advisable," they say.

Neither ArborGen nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have proposed any assessment or biological monitoring for C. gattii during or after the Alabama field trials.

To view the ArborGen permit (APHIS permit No. 06-325-111r) search on the permit number at: http://www.aphis.usda.gov. View the Federal Register entry for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Assessment (USDA Docket No. APHIS-2007-0027) at: http://www.epa.gov/EPA-IMPACT/2007/April/Day-20/i7637.htm

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