AmeriScan: March 19, 2002
SACRAMENTO, California, March 19, 2002 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has decided to delay the state's planned ban on the gasoline additive MTBE by one year.
Davis issued an executive order on Friday that will allow California refineries until January 1, 2004 to transition from MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) to ethanol in gasoline to help avoid spikes in gasoline prices.
"If I could snap my fingers and make MTBE go away tomorrow, I would," said Davis. "But we've seen this movie before and I am not going to allow Californians to be held hostage by another out of state energy cartel."
In 1999, Davis ordered that MTBE be phased out of California's fuel supply by 2003, after studies showed that the additive may cause cancer as well as neurological, dermatological and other problems. Gasoline spilled from cars, boats and underground storage tanks has contaminated groundwater supplies in California and many other parts of the nation with MTBE.
Davis noted that California's request for a waiver from the oxygenate requirements of the Clean Air Act has been denied by the federal government, meaning the state will have to create the infrastructure needed to bring ethanol boosted gasoline to the pump before MTBE can be eliminated.
In February, an independent study commissioned by the California Energy Commission (CEC) warned that price spikes of up to 100 percent are likely if MTBE is phased without an adequate supply of ethanol available and ready for distribution. In 1999, California experienced a supply reduction of similar magnitude due to fires at TOSCO and Chevron refineries, and the price of gasoline doubled.
The independent study also said that phasing out MTBE next year could result in a five to 10 percent gas shortage.
The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) expressed dismay at Davis's decision, and urged California refiners to end their use of MTBE voluntarily by the end of this year.
"Governor Davis' about face on the MTBE phase out schedule is completely unjustified and places political expediency ahead of safe drinking water," said RFA president Bob Dinneen.
"Today's decision represents a callous breach of faith with California consumers that want MTBE out of their drinking water now, gasoline refiners and marketers that have invested to meet the original deadline, and farmers across the country that have added more than a billion gallons of ethanol capacity to enable the timely transition away from MTBE," added Dinneen.
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) also criticized the governor's move, saying that "delaying the ban by even one more day is another opportunity for MTBE to find its way into another community's water supplies."
"Given the choice between the continued use of MTBE use or protection of our water supplies and water quality, we believe the public would put the safety of their water supply first," the group said in a statement. "MTBE contamination will result in millions of dollars in water treatment, cleanup and replacement water costs. These costs will continue to mount as long as MTBE remains in gasoline and is allowed to find its way into water sources."
Hole in Nuclear Reactor Vessel Prompts InspectionsWASHINGTON, DC,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered inspections at all operating pressurized water nuclear reactors to confirm that their reactor heads are intact.
The NRC has sent a bulletin to companies that hold licenses for operating pressurized water reactors (PWRs) requiring information on the structural integrity of the reactor vessel head, and data indicating that the vessel head will continue to perform its function as a coolant pressure boundary.
The bulletin was sent to the 69 PWRs because of a problem that discovered last month at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station at Oak Harbor, Ohio. During routine maintenance, workers at Davis-Besse found a cavity in the top of the reactor vessel about six inches deep and four inches wide.
The reactor vessel head, fabricated of carbon steel with a stainless steel liner, is about 6.5 inches thick. The remaining thickness of the vessel head beneath the cavity was reported as 3/8 inches of stainless steel.
First Energy Corporation, the operator of the Davis Besse plant, also found three cracked and leaking tubes among the 69 tubes that allow the reactor control rods to penetrate the reactor vessel. The NRC issued a bulletin last August requiring the detailed inspections at Davis-Besse and other sites after cracking problems were found in control rod tubes at several other nuclear plants.
The cavity in the Davis-Besse reactor vessel head is next to one of the cracked tubes. Repair teams believe the steel vessel may have been corroded by boric acid, an ingredient of the water in the reactor cooling system.
The NRC is asking all facilities to check their reactor heads to determine whether current inspection and maintenance practices at reactor facilities provide "reasonable assurance that reactor coolant pressure boundary integrity is being maintained."
More information is available at this NRC website.
Parasites May Signal Ecosystem ChangesSANTA BARBARA, California,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - A $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a five year study of the role of parasites in natural ecosystems.
The money will fund student research under the direction of three co-principal investigators at the University of California at Santa Barbara's (UCSB) Marine Science Institute.
In their proposal, the researchers explain how the ecology of parasites has long had implications for human health and that human alterations to the environment have affected the success of parasites.
"Humans have altered the globe in ways that favor diseases. For example, deforestation, damming, fish farming and rice farming have increased malaria transmission by creating mosquito breeding habitats," the researchers explained.
The researchers will work in salt marshes because these have proven to be a model system for understanding the ecology of parasites with complex life cycles. In addition to work at two UCSB Natural Reserves - Carpinteria Salt Marsh and Coal Oil Point - the researchers will travel to estuaries in Morro Bay, Mugu Lagoon, Japan and along the Pacific Coast of Baja California, Mexico.
"We seek to reveal how anthropogenic or human induced changes, particularly those related to biodiversity loss and habit transformation, influence communities of parasites with complex life cycles," said Armand Kuris, UCSB professor of zoology and one of the principal investigators.
"The types of changes most likely to affect parasite communities are alterations in host communities resulting from climate change and environmental degradation," said Kevin Lafferty, another principal investigator and adjunct professor of biology at UCSB, who also works for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Lafferty noted that - counter to most expectations about disease - healthier, less degraded ecosystems tend to have more parasites with complex life cycles because these parasites depend on functioning ecosystems. He explained that environmental degradation can include introduced species, habitat fragmentation, pollution and overharvesting.
Because parasites, such as those transmitted through predation when an organism eats an infected host, have the potential to organize their host communities, changes to parasite communities can alter natural systems.
"We are especially interested in the potential for complex feedback dynamics initiated by anthropogenic change," Lafferty added.
Groups Sue to Protect Santa Ana SuckerLOS ANGELES, California,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - Four conservation, fishing and scientists groups filed suit today to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to designate critical habitat for the endangered Santa Ana sucker fish.
Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat designation extends federal protections to not just individuals of a listed species, but also to their declining habitat.
The USFWS agreed in a November 2000 court approved settlement to publish a critical habitat designation for the sucker fish no later than January 2001.
"It appears as if the Bush administration will stop at nothing, including ignoring a court order, to limit protection of endangered wildlife," said David Hogan, rivers program coordinator for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Santa Ana sucker was once one of the most common fish in lower elevation Los Angeles basin rivers and streams. The species is now absent from 75 percent of its historic range as a result of urbanization and water pollution, and is limited to short stretches of the Santa Clara, San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers and Big Tujunga Creek.
The sucker is a small fish, reaching an average of six inches in length. Because the sucker requires clean water to survive, the species serves as a prime indicator of the water quality of southern California rivers and streams.
The suit filed today is the latest step by citizens' groups to compel the USFWS to protect the sucker and its southern California river habitat. Citizen efforts started with a listing petition in 1994, followed by lawsuits when the USFWS did not respond.
"Fish and Wildlife drags its feet, leaving citizens to do the job for them with petitions and lawsuits," said Jim Edmondson of California Trout Inc. "The agency's argument that it is underfunded and understaffed falls flat when it refuses to ask Congress for more resources."
Critical habitat has been designated by the USFWS for about 12 percent of all species listed as threatened or endangered, despite an Endangered Species Act mandate that it be identified at the time of listing for all species. But in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan, the definition of critical habitat was revised to provide far fewer protections, critics charge.
The groups bringing the lawsuit include the American Fisheries Society, California Trout Inc., the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the River, represented by Earthjustice.
Fresh Water Mapped Under the SeaRESTON, Virginia,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have detected fresh groundwater underneath the ocean in Mid-Atlantic coastal waters.
The new data will help define sources and quantities of nutrients entering the coastal bays of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and refine groundwater flow models.
A special "streamer resistivity survey" technique was used to measure the electrical resistance of bottom sediments. Normal saltwater sediments are good conductors of electricity.
However, bottom sediments permeated by fresh waters are poor conductors of electricity, and act like semi-insulators. To conduct the streamer resistivity survey, a 360 foot electrical cable called a streamer was towed behind boats.
Continuous measurements of electrical potential revealed the presence of fresh water beneath the bays at distances from a few hundred meters to one kilometer from shore. The researchers were able to map fresh, salt and mixed water layers to more than 100 feet below the sea floor.
Studying submarine discharges in the Delmarva Peninsula - an area that includes the Rehoboth, Indian River, Chincoteague, and other saltwater coastal bays - is important because these areas receive very high concentrations of nutrients. The high nutrient supply can cause algae blooms and changes in bottom sediment environments.
The data from the streamer resistivity survey will define pathways of freshwater inflow, and help resource managers plan efforts to reduce nutrients entering the coastal bays. Accurate information may minimize impacts on local farming, recreation and other activities in the coastal areas.
The survey in the Delmarva Peninsula is one of the first systematic investigations of coastal groundwater properties using the electrical resistivity method. It has mapped the distribution of submarine freshwater, and confirmed tests conducted by aircraft.
The electrical resistivity technique offers major breakthroughs because it recovers data at rates 30 to 70 times those for comparable studies on land.
More information is available at: http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/epubs/SAGEEP/
Natural Antifreeze Promises Medical AdvancesDAVIS, California,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - Researchers are learning more about the natural antifreeze that allows fish to thrive in the icy waters around the North Pole and Antarctica.
A team from the University of California at Davis is closing in on how specialized blood proteins help protect the cold water fish. The research could lead to safer storage for food or blood products, help scientists understand how bones and seashells are made, and learn how mineral deposits can cause kidney stones and heart disease.
The antifreeze proteins studied at UC Davis, called antifreeze glycoproteins, are long, floppy and covered in sugar molecules that interact with water. Using nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectroscopy, Nelly Tsvetkova and colleagues in the UC Davis Biostabilization Laboratory have found that even in ice as cold as minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 F), the proteins are surrounded with a shell of liquid water and are moving and changing shape.
"Normally at this temperature, proteins are pretty much solid," said Yin Yeh, professor of applied science at UC Davis.
The random structure stops ice crystals from growing and preserves liquid water around the protein, said John Crowe, who with Fern Tablin of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine heads the biostabilization group.
The antifreeze proteins also stabilize cell membranes during chilling, Crowe said. As the temperature drops, the fatty molecules that make up the cell membrane change from a semi-fluid to a gel like state, which could allow the cells' contents to leak out.
But in another recent paper from the UC Davis group, graduate student Melanie Tomczak, now a researcher at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, showed that antifreeze proteins bind to specific sugars on the cell membrane and change its structure, preventing leakage.
The antifreeze glycoproteins can be used to preserve platelets, a vital component in blood, for up to 21 days in refrigeration. Blood banks can now store platelets only at room temperature, and must discard them after five days.
Understanding how the antifreeze proteins interact with ice is also helping Yeh and colleagues from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory understand biomineralization: how living tissues form hard, crystalline material such as sea shells, bone and tooth enamel.
Biomineralization is not always positive. Deposits of different types of crystals contribute to kidney stones, gout and the arterial plaques that cause heart disease. By understanding how antifreeze proteins affect ice crystals, scientists may learn more about how to treat or prevent these diseases.
More information is available at: http://www.mcb.ucdavis.edu/faculty-labs/crowe-tablin/
Wild Birds Unlimited Honored for Conservation WorkINDIANAPOLIS, Indiana,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - Wild Birds Unlimited has been given the Corporate Wildlife Stewardship Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The award was given to the retailer for their role in promoting natural resource and bird conservation efforts for more than 20 years through programs like their Pathways To Nature Conservation Fund.
The Pathways To Nature Conservation Fund is a partnership between Wild Birds Unlimited and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a partnership which developed in 1999. Dollars from the fund support education, conservation and wildlife viewing projects at wildlife refuges, parks and nature conservancies throughout North America.
All of the more than 290 Wild Birds Unlimited stores across North America contribute to this fund, which is managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
"The mission of Wild Birds Unlimited is to bring people and nature together and the Pathways To Nature Conservation Fund allows us to fulfill this mission every day," said Jim Carpenter, president and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited. "Every Wild Birds Unlimited store owner knows that for anyone to fully appreciate and help conserve birds and other forms of wildlife, they must first witness and experience the wonder of these creatures in nature."
Among the projects supported by the Pathways To Nature Conservation Fund is a new observation platform at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, scheduled to open on Friday. The grant was made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Fund, awarded to the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor at Santa Ana in 1999.
The wheelchair accessible viewing platform will give visitors the opportunity to see many of the almost 400 bird species that live and visit the refuge. The platform includes observation blinds, a telescope to view wildlife in the distance and a binocular lending program sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited.
In its first year, Pathways To Nature awarded grants to the Corkscrew Swamp Wood Stork Discovery in Florida, Point Pelee Forest Diorama Exhibit in Canada and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. To date, almost 20 organizations have benefited from more than $800,000 in grants.
A list of grant recipients and other information on the program is available at: http://www.pathwaystonature.com
Rock Band REM Seeks Protection of America's ForestsHOLLYWOOD, California,
March 19, 2002 (ENS) - A new public service announcement featuring the rock band REM calls for Americans to adopt tree free paper - paper made from recycled materials rather than from virgin trees.
"Insist that the paper you use is tree free," said REM front man Michael Stipe in the public service announcement launched in major media markets across the nation today by The Paper Campaign. The campaign is a national grassroots effort led by the Dogwood Alliance and ForestEthics to save forests by changing the way paper is made in the United States.
"The perception is that third world countries are the only places being wiped out," adds REM bassist Mike Mills. "What people don't realize is that the forests being most devastated are in our back yard - the American South."
All three REM members - Stipe, Mills and guitarist Peter Buck - are featured in the campaign, which was unveiled Monday night at the Vanity Fair "Rock the Casbah" pre-Oscar party in Hollywood benefiting the Environmental Media Association. Among those attending the party included Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ingo Rademacher, Ed Begley Jr., and Wendie Malick.
The band was attracted to the issue of saving forests, and to The Paper Campaign's approach to forest protection, which involves taking its environmental message to the marketplace rather than waiting for legislative or litigation solutions.
"Market campaigns, like the one being led by the Dogwood Alliance and ForestEthics, are the most effective way to cut to the chase and protect our forests," said Buck.
The Paper Campaign aims to change the purchasing policies of corporations, insisting that they stop buying products made from U.S. public lands and endangered forests, as well as increasing their use of post consumer recycled content paper. The U.S. southeast, where REM is headquartered, supplies the world with 25 percent of its paper, resulting in more than five million acres of forests being clearcut each year, the Campaign says.
The Campaign's first corporate target is office supply company Staples Inc. Staples' best selling copy machine paper has no recycled content.
"Make no mistake - our goal is to reduce the demand we are placing on not only southern forests, but forests around the world - so we can leave behind a natural legacy for future generations," said Danna Smith of the Dogwood Alliance. "We expect corporations like Staples to do the right thing and protect America's forests."
The public service announcement can be viewed online at: http://www.ThePaperCampaign.com
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