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AmeriScan: March 17, 2006

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Idaho Governor Nominated as Secretary of the Interior

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - President George W. Bush Thursday announced his intention to nominate Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne to be Secretary of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Kempthorne would replace the present secretary, Gale Norton, who announced earlier this month that she is leaving to return to the private sector.

Governor Kempthorne has served as Idaho's governor since 1999. He has served as chairman of the National Governors Association, chairman of the Western Governors Association, and president of the Council of State Governments. Governor Kempthorne was also a member of the Columbia River Basin Forum, which established a regional plan to save wild salmon in the northwest.

Prior to serving as Idaho's Chief Executive, Governor Kempthorne was a member of the United States Senate. During that time, he served as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife. He also served as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.

Born in San Diego, Kempthorne attended the University of Idaho. Kempthorne served seven years as the mayor of Boise. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 1992 and served one six year term.

Governors and members of Congress of both parties voiced their support of Kempthorne to head the Interior Department, but environmentalists were less pleased.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said, "I have known Dirk Kempthorne for many years, serving with him in the House and on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and I have great respect for him. Dirk and I both come from Western states, so I know he understands the issues facing our region.

"I hope that together we can improve on the Bush Administration's public lands policies of the last five years, and especially that we can protect the intent of the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act," said Reid.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who currently chairs the 18 state Western Governors' Association (WGA), and Vice Chair Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a Republican, said in a statement, "We are pleased to see our colleague, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, a former chairman of the Western Governors' Association, nominated as the next Secretary of the Interior. Dirk has helped lead WGA's successful, collaborative efforts to improve forest and rangeland health in the West."

"He has been tireless in working to improve the Endangered Species Act as a Governor and as a former U.S. Senator. WGA valued his leadership as we developed our recommendations for streamlining the Act, making it more workable, increasing the role of the states, and providing greater certainty for and more technical assistance to landowners and water-users," the two governors said.

But Earthjustice staff attorney Todd True expressed the opposite opinion. "Governor Kempthorne has built his career by pushing an anti-environmental agenda and catering to the oil, mining, and timber industries. Kempthorne is cut from the same cloth as Gale Norton. He will be a cheerleader for the Bush administration's efforts to open public lands to industrial development.

"As governor, Kempthorne led the charge to strip protection from 60 million acres of America's last wild forests and he's consistently fought against protection for wildlife like grizzly bears and salmon in his home state of Idaho," said True. "He's openly hostile to America's natural areas and wildlife - which puts him outside the mainstream of what people want to see for their children and their future."

As Senator, Kempthorne cast one pro-environmental vote in six years, according to the League of Conservation Voters Scorecard.

He also introduced a bill to undermine the Endangered Species Act that was unanimously opposed by conservation and scientific groups.

Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said, "Governor Kempthorne was the obvious choice to succeed Gale Norton. He's a Western Republican politician and he has a 20- year track record of trying to open public lands to oil and gas drilling, logging and mining companies."

"He also has something Gale Norton didn't - a tight web of relationships with the restive Republican majority in the Congress, where the Bush White House badly needs help," Clapp said. "At a time when these controversial issues need a leader who can find common ground, the president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee."

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Western Great Lakes Wolves Could Lose Endangered Species Listing

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced that gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have recovered from the threat of extinction, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose removing the wolves in this region from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

In addition to the delisting proposal, the Service also proposes to designate gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region as a distinct population segment (DPS) under the Endangered Species Act.

"We commend our partners – states, tribes, conservation organizations, and local residents – for their dedicated efforts to ensure the wolf is an enduring part of the landscape in the Upper Midwest," said Norton. "Our proposal to delist the gray wolf indicates our confidence that those who will assume management of the species will safeguard its long-term survival."

The Service's proposal to remove the gray wolf from the list of threatened and endangered species applies to the Western Great Lakes DPS. This area includes the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Within this area, the Service is proposing to remove Endangered Species Act regulation regarding the gray wolf and entrust wolf management responsibility to states and tribes.

The proposed DPS includes all the areas currently occupied by wolf packs in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as nearby areas in these states in which wolf packs may become established in the future.

The population of wolves included in this DPS no longer meets the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, Norton said.

The gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes region now numbers close to 4,000 animals over the three-state area. The Minnesota population has steadily expanded; the latest estimate in 2003-2004 found about 3,020 animals.

Wolves have become well-established in Michigan and Wisconsin, with numbers there of 405 and 425 respectively. Wolf numbers in those two states combined have exceeded 100 for the past 12 years, thereby exceeding the population criteria identified in the recovery plans.

The Service's current proposal, if finalized, also would remove Endangered Species Act regulation of critical habitat for the gray wolf in Michigan and Minnesota, and eliminate special rules for wolf management in Minnesota, as they are no longer required.

The Service's proposal comes after court rulings which overturned a 2003 final rule that reclassified wolves in most of the lower 48 states from endangered to threatened and established three distinct population segments of the gray wolf. The rulings also invalidated a 2004 proposal to delist the gray wolf in the eastern United States.

This proposal replaces the previous actions with a much smaller Western Great Lakes DPS – a DPS that is narrowly structured around the core areas where wolves have exceeded their recovery goals since 1999 and the locations in which wolves have dispersed from the core areas.

In a separate action, the Service recently announced its intention to propose delisting gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Today's proposal would not affect gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains or in the Southwest, nor would it affect red wolves, a separate species found in the Southeast.

The Service's proposal to remove gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the threatened and endangered species list is available for review. A series of public hearings will be held throughout the Western Great Lakes DPS. The Service will announce details of these hearings in the near future.

Following the public comment period, the Service will evaluate all information and make a decision on whether to finalize the proposal. Until a final decision is made, wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS remain listed under the Endangered Species Act as endangered and threatened.

More information on gray wolf recovery and the Service's proposal to delist gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS can be found at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/

Comments on the proposal to remove gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes DPS from the federal list of threatened and endangered species may be submitted by e-mail to WGLwolfdelist@fws.gov or by sending a letter to WGL Wolf Delisting, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Whipple Federal Building, 1 Federal Drive, Fort Snelling, MN 55111-4056 or by sending a fax to 612-713-5292, or through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 90 days from the date the rule is published in the Federal Register.

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Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to Cut Stormwater Overflows

BOSTON, Massachusetts, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - The federal government has reached a legal settlement with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) that is expected to yield steep reductions in stormwater overflows containing raw sewage to the Charles River.

The agreement finalizes a long-term control plan to reduce combined sewer overflows throughout the MWRA system. As a result, Boston is expected to have among the cleanest river and beach environments of any major urban area in the nation.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) result from heavy rainfall or snowmelt events that cause surges of wastewater to enter sewer systems that are not equipped to handle the excess amounts, resulting in sewage being directly discharged into nearby waterways.

The sewage that CSOs typically carry contains not only stormwater but also untreated human waste, industrial waste, toxic materials and floating debris.

The settlement announced by the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday is expected to bring CSO discharges to the Charles River down to approximately eight million gallons per year, from a 1988 level of 1.7 billion gallons.

Under the settlement, the MWRA is committing to take a number of actions at the Cottage Farm primary treatment facility. These include:

  • Utilizing an abandoned 54 inch pipe beneath the Charles River to relieve pressure on the treatment facility during heavy storm events
  • Conveying additional flow to the Ward Street Headworks
  • Optimizing operations at the Cottage Farm facility, including the interconnection of sewer lines at the facility, to better balance flow
  • Additional sewer separation in Brookline and Boston
The MWRA will also perform an engineering evaluation of further system enhancements, including:
  • Use of real-time controls at a number of overflow regulators
  • Modification of existing interconnections to better balance flow in a number of main sewer interceptors
  • Evaluation of the construction of new interconnections between two main sewer interceptors in the vicinity of the Charles River
These controls should result in a reduction of discharges from Cottage Farm, including only two discharges per year, and no untreated discharges.

Overall, the newly proposed work will eliminate more than two-thirds of the annual volume of wastewater overflows to the Charles that would have been allowed under the previous plan.

Granta Nakayama, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said, “Systems like this across our nation allow significant water pollution to occur. This settlement will ensure the integrity of the local waterways and ensure that the health and environment of Boston’s residents are protected.”

“This will be a major improvement in the health of the river. It’s really an extraordinary level of protection for an urban river,” said Phil Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Since 1995, the EPA has promoted a “Clean Charles” effort, working with other government agencies and private organizations to achieve the common goal of making the lower Charles River - from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor - both fishable and swimmable. The Charles is cleaner today than it was in 1995, and today’s agreement with the MWRA improves upon past actions, said regional EPA administrator Robert Varney.

The state of Massachusetts will exercise oversight as the agreement is implemented. “This agreement represents a significant commitment by the MWRA to protect our waters by controlling their CSO discharges to a higher degree than is seen in any other part of the country,” said Robert W. Golledge Jr., commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “Once this project is completed, more than 99 percent of the CSOs will be controlled, and MassDEP will closely monitor that implementation effort.”

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EPA Grant Supports Anacostia, Potomac Watershed Restoration

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - The mid-Atlantic regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a $1.1 million grant to Prince George’s County, Maryland to help clean up the Anacostia and Potomac watersheds. The Anacostia Watershed is part of the Potomac Watershed.

The county is using this funding for low impact development projects to control stormwater runoff and to support trash management projects like this week’s Potomac Watershed Trash Summit in Washington, DC.

“Along with benefitting water quality in the Anacostia watershed, this funding supports the goal of a trash-free Potomac watershed,” said Regional Administrator Donald Welsh, announcing the grant on Wednesday.

Low impact projects developed with this funding will serve as a model for other municipalities. Low impact development practices are low maintenance landscaping techniques that control stormwater runoff.

“Prince George’s County’s projects will demonstrate how simple techniques can improve the water quality of stormwater runoff while improving the community’s quality of life,” said Welsh.

The Anacostia River watershed covers about 176 square miles including northern Prince George’s County and eastern Montgomery County in Maryland and most of Washington, DC. Work will take about one year to complete.

A portion of the watershed grant will be used for identifying sources of trash, trash reduction, supporting public cleanup days and recycling efforts, developing partnership-building workshops, researching pollution prevention, and developing public outreach programs.

EPA is a co-sponsor of the Watershed Trash Summit which WAS held Thursday at the World Bank Preston Auditorium, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC.

The primary sponsor of the Summit is the Alice Ferguson Foundation. The foundation's Trash Free Potomac Initiative encompasses the Potomac River Watershed Trash Treaty, Action Plan, Potomac Watershed Trash Summit, the Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup, and actionable pledges to clean the watershed.

The Trash Free Potomac Initiative asks citizens, communities, businesses, elected officials and agencies from throughout the Potomac River Watershed to discuss, plan and participate in taking actions to eliminate trash and restore the waters of the Potomac.

The Watershed Trash Summit serves as a central point to create a regional strategy that creates a trash free Potomac Watershed by 2013. The approach involves regional collaboration between all watershed jurisdictions and includes regional public education campaigns, enforcement and legislation, new technologies, best management practices and economic impacts.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Trash-Free Potomac Advisory Council, led elected officials in a unified signing of the Potomac River Watershed Trash Treaty action agreement, which includes policy-level changes and commitments, and a comprehensive education campaign to meet the 2013 target date.

Signers of the Potomac River Watershed Trash Treaty include Congressman Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Alexandria City Mayor William Euille, Greenbelt City Mayor Judy Davis, and top county officials from Arlington, Charles, Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s counties. This year's Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is set for Saturday, April 8 from 9 to noon. For more information visit www.trashfreePotomac.org.

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Minor Mutations in Bird Flu Virus Raise Chances of Human Infection

LA JOLLA, California, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - A team of researchers from three institutions have described a possible pathway for a virulent strain of the avian flu virus H5N1 "to gain a foothold in the human population" that they say would require only "minor" mutations in the virus.

The H5N1 avian influenza virus, commonly known as bird flu, is a highly contagious and deadly disease in poultry. So far, its spread to humans has been limited, with 177 documented severe infections, and nearly 100 deaths in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Iraq, and Turkey as of March 14, according to the World Health Organization.

"With continued outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in poultry and wild birds, further human cases are likely," said Ian Wilson, a Scripps Research professor of molecular biology and head of the laboratory that conducted the recent study. "The potential for the emergence of a human-adapted H5 virus, either by re-assortment or mutation, is a clear threat to public health worldwide."

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology identified the pathway by studying A/Vietnam/1203/2004 (Viet04), one of the most pathogenic H5N1 viruses studied so far.

The virus was originally isolated from a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy who died from the infection in 2004. The hemagglutinin (HA) structure from the Viet04 virus was found to be closely related to the 1918 virus HA, which caused some 50 million deaths worldwide.

Using a recently developed microarray technology - hundreds of microscopic assay sites on a single small surface - the study showed that relatively small mutations can result in switching the binding site preference of the avian virus from receptors in the intestinal tract of birds to the respiratory tract of humans.

These mutations, the study noted, were already "known in [some human influenza] viruses to increase binding for these receptors."

The study was published on March 16, 2006 by "ScienceXpress," the advance online version of the journal "Science."

The study was careful to note that these results reveal only one possible route for virus adaptation. The study concluded that other, as yet "unidentified mutations" could emerge, allowing the avian virus to switch receptor specificity and make the jump to human-to-human transmission.

The work was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institutes of Health.

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$5 Million Awarded to Study Health, Environmental Effects of Nanotech

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - Nanotechnology has the potential to transform environmental cleanup, treat serious illnesses, and improve computer technology.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowleges that potential risks could result from human, animal, or environmental exposure to nanoproducts - engineered nanoscale materials, nanostructured materials, or nanotechnology-based devices, and their byproducts.

To determine exactly what those risks are, the EPA Thursday awarded 14 grants totaling $5 million to universities to investigate potential health and environmental effects of manufactured nanomaterials.

"This emerging field has the potential to transform environmental protection. Researchers are now testing iron nanoparticles that could clean up pollutants in large areas of groundwater cheaper and more effectively than any existing techniques," said George Gray, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development. "At the same time, we must understand whether nanomaterials could negatively impact health or the environment. This research will help determine the viability of nanotechnology as a tool for protecting our environment."

Nanomaterials are created by working at the molecular level, atom by atom, and range in size from one to 100 nanometers. A nanometer is 80,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Because of their small size and unique properties, more research is needed to learn if nanoparticles in manufactured products can enter the human body, and if so, how long they remain. Similarly, researchers will study the fate and transport of nanoparticles in the environment.

By manipulating materials at the molecular level, scientists can endow them with new properties that go beyond those in ordinary substances.

Already on the market are a nanoscale titanium dioxide used in some cosmetics and sunscreens, nanoscale silica being used as dental fillers, and nanowhiskers used in stain-resistant fabrics.

Nanoclays and coatings are used in products from tennis balls to bikes to cars to improve bounce, strengthen high-impact parts, or make material impervious to scratches.

Nanotechnology could one day give rise to microscopic machines that could perform tasks such as delivering drugs to individual cells.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA has a program to review and assess new chemicals prior to their entry into commerce. The agency is also working with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a stewardship program that will allow EPA to gain a better understanding of the benefits and risks associated with nanomaterials.

With the grants announced Thursday a wide variety of nanotech effects will be explore. For example, researchers with the University of Georgia will determine whether particle size influences the bioavailability of nanosized zinc oxide and the potential for manufactured nanoparticles to be transferred through the food chain.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma will study accumulation and release of a wide range of manufactured nanomaterials in the soil, emphasizing the interactions with air/water interfaces and specific mineral surfaces.

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will explore the transport, transformation, and fate of manufactured nanomaterials in atmospheric, aquatic, and terrestrial environments.

Researchers at the University of Iowa are seeking to assess airborne levels of nanoparticles and to assess the efficacy of respirator use in controlling nanoparticle exposure.

And researchers at West Virginia University will determine the effects of commercially available nanomaterials on the human blood coagulation system.

The nanotechnology grants, each worth about $375,000, were awarded through EPA's Science to Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

To date, EPA has funded 65 grants for more than $22 million related to the environmental applications and/or implications of manufactured nanomaterials. In addition, EPA has awarded about $2.5 million for nanotechnology research to small businesses through its Small Business Innovation Research program.

For more information on the nanotechnology STAR grants, visit: http://www.epa.gov/ncer/nano2005

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NASA Shuttle Data Used to Map Watersheds of the World

WASHINGTON, DC, March 17, 2006 (ENS) - A team of scientists from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has developed data and created maps of the world's rivers that provide researchers with new information about where streams and watersheds occur on the Earth's surface and how water drains off the land.

The new product is based on newly available high-resolution elevation data obtained during NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

Called HydroSHEDS, the data provides this information globally at a resolution and quality never before available. HydroSHEDS stands for "Hydrological data and maps based on SHuttle Elevation Derivatives at multiple Scales."

Although high-quality river maps exist for individual rivers and even for entire nations, there has been a lack of seamless high-quality data on global and continental scales.

Data for many international river basins are patchy, and remote areas are often poorly mapped, but these are often the very systems that are of exceptionally high conservation interest, WWF said.

At the most basic level, HydroSHEDS will allow scientists to create digital river and watershed maps. These maps can then be coupled with a variety of other datasets or applied in computer simulations, such as hydrologic models that estimate flow regimes.

The kind of hydrographic information provided by HydroSHEDS allows scientists and managers to perform analyses ranging from basic watershed delineation to sophisticated flow modeling.

"With HydroSHEDS, scientists will have foundational information for understanding poorly explored watersheds, and that will invariably advance conservation," said Bernhard Lehner, conservation hydrologist with WWF's Conservation Science Program and the project leader of HydroSHEDS.

HydroSHEDS developers expect a wide range of scientists will use the data. For instance, taxonomists will ultimately be able to link their field site locations directly to digital river maps.

In the future, WWF researchers also hope to use HydroSHEDS to assess the possible impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems.

HydroSHEDS was developed by the Conservation Science Program of World Wildlife Fund, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, The Nature Conservancy, and the Center for Environmental Systems Research of the University of Kassel, Germany, and with the support of JohnsonDiversey.

JohnsonDiversey is a provider of cleaning and sanitation products and solutions to the commercial marketplace.

For some regions of the world, such as the Congo Basin in Africa and parts of the Amazon Basin in South America, HydroSHEDS will provide the first high-resolution digital river maps produced for these large areas.

South America is the first continent for which data are completed. Other continents will be available over the course of the next year.

HydroSHEDS data are freely available for non-commercial use and can be accessed at: http://www.worldwildlife.org/hydrosheds or http://hydrosheds.cr.usgs.gov

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