AmeriScan: March 1, 2007

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Tornadoes Claim 19 Lives in Alabama, Missouri

MONTGOMERY, Alabama, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - Tornadoes twisted up disaster across southern states today, killing at least 19 people in Alabama and Missouri.

The Alabama Department of Emergency Management reports the storm claimed the lives of 17 people in Coffee County and one in Wilcox County.

The dead include five teenagers in the city of Enterprise who were killed when the roof of their high school collapsed. Alabama Governor Bob Riley has declared a state of emergency and dispatched 100 National Guard troops to the Coffee County city 85 miles south of the state capital Montgomery.

"Enterprise has suffered major and widespread damage, said the governor. "The state is and will continue to offer all available assistance."

Additional troops are standing by to assist with recovery efforts and a dark to dawn curfew is in effect in Enterprise.

Thirty-five people were taken to hospitals to be treated for injuries from the powerful storm. Thirteen Alabama counties are reporting tornado damage. Rain and gusty winds continue to sweep across the area.

The Alabama Department of Emergency Management has a team on the scene, and has deployed a search and rescue team from the nearby town of Dothan. State highway patrol and ambulances are also assisting. Lights and generators have been mobilized and are on the scene so that search crews can work through the night.

The storm caused power outages that have left approximately 21,000 customers of Alabama Power in the dark, emergency officials report. An additional 5,000 customers of the Alabama Rural Electric Cooperative are also affected.

The same storm system killed a young girl and injured five others, all residents of a mobile home in Howell County near Pottersville, Missouri.

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Landowners May Get Tax Breaks to Protect Endangered Species

WASHINGTON, DC, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - A new bipartisan bill to protect endangered species is attracting support from bothenvironmentalists and farmers.

The Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 aims to make private landowners partners in conservation by providing $400 million a year in new tax credits, plus additional deductions and exclusions, for citizens who take steps to help endangered or threatened species on the properties they own.

The bill is sponsored by Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Finance Committee and by Republican Senators of Mike Crapo of Idaho and Charles Grassley of Iowa who is ranking member of the Finance Committee.

The bill has four major tax incentive components - habitat protection easement credits, habitat restoration tax credits, deductions and market mechanisms.

Specifically the bill provides tax credits to landowners who place an easement on their property to further the recovery of threatened or endangered species.

The size of the tax credit increases with the duration of the easement, with a permanent easement providing a credit equal to 100 percent of the difference between the value of the property before and after the establishment of the easement.

Landowners who conduct habitat restoration projects on their land can receive tax credits up to 100 percent of the restoration costs.

"Partnering with private landowners on wildlife conservation is absolutely critical," said Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen. "This legislation provides key incentives to enlist more landowners in this effort, which benefits people and endangered species alike."

The Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 is a "win-win" for private landowners, as well as endangered and threatened species, the American Farm Bureau Federation, AFBF, said Wednesday during a press conference announcing the introduction of the legislation.

AFBF President Bob Stallman said, "Encouraging landowners to proactively improve habitat because they want to, instead of passively acknowledging habitat through land use restrictions, will greatly enhance the recovery of listed species," said Stallman. "The tax credits and deductions provided in the bill offer that encouragement."

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JP Morgan and Innovest Launch Global Warming Bond Index

NEW YORK, New York, March 1, 2007 – The global financial services firm JPMorgan and Innovest Strategic Value Advisors Wednesday launched the first bond index designed to address the risks of global warming.

The JPMorgan Environmental Index-Carbon Beta, the JENI-Carbon Beta for short, is a United States high-grade corporate bond index. It enables credit investors to make decisions that systematically take into account risks and opportunities issuers face as they address climate change.

"Until today, bond prices did not reflect an increasingly important financial risk - climate change," said Edward Marrinan, managing director and head of investment grade credit strategy. "With climate exposures factored in, companies’ risk profiles - and their bonds - will more accurately reflect the trade-off between risk and return."

The JENI-Carbon Beta is based on the JPMorgan US Liquid Index, an established benchmark for the U.S. investment-grade corporate bond market.

A relative carbon beta score is calculated monthly for each issuer, relative to its sector, by Innovest, the world leader in providing environmental analysis to institutional investors.

The JULI is then "tilted" according to the carbon beta scores of issuers to create the JENI-Carbon Beta.

For example, within the automotive sector, an automaker that has curbed emissions from its plants and produces a fleet of vehicles with relatively high fuel efficiency might be "overweighted" compared to an automaker that has not taken such steps, Marrinan said.

The JENI-Carbon Beta is meant to serve as a benchmark for mainstream investors concerned about the financial impact of climate change and related regulation, as well as for funds mandated to seek out investments that meet particular environmental criteria.

"Awareness and concern among major investors have been growing exponentially," said Innovest Chief Executive Matthew Kiernan. "What’s been missing – until today – have been sophisticated investment tools and products to help them translate that concern into concrete investment decisions and actions. We expect this innovative new index to have a major, positive impact."

Historical index levels and returns are available from January 1, 2006. Clients and investors can access the JENI-Carbon Beta on www.morganmarkets.com, dataquery.jpmorgan.com, www.jpmorgan.com/jeni, and Bloomberg page: JENI .

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Diesel Exhaust Danger Highest During Commutes

BOSTON, Massachusetts, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - Diesel fumes pose a major health risk to commuters, according to a new report by the non-profit Clean Air Task Force.

The Boston environmental research group reported Wednesday that it is during the few hours of the commute to and from work that people receive more than half their overall exposure to deadly fine particle pollution.

Task Force researchers documented diesel particle levels four to eight times higher inside commuter cars, buses, and trains than in the ambient outdoor air in four U.S. cities.

"Exposure to diesel exhaust during commutes poses a serious public health risk that needs to be addressed," said George Thurston, professor of environmental medicine at New York University’s School of Medicine, who wrote the foreword to the report.

Fine particle pollution, including diesel exhaust, can cause lung cancer, stroke, heart attack and infant death. It also triggers asthma attacks and makes people more likely to become allergic.

The Task Force investigated diesel exhaust levels during commutes in New York City, Boston, Massachusetts; Austin, Texas; and Columbus, Ohio.

"Our investigation demonstrated that you may be exposed to high levels of diesel particles – four to eight times the levels in the outdoor air - whether you commute by car, bus, ferry, train, or on foot," said Bruce Hill, senior scientist with Clean Air Task Force.

By contrast, Hill observed, pollution levels were negligible for commuters in and near vehicles equipped with modern pollution controls or those that run on lower-polluting fuels such as natural gas.

"The problem is that there are 13 million diesel engines in service today, and virtually all are exempt from modern pollution controls," said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Task Force. "However, our study showed that simply replacing the muffler of trucks or buses with a diesel particle filter can reduce commuter exposure substantially," he said.

Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, regulations, the Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel fuel necessary to keep these diesel particle filters operating optimally became available nationwide late last year.

The Task Force called on federal and state agencies to increase funding to clean up highly polluting buses and other existing diesel engines.

It urged the EPA to require that long-haul trucks clean up when their engines are rebuilt and urged the agency to move ahead with plans to set new pollution standards for diesel trains and diesel-powered boats, including commuter ferries.

The report is online at: www.catf.us/goto/noescape

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Sunny Hawaii Funds Solar Panels for Schools

HONOLULU, Hawaii, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle has released $5 million for solar photovoltaic systems to be installed in at least one public school in each of the four major Hawaiian islands, as part of the state’s ongoing effort to increase energy self-sufficiency.

A two year pilot program to determine the cost-effectiveness of solar panel systems in schools throughout the state will begin in March.

The Department of Education will rate all public schools to determine the best locations to install the alternate energy systems, based on criterion such as solar mapping and area electrical rates.

The solar energy panels are expected to decrease the current use of power from the electrical grids, as well as feed energy back into the system to credit the usage account during times of low use, such as weekends, holidays and summer breaks.

Following the pilot program, the Department of Education will determine the cost effectiveness of the program and whether or not to expand to more schools statewide.

"Using solar energy to supply power to our schools is an innovative solution to one of the challenges in our school system," said Governor Lingle.

"The high cost of powering our school buildings is a major burden for our state, and I am encouraged that the legislature funded this program to use alternative energy sources such as the solar panel systems," she said. "These efforts will help decrease Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and will help our state reach the goal of having 20 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by the year 2020."

The schools which will receive the solar systems for the pilot program are expected to be named by the Department of Education next month. Construction is scheduled to be complete in June 2008.

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Scripps Oceanographers Decipher Blue Whale Calls

SAN DIEGO, California, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - Using new approaches to gathering information, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego are forging a new understanding of blue whales - the largest mammals on Earth.

In one new study on blue whales, Scripps researchers demonstrated for the first time that blue whale calls can be tied to specific behavior and gender classifications.

In a separate study, researchers used recordings of blue whale songs to determine population distributions worldwide.

While the specific function of songs and calls produced by whales still remains a mystery, the researchers believe these sounds mediate social interactions between the animals.

The first study, led by Scripps postdoctoral researcher Erin Oleson and Scripps scientist John Hildebrand, describes the behavioral context of calls produced by eastern North Pacific blue whales.

"This is the first study that has been able to study the calls by directly observing the animal while it is calling and gathering key information such as depth and body orientation—getting a sense of what the animal is doing underwater," said Oleson.

"Once you understand the context of specific types of sounds, then you can use those sounds to infer something about what they are doing when you are not there to actually see them doing it," she said.

Oleson and her team attached miniature acoustic recording tags to whales, which revealed clear patterns linking whale behavior, sex type and group size with specific call types.

The tags included the National Geographic "Crittercam," an integrated video-camcorder and data-logging system, and the "B-probe," an electronic data-logging tag attached to the animal via suction cup.

Those data were supplemented with analysis of whale tissue samples and visual observations from ships.

The researchers found that only males produced sounds known as "AB" calls while "D" calls were heard from both sexes, typically during foraging.

The researchers note in the paper, published in the January 25 issue of the "Marine Ecology Progress Series" journal, that the sex bias evident in "AB" callers suggests that those calls probably play a role in reproduction.

The other study, published in a recent issue of the "Journal of Cetacean Research Management," describes the first attempt at determining worldwide blue whale populations by analyzing nuances of their songs.

Hildebrand and his colleagues used acoustic recordings from around the world, including data from his own instrument deployments and recordings from other scientists and the U.S. Navy, to create a new map that geographically categorizes blue whale species types into nine regions around the world based on their song "dialects."

"By listening to the animals, you can tell something about the areas in which they are interacting to breed and that's important to know for managing and conserving the animals," said Hildebrand.

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