AmeriScan: March 16, 2007

* * *

Days Short of Spring, Snow Storm Roars Across Northeast

NEW YORK, New York, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - Just five days before the spring equinox, a heavy winter snow storm lashed the Northeast, closing airports and roads and downing power lines from New York north to Maine.

Overall, about 1,000 flights were canceled at New York-area airports by mid-afternoon, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three New York area airports - Kennedy, Laguardia and Newark.

Outside of New York City and New Jersey airports, delays or cancellations were reported at airports in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Albany, and Boston.

The Federal Aviation Administration reports all major airports are currently open and experiencing delays of less than 15 minutes.

A vehicle in President George W. Bush's motorcade traveling from Washington to the Camp David presidential retreat near Thurmont, Maryland collided today with another car on an icy highway, but no one was hurt. The president's car was not involved in the accident.

Bush usually takes the Marine One helicopter from the White House to Camp David, but snow and rain snow made flying impossible, and the president travelled by motorcade this afternoon. Maryland State Police are investigating the incident.

In New Jersey, there was a fatal accident on Route 80 this morning when the driver of an SUV lost control in heavy snow and slammed into a tree.

The storm was responsible for at least two deaths in traffic accidents in Pennsylvania. It forced school cancellations throughout the Northeast and prompted some government agencies to send workers home early.

With road conditions quickly deteriorating, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell urged motorists to avoid discretionary travel on roads in central and eastern Pennsylvania. Maximum speed limits are reduced on all state roads to 45 miles per hour.

"I am urging all motorists that do not have to travel to stay off the roadways," the governor said. "While PennDOT is doing all it can to clear the roads, central and eastern parts of the state are experiencing rapid snowfall and road conditions are becoming treacherous. Staying off the roads will help PennDOT, State Police and other authorities to better manage the situation."

* * *

U.S. Proposes Quick Phaseout of Ozone Damaging Chemicals

WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - The United States has submitted a proposal to adjust the Montreal Protocol to accelerate the phaseout of ozone damaging chemicals.

Under the Montreal Protocol's First Stage, chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, were phased out in developed countries by 1996 And replaced by less harmful HCFCs.

After World War II, CFCs, halogenated hydrocarbons, were used extensively as aerosol spray propellants, refrigerants, solvents, and foam blowing agents, often sold under the trade name freon.

CFCs released into the atmosphere accumulate in the stratosphere, where they destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer. Even a relatively small decrease in the stratospheric ozone concentration can result in an increased incidence of skin cancer in humans and in genetic damage in many organisms.

The HCFCs are one class of chemicals being used to replace the CFCs. They contain chlorine and thus deplete stratospheric ozone, but to a much lesser extent than CFCs.

The Montreal Protocol is now entering its second stage, which aims to phase out HCFCs by 2030 for developed countries and 2040 for developing countries.

The Bush administration's proposal would speed up the phaseout Of HCFCs under the Montreal Protocol's second stage.

The proposal includes four elements that can be considered individually or as a package:

  1. Accelerating the phaseout date of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFCs, by 10 years
  2. Adding interim reduction steps
  3. Setting an earlier baseline
  4. Phasing out the most damaging HCFCs to the ozone layer as the first priority
      These proposals would accelerate existing efforts to address ozone layer protection, cleaner air, and climate change by calling on the global community to act more quickly in phasing out HCFCs.

      New markets in refrigeration and air conditioning are opening in response to proposed controls on HCFC refrigerants, and producers are vying with producers of the so-called natural refrigerants, ammonia and hydrocarbons.

      Europe is moving faster on finding HCFC replacements than the United States. Honeywell Europe has taken a leading role in finding replacements for HCFC refrigerants. This led to the introduction of R-507 and R-410A, which are non-ozone depleting and offer higher energy efficiency solutions than competitive replacement products.

      For more information about the phaseout proposal click here.

      For more on alternative refrigerants click here.

      * * *

      USDA and UN to Collaborate on Sustainable Global Agriculture

      WASHINGTON, DC, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, have signed an agreement to enhance their cooperation to promote and support the development of a sustainable global agriculture system.

      Approved last fall, the agreement was signed Wednesday by FAO Director-General Dr. Jacques Diouf and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

      "This agreement will facilitate greater international coordination and collaboration on a broad range of agricultural issues and help to protect our agricultural systems," said Johanns. "I believe the benefits will be immediate by enhancing the worldwide response to highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza."

      This week in Washington, the USDA hosted a workshop to prepare 50 volunteers from more than 15 countries for rapid international deployment to combat the H5N1 bird flu. The volunteers have technical expertise in epidemiology, biosecurity, surveillance and detection.

      The USDA is assisting with the coordination of a global communications workshop to be hosted next month by FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health. It will bring together communications experts from around the world to develop a strategic international communications plan focused on animal-to-animal spread of the H5N1 virus that has killed hundreds of millions of chickens, geese, and ducks in Asia, Africa and Europe. A total of 279 people have been infected, and 169 of them have died of the disease.

      Under the framework agreement, USDA funds and resources, including human resources, can be mobilized to support FAO projects promoting sustainable agricultural development and the attainment of the UN Millennium Development Goals in developing countries.

      USDA grants could finance FAO activities emphasizing poverty eradication through economic growth and permanent improvement of the economic and social conditions of the rural poor in developing countries.

      Particular effort will be made to mobilize local human and other resources within the beneficiary countries and to ensure that development assistance is based on a dialogue with the partner countries and is in accordance with the countries’ own priorities and national poverty reduction strategies.

      “Lasting solutions to hunger and poverty require effective collaboration among all development partners, as well as capacity-building and institutional development in recipient countries,” said John Ziolkowski, director of FAO’s Liaison Office for North America. “Only by working together in promoting sustainable development and targeting the needs of the poor and hungry can we hope to meet the Millennium Development and World Food Summit Goals.”

      * * *

      Coeur d'Alene Mines Loses Clean Water Act Court Case

      SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - The federal Clean Water Act cannot be used to destroy an Alaskan lake, a federal appeals court ruled today, in a decision that may set precedent about how the act is interpreted nationwide.

      Although the full ruling is not yet released, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was wrong in letting gold mining company Coeur d'Alene Mines dump toxic mine tailings into a lake near Juneau, Alaska.

      "In issuing its permit to Coeur Alaska for the use of Lower Slate Lake as a disposal site, the Corps violated the Clean Water Act," the court said in the first part of a two part ruling on Kensington Mine dumping operations.

      The ruling disallowed a diversion ditch which the court said was environmentally destructive and which violated a previous injunction against the mine. But, the court said it would rule against the entire dumping procedure in its final opinion.

      The decision could prevent mines across the United States from dumping into lakes, streams and rivers, said Tom Waldo, attorney for Earthjustice, the non-profit law firm that filed the appeal on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation, and the Sierra Club.

      "The Kensington permit was a test case by the Bush administration to resurrect destructive mining practices from the pick-and-shovel days," Waldo said. "We've learned from the mistakes of the past. The Clean Water Act prohibited these practices, and today's court ruling confirms that."

      Waldo is concerned about similar operations elsewhere in Alaska, expecially the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, which hosts the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

      Pebble Mine, like Kensington, is designed to dump vast quantities of toxic mine tailings into lakes. A coalition of business, environmental, fishing and native groups is opposing the Pebble Mine because of its damaging potential.

      In 1982, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted regulations under the Clean Water Act prohibiting new gold mines from dumping their tailings into waterways.

      Yet, the Corps' permit granted Coeur d'Alene Mines Corporation the right to dump 210,000 gallons per day of a toxic waste slurry into Lower Slate Lake, despite the availability of disposal methods less damaging to the environment. The slurry is a byproduct of a gold extraction process that blends water with crushed ore.

      Attorneys representing mine developers and the federal government said the slurry is legal fill material in their view of the law, but the court rejected that argument.

      The mine site is in Berners Bay, about 35 miles northwest of Juneau. The disputed permit would fill Lower Slate Lake, a 23 acre wooded, sub-alpine lake in the Berners Bay watershed. All fish and most other life forms would have been killed.

      Coeur d'Alene Mines already had approval to build a conventional dry land tailings disposal facility, but the company applied for a permit to dump tailings directly into the lake as a cost-cutting measure.

      * * *

      Edwards Presidential Campaign Will Be Carbon Neutral

      CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - As part of his efforts to combat global warming, Senator John Edwards announced Thursday that he will make his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination "carbon neutral."

      By conserving energy and purchasing carbon offsets, the Edwards campaign will offset the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emitted by Edwards and his staff's campaign travel, and the energy used in his campaign headquarters and field offices.

      "Global warming is an emergency and we can't wait until the next president is elected to take action," said Edwards. "Each of us can take responsibility in small ways to make a big difference. I encourage all Americans to conserve energy in their own homes and workplaces and help fight global warming."

      The Edwards campaign and its landlord have taken the following steps to conserve energy:

      • Organizing a One Corps National Day of Energy Action in January to get supporters involved in the fight against global warming by working on community service activities including weatherizing homes and distributing energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs
      • Using timers and motion detectors to control lights and shut down office equipment when not in use and turning off computers, televisions, and lights when not in use
      • Online monitoring and management of heating and air conditioning to conserve energy
      • Buying 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and other recycled paper products
      • Recycling paper, plastic, glass, and cardboard
      • Encouraging staff to adopt energy efficient practices in their office and homes. About a quarter of John Edwards for President headquarters employees walk to work.
      • ul> After conserving energy, the campaign will purchase carbon offsets to make it carbon neutral. Carbon offsets allow one party to pay another to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Edwards will also financially support renewable energy projects to make them commercially viable and reduce the need for carbon-based energy. Edwards says he believes that the United States should take immediate action to halt global warming. However, American families and communities can act while their government fails to act. Today, Edwards announced that he will make his campaign "carbon neutral," eliminating its impact on global warming, by taking energy efficiency steps and supporting renewable energy.

        * * *

        Fiber-Optic Light Source Offers Food Inspection Improvements

        CRANBURY, New Jersey, March 16, 2007 (ENS) - A new light source based on fiber-optic technology promises to improve the inspection of food, produce, paper, currency, recyclables and other products.

        New research revealing this technology will be presented at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference, being held March 25 through 29 in Anaheim, California.

        Currently, industrial processes for inspecting foodstuffs and other items often use "line-scan" cameras, which record images of objects one line at a time, just as fax machines scan documents on a line-by-line basis. Rapid electronic processors then detect whether there are any problems with the items and instruct mechanical actuators, such as air jets, to separate out unsatisfactory items. But current line-scan cameras lack ideal light sources to image objects properly.

        Now, Princeton Lightwave of Cranbury, New Jersey and OFS Labs, a Somerset, New Jersey based division of Furukawa Electric, have introduced a fiber optics solution.

        In their design, a bright light source such as a laser sends light through an optical fiber. Along the length of the fiber is an ultraviolet light treated region called a "fiber grating."

        The grating deflects the light so that it exits perpendicular to the length of the fiber as a long, expanding rectangle of light.

        This optical rectangle is then passed through a cylindrical lens, so that the rectangle illuminates objects of interest at various distances from the source.

        The bright rectangle allows line scan cameras to sort products at higher speeds with improved accuracy.

        According to the researchers, this fiber optics device can be customized for a specific inspection application within four to six weeks, then manufactured for that application in 16 to 20 weeks.