AmeriScan: March 28, 2007

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Wildland Fires More Likely Than Normal Through June

BOISE, Idaho, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - The potential for large wildfires is expected to be higher than normal from the Pacific Northwest to the western Great Lakes, southern California, western Arizona and portions of the Southeast, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, NIFC.

In a fire season outlook report covering the period from now through the end of June, the center said Tuesday that the potential for fires is shaped by a number of factors, including snowpack, the timing of spring snowmelt, rainfall, temperatures and drought.

One critical factor influencing fire potential during this outlook period is that current drought conditions across portions of Wyoming, and the Northern Rockies eastward to the Great Lakes are forecast to persist and elevate fire potential.

Much of the West will continue to see normal to below normal snowpack through the end of spring, the NIFC said, adding that the dry winter and spring weather in southern California and western Arizona is expected to increase fire potential.

The current El Nino weather pattern in the eastern tropical Pacific is rapidly weakening and will likely end by late spring. However, it may bring increased rainfall over portions of the Southwest and Southern Plains during March, the NIFC said.

Current drought and fuel conditions in Oklahoma and Texas are much improved compared to last season, so the agency predicts normal to below normal fire potential for these areas.

Wildfire activity for the week ending March 23 was heavy with 2,536 new fires reported, of which 2,374 occurred in the Southern Area. Twenty-eight of the new fires were large fires. At week's end there were nine uncontained large fires across the country, most in the Southeast region.

The NIFC indicates that dry conditions will persist over Florida and much of the southeastern states through this week.

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Three Shipping Companies Indicted for Pollution Coverup

WASHINGTON, DC, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - Three companies that own and operate the oceangoing chemical tanker Clipper Trojan were indicted Tuesday in connection with an attempt by crew members to cover up the illegal dumping of oily waste in international waters, the U.S. Justice Department announced.

The 11 count indictment named as defendants Clipper Wonsild Tankers Holding A/S and Clipper Marine Services A/S, Danish companies that operate and manage the M/T Clipper Trojan, and Trojan Shipping Co. Ltd., a Bahamas company that is the registered owner of the M/T Clipper Trojan.

All three companies are part of The Clipper Group A/S, a global shipping consortium based in Denmark.

According to the indictment, crew members of the tanker dumped oil sludge directly overboard on two occasions in May and June of 2006, and regularly dumped oil-contaminated bilge water overboard between March and June of 2006.

Crew members of the tanker attempted to prevent the U.S. Coast Guard from learning of the illegal discharges during an inspection of the ship at Port Newark on June 15, 2006.

Engine room operations on board such large oceangoing vessels generate large amounts of waste oil. International and U.S. law prohibit the discharge of waste oil without treatment by an oily water separator. All overboard discharges must be recorded in an oil record book, a required log which is regularly inspected by the Coast Guard.

The indictment alleges that the crew members acted as agents for the three corporate defendants in attempting to cover up the illegal discharges of oily waste.

On February 2, 2007, the tanker's chief engineer Fernando Magnaye, 45, of Quezon City, Philippines, pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to charges of presenting a false document to the Coast Guard and attempting to obstruct a Coast Guard inspection.

Magnaye admitted that he knew about illegal discharges of oil sludge and contaminated bilge waste but failed to record those discharges in the oil record book. Magnaye admitted that he presented the false oil record book to the Coast Guard and falsely claimed to Coast Guard inspectors that the book was accurate.

Mangaye also admitted that he asked the ship's fourth engineer to fabricate a pipe that would ensure that the Coast Guard would take a false reading of the contents of the ship's bilge sludge oil tank, in which oily waste was stored.

The indictment charges each of the companies with one count of conspiracy, one count of violation of the MARPOL Protocol, one count of making and using materially false writings and documents, seven counts of obstruction of justice, and one count of concealment of a tangible object to obstruct an investigation.

If convicted, the companies face statutory maximum fines of $500,000 on each count or twice the amount of any gain the corporations reaped as a result of the criminal conduct.

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Cause of 2006 Bacterial Outbreak in Spinach Still Unknown

WASHINGTON, DC, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - The precise cause of the spinach contamination last fall that resulted in 205 confirmed illnesses and three deaths remains unknown even after painstaking investigative work by federal and California state officials, according to a final report released Friday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and California's Department of Health Services, CDHS, issued the joint report on an investigation into the causes of the E.coli O157:H7 outbreak last fall that was associated with contaminated Dole brand Baby Spinach.

The probe initially focused on the processing and packaging plant of Natural Selection Foods, LLC in San Juan Bautista, California, where the contaminated products had been processed.

The next focus of the inquiry was the source of the spinach in 13 bags containing E.coli O157:H7 isolates that had been collected nationwide from sick customers.

Using the product codes on the bags, and employing DNA fingerprinting on the bacteria from the bags, the investigators were able to match environmental samples of E.coli O157:H7 from one field to the strain that had caused the outbreak.

Potential environmental risk factors for E.coli O157:H7 contamination at or near the field included the presence of wild pigs, the proximity of irrigation wells used to grow produce for ready-to-eat packaging, and surface waterways exposed to feces from cattle and wildlife.

"Because the contamination occurred before the start of the investigation, and because of the many ways that E.coli O157:H7 can be transferred - including animals, humans, and water - the precise means by which the bacteria spread to the spinach remain unknown," the report states.

The inquiry was conducted by the California Food Emergency Response Team, a team of experts from FDA's district office in San Francisco and CDHS. They were assisted by experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The report, entitled "Investigation of an Escherichia coli O157:H7 Outbreak Associated with Dole Pre-Packaged Spinach," is posted at: http://www.DHS.ca.gov.

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NOAA Fisheries Service Opens Dolphin-Safe Website

WASHINGTON, DC, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - The NOAA Fisheries Service has established a website to provide information and requirements about U.S. dolphin-safe tuna at DolphinSafe.Gov. The site, operated by the Department of Commerce, is intended to serve consumers, producers, importers, exporters and distributors.

The dolphin-safe label on tuna products indicates to consumers that dolphins were not intentionally encircled with nets nor harmed when the tuna were caught.

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Department of Commerce's dolphin-safe logo (Photo courtesy DOC)
"This website will answer many of the questions tuna importers and processors may have in obtaining dolphin-safe certification for their product at an Internet address that’s easy to remember,” said Rod McInnis, NOAA Fisheries Service Southwest regional administrator and a U.S. commissioner to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

"It also will help the public feel more confident in the authenticity of the dolphin-safe label," he said.

In the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico and Central America, large yellowfin tuna swim together with several species of dolphins. This association of tuna and dolphins is not clearly understood, but it has formed the basis of a successful tuna fishery, and it has resulted in the deaths of millions of dolphins.

Due to this unique association between tuna and dolphins, Congress passed the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act in 1990 to give consumers the right to know if the tuna they purchase is falsely labeled.

Mandates of this legislation included the establishment of a government tracking program and the creation of a government dolphin-safe logo.

The government Tuna Tracking and Verification Program monitors nationwide the domestic production and importation of frozen and processed tuna products. The program also periodically conducts spot checks of tuna products on store shelves and then traces the product back to where the fish were caught to verify the labeling is accurate. Retail market spot checks have been made in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project also maintains a dolphin-safe website at: http://www.earthisland.org/immp. The nonprofit conservation organization based in San Francisco uses a separate dolphin-safe label and says the Department of Commerce's dolphin-safe program does not really safeguard dolphins.

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Earth Island Institute's dolphin-safe logo (Photo courtesy Earth Island)
For a product to display their respective logos, both the government and Earth Island Institute require that no tuna were caught on the trip in which a purse seine net was intentionally deployed on or to encircle dolphins, and that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna were caught.

Both the government and Earth Island require that each trip in the eastern tropical Pacific by vessels 400 gross tons and above must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with dolphin-safe measures.

In addition, in order for tuna to be considered dolphin-safe enough to earn the Earth Island Institute logo no use of drift gill nets is allowed, and there must be no mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells or in processing or storage facilities.

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Conservationists Sue to End Alaska's Wolf Kill Payments

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - Conservation groups Tuesday filed suit in Alaska Superior Court seeking an injunction to block Governor Sarah Palin's program of paying $150 for each wolf foreleg brought to the state from any of five areas of the state where the government wants to reduce wolf populations.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance and the Alaska Chapter of the Sierra Club call the $150 payment a "bounty" and base their case on the fact that Alaska's bounty laws were repealed in 1984 and the state has no current legal authority to implement the bounties.

Announcing the payment program last week, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Division Director Matt Robus said the cash payments are "incentives to aerial control permittees, and are not bounties."

"This program is a directed management action applied in a limited fashion in specific areas, available to properly-permitted operators, and yielding useful scientific information. In contrast, the bounties of past years were broad-scale efforts to extirpate animals across large portions of their ranges," said Robus.

Defenders of Wildlife's Alaska Associate Tom Banks disagrees. "The governor is overstepping her legal authority by offering cash payments for each wolf killed by aerial gunners," he said. "That's a bounty by anyone's standards regardless of what they call it."

Defenders and the co-plaintiffs also are concerned that the payments offered by the state will encourage the illegal killing of wolves outside the control area.

In a separate motion filed independently in the same court Tuesday, Friends of Animals and an Alaska resident asked that the state's entire aerial wolf kill program be ended. They argue that federal law prohibits airborne bounty hunting.

The injunction requests are two of a number of cases filed since August seeking to end the state's aerial wolf killing program.

Superior Court Judge Bill Morse recently consolidated the cases and is considering them together. The judge will consider the motions on Friday, said Valerie Brown, an attorney representing Defenders.

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Entergy Offsets 100,000 Metric Tons of Carbon Emissions

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, March 28, 2007 (ENS) - Taking advantage of an opportunity to work toward the company’s voluntary greenhouse gas reduction commitment, the energy company Entergy has purchased emission reduction credits totaling 100,000 metric tons.

The purchase of these credits was made through Environmental Resources Trust by Nike Inc., which verified and registered the credit as a result of exceeding its carbon footprint goals with the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program.

With annual revenues of more than $10 billion, Entergy delivers electricity to 2.6 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

"Much of the Entergy service area is particularly vulnerable to the predicted effects of climate change,” said Entergy Director of Corporate Environmental Programs Brent Dorsey. "Our service area has many low income customers who are least able to bear the costs of recovering from disastrous climatic effects, so Entergy is particularly interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The utility believes that greenhouse gas regulation is needed to provide market certainty and send the right pricing signals to utilities as they look to replace aging generation capacity and meet a demand that is expected to increase by up to 50 percent over the next 30 years.

"The key to shifting markets and the economy to a more carbon neutral position includes a robust carbon offset market to bridge the gap between now - a time in which no cost-effective, bolt-on carbon capture and sequestration technology exists - and a future in which technological innovations including new nuclear, clean coal, renewable fuels and energy efficiency measures will make it possible to generate zero and low-emission electricity economically,” Dorsey said.

Entergy currently is the second largest nuclear generator in the United States, operating 10 units. This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted the company an Early Site Permit for a new nuclear plant in Mississippi.

As a proponent of mandatory greenhouse gas emission caps, Entergy says the company supports a "fuel-neutral, market-based cap and trade approach that provides credit for early action."

"A mandatory approach is necessary to help provide regulatory certainty for decision makers as the industry plans for significant growth in demand and capital stock turnover of the generation fleet," Entergy said in a March 22 statement.

Entergy was the first U.S. utility to voluntarily stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.

Entergy surpassed its first commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 2000 levels through 2005 by 23 percent while increasing megawatt hour sales by 21 percent for the period from 2001 to 2005.

The company has further committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2000 levels through 2010. Entergy's second commitment includes over $3 million in funding to participate in greenhouse gas offset markets.