AmeriScan: May 20, 2005

* * *

Environmental Satellite Launched in New Era of Global Cooperation

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - A new NOAA polar-orbiting environmental satellite, launched early this morning, has reached orbit, officials from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have confirmed.

The NOAA-N satellite - now designated NOAA-18 - is critical in the development of a global Earth observation program and improving NOAA's weather and climate forecasts and U.S. search and rescue operations.

Today's launch starts a new era of international cooperation, NOAA and NASA officials said.

"We look forward to the benefits from NOAA-18 and its contributions toward strengthening the Global Earth Observation System of Systems," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "NOAA-18 brings us a step closer to having true global coverage of the Earth's changing environment."

Under an agreement between NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), NOAA will provide NOAA-18 and a later satellite, NOAA-N Prime, for an afternoon orbit of the globe and carry a EUMETSAT instrument.

In return, EUMETSAT will provide and launch three European built satellites, called Metop, into morning orbits during the next 10 years, carrying key NOAA instruments. The first Metop launch is scheduled for April 2006.

NOAA-18 replaces NOAA-16, a polar-orbiting environmental satellite that had been in operation since September 2000, and joins NOAA-17, launched in June 2002.

NOAA maintains two primary polar-orbiting satellites at all times. The global data from these satellites are used extensively in NOAA's weather and climate prediction numerical models.

Using this date, NOAA hurricane forecasters said Monday that the Atlantic Ocean is going to experience another above-normal hurricane season on the heels of last year's destructive and historic hurricane season when four major hurricanes struck Florida within six weeks.

"NOAA's prediction for the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season is for 12 to15 tropical storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes," said Lautenbacher. "Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high," he said.

NOAA's Atlantic hurricane outlook reflects an expected continuation of above-average activity that began in 1995. Since that time all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons have been above-normal.

"Last year's hurricane season provided a reminder that planning and preparation for a hurricane do make a difference. Residents in hurricane vulnerable areas who had a plan, and took individual responsibility for acting on those plans, faired far better than those who did not," said Max Mayfield, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane season starts on June 1 and ends November 30.

* * *

House Votes to Restore Ban on Wild Horse Slaughter

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - The nation's largest animal protection organization is applauding the House of Representatives for voting Thursday to restore the ban on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros that was lifted in the closing days of the last Congressional session after 34 years in force.

"This is a huge victory for the animals, driven by an enormous outpouring of public concern, and The Humane Society of the United States is grateful that Congress acted to save our nation's wild horses from the slaughterhouse," said Nancy Perry, vice president of government affairs for the society. "These animals are an integral part of our landscape and deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. We urge the Senate to follow suit."

The amendment, attached to the Interior appropriations bill, was sponsored by Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican and Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat.

The amendment was proposed in response to legislation introduced by Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, that gutted federal protections of wild horses and passed with no hearing or debate as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

The Burns amendment reversed longstanding federal policy that banned wild horses from being sold at auction and subsequently shipped to slaughter plants.

Since its passage, 41 wild horses were sold at auction by the Bureau of Land Management and immediately sent to slaughter by the purchasers.

"The House has sided with horse protection over horse slaughter, "said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. "Wild horses are majestic icons of the West, and they should be treated with dignity and respect. We are enormously grateful for the leadership of Nick Rahall and Ed Whitfield in advocating for the horses."

Protection for wild horses in the United States was originally authorized under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act in response to the shootings of hundreds of thousands of horses and burros and the slaughter of horses for pet food and human consumption in Europe.

* * *

Tongass Logging Subsidy Vote Blocked in House

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - Procedural maneuvering in the House of Representatives Thursday night blocked a straight yes or no vote on an amendment to end subsidies for logging roads in Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

Last year, the U.S. Forest Service spent $49 million preparing timber sales in the Tongass. The Forest Service earned $800,000 from those timber sales.

The national organization of Republicans who support environmental protection, REP America, blamed "pork barrel politicians" for not permitting the vote to go ahead on an amendment to the appropriations bill offered by Congressman Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican and Robert Andrew, a New Jersey Democrat.

"The House was denied a chance to vote on Congressman Steve Chabot's amendment, which would both save taxpayers' dollars and protect the natural treasures in the Tongass, America's largest national forest," said Jim DiPeso, REP America policy director.

"Congressman Chabot stood up for the GOP's venerable traditions of conservation and fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the other pork barrel politicians who blocked the vote on his amendment chose to trample on their political heritage," DiPeso said.

Franz Matzner of Taxpayers For Common Sense was also critical of the maneuver that kept a vote from taking place. "This is the latest example of why Americans have lost faith in their elected officials, and overwhelmingly believe that Washington has stopped working. When members of Congress prioritize the special interests above everyone else, one can only conclude that the only endangered species in Washington are fiscally responsible lawmakers," Matzner said.

The Chabot/Andrews amendment received strong support from a broad range of constituencies, including taxpayer advocates; sport hunting and fishing organizations, religious leaders, and numerous local Alaska businesses.

In 2004, a similar amendment offered by Congressman Chabot passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

* * *

Salmon Dependent Businesses to Congress: We're Losing Billions

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - Hundreds of West Coast business people are disillusioned with the federal government's failed salmon recovery plans and they are in Washington this week to tell their elected representatives to "stop wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer money on failed technologies, and to realize the multi-billion dollar economic potential that is being squandered by declining salmon populations."

People representing nearly 1,100 salmon dependent businesses are asking Congress to support them by signing onto the Salmon Planning Act (H.R. 1615).

The Salmon Planning Act would initiate a series of studies to explore the economic benefits of salmon and steelhead recovery, examine the cost of removing four federal dams on the Lower Snake River and examine accompanying investments to benefit farmers and electric ratepayers.

Dam removal has long been seen by most scientists to be the best and surest way to recover wild salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers, proponents say. They cite NOAA Fisheries documents that state the dams are allowed to kill as many as 86 percent of the young salmon that are making their way to the ocean.

"It is a gross fiscal irresponsibility," said Jim Norton, Middle Fork River Trips, a river and fishing guide out of Boise, Idaho. "We pay billions of dollars into a system that has destroyed the most robust salmon economy in the world, and pay billions of dollars more for increasingly absurd recovery schemes that will never bring salmon back to the Pacific Northwest."

The signers come from hundreds of commercial and sportfishing related businesses that benefit directly from healthy salmon runs, and also include outdoor and recreation companies that see huge increases in business when fishing is good. They include outdoor clothing outfitters, hotels, and restaurants in and around rural and river communities on the West Coast.

"Not only is it our responsibility to protect and enhance rural economies, good fishing and places in the outdoors for families to enjoy, it also makes good business sense," said Dave Knutson of Chaco, Inc., a manufacturer of river sandals. "When you look at the marginal value that these dams provide to the region and the ineffective result of current strategies to restore salmon and steelhead, you soon realize that a free-flowing lower Snake River is the answer."

With a restored fishery, Washington, Oregon and Idaho could see almost $6 billion dollars in economic benefit from sportfishing alone, the coalition says, citing recent studies.

Commercial fishing could bring in an additional $500 million per year and as many as 25,000 new family wage jobs, according to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"The federal government's disregard for the value of these fish and the health of the rivers to the people of the Northwest and beyond is hurting thousands of businesses around the country, including those that make up the Outdoor Industry, an eight billion dollar and growing industry," said Gareth Martins, designer and manufacturer of Osprey technical backpacks with a 15 year history in rural southwest Colorado. "Congress needs to put federal salmon policy on the right track by passing the Salmon Planning Act now."

So far this spring, return of salmon is dismally low. Fisheries have closed this year as soon as they were opened. Boats remain docked, guides are idle and millions of dollars destined for river communities now and in coming months aren't going to be coming this year.

"The federal government is spending $500-600 million per year to continue actions on the Columbia and Snake rivers, which have a 20 year history of failure," said Dr. C. Mark Rockwell, D.C. with the Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers, a federation of fly fishing clubs from the U.S. and abroad.

"This is the single, largest waste of taxpayer funds that I have ever experienced in fishing restoration work," said Rockwell. "Supporting the Salmon Planning Act will help stop this waste and direct commonsense efforts, which have a much greater chance of being effective for the fish and cost effective for the American taxpayers."

* * *

Poll: Voters Want Clean Rivers for Drinking Water

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - Voters surveyed for a public opinion poll commissioned by river and watershed conservation groups say clean water is a top concern and a large majority prefer cleaning up polluted waters to drinking bottled water, according to results of the poll released today.

The national poll released today by American Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance, River Network, the American Canoe Association, and dozens of other groups, found that when given a choice, 85 percent of voters preferred that "elected officials take significant action to address problems with our water to ensure its safety," over "adjusting to problems with our water by buying bottled water."

"Rivers are the source of tapwater for most Americans, and voters want both to be clean and safe," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "Americans shouldn't fear for their health when swimming in their local rivers, much less turning on their household taps."

In response to the survey, more than 500 river and watershed groups, sporting and recreation groups, and businesses across the country issued a policy platform, the Citizens' Agenda for Rivers, calling on local officials throughout the United States to take stronger action to protect the clean water in rivers and streams around the country.

Between April 14 and 20, Lake Snell Perry Mermin and Associates surveyed 1,000 registered voters, ages 18 and older nationwide and oversamples of 200 registered voters in five states - Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, New York, and Washington.

The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.1 percent and the margin of error for the oversamples in the states is plus or minus 6.9 percent.

Pollsters also found that 60 percent of voters questioned would be at least "somewhat worried" to learn that their tapwater was drawn from local rivers and streams. Twenty percent said they were "very worried" and 14 percent were "extremely worried."

More than half (51 percent) believe that water in their local rivers has gotten at least "somewhat dirtier" over the past decade.

Fifty percent were at least "somewhat concerned" that that the tap water in their homes was safe to drink. An additional 28 percent said they were a "little concerned" about its safety.

"Americans want our clean water laws strongly enforced," said Steve Fleischli, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. "Public officials are not doing their job when they allow pollution into our rivers it costs us money and it imperils our health."

New York had the highest percentage of voters (71 percent) that would be at least "somewhat worried" to learn that their tapwater came from local rivers and streams.

Michigan and New York tied for the highest percent of voters (59 percent) indicating that their local rivers had gotten at least "somewhat dirtier" over the past decade.

Colorado had the highest percentage of voters (58 percent) who believe there is at least "somewhat less" water in local rivers than 10 years ago and the highest level of general concern (62.1 on a scale of 0 to 100) over "communities having enough water."

"Clean water and clean rivers and lakes are critical to our communities' future and the quality of life we pass on to our children," said Don Elder, executive director of River Network. "Taking action to protect clean rivers and clean up polluted rivers is vital if we are to ensure a better future for all Americans."

"Rivers not only provide us with the water we need, they are part of our natural heritage," said Paul Sanford with the American Canoe Association. "We need to protect rivers from pollution and overuse so that our children and grandchildren can go canoeing, fishing, and swimming with their families, too."

For more information about the poll results, see: http://www.americanrivers.org or http://www.healthyrivers.org.

* * *

Five Rubber Firms to Pay $18.8 Million for Ohio Landfill Mess

CHICAGO, Illinois, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - A consent decree to recover nearly $19 million in past costs to the federal government and the state of Ohio for their activities at the Industrial Excess Landfill Superfund site has been entered in federal court, officials from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 announced Thursday.

Five defendant rubber companies agreed to the settlement - Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Goodyear Aerospace Corp., Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., B.F. Goodrich Co., and Gencorp Inc.

The government's lawsuit had alleged that these companies arranged for the disposal of hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid wastes at Industrial Excess Landfill.

The U.S. Department of Justice lodged the consent decree with the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio on EPA's behalf in June 2004, and sought the court's approval after a public comment period. Judge John Manos approved the settlement and formally entered the consent decree as a judgement in April .

The consent decree requires the rubber companies to implement the site remedy at the former landfill, which operated from 1965 to 1980. This process is continuing under EPA and Ohio EPA supervision.

The remedy includes natural recovery of the ground water through selective planting of trees and other vegetation, and required monitoring of the ground water for years to come.

Sampling for volatile organic compounds in the ground water is scheduled for August and November.

Of the total settlement, $18 million will be used to compensate EPA for past research, hazard containment and oversight at the Industrial Excess Landfill Superfund site dating back two decades.

The state of Ohio will receive $875,000 in reimbursement for Ohio EPA's costs, which will be used to investigate and cleanup up other contaminated sites.

The rubber companies have also agreed to take over the operation and maintenance of the landfill's methane gas venting system, which the state had previously funded.

* * *

Foreign Bee Mites Cause Collapse of U.S. Bee Colonies

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, May 20, 2005 (ENS) - A non-native bee mite is causing a steep and sudden collapse of bee colonies across the country, but Penn State researchers believe they have found some clues that might lead to a solution.

The scientists have identified a combination of factors that triggers colony deaths, including suppression of the bee immune system by the mites.

The Varroa destructor mite is a honey bee parasite that feeds much like a tick on the body of a bee. The mites are about the size of a pin head, dark brown in color and visible on close inspection.

This bee mite probably arose in the Eastern or Chinese honey bee population and hopped over to the United States in 1987. They quickly infested western or European honey bees, the researchers say.

One sign of infection is the presence of bees with deformed wings. Also, sometimes seemingly healthy colonies become ill and the entire hive collapses in about two weeks.

While researchers know that the Varroa mite is behind the death of bee colonies, the mechanism causing the deaths is still unknown.

Dr. Xiaolong Yang, post doctoral researcher in entomology and plant pathology, who raised bees in China, and Dr. Diana L. Cox-Foster, Penn State professor of entomology, now believe that a combination of bee mites, deformed wing virus and bacteria is causing the problems occurring in hives across the country.

"Once one mite begins to feed on a developing bee, all the subsequent mites will use the same feeding location," says Cox-Foster "Yang has seen as many as 11 adult mites feeding off of one bee. Other researchers have shown that both harmful and harmless bacteria may infect the feeding location."

"The native Chinese bees do not have the same problems," says Yang. "I do not recall seeing deformed wing bees in the Chinese bee. Chinese honey bees have grooming behavior which can remove the mites from the bees. They get rid of the mites."

To determine how bee mites affect the bee immune system, the scientists injected heat-killed E. coli bacteria into virus-infected bees that were either infested with bee mites or mite free.

The dead bacteria was used to trigger an immune response in the bees in the same way human vaccines cause human bodies to produce an immune response.

They checked the bees for production of chemicals that disinfect the honey and for other immunity related chemicals.

They also measured the amount of virus in each bee. They found that the virus in mite-infested bees rose to high levels when the bee was exposed to the bacteria.

The virus levels in mite-free bees did not change when the bee was injected with bacteria.

If bees have mites, their production of glucose oxidase (GOX) decreases. GOX is put into the honey by worker bees and sterilizes the honey and all their food.

"As mites build up, we suspect that not as much GOX is found in the honey and the honey has more bacteria," says Cox-Foster. "It is likely that the combination of increased mite infestation, virus infection and bacteria is the cause of the two-week death collapse of hives."

The mites also suppressed other immune responses in the bees, leaving the bees and the colonies more vulnerable to infection. The bee mites transfer from adult bees to late stage larva. The virus can be transferred through many different pathways.

"This system is important not only because of what the mites are doing to honey bee populations in the U.S., but because it can be used as a model system for exploring what happens to viruses in animal or human populations," says Cox-Foster. "If we view the colony as a city, then we have a variety of infection modes queen to eggs, workers to food supply, bee to bee, and parasite to bee."

The Penn State researchers report their findings in the May 17 online version of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Science."

* * *