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AmeriScan: May 26, 2005

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Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust Launched with $20 Million

IRVINE, California, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Vowing to create a "new standard" for conservation stewardship and outdoor recreation, Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren today announced creation of the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust covering 50,000 acres on the Irvine Ranch. The Reserve stretches from the mountains to the sea in central Orange County and covers more than 145 square miles.

Speaking in Irvine Regional Park to 200 invited environmentalists, city, county, state and federal officials, Reserve landowners, and outdoor and environmental advocates, Bren said the Bren Foundation would make a $20 million gift to the Trust to support enhanced conservation and recreation on the Reserve.

The non-profit organization will encourage far-reaching and cooperative efforts among more than 30 public entities involved with the Reserve.

"My hope is that the other organizations with an interest in parts of the Reserve will join us in a permanent and unwavering commitment to ensure that the land protected in the Reserve is managed, improved and enjoyed in perpetuity, regardless of ownership," Bren said.

The $20 million gift will be used to accelerate public access to more areas of the Reserve, including opening nearly 30 new trails during the next three to five years. The new funds also will be used to maintain and restore the Reserve's many important habitats.

The Bren Foundation gift brings to $50 million the amount Bren has donated to fund long-range recreation and conservation activities on the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton praised the Reserve as "a model of public-private partnership that will conserve our natural heritage for both people and wildlife."

Norton today presented the Partners in Stewardship Award to The Irvine Company and The Nature Conservancy for their collaboration in managing the 50,000-acre reserve for both conservation and recreation.

At a ceremony at the Irvine Regional Park on the reserve, Norton presented the award to Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren and Nature Conservancy California Executive Director Mark Burget.

“The Irvine Ranch Land Reserve is what cooperative conservation is all about,” Norton said. “A conservation-minded corporate citizen is working hand-in-hand with a conservation organization and other partners to thoughtfully and purposefully create an environment where both people and wildlife can thrive.”

"From a biological perspective, the Reserve is extraordinarily diverse, with numerous species of wildlife and some of the richest stands of native grasslands, oak woodlands and coastal sage scrub left in Southern California," Burget said.

Bren introduced Michael O'Connell as executive director of the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust. Before joining the Trust, O'Connell held a number of key positions with The Nature Conservancy in California, including managing director of the South Coast Ecoregion and senior advisor for science and policy.

Bren invited the public to celebrate completion of a hiking, jogging, walking and bicycling trail that now stretches more than 22 miles from one end of The Irvine Ranch to the other.

The product of years of cooperative planning and implementation across multiple jurisdictions, the "Mountains to Sea Trail" connects the Anaheim Hills above Irvine Regional Park with the Back Bay of Newport Beach. It passes through the sphere of Anaheim, and the cities of Orange, Tustin, Irvine and Newport Beach.

Bren said the new donation announced today will help fund his "highest priority and personal passion," the creation of two more mountains-to-sea trails "that allow people to hike, bike or ride from the mountains to the ocean unimpeded as they experience the magnitude, magnificence and diversity of the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve."

"I want the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve to set a new standard for conservation stewardship and public access that will be understood and appreciated not just in Orange County, but throughout the United States," Bren said.

He envisions "a world-renowned park, restored and managed to a standard that inspires other conservation areas and land managers - and a place where people can enjoy nature and open space close to their homes, and where visitors from around the world come to experience the best of Southern California."

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California Wildflower Believed to Be Extinct, Rediscovered

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - A wildflower last seen in 1936 and presumed globally extinct has been rediscovered in a remote corner of Mt. Diablo State Park in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The wildflower known as the Mount Diablo buckwheat, Eriogonom truncatum, resembles a small pink powder puff version of the baby's breath used in floral arrangements.

Representatives of U.C. Berkeley's Jepson Herbarium, Mt. Diablo State Park, and Save Mount Diablo jointly announced the rediscovery Tuesday, warning that most of the plant's historic locations are threatened by development.

The wildflower was rediscovered on May 10, by Michael Park, a botanist and graduate student at the University of California-Berkeley. He found the annual wildflower in bloom.

"The plants are all in flower, approaching full bloom, and they're very distinctive because the flower stalks branch upward in a wishbone pattern, with flowers at the bottom node and at each end of each wishbone," said Park.

"They're between three and eight inches in height, highly branched. The large plants have several dozen flowers which are pinkish with a maroon center line on each petal. It's a surprisingly dainty plant once you see it in the field, because it's so celebrated in the botanical community that it had grown in my imagination. It's only because I stopped and was moving very slowly that I even recognized that it was there," said Park.

The location is being kept secret but more than a dozen plants were found on a property preserved in recent years by Save Mount Diablo, an East Bay conservation organization, and added to Mt. Diablo State Park for long term management.

There were just seven records of the plant from 1862 to 1936, all but one of which are from Mt. Diablo or the Antioch-Brentwood area; one record is from Solano County.

The three organizations, as well as the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, had made a concerted effort in recent years to find the wildflower. Until Park's rediscovery, the last record of the wildflower was by Save Mount Diablo co-founder and botanist Mary Bowerman, 69 years ago.

On a site visit on May 20, representatives of the three organizations began to assess the condition of the plant population, and threats to it, in order to stabilize and preserve the population and to develop a site specific management plan.

"We've been calling the Mount Diablo buckwheat the holy grail for botanists working in the East Bay, both for professionals and for dedicated volunteers. It's been the number one priority that we've been trying to relocate," said Barbara Ertter, curator of Western North American Flora at U.C. Berkeley's Jepson Herbarium.

"This is definitely a case where offsite propagation will be considered," said Ertter. "The U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden is a member of the Center for Plant Conservation and experienced in the conservation and propagation of rare species. We might be able to harvest some seeds and experiment with them to find out the unique conditions the buckwheat needs."

"The Mount Diablo buckwheat is part of our unique Bay Area biological heritage, a plant that grows only in this one tiny area on the whole planet, representing millions of years of selection to fit this one place, Mt. Diablo," said Ertter. "If we don't take care of it nobody will and we will have lost something irreplaceable."

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Legislation Proposed to End Hunger in America by 2015

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, introduced legislation Wednesday to increase federal funding available to local organizations working to reduce hunger in communities nationwide and establishing a commitment to end hunger in the United States by 2015.

The Hunger-Free Communities Act of 2005 has bipartisan support with Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Gordon Smith of Oregon, as well as Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas as cosponsors.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures show that hunger and food insecurity in the United States has increased for the fourth straight year. In 2004, more than 36 million Americans including 13 million children lived with hunger or on the brink of hunger.

The Hunger-Free Communities Act enables Congress to establish a first of its kind grant program authorizing up to $50 million a year for five years to help hunger relief organizations reduce hunger locally through efforts such as infrastructure improvements, training and technical assistance, and expanding access to more nutritious food including protein and produce.

This public- private partnership focuses on addressing hunger at the local level while promoting collaboration among groups with mutual visions.

"This critical legislation will enable our Member food banks and food-rescue organizations to better meet the needs of low income Americans, particularly through enhanced facilities," said Robert Forney, president and CEO of America's Second Harvest - The Nation's Food Bank Network.

With a network of more than 200 regional member food banks and food rescue programs serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, America's Second Harvest secures and distributes nearly two billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually.

Each year, the Network provides food assistance to more than 23 million hungry people in the United States, including more than nine million children and nearly three million seniors.

The Hunger-Free Communities Act preserves current funding levels for federal food programs and protects nutrition and hunger-relief initiatives.

It also directs the Census Bureau to collect annual data on food insecurity in the United States and the USDA to prepare annual reports on the status of efforts to eliminate domestic hunger and recommendations for reducing hunger.

"Hunger is not a partisan issue, and we now have the opportunity to forge a new bipartisan partnership, committed to addressing hunger in communities all across our country," Durbin said.

"During the 1960s and 1970s, under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, our country put in place programs that substantially reduced the number of people who struggle to feed their families. Unfortunately, today hunger and food insecurity has been on the rise," he said. "That is why we introduced The Hunger-Free Communities Act."

In 2000, as part of the Healthy People 2010 initiative, the United States government established a goal of cutting food insecurity in half by 2010.

In June 2004, the National Anti-Hunger Organization comprised of 13 national hunger organizations, including America's Second Harvest, issued the Blueprint to End Hunger, which supports a strategy for reducing hunger in half by 2010. The Hunger-Free Communities Act reaffirms this commitment.

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$10 Million Awarded for Monitoring Beach Contaminants

WASHINGTON, DC, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Nearly $10 million in grants for beach monitoring for pathogens in recreational waters was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Beaches are often a part of our summer recreational activities," said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Water. "Through these grants, we can improve the water quality and keep the public informed so that they can enjoy trips to the beach confidently."

The grants are provided to states, tribes, and local beach managers to improve their beach monitoring and public notification programs. This is the fifth year that the EPA has made BEACH Act grants available, bringing the total of grants awarded to $42 million since.

Each year, Americans take 910 million trips to coastal areas and spend about $44 billion dollars at the beach. Also every year there are hundreds of beach advisories and closings at coastal and Great Lakes beaches due to harmful bacteria.

In 2004, EPA collected information on more than 3400 U.S. beaches. Of those, about 29 percent or 1,000 were closed or carried warnings for at least one day because the water had high bacteria indicators readings. Most of these warnings were for one to two days.

To help make beaches safer for swimmers, the EPA conducted epidemiological studies at four freshwater beaches the last two years to test better and faster ways of measuring pathogens that cause waterborne illness. These methods help beach managers make decisions to open or close beaches on the same day that they collect water samples, much faster than current practice.

The EPA is starting similar studies at coastal beaches. The first study will begin this summer at Biloxi, Mississippi.

The agency will use these studies to develop new water quality criteria that define pathogen levels that are low enough so that it is safe to swim with little chance of getting ill. The EPA will publish new criteria for the Great Lakes before the 2006 beach season.

For information about the water quality at beaches, go to: http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/beaches

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Sandia's Hazardous, Radioactive Waste Dump to Be Covered

SANTA FE, New Mexico, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ron Curry has approved a plant cover and intrusion barrier to limit future health hazards and closely monitor the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratories.

The Mixed Waste Landfill is 2.6 acres in size and is located at Technical Area (TA) 3, about five miles southeast of the Albuquerque International Sunport, within the boundaries of Kirtland Air Force Base south of Albuquerque.

Requirements include the installation of a vegetative cover and bio-intrusion barrier, the submission of a long-term monitoring and maintenance plan, and the development of a comprehensive fate and transport model including triggers for future actions.

The remedy approved will be incorporated into Sandia’s Hazardous Waste Permit and its requirements will be enforced by NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau.

“We feel that this remedy is the best, most responsible way to protect the health of workers today and the citizens of Albuquerque into the future,” said Secretary Curry. “This decision takes Sandia’s proposal for the landfill and tightens it several notches. This will include strong actions to limit current exposure to waste at the landfill and the flexibility to go further in the future if the situation warrants.”

The Mixed Waste Landfill was opened as the “TA-3 low-level radioactive waste dump” in March 1959 and operated until December 1988. Hazardous, radioactive and solid wastes as well as mixed wastes containing both hazardous and radioactive components, were disposed at the landfill.

Records indicate that approximately 100,000 cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste containing 6,300 curies (Ci) of activity at the time of disposal were disposed there.

In 2001 NMED directed Sandia to conduct a Corrective Measures Study for the Mixed Waste Landfill because of concerns raised by the public. NMED deemed the study complete on January 5, 2004.

The decision announced today is the final action in Sandia's permit modification process to take into account the results of the study and concerns raised by the state of New Mexico.

“The NMED approved remedy goes above and beyond Sandia’s proposal in three key areas,” said Curry. “It includes a bio-intrusion barrier to limit the ability of small animals to burrow into the landfill and spread waste, it requires Sandia to develop a comprehensive fate and transport model to set triggers and evaluate future actions, and it includes robust public comment and review requirements on all reports and plans related to the landfill.”

Sandia now has 180 days to submit a Corrective Measures Implementation Plan to NMED that includes enforceable implementation schedules. Sandia must also submit for NMED approval a long-term monitoring and maintenance plan and a comprehensive fate and transport model for the landfill.

Finally, Sandia must prepare a report every five years that revaluates the feasibility of excavations and analyzes the continued effectiveness of the remedy.

“It is clear that excavation of the landfill today could pose substantial health risks to excavation workers,” said Curry. “But there may come a time in the future when excavation makes the most environmental sense. This remedy will keep us prepared to detect and respond appropriately to any changes and future threats at the landfill. The robust monitoring plan ensures that these alerts will come well before contaminants approach groundwater.”

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Citizens Bank Offers Free Gas at Stations in Four States

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 26, 2005 ENS) - Today, thousands of New England motorists are being treated to free gas courtesy of Citizens Bank. In Massachusetts, the giveaway took place from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. at five Greater Boston locations. The giveaway features up to $20 in free gas for commuters.

In addition to free gas, rush hour commuters were greeted with full-service treatment by Citizens employees pumping gas, washing windows and providing other commuter treats.

Citizens Financial Group Vice Chairman Robert Mahoney and Citizens Bank Chairman, President & CEO Robert Smyth offered their assistance at the Sunoco station at 895 Massachusetts Avenue in Roxbury.

"With escalating gas prices these past few months, we thought commuters deserved a break leading into one of the busiest travel weekends of the year," said Smyth. "My colleagues will join me in providing 'not your typical' service along with the free gas during rush hour. This is our way of demonstrating our continued commitment to our customers and the communities we serve. We hope it will make the holiday weekend more enjoyable."

Citizens Bank also offered commuters free gas at Sunoco stations in Dorchester, Reading, Acton and Hingham, Massachusetts. Three additional sites offered free gas in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

s AAA Automobile Club is predicting record numbers of Americans traveling this Memorial Day despite high gas prices. A gallon of self-serve regular gasoline is currently averaging $2.15 - a price down nine cents from last month but 15 cents higher than the same time last year, according to AAA.

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Meth Lab Dumpsites Found in Washington State Parks

OLYMPIA, Washington, May 26, 2005 (ENS) - Somewhere between Spokane and Grays Harbor counties, hidden under a tarp or strung out across a campsite, are the remains of a methamphetamine drug lab.

Meth cooks often dump waste at local, state, national parks and campgrounds because getting rid of meth-lab waste, in most cases, separates the cooks from criminal evidence that could land them in jail.

"Their attitude is, why dump it at home and possibly get caught with the waste if you can simply walk away from the mess," said David Byers, who supervises spill and hazardous-materials response for the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Byers said that unsuspecting families who are trying to get away and enjoy nature are the ones at risk.

Campers, hikers, picnickers, fishermen and others should be on the lookout for suspicious products left over from meth labs. These include propane tanks or other pressurized cylinders, strong ammonia odors, starter-fluid spray cans, shredded lithium batteries, a drain cleaner called Red Devil Lye, muriatic or hydrochloric acid, empty cold-medicine packages or containers, plastic tubing, glass jars, funnels, coffee filters, hypodermic needles and containers of acetone, toluene and Coleman Fuel.

The used propane tanks are often corroded and have jury-rigged valves and tubing that can fail, spraying ammonia or hydrogen-chloride gas that attacks eyes and lungs. Ecology responders have found fire extinguishers, scuba tanks, soda dispensers and all sizes of pressurized cylinders used in producing meth.

"Meth cooks are doing whatever it takes to avoid getting caught, including moving into rural areas where they're not detected as easily," said Byers.

More than 400 drug labs and dump sites have been reported this year, and the discovery rate tends to increase in the spring and summer months. People may inadvertently stumble across active or abandoned meth labs while out enjoying the warm weather.

Meth waste is toxic to people and the environment, and some meth waste can be flammable, which could present another problem for parks and forests if there is another dry summer.

Anyone who comes across an active or deserted meth-lab site should leave the area immediately and contact the local police or sheriff's department, said Byers.

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