AmeriScan: May 22, 2006

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Clinton: "Get Off Our Butts" to Halt Global Warming

AUSTIN, Texas, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - Global warming is a greater threat than terrorism and the United States and other countries must "get off our butts" and do something about it, former President Bill Clinton told the graduating class at University of Texas' Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs on Saturday.

"Climate change is more remote than terror but a more profound threat to the future of the children and the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren I hope all of you have," Clinton said. "It's the only thing we face today that has the power to remove the preconditions of civilized society," he said.

Clinton said he is not pessimistic about the future of the world, "assuming we get off our butts and do something about climate change in a timely fashion."

The former President said the United States should not have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to cut emissions of six greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

"I think we should be in the Kyoto climate change system," Clinton said. "We can't solve global warming or any other problem in the world you can mention that amounts to a hill of beans by ourselves."

Clinton signed the protocol in 1998, but soon after taking office in 2001 President George W. Bush announced the United States would not ratify the treaty.

Clinton's speech came three days after an announcement that he will write a new book about public service and citizen activism. The book is expected by early 2008.

“People are banding together to move the world," Clinton told the graduating students. "The advent of the Internet gives people with modest incomes the power to contribute to such endeavors. When we gave $1.2 billion to tsunami relief, in America 30 percent of our households gave over the Internet. You can be in public service as a private citizen," he said.

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Defeated Off-Shore, Pro-Drilling Congressmen Try ANWR Again

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - Four days after the U.S. House of Representatives turned back a new bid to lift the long-standing ban on offshore energy exploration, Congressman Richard Pombo today announced a new bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy production.

On Thursday, by a vote of 217-203, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from coastal states rejected an measure that would have exempted drilling for natural gas from the congressional moratorium.

The vote was closer than it was on a similar proposal last year, demonstrating that high energy prices in this election year might be an issue that could sway the electorate.

Pro-drilling forces tried again today.

The House bills would have opened the entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas leasing and exploration.

House Resources Committee Chairman Pombo, a California Republican, today announced the introduction of H.R. 5429, the American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act, which would open 2,000 acres of ANWR to oil and gas production.

"There is no logical reason to oppose safe energy exploration and production on ANWR's northern coastal plain," Pombo said. "It is not a silver bullet solution to America's energy problems, but it represents one of the biggest pieces to the simple supply and demand equation that seems to have puzzled Washington liberals for more than a decade. The fact of the matter is America needs more American-made energy."

Pombo argues that, "At peak production, energy development on ANWR's northern coastal plain could deliver to the lower 48 states an additional 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. That is an amount equal to the daily supply America lost in the Gulf of Mexico due to Hurricane Katrina; it is more than the daily excess supply in today's global market; and it is nearly equal to the amount we import from Saudi Arabia every day."

Pombo points to a Congressional Research Service report that says the federal government could earn $111 to $173 billion in royalties and tax revenues from ANWR drilling.

H.R. 5429 includes an export ban. All oil and natural gas produced on ANWR's northern Coastal Plain must stay in America.

Critics such as the Natural Resources Defense Council point to U.S. Geological Survey data that shows the relatively little economically recoverable oil in the refuge is not concentrated in one large reservoir within a 2,000 acre area but is spread across its 1.5 million acre coastal plain in more than 30 small deposits.

To produce oil from this vast area, supporting infrastructure would have to stretch across the coastal plain, fragmenting wildlife habitat, they say.

"The oil field industrial sprawl on the North Slope provides a relevant example," says the NRDC. "Including drill sites, airports and roads, and gravel mines, it has a footprint of 12,000 acres, but it actually spreads across an area of more than 640,000 acres, or 1,000 square miles."

For a map of what a 2,000-acre oil and gas development scenario on the coastal plain would look like, click here.

Poll results issued today by the national Republican polling firm the Tarrance Group of Arlington, Virginia, found that over 70 percent of those surveyed said they were more likely to support oil and gas production in ANWR if they knew it could be done while still protecting the environment.

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House Vote Supports Clean Water Protection for Isolated Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - In what conservationists are calling a "huge victory for clean water," the House of Representatives voted last week 222-198 to accept an amendment to the FY 07 Interior/EPA Appropriations bill that will force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop using a policy that has put millions of acres of wetlands, streams, lakes and ponds at risk across the nation.

The policy directive, in the U.S. EPA's own estimation, eliminated Clean Water Act protections for more than 20 million acres, about 20 percent, of the wetlands left in the Lower 48 states.

A 2001 Supreme Court ruling removed small, isolated waters, including wetlands, from the Clean Water Act, so they can now be filled or drained without regard to the impact on the environment or human needs.

In the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC), the Supreme Court adopted a narrow reading of the intent of Congress in drafting the Clean Water Act and determined that protection of these isolated small water bodies is beyond the reach of the act.

The EPA policy directive was designed to interpret the Supreme Court decision that limited protection for certain isolated waters. It has led EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers field staff to withhold Clean Water Act safeguards for hundreds of miles of streams and dozens of large lakes.

"Congress has clearly spoken in favor of clean water for people and wildlife." said Jim Lyon, senior vice president for conservation for the National Wildlife Federation. "Now the agencies need to respond by doing a better job of protecting our nation’s waters."

Numerous hunting and angling groups supported the Clean Water Amendment passed by the House. Preston Robertson, vice president for conservation for the Florida Wildlife Federation, called many Florida legislators to encourage their support for the amendment.

"Hunters and anglers understand the importance of protecting these resources for future generations of both humans and wildlife," Robertson said.

Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Federation of Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Clubs, also worked to convince her legislators of the importance of this effort. "We are excited that Congress has spoken with such a clear, bipartisan voice in support of America's wetlands and water resources," she said.

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Oil Spill, Salmon Kill Costs American Energy $585,000

SEATTLE, Washington, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - American Energy, Inc. (AEI) has agreed to pay $585,000 to the United States and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, for damages caused by a gasoline spill into a creek on the reservation in March 1999.

Caused by a tanker truck and trailer roll-over, the spill discharged 5,388 gallons (128 barrels) of unleaded gasoline into Beaver Creek, a main salmon spawning and rearing area.

The spill killed hundreds of juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead in a four mile reach below the spill site, including wild Chinook salmon and mid-Columbia summer steelhead which are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The Chinook salmon and steelhead are a highly-valued resource to the Warm Springs Tribes and to the region overall,” said Mike Bussell, EPA’s Region 10 enforcement director.

Contamination from the spill forced the Warm Springs Tribes to close off a two mile stretch of Beaver Creek to tribal members who gather traditional foods and products there.

The pollution caused violations of the tribes' water quality standards in the area for the next two years.

AEI’s contractor completed a cleanup in early 2002 under the oversight of EPA's Emergency Response personnel and the Warm Springs Tribes.

The settlement of the case that provides $80,000 to the spill Response Fund in satisfaction of all EPA penalty claims related to the spill.

AEI will pay $80,000 to the Tribes in satisfaction of all Tribal penalty claims related to the spill.

In addition, $425,000 will be paid to the Natural Resource Trustees to satisfy all claims relating to natural resource damages from the spill.

Of these trustees, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration will receive $94,244; the Department of the Interior will get $15,533; and a Registry of the Court will receive $315,222 to complete a Beaver Butte Creek Natural Resource Plan.

The consent decree was lodged on March 22, 2006, was subject to a 30 day public comment period and has been approved by the court.

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Caterpillar Inc. to Power World's Largest Coal Mine Methane Plant

WASHINGTON, DC, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - Engine manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. has landed a $58 million contract from China to supply the power generation equipment for the world's largest power plant fueled by coal mine methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that can be used as a clean energy source.

This project is the result of collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors through the Methane to Markets Partnership, a U.S. led initiative with 17 partner countries, including China.

Caterpillar will provide 60 methane gas powered generator sets to produce 120 megawatts of power at the Sihe Coal Mine in Jincheng City, Shanxi province.

The Shanxi Jincheng Anthracite Coal Mining Group Co., Ltd. is the project developer for the methane gas power project, which is expected to be the largest of its kind in the world when it is fully operational in 2007.

"The residents of Shanxi Province will benefit from this power plant, which is a great example of the progress that is possible when companies like Caterpillar and its dealers work closely with industry and government," said Stu Levenick, Caterpillar group president with responsibility for China. "This project will improve environmental and economic conditions and mine safety while increasing trade between the United States and China."

Methane gas is found in coal seams and can be hazardous if not properly managed and ventilated from mines. The power plant project is expected to improve methane gas ventilation at the mine site, improving safety while providing an environmentally friendly fuel source to generate electricity.

Historically, the methane has been vented into the atmosphere, generating greenhouse gas emissions. By capturing the previously vented methane gas and converting it into electricity, the Caterpillar generator sets will improve the capacity of the local power grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5 million tons over a 20 year period.

The U.S. EPA has helped to facilitate this and other coal mine methane projects in China through support of the coalbed and coal mine methane clearinghouse in China, which serves as a focal point for international and domestic investors and project developers.

"Pollution knows no political boundaries, and in the U.S., we recognize that our environmental responsibility does not stop at our borders," said William Wehrum, EPA acting assistant administrator for Air and Radiation.

This project supports the goals of the Methane to Markets Partnership and also the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, of which China and the U.S. are members.

The U.S. government is committing up to $53 million over the next five years to support the Methane to Markets Partnership, launched in November 2004 to advance cost-effective, near term methane recovery and use as a source of clean energy.

The Asia-Pacific partnership, which was started earlier this year, promotes energy security, cuts in air pollution and the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Modesto Restaurants Join Food Waste Composting Movement

MODESTO, California, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - The city of Modesto will soon be working with local restaurants to collect and compost food scraps and then sell the fertilizer to local landscapers, farmers and the general public.

With the help of a $50,000 EPA Resource Conservation Challenge grant, the city plans to start the pilot program this summer with about 30 of the city’s estimated 1,000 restaurants to recycle waste that would have otherwise been thrown away.

“Modesto’s recycling programs just got a little greener,” said Jeff Scott, director of waste programs for the EPA Pacific Southwest Region. “Thanks to a partnership between the city and local restaurants, a valuable resource will be recycled to enhance our environment instead of being thrown away. Composting food waste will produce valuable soil amendments rich in nutrients.”

Modesto officials estimate that its restaurants produce roughly 15,000 tons of food waste annually. As of 2004 the city of Modesto was recycling or composting 51 percent of their waste. City officials expect the pilot project to reuse 1,000 tons of waste per year.

Under the pilot program, the city’s contracted haulers will transport food waste from participating restaurants to the city’s composting facility on Jennings Road. Once there, workers will sort the waste in piles and aerate the materials regularly for proper decomposition before reselling as fertilizer.

Modesto City Councilmember Kristin Olsen said, “The City of Modesto’s partnership with the restaurant industry, garbage haulers and the EPA is yet another example of the business community’s commitment to improving the quality of life in Modesto. These are the kind of partnerships we need in Modesto – the public and private sectors working together to make a better community.”

The California Restaurant Association agreed to help get restaurants involved after being approached by the city in March. “Collaborations such as this are beneficial to everyone involved,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. “Restaurants are often the first to jump at the chance to help out the community, or in this case, the environment.”

Modesto Solid Waste Manager Jocelyn Reed said, “The diversion of organic materials like food waste is essential for the city to meet state waste reduction mandates. We’re thrilled to have the EPA and Restaurant Association working with us on this important project.”

The city hopes to get all restaurants involved and then expand to other places that produce a lot of food waste, such as hospitals, schools and other institutions.

Organic materials, such as food waste and yard debris, make up about 30 percent of the 40 million tons of municipal solid waste generated in California each year.

About 1,700 San Francisco restaurants began composting in 2004. Their waste is composted in giant bags outside Vacaville, spread as fertilizer on farms in the Sacramento and Napa valleys and returned to the Bay Area as wine or vegetables.

Modesto restaurant owners interested in being part of the commercial food waste collection pilot or in learning more, can contact Karin Rodriguez of the City of Modesto at (209) 577-5453.

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Florida's Unexplored Deepwater Reefs Could Yield Pharmaceuticals

VIRGINIA KEY, Florida, May 22, 2006 (ENS) - Deepwater reef sites in the Straits of Florida between Miami and Bimini discovered only five months ago are being explored for the first time this week by marine scientists.

Using advanced sonar techniques, researchers with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science found the new deepwater reef sites last December.

Today through May 30, the Rosenstiel School scientists will work with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution colleagues to explore these areas.

“The reef raises important issues and questions,” said Dr. Mark Grasmueck, a Rosenstiel School professor. “How a reef like this sustains itself without sunlight, without obvious energy and nourishment - it's a unique ecosystem. I find myself putting aside other work to pursue this further as I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The expedition will rely on Harbor Branch's Johnson-Se-Link II submersible to will search for and collect marine organism samples from these new reefs in 2,000 to 2,900 feet of water.

Their goal is to determine which organisms produce chemicals with the potential to treat human diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

A key goal is to find and collect organisms that have never been seen.

The team will collect other organisms as well because even well-known species can produce different and potentially important chemicals depending on the depth, temperature, and location at which they are found.

Harbor Branch's quest for drugs form the sea began in the early 1980s and has led to the collection of tens of thousands of marine organism samples and the identification of a number of promising potential drugs now in various stages of development for treating cancer, Alzheimer's disease, malaria, AIDS, and other ailments.

A camera that Dr. Grasmueck developed allowed the researchers to get a glimpse of the bottom, but until researchers make it to the seafloor in the submersible they will not be able to determine the extent and biological diversity of the newly discovered areas.

In the past, researchers have to spend hours using a ship depth sounder to map an area before determining where to do submersible dives because maps detailed enough to show the telltale mounds and other features of deepwater reefs do not exist for the bulk of the seafloor.

Grasmueck compared typical seafloor exploration to arriving on the bottom of the Grand Canyon at night with a flashlight and then attempting to ascertain the significance and topography of the whole canyon based on small swaths revealed by the flashlight.

With the new camera, advanced sonar technology and an autonomous underwater vehicle that is not tethered to the surface, Rosenstiel scientists have found what appears to be an extensive system of steep walls and mounds as high as 350 feet, all of which are likely to harbor a wide array of sponges, corals, fish and other animals.

Harbor Branch has discovered a number of other new deepwater reefs in Florida waters in recent years that play important ecological roles but has never before had the chance to explore this area.

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