AmeriScan: May 9, 2007

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Spring Floods Inundate States Across the Central Plains

KANSAS CITY, Missouri, May 10, 2007 (ENS) Ė Across the Central Plains states from Texas to North Dakota flood warnings are in effect, and flood waters now cover thousands of acres of agricultural land, state highways, and county roads.

Numerous and widespread rounds of showers and thunderstorms over the weekend led to flooding of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers throughout Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.

At least 10 agricultural levees have been topped. A major break of a levee on the Grand River in Carroll County, Missouri resulted in 15,000 acres being flooded. In Clay County, 70 homes were affected by flood waters.

The lower portion of the Missouri rose above flood stage today at St. Charles, Missouri and is expected to remain in flood for at least a week, falling below flood stage the weekend after next.

The Missouri River is expected to crest at 30.3 feet Friday afternoon at the Missouri state capital of Jefferson City, with major flooding beginning there today, including inundation of the airport and state highways. City officials are on hourly flood watch and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is standing by.

"According to the National Weather Service report we received this morning - most of the stages From above Napoleon, Missouri, to Rulo, Nebraska, have crested or are cresting and are expected to fall below flood stage by May 14," said Jud Kneuvean, Levee Rehabilitation Inspection program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District.

The District's flood damage control system comprises 500 miles of levees maintained by numerous local levee districts. Some of the areas of concern are the Platte River north of Kansas City and the Grand River near Brunswick, but Kneuvean expressed confidence in the system as a whole.

"From Napoleon downstream stages are still very high and pose a threat to our levee systems however the system as a whole is performing very well and the federal levees within the Kansas City District are holding," said Kneuvean.

The most recent river crest forecasts are generally a bit lower than previous forecasts, but major flooding is forecast at several points along the Arkansas River in Kansas, the Grand, Platte and Missouri rivers in Missouri, and the James River in South Dakota.

In Iowa, flooding and flash flooding continues to impact communities along the Missouri, Nishnabotna and Boyer Rivers, as well as tributaries and streams in western Iowa. Some highways are closed by flood waters.

In Kansas, 33 counties have declared emergencies as a result of flooding, and flood waters continue to impact communities along the Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas Rivers. State, county and local roads, culverts and low-water crossings have been washed out. Four breaks occurred along an agricultural dike in the Haven area on the Arkansas River.

In Illinois, areas of concern are Gale and Thebes in Alexander County along the Mississippi River.

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry declared a state of emergency Monday for all 77 counties as a result of the tornadoes, torrential rainfall and flooding which have impacted the state since May 4. Over nine inches of rain has fallen in one spot near Tulsa, while amounts of three to over seven inches were common elsewhere in the central and eastern part of the state.

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Puget Sound Steelhead Listed as Threatened

SEATTLE, Washington, May 10, 2007 (ENS) - The NOAA Fisheries Service has decided to list Puget Sound Steelhead as threatened with extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act. The agency proposed the listing just over a year ago in response to a petition from Sam Wright of Olympia, Washington.

The listing, announced Monday, covers naturally spawned steelhead from river basins in Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the eastern half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Also covered by today's action are two winter-run hatchery stocks - the Green River natural and the Hamma Hamma River stocks.

The NOAA Fisheries Service said it looked at the biological status of Puget Sound steelhead as recently as 1996, but at that time the population did not warrant listing under the federal species-protection law. Since then, agency biologists say there have been continued widespread declines in the fish's population, despite substantial reductions in the harvest of natural steelhead.

NOAA's Northwest Regional Fisheries Director Bob Lohn said vital work on steelhead recovery is already underway. Steelhead share many of the same waters as Puget Sound Chinook, which are already protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"The work already accomplished by Shared Strategy, the Sound's grassroots salmon-recovery coalition, will provide a solid foundation for the recovery of steelhead," Lohn said. "We'll continue to work with Shared Strategy, the tribes, Puget Sound Partnership, the state and others to assure that any additional effort needed to specifically benefit steelhead is included as part of a salmon recovery plan."

Lohn praised the ongoing collaborative efforts of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound tribes to develop watershed management plans to serve as what he called "the building blocks of a statewide steelhead conservation strategy."

The steelhead populations in this action include more than 50 stocks of summer-run and the more numerous winter-run fish. Most steelhead are found in northern Puget Sound where the Skagit and Snohomish rivers support the largest populations.

Biologists with the agency said the root causes for the steelhead population's decline likely include degraded habitat, blockages by dams and other manufactured barriers, unfavorable ocean conditions and harmful hatchery practices.

Puget Sound has three other fish species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act - Puget Sound Chinook salmon, Hood Canal summer-run chum salmon and bull trout. These species overlap some of the range occupied by steelhead, a species that tends to use smaller streams and migrate further upstream in Puget Sound watersheds.

Steelhead are have an unusual life cycle that makes studying and protecting them a challenge. Unlike most other members of the Pacific salmon family, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning, and some can remain in fresh water as resident rainbow trout, although rainbows are not covered by this listing.

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Allied Waste Will Pay Feds $125,000 in Anti-Trust Case

WASHINGTON, DC, May 10, 2007 (ENS) - Allied Waste Industries Inc. has agreed to pay $125,000 as part of a civil settlement with the Department of Justice that resolves Alliedís alleged violations of a 2000 consent decree entered in connection with Alliedís acquisition of Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., BFI.

The Department Tuesday filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking it to find Allied in civil contempt of the decree.

At the same time, the Department also filed a settlement agreement and order, subject to court approval, that would resolve the Departmentís concerns.

Under the 2000 consent decree, the Department required Allied to sell waste collection and disposal operations in 13 states, covering 18 metropolitan areas, in order to proceed with its $9.4 billion acquisition of BFI.

Allied is also required to seek the approval of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division before acquiring waste collection and disposal assets in any of the geographic areas covered under the decree, provided certain minimum dollar threshold amounts are met.

According to the Departmentís petition, Allied violated this provision of the decree by acquiring a set of waste collection assets in the Chicago area in January 2004 from Homewood Disposal Services Inc. without first obtaining Department approval. The settlement agreement resolves all Department concerns arising from the alleged violation.

The $125,000 payment to the United States includes reimbursement to the government for the cost of its investigation into Alliedís alleged violations.

"The Antitrust Division takes non-compliance with court decrees seriously," said Thomas Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the Departmentís Antitrust Division. "The rule of law requires companies to abide by a courtís lawful orders."

Allied Waste Industries Inc., headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona, is the second largest non-hazardous solid waste management company in the United States, with annual revenues of $6 billion.

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Schwarzenegger Helps Remove Financial Barrier to Solar Power

SACRAMENTO, California, May 10, 2007, (ENS) - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has headed off a threat that could have short-circuited a Million Solar Roofs bill now before the state legislature, winning applause from the nongovernmental group Environment California.

The problem was a technical one. The bill, SB 1, requires all new solar customers to sign up for what are called Time-of-Use-Rates.

These rates are structured to charge a higher amount for electricity used during peak hours when electricity is the most expensive to purchase, such as summer afternoons, and a lower rate for electricity consumed during off-peak hours, such as the middle of the night.

Time-of-Use rates are not a problem in and of themselves, or throughout California.

Rather, explains Environment California, the problem arises in two areas. First, they are a problem in areas of the state where TOU rates are not applied to all ratepayers, solar and non-solar, such as in Southern California Edison territory.

Second, they are a problem where a consumer in such a territory wishes to install a solar energy system that is too small to cover all of the household's peak energy needs.

In those two cases, a new solar customer could pay more, not less, for electricity after installing a solar system.

Governor Schwarzenegger Wednesday convened a bipartisan meeting of legislators and solar advocates, at which the governorís office was able to reach agreement on a temporary stay to mandatory time-of-use rates for new solar installations. This will allow the state time to work out a permanent solution.

"Solar power is an obvious solution to Californiaís energy and environmental problems and all barriers to solar power must be immediately removed," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate for Environment California.

The agreement is expected to be introduced as an emergency bill next week and be signed by the governor by early June.

"Ultimately," said Environment California, "this fix is only temporary. So, weíll need the leadership of the governor, along with the legislature and the Public Utilities Commission to sort out a permanent fix so that we donít see this problem re-appear in a few years."

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Maryland Passes Tough Stormwater Runoff Controls

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, May 10, 2007 (ENS) - Maryland has enacted a law that sets higher standards for new development to reduce the polluted runoff that washes off parking lots, roofs, and roads, to end up damaging streams and polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

The Stormwater Management Act of 2007 was signed into law April 24 by Governor Martin OíMalley along with 172 other bills. It requires the state Department of the Environment to adopt new regulations and a model ordinance to manage stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff is the fastest growing source of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Stormwater runoff also carries chemicals and other toxins into Marylandís rivers and the bay.

Scientists suspect stormwater runoff was responsible for the cancerous lesions found on fish in the South River last summer.

"Controlling storm water is isn't sexy," said Maryland State Senator James Rosapepe, a Democrat, the Senate sponsor of this legislation. "But it's critical to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

"Together with strong regulations, this law can make a significant difference in saving the Bay and its tributaries," said Rosapepe.

"It is imperative to clean up the Chesapeake Bay now," said Delegate Jane Lawton, the House sponsor, also a Democrat. "Weíve passed the strongest stormwater management legislation in the country and hope that the other states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed will follow suit."

The conservation group Environment Maryland has presented the sponsors with certificates naming them "Stormwater Champions."

"This is a bill whose time has come," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, staff attorney for Environment Maryland. "For a long time we have permitted development to pollute our streams and the bay, encouraging but not requiring smarter, cleaner development practices that could have protected our waters from that pollution. It is time to require cleaner development in Maryland."

The Stormwater Management Act is a fiscally neutral bill that applies to all new major development. It requires developers to use environmental site design as the primary method for managing stormwater, and requires no net increase in runoff from a development site.

The legislation requires cities and counties to update archaic local zoning codes to allow for low impact design techniques.

In also directs the Maryland Department of the Environment to study and recommend the implementation of an appropriate fee schedule to increase enforcement of stormwater laws. The department must also create a comprehensive process for permitting development that will protect state waters from the first groundbreaking to the final stages of development and beyond.

Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Cindy Schwartz said, "You know youíre doing something right when youíve got environmentalists, home builders, counties, and local residents working together to solve a serious problem."

"From an economic standpoint, itís a no-brainer," she said. "These standards are cheaper for developers to implement and cheaper for taxpayers because they prevent pollution in the first place. This will be a big step forward for the Bay."

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Los Angeles Tar Pits Hold Bacteria That Degrade Petroleum

RIVERSIDE, California, May 10, 2007 (ENS) Ė The Rancho La Brea tar pits in downtown Los Angeles house hundreds of new species of bacteria with unusual properties that allow the bacteria to survive and grow in heavy oil and natural asphalt, environmental scientists at UC Riverside have discovered.

Trapped in soil that was mixed with heavy oil nearly 28,000 years ago, the bacteria are uniquely adapted to the pits' oil and natural asphalt, and contain three previously undiscovered classes of enzymes that can naturally break down petroleum products, the researchers report.

"We were surprised to find these bacteria because asphalt is an extreme and hostile environment for life to survive," said Jong-Shik Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Environmental Sciences, who initiated the study.

"It's clear, however, that these living organisms can survive in heavy oil mixtures containing many highly toxic chemicals," he said. "Moreover, these bacteria survive with no water and little or no oxygen."

The bacteria and their enzymes have potential application for bioremediation to clean up oil spills, new medical treatments, alternative energy, enhanced oil recovery, and industrial applications in biochemicals and biotechnology.

Kim and his advisor, David Crowley, a professor of environmental microbiology, used methods based on DNA to identify the new bacteria as well as the DNA encoding the three classes of petroleum-degrading enzymes.

"The living bacteria contained in the asphalt are most likely the progeny of soil microorganisms that were trapped in the asphalt, although some may also have been carried to the surface in the heavy oil that seeped upwards from deep underground oil reservoirs," said Crowley, the research paper's other author.

"One family that was represented by many species is related to a group of bacteria that are the most radiation-resistant organisms on the planet," Crowley said. "Indeed, this family of bacteria has been previously investigated by the Department of Energy for cleanup of hydrocarbon contamination in radioactive environments."

Providing a natural observatory for the unusual bacteria, the Rancho La Brea tar pits, which were formed in the last Ice Age, are located in Hancock Park, Los Angeles. Rancho La Brea, one of the world's fossil localities, is recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct ice age plants and animals in the world.

Next, Kim and Crowley plan to perform a thorough, quantitative and qualitative assessment of the bacteria in the tar pits to identify genes that may have application for petroleum processing, oil recovery, and biotechnology.

Study results appear online in the April 6 issue of "Applied and Environmental Microbiology."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency STAR program provided financial support for the study, which was facilitated by John Harris and Christopher Shaw of the George C. Page Museum.