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AmeriScan: November 4, 2005

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Hurricanes Tore Away 100 Square Miles of Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricanes Katrina and Rita transformed 100 square miles of marsh to open water in southeastern Louisiana, federal government scientists estimate, based on an analysis of Landsat satellite data from September and October. They predict that some of the new areas of open water will lbecome new lakes.

In a preliminary report, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wetlands Research Center in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana say much of the loss may be permanent, although they will analyze more satellite data and aerial photos for the next year to see how the marsh recovers. Some of the submerged marshes may reemerge over time.

Most of the loss east of the Mississippi River is attributed to the effects of Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, although Hurricane Rita’s surge appears to have rearranged some of the debris left behind by Hurricane Katrina in the upper Breton Sound area.

Substantial marsh loss from Hurricane Katrina, occurred east of the Mississippi River in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. About 39 square miles of marsh around the upper and central portions of Breton Sound were converted to open water by ripping of the marsh or by marsh submergence.

Most of the loss was concentrated in an area bounded by the Mississippi River levee to the west, the Delacroix Ridge to the east, and State Highway 300 to the north.

An additional 47 square miles of marsh were lost throughout the Pontchartrain, Pearl River, Barataria, and Terrebonne basins. The active Mississippi Delta lost 14 square miles of loss. The lower Pearl River basin contains numerous marsh rips south of Highway 90.

Direct impacts from Hurricane Rita were not as severe as Hurricane Katrina’s impacts in southeastern Louisiana. Rips in marshes from Rita were not nearly the size of rips from Katrina in upper Breton Sound although they are noticeable in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins.

Rita’s surge caused new tears in fresh and intermediate marshes within Barataria and Terrebonne basins and reactivated older hurricane scars attributable to Hurricane Lili which blew through the area in 2002.

Rita’s surge caused detectable marsh loss west of the Mississippi River to the Texas border that could not be attributable to Katrina based on analysis of satellite imagery obtained a week after Katrina’s landfall, but prior to Rita’s landfall.

Now that the compounded effects of the storms on southeastern Louisiana have been analyzed, National Wetlands Research Center scientists are analyzing Landsat imagery to quantify Rita’s impacts in southwestern Louisiana.

Meanwhile, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced Thursday that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has honored her request for a disaster designation for all eligible parishes in Louisiana due to the combined losses caused this year by drought and hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"Farmers across the state have been hurt by the extraordinary drought and the devastation of two hurricanes," said the governor. "I am grateful that the USDA has recognized the seriousness of our situation and will be helping our farmers through these difficult times."

Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom said, "Farmers are in a dire situation because of the drought and two catastrophic hurricanes. Wildfires are escalating, dairymen and beef producers can't plant their winter pastures and cane growth will be stunted. Any help we can get from the federal government is welcome."

After reviewing Damage Assessment Reports along with additional information submitted by the state executive director of the Farm Service Agency, the USDA has given the 40 parishes a Secretarial disaster declaration. This designation makes all qualified farm operators in the listed parishes eligible for low interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency.

Farmers in eligible counties have eight months to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses. Find the Farm Service Agency online at: http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, Louisiana's fund for Louisiana's people, has been established by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco in order to support long-term family restoration and recovery and help provide assistance to our citizens in need through a network of Louisiana charities and nonprofit agencies.

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Wal-Mart Settles Clean Air Violations With No Idling Policy

BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - The country’s first multi-state case that addresses diesel truck idling violations has been settled by Wal-Mart Stores in response to legal action brought against the company by the New England regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As part of the settlement for clean air violations, Wal-Mart will reduce diesel truck idling at its 4,000 facilities across the United States.

Under the terms of the settlement, Wal-Mart will comply with all federally enforceable idling rules. In addition, through a supplemental environmental project, Wal-Mart has agreed to include all facilities in all states in its idle reduction program regardless of whether the state has an anti-idling regulation.

Under the consent agreement, Wal-Mart will post “no idling” signs at all Wal-Mart facilities in all states, and notify other delivery companies that idling is not permitted on Wal-Mart property and may violate state or local idling restrictions. Finally, Wal-Mart will pay a $50,000 penalty.

“Diesel pollution is a serious problem across the country, especially for those suffering from asthma or other health problems” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.

Running a vehicle’s engine while it is stopped, called idling, wastes fuel and creates air pollution, Varney said. Exhaust from diesel engines includes small particles, known as fine particulate matter, and smog-forming pollutants. When inhaled repeatedly, the pollutants in diesel exhaust may aggravate asthma and allergies or cause other serious health problems including lung cancer, the EPA warns.

“We are pleased that Wal-Mart is implementing these aggressive measures to limit idling and help make Wal-Mart stores across the nation healthier places for employees, customers, and the surrounding communities,” Varney said.

A typical idling truck burns nearly a gallon of fuel per hour. A fleet of 7,000 trucks, about the size of Wal-Mart’s fleet, idling for one hour a day would burn 2.1 million gallons of diesel fuel each year, and create 415 tons of smog-forming pollutants, 10 tons of harmful particulate matter, and 23,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global climate change.

In fall 2004, EPA inspectors observed trucks owned by Wal-Mart and by other trucking companies idling for long periods of time at six different Wal-Mart properties in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Inspectors observed delivery vehicles idling during the day as well as sleeper cabs idling at night.

Both Connecticut and Massachusetts have anti-idling rules that are included in the state implementation plans that states submit to the EPA outlining how they will meet national air quality standards. Regulations in the plans are enforceable by the state and by the EPA.

The Massachusetts rule prohibits vehicle idling over five minutes with exceptions for periods of traffic, repairs, or operation of loading or refrigeration equipment.

The Connecticut rule prohibits vehicle idling for over three minutes when temperatures are above 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with the same exceptions.

A number of states and localities have anti-idling restrictions in place. The states with anti-idling restrictions include all or part of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Several states - Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, Hawaii and portions of Texas - have included these idling restrictions in their state implementation plan, making those rules federally enforceable.

Several idle control technologies can aid fleets in limiting idling time and complying with state regulations. Automatic shut-down devices can switch off parked trucks after predetermined time intervals.

Auxiliary Power Units, which typically only consume between 0.05 and 0.2 gallons of fuel per hour, can provide heat, air conditioning, and power without running the main engine. Trucks can be fitted with devices that allow them to plug into electrical outlets to provide power and climate control for the cab when parked. These idle control devices typically have a pay-back time of one to two years in fuel costs alone and can reduce wear and tear on engines.

For more information about the health effects associated with exposure to diesel exhaust and strategies to reduce diesel pollution, visit: http://www.epa.gov/ne/eco/diesel/.

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Feds Increase Renewable Energy Use 1,000 Percent in Six Years

WASHINGTON, DC, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - The Department of Energy announced Thursday that the federal government has exceeded its goal of obtaining 2.5 percent of its electricity needs from renewable energy sources by September 30, 2005.

The largest energy consumer in the nation, the federal government now uses 2375 gigawatt hours (GWh) of renewable energy - enough to power 225,000 homes or a city the size of El Paso, Texas, for a year.

“Particularly in light of tight oil and gas supplies caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is important that all Americans – including the federal government – increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable fuels,” said Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.

“Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass are increasingly becoming viable options for American homes and buildings.”

When the Executive Order goal was set by President Bill Clinton in 1999, renewable energy from biomass, geothermal, solar and wind projects only accounted for some 173 GWh. Today’s figures represent an increase of over 1,000 percent in the federal government’s use of energy from biomass, geothermal, solar and wind projects.

DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program helped federal agencies meet the goal by purchasing renewable energy or utilizing renewable technologies at individual sites. Solar panels, on-site wind projects and thousands of geothermal ground source heat pumps have been installed across the federal government.

On September 26, 2005, President George W. Bush tasked the Energy Department to report current energy efficiency efforts by the federal government within 30 days. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 set a goal for the federal government to obtain 7.5 percent of its electrical power from renewable sources of energy by 2013.

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$53 Million Planned for Very High Efficiency Solar Cells

NEWARK, Delaware, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - To more than double the efficiency of solar cells within the next 50 months, a broad consortium led by the University of Delaware could receive nearly $53 million in funding, with the bulk of the money coming from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The University’s Consortium for Very High Efficiency Solar Cells, which consists of 15 universities, corporations and laboratories, could receive up to $33.6 million from DARPA, if all options are awarded, and another $19.3 million from the University of Delaware (UD) and corporate team members.

Those corporate members may include DuPont, BP Solar, Corning Inc., LightSpin Technologies and Blue Square Energy.

The consortium is led by Allen Barnett, principal investigator and research professor in UD’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Christiana Honsberg, co-principal investigator and UD associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The award is the largest in the history of solar energy research, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “I applaud DARPA for recognizing the tremendous potential of solar energy to provide reliable electricity to our troops in the field and to improve our energy security here at home,” Resch said.

“The University of Delaware is very excited by the support provided by DARPA and our corporate partners for this important research,” said UD President David Roselle said. “We look forward to taking a lead role in this project, which is one we believe will provide for a wholesale advance in the efficiency of solar cells.”

The DARPA program calls upon the consortium to develop and produce 1,000 Very High Efficiency Solar Cell (VHESC) prototypes that are affordable and that operate at efficiencies of at least 50 percent. Currently, high-end solar cells operate at a peak efficiency of 24.7 percent, and solar cells off the production line operate at 15 to 20 percent efficiency.

The consortium’s goal is to create solar cells that operate at about 54 percent efficiency in the laboratory and 50 percent in production, Barnett said.

To achieve high efficiency in less than five years at low cost, Barnett and Honsberg have proposed using a new very high performance crystalline silicon solar cell platform and then adding multiple innovations. They had been working on very high efficiency solar cells long before learning of the DARPA program.

An important new feature is based on novel approaches to the integration of the optical, interconnect and solar cell design to provide for affordability and also flexibility in the choice of materials and the integration of new technologies as they are developed.

“By integrating the optical design with the solar cell design, we have entered previously unoccupied design space that leads to a new paradigm about how to make solar cells and how to use solar cells, and about what they can do,” Barnett said.

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All 50 States Meet the Deadline With Their Wildlife Plans

WASHINGTON, DC, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - Wildlife agencies from all 50 states and six U.S. territories have submitted Wildlife Action Plans for approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the deadline date of October 28, 2005. Together the plans establish a nationwide blueprint to conserve imperiled species before they become threatened or endangered.

If approved, the Wildlife Action Plans will be the first of their kind - a state-by-state look at wildlife and the actions needed to ensure their survival, said Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

"These plans represent a future for conservation in America that is rooted in cooperation and partnership between the federal government and states, tribes, local governments, conservation groups, private landowners and others with a commitment to the health of our land and water, fish and wildlife," Norton said.

"Working together, we are tapping into the expertise of those who live and work on the land so that we can conserve our fish and wildlife before they become threatened or endangered."

"Through State Wildlife Grants, we are empowering states, territories, and their many partners to do what the federal government cannot do alone," she said. "The grant program is now our nation's primary conservation program for keeping species healthy and off the list of threatened and endangered species."

The action plans will allow states and territories to continue to receive grants under the State Wildlife Grant program created in 2001. Since then, the Fish and Wildlife Service has handed $400 million in grants to states and territories for conservation efforts.

The law required states and territories to have their individual plans submitted to the Service by October 2005. The Service plans to distribute $68.5 million in grants next spring for states and territories to implement approved action plans.

Each plan must contain information on low and declining populations of wildlife and the habitats they require. Each plan must identify problems that affect these populations, identify research and survey efforts to improve their conservation efforts, determine actions and priorities. Once approved, agencies will revise and update their plans at least once every 10 years.

"Never has such a comprehensive set of plans been constructed with so much input," says John Cooper, president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. "It has resulted in closer working relationships with other conservation agencies and organization within our states."

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said, "Investments to breathe life into the state wildlife strategies are at the heart of assuring a full wildlife legacy for our children's future."

A team of eight U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and five state wildlife administrators are now reviewing the plans and will forward their recommendations to the Service Director for final approval.

States may use the funds for planning or for project implementation activities. For the 50 states, the apportionment is based on a formula that uses each state's land area and population. States may receive no more than five percent or less than one percent of the total available funds.

The District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive one-half of one percent and Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marina Islands will receive one-fourth of one percent.

To learn more about an individual state plan, please contact the state wildlife agency's press officers. A comprehensive list can be found at http://www.teaming.com/Newsroom.htm.

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EPA Grants $1 Million for Child Environmental Health

WASHINGTON, DC, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - A funding boost for children's environmental health issues came Tuesday from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which awarded seven grants totaling just over $1 million to help increase the number of physicians, nurses and public health workers in the field.

Seven projects split the million dollars roughly equally for a wide range of multi-state, national and international projects, including one grant to the Canadian Institute of Child Health-Insitut Canadien de la sante infantile in Ottawa, Ontario and another to the International Pediatric Association based in Boston.

These grants will assist healthcare professionals in Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile to prevent environmentally related diseases in children, provide support for pediatricians in India, Kenya, and Haiti, and fund post graduate pediatric professionals in Central and Eastern Europe.

In one project visiting public health nurses will attend 12 training sessions put on by the National Center for Healthy Housing and funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control. The training is designed to develop faculty from pediatric residency and graduate nursing programs interested in becoming environmental health champions at their academic institutions.

The University of Massachusetts, Lowell, the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation also received grants.

These programs will help health professionals understand, diagnose, and develop prevention messages about the children's environmental health issues they encounter.

"As science develops, so does our understanding of how the natural environment affects our physical health - especially for our most vulnerable residents," said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. "EPA is proud to be providing health professionals, both here and throughout the world, the information they can use to protect children from possible hazards in their environment."

For more details on each separate grant, go to: http://yosemite.epa.gov/ochp/ochpweb.nsf/content/building2005.htm

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Getting Rid of CO2 at Sea Not So Easy

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, November 4, 2005 (ENS) - In searching for ways to counter the greenhouse effect, scientists have proposed capturing the primary greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as it is emitted from power plants, then liquefying the gas and injecting it into the ocean.

But there are problems with that plan.

The carbon dioxide (CO2) can rise toward the surface, turn into gas bubbles and vent into the atmosphere, defeating the purpose of the whole plan.

Then, if the liquid-to-gas conversion happens suddenly, the gas can bubble up in a plume and erupt - a potential hazard.

Small-scale ocean experiments have been done to investigate how the carbon dioxide actually would behave, but such experiments are too costly and time consuming to carry out under a wide range of ocean conditions.

But a new theoretical model developed by University of Michigan researcher Youxue Zhang can be used to explore the fate of CO2 injected into oceans under various temperature and pressure conditions. Zhang's model shows that liquid CO2 would have to be injected to a depth of at least 800 meters (about a half mile) and possibly as much as 3,000 meters (nearly two miles) to keep it from escaping.

Eruptions from injected CO2 are a serious concern, Zhang said, "because carbon dioxide is known to have driven deadly water eruptions."

In 1986, a CO2-driven eruption in Cameroon's Lake Nyos killed some 1,700 people, as well as animals in the area. Two years earlier, a smaller release of CO2 from Lake Monoun in Cameroon resulted in 37 human deaths. The deaths were not directly caused by the explosions, but resulted from carbon dioxide asphyxiation.

Zhang said, "Carbon dioxide is denser than air, so it settled down and flowed along the river valley, choking people and animals to death."

The challenge in designing CO2 injection strategies is figuring out how to keep droplets of the liquid from rising to 300 meters, the approximate depth at which, depending upon temperature and pressure, liquid carbon dioxide becomes a gas.

One solution is to make the droplets smaller. "If they are small enough they should dissolve completely before reaching the liquid-gas transition depth - assuming everything works perfectly," said Zhang, a professor of geological sciences.

However, at a high injection rate, seawater full of CO2 droplets would have an average density smaller than that of surrounding seawater, creating conditions that could lead to a rapidly-rising plume. Problems also could occur if the injection device malfunctioned, producing larger droplets.

"An even safer injection scheme, Zhang said, would be to inject into a depth of more than 3,000 meters, where CO2 liquid is denser than seawater and would sink and dissolve."

Calculations based on Zhang's theory match observations from experiments in which remotely controlled submersibles tracked and photographed individual droplets of liquid CO2.

Zhang's work was described in a paper in the October 1 issue of the journal "Environmental Science & Technology." The research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

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