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AmeriScan: November 23, 2005

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New York Governor Requires State Agencies to Boost Ethanol Use

ALBANY, New York, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - Governor George Pataki has announced a program to increase the production of biofuels in New York State, part of a comprehensive plan to develop and expand markets for ethanol and other biofuels, and help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources.

Under an Executive Order issued by the governor Sunday, all state agencies and public authorities will be required to increase their purchase and use of biofuels for heating their facilities and fueling their vehicles. The proposal is expected to provide a boost to farmers who will see an increased market for feedstocks used in biofuel production.

"New York has an opportunity and an obligation to reduce our dependence on unstable foreign energy supplies, and we can begin to achieve this by boosting the production of homegrown biofuels,” Governor Pataki said. "High energy prices have significantly impacted families and businesses across the Empire State, and have clearly shown our vulnerability to foreign energy sources. By developing a strong biofuel industry in the State, we can break free from our dependency on foreign fuels, provide an economic boost to our farming community, and keep energy dollars here in New York.

"The Empire State is a national leader in the promoting the use of renewable fuels, but we must continue to work to increase our use of alternative energy sources and strengthen our economy,” the governor said. "With this initiative, I am calling on state agencies and authorities to set higher standards for using renewable energy, which will help to spur investments in biofuel production and make New York a pioneer in this emerging energy industry.”

Under the Executive Order, state agencies and public authorities will be required to purchase and utilize biofuels for use in boilers, heating/cooling plants, and in their motor vehicle fleets.

The Order mandates that by 2012, at least five percent of the heating fuel used in state buildings will be biodiesel, a biodegradable fuel made from agricultural products. In addition, by 2007, at least two percent of fuels used in the state fleet must be biodiesel, with this percentage rising to 10 percent in 2012.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will offer an incentive package to developers to promote the construction of bio-refineries in the state. Under the $500,000 program, applicants are eligible for grants of up to $100,000 for the planning, design and construction of biodiesel refining facilities, as well as other qualifying costs associated with construction and operations.

Peter Smith, president of NYSERDA said, "Increasing the use of biofuels for transportation and heating purposes here in New York represents a major step forward for our economy and our environment, as well as our energy independence. NYSERDA has been working with several partners here in New York on programs from crop growth to fueling infrastructure, and we are excited about this new initiative, which will provide expanded markets and create economic investment in the biofuel industry.”

The Governor’s Clean Fueled Vehicle Council also will develop and implement plans to increase the number and accessibility of ethanol refueling stations.

State Office of General Services Commissioner Daniel Hogan, who chairs the Clean Fueled Vehicles Council, said, "This important initiative will promote agricultural growth, environmental improvement, and energy diversity throughout the state and will help New York remain a national leader in the purchase and use of alternate fuel vehicles.”

Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said, "Ethanol use is expanding from coast to coast. Governor Pataki, as a member of the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition, understands the energy, environmental and economic benefits a robust renewable fuels industry provides. The Governor’s Executive Order, coupled with the new ethanol production facilities soon coming online, make New York an important player in the march toward energy independence.”

Within the next year, up to three ethanol plants are expected to begin production in New York State, including Northeast Biofuels in Fulton, Oswego County. The Northeast Biofuels plant would be the largest ethanol plant in the Northeast, with a capacity to produce 100 million gallons annually. The Fulton biofuel site will be home to a five million gallon/year biodiesel production facility, built and operated by NextGen Fuel, Inc. of Potsdam, St. Lawrence County.

New York State agencies and public authorities annually consume more than 48 million gallons of diesel fuel and 55 million gallons of heating oil, which are both primarily imported. The price of crude oil on worldwide markets has increased as much as 80 percent over the past year.

Ethanol is a clean-burning, renewable, domestically produced fuel made from fermented agricultural products such as corn, grass or willow. Ethanol contains oxygen, which can promote more complete combustion of fuel. Ethanol use also can reduce carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming. The carbon dioxide that is produced is naturally recycled by the same crops that produce ethanol.

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Massachusetts Adopts New Energy Efficiency Standards

BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed legislation Monday that will cut utility bills for customers throughout the state by making common appliances more energy efficient.

The bill, passed unanimously by the Massachusetts House on November 1st and by the Senate on November 15th, makes Massachusetts the first state to respond to the national energy crisis by embracing updated energy efficiency standards for furnaces and boilers, one of a home’s biggest energy users.

Environmental and consumer advocates called the state’s action a significant step forward for all the citizens of Massachusetts.

"This is something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. Energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest, cleanest way to start solving our energy problems,” said Frank Gorke, energy advocate for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.

The law will make home furnaces and boilers, laptop power cords, and other products more energy efficient, cutting energy bills in the commonwealth by at least $1 billion between now and 2030.

The law also will reduce air pollution from coal and oil fired power plants, and has support from two of the region’s biggest utilities, Massachusetts Electric and KeySpan.

The law delivers savings by setting minimum efficiency standards for the covered products. Currently there are federal efficiency standards for a number of products on the market, like refrigerators and residential air conditioners. But the federal standard-setting program at the U.S. Department of Energy has fallen more than a decade behind key legal deadlines, so several states are taking the lead and passing bills that would set state appliance efficiency standards to guarantee residents will save money on their electricity bills.

For four of the products - laptop power cords, utility transformers, reflector lamps and metal halide lamp fixtures - there is no federal standard, so the state is stepping in to set its own standards.

For the two biggest energy users in the package - home furnaces and boilers - there is an outdated, warm-state standard that the state is seeking to update. Because of the existing federal standard, Massachusetts officials will begin a process early next year to seek a waiver of federal preemption from officials at the U.S. Department of Energy. That waiver would allow the updated, cold-state standard to go into effect.

"Heating costs hit record highs last winter, and the time is ripe to reduce home heating bills," said Charlie Harak, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center who represents low income energy users. "This bill is very good for low-income utility customers, especially because of the efficiency standard for home furnaces and boilers. The bill will produce significant savings for people who already spend a huge portion of their incomes on heating their homes."

"With every day that passes we see more evidence of the need for states to act to help their residents and businesses cope with higher and higher energy prices," said Susan Coakley, executive director of Lexington based Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, which is coordinating the effort to promote new appliance efficiency standards in 10 Northeast states.

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Philadelphia Citizens to Use Sunoco Money for Health Survey

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - As part of a federal court agreement to resolve litigation against Sunoco Inc. for alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act, the Right to Know Committee and several other neighborhood organizations will share a $130,000 settlement.

The Right to Know Committee (RTKC) will use its portion of the funds to complete a health survey in southern Philadelphia that the Committee says is badly needed.

"The health survey is very important to those living in areas that continue to be exposed to environmental toxins," said RTKC Executive Director Mable Mallard. "The EPA conducted a survey in 1994 thru 1996 but many questions were left unanswered."

Founded in 1994, RTKC is a group of residents and workers who live in south and southwest Philadelphia. The group initiated its own survey two years ago and has gathered almost 700 responses. The funding will help the group organize a database of this information that will be available to the public. The information, Mallard said, will assure that people in affected neighborhoods know what pollutants are in their environment and how it could damage their health.

"Our goal is to continue until at lease 1,000 surveys are complete," Mallard said. "We are working to inform and empower community members. We teach people how to use computers and other technology so they can have a access to our research, documentation, and experts. If people understand the health risks, they can better protect themselves and their families."

"Right now, three million gallons of petroleum oil floats on the water table and it's been there for years," Mallard cautioned. "No one is holding Sunoco or the federal government at the Defense Personnel Supply Center accountable even though it has seeped into areas where people live. We are fighting to make sure that people know about this."

The Mid-Atlantic Environmental Law Center began the suit on behalf of the Right to Know Committee and other members of the Community Labor Refinery Tracking Committee. Filed in April 2005, the suit alleged hundreds of violations against Philadelphia's largest polluter, and sought penalties, plant improvements to reduce emissions, and other relief.

As a result of the legal action, Sunoco has agreed to install a $3 million backup power supply which will prevent significant emission releases during power interruptions.

The company will also install a $500,000 filtration system which will help reduce air pollution from its sulfur recovery plant and fuel gas recovery unit.

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New Orleans Survivors Will Not Be Evicted Without Notice

WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - Hurricane survivors in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes have won a stay of evictions pending mail notification to addresses provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and hearings 45 days later.

Advancement Project, on behalf of several New Orleans renters, union workers, the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, and UNITE HERE, obtained a favorable settlement in the lawsuit, Sylvester v. Bossiere, et al., which challenged the evictions of tenants from rental properties in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes.

"The residents of New Orleans and survivors have won basic fairness," said Judith Browne, co-director of Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization that helped bring the case.

"Our plaintiffs and thousands of other tenants were being thrown out of their homes, and their possessions tossed into the street, without their knowledge, and without any means of protecting themselves," Browne said. "It was adding injury to injury."

The suit was brought by individual plaintiffs, organizations, and unions against FEMA, Clerks of the courts, Justices of the Peace and Constables in response to a wave of evictions proceeding without notice to the tenants.

Louisiana law requires only that lessees whose whereabouts are unknown receive notice by tacking it to the door of the premises; yet most of the tenants have been evacuated and dispersed throughout the country, with no way of knowing that the eviction process is underway.

Although most evacuees have registered with FEMA, the agency had previously refused to divulge the addresses, citing privacy concerns. Louisiana law also permits quick evictions with trials to occur three days after a notice is tacked to the door.

"All of the parties worked hard to protect the rights of the people of Orleans and Jefferson parishes," said Ishmael Muhammad, staff attorney for Advancement Project. "This is clearly a step in the right direction, FEMA and the state defendants moved quickly to right this wrong."

The agreement requires FEMA to turn over to the courts in Orleans and Jefferson parishes the addresses of tenants facing evictions, and requires that hearings be scheduled no sooner than 45 days after notice is mailed to the evacuees. In the past, FEMA has refused all requests to provide the addresses of evacuees, even to the State of Louisiana.

Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor who served as co-counsel in the suit, expressed satisfaction at the ruling. "The renters of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes were facing a serious injustice, where no real effort was being made to contact them. And they had no means of redress. This stay, and the notification requirement, gives residents an opportunity to be heard, to rescue their possessions, and decide whether they wish to return to their homes."

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Hurricanes' Animal Survivors Need More Help

KANAB, Utah, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - Three months after Hurricane Katrina, thousands of homeless pets still roam the streets of Gulf Coast cities and towns, waiting to be rescued, according to an assessment released by Best Friends Animal Society today.

The organization, which runs the nation's largest companion animal sanctuary, is launching a petition drive on behalf of these pets and their displaced families.

"Compassionate citizens have already given their money to this cause. Now we're asking them to give their voices, too, by signing a petition to ensure that these dogs and cats in the Gulf Coast region are not abandoned and that donated money be spent for what it was intended," said Paul Berry, Best Friends' director of operations.

Most national organizations suspended rescue operations over a month ago, but independent rescuers report that thousands of displaced pets, belonging to people who have lost their homes, are still there.

Many of these pets are in destroyed and abandoned areas where food sources such as garbage cans are not available, and many of the structures these pets are using for shelter will soon be bulldozed.

"We've been working on the frontlines of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts since late August, and have not given up," said Berry. "Our emergency rescue shelter outside of New Orleans still has up to 600 animals on any given day and brings in up to 40 animals a day from volunteer rescuers who continue to work in the field."

Berry said the Best Friends assessment, which was conducted last week, has confirmed some urgent and disturbing facts about the ongoing need for rescue efforts. The report, at: http://www.bestfriends.org, cites interviews with local animal control officials, veterinarians, rescue agencies, and volunteers across the region.

"People all over the country donated tens of millions of dollars to rescue these animals," said Berry. "All it takes now is a commitment from the animal welfare organizations to finish the job they undertook."

Berry is asking the animal welfare groups to provide volunteers to continue rescuing displaced pets still alive on the streets and provide staging areas to get them to safety.

He suggests that a national adoption drive be held for all pets not reclaimed by their families.

"Working together, we can do better than simply allowing these pets who have clung to life for so long to become the next generation of strays who will reproduce and ultimately be euthanized," said Berry.

Best Friends is asking everyone who donated money to the rescue effort to sign a petition urging national animal welfare organizations to continue the rescue work as long as these traumatized family pets are still alive.

"We are inspired by Mayor Nagin's plan to rebuild a better New Orleans," said Berry, who is a native New Orleanian. "If funds remain after the rescue efforts are complete, they should be used to build a better New Orleans for companion animals."

Needed services include low-cost, high-volume spay and neuter facilities, neighborhood no-kill sheltering and adoption capabilities, affordable health care for pets of low-income families, model legislation to end dog fighting and related animal abuse.

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Massachusetts Ballot Question on Dog Protection Looks Likely

BOSTON, Massachusetts, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - Proponents of a ballot question to protect dogs in Massachusetts said Tuesday that they have collected over 115,000 signatures, far more than the number required to place the Dog Protection Act before voters next year.

"This is an overwhelming endorsement of this humane law," said Carter Luke, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). "Voters recognize that dogs deserve to be protected from individuals and industries that would do them harm."

The Dog Protection Act will phase out dog racing, strengthen laws against dogfighting, and increase penalties for hurting law enforcement and service dogs. The measure is jointly sponsored by the Animal Rescue League of Boston, greyhound protection group GREY2K USA, the Humane Society of the United States and the MSPCA.

A ballot initiative in November 2000 focused on the single question of dog racing, and was very narrowly defeated in one of the closest elections in state history.

More than 1,500 volunteers statewide have collected signatures for the Dog Protection Act. These are now being turned in to town clerks across the state, who will verify their authenticity over the next few weeks.

Campaign leaders expressed confidence that once on the ballot, the Act will be approved. "Once voters learn about this humane law, they will opt for greater protections for man's best friend," said Nicholas Gilman, chief operating officer of the Animal Rescue League of Boston.

"The people of Massachusetts were pioneers in adopting humane laws in the United States," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "This petition to protect dogs is consistent with the Commonwealth's history of humane reforms and the protection of animals from cruelty and abuse."

Committee to Protect Dogs Chairperson Christine Dorchak said that new state records on greyhound injuries warrant phasing out the sport. "New state records show that hundreds of greyhounds are seriously injured while racing in Massachusetts, including dogs that suffer broken legs, cardiac arrest, seizures and spinal cord paralysis."

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Feds Offer $6.5 Million for Conservation on Private Lands

WASHINGTON, DC, November 23, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking proposals for conservation projects on private lands through its Private Stewardship Grants Program. For Fiscal Year 2006, approximately $6.5 million is available through this grant program.

As envisioned by President George W. Bush, this program provides federal grants on a competitive basis to individuals and groups engaged in voluntary conservation efforts on private lands that benefit imperiled species such as federally listed endangered or threatened species as well as proposed, candidate and other at-risk species.

Landowners and their partners may submit proposals directly to the Service for funding to support those efforts.

In September 2005, the Service awarded 72 grants totaling more than $6.5 million to individuals and groups to undertake conservation projects for endangered, threatened, and other at-risk species on private lands in 38 states and one territory.

For more information regarding this grant opportunity and on how and where to submit proposals, please visit the Service's Private Stewardship Grants website at http://endangered.fws.gov/grants/private_stewardship.html.

Contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Branch of State Grants, Endangered Species Program, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203 Phone: (703) 358-2061. Proposals must be submitted to the Regional Offices of the Service by January 23, 2006.

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