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AmeriScan: November 29, 2005

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U.S. Courts African Oil and Gas Producers

WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - An international oil and gas conference on Africa, the world’s largest unexplored energy frontier, opens today in Washington, sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) and the U.S. Department of Energy. Oil ministers from throughout Africa are attending the 2005 Africa Oil and Gas Forum.

CCA President Stephen Hayes said moving the annual event from Houston to Washington, DC "gives us the opportunity to work more closely with the U.S. government, particularly the U.S. Department of Energy."

Currently, Hayes said, African countries supply about 12 percent of all the oil consumed in the United States. "By 2020," he said, "it is anticipated that about 25 percent of our oil will be coming from Africa. That is a tremendous jump."

The Energy Department is not providing financial support for the conference, Hayes said, but the agency is providing "in-kind" support. "They are working with us to get the oil ministers from Africa here, as well as the national oil companies," he said. U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman is expected to address the conference.

U.S. Department of Commerce statistics show that petroleum products continue to account for the largest portion of total U.S. imports from sub-Saharan Africa, making up an 87 percent share of Africa-U.S. trade.

Plenary and workshop sessions at the conference will focus on transparency and stability, effectiveness of public-private partnerships, local content issues and emerging opportunities in African oil and gas development, LNG and the outlook for energy in general.

The conference will also address Asia’s growing presence in the African oil and gas sectors; rmerging opportunities in the Libyan oil and gas market; and how Hurricane Katrina affected energy supplies.

An increase in oil and gas trade between Africa and the United States will prompt an increase in a broad array of other trade and business opportunities as well, Hayes said.

There will be increased opportunities for U.S. nonoil businesses to supply items such as food services, laundry services, housing, infrastructure and piping supplies, he said, "so there is going to be a lot of opportunity."

The Corporate Council on Africa, established in 1993, is made up of more than 150 American companies doing business in Africa. CCA works with governments, multilateral groups and business to improve the African continent's trade and investment climate and to raise the profile of Africa in the U.S. business community.

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Swine Workers Risk Infection With Swine Flu Virus

WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - Occupational exposure to pigs increases the risk of developing swine influenza infection, according to a study funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health.

Farmers, veterinarians and meat processors who routinely come into contact with pigs in their jobs have a increased risk of infection with flu viruses that infect pigs, states the report, which appears online in the January 1, 2006 in "Clinical Infectious Diseases."

Pigs, in turn, can be infected by swine viruses, bird flu viruses and human flu viruses, and they may act as a virtual virus "mixing bowl," especially on farms where pigs, chickens and people coexist. This mixing bowl effect is a potential public health concern, the study authors assert.

“Pigs play a role in transmitting influenza virus to humans,” says NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD. “The worry is that if a pig were to become simultaneously infected with both a human and an avian influenza virus, genes from these viruses could reassemble into a new virus that could be transmitted to and cause disease in people.”

Agricultural workers should be considered in developing flu pandemic surveillance plans and antiviral and immunization strategies, says the study’s co-investigator, Gregory C. Gray, M.D., director of the University of Iowa Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“If migratory birds introduce the H5N1 bird flu virus into swine or poultry populations in this country, agricultural workers may be at a much greater risk of developing a variant H5N1 and passing it along to non-agricultural workers,” Gray says.

“Not protecting agricultural workers could amplify influenza transmission among humans and domestic animals during a pandemic and cause considerable damage to the swine and poultry industries, as well as the U.S. economy,” he said.

To date, the H5N1 avian virus has not appeared in the United States in any animal population or in humans. While swine in other countries have been infected by the H5N1 virus, to date, the virus has not become readily transmissible between swine.

Swine influenza infections generally produce mild or no symptoms in both pigs and humans, but not always. Exposure to swine flu virus at a 1988 Wisconsin county fair resulted in serious illness for 50 swine exhibitors and three of their family members; one previously healthy woman who became infected died.

The U.S. swine industry, which employs about 575,000 people, has shifted during the past 60 years from primarily small herds located on family farms to large herds maintained in expansive but confined agricultural facilities.

Crowded conditions coupled with the constant introduction of young pigs to existing herds have made swine flu infections among pigs a year-round occurrence rather than the seasonal event they once were.

As a result, the study finds, there is a constant opportunity for people who are occupationally exposed to pigs to become infected with influenza viruses and, conversely, a continual opportunity for human flu viruses to mix with swine or bird flu viruses.

While severe swine influenza virus infections in humans have been reported, we expect that the normal clinical course of swine influenza infections in humans is mild or without symptoms,” said Dr. Gray.

Despite the possibility for human infection with swine influenza, people should not panic, Gray and Kendall Myers, of the University of Iowa.

Pork consumption should not pose a problem, Myers said. “There’s no evidence to suggest that swine influenza can be transmitted to humans through meat,” so as long as people cook pork thoroughly and practice good handwashing, then pork chops, bacon and ham can stay on the menu.

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U.S. Air Force Alleges Illegal Aliens Dumped Asbestos

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Air Force says two Florida environmental companies and their affiliates supplied crews of illegal aliens with false identification papers to do asbestos removal at a supposedly secure special operations facility, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In addition to exposing the workers to health hazards, the firms illegally dumped asbestos waste into an open air disposal facility, thereby creating public health risks, the Air Force alleges.

Big Wheel Recycling, Aztec Environmental, Inc., and their affiliates in Bay County would be barred from receiving any federal contracts for an indefinite period of time if convicted of the voilations named in a complaint initiated by the U.S. Air Force.

The Air Force points to a joint investigation by the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Customs enforcement agents who “identified several illegal aliens employed by [the companies] with access to Air Force installations.”

The government also says the immigrant workers had “fictitious Social Security” numbers. One base where the firms conducted asbestos removal work is Hurlburt Field, a special operations base on the coast of Florida’s Panhandle.

In addition to the immigration and security breaches, the Air Force cites the Florida businesses for:

  • Violations of the Clean Air Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Florida public health statutes, and implementing regulations that prescribe the proper handling of asbestos containing material in connection with demolition and renovation activities

  • Improper disposal of friable asbestos in a way that released harmful asbestos fibers into the open air, to the detriment of both workers and the neighboring public

  • Interference with Environmental Inspection and Record Keeping requirements, including “falsification of documentation, and implementation of methods to conceal violations…”
The federal charges parallel the substance of a series of reports compiled by Florida PEER which has been seeking prosecution of the firms under state environmental laws. The watchdog group has filed complaints about groundwater contamination, illegal asbestos disposal and improper permitting of the waste disposal operation at the Big Wheel site.

“These charges represent only the tip of a very dirty iceberg,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former enforcement attorney for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “The reason that there has been no state action is that Florida DEP stands as the un-indicted co-conspirator in this scandal.”

PEER has called for a grand jury investigation into a myriad of problems within the Northwest District Office of DEP, including the role of campaign contributions in hiring practices and the lack of enforcement actions at Big Wheel. Local prosecutors have yet to act on the complaint.

Phillips says part of the problem lies with DEP Northwest District Director Mary Jean Yon who, in response to PEER document requests, has repeatedly insisted the firms were in environmental compliance even though her own inspectors kept reporting violations.

Yon has since been promoted to DEP headquarters and placed in charge of all state waste disposal regulation.

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Pennsylvania Governor Promotes Coal Gasification

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell Monday launched a new initiative to support the coal state's manufacturing firms by providing low-cost, cleaner fuel, creating what he called a "homegrown" energy solution with advanced coal gasification technology.

Rendell's initiative, Energy Deployment for a Growing Economy (EDGE), promotes advanced coal gasification technology that gasifies coal to produce an array of products, including synthetic gas, which can be used to make chemicals and consumer products, synthetic natural gas to heat homes, transportation fuels or electricity. Plants that make all of these products at once are referred to as "polygen" plants said the governor.

"This new initiative is designed to help Pennsylvania import jobs and not fuel. It is a homegrown solution to keeping jobs and investment in the state," Governor Rendell said. "We are joining with business, labor and environmental leaders to create a unique energy solution that will enhance our competitiveness at home and in global markets while protecting our environment."

New federal clean air regulations are estimated to cost Pennsylvania businesses - mostly power plants and manufacturing facilities - $15 billion. Facility owners will need to decide whether to invest in new technology and pollution controls or to close plants that cannot meet the new federal air quality rules.

The Rendell initiative allows power generation companies a one-time option to invest in replacing old, dirty, inefficient plants with super-clean coal gasification.

Under the governor's proposal, utilities would have a limited time to keep the older plants running without updated controls if they agree to replace those plants with the vastly cleaner and more efficient gasifiers by January 1, 2013.

"We want to clean and modernize the state's energy infrastructure and Pennsylvania is prepared to help by providing financial and regulatory incentives," the governor said. "We want to encourage investments that will make our energy supplies cleaner, cheaper and more reliable."

Governor Rendell has written to U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Stephen Johnson about his coal gasification proposal, asking that EPA join him in allowing utilities to have a one-time option to invest in replacing inefficient plants with coal gasification rather than invest hundreds of millions of dollars for conventional air pollution controls.

Gasifying coal does produce greenhouse gas emissions, Rendell acknowledged, but because the plants are much more efficient than conventional plants, the amount of greenhouse gases are also much less - up to 30 percent less than conventional plants.

The governor envisions that operating permits for these plants will include a binding greenhouse gas limit along with limits on conventional pollutants like sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and nitrogen oxide, which causes smog.

Consolidated Coal Co. and Foundation Coal Holdings Inc., two leading owners of coal resources in Pennsylvania, joined the Governor to assure the market their willingness to supply coal under long-term contracts in order to see coal gasifiers take off in Pennsylvania under the EDGE initiative.

Two of the leading manufacturers of gasification technology also joined the Governor in support of EDGE. Shell Oil Co. and General Electric Co. assured Wall Street that they stand behind the performance of their technology.

Additionally, U.S. Steel Corp. joined the governor and announced efforts to bring together a coalition of Pennsylvania manufacturers that have been hit hard by soaring natural gas prices and are interested in seeing substantially cheaper synthetic gas alternatives come on line.

U.S. Steel said it would support the Pennsylvania Manufacturers for Coal Gasification in their effort to rally businesses in the willing to work with coal gasification project developers and bring the new resources on line.

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On 2,200 Acres New Jersey Chooses Conservation Over Development

TRENTON, New Jersey, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - New Jersey has announced the conservation of a 2,200 acre parcel in Estell Manor City in Atlantic County.

Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell said the DEP's Fish and Wildlife branch will manage the land as part of the Peaslee Wildlife Management Area. The land will be open to the public for hiking, bird watching and other types of outdoor recreation.

"Estell Manor was pleased to work with the state Green Acres Program to save this land from the development of 300 new homes which would have tremendous impacts on our rural life," said Estell Manor City Council President Creed Pogue.

"This acquisition is just one example of how we're protecting environmentally sensitive areas and open space throughout the state," said Acting Governor Richard Codey. "By preserving these 2,200 acres of land, we are providing New Jersey residents with more opportunities for bird watching and hiking in Atlantic County."

The newly preserved property is located at the intersection of Route 557 and Route 50 in Southwest Atlantic County. The undeveloped parcel contains pine-oak forest interspersed with wooded wetlands.

Atlantic white cedar swamps, pitch-pine lowlands and red maple swamps add to the diversity of the site and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife species including yellow-throated warblers, mink, beaver, white-tailed deer and butterflies.

"With this acquisition, DEP is preserving nearly 100,000 acres of contiguous properties in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland Counties," said Campbell. "The preservation of this parcel will protect critical habitat for forest species and expand our network of wildlife management areas."

The DEP Green Acres Program purchased the unimproved land for $2,435,000 from Crown Financial Corporation.

During 2005, the DEP Green Acres Program has preserved more than 30,640 acres of open space. In total, the program has protected over 588,695 acres of open space, in addition to providing funding for the development of hundreds of parks throughout New Jersey. To date the statewide system of preserved open space and farmland totals over 1.3 million acres.

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Nature Conservancy Builds Research Station on Remote Palmyra Atoll

HONOLULU, Hawaii, November, 29, 2005 (ENS) - Scientists from 10 research institutions have joined forces with The Nature Conservancy to launch a new research station on Palmyra Atoll, a tiny National Wildlife Refuge in the central Pacific. They will study climate change, disappearing coral reefs, invasive species and other global environmental threats.

Located 1,000 miles south of Hawaii and surrounded by one of the most spectacular coral reef ecosystems in the world, Palmyra offers a unique laboratory setting to develop conservation strategies that can then be used to assist threatened marine habitats around the world.

The Nature Conservancy purchased the Palmyra Atoll from the Fullard-Leo family in 2000 to protect its pristine waters and lands, which are inhabited by 125 coral species, 29 bird species, endangered green sea turtles and dozens of other marine creatures. The Fullard-Leo family had turned down numerous offers from developers who had at various times sought to turn the atoll into a nuclear repository and a casino.

“The Conservancy has long recognized Palmyra’s potential as a site for scientific research. Its phenomenal biodiversity and the fact that humans have had very little impact on the atoll make it an ideal laboratory,” said Suzanne Case, the Conservancy's Hawaii executive director.

“Working together with these world-renowned institutions, we can discover and develop new conservation strategies for island habitats throughout the Pacific and around the world," said Case.

Inaugural members of the research consortium include Stanford University, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, American Museum of Natural History, California Academy of Sciences, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of California at Irvine, University of Hawai‘i, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The consortium will work in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the atoll as a National Wildlife Refuge.

Consortium scientists will conduct their work at a new $1.5 million research station built on Palmyra by The Nature Conservancy earlier this year. Funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the station offers accommodations for up to 20 researchers at a time.

The facility includes a research lab complex, 100,000 gallon fresh water catchment, 24 hour electricity and an environmentally friendly septic system. The consortium purchase of a 25-foot offshore research boat and a high-volume compressor system to expand marine research capabilities was completed and delivered to the atoll in August by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Palmyra has experienced minimal human impact beyond the construction of a U.S. Naval airbase during World War II, and its coral reefs look different from all others in the equatorial Pacific.

Palmyra’s coral reefs support three times the number of coral species found in Hawaii and the Caribbean, and five times number of species found in the Florida Keys. The atoll also provides habitat for more than a million nesting seabirds, one of the last Pisonia forests in the U.S. Pacific, and sanctuary for the world’s largest land invertebrate, the coconut crab.

Palmyra is located within the intertropical convergence zone, a high rainfall belt at the equator where trade winds from the Northern and Southern Hemisphere meet.

The atoll lies within a small area of ocean in which sea surface temperatures provide the greatest known indicator of the state and trajectory of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle.

“Research at Palmyra promises to provide insights into how physical and biological factors, as well as human activities, have shaped the diversity and function of coral reef ecosystems,” said Robert Dunbar of Stanford University, a member of the consortium’s science committee.

“The location of the research station at Palmyra will enable scientists to monitor climate and air-sea interaction in a critical area of the Pacific that is seldom studied," said Dunbar. "Such knowledge will enable us to better predict how the world’s coral reefs will respond to changes in climate, human use and conservation management.”

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WWF Opens Second Annual Smart Fishing Gear Contest

WASHINGTON, DC, November 29, 2005 (ENS) - The World Wildlife Fund today announced the opening of the second WWF International Smart Gear Competition. The contest seeks innovative fishing gear that reduces the accidental bycatch and related deaths of marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species in fishing gear such as nets and longlines.

"World Wildlife Fund's looking for real-world fishing solutions that allow fishermen to fish smarter - better targeting their intended catch while safeguarding the dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life often caught unintentionally," said Ginette Hemley, vice president, species conservation, World Wildlife Fund.

"This unique collaboration among conservationists, fishermen and scientists is designed to inspire new technologies for more sustainable fishing," she said

Conventional fishing gear often does not allow users to selectively target their catch. As a result, non-target fish species, marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species are caught and sometimes killed.

More than 25 percent of what is caught in the course of fishing - as much as 20 million metric tons annually - is thrown over the sides of fishing boats dead or dying. This bycatch is the leading threat to many endangered marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds around the world.

"The WWF International Smart Gear Competition aims to stop one of the biggest threats to healthy marine ecosystems and related economic losses to fishermen," said Hemley of World Wildlife Fund. "We hope this competition harnesses the creativity and ingenuity of fishermen, scientists and the public to reduce the waste caused by inefficient gear."

Last year, WWF awarded three new practical solutions to marine bycatch - a system for keeping longlines away from sea turtles by a former high-school biology teacher and commercial fisherman; changes to the chemical properties of fishing ropes and nets by a North American team; and modified trawls to reduce bycatch of undersized shrimp and fish by a team of Indian scientists.

The international competition will award a $25,000 grand prize and two $5,000 runner-up prizes to the designs judged to be the most practical, cost-effective methods for reducing bycatch of any species.

The competition is open to eligible entrants from any background - fishermen, professional gear manufacturers, teachers, students, engineers, scientists and backyard inventors. Instructions for entry along with the competition rules are available at www.smartgear.org and completed entries must be submitted by March 15, 2006.

The winner of the WWF International Smart Gear Competition will be decided by a diverse set of judges, including fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world.

For official competition rules and to learn how to enter, visit http://www.smartgear.org. The competition begins today, and ends on March 15, 2006. Employees, agents, current contractors, and relatives of employees of World Wildlife Fund, Inc. or any WWF National Organization are ineligible. Judges and relatives of judges are also ineligible. The competition is void where prohibited. Odds depend on number of entries received. No purchase is necessary.

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