AmeriScan: November 22, 2006

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United States Signs International Fusion Energy Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, and their counterparts from China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea and Russia signed an agreement Tuesday to build the international nuclear fusion energy reactor known as ITER.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is a joint international research and development project meant to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of using the power of nuclear fusion – the process of combining the nuclei of two atoms – as an energy source to meet growing world demand.

ITER will be built in Cadarache, France, and scheduled to begin operating around 2016.

“Signing this agreement brings us one step closer to a viable source of fusion power,” said Raymond Orbach, DOE under secretary for science, who represented the United States.

ITER is the first stand-alone, international, large-scale scientific research effort, he said. “It will surely serve as a model for future collaborative large-scale science projects.”

Nuclear fission, used in all nuclear power plants today, is getting energy from breaking up heavy atomic nuclei. Fission is a process that is controlled in a nuclear reactor and uncontrolled in a nuclear bomb.

Fusion, on the other hand, is fusing two light nuclei together. When that happens, energy is released. It is the same type of nuclear reaction taking place in the Sun and all stars.

If ITER proves to be a workable way to harness nuclear power, fusion energy could provide electricity and generate hydrogen to power fuel-cell vehicles.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy allocated $25 million to ITER. President George W. Bush has asked Congress for $60 million for the project in 2007.

The Cadarache site is adjacent to the main research center of the French Atomic Energy Commission. The European Union, as host, will provide about 45 percent of the construction-phase funding.

The United States, as a nonhost partner, will contribute about nine percent in the construction phase.

The U.S. contribution to ITER will consist of about 80 percent in-kind components and about 20 percent in cash to a central fund and for personnel assigned to the project at the ITER site.

DOE laboratories will subcontract with industry to build the ITER components the United States will contribute. The total value of the U.S. contribution is just more than $1 billion.

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EPA Trashes Libraries of Documents

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rapidly dispersing its library collections to preempt Congressional intervention, according to internal emails released Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically as the agency closes libraries to save money, PEER says "vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible."

Meanwhile, many materials formerly held by the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances Library, in EPA’s Washington DC Headquarters, were directed to be thrown into trash bins, according to reports received by PEER.

This month, EPA closed the this library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists.

“By its actions, it appears that the appointed management at EPA is determined to actually reduce the sum total of human knowledge,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “EPA is not an agency renowned for its speed, so its undue haste in dumping library holdings suggests a political agenda rather than anything resembling a rational information management plan.”

In the case of the OPPTS Library, the collection is being offered to other EPA offices. What has not been immediately claimed is destined for the trash bin.

PEER says the only “unique” documents that EPA is digitizing are those authored by EPA staff. Thousands of documents written or compiled by EPA contractors will remain boxed up and unavailable, either electronically or physically, as the material has not been catalogued.

The EPA is spending more money closing the libraries than it asserted it would save, $2 million, from the closures.

“The dismantlement of EPA’s library network has been directed from above without any assessment of the information needs of the agency, let alone outside researchers or the public,” Ruch added, noting that the Senate will soon be taking up EPA’s budget for the current fiscal year. “It is high time Congress weighs in before EPA completely destroys its library system.”

Democrats Senator Barbara Boxer of California the incoming chair of the oversight committee for EPA, and Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey are leading an effort to restore EPA’s network of libraries during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

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Federal Judge Strikes Down Idaho Heliskiing Plan

POCATELLO, Idaho, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - A federal judge has invalidated a U.S. Forest Service decision to allow a major helicopter skiing expansion in the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests.

Conservationists say the ruling will help preserve a potential wilderness area against a rising tide of motorized recreation.

A coalition of concerned citizens and conservation groups challenged the Forest Service's issuance of a new 10-year helicopter skiing permit for the Palisades area on the Wyoming-Idaho border in a lawsuit filed in January of 2006.

The new permit would allow up to 1,200 helicopter skiers each year, with the great majority of helicopter activity occurring in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area.

In today's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the permit violated the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act's mandate to preserve wilderness character, stating, "The Palisades WSA has been carved out by Congress for special protection. Public demand for heliskiing, the balancing of competing interests, and 'managed growth' are not the governing standards under the Wyoming Wilderness Act."

"Instead, Congress has directed the Forest Service to maintain the 1984 wilderness character of the area," the judge wrote. "That is the primary duty of the Forest Service, and it must guide all decisions as the first and foremost standard of review for any proposed action."

"The Forest Service's decision would have channeled more and more motorized use into the Wilderness Study Area," said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso, who represented conservationists in the case. "That is not appropriate for a potential wilderness."

Earthjustice represented the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Sierra Club, the Wyoming Wilderness Association, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and two individuals, Deb Patla and Merlin Hare.

Congress told the Forest Service when it passed the Wyoming Wilderness Act in 1984 to manage the Palisades Wilderness Study Area to preserve its "wilderness character" as it existed then.

Forest Service records from 1984 indicate that fewer than 100 heliskiers used the Palisades each year back then, not the 1,200 heliskiers allowed by the challenged permit.

The judge's ruling agreed with the conservationists' offer to negotiate an acceptable helicopter skiing plan for the area.

"We are glad the judge decided that increased use in the Wilderness Study Area is not acceptable," said Lloyd Dorsey of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "In the near future, we're eager and willing to sit down and hammer out a well-balanced solution to this issue."

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Guide to Preventing Bird Electrocutions Released

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - Updated technical guidelines aimed at helping electric utilities prevent bird electrocutions and ensure reliable power delivery were issued Tuesday by a committee composed of members of the electricity industry and several government agencies.

The Avian Power Line Interaction Committee - comprised of members from the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Edison Electric Institute and 18 electric utilities - released 2006 Suggested Practices for Avian Protection on Power Lines.

The guidelines say that power line structures can present electrocution hazards to birds when less than adequate separation exists between energized conductors or between energized conductors and hardware or grounded conductors and hardware.

The guidelines recommend a 60 inch separation for eagles, to make way for their broad wingspan.

Avian safe power structures can be provided by increasing separations, covering energized parts and/or grounded parts with materials that will prevent contact with birds, and applying perch management techniques, the guidelines recommend.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first began working with the electric utility industry in the early 1970s. Officially the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee was formed in 1989.

Committee membership now includes representatives from the 18 investor-owned utilities, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Electric Power Research Institute, two federal utility agencies.

"For nearly three decades, this group of industry and conservation partners has been working in earnest to minimize bird and power line conflicts," said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett. "The publication offers the latest techniques to both protect birds and ensure reliable electricity distribution at the same time."

"The 2006 Suggested Practices manual, while a significant tool and advancement of our collective knowledge, is just the latest success from this long-term partnership involving utilities, conservation interests and regulatory groups," said Brad Loveless of Westar Energy in Kansas and president of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee. "When we share information and concerns, we find our best solutions."

"Last year, power companies significantly stepped up their commitments to avian protection by agreeing to develop and implement new conservation measures," Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn said. "The 2006 Suggested Practices guide reflects the most effective engineering practices available and provides detailed technical guidance to help utilities reach their conservation and system reliability goals."

An interactive website for the 2006 Suggested Practices document is online at: www.aplic.org

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Iowa to Host Cellulosic Ethanol Production by 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - Broin Companies plans to invest $200 million in a cellulose-to-ethanol facility that will be built in Emmetsburg, Iowa, by 2009. Broin is the largest dry mill ethanol producer in the United States.

The company announced on Monday that it will begin construction in February on a project to convert its Emmetsburg ethanol plant, which currently produces 50 million gallons per year (mgpy) of corn ethanol, into a biorefinery that will produce 125 mgpy of ethanol from corn fiber and stover.

The manufacture of ethanol from non-food agricultural waste allows the edible part of the corn plants to be used for food, while making automotive fuel from the remains.

Broin expects to use new technology that will be able to produce 27 percent more ethanol from an acre of corn while consuming only 17 percent of the energy used in corn-to-ethanol facilities.

The technology was developed under a five year research initiative that was jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DOE.

Broin worked with DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and South Dakota State University to develop a process that separates cellulosic biomass, such as corn fiber, into its constituent parts.

The announcement came during a joint press conference at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines with Jeff Broin, CEO of Broin Companies, Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack, and Iowa Governor-Elect Chet Culver.

“I want to congratulate the Broin Companies and the people of Emmetsburg for this exciting investment in Iowa’s renewable energy future,” said Culver. “This plant represents exactly the kind of advancement in the alternative fuels industry that I will make the focus of our economic development efforts."

Broin is a leading ethanol producer, managing 18 corn ethanol plants in the United States while marketing one billion gallons of ethanol per year.

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California to Evaluate 350 Miles of Urban Levees

SACRAMENTO, California, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - Beginning next week, the California Department of Water Resources, DWR, will undertake a $35 million project to evaluate 350 miles of levees that protect urban communities.

The agency and its contractors will perform exploration, testing and analysis on state and federal levees that stretch from Lathrop to Marysville in the Central Valley.

"We have successfully completed repairs to many levees with visible damage," said DWR Director Lester Snow. "But we know there are also hidden defects in levees that we need to address in order to better protect the public and communities in the Central Valley."

One of the goals of the levee evaluation program is to identify "urban levees" that provide less than a 200 year level of flood protection.

An urban levee is one that protects communities of at least 10,000 people. DWR will also identify or prepare preliminary designs of projects that will bring these levees up to the 200 year standard.

Funding will come from Assembly Bill 142, which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law last May. It appropriates $500 million from the General Fund to the Department of Water Resources for levee evaluation and repair along with other flood control system improvements.

In February, Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency, launching an unprecedented effort to improve the state’s flood control system. State and federal agencies then identified and have now repaired 29 severely damaged levees.

Voter approval of Proposition IE and Proposition 84, both of which were supported by the governor, will provide nearly $5 billion in new funding for further facilities that Snow calls "essential."

The DWR’s levee exploration program will look primarily for conditions of underseepage. Under these conditions, water passes beneath and/or through a levee, causing weakening or erosion of a levee that otherwise appears sound.

URS Corporation, an environmental and engineering consulting firm that specializes in serving government agencies and the U.S. Armed Forces, will serve as the primary contractor on the levee evaluation program.

The company offers expertise in stormwater and watershed management, flood control, water quality monitoring, and environmental planning and permitting.

Initial test drilling will take place in the Marysville and West Sacramento areas. Maps of the sections of levees that will be evaluated under this new program are available at: www.levees.water.ca.gov.

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