AmeriScan: October 5, 2006

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U.S., Indianapolis Agree to $1.8 Billion Sewer Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - To settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, he city of Indianapolis has agreed to spend $1.86 billion over the next 20 years on improvements to its sewage system. The settlement, announced today by the U.S. Justice Department, is the third largest in the history of the Clean Water Act.

"With today's consent decree, the city of Indianapolis is taking an important step toward complying with the Clean Water Act," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that we have reached a resolution to these matters, and that city has agreed to make the necessary improvements and committed funds to ensure significant improvements to reduce untreated sewer discharges."

The settlement is related to the city's operation of its combined municipal wastewater and sewer system. Older parts of the system route both sewage and stormwater - when it overloads, the combined overflow is discharged into the White River and its tributaries. The overflows occur about 60 times a year, discharging some eight billion gallons of untreated sewage.

The Justice Department has alleged that these discharges violate discharge permits under the federal Clean Water Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, which must still be approved by federal court, Indianapolis will make the improvements over twenty years to reduce the overflows down to four or fewer per year.

The improvements are expected to ultimately reduce the volume of Indianapolis' untreated combined sewer overflow discharges by 7.2 billion gallons in an average year.

The city will also pay penalties of $588,900 each to the United States and Indiana, and spend $2 million on a project to eliminate failing septic systems.

"Through this agreement, Indianapolis has shown a real commitment to get rid of its long-standing sewage problems," said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The EPA agreement will not only ensure compliance with the law, it will also benefit the citizens by significantly improving water quality in the White River and its tributaries, which are important natural resources and great assets to the city."

Although EPA is not aware of any health problems from sewage overflow in Indianapolis, nationwide, sewer overflows can lead to outbreaks of disease from such substances as E.coli bacteria and cryptosporidium.

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California Sued for Fish Stocking

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - A lawsuit filed today by environmentalists challenges the California Department of Fish and Game for allegedly failing to consider the impacts of fish stocking on imperiled aquatic species.

"Numerous studies demonstrate that stocking introduced trout in California's lakes and rivers has serious impacts on native fish and amphibians and is contributing to a number of species' slide towards extinction," Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "Yet Fish and Game has never analyzed or mitigated the impacts of stocking on California's aquatic ecosystems or natural heritage."

The legal challenge was brought under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which requires the state agency to determine whether its fish stocking program has a significant effect on the environment and if so, prepare an environmental impact report.

The lawsuit seeks a moratorium on fish stocking where imperiled species occur until the department completes the required analysis under CEQA.

The agency can then use the analysis to determine where stocking may be appropriate and where it needs to be eliminated to avoid wildlife impacts.

"Indiscriminate fish stocking is continuing to harm California's native species and the web of life they depend on for survival," said Deanna Spooner, conservation director for Pacific Rivers Council, also a plaintiff in the case. "If Fish and Game doesn't take immediate steps to reform its stocking program, then imperiled species like the mountain yellow-legged frog may go extinct in my lifetime."

The groups submitted comments in August 2005 and again in July 2006 requesting that Fish and Game initiate environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The comments included data showing that fish stocking in 2005 occurred in at least 47 water bodies where 36 imperiled species occur, including a number of federally listed threatened and endangered species.

Many scientists have documented the link between fish stocking and amphibian declines in remote, well-protected wilderness areas of the Sierra Nevada, including Dr. Vance Vredenburg of the University of California at Berkeley.

"This mountain range contains some of the largest tracts of roadless land in the lower 48 states, yet some amphibian species have disappeared in these seemingly pristine areas while other species occupying the same habitat remain abundant," Vredenburg said. "Introduced trout are a big factor in these declines."

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Global Warming Could Decimate Appalachian Trout

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - Rising temperatures will lead to loss of trout habitat in the southern Appalachians and could decimate the region's trout population, according to research by the U.S. Forest Service. The study projects that between 53 and 97 percent of natural trout populations in the Southern Appalachians could disappear due to the warmer temperatures predicted under two different global climate circulation models.

For an article published October 2 in the online version of the Transactions of the "American Fisheries Society," Forest Service research biologist Patricia Flebbe mapped out trout habitat in a future, warmer climate.

The three species of trout that live in the Southern Appalachians - native brook and the introduced rainbow and brown trout - all require relatively low stream temperatures to survive.

Average air temperature in the United States has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years, and is projected to increase 5.4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, causing a corresponding warming of stream temperatures.

"Trout species in the Southern Appalachians are already at the southern limits of their ranges," Flebbe said. "If temperatures warm as much as predicted, trout habitat in the region will definitely shrink."

Trout habitat in the Southern Appalachians is already fragmented due to land use change, road building, channelization, and other disturbances. Under both temperature change scenarios, this fragmentation would increase.

"As the remaining habitat for trout becomes more fragmented, only small refuges in headwater streams at the highest levels will remain," Flebbe said. "Small populations in isolated patches can be easily lost, and in a warmer climate, could simply die out."

"Although all three of these trout species will probably remain viable in other parts of their range, the world could lose the brook trout strain unique to the region," she said. "And, as a result, trout fishing in the Southern Appalachians may become a heavily managed experience."

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Alaskans Worried by Warming

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - Alaskans are feeling the heat of global warming, a new study finds. The study reports that most Alaskans believe global warming is happening and is a serious threat to the state.

The statewide survey, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University, was commissioned by Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz of Decision Research, a non-profit scientific research institute. The survey of more than 1,000 Alaska residents was conducted this summer by the Craciun Research Group.

"Across the board, no matter what political affiliation or ethnic background, Alaskans are united in their concern about the impacts of global warming," said Jean Craciun, research director for CRG.

The survey found that most Alaskans believe global warming is already having major impacts, including the loss of sea ice, melting permafrost, coastal erosion, and forest fires, among other impacts.

Many surveyed expect that global warming will have dangerous impacts on Alaskans within the next 10 years and the majority report that global warming is a serious threat to themselves and their families, their local communities, Alaska as a whole, the United States, other countries, and to plants and animals. Some 70 percent of rural Alaskans, compared to about half of urban residents, rate warming a serious problem.

The survey also finds that most Alaskans support the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and the signing of international treaties to reduce emissions, but oppose higher taxes on electricity or gasoline.

In addition, 41 percent of rural residents and 22 percent of urban Alaskans think global warming could be good for the state.

"With governments now debating what to do about global warming, decisions that will affect Alaska for generations to come hang in the balance - and Alaskans are clearly paying attention," said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, the lead study investigator.

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Early Corn Planting Could Curb Future Yields

MADISON, Wisconsin, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - U.S. corn farmers are planting seeds much earlier than they did 30 years ago in an ongoing bid to grow more corn, a new study finds. The earlier plantings have likely contributed to the increasing corn yields of recent decades, the study's author said, but that trend can only last for so long.

"Earlier plantings really can't continue forever because ultimately, farmers will have to contend with wintertime conditions and frozen soils," said Christopher Kucharik, a terrestrial ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Several decades from now we might see an unexpected drop in annual yield increases when this trend plateaus, which could then increase the threat to our food supply."

The study appears in the current issue of the "Agronomy Journal."

Kucharik studied three decades of agricultural records and discovered that farmers in 12 U.S. states now put corn in the ground around two weeks earlier than they did during the late 1970s.

The Corn Belt is centered in Iowa and Illinois - it extends into Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Kucharik had initially set out to explore the wider influence of climate change on agricultural yields, but as he analyzed census data he noticed that over the decades, farmers have been planting most of their corn crops earlier and earlier in the year.

At first, he speculated that the pattern was simply a result of earlier springtime temperatures brought on by global warming. But on probing the last 30 years of the climate record, Kucharik found little proof that warmer weather motivated the early plantings.

"There is very weak or little to no correlation with springtime temperatures over the majority of the Corn Belt and these [earlier] planting dates," Kucharik said.

Other factors - such as improved land management practices and advances in biotechnology - have been far more instrumental in the decision to sow seeds earlier from year to year, he explained.

Kucharik said corn farmers should be careful, because nature's seasonal clock can only be manipulated so much.

"If you start to shift a plant's development too early, it may start to get out of synch with the seasonal climate it is accustomed to," he said.

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Outdoor Retailer REI Goes Green

SEATTLE, Washington, October 5, 2006 (ENS) - Outdoor retail giant Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), has announced a partnership with an environmental foundation to offset the greenhouse gas emissions caused by all its adventure trips and school outings. The deal was struck with Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), an organization that markets green power products and funds new renewable energy projects.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of top renewable energy purchasers, the agreement would place REI among the 20 largest purchasers nationally.

Starting in 2007, REI Adventures will purchase BEF Green Tags, or renewable energy credits, to offset the greenhouse gas impacts of air, water and ground travel associated with all excursions. BEF Green Tags are created when renewable energy such as solar and wind power are substituted to local utilities for energy generated by burning fossil fuels which are linked to global warming.

Each BEF Green Tag offsets the carbon produced by 1,030 miles of air travel, and is equivalent to 1,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy.

REI Adventures - the company's travel arm - expects to purchase more than 52,000 BEF Green Tags in the coming year, offsetting more than 36,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

"In the growing field of sustainable travel, REI Adventures stands out for its level of commitment. Some travel providers are offering green travel at a more modest level, or as an optional purchase, but REI Adventures is the first to automatically offset the global warming impacts of its entire catalog of trips - including air travel to and from the trip destination," said Tom Starrs, vice president of marketing and sales for BEF. "In addition, REI Adventures' pioneering initiative will increase awareness of the environmental impacts of travel and tourism, encouraging others - individuals and businesses alike - to follow its lead. This program really is a different, deeper shade of green."

Beyond travel, BEF is offering REI customers the opportunity to purchase BEF Green Tags to offset the environmental impacts of the energy they use in their homes and for commuting. In return, customers will receive a $20 REI Gift Card from BEF for a Green Tag purchase of $120 or more, and a $40 REI Gift Card for a purchase of $200 or more.

As part of the REI Adventures partnership, beginning next year BEF will donate 10 percent of its revenue from REI Adventures and all REI customer purchases to annually fund a renewable energy project - including the development of a local infrastructure for ongoing maintenance and support - in a country where REI Adventures leads trips.