AmeriScan: October 16, 2006

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Hawaii Rocked by Earthquake

KONA, Hawaii, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - A 6.7-magnitude earthquake rocked the islands of Hawaii early Sunday morning, causing landslides and a statewide blackout. No fatalities have been reported from the quake, the largest to hit Hawaii in more than two decades.

Hawaiian officials on Monday reported that only 25 people suffered minor injuries from the quake, which hit the state at 7:07 a.m. Sunday, about six miles from Kona, on the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

A second quake of 5.8-magnitude hit seven minutes later and aftershocks continued throughout the day, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, including one measuring a magnitude of 4.2. Officials said there was no danger of a tsunami hitting the islands.

Power went out across the eight islands of Hawaii, largely because of automatic triggers at power plants designed to shut down if a large quake is detected. Electricity had been restored to much of the state by Monday.

Earthquakes are not uncommon in Hawaii, which sits on a chain of volcanoes, but large ones are still quite rare. USGS reported that the quake was trigged by was triggered by tectonic movement, not volcanic activity.

The last large earthquake to hit Hawaii came in 1983 - a 6.7-magnitude quake that also rocked the Big Island. The largest quake on record, a 7.9-magnitude, hit in 1868 and triggered a tsunami and major landslides, killing 31 people.

Officials began surveying the damage Monday. Early estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated 170 bridges could have been damaged by the quake.

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Tiny Plants Stir Ocean, Affect Climate

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - The microscopic plants that form the vast foundation of the marine food chain generate five times the annual total power consumption of the human world, according to a new study by a team of oceanographers.

The study estimates the yearly amount of chemical power stored by phytoplankton in the form of new organic matter is roughly 63 terawatts - one terawatt equals a trillion watts. In 2001, humans collectively consumed 13.5 terawatts.

The study also found that the marine biosphere - the chain of sea life anchored by phytoplankton - invests around one percent, or 1 terawatt, of its chemical power fortune in mechanical energy. This energy is manifested in the swimming motions of hungry ocean swimmers ranging from whales and fish to shrimp and krill. Those swimming motions mix the water much as cream is stirred into coffee by swiping a spoon through it, the researchers explained, and the sum of all that phytoplankton-fueled stirring may equal climate control.

"By interpreting existing data in a different way, we have predicted theoretically that the amount of mixing caused by ocean swimmers is comparable to the deep ocean mixing caused by the wind blowing on the ocean surface and the effects of the tides," said lead author William Dewar of Florida State University.

Biosphere mixing appears to provide about one third the power required to bring the deep, cold waters of the world ocean to the surface, which in turn completes the ocean's conveyor belt circulation critical to the global climate system, DeWar explained.

Findings from the study will appear in the forthcoming issue of the "Journal of Marine Research."

Scientists for some time have known that the highly sensitive plants act as reliable signals of environmental changes at or near the ocean surface through sudden declines or rapid growth. Furthermore, they have suspected that phytoplankton affect as well as reflect climate change when large, sustained plant populations gulp carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during grand-scale photosynthesis.

But along with the new calculations that point to the marine biosphere's bigger-than-expected role in ocean mixing and climate control, Dewar and his colleagues also suggest that human and environmental decimation of whale and big fish populations may have had a measurable impact on the total biomixing occurring in the world's oceans.

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Report Warns Electric Grid Needs Attention

PRINCETON, New Jersey, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - The North American power grid needs major investments in new power generation and the transmission system if it is to remain reliable, according to a report released Monday by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

The group was asked by the federal government in the wake of the massive blackout of August 2003 to oversee reliability of the electric grid.

The 2003 blackout left some 50 million people across eight U.S. states from Michigan to New York and the Canadian province of Ontario. Power was not restored to some parts of the United States for four days and the blackout cost the two nations as much as $10 billion combined.

"Our economy and quality of life are more reliant on electricity every day, yet the operation and planning for a reliable and adequate electricity system is becoming increasingly difficult," said Rick Sergel, president and CEO of NERC. "These convergent trends require industry and government to work together to adopt a longer-term, more coordinated planning strategy. This report is intended to provide a factual basis for implementing such a strategy."

The assessment warns that demand for electricity is expected to increase by 19 percent in the United States over the next decade, but confirmed power capacity is set to increase by only 6 percent.

Capacity margins are projected to drop below minimum reliability targets in Texas, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest during the next two to three years. Projected margins are adequate in Canada, expect for the western region of the country, where additional resources will be needed as soon as 2008, the report said.

The transmission system is also in need of additional investment, as expansion and strengthening of the system continues to lag demand growth and expansion of generating resources in most areas, NERC warned. Total transmission miles are projected to increase by less than 7 percent in the United States and by only 3.5 percent in Canada through 2015.

The report recommends additional power generation facilities, new transmission and upgraded transmission facilities, greater energy efficiency measures and stronger contracts for the reliable supply and delivery of fuel to power generation facilities.

"Smart growth of the system requires diverse solutions," Sergel said. "A reliable and adequate electricity system depends on a combination of adequate generation and transmission, diversified fuel sources, energy efficiency, demand response, and other industry/ customer programs. This will require a concerted effort by industry, government and customers."

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U.S. Pledges $13 Million for Solar Energy Projects

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman last week announced more than $13 million in funding for solar technologies. The funding is part of the administration's Solar America Initiative and will support the development of more efficient solar panels, known as photovoltaic devices.

The initiative aims to make solar power cost competitive with conventional electricity sources by 2015, by developing materials that convert sunlight directly to electricity.

"This investment is a major step in our mission to bring clean, renewable solar power to the nation," Bodman said. "If we are able to harness more of the sun's power and use it to provide energy to homes and businesses, we can increase our energy diversity and strengthen our nation's energy security."

The $13 million in funding includes about $4.5 million to be awarded for fiscal year 2007. The money will support a number of projects, including the Solar Codes and Standards Working Group Leadership, which will create and operate a national working group to manage solar codes and standards.

The 5-year project will assist in the implementation, development of codes and standards studies, and the monitoring of emerging codes and standards issues.

Another project earmarked for funding will focus on the creation of a national voluntary photovoltaic module rating standard, including performance, reliability, safety, anticipated degradations and operational limits, as well as the establishment of testing procedures and protocols for the standard's use. The project is planned to last three years, at $1 million per year, for a total project value of $3 million.

The funding will also aid a city strategic partnership initiative, whereby the Energy Department will work to accelerate the adoption of solar technology at the local level by engaging city governments and users of electricity. The cost-shared project is two years in duration and has a total project value of $3.2 million.

Bodman made the announcement at last week's government-sponsored renewable energy conference in St. Louis. He also pledged $17.5 million for 17 biomass research, development and demonstration projects and $4 million for biomass genomics research.

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States Plan Klamath River Summit

SACRAMENTO, California, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - Oregon and California will hold a summit later this year to address issues that affect the health of the Klamath River Basin, as well as environmental and economic concerns for fishermen, tribes, and hydroelectric power producers who have a stake in basin management.

The announcement to hold a summit was made last week by Oregon's Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

"The Klamath Basin Summit will set our region on a course for improving the health of Oregon's salmon and agricultural economy," Kulongoski said. "Together, I know we can forge a sustainable future for the Klamath that meets our long-term environmental and economic needs."

The Klamath Summit builds on earlier calls by the states for direct federal assistance for the West Coast fishery emergency. It also follows last month's West Coast Governors' Agreement on Ocean Health.

"Both our states are recognized leaders in protecting our environment," Schwarzenegger said, "and I look forward to working with Governor Kulongoski to develop a plan that will protect these valuable natural resources while balancing our needs as responsible stewards of the environment."

Both U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez support the summit and will work with the states to resolve important issues in the Klamath Basin, the governors' offices confirmed. The summit will include stakeholder organizations and interests, including fisherman, irrigators, tribes, PacifiCorp, environmental organizations and state and federal partners.

The exact date and place of the summit will depend on the ability of interested stakeholders and members of Congress to attend. Governor Kulongoski has proposed Klamath Falls, Oregon, as the location, and December as the target date for the summit.

To ensure that the Klamath Summit produces results, the governors have asked stakeholders to present specific proposals and legislative concepts for consideration by the states and the federal government. Stakeholders will also work to identify priority issues and areas of mutual agreement before the summit convenes.

"Our two states are working together to resolve extremely complex problems and concerns," Kulongoski said. "We've partnered to establish a 'clean-car corridor,' fight global warming and protect our oceans. Governor Schwarzenegger and I understand that our states are stronger when we coordinate our efforts."

Interconnected water, energy, fishing, wildlife habitat, tribal land use and agricultural issues add to the complexity of the challenges in the Klamath Basin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently issued a draft environmental impact report that allows re-licensing of several Klamath Basin dams, but the report also suggests removing two of these dams as one alternative to restoring water quality and access for fish to suitable habitat.

Though many advocates call for removing dams and restoring the river, PacifiCorp is seeking the re-licensing of several hydro projects on the Klamath River. In a recent letter to Congress, state and federal officials projected a drop in the commercial Klamath Basin salmon catch.

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Oregon Keen on Wave Energy

SALEM, Oregon, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, has announced his support for what will be the nation's first offshore wave energy project. The project has been proposed for waters off the coast of Reedsport, Oregon.

"I want Oregon to launch a new wave of alternative energy development, and I mean that literally," Kulongoski said. "By tapping the energy of ocean waves, we can move Oregon toward national leadership in renewable energy technology. Oregon's investment in energy security will mean a healthier environment, a more reliable supply of home-grown energy, and good jobs for our state."

Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) has received a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to develop a project off Reedsport. The company now must develop an application for a long-term license to install power-generation buoys offshore.

Kulongoski said he is committed to working with OPT on this effort, and has designated the proposal an "Oregon Solutions" project in a bid to generate support from local government, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The designation enables stakeholders and interested parties to work together on deciding what terms the FERC license should include - reaching such a consensus will shorten the licensing process and speed actual development of the project.

The Reedsport project will complement other efforts to develop ocean wave energy in Oregon. The Oregon Innovation Council recently proposed $5.2 million in state funding jumpstart Oregon's wave energy sector, and the Kulongoski has pledged to include this funding in the budget he presents to the legislature in 2007.

"We appreciate the Governor's commitment to wave energy and his assistance in creating a process to develop consensus around OPT's project that creates jobs and economic growth in the Reedsport area," said Dr. George Taylor, CEO of Ocean Power Technologies. "It's a project that serves a real need in the energy market, while protecting Oregon's precious ocean resources."

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New Jersey Tightens Water Quality Rules

TRENTON, New Jersey, October 16, 2006 (ENS) - New Jersey officials have announced the final adoption of regulations that aim to upgrade the state's surface water quality standards to achieve cleaner water statewide.

The newly adopted rules establish more stringent standards for more than 100 toxic pollutants to protect human health and a broad range of aquatic species. Discharge permits will be revised to ensure compliance with these tougher standards, which are based on updated scientific information.

"With these upgraded standards, we can safeguard our public drinking water supplies and protect critical habitats for threatened and endangered species," said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

Under the new rules, DEP will apply new temperature criteria to protect trout production streams. The adopted rules also establish more stringent criteria for dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and total suspended solids for all streams that receive upgraded protection based on their ability to support trout populations. These more stringent criteria apply to all dischargers who require a DEP surface water discharge permit and are located on an upgraded water body.

The new rules also establish upgraded criteria for mercury and PCBs, as well as a new monitoring requirement. Dischargers will now be required to use more sensitive analytical methods for monitoring mercury and PCBs, enabling DEP to better identify and track reductions in PCB and mercury levels.

With this adoption, five streams will receive a Category 1 (C1) designation, which prevents any measurable deterioration in existing water quality, limiting development impacts and discharges to streams. The five streams, totaling 12 miles, received the upgraded classification based on their trout production status. The designations were based on stream sampling data collected by DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

The five streams are: Beech Brook in West Milford; a section of the Saddle River in Upper Saddle River; Stone House Brook in Butler; a section of the Wanaque River in Pompton Lakes; and Wanaque River Tributary in Hewitt.