AmeriScan: October 20, 2006

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California Frog Granted Protection From Pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity has reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will protect the threatened California red-legged frog from 66 pesticides.

The agreement, signed this week and expected to be approved by a U.S. District Court, prohibits use of these pesticides in and adjacent to core red-legged frog habitats throughout California until the EPA completes formal consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the chemicals are not jeopardizing or contributing to the decline of the species.

"This agreement will keep toxic chemicals out of essential habitats for the vanishing red-legged frog," said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Historically abundant throughout California, red-legged frogs have declined in numbers over 90 percent and have disappeared from 70 percent of their former range.

The species was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1996.

Suburban sprawl, water diversion and agriculture are responsible for much of the decline, but studies have also implicated pesticide drift from the farms in California's Central Valley in disproportional declines of several native frog species in the Sierra Nevada, including red-legged frogs.

The agreement is a result of a lawsuit filed by CBD against the EPA in 2002. In September 2005, the court ruled that EPA had violated the Endangered Species Act by registering pesticides for use without considering how they might impact the continued existence of the red-legged frog.

The agreement requires the EPA formally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of the 66 pesticides on the species within three years. In addition, it prohibits prohibit interim use of the pesticides within and adjacent to red-legged frog habitats, specifically designated critical habitat areas, aquatic features and upland habitats occupied by the frogs, and mandates mandate pesticide-free buffer zones adjoining frog habitats.

"There is overwhelming evidence that numerous pesticides have potentially serious impacts on red-legged frogs and other declining amphibians in California, and the EPA must now assess those impacts," said CBD spokesman Jeff Miller. "The pesticide restrictions will stay in effect until consultations are complete. Informed consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service should result in permanent restrictions on many of the proven harmful contaminants such as atrazine."

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Harmful Algae Blooms Blossom in Florida Waters

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - Human pollution is driving a dramatic increase in the number, size and duration of harmful algal blooms in Florida's lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.

The extent of the blooms in Florida are highlighted in documents released this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Algae are a natural part of virtually all aquatic ecosystems and blooms occur when an algae population accelerates dramatically. An algal bloom can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on conditions. The dying algae bacteria often release toxins that cause liver and nerve damage. Algal bloom toxins are linked to auto-immune disorders in mammals, from manatees to humans.

Of the 100 known species of what are called harmful algal blooms, where the bloom kills or damages aquatic life, 70 are indigenous to Florida with 50 marine/estuarine varieties and 20 freshwater species.

These harmful blooms have been on the rise in Florida waters in recent years, according to government reports.

Red tides, a form of marine algae blooms, have grown 15-fold since the 1950's in the coastal waters of Southwest Florida. The duration and intensity of harmful algal Blooms are increasing and there is growing scientific consensus is that pollution is the trigger for these larger, more long-lasting and more toxic episodes.

"From Tampa to the Bay of Biscayne, algal blooms have driven tourists, fishermen and residents out of inland and coastal waters in record numbers," said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former water enforcement attorney with the state Department of Environmental Protection. "These algal blooms are the chickens coming home to roost for decades of an utterly broken state water quality program."

According to government reports, harmful blooms have lingered in Florida's waters since mid-May. During the past few months, whole sections of the state's coast, as well as rivers and lakes, have been off-limits for human contact.

The algal blooms have become most acute along the southwest coast of Florida, which has seen its population grow nearly 50-fold in recent decades.

PEER says Florida officials are denying the connection between harmful blooms and human pollution, instead blaming hurricanes and weather cycles, rather than rising nutrient levels in waters discharged into sensitive estuaries.

"Florida's public health and environmental response to algal blooms has been directed by a Chamber of Commerce mentality in which these outbreaks are portrayed as short-lived weather-driven phenomena rather than as a product of pollution run amuck," Phillips added. "The regular and rising diversion of Lake Okeechobee's filthy waters into our estuaries is a giant algal bloom factory operating full tilt in the heart of the state."

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Pennsylvania Board Approves Mercury Plan

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - Pennsylvania's Environmental Quality Board has approved a plan that aims to cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania by 90 percent by 2015.

The 20-member board is an independent regulatory review panel. It voted 17-3 to approve the state plan, which drew 10,934 responses - a record for a rulemaking in Pennsylvania - during a public comment period that included three hearings in July.

The vast majority of the public comments detailed support for the plan. Rendell, a Democrat, offered the plan after expressing disappointment with the federal mercury emissions standards finalized last year by the Bush administration.

The two-step state-specific plan requires an 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2010, and a 90 percent reduction by 2015. Trading of mercury allowances is prohibited.

"This is a tremendous victory for public health, the environment and our economy," Rendell said. "Efforts to attract new investment and keep young people here are undermined as families and businesses understand that Pennsylvania is laden with more toxic mercury pollution than nearly anywhere else in the U.S. Our residents deserve better."

Other approvals, including that by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), still are needed before the EQB action is final.

"I know that IRRC members already have invested a great deal of time with the Department of Environmental Protection and others in review of this state-specific plan," Governor Rendell said. "It is my hope that like the Environmental Quality Board, IRRC similarly will support this rule that means so much for our commonwealth and its residents."

Pennsylvania must submit its plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by November 17, describing how the state will implement and enforce its own more protective standards for coal-fired power plants.

"This is a substantive rule that has undergone exhaustive review," Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said. "What is clear is that the public health and environmental benefits that Pennsylvania will achieve by taking effective action to reduce mercury emissions are significant."

Pennsylvania has 36 plants with 78 electric generating units that represent 20,000 megawatts of capacity. The commonwealth is second, behind only Texas, both in terms of total mercury emissions from all sources and the total amount of mercury pollution coming from power plants. Nearly 80 percent of the 5 tons of mercury emitted in Pennsylvania comes from power plants.

EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds found that a 30 percent to 100 percent reduction of mercury emissions nationally would translate into a $600 million to $2 billion cost savings. The cost savings were attributed largely to reduced health risks, including cardiovascular disease.

Exposure to mercury, usually through eating contaminated fish, can cause permanent harm neurological damage in humans and reproductive harm in wildlife. Young children whose brains are still developing, and women of childbearing age are most at risk from the toxic metal.

The Bush administration's decision to implement a federal mercury emissions trading plan has drawn sharp criticism from virtually all interested parties bar industry. A coalition of states and environmentalists has sued to block the rule, which was developed under a cloud of controversy.

A report by the EPA Inspector General found that senior agency officials manipulated the development of the mercury rule to ease to favor the emissions trading plan and another report by the Government Accountability Office determined the agency's economic analysis of the mercury rule was seriously flawed.

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Brick Plant Fueled by Landfill Gas

MOODY, Alabama, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - An Alabama brick manufacturing plant has been sited and built next to a landfill specifically to use the landfill gas as fuel. The siting of the new Jenkins Brick Company's $56 million manufacturing plant marks the first time a major U.S. industrial facility has been put next to a landfill for this purpose.

The plan use landfill gas to fuel its kilns, satisfying 40 percent of the plant's energy needs initially, with 100 percent projected in 10 years as the landfill grows. The project will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 62,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, the equivalent of planting nearly 14,700 acres of forest.

Jenkins Brick and Veolia Environmental Services, the owner of the landfill providing the gas, partnered with EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) to create a first of its kind landfill gas energy project. The facility is expected to benefit the local economy by creating approximately 55 new jobs.

Methane is the primary component of landfill gas, which results from the natural break-down of buried waste in a landfill. Reducing methane emissions provides immediate environmental benefits because methane, a greenhouse gas, is over 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide at capturing heat in the atmosphere.

"Our years-long cooperation with EPA's LMOP program has provided us with valuable technical expertise as we identify ways to save money -- and the environment," said Mike Jenkins IV, CEO of Jenkins Brick Company. "In building this innovative facility, our American-owned company shows that it is much more than a brick manufacturer and distributor."

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson hailed the new plant.

"For centuries, bricks have been the building blocks of society, and now, by turning landfill waste into wealth, Jenkins Brick is also helping build a clean and plentiful energy supply for America," Johnson said.

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Global Warming Changing the Business Climate

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - Companies are increasingly recognizing that implementing sustainable business practices isn't just good for the environment - it can also be good for the bottom line, according to a study released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

"If you look at what is happening today at the state level and in the Congress, a proactive approach in the policy arena clearly makes sound business sense" said the Pew Center's Eileen Claussen. "In the corporate world, inaction is no longer an option."

The report, authored by Andrew Hoffman of the University of Michigan, lays out a step-by-step approach for companies to reshape their core business strategies in order to succeed in a future marketplace where greenhouse gases are regulated and carbon-efficiency is in demand.

It is based on a 31-company survey and six in-depth case studies of Alcoa, Cinergy, DuPont, Shell, Swiss Re and Whirlpool.

The study shows a growing consensus among corporate leaders that taking action on climate change is a sensible business decision. Many of the companies highlighted in the report are shifting their focus from managing the financial risks of climate change to exploiting new business opportunities for energy efficient and low-carbon products and services.

One of the clearest conclusions is that businesses need to engage actively with government in the development of climate policy. Of 31 major corporations polled by the report author, nearly all companies believe that federal greenhouse gas standards are imminent, and 84 percent of these companies believe regulations will take effect before 2015. The report offers policy makers insight into how companies are moving forward on climate change and how they can most effectively engage in the policy discussion.

"The companies in this report believe a proactive approach is necessary to prepare for the coming market transformation and that doing nothing means missing myriad near-term financial opportunities and setting themselves up for long-term political, operational and financial challenges," Hoffman added. "The rules of the game are changing and companies ignore these changes at their peril."

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Remarkable Bacteria Found Deep Below Earth's Surface

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana, October 20, 2006 (ENS) - Scientists exploring a South African gold mine some 2 miles below the surface have discovered a self-sustaining community of bacteria that relies on radioactive uranium to convert water molecules to useable energy. The bacteria are apparently millions of years old and their existence adds credibility to the belief that life exists in deep below the surface of Mars and other planets.

"We know surprisingly little about the origin, evolution and limits for life on Earth," said coauthor Lisa Pratt a biochemist at the Indiana University at Bloomington. "Scientists are just beginning to study the diverse organisms living in the deepest parts of the ocean. The rocky crust on Earth is virtually unexplored at depths more than half a kilometer below the surface. The organisms we describe in this paper live in a completely different world than the one we know at the surface."

The research team, which published its findings this week in the journal "Science," made discovered the new bacteria after sampling flowing fracture water deep inside the mine many times over 54 days to determine whether the community of microbes, if present, changed in composition and character, and to determine whether contamination had occurred.

The researchers also examined the age of the fracture water and its chemical composition. This fracture water contained hydrocarbons and hydrogen not likely to have been created through biological processes, but rather from decomposition of water exposed to radiation from uranium-bearing rocks.

High density DNA microarray analysis revealed a vast number of bacterial species present, but the samples were dominated by a single new species related to hydrothermal vent bacteria from the division Firmicutes.

The ancient age of the fracture water and comparative DNA analysis of the bacterial genes suggests subsurface Firmicutes were removed from contact with their surface cousins anywhere from 3 million to 25 million years ago.

The bacteria's rocky living space is a metamorphosed basalt that is about 2.7 billion years old. How surface-related Firmicutes and other species managed to colonize an area so deep within Earth's crust is a mystery, the researchers said.

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