House Rejects Standalone Reliability ProposalWASHINGTON, DC, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - Dispute over the energy bill continued in Congress today, as House Republicans defeated a proposal to separate legislation that would enact federally mandated electricity transmission standards. Democrats say the energy bill is a controversial proposition with no guarantee of passage and argue that there is broad bipartisan consensus that the transmission rules are needed in the wake of last month's historic blackout.
But Republicans rejected the measure and held strong on their belief that the rules should be included in the final energy bill. They say passage of the entire energy bill, which includes large subsidies for energy production as well as reliability rules, is long overdue and that there is no reason for separate legislation.
The measure would have directed the Congressional conference committee charged with reconciling rival Senate and House Energy bills to quickly pass separate legislation It was rejected by a partisan vote of 211 to 176.
The energy conference committee met shortly after the House vote and selected Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, as its chairman.
Domenici, chair of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, said that he would not support efforts "to break out pieces."
"We are not here to pass out pieces, we are here to pass out a bill," he said before the conference of 13 senators and 53 representatives.
Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell, who introduce the House measure, reiterated his plea for a separate bill and urged Republicans to keep the conference meetings on the final energy bill open to the public.
"There is grave danger in pursuing important works behind closed doors," Dingell said.
He added that he was "troubled" by recent reports that the administration aims to add its controversial air pollution plan known as "Clear Skies" to the final energy bill.
That would "represent a terrible misuse of the legislative process," Dingell said.
Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, blasted the Republican and administration energy policy as "a smorgasbord of special interest provisions."
Markey said the conference failed to reach consensus last year because of a provision to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, billions of dollars in unnecessary tax breaks to industry and "the failure of GOP leadership to reach out and craft a truly bipartisan bill."
Domenici ignored much of the criticism from Democrats on the conference committee and said there is no need for a slew of public meetings because the energy issues have been debated far and wide by the House and the Senate.
Many Republicans agreed. Louisiana Representative Billy Tauzin said that Congress was on its 33rd month of working on a comprehensive energy bill and "it is time to get the job done."
Domenici says he hopes to have a final version of the bill passed out of the conference committee by the end of the month.
Bush Criticized For PCB ReversalWASHINGTON, DC, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - Senate Democrats say the Bush administration's decision to lift a 25 year old ban on the sale of land polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is misguided and should be investigated.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said she will call for hearings on the decision before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and plans to introduce legislation restoring the previous ban.
"This administration has shamelessly rolled back environmental laws - rule after rule, regulation after regulation - and they must be stopped," Boxer said. "This reinterpretation poses a serious threat to public health, and I plan to take action to stop this before any PCB contaminated land transfers see the light of day."
PCBs were banned in the United States in the 1977 and are among the "dirty dozen" chemical contaminants slated for global phase out under the United Nations treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs are highly persistent, and they have been linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development.
According to the internal agency memo, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined the ban was "an unnecessary barrier to redevelopment [and] may actually delay the cleanup of contaminated properties."
The memo says the agency did not make the change public because it was simply a reinterpretation of the law.
The EPA has permitted its regional offices to lift the ban if the buyer of a contaminated property is willing to clean it up and this new interpretation rests largely on that policy.
More than 1.5 billion pounds of PCBs were manufactured in the United States prior to cessation of production in 1977 and the EPA estimates more than 1,000 properties nationwide are contaminated.
Due to their non flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, in paints, plastics and rubber products, as well as in pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper and many other applications.
"It is shocking and unacceptable that this administration would put at risk our entire population, all of whom are susceptible to this most hazardous and persistent toxin," Boxer said.
EPA Refuses to Regulate Ballast WaterWASHINGTON, DC, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration said that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not regulate ballast water discharges from ships, even though many believe these discharges are a major source of invasive species and pollution.
Administration officials with the EPA say the U.S. Coast Guard is the agency that should be tasked with the regulation of ballast water from cargo ships, oil tankers and other commercial vessels.
Environmentalists are keen to have the EPA regulate ballast water discharges - the EPA estimates ships discharge 21 billion gallons of ballast water into U.S. waters each year.
Ballast water is considered the most important aquatic pathway for invasive species, which are increasingly viewed as a global environmental problem with large and long-lasting ecological and economic impacts.
For example, some 145 aquatic invasive species have found a new home in the Great Lakes, and many inland states are now struggling with rising populations of invaders, such as the zebra mussel, which can crowd out native species and dominate aquatic ecosystems.
A coalition of environmental groups sued the EPA in 2002 for failing to respond to a 1999 petition to require any vessel that discharges ballast water first obtain a Clean Water Act permit.
The administration's announcement to reject that petition is the product of a settlement approved by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on August 19 forcing the agency to make a decision.
It is expected that environmental groups will sue the EPA to require the agency to regulate ballast water.
In July the Coast Guard proposed a mandatory national ballast water management program for all vessels equipped with ballast water tanks that operate in U.S. waters and/or enter U.S. waters after operating beyond the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Vessels entering U.S. waters after operating beyond the EEZ would be required to employ at least one of the following ballast water management practices: perform complete ballast water exchange in an area no less than 200 nautical miles from any shore; retain ballast water onboard the vessel; use an alternative environmentally sound method of ballast water management that has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard prior to the vessel entering U.S. waters,; or discharge ballast water to an approved reception facility.
NASA to Aid Western Water Resource ManagersWASHINGTON, DC, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. National Atmospheric and Space Administration (NASA) and partnering agencies are pitching in to help Western water resource managers fill in information gaps that limit their ability to efficiently allocate the region's limited water resources.
NASA will provide the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water resource managers with high resolution satellite data, allowing them to analyze up to date water-related information over large areas all at once. Currently water resource managers mostly rely on data from sparsely located ground stations among the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest.
NASA satellite data are expected to fill the data gaps in mountainous and drought ridden terrain, and new computer models can let users quickly process that data.
"The latest satellites provide so much up to date and wide ranging data, which we can use in the models to monitor and better understand what is happening with the water cycle in these areas," said Kristi Arsenault, research associate for the Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS) team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The pilot program is now underway with the Rio Grande and Columbia River basins. Water is scare in these regions, but demands are not. These demands range from hydropower, to farming, fishing, boating and protecting endangered species.
"These efforts are designed to improve the efficiency of the analysis and prediction of water supply and demand using the emerging technologies of the Land Data Assimilation System," said Dr. Dave Matthews, manager of the River Systems and Meteorology Group of the Technical Services Center, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Land Surface Models (LSMs) from NASA, other agencies and universities, and NASA satellite data can be used to determine snowpack, amounts of soil moisture, and the loss of water into the atmosphere from plants and the soil.
Water resources managers say that improved understanding of these variables in the water cycle will allow them to make better decisions on water allocation.
Asian Made Mosquito Coils Contain CarcinogensRIVERSIDE, California, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - People who burn mosquito coils to keep the disease carrying insects at bay may be inhaling carcinogenic smoke, according to a new study published in the current issue of the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Not all mosquito coils emit smoke that can cause cancer, the research team found, but those made in China can contain a substance banned for sale in the United States because it is hazardous to human health.
A team of scientists at the University of California-Riverside Department of Entomology sampled more than 50 coils purchased in various retail outlets in Jakarta and Bandung, Indonesia, in addition to others purchased at several Asian markets in Southern California.
The scientists - Bob Krieger, Travis Dinoff and Xiaofei Zhang - found the mosquito coils purchased in the United States contained octachlorodipropyl ether, known as S-2, a substance not registered for any legal use in the United States, although S-2 was not listed as an ingredient. Use of those coils likely exposes those around it to bis(chloromethyl) ether, or BCME, a potent lung carcinogen.
"It is very possible that the coils are exposing users to bischloromethyl ether, also called BCME, a potent lung carcinogen," said Krieger. "High exposure can occur if the coils are used overnight, as they often are."
Because of mosquito borne diseases such as West Nile virus, the use of these mosquito coils may be on the increase.
"These coils purchased in stores in the United States do not list S-2 as an ingredient," said Krieger. "This suggests that illegal, unregistered products are able to find their way into the American market."
"Next, we plan to measure levels of BCME in indoor environments where the coils are used," said Krieger. "We hope that epidemiologists will take an interest due to the number of people exposed and the potency of BCME."
A single exposure to BCME is not likely to cause cancer, but scientists say exposure may result in the development of cancer after months to years.
The study also found that the widespread, but legal, use in Asia of these coils, a popular and effective defense against mosquito borne illnesses, may be subjecting people to cancer causing smoke, especially when they let the coils burn in bedrooms overnight.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for "Environmental Health Perspectives," says, "In both the U.S. and in other countries, we need effective systems for controlling those diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. But this study also shows that we need effective controls against illegal import and the misuse of these products in the U.S. In Asia, it seems clear that people would benefit from a different formulation of these coils, at least until safer mosquito controls can be widely accepted."
In 1998, the World Health Organization called for further research on mosquito coils so that the degree of exposure to S-2 and BCME could be determined. To date, these studies have not occurred.
Fungi Play Key Role in Tundra EcosystemsARLINGTON, Virginia, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - Populations of fungi blanketed by Colorado's snows are more active and diverse than previously thought, and are likely responsible for the productivity of the tundra ecosystem they are a part of, scientists say.
The findings were published their results in this week's issue of the journal "Science."
The discovery should help "scientists gain greater insight into decomposition rates, carbon cycles and the roles of individual fungi in those processes," said researcher Christopher Schadt of the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Schadt and his colleagues performed their research some 12,000 feet atop the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and found that the number of active microorganisms in tundra soils - for at least the top four inches - peaks when the soils are covered with snow.
The researchers explain that metabolism of snow covered microbes is an important biogeochemical "sink," or way of storing, nitrogen.
"The subsequent release in spring of nitrogen from the microbes' metabolism is a major contributor to the relatively high productivity during the short growing season in the tundra," said Steven Schmidt of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a coauthor of the "Science" paper, and leader of the research team.
Schmidt also reports the researchers found that fungi account for most of the biomass of the tundra, which undergoes significant seasonal changes.
They discovered that about 40 percent of the fungi in their samples were previously unknown. DNA sequencing enabled them to identify fungi that may hold answers to other questions about the tundra ecology in Colorado and in other locations around the world.
"The finding that microorganisms are interacting with tundra soils to a great extent highlights the important role of the snowpack in creating a unique and crucial environment in tundra ecosystems in Colorado and likely in other locations that are covered with snow for long periods of time in winter," said Henry Gholz, program director of the National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) and Microbial Observatories programs.
The research was funded through the LTER program.
University of Maryland Will Lead MidAtlantic Biodefense CenterCOLLEGE PARK, Maryland, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - The University of Maryland School of Medicine has received a five year, $42 million grant to lead a Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCE).
The grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will be used to develop new and improved vaccines, diagnostic tools and treatments to help protect the country and world from the threat of bioterrorism and naturally occurring infectious diseases.
"This is the boldest and most innovative program that NIAID has ever undertaken," said Dr. Myron Levine, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, director of the University of Maryland Center for Vaccine Development, and principal investigator for the RCE.
The regional center will "provide an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration to conduct wide ranging research on infectious diseases," Levine said.
The Middle Atlantic RCE will pursue the development of vaccines against anthrax and smallpox, focus on emerging infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus, and study new approaches to fighting viruses that cause deadly hemorrahagic fever, including Ebola and Marburg.
RCE researchers will also study highly virulent forms of E. coli and Shigella, bacteria considered to be potential bioterror agents because small amounts cause severe illness. The RCE will also design faster and simpler diagnostic tests and needle free vaccination techniques to ensure a rapid public health response in the event of a biological attack or outbreak of infectious disease.
As the lead institution of the Middle Atlantic RCE, the University of Maryland School of Medicine will head a consortium of 16 biomedical research institutions to carry out the NIAID's strategic plan for biodefense research. Eight RCEs will be established nationwide with grants totaling approximately $350 million over five years. Each center is comprised of a lead institution and affiliated institutions located primarily in the same geographical region.
"The events of 9-11 and the anthrax attacks that followed made it clear that there are nefarious people out there," said Levine. "We have also come to realize that we are extremely vulnerable and to a great extent unprepared for biological attacks. It is critical for us to develop preventive vaccines to protect ourselves."
Partnership Fences in Montana Sheep to Fend Off Grizzly BearsMISSOULA, Montana, September 5, 2003 (ENS) - A new partnership between wildlife agencies and the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife aims to limit the conflicts between sheep and grizzly bears in the area of Choteau, Montana.
The organization, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Services, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, have jointly funded an electric fencing around a 68 acre sheep pasture where grizzly bears had killed sixteen sheep in a one month period.
"The agencies really pulled together on this one and made it happen." says Mike Madel, grizzly bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We all recognized that it was a priority to secure this pasture before any more grizzlies got into trouble."
The fence cost more than $8,000, of which Defenders contributed $4,200, and the three agencies covered the balance.
Two grizzly bear were also trapped and removed from the area.
"There is no way they could keep those bears out, so we did what we had to do," said Norris Richins, the owner of the sheep.
Last year, Richins lost three sheep to grizzly bears, but had lost none before then.
Defenders also paid Richins full market value, $2,480, for all the sheep verified killed. One of the ewes killed was only one hundred yards from his house.
"Electric fencing has proven extremely successful in preventing bears and other predators from killing livestock," explained Minette Johnson, Northern Rockies regional representative for Defenders of Wildlife. 'We were happy to help Norris protect his sheep".
The project is part of Defenders of Wildlife's program to facilitate cost-share agreements with private landowners on projects to help them live with large carnivores.
These projects include purchasing electric fencing materials to create secure calving grounds and sheep bedding grounds, buying bear resistant dumpsters for communities, and securing the retirement of grazing allotments in key grizzly bear habitat.