- AmeriScan: September 12, 2003 AmeriScan: September 12, 2003

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Navy Flies Into Strong Opposition Over New Landing Field

CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Navy intends to locate a jet landing field next to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, a move it says is justified by national security concerns.

But many state and local officials oppose the decision, which has also been condemned by conservationists who are likely to challenge the Navy in court.

According to the National Audubon Society, the decision came after extensive evidence presented to the Navy numerous conservation groups and government experts of the great damage the field would cause to bird populations and the risks the birds will pose to aircraft and pilots.

Pocosin Lakes is winter home to 100,000 large waterfowl, including tundra swans and snow geese from Arctic Canada and Alaska.

Experts - including the Air Force's leading authority on bird/aircraft collisions - have described the plan as ill considered, with a high likelihood of bird and aircraft collisions that could produce catastrophic results.

"It is a bad decision based on a flawed environmental study," said Chris Canfield, executive director of Audubon North Carolina. "All elements of the community and the state have stood united against this proposal - farmers, conservationists, hunters, wildlife experts, and local officials. All have been summarily dismissed by the Navy."

The practice landing field will be used for new Super Hornet fighter jets. In order to displace the birds that pose a risk to jets and their pilots, the Navy plans to buy or condemn as much as 50 square miles of land, moving as many as 74 families off land some have farmed for six generations.

Critics say this will also erode the mission of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, which has been the centerpiece of ecotourism plans that could help an economically depressed community.

The Navy has had "every opportunity to work with knowledgeable partners and the people in North Carolina's neighboring communities," added Audubon Chief Operating Officer Bob Perciasepe. "Their decision to ignore the overwhelming science and the voices of local people has made it necessary for Audubon to act."

Perciasepe says his organization and lawyers from the Southern Environmental Law Center are reviewing the official Record of Decision and developing arguments for a lawsuit.

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Park Advocates Urge Congress to Tackle Air Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - More than 165 conservation, health, recreation, business, and community groups today urged Congress to clean up the air in the national parks.

The groups say recent actions by the Bush administration have weakened clean air protections for the national parks, many of which have serious air quality issues.

"Air pollution is one of the most immediate and widespread threats to our national parks," said Jill Stephens, spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association's Clean Air for Parks and People campaign.

"Our parks provide not just places for enjoyment, learning, and inspiration, but essential touchstones for our country's heritage," said Stephens, whose organization spearheaded today's public plea to Congress. "And pollution from power plants and other sources damages our parks every day. It is reached a critical point so that even groups that have never spoken out about the issue are taking a stand."

National parks across the country suffer the effects of air pollution, including visibility loss, acid rain that pollutes park waters, mercury contamination in several park species, and potential threats to the health of park visitors, staff, and wildlife.

For example, America's most visited park - the Great Smoky Mountains - is the most polluted. During the summer of 2002 the park recorded 42 unhealthy air days - surpassing many eastern cities including Atlanta, Georgia.

The letters sent to Congress today outline criteria air pollution proposals must meet to be considered park protective, with particular emphasis on the pollution from outdated power plants.

Last month the Bush administration finalized an administrative rule that allows the nation's 17,000 industrial facilities - including the oldest and most polluting power plants - to upgrade and extend their operations without installing additional pollution controls.

It is essential that the nation clean up these plants and "enforce and strengthen existing clean air programs designed to safeguard national parks," said Stephens. "Without strong leadership in Congress, air pollution in our national parks will not improve. That is a poor legacy for America's priceless treasures."

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California Rebels Against New Source Review Revisions

SACRAMENTO, California, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - The California state legislature approved a bill Thursday that would allow the state to continue with more protective clean air requirements that were in place before the Bush administration relaxed them on December 31, 2002. The legislation now goes to California Governor Gray Davis, who has said he will sign the measure.

The bill, titled the "Protect California Air Act of 2003," is a direct rebuke of some of the Bush administration's revisions to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program. The administration has finalized several changes that relax pollution controls on the nation's industrial facilities under the New Source Review program, starting with a final rule issued on December 31, 2002.

That rule revamped the permitting process for industrial facilities and a final rule finalized last month redefined a loophole for routine maintenance definition in monetary terms. Critic says these revisions gut the New Source Review program and allow the nation's oldest, dirtiest plants to extend their operations without installing modern pollution controls.

The California bill would largely prohibit California air pollution control districts and air quality management districts from amending or revising their New Source Review rules or regulations that existed on December 30, 2002.

Language in the bill reads: "The newly revised and proposed federal new source review reneges on the promise of clean air embodied in the federal Clean Air Act, and threatens to undermine the air quality of the State of California and thereby threaten the health and safety of the people of the State of California."

California, along with more than a dozen other states, is engaged in legal action to overturn the Bush administration's revisions to the New Source Review program.

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California Assembly Votes to End Ag Air Exemption

SACRAMENTO, California, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - The California State Assembly approved legislation Thursday to end the statewide exemption from clean air rules that large agricultural organizations have enjoyed for six decades. The vote sends the bill, which faced determined opposition by the state's power agricultural lobby, to the California Senate for reconciliation.

Environmental, community, and medical organizations, who have lobbied for the bill's passage, hailed its passage.

"Despite a desperate fight waged by Big Ag in the courts and in the back-rooms of the Assembly, a grassroots effort to bring clean air to the Valley prevailed," said Brent Newell, an attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment who represented Valley groups with the environmental law firm Earthjustice in the litigation and legislative efforts to end the exemption. "We now call on the Senate and Governor Davis to find the political courage to stand up for asthmatic children and say no to Big Ag's lobbyists."

When the bill becomes law, agricultural sources of air pollution will be subject to air pollution controls and permit rules. The bill establishes a timeline to develop those regulations and creates a new state operating permit for large dairies and feedlots.

Agricultural sources are responsible for more than 25 percent of the air pollution in the Central Valley, but the special exemption allowed them to avoid the air permit requirements of the federal Clean Air Act. Opponents of the exemption say it has contributed to an asthma rate for Fresno's children that is three times the national average.

"Now Big Ag must play by the same rules as every other sector and be treated like any other industry that pollutes our common air. It is about time," said Kevin Hall, a Fresno based clean air activist with Sierra Club. "This bill is a huge step in the right direction."

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Energy Department Picks Mercury Emissions Test Projects

WASHINGTON, DC, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Department of Energy has selected eight new projects to test mercury control technologies at coal fired power plants. Reducing mercury emissions from coal has emerged as a priority for many lawmakers and U.S. energy interests, as coal fired power plants face the prospect of regulatory controls on mercury pollution.

The administration says that these projects build on past Energy Department research and focus on longer term, large scale tests of the most promising mercury control technologies at a broader range of utility field test sites.

These demonstration tests will be conducted at commercial coal fired power plants and will produce data on mercury removal effectiveness and cost, and the potential impacts on plant operations, according to the Energy Department.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced the projects and touted the Bush administration's air pollution plan, known as "Clear Skies," which proposes to reduce mercury emissions by 70 percent by 2018.

"Success of the Clear Skies Initiative will be directly dependent on both the technical availability and cost effectiveness of control technologies applicable to a diverse fleet of coal fired electric utility boilers," Abraham said.

Coal fired power plants currently emit some 48 tons of mercury each year - Clear Skies sets industry caps of 26 tons in 2010 and 15 tons in 2018.

But critics of the plan say these targets are higher than what could be achieved under the current regulatory process, which calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a regulation using maximum available control technology (MACT). The agency has said the mercury MACT rule could reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2007.

And mercury emissions has turned into a tricky issue for the administration, as critics have latched onto the targets proposed under the MACT standard as evidence that Clear Skies does less than existing law, and as some supporters of the bill worry that new analysis shows that industry may struggle to reach the caps in the proposal.

The Energy Department selected the eight projects from the first of two rounds of competition that began in February 2003. The second round of applications will be due by the end of January 2004.

For more information on the individual projects, see http://www.energy.gov.

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The Biggest Chill

PASADENA, California, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists have cooled sodium gas to the lowest temperature ever recorded - one half-billionth degree above absolute zero, which is the point where no further cooling is possible.

At absolute zero, which is -273 Celsius (-460 Fahrenheit), all motion stops, except for tiny atomic vibrations because the cooling process has extracted all energy from the particles.

It is the first time a gas has been cooled below one nanokelvin, which is one billionth of a degree above absolute zero.

The accomplishment is "like running a mile below four minutes for the first time," said Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co leader of the research team, which was funded by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation.

The success was published in a paper in today's issue of the journal "Science."

In 1995, a group at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology group led by Ketterle cooled atomic gases to below one microkelvin, which is one-millionth degree above absolute zero.

In doing so, they discovered a new form of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensate, where the particles march in lockstep instead of flitting around independently and earned themselves the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Since the 1995 breakthrough, many groups have routinely reached nanokelvin temperatures, with three nanokelvin as the lowest temperature previously recorded.

This new temperature is six times lower than the previous record.

At such low temperatures, atoms cannot be kept in physical containers, because they would stick to the walls - and no known container can be cooled to such temperatures.

To circumvent this problem, magnets surround the atoms, which keep the gaseous cloud confined without touching it.

To reach the record low temperatures, the researchers invented a novel way of confining atoms, which they call a "gravito magnetic trap." The magnetic fields acted together with gravitational forces to keep the atoms trapped.

"Ultra low temperature gases could lead to vast improvements in precision measurements by allowing better atomic clocks and sensors for gravity and rotation," said Dr. David E. Pritchard, MIT physics professor, a pioneer in atom optics and atom interferometry, and co leader of the team.

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Male Baboons Care for Their Kids

DURHAM, North Carolina, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - Male baboons give preferential protection to their own genetic offspring - a finding that suggests the fathering instinct might be more fundamental to primate evolution than previously believed, researchers say.

The discovery that male baboons somehow recognize their own genetic offspring - despite the fact that multiple males may mate with each female in a troop - also raises important scientific questions about how such recognition occurs, according to the researchers who published the findings in Thursday's issue of the journal "Nature."

"If male baboons care for their kids - and baboons are almost among the least likely societies where you would expect to see this - then it suggests that paternal care has really deep evolutionary roots in primates," said coauthor Susan Alberts, an assistant professor of zoology at Duke University.

The researchers studied members of five wild savannah baboon groups in Amboseli, Kenya and adjacent areas near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

These groups have been study subjects by scientists for some three decades and have become so habituated to human observers that they basically ignore them.

The observations concentrated on the instances in which adult males protected offspring from aggression by other animals.

Although paternal care certainly encompasses a broader range of behaviors, Alberts explained, such protection against aggression is the easiest to observe and quantify. Such male protection also offers obvious survival advantages for the juveniles, Alberts said.

"We found that males unequivocally gave more protection to those juveniles they had fathered than to those they had not," said Alberts.

According to Alberts, she and her colleagues have already launched studies to explore what pheromones or odor molecules might provide males clues to the genetic identity of offspring. They are also studying how the father-infant relationships develop - whether they are initiated by the father or by the mother.

"A central question we want to ask next is, if males care for their offspring does it affect the offspring's survival chance?" asked Alberts. "And if it does, then that would be a really exciting finding, because it constitutes a real pressure on males in terms of this balance of costs and opportunities."

The study included researchers from Duke University, the National Museum of Kenya, Princeton University, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. It was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Chicago Zoological Society, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

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Coal Eating Bacteria May Improve Methane Recovery

NEW YORK, New York, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists at the U.S Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory are exploring the use of bacteria to increase the recovery of methane from coal beds. The scientists are also examining the use of bacteria to decontaminate water produced during the methane recovery process.

"Our idea is to use specially developed bacteria to remove the contaminants from the wastewater, and also help to release the trapped methane," says Brookhaven chemist Mow Lin.

Methane gas burns without releasing sulfur contaminants and is becoming increasingly important as a natural gas fuel in the United States.

But the process of recovering methane, which is often trapped within porous, unrecovered or waste coal, produces large amounts of water contaminated with salts, organic compounds, metals, and naturally occurring radioactive elements.

Lin's team has developed several strains of bacteria that can use coal as a nutrient and adsorb or degrade contaminants.

They started with natural strains already adapted to extreme conditions, such as the presence of metals or high salinity, then gradually altered the nutrient mix and contaminant levels and selected the most hardy bugs.

In laboratory tests, various strains of these microbes have been shown to absorb contaminant metals, degrade dissolved organics, and break down coal in a way that would release trapped methane.

The use of such microbe mixtures in the field could greatly improve the efficiency and lower the associated clean up costs of coal bed methane recovery, Lin says.