AmeriScan: September 19, 2003

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West Coast States Roll Out Pact to Combat Global Warming

LOS ANGELES, California, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - The governors of California, Oregon and Washington, all Democrats, have announced a major new pact to cut global warming pollution in the West Coast states.

The three state pact will not include mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, rather it focuses on measures to encourage increased use of renewable energy and energy efficient appliances, pledges to buy more hybrid cars for state government, and moves to increase the use of non-diesel generators at shipping ports and truck stops.

"Global warming is a real phenomenon, which affects us in many ways, from increasingly costly forest fires to encroaching seas upon our coastline. This is a matter of economic necessity,” said Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski.

The governors' pact includes an agreement to reduce emissions from diesel fuel in transportation through reductions in the use of diesel generators of ships in west coast ports and in the use of diesel engines by creating a system of emission free truck stops along the Interstate 5 corridor from Mexico to Canada.

Environmentalists hailed the decision, which they believe counters inaction by the Bush administration on the issue of climate change. The Bush administration has refused to embrace concrete measures to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases, which most scientists are convinced are causing the global climate to change.

President George W. Bush has said more studies are needed to fully understand global warming before mandatory steps are taken to cut emissions, and has withdrawn U.S. support from the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to limit the emission of six greenhouse gases by industrialized nations. The United States is responsible for more than 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

"Unfortunately," the governors said in their statement today, "present federal policies will not lead to a reduction in current emission levels of the greenhouse gasses associated with global warming. Therefore, the governors of the west coast states have concluded that our states must act individually and regionally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

“Each of our states has taken significant steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including promoting renewable energy,” said Washington Governor Gary Locke. “In many areas, however, we would benefit greatly from a unified, regional approach to the global warming problem.”

California Governor Gray Davis said, "Each state faces individual challenges, but all three share the determination to actively deal with the threats created by global warming. Obviously, an initiative from Washington, DC along the lines of what we are doing today would be welcome, but in its absence the states have to act."

U.S. climate policy has drawn the ire of other nations and environmentalists worldwide, who are convinced there is ample evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, power generation and industry are warming the global climate.

"We have the technology to beat global warming," said David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center. "All it takes is the political initiative to make it happen."

"The governors' plan demonstrates the marriage of business and political leadership required to unleash the solutions we need," Hawkins said. "Today's agreement delivers real action to fix a real problem. These governors have raised the bar for political leaders everywhere."

Today's announcement furthers a trend in the United States of state lawmakers, rather than federal officials, stepping forward to tackle global warming.

For example, Republican and Democratic governors of nine eastern states recently agreed to address global warming pollution in power plants from Maine to Delaware.

"Global warming is a real threat to our health, to our economy and to our environment. But it is a problem we can fix," said Hawkins. "The answer is cleaner cars and cleaner, more efficient energy choices."

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Governors Urge Congress to OK Forest Thinning Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - Citing the growing number of wildfires and the damage they cause, the National Governors Association today called on Congress to quickly pass legislation to protect America's forests by thinning trees and underbrush as President George W. Bush has proposed in his "Healthy Forests" plan. There are 747 million acres of forests in the United States, about one-third of the country's land mass.

The governors sent their request in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and Senators Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi and Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.

In their letter, the National Governors Association (NGA) said that any legislation passed by Congress and supported by the administration should be consistent with the National Fire Plan and 10 year Comprehensive Strategy.

"The issue of forest health is a national issue," wrote Colorado Governor Bill Owens and West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, chair and vice chair of National Governors Association's Natural Resources Committee. "The governors urge Congress to move quickly to pass legislation that will protect our forested ecosystems and stem the catastrophic wildfires that continue to plague this country.

Federal legislation should address the restoration of resilient forest ecosystems that can survive wildfire through fuel reduction and the reintroduction of fire into the ecosystem, the governors wrote.

Legislation should provide for the reduction of dangerous and unnatural forest fuels to protect communities and improve the natural, sustainable health of forested watersheds and wildlife habitat, including that of threatened and endangered species.

The governors urged the modernization of the planning process to expedite project approval, while requiring thorough environmental analysis and the protection of the public participation rights of citizens.

And they asked that any legislation passed by Congress ensure that the project appeals process is accountable and allows for timely and meaningful public participation.

The governors pointed out "the health of a significant portion of forest land is declining due to a dangerous overgrowth of trees and underbrush, caused by decades of fire suppression and exclusion of forest management activities. Catastrophic wildfires have burned nearly 19 million acres over the past three summers, forcing governors to address the issues of polluted air, water and destroyed wildlife habitat."

Conservation groups have opposed the President's plan, saying it is a give-away to logging companies that will be permitted to take large trees instead of just thinning overgrown brush.

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Perchlorate Found in Texas Supermarket Milk

LUBBOCK, Texas, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - Perchlorate - a toxic component of rocket fuel - has been found in supermarket milk at levels exceeding the federal government's currently recommended safe dose for drinking water, according to a peer reviewed scientific study published Friday.

A team of five researchers from the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University report in the journal "Environmental Science and Technology" that perchlorate was "unambiguously detected" in seven of seven cow's milk samples from Lubbock grocery stores.

Perchlorate levels in the milk ranged from 1.7 to 6.4 parts per billion (ppb)- all higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) most recent proposed safety standard of one ppb.

The researchers say that the milk samples represented six different brands, four packaged locally at the same plant and two at separate plants outside Texas.

"The significant occurrence of perchlorate in all milk samples analyzed at levels that are comparable or even greater than the current California action level for the concentration of perchlorate in drinking water came as a considerable surprise to us," wrote the authors. "Based on this limited study, it is not clear how widespread perchlorate contamination of milk may be, but clearly such a study is warranted."

Enforceable federal standards are not expected for at least five years, but California has set its own standard of four ppb of perchlorate as the "action level" at which a public water supply should be shut down.

But there has been some criticism of the study by some who believe its warnings about perchlorate are overblown.

"There are no valid and reliable methods to measure perchlorate in milk at the levels reported by Texas Tech," said Dr. Rick Pleus, a toxicologist and adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Department of Pharmacology. "Further, even if these levels were found, they could not possibly harm human health."

There is little question, however, that there is growing concern about the dangers of perchlorate and the potential for widespread contamination. The toxic, most of which has leaked from military bases or defense plants, contaminates more than 500 drinking water supplies in at least 20 states, serving more than 20 million people.

"These troubling results are the first indication that perchlorate is not only contaminating drinking water and irrigation water, but that livestock can pass it on to humans," said Renee Sharp, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, which has lobbied for strict government regulation of perchlorate.

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Climate Warming Breaks Arctic's Largest Ice Shelf

FAIRBANKS, Alaska, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - The largest ice shelf in the Arctic has broken, and scientists say the event is evidence of ongoing and accelerated climate change in the North polar region.

The Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's Nunavut territory and its northernmost national park. The ice shelf began forming some 4,500 years ago and has been in place for at least 3,000 years.

A team of American and Canadian scientists, who have studied the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf on site, through satellite imagery and helicopter over flights, report in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters" that a three decade long decline in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf culminated in its sudden breakup between 2000 and 2002.

The scientists say it fragmented into two main parts with many additional fissures and also created a number of ice islands, some of which are large enough to pose a danger to shipping and to drilling platforms in the Beaufort Sea.

An immediate consequence of the ice shelf's rupture was the loss of almost all of the freshwater from the northern hemisphere's largest epishelf lake, which had been dammed behind it in 20 mile (30 kilometer) long Disraeli Fiord.

An epishelf lake is a body of mostly freshwater trapped behind an ice shelf. The freshwater layer in the Disraeli Fiord measured 140 feet (43 meters) in depth and lay atop 1,200 feet (360 meters) of denser ocean water.

The researchers say this loss of fresh and brackish water has affected a previously reported unique biological community, consisting of both freshwater and marine species of plankton. In addition, the breakup of the ice shelf has also reduced the habitat available for cold tolerant communities of microscopic animals and algae that live on the upper ice surface.

The disintegration of the Ellesmere Ice Shelf and the breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is the result of the cumulative effects of long term warming since the 19th century, the scientists report.

The precise timing and pattern of fracturing of the climate weakened ice shelf may have been influenced by freeze thaw cycles, wind, and tides, they say.

Other factors may include changes in Arctic Ocean temperature, salinity, and flow patterns.

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Midwestern Soils at Risk of Extinction

BERKELEY, California, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - There is new reason to reconsider the phrases "common as dirt," according to researchers from the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

A new paper published in the journal "Ecosystems" finds that certain soils are becoming increasingly rare, with some at risk of becoming extinct.

The study details that in some agricultural regions, such as in the Midwest, up to 80 percent of soils considered rare have been reduced to less than half of their original extent.

"Over the past two centuries, we have reconfigured part of a continent to the point where today's landscape is almost unrecognizable from its natural state," said Ronald Amundson, professor of ecosystem sciences at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and lead author of the paper. "The Great Plains used to be characterized by tall grasses and prairies. They have now been replaced by crops and housing tracts."

Soils, like their plant and animal counterparts, have their own taxonomy - in the United States, there are 11 soil orders that are ultimately divided into 13,129 series.

Soils that comprise less than 25,000 acres are considered rare. Soils that are classified as "rare unique" exist only in one state and make up less than 25,000 acres.

The researchers considered a rare or rare-unique soil endangered if more than half of its area was tilled, excavated or otherwise disturbed.

Using these definitions, the UC Berkeley researchers found 508 endangered soil series in the United States. Six states have more than half of their rare soil series in an endangered state, with Indiana leading the group at 82 percent, followed closely by Iowa at 81 percent. Most of the soil danger hotspots reside in the country's agricultural heartland.

The researchers also found that 31 soils are effectively extinct because they have been nearly completely converted to agricultural or land use.

The cause for concern, Amundson said, is that soil diversity is in essence tied to biological diversity.

"Soil that has been cultivated is like an animal that has been domesticated," said Amundson. "It retains some resemblance to its wild or native ancestor, but there are enormous and profound changes in its characteristics."

"We certainly need land to farm and develop - I am not advocating the discontinuation of agricultural expansion," said Amundson. "But I think it would be fair to set aside modest areas of these remaining natural landscapes for study and contemplation."

To conduct this study, Amundson and the other researchers combined data from digitized maps on soil types compiled by the U.S. National Resource Conservation Service with information from maps of agricultural and urban growth provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Never before has soil in the United States been analyzed in such a way," said Peng Gong, professor of ecosystem sciences at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and coauthor of the paper. "Our study is the country's first quantitative analysis of soil diversity."

"Some of these soils developed over thousands to millions of years," Gong said. "We can destroy that in a few hours. It is a preservation issue. We need to save it for future generations."

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Wildlife Service to Recover Endangered Blue Butterfly

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a final recovery plan for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

The butterfly, which depends on savanna and barrens habitats and the wild lupine plants that grow in them, was listed as endangered on January 21, 1992 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Karner blue butterfly is a small butterfly with a wingspan of about one inch - it is about as big as a postage stamp. The male is striking violet blue in color.

Accord to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the recovery plan is the result of a multi year effort by federal and state conservation agencies, technical consultants, and academics. It provides a blueprint for action by agencies, conservation organizations and private landowners interested in helping in the recovery of this endangered species.

The recovery plan outlines voluntary programs to secure and protect current butterfly habitat and recommends one new reintroduction of the butterfly into an area where it once lived.

The goal of the plan is to restore viable populations of the butterfly across its range to levels sufficient to recover the species and allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove it from the ESA list.

Historically, the Karner blue butterfly occurred in 12 states and the province of Ontario. The butterfly's current range has been reduced to just seven states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, New Hampshire, New York and Ohio - the majority reside in Wisconsin and Michigan. Efforts to reintroduce the butterfly to its former range are ongoing in New Hampshire, Indiana and Ohio.

Because it is a weak flyer, the Karner blue butterfly does not move far from its home habitat patch. Wild lupine is the only plant the Karner blue caterpillars are known to eat.

Habitat degradation and loss is the primary threat to the species. The butterfly inhabits remnant savanna and barrens habitats, as well as other more disturbed habitat areas including younger forest stands.

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Natural Gas Market Not in Long Term Crisis

PALO ALTO, California, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - Sudden price spikes have led to speculation that the United States is facing a critical shortage of natural gas, but a new study by Stanford University's Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) concludes that gas supplies are likely to meet growing demand in coming decades - if policymakers are able to strike a balance between environmental protection and the need for new energy sources.

"Recent volatile natural gas prices do not foreshadow a pending, long term crisis in future natural gas supplies," said Hillard Huntington, EMF's executive director and coauthor of the study. "Industry will respond with more investment, and demand will respond to higher prices - provided that market participants are given the opportunity."

This study is unique, Huntington said, because it compared the results from seven different expert modeling teams on multiple market scenarios. The results were reviewed and evaluated by a working group of 45 experts from various universities, government agencies and corporations.

In its report, the EMF working group noted that the current uncertainty in the natural gas market is based on wild fluctuations in gas prices during the past three years.

"Prices spiked in both 2001 and earlier this year when short term seasonal bursts in natural gas consumption outstripped the industry's current capacity to deliver natural gas in the winter months," the authors wrote.

According to the report, future price spikes could be prevented by constructing more gas storage facilities, building up inventories and implementing longer term contracts. The subsequent price stability would in turn provided much needed incentives for private investment in new resources and reduce the need for expensive government subsidized projects.

In the longer run, the study concluded that direct subsidies for expensive projects are not necessary to maintain investment and supplies. Far more effective would be better integration of energy, environmental and land use policies to avoid higher future prices.

"The United States needs to avoid a situation where industry and power plants shift strongly to natural gas for environmental reasons, but where regulations on Western land use and on siting import facilities restrict investment," the authors say.

Both companies and the government will need to plan for a range of possible natural gas market outcomes, according to the EMF modeling experts. Total projected consumption could grow by an average of 0.8 to 2.8 percent per year between 2002 and 2020, depending upon market conditions.

Technological advancements in coal, nuclear and other energy sectors could reduce demand for natural gas, the authors wrote. However, the report found that renewable technologies, such as wind and solar power, will have a relatively minor impact on natural gas markets in the next 20 years but could become important alternatives in following decades.

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A Solar Twist on Desalinization

GAINESVILLE, Florida, September 22, 2003 (ENS) - Desalinization has long held the promise of helping the world solve its pressing water needs, yet widespread implementation has not occurred because current systems are costly and require large amounts of energy. But engineers at the University of Florida (UF) have turned to nature for a solution that could make desalinization a viable option for those in need.

"We know that nature uses solar energy to get fresh water from salt water," said Yogi Goswami, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of UF's Solar Energy and Energy Conversion Laboratory. "We use the same process as nature, except we enhance the process."

Nature process for desalination is as follows: fresh water evaporates from the ocean, forms clouds, condenses and falls to the ground as rain. Goswami says he and his colleagues sought to recreate and enhance this process by exploiting solar energy and natural barometric pressure.

The new system uses a gravity induced vacuum and solar energy instead of electricity or fossil fuels to desalinate water, Goswami explained.

The researchers say the system is more efficient than previous solar "stills" for removing salt, but is simple and inexpensive enough to be built in remote locations where conventionally powered technologies would be either too expensive or impractical. This could prove critical, as lack of potable water is a growing problem worldwide.

The World Water Development Report, released this year by the United Nations, says many countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia currently face severe water crises, and the number is likely to grow in coming years under the dual pressures of increasing populations and worsening pollution.

The report finds that within 50 years, seven billion people in 60 countries could face water scarcity.

Tests on a small, experimental version of the system revealed it is 90 percent efficient, whereas previous "flat basin" solar stills were only 50 percent efficient, according to Goswami.

Although the system produced only about a half cup of fresh water an hour, it can be scaled up to provide more, Goswami said.

A paper about the system by Goswami and a UF doctoral graduate in mechanical engineering recently appeared in the "Proceedings of the 2003 International Solar Energy Conference."