AmeriScan: September 19, 2005

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Current Climate, Weather Scenario Not Seen for 50 to 100 Years

MIAMI, Florida, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - Florida scientists and engineers studying extreme weather patterns this summer say that they are the result of the rare convergence of climatic and weather phenomena. The simultaneous occurrence of all current weather activity may not have taken place in the last 50 to 100 years or longer, they say.

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, director of the Hydrologic and Environmental Systems Modeling Department at the South Florida Water Management District, said, “We are experiencing an uncommon event. South Florida climate varies in cycles, some that form patterns with long return frequencies. This certainly is an event of a magnitude that normally occurs once every 50 to 100 years."

Though seasonal climatic forecasts may have significant uncertainties, the water managers need to take actions in advance when climatic outlooks indicate a risk of extremely wet conditions.

A monster hurricane like Katrina and the fact that Florida was hit by four large hurricanes last summer are but the most extreme manifestations of the unusual weather patterns we are experiencing, the scientists say.

Other evidence includes a rare warm phase in the North Atlantic, record rainfall, historic record water levels in lakes, predictions of much higher than normal rainfall, extremely warm ocean currents, and unusually high predictions of hurricane activity.

Paul Trimble, a lead engineer in the Office of Modeling, Dr. Obeysekera, and their colleagues have studied past weather and climate patterns for many years and have closely followed them since last year’s unusual hurricane activity. They now believe that Florida is seeing temperature and rainfall that may not have occurred quite like this many decades.

The June-August summer season was the 10th warmest on record for the lower 48 states, while precipitation was above average. Global temperatures were second highest on record for the boreal summer, which runs from June 1 through August 31.

Twelve named tropical systems formed in the Atlantic by the end of August, including Hurricane Katrina, which was among the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

Although Katrina will be recorded as the most destructive storm in terms of economic losses, it will likely not exceed the human losses in storms such as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which killed as many as 6,000 to 12,000 people, and led to almost complete destruction of coastal Galveston.

Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, cost approximately $21 billion in insured losses, in today's dollars, whereas estimates from the insurance industry as of September 15, 2005, have reached approximately $60 billion in insured losses from Katrina.

The storm could cost the Gulf Coast states as much as an additional $120 billion.

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Bush Fisheries Bill Weakens Ocean Protections, Warn Conservationists

WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - Comprehensive new fisheries legislation released today by the Bush administration defies key recommendations by the Bush appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that were intended to preserve and maintain viable, healthy fish stocks in seas around the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The proposal, which the White House sent to Congress this morning, weakens existing conservation standards.

The proposed legislation is the administration’s opening move in the fight to overhaul the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs the nation’s fisheries management. The Senate Commerce Committee and the House Resources Committee are working on reauthorization, which last happened in 1996.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says the administration's bill ensures that fisheries management decisions are based on proven, peer-reviewed scientific information. The measure encourages fishery managers to use market-based management, such as dedicated access privileges, also called individual quotas, "to make fishing safer and more profitable."

Gutierrez says the measure "calls for tougher fines and penalties for those who break fisheries laws and requires an end to overfishing practices."

The secretary said the bill "elevates the importance of ecosystem-based management by authorizing the regional fishery management councils to develop ecosystem plans."

But conservationists are critical of the bill. A chief concern is that the White House bill would allow overfishing to continue on already depleted fish populations. It also would greatly delay rebuilding depleted fish populations, increasing the likelihood that certain commercial species will never recover.

"There is overwhelming consensus that the world’s oceans are in a state of collapse. Yet the White House is rejecting the recommendations of its own non-partisan experts," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC’s Water and Coastal Program. "By failing to take even basic steps to improve the health of decimated fish stocks, the administration is risking the recovery of key species and threatening the livelihoods of coastal communities."

The bill weakens current federal requirements that fisheries be rebuilt and managed in a sustainable way. The administration’s language revokes the current requirement to rebuild an overfished species within 10 years, delaying by many years the recovery of overfished species, Chasis says.

Measures to end overfishing and rebuild a fishery are no longer required provisions of the fishery management plan.

The bill allows overfishing on a given species to continue for years before legal protections kick in. The two year time-frame included in the bill is misleading, since that two year clock would not start until the plan, amendment, or regulations had been adopted - a process that can take several years on its own.

National Environmental Trust Vice President for Marine Conservation Gerald Leape is critical too. "Instead of providing sound measures and effective policies that would shore up the future and health of the nation's ailing fish stocks, the Bush administration continues to do just the opposite.

"Today, the administration transmitted to Congress its version of the bill that would reauthorize the principal law governing our oceans and the life within. Provisions in this bill will threaten the future of the nation's fish and the nation's fishermen," said Leape.

The bill’s language on bycatch - fish and other species hauled up unintentionally - exacerbates the problems by only requiring that bycatch reporting be implemented "to the extent practicable." But without information on bycatch, managers cannot effectively reduce it.

"The administration's bill guts a clear directive from Congress to reduce bycatch, animals caught and killed that are not the target species," Leape said.

The bill also calls for an end to the "Status of the Stocks," NOAA's yearly report that shows the state of the country's fish populations. This annual report would be replaced with online updates posted at unspecified times. "This change would eliminate any true accountability that NOAA Fisheries currently has to policy makers and to the general public," he said.

"Most importantly, this bill will condone fishing on already overfished fish stocks. The status quo is not good enough. If we want to see our nation's fisheries rebuilt to healthy and productive levels, we need stronger measures that will protect against overfishing. We need fisheries policies that would move us forward and not roll back key conservation provisions," Leape said.

The bill undermines public participation and transparency by closing off meetings and comment periods to citizens. The bill authorizes the adoption of "alternative procedural mechanisms" for establishing fishery regulations, a process that would enable a fishery management council and federal fisheries officials to evade current requirements for public input, disclosure and participation.

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Tons of Marine Debris Removed From Remote Hawaiian Islands

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant Program have just returned from a joint mission to remove thousands of pounds of marine debris from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

A large portion of the marine debris is old fishing net, which is especially dangerous since once it settles on a reef it can entangle and drown local wildlife and smother any coral underneath it.

The 225 foot long Coast Guard Cutter Walnut left its home port of Honolulu on August 22 for a 1,000 mile trip to the remote islands of Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Their goal was to remove as much lethal marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as possible.

Walnut's crew removed 21,110 pounds of fishing net and other marine trash from more than 60 sites across the atoll using the ship's crane, lift bags, divers and elbow grease.

The Kukui, another 225 foot Coast Guard cutter from Honolulu, joined the debris recovery effort on September 7. The Kukui's crew first traveled to Maro Reef and has removed more than seven tons of trash on its travel back to Oahu. The Kukui will be returning to Coast Guard Integrated Support Command Honolulu today to offload the debris.

NOAA’s Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center's (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) provided technical support using geographical information systems to survey, locate, and provide expertise on removing marine debris.

The NOAA representatives created daily survey plans, recommended navigation to the specified reefs and directed Coast Guard divers in debris surveys and data collection procedures.

The vessel Freebird has been chartered by NOAA to resume debris removal efforts for September through November of this year. The crew will focus their attention at French Frigate Shoals.

University of Hawaii's Sea Grant College Program organized the first meeting between the Coast Guard, NOAA and other agencies in 1998 to form a marine debris removal partnership in the Hawaiian Islands. Since then, Sea Grant has assisted in all clean-ups, has released an educational video and has developed a waste management process to better handle the debris once it is brought back to Honolulu.

Since 1996, PIFSC’s Marine Debris Program and the multi-agency partners have removed over 487 metric tons of debris from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

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Pacific Fisheries Council Considers Lifting Gillnet Restriction

FOREST KNOLLS, California, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - Tomorrow, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which manages fisheries off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, will vote on a controversial proposal to gut protections for critically endangered sea turtles.

The measure would establish a procedure to allow exemptions to rules protecting endangered species such as the leatherback sea turtle. If approved, the decision goes to NOAA Fisheries for final approval. In October and November the management council will consider interim exemptions to closures protecting sea turtles from gillnets on the West Coast.

Environmentalists are supporting the continuation of the existing time and area closures which have successfully reduced the risk of sea turtles being injured or killed by gillnet fishing.

"Not one sea turtle has been observed caught, injured or killed since the closures went into effect. Why should we throw out something that is working so well?" asked Robert Ovetz, PhD, Save the Leatherback Campaign Coordinator with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

Known as "curtains of death" because they catch and kill everything in their path, large gillnets (also known as driftnets) were banned by the United Nations on the high seas in 1991. Along with sea turtles, gillnets also injure or kill sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, Steller sea lions and other threatened and endangered species. In fact, according to observer data obtained from NOAA Fisheries, 64 dolphins, whales , seals and sea lions have been killed by the gillnet fishery since 2002.

This year, 1,007 scientists from 97 countries and 281 non-governmental organizations from 62 countries delivered a letter to the United Nations urging it to implement a moratorium on industrial longline and gillnet fishing in the Pacific.

Most at risk is the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Estimated to be 100 million years old, scientists now warn that it could go extinct in the Pacific in the next five to 30 years unless efforts are made to reduce the threat of being injured or killed by longlines and gillnets.

The number of female nesting Pacific leatherbacks has declined by 95 percent since 1984. The U.S. Pacific Coast is an important migratory route and foraging area for leatherback sea turtles and other marine species frequently caught by gillnets.

"The time and area closure provides urgently needed protection for the leatherback and other marine species from being injured or killed by gillnets. Granting exemptions to a handful of vessels would sabotage these efforts to prevent the leatherback from extinction," said Ovetz.

In 2001, NOAA Fisheries also closed waters off Monterey Bay, California, and in the vicinity north to the 45° N latitude intersect with the Oregon Coast from August 15 through November 15 in response to the threat of a lawsuit. The region north of Point Conception had recently been closed during El Nino years as the result of another lawsuit in 2002 to protect loggerhead turtles, another species facing threat of extinction due to mortality caused by industrial fishing.

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Mud Flow Early Warning and Prediction Pilot Project Underway

WASHINGTON, DC, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced today plans to conduct a pilot project in Southern California that will improve NOAA National Weather Service forecasts of potential debris flows, also known as mud flows. The project’s goal is to provide public warnings of imminent threat in and near areas recently burned by wildfires.

The pilot project was announced as the agencies released the NOAA-USGS Debris Flow Warning System report, which outlines an initial plan for the prototype, and identifies the potential for expanding the warning system nationwide by developing improved technologies to characterize flash flood and debris flow hazards. These will be combined with existing methods used by NOAA’s National Weather Service to forecast and measure precipitation.

"This is an example of sound intergovernmental collaboration that will save lives,“ said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. “This pilot program demonstrates the value of a product at a regional level that we hope the Global Earth Observation System of Systems can bring to a global scale.”

"People need to be prepared for natural disasters that occur as a result of natural hazards,” said Dr. Patrick Leahy, acting director of the USGS. “Science can help build more resilient communities by improving the capability to know where and when floods and debris flows are going to happen. Ultimately, flash flood and debris flow warning systems will help save lives and minimize property damage and loss.”

Once the smoke clears from a wildfire, the danger is not over. Flash floods and debris flows can be one of the most hazardous consequences of rainfall on burned hill slopes. Just a small amount of rainfall on a burned area can lead to these hazards.

Rushing water, soil, and rock, both within the burned area and downstream, can destroy culverts, bridges, roadways, and structures, and can result in injury or death. For example, 16 people died in a debris flow during the Christmas day 2003 storm that impacted recently-burned hill slopes in San Bernardino County, California. Nearly $1 billion was spent to clean up and repair roadways following this event.

Because of their close link with precipitation, post-wildfire debris flows are somewhat more predictable than other types of landslides.

The prototype warning system will improve watches and warnings issued by NOAA’s National Weather Service for post-fire flash floods and debris flows based. This will use comparisons between precipitation estimates from NOAA’s National Weather Service and rainfall intensity-duration values derived from ongoing USGS research in the Southern California region.

These thresholds were developed by comparing conditions in storms known to have produced flash floods and debris flows with those that did not. Warning systems based on established links between rainfall and the occurrence of flash floods and debris flows are critical to communities most vulnerable to this natural hazard.

"Working together, our two Federal agencies have a unique opportunity to deliver life-saving warnings for debris flows,” said General David Johnson, director of the National Weather Service. “Making this possible are the development of improved precipitation estimates and forecasts, better techniques for delineating debris flow hazards, and advancements in geographic information technology, as stated in the NOAA-USGS report.”

A principal finding of the NOAA-USGS task force that developed the report is that the potential exists to enhance and expand the warning system in the future to provide detailed maps that show areas that could be impacted by flash floods and debris flows.

Such maps could potentially be generated in real-time during a storm by incorporating improved forecasts and measurements of precipitation into detailed susceptibly models.

The demonstration project will cover the counties served by National Weather Service Forecast Offices at Oxnard and San Diego, which includes San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and San Diego. Areas within these counties located near housing developments have proven to be prone to wildfires. Heavy precipitation in these areas has resulted in flash floods and debris flows that caused loss of life and property damage.

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New York Governor Urges Yes Vote on $2.9 Billion Transportation Bond

ALBANY, New York, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican, today announced his strong support for the $2.9 billion Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act of 2005 that will be put before voters when they go to the polls this November.

The governor, who is not seeking re-election, called the Transportation Bond Act a comprehensive and fiscally responsible plan that will make critical improvements to New York’s transportation infrastructure, create more than 120,000 jobs, and promote smart economic growth and energy conservation.

“Our transportation network is second to none. Making investments in our transportation infrastructure today, is a critical part of our effort to ensure New York’s competitive edge for the future,” said Governor Pataki, a Republican. “Passage of the Bond Act will help ensure that New Yorkers continue to benefit from a first-rate transportation system that is safe, promotes economic development, enhances reliability, protects our environment and reduces our dependence on gasoline and diesel fuel.”

The Transportation Bond Act is part of a five year, $35.9 billion transportation capital program that the governor and legislative leaders agreed to on July 13, 2005. The plan includes $17.96 billion for the State Department of Transportation (DOT) and $17.99 billion for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The Governor noted that as energy prices rise in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the measure also includes significant funding for projects designed to help reduce our dependence on gasoline and diesel fuel.

More than 60 percent – or $1.77 billion – of Bond Act projects support energy-efficient mass transportation, enhance the movement of freight by rail to divert it from trucks, improve the state’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and expand programs that mitigate fuel-wasting highway congestion.

The MTA will receive $1.45 billion from the bond act, consisting of $450 million for core MTA infrastructure improvements and $1 billion for new system expansion projects in the New York metropolitan area.

These include $450 million for the construction of a Second Avenue Subway from 125th Street to the Financial District in Lower Manhattan, $450 million for the improvement of rail access on Manhattan’s East Side with a link between the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) main line and Grand Central Terminal, and $100 million for a new rail line linking Lower Manhattan with John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

Other Bond Act programs include:

The Bond Act will help secure more than $5.1 billion in federal transportation aid during the next five years, consisting of $4 billion in federal transit aid for the MTA’s East Side Access and 2nd Avenue subway, and $1.1 billion in federal highway aid.

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Pennsylvania Businesses Encouraged to Prevent Pollution

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, September 19, 2005 (ENS) - Preventing pollution can result in energy cost savings, said Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell today to mark National Pollution Prevention week September 18-24.

“Pennsylvania has great examples of businesses that have used technological innovations and new practices to protect resources, cut energy costs, save money and grow our economy, all at the same time,” the governor said. “This week we celebrate their commitment to building a bright and promising future here and protecting our precious resources for generations to come.”

Pollution prevention occurs when raw materials, water, energy and other resources are utilized more efficiently and when toxic substances are eliminated from the production process.

“Pollution prevention is one of our best tools to save resources, reduce waste generation and limit harmful emissions,” Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Kathleen McGinty said. “Adopting pollution prevention practices can lower a company’s operational and environmental compliance costs. These measures protect public health, strengthen our economy and help to clean up our environment.”

DEP has been conducting free Pollution Prevention/Energy Efficiency (P2/E2) site visits at businesses and industries across the state since 1995. The voluntary, nonregulatory visits are intended to identify opportunities for both small and large businesses to conserve energy and resources, prevent product loss and avoid creation of waste/emissions while attempting to increase productivity.

DEP helped Duquesne Light Co., located in Pittsburgh, identify and reduce sources of hazardous waste. In the first six months of 2005, Duquesne Light decreased its waste emission by 18 percent. This reduction may lead the company to change its generator status from the “Large Quantity Generator” to “Small Quantity Generator” regulatory category, which would save time and money.

Even a small business can benefit from pollution prevention as Kazansky’s Deli in Pittsburgh has. As the result of the deli’s P2/E2 assessment, the operation converted its purchasing to bulk methods, reducing solid waste by 600 pounds, saving $11,200 per year. It also replaced a malfunctioning drain stopper, replaced a broken toilet with a low-flow model and repaired leaking faucets for a combined savings of $1,500 and 134,000 gallons of water annually. Older light fixtures were replaced with energy efficient lighting retrofits, and less energy efficient kitchen equipment was replaced with higher efficiency appliances, saving the deli $6,000 in annual utility bills.

DEP and the Department of Community and Economic Development administer the Small Business Pollution Prevention Assistance Account loan program to help small businesses implement pollution prevention and energy efficiency projects. Since the program’s inception in 1999, the state has received 105 loan applications totaling more than $4.8 million.

Metlab Potero, a heat treatment company located in Wyndmoor, used the loan to improve its operation by installing a new cooling water collection and recovery system. The cooling water that previously was discharged after being used to cool its furnace components is now recirculated and reused in its heated rinse tanks.

In the past three years, Metlab has saved 2.44 million gallons of water and 2.72 million cubic feet of natural gas. The company also has reported a reduction in waste disposal costs at the same time as reporting an increase in production. The company has realized savings of $173,700 since putting the project in place.

Foamex in Corry, Erie County, formerly used methylene chloride as the ingredient to fluff the polyurethane foam it produces. This process at one time made Foamex the largest emitter of methylene chloride in Pennsylvania and the second largest emitter of methylene chloride in the United States. The federal government categorizes methylene chloride as a probable human carcinogen.

Several years ago, Foamex began substituting carbon dioxide as the agent that makes the foam rise, and the company totally eliminated the use of methylene chloride in April 2004. This material substitution removes Foamex from the top 10 of the federal Toxic Release Inventory for that specific compound. The milestone was a voluntary commitment by the company, which was one of 11 winners of the 2004 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, for its efforts to preserve and protect the Corry community and surrounding environment.

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