AmeriScan: September 22, 2005

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Stronger Hurricanes Blamed on Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - The recent frequency of strong Category 5 hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita may be linked to global warming, scientists warn, saying that rising global temperatures have warmed the oceans, and warm oceans fuel hurricanes.

"Scientific evidence suggests there is a link between global warming and the power, not frequency, of hurricanes," Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said earlier this month.

While scientists say it is difficult to blame any one weather event - a hurricane or a heat wave or a blizzard - on global warming, recent peer-reviewed research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that a combined measure of both the duration and intensity of hurricanes has doubled over the last 30 years.

Hurricanes have grown more powerful and destructive over the last 30 years due in part to global warming, says an MIT professor who warns that this trend could continue.

Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, reported in the July 31 online edition of the journal "Nature," that the amount of energy released in hurricanes in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific oceans has increased since the mid-1970s.

Both the duration of the cyclones and the largest wind speeds they produce have increased by about 50 percent over the past 50 years, Emanuel found.

"My results suggest that future warming may lead to an upward trend in [hurricanes'] destructive potential, and - taking into account an increasing coastal population - a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century," he said.

This trend corresponds to increases in average ocean surface temperatures over the same period. Most of the strongest hurricanes on record have occurred during the past 10 years, when ocean surface temperatures reached record levels.

According to Jay Fein, director of the National Science Foundation's climate dynamics program, which funded Emanuel's work, it "has resulted in an important measure of the potential impact of hurricanes on social, economic and ecological systems."

"Computer predictions warned citizens in Louisiana and Mississippi of Katrina's force," said Dr. Ekwurzel. "This saved millions of lives for those who were able to evacuate. Recent scientific developments also tell us that hurricanes will only get more powerful with warmer oceans caused by global warming."

Climate scientists around the world are certain that rising ocean temperatures are a result of global warming. Burning fossil fuels in cars and power plants releases carbon dioxide that blankets the Earth and traps heat. Oceans cover the majority of the Earth's surface, and they absorb most of this excess heat. Temperatures have already risen dramatically in recent decades, and because global warming pollution can stay in the atmosphere for a hundred or more years, temperatures will continue to increase.

"For economic and environmental reasons, and above all to save human lives, President Bush and other elected officials must take action to reduce heat-trapping emissions," said Dr. Ekwurzel.

Former Vice President Al Gore warned President George W. Bush and his administration that they ignore or discount global warming at their peril.

Speaking at the National Sierra Club Convention in San Francisco on September 9, Gore referred to Emanuel's work, saying, "The scientific community is warning us that the average hurricane will continue to get stronger because of global warming. A scientist at MIT has published a study well before this tragedy showing that since the 1970s, hurricanes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific have increased in duration, and in intensity, by about 50 percent."

"The waters in the Gulf [of Mexico] have been unusually warm," Gore said. "The oceans generally have been getting warmer. And the pattern is exactly consistent with what scientists have predicted for 20 years."

Citing the advice of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Gore said, "Two thousand scientists, in a hundred countries, engaged in the most elaborate, well organized scientific collaboration in the history of humankind, have produced long-since a consensus that we will face a string of terrible catastrophes unless we act to prepare ourselves and deal with the underlying causes of global warming."

"It is important to learn the lessons of what happens when scientific evidence and clear authoritative warnings are ignored in order to induce our leaders not to do it again and not to ignore the scientists again and not to leave us unprotected in the face of those threats that are facing us right now."

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EPA Proposes to Halve Toxics Release Inventory Reporting

WASHINGTON, DC, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new rules to expand the use of a shortened reporting form and to halve the frequency of reporting for facilities that must contribute information about their emissions to the public Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

One proposed rule would allow about one in every three facilities that must contribute information about their emissions to the Toxics Release Inventory to use (Form A certification statement) rather than a longer form.

The proposal is expected to save 165,000 hours per year, while still ensuring full Form R (long form) reporting on over 99 percent of toxic releases and other waste management activities, the agency says.

The proposal provides new incentives to facilities to emit less in order to be able to use the shorter form, the EPA says.

This proposed action comes after evaluation by the agency, its stakeholders and reporting facilities to address concerns expressed by emitters about TRI reporting burden.

"Since TRI began in 1986, EPA has learned a great deal about the power that public information has to influence corporate behavior and empower communities, and we also have found new ways to use technology to reduce costs for everyone involved, improve data quality and speed the release of the information collected," said Kimberly Nelson, assistant administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and chief information officer for the EPA.

The proposed rule is part of an on-going effort to streamline TRI reporting. The EPA issued a final rule in July that revised the TRI reporting forms to eliminate information not used, and to make use of data already available in existing EPA information systems.

In addition, the EPA is notifying Congress of its plans to initiate a rulemaking that will require emitting facilities to report only once every two years, rather than once each year, as they are now required to do.

"Not only would alternate year reporting result in significant burden reduction for covered facilities, citizens would benefit from the redirection of federal and state taxpayer dollars to improve the quality, clarity, usefulness and accessibility of TRI information products and services," the EPA said.

Program savings during the non-reporting years would be reinvested to improve the TRI-Made Easy software, further reducing the burden on reporters. In addition, the EPA says it would conduct more analysis of the TRI data, making it more useful to citizens and communities.

Finally, the agency says it would invest in greater electronic reporting, including an Internet based TRI-Made Easy for all reporting companies.

"Electronic reporting to EPA enables us to provide even greater taxpayer savings as processing time diminishes," the agency said.

As the agency begins collecting information that will aid an analysis of the alternate year approach, we stand ready to consider all viewpoints on the issues and plan to convene meetings with TRI stakeholders to invite their views. Any changes that EPA may propose as a result of this notice will be done as part of a full notice and public comment rulemaking process.

Additional information, a copy of the proposal and notification to Congress will be available to the public at:

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Ford to Focus on Building Gas-Electric Hybrid Vehicles

DEARBORN, Michigan, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - The Ford Motor Company will build 10 times as many gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles by 2010 as it does today, Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford told employees on Wednesday.

In an employee meeting in Ford's Scientific Research Laboratory, with hundreds of Ford scientists and engineers in attendance, Ford introduced a global plan to produce 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by 2010, compared to the 24,000 hybrids Ford now makes over the course of a year.

Ford is the only American auto company to produce hybrids and was the first to offer an SUV hybrid, the Ford Escape Hybrid, named the North American Truck of the Year at this year's North American International Auto Show.

Ford is now gearing up production of its second hybrid, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid. Mercury began taking orders for the Mariner Hybrid in July.

By 2008, Ford will have five hybrids on the road, including the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Mazda Tribute. By 2010, Ford plans to increase hybrid production to approximately 250,000 units annually - with more than half of the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury lineup having hybrid capability.

Ford told the assembled engineers and scientists that he is initiating a pilot program that will offset the greenhouse gases emitted in the manufacture of hybrid vehicles. The carbon offset program will pay for projects around the world that reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In addition, four new vehicles for 2006 will run largely on ethanol, raising the production of flexible fuel vehicles in 2006 to some 280,000 units.

"Innovation - in safety, in the environment, in design and in technological solutions to real world problems - is going to be reclaimed as our natural birthright," Ford said. "It will be the lens through which we view our budgets and our capital investments, our people and programs, and the way in which we rank our most essential priorities."

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Judge: Pesticide Registrations Must Consider California Frog

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - The Center for Biological Diversity is celebrating a court ruling Monday that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) to consult with other federal agencies to protect the California red-legged frog from 66 of the most toxic and persistent pesticides authorized for use in California.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White found that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by registering pesticides for use without considering how these pesticides might impact the continued existence of the red-legged frog.

The court determined that because the EPA registered pesticides for use in, or upwind, of the frog’s few remaining habitats, the EPA was required to review the impacts these pesticides have on the frog "at the earliest possible time."

The ruling means that the EPA must initiate consultation with other federal agencies as required under the Endangered Species Act.

“The California red-legged frog has been intertwined with our state’s identity for over a century, and it has been integral to our literature, our gold rush, and even our cuisine,” said Brent Plater, who argued the case for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We owe it to future generations of Californians to insure that toxic chemicals do not destroy this wonderful creature or the special places it calls home, and the court’s order recognizes that one of the best ways to do that is through the checks and balances found in the Endangered Species Act,” said Plater.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with endangered species experts to determine how activities such as pesticide registration impact species and their critical habitats. This system of checks and balances is intended to help prevent extinctions. Scientists believe that the Endangered Species Act has reduced extinction rates in the United States.

But developers and some politicians are attempting to eliminate this safety net. Yesterday Chairman of the House Resources Committee Representative Richard Pombo, a California Republican, introduced H.R. 3824, a bill that would allow a political appointee to overrule the objective recommendations of endangered species scientists. This is the same independent procedure that the court here found was necessary “at the earliest possible time” to protect Twain’s frog, said Plater.

The consultation process is particularly important to the red-legged frog because the EPA has allowed over 200 million pounds of pesticides to be applied each year in California without consulting with wildlife experts to determine if California’s imperiled fish and wildlife are being harmed.

“There is overwhelming data showing that numerous pesticides have potentially serious impacts on red-legged frogs and amphibians in general, but the EPA has resisted assessing those impacts,” said Jeff Miller, wildlife advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The EPA must now consider the ample evidence of pesticides contributing to decline of native amphibians when registering pesticides for use in red-legged frog habitat, particularly atrazine and other proven harmful contaminants. We expect the EPA to take adequate measures to ensure that their pesticide review program protects endangered species as well as human health and safety,” said Miller.

Historically abundant throughout California, red-legged frogs have declined in numbers over 90 percent and have disappeared from 70 percent of their former range. Studies implicate pesticide drift from the Central Valley in declines of several native frog species in the Sierra Nevada, including red-legged frogs.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that the percentage of upwind land in agricultural production is 6.5 times greater for Sierra Nevada and Central Valley sites where red-legged frogs have disappeared than for sites where frogs still live.

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Fuel Cells Power Verizon's Long Island Call Center

GARDEN CITY, New York, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - Verizon has built and is now operating the largest fuel cell project of its kind in the country, using the environmentally friendly generators to supply electric power at a large call switching center and office building in Garden City.

At a news conference here Wednesday, Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg said the seven fuel cells, built by UTC Power of South Windsor, Connecticut, are not only good for the environment but they also reduce dependence on commercial electric power and provide another layer of network reliability in the event of a disaster.

Verizon has installed the seven fuel cells outside its Garden City building. Each fuel cell is capable of generating 200 kilowatts of electrical power per hour, enough power to supply the energy needs of about 400 single family households, or 57 homes per fuel cell.

By using electricity from the fuel cells and reclaiming the heat and water they produce to help heat and cool the building, Verizon is eliminating some 11.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted into the atmosphere by a similar sized fossil fuel based power plant during one year.

"The fuel cells we are using here today help Verizon provide customers even more reliable communications services, whether for phone calls or high speed data transmission, and at the same time the power is environmentally friendly and efficiently produced," Seidenberg said. "We now look forward to studying this remarkable technology as it is being used over a period of years on such a large scale for the first time."

The project is expected to save Verizon some $250,000 annually in commercial power costs.

The new fuel cells will use natural gas piped in from local gas company Keyspan to obtain the hydrogen atoms for the chemical process. The natural gas is not burned. Instead, the hydrogen atoms are detached from the gas as it is fed into each of the seven cells, and then combined with oxygen atoms from the air to generate direct current electrical power. Heat and water is then vented from each cell, and direct current is converted to alternating current electricity for use in the building.

The Verizon central switching office in the building provides local, long distance and data services over about 35,000 phone lines in the area. In addition, the building houses some of the company's administrative offices and one of Verizon's regional Network Surveillance Operations Centers (NSOC).

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who attended the event, said, "With energy costs continuing to soar, it is critical that we continue to develop alternative sources of energy. I commend the cooperative efforts of Verizon and the federal and state governments to install fuel-cell-powered technology that will provide additional clean power options and fuel sources capable of generating the company's own power requirements and contributing to the needs of the surrounding community and electric grid in a power emergency."

Major funding for the project was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy. Verizon also expects to receive some funding from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy said, "The recent addition of fuel cell technology here at Verizon represents only the beginning for this technology on Long Island. The private sector has shown that they are willing to invest in this technology because they recognize the value and environmental responsibility that it represents."

"I believe the federal government can play an active role in supporting the advancement of fuel cell technology and reducing emissions by continuing to invest in the technology and doing all it can to assist both the private sector and local governments that want to provide a safe, quiet and clean source of power."

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California Wastewater Plant Generates Power From Kitchen Grease

MILLBRAE, California, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - The city of Millbrae, California, and Chevron Energy Solutions are starting construction of facilities at Millbrae’s Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) that will generate on-site electricity from restaurant kitchen grease and other organic matter.

The upgrades to the WPCP will make it one of the first wastewater treatment plants in the United States to receive and process inedible grease in a comprehensive system designed to control odors, generate reliable power, reduce energy costs and provide a new municipal revenue stream.

The new system will efficiently create and use a free biofuel - digester gas produced from grease - and will increase the amount of environmentally friendly power generated by the facility’s cogeneration plant by 40 percent.

Because the system will generate electricity on-site, the city will avoid having to purchase about 1.5 million kilowatt-hours from the local utility each year. This lower demand translates to 1,178,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually, equivalent to planting 166 acres of trees.

"Life is energy, and when you waste energy, you waste life," said Dick York, WPCP superintendent. "Our new facility upgrades at the Millbrae WPCP provide a novel solution to reduce the burden on landfills, support our own energy needs and simultaneously recoup costs. CES has been a valuable partner, working with us to pioneer a project that could shape the future of wastewater treatment plants around the country."

The upgraded system will produce about $264,000 in combined energy savings and revenues from its grease receiving facility each year. This will effectively pay for the $5.5 million facility improvements – as well as maintenance – at no new cost to the city’s ratepayers. The project may be awarded a rebate through PG&E’s Self-Generation Incentive Program, which would reduce the total project cost by about $200,000.

The innovative new system is a culmination of nine months of collaborative planning by the City of Millbrae and Chevron ES, which is engineering and managing the installation as prime contractor.

Designed as a cost-effective way to renovate the City’s aging wastewater treatment infrastructure, the system’s equipment is enclosed to minimize odors and will include:

Excess heat produced by the microturbine will warm the digester tanks to their optimum temperature. This beneficial use of otherwise wasted energy while generating electricity is known as cogeneration.

"The City of Millbrae approached us with a very complex situation, with the goal of upgrading its facilities with more effective technologies while keeping costs under control," said Jim Davis, president of Chevron Energy Solutions.

"We love these types of challenges, because they allow us to explore innovative solutions for energy production," said Davis. "In this case, the grease-receiving facility was the key to making this project feasible – not only will it reduce the WPCP’s energy expenses, but it will also open a new revenue stream to help offset the cost of new equipment."

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Recycled Cup Art Featured at Austin City Limits Music Festival

AUSTIN, Texas, September 22, 2005 (ENS) - Austin Green Art, an environmental public art organization, will create a temporary artwork, Cup City, commissioned by Starbucks Coffee Company at the Austin City Limits Music Festival this weekend at Austin's Zilker Park.

Cup City will highlight the company's recycling program. When complete, the 50 by 100 foot arrangement of metal fencing modules will hold 30,000 recycled Starbucks coffee cups. Solar powered lighting will illuminate the giant installation at night.

The artwork will be created onsite by 60 Austin Green Art volunteers, who will collect recyclable materials from the Festival grounds. Festival attendees, artists, and volunteers will participate in the completion of Cup City by placing coffee cups and lids directly on the structure.

Starbucks will be an onsite vendor at the legendary music festival, and will offer coffee beverages in an outdoor cafe environment, adjacent to Cup City. In addition to sponsoring the installation of Cup City, Starbucks will donate $1 from every beverage sold at the festival to Austin Green Art.

"Austin City Limits Festival is the quintessential Austin experience," said Kim Castillo, regional marketing manager, Starbucks Coffee Company. "By partnering with Austin Green Art, Starbucks will create a fun, interactive art experience for festival attendees, and give-back to the community we love."

Up to 70,000 attendees per day will view Cup City, the latest large-scale installation by Austin Green Art. Artwork construction began Wednesday, and Cup City will be removed when the festival closes on Sunday.

"The temporary nature of Cup City only adds to its impact," says Randy Jewart, Austin Green Art founder and director. "Like the music at the festival, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

"Our goal for the installation is to create a monumental visual centerpiece for the Festival," says Jewart. "We applaud Starbucks' commitment to environmental responsibility, and artistic expression."

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