AmeriScan: September 30, 2005

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U.S. Mayors Worried About Water Infrastructure

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - Aging water infrastructure, water supply availability, flooding, drought management, regional conflict over water use - mayors across the United States said today they are worried that funding shortfalls will not allow them to fix these everyday problems or prepare to handle catastrophic events.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, led by Conference President and Long Beach, California Mayor Beverly O'Neill, along with Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, Chair of the Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council, released the findings of a National Urban Water Resources Survey today during a press conference in Albuquerque.

The alert is based on a survey of 414 cities, which was conducted prior to the recent hurricanes.

The survey results show that everyday issues like maintaining, replacing and building water infrastructure remain critical challenges for cities. Although cities have been extremely active in committing their own funds to major capital investments in water and wastewater infrastructure, there is still a tremendous need for additional infrastructure investment.

Mayors are also concerned about protecting people and property from catastrophic events like natural disasters including floods, storms and hurricanes, as well as securing water systems from man-made disasters like terrorism.

"Hurricanes Katrina and Rita make apparent the devastating impact that water can have on a community. We have seen first-hand how water can wipe out entire communities," O'Neill said. "That is why this water survey is invaluable because it tells us what cities really need."

Most alarming is a city's challenge to provide adequate water supply, particularly with aging water infrastructure and questions about how to finance future water infrastructure investment. The survey shows that nearly 40 percent of the cities surveyed will not have adequate water supply in 20 years.

Additionally, dealing with Congressional unfunded mandates remains a serious problem for mayors. Currently major funding is directed toward water legislation and regulation instead of infrastructure improvement where it is sorely needed. This has left many cities unprepared for man-made and natural disasters, as witnessed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"It is time for this country to focus more attention and resources to find common sense solutions to rebuild our crumbling and aging water infrastructure," said Chavez.

The final results of this Water Survey will be available on The U.S. Conference of Mayors website at http://www.usmayors.org/ on November 1, 2005.

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U.S. Bans Import of Endangered Caspian Sea Sturgeon

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - Import of caviar and meat from the endangered beluga sturgeon was ordered suspended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on Thursday, a move that will affect Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan.

The Service has considered all beluga sturgeon populations endangered since October 2004. In March, the agency set conditions to allow limited foreign and domestic trade in sturgeon products, including caviar and some cosmetics.

That special rule required the affected nations to submit explanations of the policies they would implement to preserve the species while still allowing some harvesting.

The rule was in keeping with recent decisions on sturgeon adopted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global agreement under which nearly 170 countries seek to regulate trade in species through a system of permits.

The special rule required Caspian Sea countries wishing to continue to export beluga sturgeon caviar and meat to the United States under this exemption to submit, by September 6, 2005, copies of their laws and management plans for the protection and conservation of the species.

The Service says none of the nations listed in Thursday's order submitted this information, and so the trade suspension will take effect today.

The ban applies to commercial shipments and also to personal effects from Caspian Sea countries. While international travelers have been able to carry up to 250 grams of caviar without permits in the past, such transport of the products now is banned.

The Service listed all beluga sturgeon populations as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Act) effective October 21, 2004. To provide economic incentives for conservation efforts by Caspian Sea and Black Sea countries harvesting beluga sturgeon, the Service issued a special rule on March 4, 2005, setting certain conditions for exempting foreign and U.S. domestic commerce in beluga sturgeon products from the Act's permit requirements.

The terms of the special rule parallel recent decisions on beluga sturgeon and other sturgeon species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a global agreement under which nearly 170 countries, including the United States, seek to regulate and monitor international wildlife trade

The trade suspension can be lifted if Caspian Sea countries submit the information required under the special rule.

The suspension does not apply to caviar and meat from other sturgeon species such as osetra, sevruga and domestic white sturgeon caviar.

Domestic interstate commerce in beluga sturgeon caviar and meat from the Caspian Sea basin that was legally imported before the trade suspension will continue to be authorized under the special rule without a threatened species permit. Because of the perishable nature of sturgeon caviar and meat, this exemption expires 18 months from the date of the original CITES export permit.

The Service is still reviewing documents received from Black Sea countries that harvest beluga sturgeon and has not yet reached a decision concerning their compliance with the special rule.

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International Wilderness Congress Convenes in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - Some 1,100 delegates from 55 nations assembled today in Anchorage for the 8th World Wilderness Congress, a meeting described as the world’s longest running public environmental forum.

The meeting’s theme is “Wilderness, Wildlands and People: A Partnership for the Future,” with sessions devoted to addressing “the practicalities of realizing benefits to human communities from protecting and sustaining wilderness, wildlands and wildlife,” said Vance Martin, president of the WILD Foundation, a principal organizer of the congress.

This Congress will also have a special focus on the wilderness, wildlands, and marine resources of Alaska, Siberia, Canada, and the North Pacific, and will mark the first time that WWC events are held in Russia.

“I’m hoping we can learn from that,” said Liz Close of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), “and bring people in this country closer to their wilderness and make sure that people understand the benefits that are derived from this land.”

The USFS, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be represented at the meeting in their roles as government custodians of millions of hectares of public lands that are protected as wilderness areas.

Close said delegates from various nations have a lot to learn from each other about how they manage wilderness lands and how their cultures view those lands. She said the U.S. system of wildlands protection is different from the model used by many other nations because the abundance of land in the United States allows vast tracts to be sealed off from settlement and development.

The policy protects the land but isolates people from it, she said. For Americans, wilderness is only a place to visit; for those of other nations, wilderness is a place to live.

The 8th World Wilderness Congress will, for the first time, bring together as many as 30 indigenous groups from the United States, Canada, Central and South America, Asia and Africa with the goal of forming an international Native Lands and Wilderness Council.

The Native Lands and Wilderness Council will help indigenous groups better manage their territories in the face of continued pressures by establishing a forum in which they can learn both how to replicate one another’s successes and more effectively cope with threats.

Participating groups will present case studies of indigenous conservation initiatives, and groups that have developed or are developing conservation projects on their traditional wild areas will share their experiences.

“The World Wilderness Congress has always integrated indigenous participation into its sessions, and in this respect, the 8th Congress is no different,” said Vance Martin, President of the WILD Foundation. “But what is different this time is the scale. Native lands management is critical to conservation efforts, and we will do everything we can to ensure that indigenous groups are full partners at the table during the Congress and that their knowledge and centuries old expertise as land stewards is recognized.”

A United States indigenous group, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, will co-convene the Council with the Deh Cho First Nation from Canada. The only Native American tribe to designate part of its territory as a wilderness area, the CSKT has a management plan that protects both the ecological integrity and cultural values of their tribal lands, while opening up the area for strictly managed, low impact tourism.

Some Alaskans hosting the Congress consider their state the perfect place to discuss the connections between wilderness and people.

“Alaska has more acreage in legally designated wilderness than the other 49 states combined,” said Walter Hickel, an honorary co-chair of the Congress, who is also a former governor of Alaska and a former U.S. secretary of the interior. “And yet,” he said, “people live in Alaska 12 months a year and have for over 10,000 years. Our mission must be to care about the total environment – people, people’s needs and nature.”

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Human Presence Causes Stress in Penguin Chicks

SEATTLE, Washington, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - As anyone who has seen the film, "March of the Penguins" knows, penguin chicks have plenty of stress in their lives. Now researchers at the University Washginton (UW) have found that humans can increase their stress levels.

Newly hatched magellanic penguin chicks in breeding grounds with a large number of human visitors show a spike in levels of a stress related hormone compared to chicks hatched in areas not visited by humans, the scientists discovered.

It was not until chicks with limited human exposure reached 40 to 50 days old that they showed a stress response like the newly hatched chicks in areas frequented by humans, said researcher Brian Walker, who led the work as part of his doctoral thesis at UW. He is now an assistant professor of biology at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

Magellanic penguin chicks are hatched in a very immature and helpless condition. Walker's group found that by the time they reached 70 days old, nearly the time of fledging, chicks in areas visited by humans had become far more accustomed to the presence of people than those in non-visited areas.

"In the tourist areas, you can walk among them and they put up with you. But when you walk over the hill to the places where tourists don't go, they're much more skittish. They run away or dive into their nests," he said.

The research was conducted at a penguin reserve at Punta Tombo, Argentina, with three separate sampling periods in November and December 2001 and January 2002. Chicks aged six to seven days were captured and blood was drawn to measure the level of a hormone called corticosterone.

The first sample was obtained within three minutes of capture to establish a baseline because, unlike a hormone such as adrenaline, it takes several minutes for corticosterone to build up in the bloodstream after a stressful event, such as being captured. Additional blood samples were drawn after 30 and 60 minutes. The same procedures were followed when the chicks were 40 to 50 days old and again two weeks before fledging, which occurs when the chick is about 75 days old.

None of the chicks demonstrated an elevated baseline corticosterone level. But 30 minutes and 60 minutes after capture, newly hatched chicks regularly visited by humans had levels more than three times higher than undisturbed chicks. At 40 to 50 days old, the levels were nearly the same for chicks at 30 and 60 minutes after capture, and for those near fledging the levels were almost identical between visited and undisturbed chicks.

But even when the hormone levels evened out between the two groups as the chicks got older, their behavior was different. Nearly fledged chicks in tourist areas did not flee until people were within two feet, while those in the areas not visited by tourists sought safety when people were still 30 feet away.

The research will be published in the October issue of "Conservation Biology," a journal of the Society of Conservation Biology. Co-authors are Dee Boersma and John Wingfield, UW biology professors and Walker's doctoral advisers.

There is no evidence of short-term negative effects, such as different growth rates or weight differences at fledging, caused by distinct differences in corticosterone levels between newly hatched chicks in tourist and non-tourist areas of the reserve, Walker said. But it is unclear what later effects the elevated stress hormones might have.

"We don't know yet what it means – it might mean nothing, but it will take more research to be sure," he said. "We are seeing evidence in other species, including humans, that some detrimental physiological changes that happen to adults can only be traced back to stressful situations or elevated corticosterone levels when they were young."

The research was funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Ornithologists' Union and the American Museum of Natural History.

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Pennsylvania Eases Joint State-Federal Industrial Site Cleanup

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, September 30, 2005 - Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell today announced new guidelines that make it easier to meet state and federal environmental law guidelines when cleaning up a former industrial site.

“My administration has made it easier and faster for companies to reuse our former industrial sites, meet their obligations under federal environmental laws and get liability relief under Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling Program,” Rendell said. “Improving the way developers do business here in Pennsylvania will help bring jobs to our communities and rejuvenate our boroughs, towns and cities.”

The new guidelines implemented by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will allow developers to simultaneously satisfy their environmental obligations under the state’s Land Recycling Program and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

In April 2004, DEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a historic Memorandum of Agreement called Pennsylvania’s One Cleanup Program, which makes it possible for developers to work toward meeting both state and federal cleanup standards at the same time. Previously, developers had to exert extra time and effort to comply with separate requirements under the Act 2 portion of the state’s Land Recycling Program and federal EPA standards.

The agreeement also clarified that sites remediated under the state’s brownfields program also satisfy requirements for three key federal laws: RCRC; the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act, commonly referred to as Superfund; and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Currently, 11 sites around the state are being remediated under the agreement.

Now, most sites that enter the One Cleanup Program only need to fulfill the state’s Act 2 requirements to meet their federal obligations, speeding up final cleanup approval and hastening redevelopment.

Another key feature of the streamlined process is the designation of a project manager who will serve as a single point of contact for developers. This person, usually a DEP project manager, will coordinate with EPA and all other parties necessary to make sure all cleanup requirements are met and the project is successful.

Removing the threat of federal legal action once a site meets Pennsylvania’s cleanup standards will encourage more redevelopment of old industrial sites. RCRA is the most common federal law to come into play for cleanups, so streamlining the process for developers to satisfy requirements for this law will have the greatest effect.

These enhanced management approaches are part of Governor Rendell’s comprehensive effort to update the state’s brownfield program by streamlining permitting processes for reclamation projects and ensuring dedicated funding to help Pennsylvania achieve its economic and environmental protection goals.

State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty, speaking this week at the Pennsylvania Brownfields Conference held in Harrisburg, told economic development, business and community leaders, “Streamlining the process to remove obstacles will attract more developers to abandoned industrial sites, revitalize our downtowns and bring more jobs to Pennsylvania.”

Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by environmental issues.

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Arizona Offers Householders $2 Million in Solar Funding Support

PHOENIX, Arizona, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - An additional $2 million is now available for Arizona Public Service (APS) customers who want to install residential or commercial solar energy projects in the sunny state.

The funds, available on a first-come, first-served basis, are available under the APS Environmental Portfolio Standard Credit Purchase Program (CPP). The additional funds bring the total money available in the CPP to $4.25 million in 2005.

To ensure availability, customers must first call APS and reserve monies for their projects, which must be professionally installed and completed in 180 days.

Under the APS CPP, customers receive up to $4 per watt of installation, or up to 50 percent of the installed projects for grid-tied systems and up to $2 per watt for off-grid systems.

In addition, customers may receive up to $700 for solar water heating systems.

The program is currently under review by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates APS. Any modifications to it are expected to be announced by year end.

For more information, customers may access the APS Web site at http://www.aps.com/my_community/Solar/eps.html. Customers may also call 602-250-4990.

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Scientists Use HDTV for a Sharp Look at Sea Floor

ARLINGTON, Virginia, September 30, 2005 (ENS) - Ocean scientists used for the first time a high-definition (HD) television camera for live views of an area of the sea floor that has been twisted by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and is dotted with spires and chimneys venting water as hot as 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Wednesday and Thursday the team broadcast images from the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge on the sea floor 200 miles off the coast of Washington state and British Columbia.

The transmissions are the first from the sea floor anywhere in the world to be broadcast live in HD video, which gives seven to 10 times the clarity of standard definition.

Called VISIONS '05, for Visually Integrated Science for Interactive Ocean Networked Systems, the expedition is studying how tectonic-plate interaction can support exotic and ancient microbial life forms deep within the sea floor.

Instruments, cameras and robots are being used to study the unusual microorganisms that flourish there.

The expedition is funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the University of Washington (UW), and is using the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson and two remotely operated submersibles from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Plans call for real-time, HD video from the sea floor to be transmitted from the remotely operated vehicle, Jason II, back to the Thompson through a six mile-long electro-optical tether.

Weather permitting, an onboard engineering-production crew from the ResearchChannel will produce a high-definition program on Sept. 28 and 29, 2005, using shipboard and live, sub-sea HD imagery. Scientists from the ship and in a Seattle studio plan to narrate the live broadcasts from 2 to 3 p.m. PDT (5 to 6 p.m. EDT) on those days.

"These broadcasts will give students and the general public a rare glimpse of the wonders of the ocean depths," said Marge Cavanaugh, deputy assistant director for geosciences at NSF, "and allow them to discover what draws oceanographers, geologists and biologists to careers in the geosciences."

The Endeavour Segment is one of the most geologically and biologically active sites in the global network of mid-ocean ridges and represents one of the most extreme environments on Earth, say University of Washington oceanographers John Delaney and Deborah Kelley, chief scientists of the expedition.

While the public broadcasts are available only in standard-definition--the same quality as regular television--UWTV and NSF are pioneering the broadcast of live high-definition video from the sea floor to selected research groups and sites in six countries capable of handling the high-bandwidth Internet data, said Michael Wellings, director of engineering at UWTV.

"This crisp resolution dramatically enhances a scientist's ability to operate in remote environments," Kelley says. "The incredible quality of the video will soon allow the public to connect with scientists online as they conduct their experiments in the deep sea."

Daily updates about the expedition are posted at http://www.visions05.washington.edu/.

Computer users can see the live webcast on UW's ResearchChannel website at: http://www.researchchannel.org/visions05/multimedia.asp

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