AmeriScan: May 17, 2005

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Hawaii Congressman Proposes World's Largest Marine Refuge

WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - Congressman Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat, Monday introduced legislation that would create "the largest marine protected area in our world" in the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The area Case wishes to protect stretches across 1,200 miles of the Pacific Ocean from Nihoa Island to Kure Atoll, an area larger than Australia's Great Barrier Reef, currently the world's largest protected area.

"This initiative will provide the highest possible level of federal protection to an incredibly special area of U.S. waters that is home to 70 percent of our nation's coral reefs and some 7,000 species-up to half of them endemic to the area and found nowhere else on Earth," said Case, whose congressional district includes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"My proposal, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Refuge Act of 2005, would cover 137,000 square miles of our country's reefs, banks, seamounts and oceans, eclipsing Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Protected Area of 125,000 square miles," Case said.

"Virtually all activities in the Refuge, generally from land to 50 miles out to sea, would be by permit only. Permitted activities would include scientific research, but would prohibit commercial fishing and other extractive practices except in very narrow circumstances. Existing commercial fishing permit holders would be bought out at fair value."

Case's bill would assign management of the new refuge, the first of its kind in the country, to a new Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Refuges within the current managing entity, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Ocean Service.

The Office would manage the Refuge in cooperation with the State of Hawaii, and in consultation with an advisory council including representatives from the State of Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian, scientific and marine conservation communities.

"It is vital to note that this bill is grounded solidly in the cultural heritage and traditions of the indigenous peoples of Hawaii, our Native Hawaiians," said Case, who specifically cited the work of Kahea: the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, among other environmental and Native Hawaiian advocacy groups. The bill provides for the continued traditional use of the refuge by Native Hawaiians for religious, cultural and sustenance purposes.

Case said the highest protection of the entire area is necessary because of growing threats posed by invasive species, marine debris, fishing and other human occupancy and extractive uses.

But beyond these basic threats, Case said that there "should be some special places in our marine world which are in fact true reserves: truly off-limits, where our marine species can live and thrive in their natural state, without the invasive, extractive hand of humankind. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is this place."

The proposed legislation is in addition to the ongoing process to designate a slightly smaller area as a the nation's 14th national marine sanctuary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has taken public comment and has been drafting an environmental impact statement due out this summer as part of the process.

In addition, the state of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Friday proposed full protection for all state waters within the area.

Case praised the DLNR's action to establish the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Refuge in state waters, generally extending three miles out from land. "This bill would now complete the penumbra of protection for this incredible resource and truly discharge our responsibility of stewardship," he said.

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Mayors to Mark Environment Day with Urban Green Pacts

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will host mayors and urban planning experts from throughout the world next month for United Nations' World Environment Day. The urban leaders plan to exchange ideas and sign a slate of accords on environmental actions for cities.

The signing of the agreements, collectively referred to as the Urban Environmental Accords – Green Cities Declaration, will be in the spotlight of the UN Environmental Programme's (UNEP) World Environment Day celebration, taking place from June 1 to 5.

World Environment Day celebrations have been hosted by a different city since 1987. This is the first time the event takes place in the United States and commemorates the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco 60 years ago.

The Urban Environmental Accords cover seven environmental categories that cities can use to enable sustainable urban living and improve the quality of life for city dwellers: energy, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, environmental health and water.

The Accords also set forth 21 practical actions cities can take to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, or the health of the planet.

With just over half of the world's people now living in cities, urban populations consume 75 percent of the world's natural resources and produce 75 percent of its waste, UNEP points out.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said, "It is up to cities in the developed world to set an example in areas such as the efficient use of energy and water. And it is incumbent upon them to partner developing world cities so they do not take a short-term dirty development path, but a long-term sustainable one.

"If this can be done, we can help realize the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, and in doing so rid the world of poverty – the most toxic element of all," he added.

Toepfer will be joined at the ceremony by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and mayors from some 60 cities.

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National Volcano Early Warning System Emerges

WASHINGTON, DC, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - From Lassen Peak in California to Mt. Hood in Oregon and Mt. St. Helens in Washington, an early warning system is needed to monitor the active and potentially active volcanoes of the United States, the country's vulcanologists believe.

A National Volcano Early Warning System is being created by the Consortium of U.S. Volcano Observatories to establish a proactive, fully integrated, national scale monitoring effort that ensures the most threatening volcanoes in the United States are properly monitored in advance of the onset of unrest and "at levels commensurate with the threats posed," the consortium said.

The consortium defines volcanic threat as the combination of hazards - the destructive natural phenomena produced by a volcano - and exposure - people and property at risk from the hazards.

The United States has many volcanoes, and over the past 25 years the nation has experienced a diverse range of the destructive phenomena that volcanoes can produce.

Hazardous volcanic activity will continue to occur, and because of increasing population, increasing development, and expanding national and international air traffic over volcanic regions the exposure of human life and enterprise to volcano hazards is increasing.

The experts are relying on the way volcanoes exhibit "precursory unrest" that if detected and analyzed in time allows eruptions to be anticipated and communities at risk to be forewarned with reliable information in sufficient time to implement response plans and mitigation measures.

In the 25 years since the eruption of Mount St. Helens, scientific and technological advances in volcanology have been used to develop and test models of volcanic behavior and to make reliable forecasts of expected activity a reality, the consortium says.

Until now, these technologies and methods have been applied on an ad hoc basis to volcanoes showing signs of activity.

But the consortion now says that waiting to deploy a modern monitoring effort until a hazardous volcano awakens and an unrest crisis begins "is socially and scientifically unsatisfactory because it forces scientists, civil authorities, citizens, and businesses into playing catch up with the volcano, trying to get instruments and civil-defense measures in place before the unrest escalates and the situation worsens."

The consortium says this ad hoc manner of monitoring means they miss crucial early stages of the volcanic unrest and they lose much of their ability to accurately forecast events.

"Restless volcanoes do not always progress to eruption; nevertheless, monitoring is necessary in such cases to minimize either over-reacting, which costs money, or under-reacting, which may cost lives," they said.

Find active volcanoes of the United States and other countries here.

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Joint Riverkeeper, EPA, FBI Investigation Nabs Brooklyn Polluter

NEW YORK, New York, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - A concrete manufacturer in Brooklyn, New York has admitted to illegally discharging concrete slurry into Newtown Creek, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday.

The company, Empire Transit Mix, Inc., yesterday in federal court pleaded guilty to violating the Rivers and Harbors Act and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine.

The Criminal Investigation Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) teamed up with Riverkeeper, FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to collect evidence in the case.

Half of this fine will be given to the Hudson Riverkeeper to help in its work to protect New York City's rivers and harbors.

"This was a team effort. The information that Riverkeeper provided corroborated evidence that EPA collected and their involvement as well as that of the FBI helped ensure a successful outcome," said George Pavlou, Acting EPA Deputy Regional Administrator. "Water is a precious resource and together the federal government and Riverkeeper have stopped this company adding pollution to an already over-stressed creek."

"Riverkeeper commends the EPA for its commitment to bringing environmental lawbreakers on Newtown Creek to justice," said Alex Matthiessen, executive director for Hudson Riverkeeper. "This action demonstrates how dedicated government regulators can work with citizen groups to stop polluters and restore our environment."

In May 2001, an EPA inspector was conducting a routine inspection of a nearby facility when he observed a discharge of grey liquid from the Empire facility, into Newtown Creek.

Following these observations, EPA and the FBI set up surveillance of the facility and observed numerous discharges. EPA sampled the discharge and found that it had a pH of 12, making it highly caustic and adding to the already serious pollution problems in Newtown Creek. The sampling allowed EPA to determine that the discharges were concrete slurry being discharged through a hole in the retaining wall of the Empire facility.

The Hudson Riverkeeper joined the investigation in 2003 by bringing what it believed to be an illegal discharge pipe to the attention of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. Riverkeeper and EPA continued to separately compile evidence of the illegal discharges, and conducted a joint investigation in November 2003.

While the details have not yet been worked out, Riverkeeper will use the $150,000 to extend its commitment to revitalize Newtown Creek, one of the nation's dirtiest waterways.

The group will focus on preventing pollution, conducting expanded public education and outreach, and helping to lead community visioning for creek restoration. Building on the public-private model developed during this case, the group will also increase its collaborative approach to pollution prevention with EPA, state and local regulators.

The Rivers and Harbors Act prohibits the deposit of refuse into navigable waters. The statute allows the federal government to give one half of a criminal fine to the party that gave the government information leading to a plea or conviction.

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Long Island Sound Receives $3 Million in Conservation Funding

THROGS NECK, New York, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - Where the East River meets Long Island Sound at Maritime College, federal and state environmental officials announced Thursday that $1 million worth of grants would be awarded to 28 local community organizations and governments under the newly created Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

The new grant program pools funds from five federal agencies - the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service - with the Hudson River Foundation’s New York City Environmental Fund for projects to restore the health and living resources of Long Island Sound.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Executive Director John Berry said the government commitment of $1 million "will help engage communities at a large enough scale to conserve places that make the Sound an estuary of national significance.”

The awards will be leveraged with $1.9 million raised by recipients themselves from other funding sources, bringing to $3 million the total funding for local conservation projects.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said, “The habitat restoration efforts that will occur throughout Long Island Sound fit into our model of ecosystem based management, and promote local stewardship of the habitats that sustain our nation's fishery resources.”

The projects include: restoring eelgrass, an underwater plant that provides vital coastal habitat; helping a community develop a plan to control pollutant runoff from discharging into the Sound; and providing education experiences, such as field work, to disadvantaged youth from urban areas.

“One of the greatest environmental challenges facing Connecticut and our neighbors is the protection and restoration of Long Island Sound,” said Gina McCarthy, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. "The projects supported by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund will not only benefit coastal communities, they will benefit communities throughout the watershed."

Four grants were given for habitat restoration and protection; five grants for planning and stewardship; eight for education and outreach; four to enrich fisheries; two to improve public recreation and public access; three for water quality monitoring; and two to improve water quality.

"This significant support from the Long Island Sound Futures Fund for communities and parks in Long Island City will accelerate the reconnection of urban residents with their waterfront, while increasing habitat for the shorebirds with which we share the metropolitan region,” said Clay Hiles, executive director of the Hudson River Foundation.

In addition to building the capacity of local organizations, the projects this first year will open up 10 river miles for fish passage, and restore more than 100 acres of critical fish and wildlife habitat including lakes, underwater grasses, tidal wetlands, and park frontage.

The Futures Fund was initiated by the Long Island Sound Study through EPA’s Long Island Sound Office and is managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“These grants will restore habitat, improve public access, reduce polluted runoff, increase fish access to spawning areas, and educate citizens about the Sound,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England regional office.

Long Island Sound is an estuary that provides economic and recreational benefits to millions of people, while also providing natural habitats to more than 1,200 invertebrates, 170 species of fish, and dozens of species of migratory birds.

The Long Island Sound Study, developed under the EPA’s National Estuary Program, is a cooperative effort between the EPA and the states of Connecticut and New York to protect and restore the Sound and its ecosystem. In 1994, it created a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to guide federal, state and local governments to improve water quality, restore and protect habitats, and reach out to the public to foster environmental stewardship.

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Global Wind Map Shows Best Wind Farm Locations

STANFORD, California, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - North America was found to have the greatest wind power potential according to a new global wind power map that may help planners place turbines in locations that can maximize power from the winds and provide widely available low-cost energy.

After analyzing more than 8,000 wind speed measurements in an effort to identify the world's wind power potential for the first time, Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson of Stanford University suggest that wind captured at specific locations, if even partially harnessed, can generate more than enough power to satisfy the world's energy demands.

Their research, supported by NASA and by Stanford University's Global Climate and Energy Project, is published in May issue of the "Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres," a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

The researchers collected wind speed measurements from approximately 7,500 surface stations and another 500 balloon-launch stations to determine global wind speeds at 80 meters [300 feet] above the ground surface, which is the hub height of modern wind turbines.

Using a new interpolation technique to estimate the wind speed at that elevation, the authors report that nearly 13 percent of the stations they reviewed experience winds with an average annual speed strong enough for power generation.

They note that, based on their expectations of other global areas, an even greater percentage of locations would likely reach the 6.9 meters per second [15 miles per hour] wind speed considered strong enough to be economically feasible.

Such wind speeds at 80 meters, referred to as wind power Class 3, were found in every region of the world. In North America, the most consistent winds were found in the Great Lakes region and from ocean breezes along the eastern, western and southern coasts.

The researchers also found that some of the strongest winds were observed in Northern Europe, along the North Sea, while the southern tip of South America and the Australian island of Tasmania also recorded significant and sustained strong winds at the turbine blade height.

Overall, the researchers calculated winds at 80 meters [300 feet] traveled over the ocean at approximately 8.6 meters per second and at nearly 4.5 meters per second over land [20 and 10 miles per hour, respectively].

"The main implication of this study is that wind, for low-cost wind energy, is more widely available than was previously recognized," Archer said. "The methodology in the paper can be utilized for several applications, such as determining elevated wind speeds in remote areas or to evaluate the benefits of distributed wind power." Converting as little as 20 percent of potential wind energy to electricity could satisfy the entirety of the world's energy demands, but the researchers caution that there are considerable practical barriers to reaping the wind's potential energy.

Chief among those barriers is creating and maintaining a dense array of modern turbines that would be needed to harness the wind power. Some sources have suggested that millions of turbines would be needed to produce an acceptable level of energy and that alternative energy sources would still be necessary to produce power when the wind speeds fall below a certain threshold. Creating a large field of turbines could also be hazardous to birds and may produce unacceptable noise levels.

Current research indicates that several of those limitations can be overcome with better placement of wind turbines. "It is our hope that this study will foster more research in areas that were not covered by our data, or economic analyses of the barriers to the implementation of a wind-based global energy scenario," said Archer.

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NASA Postpones Environmental Satellite Launch

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California, May 17, 2005 (ENS) - NASA's launch of a polar-orbiting environmental satellite for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been postponed.

The satellite, known as the NOAA-N, will launch no earlier than 6:22 a.m. EDT, Friday, May 20. The satellite has a 10-minute launch window. The launch will be aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.

After the launch attempt last Thursday NASA said a vent hose in the launch vehicle broke loose possibly causing contamination of the payload. Samples must be taken from NOAA-N to ensure any possible contaminants do not exceed allowable limits. Launch managers will review test results before announcing a definite launch date.

NOAA-N is the latest polar-orbiting satellite developed by NASA for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA-N will collect information about Earth's atmosphere and environment to improve weather prediction and climate research across the globe.

NOAA-N is the 15th in a series of polar-orbiting satellites dating back to 1978. NOAA uses two satellites, a morning and afternoon satellite, to ensure every part of the Earth is observed at least twice every 12 hours.

Severe weather is monitored and reported to the National Weather Service which broadcasts the findings to the global community. With the early warning, effects of catastrophic weather events can be minimized.

NOAA-N also has instruments to support an international search-and-rescue program. The Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COPAS-SARSAT, transmits to ground stations the location of emergency beacons from ships, aircraft and people in distress around the world. The program, in place since 1982, has saved about 18,000 lives.

NOAA-N is the first in a series of polar-orbiting satellites to be part of a joint cooperation project with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

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