AmeriScan: April 17, 2002

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Arctic Drilling Would Not Increase Security

WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - At a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday, former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey dismissed claims that opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling would improve America's national security.

President George W. Bush has proposed to increase the nation's domestic oil supplies and reduce demand for overseas oil by opening more public lands, including ANWR, to oil drilling. Woolsey argued that drilling the Arctic would weaken the nation's energy security by increasing reliance on the vulnerable Trans Alaska Pipeline.

"The bottom line is that we'll be dependent on the Middle East as long as we are dependent on oil," said Woolsey, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995. "Drilling in ANWR is not a recipe for America's national security. The only answer is to use substantially less petroleum."

Citing U.S. Geological Survey estimates that indicate the amount of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be at best three tenths of one percent of the world's known reserves, Woolsey asserted that such a minimal amount of oil was not worth the continued reliance on the pipeline.

"A key vulnerability of drilling in the Arctic Refuge is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline," said Woolsey. "It was shut down last fall by a drunk who shot one bullet, it has been sabotaged and incompetently bombed twice, and these people are children compared with the sophistication of people who attacked us September 11."

"Oil from ANWR is so far in the future and such a small amount, that the negative features of it -environmentally but primarily from my perspective the vulnerability of the pipeline - outweigh any national security benefit claimed," Woolsey concluded.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday on an amendment introduced by Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski, which would authorize opening a portion of ANWR to oil and natural gas exploration.

Senate Democrats filed a motion to cut off debate on the amendment, forcing a vote this week. Supporters of the measure said they doubt the vote will carry enough votes to pass.

Environmental groups say that by focusing on fossil fuel production, Senate Republicans are missing an opportunity to diversify the nation's energy supplies.

"The drive by some to open the refuge has become an obsession that is distracting the nation from looking at real options for clean, secure, and reliable energy," said Martha Marks, president of REP America, the lobbying arm of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "Drilling in the Arctic refuge will not reduce gasoline prices, will not improve our energy security, and will not reduce our dependence on the Middle East."

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Heat Records Broken Across U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - A taste of summer heat broke 70 temperature records from the Midwest to the East on Monday.

The warm weather is expected to last at least through Friday in some areas, forecasters at the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

On Monday, the mercury soared into the upper 80s and mid-90s in the Midwest. Sioux City, Iowa, hit 96 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded in that city this early in the year. In McCook, Nebraska, the temperature reached 97 degrees.

In Chicago, the temperature hit 88, breaking the old record of 84. Minneapolis reached 91 degrees, eclipsing the old record by nine degrees. Toledo, Ohio broke a record with 85 degrees.

Washington Monument

Washington, DC set a new record high of 92 degrees on Tuesday, beating the old record of 91 degrees set in 1976. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
On Tuesday, Washington DC's Reagan National Airport hit 92 degrees, breaking the old record of 91 set in 1976. Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport, both just outside Washington, DC, also broke records with each reaching 89 degrees.

New York's Central Park hit 90 degrees on Tuesday, breaking the old record of 88 set more than a century ago in 1896. Records also fell in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Rochester and Syracuse in New York state.

"A developing storm system over the Rockies is helping to pull this very warm, moist air northward," said David Reynolds, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service. "The storm system may help spawn an outbreak of severe weather across the Plains states - the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska - on Tuesday."

The record to near-record warmth in the Plains should begin to return to normal by Wednesday, Reynolds added. However, the heat will hang on in the Gulf and East Coast states through Friday.

"We expect the heat to break by late Friday, but not before more unseasonably warm temperatures occur along the East Coast," Reynolds said. "As the storm over the Rockies heads northeast, the associated cold front will bring the potential for much needed rain in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states."

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$85.7 Million Supports Species Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - Three innovative grant programs, totaling $85.7 million, are available to states willing to purchase land or improve habitat for federally protected species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is seeking proposals from states and U.S. territories interested in acquiring land or conducting conservation planning for endangered species. The grants are expected to be awarded summer 2002.

"Local involvement is the cornerstone of conservation success," said USFWS Director Steve Williams. "Through programs such as these, the Service is building stronger partnerships with the states and finding new ways to support and work with landowners willing to provide valuable habitat for wildlife."

The grants will be awarded from the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, authorized under the Endangered Species Act. This fund provides grants to states and territories to support their participation in an array of voluntary conservation projects for listed species, as well as for species either proposed or candidates for listing.

By law, the state or territory must contribute 25 percent of the estimated program costs of approved projects, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories undertake a joint project.

The three grant programs are:

More information is available at: http://endangered.fws.gov/grants/

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Agriculture Statistics Challenge Land Use Assumptions

LEESBURG, Virginia, April 16, 2002 (ENS) - A Virginia sheep farmer says U.S. agriculture statistics suggest that, contrary to popular belief, industrialized countries do not use more land than developing countries to grow food and raise animals.

In the April 11 issue of the journal "Nature," Stephen Budiansky of Black Sheep Farm in Leesburg, Virginia, examined land use statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). His analysis revealed that developed nations provide more calories per person, and much more meat and dairy products, while using less total agricultural land than the poorest countries, and just a bit more crop land per capita.

"It is often stated that countries with higher incomes demand much more land per person to sustain their higher consumption rates," Budiansky wrote. "What is most striking is that the total area used for U.S. food production has remained virtually unchanged since 1945."

From 1945 to 1997, per capita cropland use in the U.S. declined by 50 percent, Budiansky says, as population grew by 90 percent.

Around the world, "food production represents by far the greatest impact of humans on land worldwide," Budiansky noted. "About 10 percent of the world's 13 billion hectares of land is used to grow crops, 25 percent for permanent pasture."

Budiansky used USDA statistics to calculate how the nation's per capita land requirements have changed over time. Today, he found, the U.S. holds about 2.8 hectares per person. Crops are grown on 0.52 hectares per capita, while grazed forest land and grazed arable land account for another 1.17 hectares per capita.

"By comparison, forested lands, parks and wildlife areas total 0.75 hectares per capita," Budiansky wrote.

Average cropland area across all wealthy countries is 0.4 hectares per capita. In sub-Saharan Africa, cropland averages 0.3 hectares per capita, and grazing land accounts for another 1.7 hectares per capita.

"Thus, developed nations provide more calories per person, and very substantially more meat and dairy products per person (per capita meat consumption in the United States is 10 times that in sub-Saharan Africa), while using only slightly more cropland per capita than the poorest countries and less total agricultural land (arable plus grazing) per capita," Budiansky concludes.

Intensive farming methods require less land to feed more people, he says.

"Use of chemical fertilizer and of hybrid and other high yielding varieties of grains could let developing countries match Western diets with little or no increase in land use," Budiansky argues. "The growth in urban areas and other uses of land that come with growing affluence add an insignificant amount to land requirements."

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Conservation Groups Seek Ban on Trumpeter Swan Hunt

WASHINGTON, DC, April 16, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation groups have filed a motion for summary judgment in U.S. District Court, asking that it put a stop to a sport hunting season opened on trumpeter swans by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in the world, with adult birds having an average wingspan of seven to eight feet and a height of four feet. Their beautiful white plumage has always attracted hunters, and during the 19th century the species was hunted to the brink of extinction.

Those who survived found sanctuary in the geothermal areas of Yellowstone National Park, and halted the long migrations common among other swan species.

Today, there are fewer than 450 trumpeter swans in the Rocky Mountain tri-state population, including about 70 breeding pairs, forming the last native nesting population in the lower 48 states.

It is difficult for hunters to distinguish between trumpeter swans and the smaller tundra swans, who are legally hunted for sport. Every year, tundra swan hunters kill or cripple a number of trumpeter swans, and harass trumpeters into marginal winter habitat.

In 1995, the USFWS set a legal quota of trumpeters that could be taken during tundra swan season. The quotas were considered experimental, and set to expire in 2000.

But last year, the agency issued a decision to extend the quotas and expand the hunt across three states - Montana, Nevada and Utah - allowing tundra swan hunters to continue legally killing trumpeter swans.

In addition to hunters, the birds face numerous other threats including low reproduction rates, high chick mortality, human disturbance at nesting sites, lead poisoning from lead shot left by hunters, collisions with power lines, and competition from the Canadian migratory population of trumpeters.

"The USFWS has opened up a hunting season on seriously imperiled trumpeter swans simply to absolve tundra swan hunters of liability for killing trumpeters," said Andrea Lococo, Rocky Mountain coordinator for The Fund for Animals.

Conservation groups have petitioned the USFWS to list the Rocky Mountain tri-state population of trumpeter swans under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency has yet to act on the petition.

"The U.S. trumpeter swan is America's most imperiled and unprotected migratory bird species," said Jasper Carlton, executive director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation. "It seems unbelievable that the USFWS would schedule a recreational hunt on such a rare species."

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Automated System Promises Better Ozone Monitoring

ATLANTA, Georgia, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - With these ultimate goals in mind, a team of engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) is designing the next generation of ozone monitoring technology.

Based on light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the new techniques will make ozone monitoring continuous and affordable. The device has been dubbed NEXLASER for NEXt Generation Laser Air Sensor for the Southeastern Region - though the technology could be applied anywhere in the world.

The concentration of ozone in the air above urban areas is a piece of missing information for ozone pollution forecasters. Atmospheric scientists studying ozone pollution need this information to help determine the sources and ultimate destinations of air pollutants.

Better information about ozone pollution could help metropolitan area planners to devise effective strategies to address air quality issues.

"NEXLASER will be great for ozone forecasting, and it should enable people to do new kinds of research projects in city planning, environmental engineering and atmospheric chemistry," said GTRI project director Gary Gimmestad. "Right now, it's hard to correlate anything like traffic patterns with ozone. It's just not accurate yet because there's not enough information."

Current LIDAR systems require a crew of operators to make adjustments, maintain the system, and collect and analyze data. NEXLASER will automate this process, making data collection continuous and data analysis occur in real time.

The LIDAR technique can measure ozone concentrations because ozone absorbs one color of light emitted from the laser, but not another. A dense concentration of ozone would lessen the distance over which light scatters.

"NEXLASER's three dimensional data - altitude up to three kilometers, ozone concentration and geographic distribution from a network of units - will represent a significant technological improvement," Gimmestad said. "We hope that knowing the ozone concentration in all of these places can improve researchers' understanding of ozone sources and sinks."

Researchers have completed a laboratory version of NEXLASER and a prototype of software to automate the data analysis. They have begun operating, testing and evaluating the system in their lab.

The next phase, which may begin this summer, will be field testing. After that, researchers would work with LaserCraft engineers in developing a commercial version of NEXLASER, which would cost about $250,000 per unit.

Gimmestad hopes a network of six NEXLASER units will be deployed within two years at Georgia Environmental Protection Division field sites around metro Atlanta.

"Atlanta is the perfect test case for a NEXLASER network," Gimmestad said. "It has the third worst air quality in the nation after Los Angeles and Houston. We hope the NEXLASER technology would be adopted by other cities within five years."

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Southwest Water Agencies Tackle Perchlorate Problem

LOS ANGELES, California, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - A new remediation system may help urban water agencies in southern California and southern Nevada intercept perchlorate contaminated groundwater that is now entering the Colorado River.

The new system, installed under the direction of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), will help block the influx of groundwater laden with perchlorate, an oxygen rich salt known in high concentrations to affect the thyroid gland. Preliminary estimates indicate that the system will remove a large portion of the perchlorate now entering the Las Vegas Wash, a tributary that empties into Lake Mead, a major water reservoir for Nevada, Arizona and California.

Trace levels of perchlorate were detected in the Colorado River and Lake Mead in 1997. The source was traced to the Las Vegas Wash, a tributary that carries runoff from Southern Nevada's urban areas.

Scientists determined that the unregulated chemical had been seeping into the wash from nearby manufacturing sites through the shallow groundwater aquifer.

Perchlorate levels in Lake Mead averaged 10 parts per billion during 2001, with levels downstream in Arizona and California at about half that level. Although California has not established a health based regulatory standard, the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is proposing a public health goal of six parts per billion.

The Nevada State Health Division has established a public notice standard of 18 parts per billion. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now working on a nationwide drinking water standard for perchlorate.

Although regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act may be years away, water officials are taking a proactive stance on removing perchlorate from source water, said Ronald Gastelum, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

"This is an issue that requires immediate action to protect all communities that rely upon the lower Colorado River for their water supply," Gastelum said.

"We began aggressively addressing this issue as soon as perchlorate was discovered in the Colorado River," added Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "Removing perchlorate from Lake Mead is among our top priorities. However, we recognize that this problem isn't going to disappear overnight. That's why we decided to become actively involved in remediation efforts, rather than waiting for regulations to be developed."

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Tomato Ripening Gene Could Lead to Tastier Fruit

ITHACA, New York, April 17, 2002 (ENS) - The discovery of a gene that controls ripening in tomatoes could help make store bought tomatoes as tasty as homegrown varieties.

Scientists at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Inc. (BTI), located on the campus of Cornell University, found the ripening gene.

"For understanding tomato ripening and eventually taste, this could be the Holy Grail," said Jim Giovannoni, a project scientist with the USDA and also with BTI.

Giovannoni and his colleagues found two genes, one that controls ripening and another that controls the development of the sepal - the collar of pointy green leaves at the top of tomatoes. Finding these genes provides the first molecular insight into a non-hormonal way to ripen fruit, Giovannoni said.

The shelf life of tomatoes was lengthened by the discovery in the early 1960s of a mutant tomato plant containing what Giovannoni and his group now have shown to be a defect in the ripening gene. Henry Munger, a Cornell professor of plant breeding, crossed this mutant plant with normal tomatoes, allowing the fruit to reach full size while slowing the ripening process.

Today, this hybrid is one of the most popular commercial varieties. But in order to survive the rigors of shipping, these tomatoes are harvested while they are still firm and unripe. As a result, the tomato flavors typical of homegrown fruit do not get a chance to develop on the vine, and consumers complain about their blandness.

The discovery of the ripening gene provides a way to keep the tomato on the vine a little longer so that it develops more nutrients, color and taste, Giovannoni explained. As a bonus, the longer a tomato remains on the vine, the more lycopene - an antioxidant that inhibits cancer and heart disease - is produced.

Giovannoni's research team also has been able to moderate the ripening process, creating tomatoes that ripen at fast, medium or slow speeds.

The same procedure should work with strawberries, bananas, bell peppers and melons, and many other fruits for which shelf life and softening are problems, Giovannoni said. This could reduce the use of ethylene to aid ripening after fruit has been shipped to the warehouse.

The research is detailed in the April 12 issue of the journal "Science." More information is available from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Inc. at: http://bti.cornell.edutarget="_blank">click here.