AmeriScan: February 18, 2002

GLOBAL WARMING COULD PERSIST FOR CENTURIES

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Even if emissions of greenhouse gases are curbed now, global warming will persist for at least a century, argues new research.

Though uncertainty remains regarding the amount of global warming that will occur over the next century or two, scientists agree that the trend will continue for the next hundred years even if fossil fuel consumption is slashed.

Professor Robert Dickinson of the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences presented the evidence behind this assessment at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston on Sunday.

Dickinson's presentation, titled "Predicting Climate Change," was part of the symposium "Climate Change: Integrating Science, Economics and Policy."

"Current climate models can indicate the general nature of climate change for the next 100 to 200 years," Dickinson said. "But the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) that have been released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels last for at least 100 years. That means that any reductions in CO2 that are expected to be possible over this period will not result in a cleaner atmosphere and less global warming than we see today for at least a century."

The burning of fossil fuels emits greenhouse gases, such as CO2, into the atmosphere. These gases contribute to global warming, and the temperature increase expands the oceans and causes ice sheets to melt, in turn increasing sea level.

Climate models predict temperature increases of three to more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit this century and a sea level rise of six inches to almost three feet.

Despite differences in climate model projections and the limitations of the models themselves, scientists agree that significant consequences from global warming will occur in this century, Dickinson said.

"Given enough time, there may be as many winners as losers. However, many of the losers will be very unhappy, such as people who live on islands that will be put under water," Dickinson said. "It will take a lot of time for humans to adjust their systems to these changes. The biggest problem is the speed at which global warming is occurring."

The world can also expect large shifts in agricultural productivity, Dickinson added. Some regions will become more productive, and others will become less so because of changing patterns in temperature and rainfall. Overall, there will be more rainfall, but also more evaporation leading to more floods and more droughts.

"If it were happening over 1,000 years, rather than 100 years, it would hardly be noticed. But we're talking about fairly large changes within the next generation," said Dickinson.

"The only way to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to reduce CO2 emissions to 20 to 30 percent of today's levels," Dickinson concluded. "I believe we will eventually achieve that goal, but it will probably take 100 years."

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MAKE CONSERVATION PROFITABLE, ECOLOGIST URGES

BOSTON, Massachusetts, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Ecosystems are capital assets that are being liquidated at humanity's peril, argues ecologist Gretchen Daily in a new book, "The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to make Conservation Profitable."

At a lecture Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, Daily warned that the war between corporations and conservationists over environmental protections continues, all of humanity will be put in peril as shrinking natural resources vanish from the Earth.

"We've got to change our economic system and begin to make peace with the planet," said Daily, the Bing Interdisciplinary Research Scientist at Stanford University's Center for Conservation Biology. "It's time to begin figuring out how to assign economic value to ecosystems and the services they provide, and incorporate those values into public policy."

Daily's remarks included insights distilled from her soon to be released book, coauthored with journalist Katherine Ellison.

"The Economy of Nature" argues that ecosystems are capital assets that are being liquidated at humanity's peril - just as demand for the stream of societal benefits they provide is peaking. Daily advocates making a systematic assessment of ecosystem capital, as is often done for other types of capital, and describes practical ways of incorporating the value of ecosystems into policy.

"Trees, for example, could be worth something more than timber, acquiring financial value for the gifts they give while standing and [being] part of a healthy, functioning forest," Daily explained.

Likewise, land could have financial value not only for its mining and real estate potential but for the ecosystem services it provides: cleansing air and water, protecting homes from floods and mudslides, and providing places for recreation and retreat.

"We still think of conservation basically as something to do for moral or aesthetic reasons - not for survival and certainly not for profit," Daily said.

Daily argues that now is the time to rethink traditional approaches to conservation by placing monetary values on nature. For example, governments could pay landowners cash subsidies to protect coastal wetlands, give carbon credits to oil companies that plant new forests to soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide or create publicly traded corporations dedicated to making wildlife restoration profitable.

"Some members of the conservation community object to this profit driven approach on moral grounds," Daily conceded, "but the idea of protecting the environment with charity alone has gotten us almost nowhere. When it comes to saving tropical forests, preventing climate change and other global environmental battlefronts, we're losing dramatically."

She points out that a growing number of environmental groups - including Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the Pew Charitable Trusts - are forming corporate alliances that protect ecosystems while enhancing the company's bottom line.

"We could pretend that there is no globalization, that worldwide economic forces aren't really there, but that isn't going to help," Daily concluded. "A great unanswered question is whether the drive for profits, which has done so much harm to the planet, can possibly be harnessed to save it."

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CALIFORNIA SEEKS OIL LEASE SWAP WITH LOUISIANA

WASHINGTON, DC, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill to help put an end to oil and natural gas drilling off California's coast.

The bill would cancel 40 non-producing offshore oil and gas leases in California and create an environmental preserve to protect these areas for marine wildlife.

Authored by Boxer, a California Democrat, and Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, the California Coastal Protection and Louisiana Energy Enhancement Act directs the Secretary of Interior to provide oil companies holding California leases with a swap of equivalent value in the Gulf of Mexico within 30 days of the bill's passage.

"We are going to swap the tracts that our people feel should never be drilled off our beautiful coast for tracts off Louisiana where they want to drill," Boxer said. "If it works right, we will all be celebrating."

The energy companies who now hold the leases would be able to recoup their enormous financial investments in the 40 tracts, each of which measures about nine square miles. The companies have spent up to $2 billion to acquire the leases and drill exploratory wells, but have been blocked from extracting oil from the sites due to public opposition.

"This bill is a win for every party involved," said Boxer. "This legislation allows California to get rid of unwanted coastal drilling, while also ensuring that these 40 areas will be protected for future generations. At the same time, the bill frees companies from a protracted legal battle by allowing them to take their business to the Central and Western Gulf."

Many of the companies have joined in a breach of contract suit against the U.S. government seeking compensation for decades of delays in opening the tracts. In contrast, the companies are likely to meet little official opposition to drilling off the Louisiana coast.

"This will mean more jobs for Louisianans and a more vibrant oil and gas industry in my state," noted Landrieu, the bill's cosponsor.

The bill would ban any future mineral leasing on the 40 California tracts and establish an ecological preserve to ensure that the areas are protected. The measure has the support of California's natural resource managers.

"Senator Boxer's bill is an imaginative solution that protects the magnificence of California's coast and provides the oil companies with a viable alternative to develop oil and gas resources in the Gulf," said Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission. "I think it's a win win situation and I applaud Senator Boxer for her elegant solution."

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$7 MILLION TARGETED FOR CASMALIA SUPERFUND SITE

LOS ANGELES, California, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - A $6.957 million settlement will help prevent pollutants from spreading out of a 252 acre Superfund site in California.

The proposed settlement targets the contaminated Casmalia Resources landfill in central California. The agreement with the Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) resolves the liability of the estate of Kenneth H. Hunter, Jr., Casmalia Resources, Hunter Resources and other parties who at one time owned or operated the landfill.

Under the settlement, the defendants will pay $6.957 million and waive any claim that the defendants may have to the Casmalia Closure/Post-Closure Trust Fund, now valued in excess of $13 million. The parties to the settlement will also waive all past and future cleanup claims against the federal government.

"This settlement represents our continuing efforts to ensure that those responsible for contamination share in the costs of the cleanup," said Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's environment and natural resources division. "Our efforts will remain focused on the remaining liable parties at the Casmalia site who have not settled, to make certain that EPA has all the necessary resources to assure that this site is cleaned up in a timely and protective manner."

Last month, the EPA announced a $14.95 million settlement with the state of California resolving the state's liability for the contaminated landfill.

"In reaching our second settlement in the past six months for this site, we are working to ensure that we will have the money necessary to devise and implement a long-term, protective cleanup," said Jane Diamond, acting director of the EPA's regional Superfund division. "We owe it to those who live and work in the area to bring all our resources to bear in addressing this complex and challenging site."

The Casmalia Resources Site, located 10 miles from Santa Maria, California, was an active hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility from 1973 to 1989. The site accepted about 5.5 billion pounds of waste from about 10,000 contributors, placing it in 92 waste management facilities that included landfills, ponds, shallow wells and treatment units.

In 1991, the site owner/operator abandoned active efforts to clean up and close the facility, claiming financial difficulties. The landfill, contaminated with a variety of toxic materials, was designated as a federal Superfund site, and in 1992, the EPA took action to control the site and address immediate health threats.

In December 1997, the United States filed suit against Kenneth H. Hunter, Casmalia Resources and Hunter Resources, seeking to recover costs associated with cleaning up the landfill.

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ASIAN LONGHORNED BEETLE INVADES CENTRAL PARK

NEW YORK, New York, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Asian longhorn beetles have infested two trees in New York City's Central Park, forcing park managers to cut down the trees to prevent further spread of the invasive insects.

The infected trees are a sugar maple and a Norway maple. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will take sections of the wood from the infested trees in airtight barrels to their laboratory to study the impact the beetle had on the wood and to study the beetle life cycle in the tree, hoping to learn how long the beetle has been in Central Park.

This is first finding of infested trees in Central Park. Since 1996, when a tree in Brooklyn was found to be infested with the Asian longhorned beetle, the New York City Parks Department has been working with the USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to survey and remove infested trees.

Last year, APHIS began injecting trees in Central Park with Imidacloprid, which protects healthy trees from beetle infestation. The pesticide increases the mortality of adult beetles. The chemical is injected into the tree base through small plastic canisters and is dispersed throughout the tree's circulatory system. Once absorbed by the tree, the pesticide moves into its stems, twigs, and foliage.

The beetle attacks and kills over 25 species of hardwood trees and has destroyed 3,545 trees in neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. The beetle now threatens some of the most treasured trees New York City, including one of the world's greatest collections of American elms - trees that were planted in 1928 as part of Frederick Law Olmsted's design for Central Park.

Other trees at risk include massive elms, maples and horsechestnuts that now grace Central Park.

Of New York City's estimated 5.2 million trees on public and private property, almost 50 percent are vulnerable to the beetle. In urban areas across the country, 1.2 billion trees are potential targets.

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EPA LIFTS SAN FRANCISCO HIGHWAY SANCTIONS

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week that it will lift the highway sanctions that have been in place in the San Francisco Bay Area since January 21, 2002.

The sanctions were ordered by the EPA because the Bay Area's clean air plan did not protect Bay Area residents or downwind communities in the Central Valley. The Bay Area revised the clean air plan and resubmitted it.

EPA's approval on February 14 of a portion of this new ozone attainment plan known as the motor vehicle emissions budget portion (MVEB) allows stalled highway projects in the region to proceed.

"EPA had a clear choice - protect eastern Bay Area communities and downwind children, or placate the highway builders and Bay Area politicians," said Kevin Hall, a Sierra Club member in Fresno. "EPA has given highway builders a box of chocolates today."

Environmental, medical, and community groups had urged the EPA to not lift the highway sanctions and for the agency to reject the Bay Area's new ozone plan. The agency lifted the sanctions while admitting that the 2001 Plan fails in two aspects:

Much of the Bay Area's pollution blows over Altamont Pass and into the Central Valley. More than 22 percent of the Valley's air pollution in some areas is generated in the Bay Area.

The Central Valley is the most ozone polluted air basin in the nation. Last year, the San Joaquin Valley portion of the Central Valley registered 101 days where the air quality violated the national eight hour ozone standard.

More than ten percent of San Joaquin Valley residents suffer from asthma. Ozone pollution has been identified as cause of asthma, and also contributes to respiratory ailments including emphysema, bronchitis and other breathing problems.

"Federal law prohibits one air basin from harming people living downwind," said Bruce Nilles, a attorney for Earthjustice. "Today EPA knowingly made a crass political decision that will harm Valley children. It should have rejected the plan and required a new one that will protect the public's health in the Bay Area and downwind. EPA didn't, and so we are forced, again, to review all of our legal options."

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2001 SHARK ATTACKS NOT UNUSUAL

GAINESVILLE, Florida, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Despite the prevailing perception that 2001 was a banner year for shark attacks, actual numbers were slightly down, a new University of Florida study shows.

The annual total of 76 unprovoked attacks worldwide was less than the 85 recorded in 2000, and fatalities declined from 12 to five in the same period, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at the University of Florida.

The file is a record of all known shark attacks. Burgess, a biological scientist and operations coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, reports the numbers each year and has just finished compiling them for 2001.

"Last year was anything but an average year, but that's because it was more like the summer of the media feeding frenzy," Burgess said.

The number of attacks remained almost identical in both the United States - 55 in 2001 compared with 54 the previous year - and Florida, the nation's leader, where they decreased from 38 to 37, Burgess said.

But a few high profile cases turned an otherwise slow news summer on its head. It began with the dramatic rescue of eight year old Jessie Arbogast, whose arm was severed by a bull shark in the waters off Pensacola, Florida, Burgess said. After saving his nephew in the July 6 attack, Arbogast's uncle pulled the shark to shore, emergency medical personnel retrieved the arm out of the shark's throat. Surgeons later reattached the limb.

"It was a made for TV movie kind of incident - one that clearly captured the imagination of the American public - and certainly was worth every line and TV spot that it got," Burgess said.

Burgess, who handles about 300 inquiries a year on average from newspapers and radio and television stations on sharks, did more than 900 interviews during July, August and September 2001.

"I had more calls in those three months than I had in the previous three years combined," he said. "Some of them were from radio shows in places like Montana, North Dakota and Idaho, where there hasn't been a shark since the Miocene."

The suggestion made by some special interest groups last year that attacks have increased because 1993 U.S. fishery regulations have resulted in more sharks is groundless, Burgess said. Sharks are slow growing animals and most of those born eight years ago have not reached sexual maturity yet, he said.

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FLORIDA TO BUY PANTHER HABITAT

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - Florida's government has begun the process of acquiring 21,673.5 acres of habitat for the Florida panther.

Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Cabinet members accepted an option agreement from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) charitable trust to acquire two parcels within the Panther Glades Florida Forever project in Hendry County. The state will buy the option from TNC for $100,000, compensation for overhead costs in acquiring the property.

Payment to TNC for $35,425,000 for the first of the two parcels, Parcel A, consisting of 19,639.6 acres, is contingent upon the group's board of trustees acquiring the property from the owners, Hilliard Brothers of Florida, Ltd., and trustees Joe Hilliard and Joe Marlin Hilliard.

The second parcel, B, consisting of 2,033.9 acres, is now under lease until December 2003 to U.S. Sugar Corporation. Upon termination of the lease, Parcel B will be appraised and acquired for 90 percent of the approved value.

The option agreement on Parcel A allows cattle grazing to continue for 18 months. Cattle will then be removed from the 10,880 acre western section of the parcel, allowing public access to the eastern section. Cattle will be allowed to graze on the eastern portion for an additional 48 months after which they will be removed and the land will be accessible for public recreation.

The Panther Glades Florida Forever project consists of 49,160 acres, made up of a mosaic of forested uplands interspersed among forested wetland communities. The ecosystem is a large landscape and watershed in south central Hendry County that includes portions of both Big Cypress and Kissimmee Billy Strand.

The Panther Glades project includes habitat crucial to the Florida panther and many other threatened wildlife species, particularly those requiring extensive areas of habitat to maintain viable populations.

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NRC ISSUES REPORTS ON SAFETY, ENFORCEMENT

WASHINGTON, DC, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has issued two reports regarding safety regulations and their enforcement at U.S. nuclear power plants.

The first report, "United States of America National Report for the Convention on Nuclear Safety," describes the U.S. government's fulfillment of its obligations under the international Convention, and demonstrates how the U.S. strives to achieve a high level of safety for its nuclear plants.

Two regulatory initiatives highlighted in the report are NRC's revision of its reactor oversight process and the agency's focusing the attention of the nuclear industry on programs and activities most important to safety. The report will be peer reviewed by parties to the Convention at the Second Review Meeting, taking place in April in Vienna.

The Convention emphasizes that nuclear safety is a sovereign responsibility, and obliges participants to report on how nuclear power safety is achieved. Every three years the 53 participating countries must submit reports on their programs for peer review as an incentive to achieve the highest possible levels of safety.

"The NRC uses a number of national programs and processes to ensure that plant safety is maintained and to meet the obligations of the Convention on Nuclear Safety," the report states. "These are a well established licensing process; the newly revised process for reactor oversight; the Accident Sequence Precursor program; the Program for Resolving Generic Safety Issues; programs for rulemaking; for decommissioning; for regulatory research; for public participation; and for handling petitions; allegations, and differing professional views and opinions."

The report is available at: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1650/

The second report is the NRC Office of Enforcement's annual report. The report describes enforcement activities that occurred during fiscal year 2001, addressing policy changes, new initiatives, staff guidance and implementation issues for the agency's enforcement program.

The report also includes summaries of enforcement cases and actions taken by the NRC against licensed nuclear facility owners and users of nuclear materials. It includes two policy revisions, 89 escalated Notices of Violation without civil penalties, 20 proposed civil penalties, and 18 orders, five of which imposed civil penalties.

The enforcement program annual report is available through the NRC's Electronic Reading Room at: http://www.nrc.gov

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PAINT CONTRACTOR DUMPED LEAD CHIPS

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, February 18, 2002 (ENS) - A Pennsylvania painting contractor has pleaded guilty to dumping 55 tons of abrasive sandblasting material containing lead.

Manganas Painting Company pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly disposing of a hazardous waste at the company's warehouse in Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, without a permit, a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The company's president, John Manganas, also pleaded guilty to one count of failing to notify the National Response Center after he discovered that hazardous material had been dumped at the facility, a violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

The abrasive material dumped at the company's warehouse - known as black beauty - was mixed with lead paint chips sandblasted from a railroad bridge in Clairton, Pennsylvania. Three company employees dumped 55 tons of this material on the ground at the warehouse in June 1996.

The employees knew the hazardous material was not permitted at the facility, according to the indictment. In his guilty plea, Manganas admitted that he learned in December 1998 that the hazardous waste had been dumped at the facility.

John Manganas and his company will be sentenced on April 19, 2002. The firm has agreed to implement an environmental management system to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The law provides for a total sentence of three years probation, and a fine of $92 million or both. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.