AmeriScan: February 20, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a new program, Climate Leaders, to encourage voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman unveiled the program today as part of the Bush administration's new climate policy, which was announced last week. The Bush policy aims to cut the nation's so called greenhouse gas intensity - defined as how much greenhouse gas the country emits per unit of economic activity.

"When President Bush committed the United States to reducing - voluntarily - our greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next decade, he knew that it would take a heavy reliance on partnerships to achieve our goal," said Whitman. "The new Climate Leaders program is exactly what he had in mind - and I am pleased to be able to announce this voluntary partnership between government and industry today."

Whitman recognized the companies that have joined as charter members in the Climate Leaders program. Charter members have committed to complete a corporate wide greenhouse gas inventory and work with the EPA to set an emissions reduction target.

The companies represent a diverse group of energy intensive and service oriented companies. In the coming months, the Bush Administration will pursue additional corporate partners representing a wide spectrum of the U.S. economy, Whitman said.

"The companies that participate in this program - promising to meet a higher standard than other companies in their sector - are showing true leadership as environmental stewards," said Whitman. "They are proving that doing what is good for the environment, is also good for business. They are providing an example to everyone that we all must do our share to address the effects of climate change - and we must start now, as they have."

The Climate Leaders Charter Partners are:

Climate Leaders Partners will develop greenhouse gas inventories using the Climate Leaders' Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Protocol. Companies report emissions of the six major greenhouse gases from all major on site emissions of greenhouse gases and emissions related to the electricity they purchase.

Companies may also report emissions and reductions from a number of other activities including investments in offset projects. The Climate Leaders Protocol is based on an existing protocol developed by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

After Partners complete their greenhouse gas inventory, the EPA will work with them to develop a customized emissions reduction target. These targets must be aggressive long term targets that exceed business as usual performance for the Partner's sector.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - The Office of Naval Research says the shrinking Arctic ice cap could create new defense issues for the United States.

Over the past century, the extent of the winter pack ice in the Nordic Seas has decreased by about 25 percent. Last winter, the Bering Sea was almost ice free, an unprecedented event.

If this big melt continues, some say the once ice locked Arctic will have open sea lanes as soon as 2015. By 2050, the summertime ice cap could disappear.

"Although recent terrorist events keep our minds occupied elsewhere in the world, what a navigable Arctic means for our national security is significant," said Dr. Dennis Conlon, program manager for arctic science at the Office of Naval Research. "Geographical boundaries, politics and commerce changes would all become issues."

In April 2001, the Office of Naval Research co-sponsored a meeting of Arctic from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain in a preliminary attempt to address the capabilities that would be required for naval forces to operate in the Arctic. Other participants included the Naval Ice Center, the Oceanographer of the Navy and the Arctic Research commission.

Their report has just been released, addressing the national and strategic issues surrounding naval ship and aircraft operations in an ice free Arctic, including policy, doctrine, and possible new systems, ship and aircraft designs.

Both the Northern Sea Route, north of Russia, and the Northwest Passage, through the Canadian archipelago, provide far shorter routes from Europe to Asia, though both routes are claimed to be through national waters. An increased level of transnational activity might give rise to adversarial action, international criminal and terrorist elements, and environmental challenges, the Office of Naval Research warns.

Disappearance of the ice canopy would also eliminate a haven now provided to submarines, and the acoustic environment would change. An ecological disruption due to climate and habitat changes would affect marine mammal populations, and this in turn would affect native peoples.

The report concludes that the U.S. Navy must rely on alliances with other nations, particularly with Canada and Russia, in order to ensure fair access to an ice free Arctic.

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NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - Tropical wildfires and slash and burn agriculture have helped double the moisture content in the stratosphere over the last 50 years, a Yale researcher has concluded after examining satellite weather data.

"In the stratosphere, there has been a cooling trend that is now believed to be contributing to milder winters in parts of the northern hemisphere," said Steven Sherwood, assistant professor of geology and geophysics. "The cooling is caused as much by the increased humidity as by carbon dioxide."

"Higher humidity also helps catalyze the destruction of the ozone layer," added Sherwood, whose article appears in this month's issue of the journal "Science."

Cooling in the stratosphere causes changes to the jet stream that produce milder winters in North America and Europe. By contrast, harsher winters result in the Arctic.

Sherwood said that about half of the increased humidity in the stratosphere has been attributed to methane oxidation. It was not known, however, what caused the remaining added moisture.

In a study funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Sherwood examined a combination of data from a NASA satellite launched in the 1990s and operational weather satellite data archived at the Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York.

In particular, he studied monthly and yearly fluctuations of humidity in the stratosphere, relative humidity near the tropical tropopause - the place where air enters the stratosphere - ice crystal size in towering cumulus clouds, and aerosols associated with tropical biomass burning.

Tropical biomass burning is any burning of plant material. In the tropics, the burning is often associated with the clearing of forest or grassland for agricultural purposes.

"More aerosols lead to smaller ice crystals and more water vapor entering the stratosphere," Sherwood explained. "Aerosols are smoke from burning. They fluctuate seasonally and geographically. Over decades there have been increases linked to population growth."

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - For the fifth time in less than 10 years, the federal government is requesting public comment on snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

On Tuesday, the Department of Interior released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), the result of a lawsuit settlement between the snowmobile industry and the Department of Interior, offering four options for winter management. The SEIS reopens the possibility that the machines will once again be permitted in the parks.

"The pro-snowmobile alternatives in this plan fail to give the parks the protection they deserve and that the public demands," said Thomas Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). "The National Park Service needs to uphold the original plan for eliminating snowmobiles - despite heavy pressure from the industry to keep the parks open to these harmful machines."

The existing Park Service rule, finalized in January 2001, would phase out recreational snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks over a three year period and promote a snowcoach based transit system. That rule was drafted following 10 years of scientific research and a three year public process.

Two of the Interior Department's new alternatives would remove snowmobiles from the parks: implement the original plan, or follow the plan but delay implementation by one year.

The other alternatives would permit snowmobile use, while requiring the machines to meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution standards for off road vehicle engines, replacing dirty two stroke engines with cleaner, quieter four stroke engines.

One alternative would cap the number of snowmobiles allowed in each park each day at about 1,000, reducing the number allowed through the most popular West Entrance while increasing entries at remaining access points. The last alternative would restrict snowmobiles to major snow roads and reduce their numbers in some sensitive areas.

The National Park Service has reported that the data offered by the snowmobile industry to support snowmachine use in the SEIS was shown to be dated or unpersuasive.

"Enough is enough. We cannot hand over the future of our national parks to industry lobbyists. The National Park Service has a legal duty to preserve the parks in an unimpaired state, and the Service has concluded recreational snowmobile use does in fact impair park resources and values," said Steven Bosak, NPCA's director of motorized use programs. "The Park Service cannot condone continued degradation of parks for the benefit of any industry."

Final action on snowmobile regulations will not occur until November.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - The grazing fee for the 2002 grazing year on Western public lands will be $1.43 per animal unit month - just 20 cents above the base rate set in 1966.

An animal unit month (AUM) is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month.

The fee applies to lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The formula used for calculating the fee was established by Congress in the 1978 Public Rangelands Improvement Act and continues under a presidential executive order issued in 1986.

"The $1.43 per AUM grazing fee applies to lands in the West administered by the BLM and to national forests and national grasslands administered by the Forest Service," said BLM director Kathleen Clarke. "Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), by which the BLM fulfills its multiple use mandate, grazing is a recognized and appropriate use of the public lands."

The grazing fee, effective March 1, 2002 through February 28, 2003, is computed each year by using a 1966 base value of $1.23 per AUM for livestock grazing on public lands in western states. The figure is then adjusted according to three factors - current private grazing land lease rates, beef cattle prices and the cost of livestock production.

Based on the formula, the 2002 fee is an increase of eight cents from the 2001 level.

The BLM, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages more land - 262 million surface acres - than any other federal agency. Of this, about 164 million acres are permitted for livestock grazing.

Most of the country's BLM managed public land is located in 12 western states, including Alaska.

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WASHINGTON, DC, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - Eight graduate students were named today as among the country's best environmental sciences students by the Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program.

Now in its fifth year, the scholarship program is a collaboration among Canon USA, Inc., the National Park Service (NPS), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This prestigious Ph.D. scholarship program is the first and only of its kind to encourage doctoral students to conduct innovative research on scientific problems critical to the national parks.

"I am thrilled to welcome the most recent Canon Scholars into the program and look forward to the results of their research," said NPS director Fran Mainella. "The research conducted by these young scientists is vital to the preservation and understanding of national park resources."

The eight winning students are: Elizabeth Brusati, University of California, Davis; Andy Bunn, Montana State University; Emily Donald, Columbia University; Robert Hale, University of Oklahoma; Ruth Lambert, University of New Mexico; Wendy Palen, University of Washington; Susan Rupp, Texas Tech University; and Blake Suttle, University of California, Berkeley.

For winning one of the most coveted scholarships in conservation and the environmental sciences, each student will receive $75,000 over three years to complete his or her degree. Their research and findings will be applied to the contemporary and vital challenges facing the long term preservation of the National Park System.

This year, the Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program intends to expand its scope to include students working on behalf of national parks throughout the Americas, offering an additional $3 million dollars over four years.

"We are proud to be a founder of this program that so strongly supports developing new scientists whose careers will focus on conserving our nation's natural resources," said Canon executive vice president and general counsel Seymour Liebman. "We look forward to an exciting future as the program expands beyond U.S. borders to benefit the countries of the Americas."

The Canon National Parks Science Scholars Program was established in 1997 to develop the next generation of scientists working in the fields of conservation, environmental science and park management. Students are chosen from four disciplines: biological sciences, physical sciences, social/cultural sciences, or technology innovation.

Since the program first began, students have conducted research in more than 45 national parks, and published and presented over 55 scientific articles and presentations.

"There is an enormous need to understand how the natural and cultural resources of the national parks can be preserved in a developing world. The key to understanding and protecting our natural and cultural resources is the concept of parks for science and science for parks," said Mike Soukup, associate director of the NPS.

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FORT SNELLING, Minnesota, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - A recovery plan for the Hine's emerald dragonfly, an endangered species found in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri, has been released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Noted for its metallic green body and bright, emerald green eyes, the Hine's emerald dragonfly once occurred in Ohio, Alabama and Indiana, but has been extirpated from this part of its historic range. The USFWS listed the species as endangered in 1995.

The Hine's emerald dragonfly is threatened by loss of its specialized wetland habitat, which includes groundwater fed wet prairies, marshes, sedge meadows and fens in areas overlying dolomite bedrock. These wetlands support the dragonfly's aquatic larva for three to four years and also serve as breeding areas for adults.

Adults also require open, vegetated areas in and near wetlands and forest edges as feeding and perching areas.

The recovery plan for the Hine's emerald dragonfly was developed for the USFWS by a team from universities and local, state and federal resource agencies. Measures outlined in the plan include protection and management of existing populations, additional studies, searches for more populations, information and education, reintroduction and augmentation, and monitoring of recovery progress.

"Recovery actions outlined in the plan will benefit not only the Hine's emerald dragonfly but entire natural communities and other environmental amenities such as drinking water," said USFWS biologist Kristopher Lah. "These actions are expected to be implemented over a period of years, by a range of partners and agencies, as we move this species away from extinction and toward recovery."

Most remaining populations of the Hine's emerald dragonfly inhabit forest preserves, national forests, state wildlife areas, nature preserves and private sanctuaries, but even these populations are vulnerable to off site impacts to groundwater that feeds the species' unique habitats. These dolomite wetlands and prairies support a community of other rare plants and animals, including the threatened lakeside daisy.

The dragonfly is also vulnerable to more direct threats such as road building or other development projects that may damage or destroy its wetland habitat.

Because the Hine's emerald fills a niche as both predator and prey and requires unpolluted water, it can serve as an indicator of ecosystem health and drinking water quality.

"The resources and effort we devote to Hine's emerald dragonfly recovery are investments in the quality of our own environment," Lah said.

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HATTIESBURG, Mississippi, February 20, 2002 (ENS) - An environmentally friendly paint developed by University of Southern Mississippi (USM) polymer science researchers will be used in the repairs of the Pentagon in Washington DC.

The paint formulation, dubbed American Pride, was unveiled to the public Tuesday at USM along with the first shipment of the paint - 100 gallons of off white paint. In all, at least 20,000 gallons will be used to paint one-fifth of the interior walls in the Pentagon, as well as repaint the wing damaged in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

"It will be 12-14 months before we start painting the rebuilt wing," said Bob Billak, who is in charge of maintenance at the Pentagon. "Before then, we will use the paint on the corridors and offices in the [rest] of the building."

Billak said the paint has been tested and shown to be more durable than conventional paint. More tests await the paint in Washington, DC.

"They will take this paint and use it on a mock up of Pentagon offices," said Dr. Shelby Thames, distinguished professor of polymer science at the Southern Miss School of Polymers and High Performance Materials. "By this summer, they will be ready to start ordering it in big volumes."

The paint, developed by a USM research team led by Thames, was unveiled during an Earth Day celebration last April.

The paint includes a chemical building block derived from castor oil. The component, called a "castor oil acrylated monomer," takes the place of a solvent in the formulation of the paint. That reduces the amount of toxic pollutants given off by the water based paint into the atmosphere.

Conventional paint, Thames said, contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which pollute the air and give fresh paint its unpleasant odor. The new technology developed at USM will remove the VOCs from the paint, cutting the level of pollutants from about 200-400 grams per liter of paint to as low as three grams.

"The bottom line is this technology uses castor oil, soybean oil or lesquerella oil to allow us to make latex polymers that have wide applications," Thames said. "Not just paints, but inks, adhesives, carpet backings, coating for fibers, coatings for concrete steel, just a huge potential for applications. And we can make these coating systems that have no odor and release no pollutants into the atmosphere."

The paint will be a money saver for the Pentagon and, by extension, U.S. taxpayers, Billak said.

"Since the paint has no VOCs, there is no downtime in painting," said Billak. "We repaint every five years, and by using this paint, we won't have to shut down offices and move personnel out while we paint."