AmeriScan: January 18, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - Despite continued requests from Congress, the White House has once again refused to turn over documents detailing the meetings which led up to President George W. Bush's introduction last year of a national energy policy.

On Wednesday, Representative Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Vice President Richard Cheney asking for "specific information about the White House contacts with Enron and other energy companies," in crafting the energy policy.

The controversial Bush energy policy includes calls for increased oil and natural gas exploration on public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The policy would increase U.S. reliance on fossil fuels including oil and coal, while devoting relatively small amounts to alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

Waxman's committee is now investigating the White House's ties to fossil fuel giant Enron, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. The committee issued a report Wednesday analyzing the Bush energy plan and comparing its positions to those advocated by Enron.

"The analysis reveals that numerous policies in the White House energy plan are virtually identical to the positions Enron advocated," Waxman wrote. "In total, there are at least 17 policies in the White House energy plan that were advocated by Enron or that benefited Enron."

Enron officials were among the energy industry representatives who met with Vice President Cheney in a series of closed door meetings last year before Cheney's office issued the new national energy policy. Since the policy was released, Congress and various public interest groups have sought the release of documents pertaining to the policy, including lists of those who attended the meetings.

Cheney and the White House have refused to release the information, defying even a request by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

On Thursday, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called Waxman's report a "partisan waste of taxpayer money," and denied that Cheney or any other administration officials had included any language in the energy policy at Enron's request.

But despite increasing pressure to release the energy planning documents, due to the White House's perceived ties to Enron, the White House will not release the records, Fleischer said.

"This Justice Department has announced a criminal investigation of Enron, and that will be pursued fully," Fleischer noted. "The administration is going to continue to pursue this to get to the bottom of any criminal wrongdoing at Enron or anywhere else that could have been involved."

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CARLSBAD, New Mexico, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) has committed an additional $12 million to increase shipments of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

The additional funds will allow the DOE to increase the weekly shipments to WIPP by almost 50 percent beginning in May.

"This marks a new phase in WIPP operations," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Increasing shipments will help us clean up the environment at our facilities more quickly, and also ensures that we can act on our commitments to safely ship transuranic waste out of the state of Idaho and to close Rocky Flats as soon as possible."

Since opening WIPP on March 26, 1999, the Department has made 500 shipments of waste and disposed of more than 13,900 55 gallon drums of defense generated transuranic radioactive waste left from the research and production of nuclear weapons. Transuranic waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, residues, and other disposable items contaminated with radioactive elements, primarily plutonium.

The increased funding for shipments supports the DOE's plan to ship 3,100 cubic meters of transuranic waste out of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory by December 31, 2002, as required by the Idaho Settlement Agreement. The $12 million in additional money will also allow for an increase in the number of shipments necessary to meet the 2006 closure goal for the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in Colorado and to accelerate removal of transuranic waste from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The increase is a first step in the DOE's goal of disposing of 100,000 drums of transuranic waste at WIPP over its operating life of 35 years.

The supplemental funds will be used to hire more waste management operators at WIPP to process the increased shipments, to purchase necessary materials and equipment for handling the extra waste, and to pay the additional transportation costs.

The DOE will conduct safety and security inspections and track and monitor each shipment during transit.

Funding for this increase reflects a reallocation in money within the fiscal year 2002 appropriations. No new money is being used for this effort.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urged Americans this week to test their homes for the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country, indoor radon gas.

The EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month, said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. About one home in 15 across the nation has "unacceptably high radon levels," the EPA says, and in some areas of the country, as many as one out of two homes has high levels.

"As many as 22,000 people die from lung cancer each year in the United States from exposure to indoor radon," Whitman said. "Yet Americans could help prevent these deaths and protect their families by testing their homes for radon as soon as possible.

"Not only is radon testing a sound investment in the long term health of your family," Whitman added, "but it could also be a good investment in terms of the resale value of your home. In many areas, radon testing is a required part of real estate transactions."

The EPA and partner organizations are sponsoring activities around the country to increase awareness of the health risks of radon. Radon levels can soar during the colder months when residents keep windows and doors closed and spend more time indoors.

Radon can also be a danger in summer when homes are closed tight for air conditioning.

Radon, a radioactive product of the element radium, is invisible and odorless and occurs in soil, rock and water across the country. Although harmless when diluted in the open air, radon can pose a serious health threat when concentrated indoors.

When inhaled, radon releases small bursts of energy that can damage the DNA in lung tissue over time and lead to lung cancer.

Although some areas of the country have naturally higher radon levels than others, the EPA recommends everyone test because isolated radon hot spots can occur anywhere. The EPA also recommends testing in schools, work places, community centers and other buildings where people spend long periods of time.

Radon test kits, sold at home improvement and hardware stores, are easy to use and provide accurate readings of home radon levels. The EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that homes with radon levels of four picoCurries per liter of air (pCi/L) or higher pose a danger to inhabitants and should be fixed by an experienced contractor.

For more information about radon testing, or to find a qualified radon service professional, visit:

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SEATTLE, Washington, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - A new forest conservation company plans to buy 100,000 acres in Washington state to protect the tract from development.

Evergreen Forest Trust and the Weyerhaeuser Company have agreed on terms for the sale of 100,000 acres of forestland in the foothills of eastern King and Snohomish counties. The Trust will continue to harvest timber from the land, but it will also preserve sensitive areas near rivers and steep banks.

Evergreen Forest Trust is pioneering a new forestland ownership and management concept. Created by regional business, political and environmental leaders, the Trust defines itself as a nonprofit forest conservation company.

The Trust's goal is to keep forestland from being converted to other uses. The land transaction announced Wednesday is the Trust's first acquisition. The property will now be called the Evergreen Forest at Snoqualmie.

"The Evergreen Forest at Snoqualmie project guarantees that this magnificent landscape will remain as forestland forever," said Gerry Johnson, president of Evergreen Forest Trust and managing partner of the Seattle law firm Preston Gates & Ellis LLP.

"Weyerhaeuser recognized the public benefits of keeping this parcel forested and agreed to sell it to the Trust," Johnson said. "Forestland owners near urban areas face increasing pressure to convert their land to higher value uses, including residential and commercial development. Evergreen Forest Trust's ownership ensures the land will remain as a working forest and removes the pressure to convert it to development."

The Trust plans to finance the $185 million transaction by selling Community Forestry Bonds, but needs a clarification of federal tax law to permit issuance of the tax exempt revenue bonds. The sale, which is contingent on the Trust obtaining financing, is expected to close by mid-summer.

A conservation easement held by the Cascade Land Conservancy (CLC), which helped negotiate the transaction, will preserve the most sensitive areas and provide additional environmental protections for the entire parcel.

"Although timber will continue to be harvested," noted CLC president Gene Duvernoy, "the conservation easement placed on the Evergreen Forest will ensure that there is broader protection for sensitive areas, and that wider preserves are maintained along steep banks, rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes."

The Evergreen Forest is located within the ranges of the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, and contains habitat for numerous salmon species and other wildlife. It includes two major rivers - the North Fork Snoqualmie and Tolt - numerous smaller rivers, more than 500 acres of lakes and ponds, more than 6,000 acres of riparian areas along rivers and streams, and more than 4,000 acres of wetlands.

The purchase price does not include rights to underground minerals, which are retained by Weyerhaeuser.

"Weyerhaeuser has a long history of cooperation when there is a high level of public interest in a parcel of our land," said Richard Hanson, Weyerhaeuser's senior vice president of timberlands. "The Snoqualmie Forest has sentimental value to many of us at the company. We are pleased that this special land will continue to be managed as forestland."

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has agreed to begin a comprehensive, range wide analysis and designation of critical habitat for the imperiled bull trout.

The conservation groups Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan have reached an agreement with the USFWS settling a federal lawsuit seeking critical habitat designation for the bull trout. The groups say the agreement sets a precedent because it resulted from a unique process of one on one discussions between the groups and the government.

"We are pleased to be out of the courtroom and able to begin work on the ground to protect and restore bull trout habitat," said Arlene Montgomery, program director of Friends of the Wild Swan.

The parties agreed that the Endangered Species Act required critical habitat designation for the bull trout. Once that understanding was reached, they were able to hammer out a time frame that allowed for the best scientific evidence to be gathered through a process that involved the public and other agencies.

The agreement calls for a 120 day public comment period prior to the publication of a draft rule in the Federal Register outlining the areas the agency proposes for critical habitat important for bull trout recovery and long term survival. The agency will consider input from scientists, economists, state and federal agencies and the general public in crafting a critical habitat proposal.

Under the agreement, final rules for critical habitat will be published in the Federal Register by October, 2003 in the Columbia and Klamath River Basins and by October 2004 in the Coastal/Puget Sound area of Washington, Jarbidge in Nevada and St. Mary/Belly River of north-central Montana.

"The spirit of cooperation between our groups and the federal government enabled this Agreement to happen," said David Merrill, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "This is an historic opportunity to provide the agency with the most current scientific and economic information available that will assist them in doing the best job possible."

Bull trout are important indicators of water quality and the health of forest ecosystems because they have strict habitat requirements. Protecting and restoring bull trout habitat will help maintain and recover other fish species while also providing clean water for people.

"This agreement benefits not only the bull trout but also people because it will help maintain high quality waters in the northwest and Northern Rockies," Montgomery said. "As the primary indicator of water quality, recovery of bull trout has enormous implications for the long term quality of life and economic prosperity in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest regions."

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HAMPTON, Virginia, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - New satellite measurements dispute a recent theory that proposes that clouds in the tropics might cool the Earth and counteract global warming.

Measurements from a satellite run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Langley Research Center indicate that these clouds would instead slightly strengthen the greenhouse effect to warm the Earth.

Scientists at NASA Langley used observations from an instrument called CERES (Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System) on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite to test the Iris effect - the proposed cooling mechanism.

"The Iris effect is a very interesting but controversial idea for how clouds might act to stabilize the climate system. If correct, it would be welcome news for concerns over future climate change," said Bruce Wielicki, CERES principal investigator at NASA Langley. "We tested the Iris hypothesis by looking down at these clouds using the latest generation of satellite data in the Tropics and found the opposite answer. If anything, these clouds appear to slightly destabilize climate."

According to the Iris effect, the canopy of clouds in the tropics decreases as climate warms. As its size shrinks, so does the area of ocean and land covered by the canopy.

With more of the Earth's surface and atmosphere free from heat trapping clouds, more heat can escape to space and, according to the theory, cool the Earth.

While a smaller cloud canopy could allow more heat to leave the Earth, it also means more sunlight could reach the surface. In the battle between the cooling of escaping heat and the warming of incoming sunlight, cloud properties determine which one will have a stronger effect on climate.

CERES provides the most accurate measurements ever of how much heat clouds trap and how much sunlight they reflect.

"We used the cloud observations from CERES, placed them inside the Iris climate model and found a slightly destabilizing effect of these clouds," said Wielicki. "The result is that the Iris effect slightly warms the Earth instead of strongly cooling it."

The study appears in the January 1, 2002 issue of the "Journal of Climate."

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ORLANDO, Florida, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - A new study finds that climate warming over the next century could bring wetter winters and drier growing seasons to California.

The research suggests that warming temperatures could bring increased winter flooding as a result of increased streamflow throughout California, but that less water would be available during the summer months.

Norman Miller and Kathy Bashford of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Eric Strem of the National Weather Service's (NWS) California-Nevada River Forecast Center looked at two climate change scenarios projected out to the year 2100. Based on these scenarios, they determined how the smallest to largest expected changes in regional temperature and precipitation would affect streamflow throughout California.

The two scenarios, both warmer and wetter than present day, were based on findings from the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The report predicted temperature increases by as much as 9 Fahrenheit (F) with potential localized fluctuations in precipitation throughout the 21st century.

California's wet season stretches from December to March. In general, regardless of changes in precipitation during this period, the results showed snowmelt driven watersheds will experience increased streamflow up to two months earlier in the year, depending on the elevation of the watershed.

One of the main reasons for this is that global warming will reduce the number of freezing days in the season, increase early melt, and decrease the seasonal snow storage.

"The results suggest that 50 percent of the season runoff will have occurred early in the year for many snow melt driven watersheds in the west," said Miller "and the resulting early snow melt implies higher streamflow increases and an increased likelihood of more flood events in future years."

Projections of water flow are based on the amount of snow the mountainous areas get in wintertime, and the timing of the snowmelt. Precipitation in the western U.S. is a winter phenomena, and in California, April 1 has been established as the date for determining the amount of water resources available for the growing season.

A coordinated study now underway between LBNL and the NWS will incorporate new satellite data with real time flood forecasting to reduce the risks associated with floods. Miller and his colleagues used a similar approach to predict the 1995 floods of the Russian River in northern San Francisco Bay area 48 hours in advance.

"By having better data, we'll be able to reduce flooding disasters in the future," Miller said.

The researchers presented their study on Thursday at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in Orlando.

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AMHERST, Massachusetts, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - Certain microorganisms can transform organic matter found at the bottom of the ocean into electrical energy, researchers at the University of Massachusetts have learned.

The microbiologists who discovered the process say that the microbes could someday be used to produce power for unmanned submarines or underwater sensing devices. The findings also have implications for many industrial and military applications, says Derek Lovley, leader of the UMass team.

An understanding of how microbes generate and use electrical energy may also prompt the development of new technologies to decontaminate polluted water and sediment containing organic materials, including petroleum and other aromatic hydrocarbons, Lovley said.

In an article in this week's issue of the journal "Science," Lovley explains how the team used water and sediment from Boston Harbor, a collection of mason jars, ordinary electrical wiring, and graphite electrodes to determine the science behind the mechanics of a simple, sediment battery.

The researchers added a layer of mud to water in the jars, put one graphite electrode in the mud, another in the overlying water. The resulting electrical current was strong enough to activate a lightbulb, or a simple computer.

"Even using a primitive electrode made from graphite," Lovley said, "it is possible to produce enough current to power basic electronic marine instruments."

Through more refined experiments, Lovley's group found that a family of energy harvesting microorganisms, called Geobacters, were key to the production of the electrical current. Most life forms get their energy by oxidizing organic compounds with oxygen, but Geobacters can grow in environments lacking oxygen by using the iron present in soil.

The new research demonstrates that Geobacters can also substitute an unnatural substance, such as an electrode, for the iron, Lovley explained.

"In the mud, a community of microorganisms cooperates to break down larger, more complex organic compounds to acetate," Lovley said. "Geobacters then transfer the electrons from the acetate to the electrode generating the electrical energy."

Lovley's group also has found that some Geobacters can convert toxic organic compounds, such as toluene, to electricity. Lovley says this suggests that some Geobacters could be used to harvest energy from waste matter, or to clean up organic contaminants such as petroleum.

"Once we know more about the genome of Geobacters, we will be able to manipulate these organisms to make them receptive to a variety of organic or inorganic contaminants," added Lovley. "Theoretically, when they begin to degrade the contaminant, they will throw electrons on an electrode, and that could set off a light, a sound or some other form of signal."

Such technology could lead to military equipment that could alert soldiers to the presence of toxins or biological warfare agents in the immediate environment, he added.

"An understanding of how this phenomenon operates has a number of extremely timely applications, especially in developing technologies to recognize toxins and organic contaminants," Lovley concluded.

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LOS ANGELES, California, January 18, 2002 (ENS) - Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on NBC-TV's popular show "The West Wing," has lent his voice to a fight to block a massive development planned for the Santa Monica Mountains outside Los Angeles.

Washington Mutual Bank is the target of the upcoming advertising campaign in which Emmy Award winner Sheen attacks the financial services giant for its plans to build a luxury housing development in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The ad campaign points out the bank's refusal to support a new study of the impacts that the 3,000 home development would have on traffic. Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, a community organization, is demanding that Ventura County conduct a new environmental impact study to replace a study that was based on outdated, 22 year old traffic information.

Sheen, serving as spokesperson for Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, reminds radio listeners that traffic in Southern California is already intolerable, and warns that "it's only going to get worse, thanks to Washington Mutual Bank."

"You see, Washington Mutual has plans for our community - BIG plans," Sheen continues. "They are trying to build a whole new city of 10,000 people in the Santa Monica Mountains - right on top of the pristine open space called Ahmanson Ranch."

"It's not just the 45,000 additional car trips on the Ventura Freeway and local roads. Or the 20 tons of additional air pollution. It's not just the threat to water quality at downstream beaches such as Surfrider Beach. And it's not just the destruction of some of the last open space in the area. All of these problems spell disaster for the quality of life - and the environment," says Sheen.

Sheen concludes with a call for residents of both counties that will be affected by Washington Mutual's plans to join Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch in the fight to stop the project. The ads began running Tuesday in heavy rotation on news, talk and music radio stations in both Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

"Washington Mutual has run a misleading campaign, and our efforts are intended to ensure the public of Southern California understands the plans that their community bank has for our neighborhood," said Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch executive director Tsilah Burman. "With the help of a broad base of community supporters, we will continue to reveal the truth about this disastrous project."

Sheen volunteered to assist Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch when he learned about Washington Mutual's development scheme, and also closed his accounts with Washington Mutual last September.

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