AmeriScan: January 31, 2002


WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - Government subsidies to oil, coal and nuclear power industries could double if the Senate approves a House drafted energy bill (HR 4), according to a report released today by the Green Scissors Campaign, a coalition of environmental and citizens groups.

Led by Friends of the Earth, Taxpayers for Common Sense and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Green Scissors Campaign works with Congress and the administration to end environmentally harmful and wasteful spending.

"Running on Empty: How Environmentally Harmful Energy Subsidies Siphon Billions from Taxpayers" details new and existing subsidies to oil, coal, gas and nuclear power industries that would total $62 billion over the next 10 years.

"The richest polluters in the land are already raking in enormous, mind-boggling handouts," said Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth, director of the Green Scissors Campaign. "And our leaders want to give them more while our economy is struggling? It's time for President Bush and Congress to put a stop to this outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars."

The report estimates that existing subsidies and tax breaks to polluting energy industries totaling $33 billion will nearly double, to $62 billion, if the House energy bill is signed into law. Coal, oil and nuclear industry allies in Congress are promoting these new subsidies despite the erosion over the past year of a four year budget surplus into a $100 billion deficit.

The report documents some of the tax breaks and subsidies that energy giants such as Enron lobbied for in the House energy bill. The now bankrupt Enron, which paid no corporate income tax in four of the last five years, would have benefited from tax breaks on pipelines as well as royalty subsidies in the House bill. These handouts, combined, total $4.9 billion dollars to industry over the next decade.

Both ChevronTexaco and British Petroleum have vast assets in the Gulf of Mexico and could benefit from royalty relief and research and development programs targeted towards activities in the Gulf.

The Senate is poised to begin debate on its own energy bill (S 1766) in the next few weeks. While the legislation is incomplete, some subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear energy are already emerging.

"The subsidies and tax breaks in HR 4 reward the oil, coal and nuclear industries that dirty our water and foul our air," added U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) staff attorney Pierre Sadik. "The Senate should reject these enormous polluter giveaways, and move us toward a cleaner, smarter, and more secure energy future."

The Sustainable Energy Coalition rejected the president's call in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday to pass HR 4. Said Susanna Drayne, "The House bill sets back national energy policy with handouts to already profitable and mature industries. It relies on dirty, expensive, and dangerous fossil fuels and nuclear power. The United States has three percent of global oil reserves but accounts for 25 percent of global demand, and no amount of drilling at home will enable us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

"A sound energy policy," said Drayne, "should give priority to increasing energy efficiency in every sector of our economy and greatly expanding use of our abundant renewable energy resources."

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has launched a new nuclear nonproliferation effort with the Republic of Kazakhstan and private U.S. industry.

Under the project, a former nuclear weapons plant in Kazahkstan will develop its capability to separate low enriched uranium from uranium concentrates with assistance from two private U.S. companies and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The uranium will then be made available as a power source to civilian power reactors throughout the world.

The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) brought the parties together and will continue to assist with the project. The endeavor will create 50 new civilian jobs for former nuclear weapons scientists in Kazakhstan and is expected to create hundreds of additional jobs for former nuclear weapons workers in the coming years.

The initiative is intended to improve the nation's energy security, bolster the global economy, and enhance international cooperation.

"The project at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Kazakhstan is a concrete example of how our nuclear nonproliferation programs can facilitate important industry initiatives to improve both U.S. energy security and national security," Abraham said. "Additionally, today's initiative will enhance our relationship with an important international partner and improve global energy supplies as well."

Kazakhstan, which inherited the world's fourth largest nuclear weapons arsenal after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, decided to terminate its nuclear program and joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. Kazakhstan has dismantled and removed all nuclear weapons from its territory and has destroyed the associated infrastructure.

Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF) of Wilmington, North Carolina, and RWE Nukem of Danbury, Connecticut, will assist the Ulba plant in Oskemen, Kazakhstan, to use its advanced solvent extraction technology to recover low enriched uranium from uranium concentrates. The recovered uranium will be available to GNF and other commercial nuclear fuel manufacturers for use in boiling water reactors.

The DOE has committed $1.2 million in Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention funds over three years for joint work between Ulba and Brookhaven to design and install this technology for commercial use. The U.S. industry partners have already matched the NNSA's contribution.

The NNSA's Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program helps engage former Soviet experts in the field of weapons of mass destruction in the development of commercial technologies for peaceful purposes.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental and public interest organizations delivered a letter to Congress Wednesday drawing attention to the "flawed process" that has characterized the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Project. The letter urges lawmakers to reject the proposal for a high-level nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

Eleven Nevada organizations that have been addressing nuclear waste concerns are represented.

"Nevada is not alone in in its opposition to the proposed nuclear waste dump," said Citizen Alert Executive Director Kaitlin Backlund from her office in Las Vegas, Nevada, just 90 miles from the proposed repository. "After having spent nearly $7 billion studying Yucca Mountain, we have a proposed plan that is hardly more scientific than a dog burying its bone."

The Department of Energy proposes to haul 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods and other high level radioactive waste from 131 storage sites in 39 states by road and rail to Yucca Mountain, the only site being considered for its permanent storage.

The state of Nevada has filed suit in federal court asking that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to prevented from recommending the Yucca Mountain as scientifically safe and sound to President George W. Bush. Abraham notified Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn and the state Legislature that he would make such a recommendation on February 10.

The groups distributed a November report by the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General, which uncovered conflicts of interest involving contractors on the Yucca Mountain Project. According to the report, the law firm Winston & Strawn was simultaneously employed as counsel to the DOE, working on the Yucca Mountain Project, and was registered as a member of and lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the pro-repository nuclear industry trade group.

"Clearly, the DOE has failed to exercise necessary oversight of its contractors, resulting in an apparent pro-industry bias in the agency's site characterization and site recommendation activities," the groups wrote in the letter. "It would be irresponsible for Congress to allow the Yucca Mountain Project to continue without a thorough review of the causes and consequences of contractor conflict of interest that have recently been brought to light."

Other agencies are weighing in with their concerns. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, an independent body, on Tuesday issued a report that questions the adequacy of the computer models used to project how the site's natural features, including geological and hydrologic formations, will protect the stored wastes. The report raises the issue of how well casks designed to contain the wastes for the 10,000 years required by lawmakers will hold up to the tests of time, natural and manmade disasters.

"Advocates for public health, safety and the environment agree that the Yucca Mountain Project is a disaster," said Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist with the Washington based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a signatory to the coalition's letter. "Far from solving the nuclear waste problem, this irresponsible project would introduce new risks to the state of Nevada and the 44 other states through which nuclear waste would be transported."

Lisa Gue, policy analyst with the national consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, agrees. "An honest process would have shelved this dangerous proposal long ago," she said. "In defense of responsible, accountable government, as well as public health and safety, we are joining with concerned citizens across the country in urging members of Congress to oppose the Yucca Mountain Project."

The letter was endorsed by 22 national organizations, including the Sierra Club, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Indigenous Environmental Network. In addition, 210 regional, local and Native American groups from 50 states and the District of Columbia endorsed the letter.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - A new poll released today finds that voters in Michigan - epicenter of the American auto industry - support raising fuel efficiency standards for America's cars and trucks.

The poll, commissioned by the Sierra Club, found that Michigan households with a United Auto Worker (UAW) member are even more likely to favor tougher fuel economy standards.

"Autoworker households in Michigan overwhelmingly supported raising fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon," said Celinda Lake, president of Lake, Snell, Perry & Associates, a "progressive" polling firm whose principals are among the Democratic party's leading strategists.

"We found that support is high in part because Michigan voters, including UAW households, believe that increasing standards will create jobs and help the economy," said Lake. "It may run contrary to conventional wisdom, but in the hotbed of America's auto industry, voters want cars and SUVs to go farther on a gallon of gas."

Pollsters found that 77 percent of Michigan voters favor increasing standards to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) over the next 10 years. Of those, 51 percent strongly favor increasing standards. An even higher percentage of UAW households, 84 percent, favor increasing fuel economy standards to 40 mpg over the next 10 years. Of those, 57 percent strongly favor increasing standards.

Strong majorities of voters favored increasing fuel efficiency standards across all demographic and political subgroups.

Poll results show that support for increasing fuel economy standards to 40 mpg in the next 10 years remains strong even when respondents are presented with the auto industry's position that "requiring increased average mileage increases the burden of regulation on the American car industry, costs jobs and adds hundreds of dollars to the purchase price of cars."

After hearing both sides of the debate, voters rejected that argument by a margin of 76 to 17 percent, and UAW households rejected the argument by the margin of 80 to 14 percent.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said January 18 the light truck fuel efficiency standards will remain unchanged at 20.7 mpg for the 2004 model year. Since 1996, Congress has prohibited NHTSA from spending any funds to consider any changes to the level of 1996 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. This prohibition was lifted in December 2001.

"Raising auto fuel economy standards is an essential element to a balanced energy plan that offers quicker, cleaner, cheaper and safer energy solutions," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "This poll illustrates strong support, even in the home of the loudest opponent to fuel economy standards - the auto industry. Americans recognize that raising fuel economy standards is the single biggest step we can take to reduce our dependence on oil without sacrificing the wild places Americans love."

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - The West Nile Virus is headed for Texas, Texas veterinarians warned today.

Texans living near water are accustomed to annual warnings about St. Louis encephalitis. Now, they are being warned of a new virus sure to make its way into the state - West Nile encephalitis.

First detected in New York in the fall of 1999, the West Nile virus has spread from the east coast to Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida, putting Texas veterinarians on alert for what may be the inevitable migration of the virus into the state.

"West Nile encephalitis belongs to the same group of diseases as St. Louis encephalitis, the Flaviviridae family, and is named for the area in Uganda, Africa where it was first detected in the 1920s," said Dr. Ian Tizard, veterinarian and director of the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

"This insect borne virus spreads through the sting of infected mosquitoes and is carried by birds who act as reservoirs," said Tizard. "While humans may become infected, the condition isn't usually too serious. Most healthy adults contracting the disease in the United States experience flu like symptoms with no further complications. However, there have been a few fatal cases involving older patients. Among animals, the virus is most fatal to birds and horses."

Because of the susceptibility of wildlife, veterinarians who notice an unusual number of dead birds, particularly crows, are asked to file a report with the Zoonosis Control Division of the Texas Department of Health. Surveillance programs are in place for the regular testing of dead birds, horses, captive waterfowl, and mosquitoes.

Since first detected, the virus has been seasonal in occurrence with most cases reported during warm weather months. The temperate Texas climate, however, is expected to sustain mosquitoes, and West Nile virus, for more of the year. Texas coastal areas, marshlands and other areas where mosquitoes breed in standing water and thrive are most likely to harbor infected mosquitoes.

"West Nile is essentially a bird virus," said Tizard. "A disease like this could be devastating to Texas birds, especially the exotic bird industry and the whooping crane population."

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COLLEGE PARK Maryland, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - Predicting the size, location, and timing of natural hazards was once virtually impossible, but now, earth scientists are able to forecast hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and landslides using fractals.

A fractal is a mathematical formula of a pattern that repeats over a wide range of size and time scales. These patterns are hidden within more complex systems.

A good example of a fractal is the branching system of a river. Small tributaries join to form larger and larger branches in the system, but each small piece of the system closely resembles the branching pattern as a whole.

The father of fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot, a professor of mathematical sciences at Yale University, has been using fractals to find order within complex systems in nature, such as the natural shape of a coastline.

Earth scientists are now taking Mandelbrot's fractal approach one step further to measure past events and make probability forecasts about the size, location, and timing of future natural disasters.

Christopher Barton, a research geologist at the United States Geological Survey, is one of the earth scientists now using this method. "By understanding the fractal order and scale imbedded in patterns of chaos, researchers found a deeper level of understanding that can be used to predict natural hazards. They can measure past events like a hurricane and then apply fractal mathematics to predict future hurricane events."

Barton discovered that by comparing the fractal formulas of the size and frequency of a hurricane's wind speed to the historic record of information about past hurricane landfall location and timing that he was able to predict the approximate wind speed of the hurricane when it made landfall at a given coastal location along the United States Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

Forecasts of hazardous natural phenomena based on the application of fractals are now available to government agencies responsible for planning and responding to natural disasters such the Federal Emergency Management Association.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 31, 2002 (ENS) - Defenders of Wildlife is sponsoring two essay contests for kids to write about the importance of Florida black bears and California sea otters.

In Florida, students in grades 3 through 7 will get a chance to do something positive for the Florida black bear by writing on the topic, "The Florida Black Bear - An Umbrella Species." In California, students in grades 6 through 8 can help the threatened California sea otter by writing on the topic, "Why the Sea Otter is Important to California."

Student essayists in each state will compete for first, second and third place prizes of $1,000, $500, and $250 savings bonds. Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization, has also developed new sea otter lesson plans that are available free to teachers, to complement this initiative.

"We felt these contests would be an ideal way not only to encourage students to learn about the bears, but also about the important ways that different species depend on one another," said Defenders of Wildlife's education associate Yvonne Borresen. "Education is an important part of conservation, especially with younger audiences who may not know much about the animals."

A unique subspecies of the American black bear, the Florida black bear is considered a species of special concern by the state of Florida. At the beginning of the 20th century, over 12,000 bears lived throughout the state from the panhandle to the Florida Keys.

Today, fewer than 2,000 bears remain in isolated populations on less than 20 percent of the bear's historic range in the state. The black bear is considered an umbrella species - a species that helps sustain other species in its ecosystem.

Once abundant in California with a population between 16,000 and 20,000, the sea otter is now a threatened species, facing continued threats to its existence including disease, entrapment in fishing gear, and loss of habitat. About 2,000 sea otters remain, and these are essential to the health of nearshore marine ecosystems off California.

In addition to the prizes, winning essays will be posted on the Defenders of Wildlife Web site and at the Carnivores 2002 conference to be held next November in Monterey, California. More information on the contests is available at: