AmeriScan: January 17, 2003

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Private Greenhouse Gas Trading Launched

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - A private consortium of some of the nation's biggest businesses have launched a voluntary effort to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases through a market driven cap and trade program.

Today's announcement marks the first time that major companies in multiple sectors have made a voluntary, binding commitment to use a self regulated market for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Trading in emissions credits is targeted to begin in the spring of 2003.

Leading U.S. and international companies and the city of Chicago announced today they will be the founding members of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a voluntary cap and trade program for reducing and trading greenhouse gas emissions. The 14 founding members include American Electric Power, DuPont Company, Ford Motor Company, International Paper Company, Motorola Inc. and the city of Chicago.

These entities have made a legally binding commitment to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane by four percent over the next four years.

CCX members will receive credit for emissions reductions above four percent, and can sell or trade these credits to other member companies that are having difficulty meeting this goal. CCX chair and CEO Dr. Richard Sandor said that while not every CCX member may be able to meet the four percent goal, the group as a whole is expected to reach the target.

"The private sector's response to the proposal has been incredible," said Sandor. "These companies have demonstrated tremendous leadership. They really believe that a proactive approach to climate change advances everyone's long term interests. It's simply good business."

One of the members that may do more credit buying than selling is American Electric Power (AEP). As the largest coal consumer in the western hemisphere, and the third largest natural gas consumer, AEP is the largest emitter of CO2 in the United States.

AEP officials said today they hope to learn some "practical lessons" from their membership in CCX that will help them both reduce their emissions and cope with any mandatory emissions caps that might be instituted by the U.S. government in the future. While President George W. Bush has said he opposes mandatory caps on CO2 emissions, a bipartisan bill now before the Senate Environment and Public Works committee would introduce such caps.

In additional, U.S. companies operating internationally may face requirements for emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol, despite U.S. withdrawal from this international climate change treaty.

CCX will administer this pilot program for emission sources, carbon sinks, offset projects and liquidity providers in North America. To foster international emissions trading, offset project providers in Brazil can also participate.

The development of CCX resulted from feasibility and design studies that were funded by grants from the Chicago based Joyce Foundation and administered by Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Environmental Financial Products LLC conducted the research and development effort.

About 100 additional corporations have expressed interest in joining the Exchange, and a second group of members is expected to be announced in the next 90 days.

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Court Orders Review of Mexican Truck Traffic

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - A federal appeals court has ordered the Bush administration to review the environmental impacts of opening U.S. borders to Mexican truck traffic.

Finding that the Bush Administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously," the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the administration violated federal environmental laws by taking steps to give Mexico based trucks full access to U.S. highways without reviewing the impact they would have on air quality. The court ordered the administration to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement and Clean Air Act conformity determination.

The court ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed in May 2002 by a coalition of environmental, consumer and labor groups including Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

"Today's ruling is a victory for the environment and public health. The court has acted decisively to prevent an influx of trucks into the U.S. until we know how they could affect the air we breathe," said Jonathan Weissglass, a attorney for the petitioners and a partner at Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain.

The court decision stated that while the judges agreed with the importance of the United States' compliance with its treaty obligations with Mexico, "such compliance cannot come at the cost of violating United States law." The court concluded that the Department of Transportation acted "without regard to well established United States environmental laws."

The judges noted that a number of studies have demonstrated that diesel exhaust and its components constitute "a major threat to the health of children, contribute to respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, and are likely carcinogenic."

The lawsuit claimed that trucks from Mexico would increase U.S. air pollution because at least 30,000 Mexico based diesel trucks could enter the U.S. in the next year alone, including many older, pre-1994 trucks that are among the worst polluters. A study has suggested that by the year 2010, trucks from Mexico will emit twice as much particulate matter and nitrogen oxides as U.S. trucks.

There is no system in place to systematically inspect the emissions of trucks coming over the border from Mexico. In addition, trucks from Mexico may not be covered by a 1998 settlement between the government and trucking manufacturers that requires U.S. trucks to remove "defeat devices" which enabled them to test clean at inspection sites but run dirty on the open road.

"Trade and environmental protection need not be enemies - but here the Bush Adminsitration simply ran roughshod over U.S. law," said Al Meyerhoff, a partner with Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP and an attorney for the petitioners. "In doing so, they unnecessarily jeopardized American public health."

To read the full court opinion, click here.

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Enviro Laws Do Not Hamper Western Drilling

WASHINGTON, DC, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - A new study of U.S. oil and gas resources in five western basins concludes that few existing leasing restrictions would hamper the recovery of most of the reserves in the region.

The report, titled "Scientific Inventory of Onshore Federal Lands Oil and Gas Resources and Reserves and the Extent and Nature of Restrictions or Impediments to Their Development," evaluates the five areas in the West that contain the bulk of the natural gas and much of the oil resources under federal ownership in the onshore United States.

It concludes that an estimated 57 percent of oil and 63 percent of gas are available under standard stipulations, and only 15 percent of oil and 12 percent of gas are totally unavailable. The remaining oil and gas are available with increasing restrictions on development. Land that is closed to development contains comparatively little oil and gas potential.

These conclusions run counter to Bush administration arguments that environmental laws and lease restrictions have prevented oil and gas companies from recovering much of the oil and gas in these areas.

"What this report identifies is that some 60 percent of oil and gas are available under the least restrictive terms," said assistant interior secretary Rebecca Watson. "That was new information and somewhat unexpected."

The Department of Interior delivered the interagency scientific inventory to Congress, which requested the report under the provisions of the 2000 Energy Policy and Conservation Act.

Under the Act, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton, federal agencies are tasked with developing a national inventory of all oil and gas resources and reserves beneath federal lands. The report released Thursday is the first study designed to fulfill this obligation.

The report covers the energy resources located in five major geologic basins in the interior West: the Paradox/San Juan Basins in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico; the Uinta/Piceance Basins in Colorado and Utah; the Greater Green River Basin in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah; the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming; and the Montana Thrust Belt in Montana.

These five basins encompass almost 104 million acres of the interior West, of which 59 million acres are managed by the federal government. The inventory includes lands managed by all federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. It also includes private owned lands where the federal government owns the subsurface minerals.

The report provides estimates of oil and gas resources and reserves beneath the five basins and an inventory of the extent and nature of limitations to development. The oil and gas figures are based on U.S. Geological Survey's undiscovered technically recoverable resource estimates and the Energy Information Administration's proved reserve calculations.

"This report represents the first time Congress has asked for a study that provides not only an estimate of oil and gas resources and reserves, but also information on any constraints that may limit development of these energy resources," said Watson. "This inventory is not a decision making document. It is a planning tool for the Congress that identifies areas of high and low oil and gas potential and the nature of constraints to the development of those resources in the basins in the interior West."

The report is available at: http://www.doi.gov/epca/

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Yellow-Legged Frog Needs Protection

SACRAMENTO, California, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has concluded that the Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act, but that listing the species under the Act is precluded by the need to take other, higher priority listing actions.

The USFWS will add this population of mountain yellow-legged frog to its list of candidate species and review the frog's status each year. When a "warranted but precluded" finding is made for a species, the USFWS classifies it as a candidate for listing.

The agency made the determination in response to a petition filed in February 2000 by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pacific Rivers Council. The USFWS completed an initial review in October 2000 and concluded that the petition contained substantial information supporting a full study of the frog's status.

The comprehensive review - known as a 12 month finding - showed that there is sufficient scientific and commercial data to propose listing the species as endangered throughout its range. However, the USFWS says it is precluded from beginning work on a listing proposal because its limited resources must be devoted to other, higher priority actions.

The Sierra Nevada population of the mountain yellow-legged frog is a separate, distinct population from the southern California population of the mountain yellow-legged frog, and comprises the remainder of the species' range. The Sierra Nevada population ranges from southern Plumas County to southern Tulare County, and extends into Nevada in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe and northward to the slopes of Mount Rose.

Mountain yellow-legged frog populations have declined by an estimated 50 to 80 percent throughout the Sierra Nevada. The 12 month finding reviewed available scientific studies and concluded that the stocking of non-native fish, disease, air pollution, and the effects of poorly managed livestock grazing have impacted the frogs and their habitat.

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Lawsuit Links Logging to Water Pollution

SANTA ROSA, California, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - Conservation groups are suing the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (CRWQCB) for the North Coast Region over pollution discharges associated with logging operations.

A petition filed in a Sonoma County Court today asks the CRWQCB to conduct a full Environment Impact Report before moving forward with exemptions from pollution discharges associated with logging operations in the region. The petition was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), and the Humboldt Watershed Council.

The lawsuit comes just days after an independent scientific study determined that excessive logging in five Northern California watersheds caused downstream problems, including severe flooding. The report was issued by a panel of scientists chosen by community members, the North Coast Regional Board, and Pacific Lumber Company, and concludes that the company's rate of logging must be reduced due to water quality concerns.

Containing just 12 percent of the state's land base, the North Coast region produces about 45 percent of the timber produced on nonfederal land in California. A substantial amount of logging also occurs on public land in the region, making logging operations the most prevalent land use on the North Coast.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a waiver for logging operations in 1987. Since this waiver was installed, more than 85 percent of the watersheds in the region have been listed as "impaired" under the Clean Water Act due to excessive sediment pollution.

Residents now suffer frequent flooding events, swimming holes have been filled in with sediment, domestic and agricultural uses of water have been destroyed, native aquatic species have disappeared from their natural range, recreational and commercial fishing opportunities are all but eliminated, and ancient trees in protected areas are dying.

The 1987 waiver relied on the implementation of the controversial California Forest Practice Rules by the California Department of Forestry for logging operations to protect water quality on nonfederal land. These rules have been criticized by, among others, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for their failure to protect water quality.

The Regional Board never reviewed its waiver during the 14 years it was in place, and failed to terminate it despite numerous requests by affected parties. In 1999, the state of California enacted a new law that would terminate all waivers on January 1, 2003 unless the regional boards reviewed and renewed the waivers, at public hearings, prior to that date.

After waiting more than three years to take action to review its waiver pursuant to Senate Bill 390, the Regional Board rushed to install a new one before the January 1, 2003 expiration date arrived. The Board adopted a new categorical waiver on December 10, 2002.

"This was a sweetheart deal for the logging corporations, made in haste, to beat a state deadline," said Cynthia Elkins of EPIC. "There is no rational way the Regional Board can claim that waiving important water quality protection requirements and fees for every logging plan proposed during the next year anywhere in the North Coast region will not have a serious impact on water quality and other important environmental values. The Board's decision focused on protecting logging companies rather than its mandate to protect water quality."

"All of the evidence before the Board, much of which has been collected by its own staff, demonstrates that water quality is seriously harmed when the Regional Board waives important requirements of the state's water pollution control laws," added Mike Lozeau of Earthjustice. "In order to proceed down that ill advised path, the Regional Board must first prepare a full Environmental Impact Report in order to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act."

To read the petition, click here.

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Scientist Challenges UN Climate Predictions

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - A climatologist from Virginia State says global climate change will likely involve mild temperature increases, rather than the most dramatic changes predicted by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC prediction includes a range of possible temperature changes. At the high end is the potential for an average temperature gain of 5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. Virginia State climatologist Patrick Michaels says the more likely scenario would result in a world that "looks more like the same world as today."

Michaels, a member of the IPCC, has published a paper in the current issue of the journal "Climate Research" that argues against the dire predictions of rising sea levels and declining plant productivity that the high end IPCC forecast has produced.

"The rate of warming will not be much different than it was over the last 30 years," said Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

While most climate models produce a constant rate of future warming, that rate varies. Michaels' research, designed to determine which of these rates are more likely than others, uses nature as his model, comparing past real temperature rates to those predicted in computer models.

"Nature has been integrating the response to greenhouse effect changes for nearly a half-century, while models have been producing diverse projections," Michaels noted.

Two years ago the IPCC produced its third assessment report, which indicated a global rise in temperatures of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius for 1990 to 2100. Michaels' new independent study suggests the most likely value is around 1.6 degrees Celsius, near the low end of the IPCC range.

Michaels used an assortment of data to produce a range of possible temperatures for the period, and all were less broad than the IPCC's range. In one scenario, he used data from recent studies that examine the assumptions made about climate behavior in the United Nations report, and found a range of warming of 1.1 to 2.8 degrees Celsius.

When using data of actual climate change rates during the past 25 years of greenhouse warming, and projecting it out to the year 2100, Michaels found a range of 1.5 to 2.6 degrees Celsius.

"Almost all models produce a constant rate of warming," Michaels said. "So why not let nature choose that rate?"

When he factored both aspects of his study together, Michaels found a range of 1.0-1.6 degrees Celsius. By adjusting the averages of a range of climate models to reflect actual observed changes in temperature in nature, he found a warming range of 1.3-3.0 degrees Celsius, with a central value of 1.9 degrees Celsius.

"The consistency of these somewhat independent results encourages us to conclude that 21st century warming will be modest and near the low end of the IPCC's third assessment report projections," he said.

Michaels said that much of the data in the IPCC's report is based on older, less accurate studies that take into account neither what has already occurred during the past century nor the more refined and accurate independent findings of more recent studies.

"Our paper looks at what should have been examined in the IPCC report," he said. "We should be listening to nature talking."

Michaels also said society is producing more fuel efficient machinery and will continue to do so throughout this century, further reducing the likelihood of dramatic warming.

"This is why we shouldn't rush policy decisions before we have strong and clear evidence that our projections are sound," Michaels said. "In this study we demonstrate that the IPCC's evidence for intense warming projections is weak, but the evidence for the low end of their range is very strong."

The full article can be accessed at: http://www.int-res.com/articles/cr2003/23/c023p001.pdf

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Cancer Fighting Microbes Found in Ocean Mud

SAN DIEGO, California, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - A group of researchers has shown that sediments in the deep ocean can be a biomedical resource for microbes that produce antibiotic molecules.

In a series of two papers, the group has reported the discovery of a novel group of bacteria found to produce molecules with potential in the treatment of infectious diseases and cancer. The researchers were led by William Fenical, director of the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

"The average person thinks of the bottom of the ocean as a dark, cold, and nasty place that is irrelevant," said Fenical, "but we've shown that this environment may be a huge resource for new antibiotics and drugs for the treatment of cancer."

petri dishes

Twelve strains of salinospora, a new marine microbe with cancer fighting properties. (Photo courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
The first paper, published in the October 2002 issue of "Applied and Environmental Microbiology," highlights the discovery of new bacteria, called actinomycetes, from ocean sediments. For more than 45 years, terrestrial actinomycetes were the foundation of the pharmaceutical industry because of their ability to produce natural antibiotics, including important drugs such as streptomycin, actinomycin, and vancomycin.

The data from this paper provide the first conclusive evidence of the widespread occurrence of native actinomycete populations in marine sediments.

The second paper, published in the January 20, 2003, issue of the international edition of the chemistry journal "Angewandte Chemie," identifies the structure of a new natural product, which Fenical's group has named Salinosporamide A, from this new bacterial resource. The new compound is a potent inhibitor of cancer growth, including human colon carcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer, and breast cancer.

January's report cracks the door open for a line of similar discoveries from the Salinospora genus.

"The second paper shows the potential for the production of materials that are highly biologically active and very chemically unique. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg of diverse chemical formulas that are out there," said Fenical.

Although more than 100 drugs today exist from terrestrial microorganisms, including penicillin, the potential from land based microbial sources began dwindling some 10 years ago. Pharmaceutical investigators searched around the globe for new terrestrial, drug producing microbes, with diminishing payback.

But the oceans, with some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, were largely ignored as a potential source for actinomycete bacteria.

Fenical's group developed new methods and tools for obtaining a variety of ocean sediments, including a miniaturized sampling device that captures samples from the deep ocean. They derived bottom muds from more than 1,000 meters deep from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Red Sea, and the Gulf of California.

By genetic and culture analysis, Fenical's group discovered the new genus Salinospora, a type of actinomycete bacteria found in tropical and subtropical oceans, but never seen before on land.

Of 100 strains of these organisms tested, 80 percent produced molecules that inhibit cancer cell growth. About 35 percent revealed the ability to kill pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Based on the worldwide distribution of Salinospora, Fenical estimates that many thousands of strains will be available.

"These discoveries speak to the future of antibiotic discovery," said Fenical. "They point to the fact that the ocean is an incredibly exciting new microbial resource. They indicate how little we know, and they demonstrate how much we need to invest in further exploration of the oceans."

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Eco-Rally Urges Conservation Instead of War

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 17, 2003 (ENS) - Leaders of major environmental organizations along with alternative transportation advocates will hold an Environmentalists Against the War eco-rally and alternative vehicle convoy in San Francisco on Saturday.

The event will highlight connections between America's dependence on foreign oil and U.S. plans for a preemptive attack on Iraq.

The rally will begin at 11 am on the steps of Grace Cathedral, where religious leaders will bless hybrid cars, electric vehicles, bicycles and feet. At noon, a group of bicyclists, transit users, electric vehicles and hybrid cars will proceed as a green convoy to the anti-war demonstration that begins at San Francisco Civic Center at 1 pm.

Electric vehicles including Sparrow and Think cars, RAV 4 EVs, and Zap! Scooters will lead off the convoy, followed by bicyclists and members of the pedestrian union. A legion of hybrid cars bearing bumper stickers that read "Real Patriots Drive Hybrids" bring up the rear as the convoy makes it way down from the top of Nob Hill to San Francisco's Civic Center.

The rally will also include a sport utility vehicle decorated by crowd with an oil drum in the cargo rack, and pulling a trail of orange plastic gas cans bearing slogans including "Axle of Evil."

The sponsors of Environmentalists Against the War include Working Assets, Sierra Club, Walk SF, SF Bicycle Coalition, Greenpeace, Project Underground, Ruckus Society, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Bluewater Network, Global Exchange, Rainforest Action Network, Earth Island Institute. Supporters say these organizations represent millions of Americans who champion energy conservation in the name of national security and oppose the tactical use of nuclear weapons.

"By reducing our dependency on oil, the U.S. can increase our national security and reduce the threat of war, as well as clean up our air and curb global warming," said Larry Fahn, Sierra Club vice president. "Our country has the know how to cut our dependence on oil by using energy efficiency, modern technology, and renewable power. Because war has dire environmental and social impacts, the Sierra Club urges the U.S. to let the United Nations inspectors do their job so the parties can resolve the Iraq issue peacefully."