Energy Companies Could Gain New Access in AlaskaWASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration is proposing to open almost nine million acres of Alaska to new oil and natural gas leases.
On Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) analyzing four alternatives for the future management of the 8.8 million acre Northwest Planning Area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), also known as the Western Arctic. Three of the alternatives would make part or all of the Planning Area - the nation's largest remaining block of unprotected public land - available for oil and gas leasing.
Leasing of the entire 8.8 million acre Northwest Planning Area would be the largest single onshore offering to the energy industry in the history of America's Arctic. While the BLM did not identify a preferred alternative, conservationists are concerned that the final decision, issued after a 60 day public comment period, will call for oil and gas leasing in almost all of the Western Arctic.
The final BLM proposal may be any of these alternatives, or some combination of them.
Like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east and the Arctic Ocean to the north, the 23 million acre NPR-A is home to some of the most unique wildlife and wild land found in America.
"The ecological integrity of America's Western Arctic is at grave risk from poorly planned and damaging development," said Eleanor Huffines of The Wilderness Society. "What is needed is a balanced approach to the management of these natural resources across the entire North Slope to protect the most sensitive areas and cultures."
About 20 percent of the NPR-A has already been sold to oil interests. If the entire Northwest Planning Area is also opened, 60 percent of the Western Arctic could become criss-crossed with roads, drill pads, pipelines and processing facilities, adding to the massive oil fields at Prudhoe Bay that sprawl across 1,000 square miles.
Each year, critics note, oil operations on Alaska's North Slope average almost 400 toxic spills, and emit more than 56,000 tons of nitrogen oxides - more than half the total emissions for the entire state of New Jersey.
Established in 1923 as "Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4" to be an emergency oil supply for defense purposes administered by the Navy, the NPR-A's vastness and remoteness has kept it largely undeveloped. Even during the 1973 oil embargo, potential resources in the NPR-A were still reserved for national defense needs.
Three years later, Congress acknowledged the Native Alaskan subsistence uses and wildlife values of the region and passed the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA), which made oil from the reserves available, but treated the Western Arctic area differently from the other reserves where production was the primary focus. Three special areas were designated in recognition of their unique wildlife values: Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, and Colville River.
However, this designation does not offer any permanent protection from oil and gas leasing or other types of development.
The BLM says its proposed alternatives include steps and procedures to address waste prevention, handling and disposal; oil spill prevention and response; potential impacts of oil and gas exploration and development; protection of subsistence activities; and protection of vegetation, raptors, and cultural and paleontological resources.
"Each alternative offers a different balance between serving the 'total energy needs of the nation,' a goal of the NPRPA, and protecting surface resources from 'unnecessary and undue degradation,' as required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act," the BLM report notes.
Critics say that is not enough, and want the Bush administration to pledge permanent protection for some of the most sensitive areas. Conservationists also argue that drilling in this region is not the answer to the nation's energy needs, and urge the administration to place more emphasis on energy efficiency and renewable power sources.
For more information, visit: http://www.ak.blm.gov/nwnpra/index.html
Five Power Companies Face Environmental ResolutionsWASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - The five largest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters among U.S. electric power companies are all facing global warming and other pollution related shareholder resolutions.
American Electric Power, Southern Company, Xcel Energy Inc., TXU Corporation, and Cinergy Corporation will all have to address resolutions announced last week by a coalition of shareholders that includes the State of Connecticut Plans and Trust Fund and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) including the Presbyterian Church.
"Investors need the full picture to assess companies' long term investment value," said Connecticut state treasurer Denise Nappier, explaining her fund's interest in disclosure and reduction of portfolio company emissions.
"Air pollutant emissions are some of the most measurable, relevant, and significant indicators of risk for this particular industry, and it's our responsibility to ask what the company's plans are to address that risk," Nappier added. "We're also concerned about the risks to investors global warming itself may bring, and think it's important that our portfolio companies are not contributing to the problem."
The coordinated action reflects a growing concern among pension funds about the hidden risks involved in industries that contribute to global warming. The shareholder resolutions focus on the potential risks to shareholders posed by the five utilities' production of C02, the primary greenhouse gas emission linked to global warming.
The resolutions ask that the companies report to their shareholders on "(a) the economic risks associated with the Company's past, present, and future emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions, and the public stance of the company regarding efforts to reduce these emissions and (b) the economic benefits of committing to a substantial reduction of those emissions related to its current business activities (i.e. potential improvement in competitiveness and profitability)."
The simultaneous filings were coordinated by ICCR and CERES, a coalition of investors, environmental organizations, and public interest groups.
"The failure of the U.S. government to set standards is already creating a climate of business uncertainty. It creates a situation where the companies are vulnerable to the whims of state regulation, or even litigation costs as suits are brought against the largest emitters," said CERES executive director Robert Massie. "Those companies that haven't invested in renewables and other cleaner technologies will be hit the hardest."
Jim Newland, chairperson of the Mission Responsibility Through Investments Committee of the Presbyterian Church USA, said shareholders, "need to know now where a utility will stand down the road when there are federal regulations in place."
"If the company has not made the right amount of progress toward investing in alternative sources it will be extremely expensive and detrimental to stockholder return to adapt at that point," Newland noted. "This information is all part of the company's financial risk picture and it's important for shareholders to have."
For a full text of the shareholder resolution, go to: http://www.hastingsgroup.com/FilthyFiveUtilities.html
Green Mountain Cuts Off Connecticut SupplyWAYNE, Pennsylvania, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - Green Mountain Energy Company says it will discontinue serving all of its 1,312 customers in Connecticut as of March 31, 2003, citing regulations that make it too expensive to bring clean energy into Connecticut.
Green Mountain, the nation's largest and fastest growing retail provider of cleaner electricity, also noted "the overall lack of a competitive electric market in the state," for its decision to cease operations in Connecticut. The company says it will focus its efforts in the eastern U.S. on expanding its customer base in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
In recent months, Green Mountain Energy Company had been the only energy supplier signing up residential customers in Connecticut. Green Mountain Energy Company began marketing its brand of pollution free electricity to Connecticut electric customers in January 2001.
"Green Mountain Energy Company is all about changing the way power is made by offering cleaner electricity from less polluting energy sources," said A. Clifton Payne, Jr. eastern region president for Green Mountain Energy Company.
"Unfortunately, regulatory hurdles in Connecticut have made it impossible to continue offering our customers pollution free electricity service in an affordable manner," Payne continued. "This decision didn't come easily or quickly. We've spent countless days over the last year meeting with state legislators and regulators to make the case for electric competition in Connecticut."
Three factors led to the company's decision to discontinue its service in Connecticut, Payne said:
"Without true customer choice, renewable energy offerings and rate savings on the retail market are not viable at this time in Connecticut, as demonstrated by the fact that other energy suppliers have stopped serving customers in the state," Payne added.
Beginning as soon as next week, Green Mountain will send letters to its customers detailing the reasons for its decision and information about being returned to the incumbent utility companies, Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating. Payne emphasized the company's commitment to ensure that these Green Mountain Energy customers will experience uninterrupted service while the return to utility service occurs.
"We want our customers in Connecticut to know how much we appreciate them, and we want to thank them for helping to change the way power is made," Payne said. "Because of their support, we were able to build the largest solar electric power plant in the state, at the time, at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, and our customers have helped avoid about 500 tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the last two years - avoiding as much carbon dioxide pollution as not driving over one million miles."
Green Mountain believes that viable models for Connecticut's energy market can be found in several other Eastern states, such as New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, which are implementing innovative approaches to stimulating competition and spurring demand for cleaner electricity. In New Jersey, a retail "green power" pilot program for 150,000 residential customers will go out for bid in February.
Customers in the Niagara Mohawk utility service territory of upstate New York can choose among three renewable energy providers without switching from their local utility company. And in Philadelphia, more than 400,000 residential customers and 60,000 commercial customers are expected to benefit from lower rates and renewable energy offerings under a proposed competitive bid process this year.
"We sincerely hope someday to once again offer our cleaner and renewable electricity service to Connecticut consumers," Payne concluded.
Ants Started Gardening 50 Million Years AgoWASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - For the past 50 million years, ants have been practicing underground agriculture involving fungus and parasitic "weeds" found nowhere else, according to research published in the January 17 issue of the journal "Science."
"The ants, garden fungi, and weeds have all been co-evolving since ant agriculture first got started - that's around 50 million years of symbiosis," said Dr. Ted Schultz, research entomologist in the Entomology Section of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
By studying DNA sequences from ants, garden fungi and fungal weeds, the research team was able to peer millions of years into the past to see how this co-evolutionary system evolved. The researchers learned that the ants, their garden fungi and the parasitic fungal weeds have been living in a co-evolved, complex system for a very long time, probably 50 million years or longer.
During that time, they have been locked in a never ending evolutionary "arms race," in which the ants and garden fungi are evolving new ways to control the parasitic fungal weeds, and the weeds are developing new ways to continue to infect fungus gardens.
There is a fourth factor in the ant colonies, a kind of bacteria that the ants cultivate on the outsides of their bodies. These bacteria produce an antibiotic that suppresses the growth of the weed fungi, and the ants use this antibiotic to keep their gardens healthy.
"We suspect that it's going to turn out that this antibiotic use also goes back to the beginning of ant agriculture," said Schultz.
Past work by researchers established evolutionary histories for the ants and their cultivated fungi, and it also established that the ant gardens almost always contain weed molds in the genus Escovopsis, which are found nowhere else in nature - only in ant gardens. One of the new findings in this research paper is that the scientists now have an evolutionary history for the weed fungi, an association that appears to be very ancient.
The Smithsonian Institution is the designated permanent repository for all the ant, fungal and bacterial specimens collected as part of a five year National Science Foundation grant. The museum has set up an archival liquid nitrogen DNA repository for the molecular collections generated by the study.
"The Smithsonian's repository of ant, fungal and bacterial specimens is an extremely important resource because most of these organisms have never been collected before," said Schultz. "Ant agriculture has become a model system that will be studied for decades or even centuries into the future - and the Smithsonian's morphological and DNA specimen collections will be the source of the data for many of those studies."
Microorganisms Break Down Toxic PesticideMADISON, Wisconsin, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers in the U.S. and Pakistan have identified a group of microorganisms that can break down a common toxic pesticide, endosulfan.
Detoxifying pesticides through biological means is receiving attention as an alternative to existing methods, such as incineration and landfill, which are not sufficient for large, contaminated sites. Researchers from the University of California at Riverside and the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan, have identified specific microorganisms which can breakdown the toxicity of endosulfan.
By identifying microorganisms to degrade endosulfan, these researchers were able to reduce the toxic residues in the soil. The results of this study are published in the January-February issue of the "Journal of Environmental Quality."
"Pollutants can be degraded by microorganisms when they use the toxin as a carbon and energy source," said project leader William Frankenberger of UC-Riverside. "We have been successful in isolating two strains that have immense potential for endosulfan degradation."
Endosulfan, classified as an organochlorine - the same family as DDT - is registered for use as a pesticide on 60 U.S. crops. Its residues have been found in the atmosphere, soils, sediments, surface and ground waters, and food.
It is one of the most commonly detected pesticides in U.S. water, found in at least 38 states, and is rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Category 1 pesticide with "extremely high acute toxicity." Endosulfan affects the central nervous system, kidney, liver, blood chemistry and parathyroid gland and has reproductive, teratogenic and mutagenic effects.
Total average annual use of endosulfan is estimated at about 1.38 million pounds of the active ingredient. Endosulfan and its breakdown products are persistent in the environment, entering the air, water, and soil during the pesticide's use and manufacture.
The results of this work suggest these novel strains of microorganisms are a valuable source of endosulfan degrading enzymes and may be used for the detoxification of endosulfan in contaminated soils, wastedumps, water bodies, industrial effluents and unused or expired stockpiles of the pesticide.
Oregon Solar System Offers Power, EducationSALEM, Oregon, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - A high school in Oregon now boasts a solar electric system that not only helps power the school, but also educates students about the potential of renewable energy.
A unique partnership between businesses, an electrical utility and an environmental nonprofit resulted in the donation of the 2.4 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) solar electric system and a curriculum on renewable power to the students and community of West Salem High School. The solar system, dubbed "Solar Titans" after West Salem High School's team name, was installed on the press box of the school's athletics field.
The PV system is designed to be interactive, combining a student curriculum and data acquisition package linked to a Web site. This allows students and teachers to access to real time system performance data from their own working solar panels, which supply part of the school's energy needs.
Students will learn how energy data may be modeled and run through various testing scenarios in order to compare the impacts and efficiencies of different energy production technologies.
Built at no cost to the school or local taxpayers, the PV system and curriculum are part of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation's (BEF) "Solar 4R Schools" program, which incorporates reading, writing, arithmetic and renewable energy. The program pairs Northwest schools with local utility and business partners who support the further development of local renewable energy resources.
In the case of West Salem High School, contributing partners include Salem Electric, West Coast Bank, Northside Electric and Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
Within the classroom, Solar 4R Schools is designed to engage students in understanding the environmental and economic impacts of energy use; and allows them to compare data from one energy production technology with others.
"These students will soon be faced with making decisions about the energy they consume," said Angus Duncan, President of BEF. "Our goal is to arm them with the first hand experience using a working electricity production resource in order to make informed choices and help Oregon move to an energy future less reliant on fossil fuels."
Iowa Primate Sanctuary Features Green DesignDES MOINES, Iowa, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - A new primate sanctuary in Iowa will have an environmentally friendly design aimed at promoting conservation.
Architectural designs were released last week for the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary (IPLS), one of the largest great ape sanctuaries to be constructed in North America. The initial phase of the project will be built in Des Moines by year's end and will incorporate extensive green design initiatives for conservation and environmental sustainability.
"With the plight of the great apes as our moral compass, we've assembled some of the brightest minds in the world to create a sanctuary that will deliver an honorable home for primates and set the standards for conservation efforts worldwide," said Ted Townsend, IPLS founder and Des Moines businessperson. "Through preservation, research and education, we will offer the world the experience of a new reality."
Two consulting firms, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Conservation Design Forum (CDF), have been brought in to analyze the environmental and ecological aspects of the project.
"One of the reasons the great apes are so endangered is the destruction of their habitat for building materials," said Bill Browning, founder of RMI's Green Development Services. "We will build the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary in a way that doesn't exacerbate that problem and demonstrates a better way. While people will come to study these extraordinary creatures, the buildings will also be teaching tools about environmental issues."
"This will not only be a refuge and sanctuary for great apes but also for the threatened, endangered and historical plant and animal life of Iowa - conservation, education, stewardship and sustainability must occur at home," added Jim Patchett, CDF founder and president. "One of the most important outreach opportunities for this site will be the ability to reconnect Iowans with an appreciation and understanding of the unique cultural and natural heritage of the state."
Located about five miles southeast of downtown Des Moines, IPLS will be constructed on 137 acres of land once used as a sand and gravel quarry. The property was conveyed to IPLS by the City of Des Moines in 2002.
Leo A Daly, an international architectural firm, has developed an innovative design that calls for the creation of several islands on the site - each island will serve as home to one of the great ape species: bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. To combat the harsh Iowa winters, buildings on each island will be connected by heated passageways or tunnels called ApeWalks.
"I think what makes this site perfect is that it's multi-dimensional," said Peter Hind, project designer. "We have lakes, wetlands and a river forest with which to work and create."
The first great ape residents of IPLS will be eight bonobos - also called pygmy chimpanzees - from the Language Research Center at Georgia State University near Atlanta. The bonobos have been part of a language research project directed by Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.
Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh's work with Kanzi, the first ape to learn language in the same manner as children, has been chronicled in books, scientific journals and television documentaries.
"The Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary will offer researchers a truly unique opportunity to share with the world what we've learned," said Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh. "This also marks the first time in history when one intelligent species has said to another ... we welcome you, we want to understand you better."
At IPLS, researchers will be able to share their vision, collaborate on projects and challenge concepts related to primate learning. In addition, educators and students will gain a new understanding and appreciation for what animals can teach people about the way humans live and how humans think.
As an advocate of preservation, IPLS will help educate the world on the plight of the great apes while offering hope through a global network of conservation efforts. IPLS has created a web site that provides information about the project's mission and scope, available at: http://www.IowaGreatApes.org
Tucson Power Company Honored for Aiding WildlifeTUCSON, Arizona, January 20, 2003 (ENS) - The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has honored Tucson Electric Power Co. (TEP) with its Award of Excellence for the company's efforts to help Southern Arizona wildlife survive the drought stricken summer of 2002.
TEP was recognized for filling manmade watering holes that provide water for hawks, bobcats, mountain lions, javelina and other animals that occupy the desert around Tucson. TEP employees hauled water in the company's 3,000 gallon tanker truck to more than 20 reservoirs over the course of six weeks in June, July and August.
"Such outstanding efforts are in keeping with the highest ideas of citizenship and concern for the environment, reflecting greatly upon their organization," wrote Gerald Perry, a regional supervisor for the Game and Fish Department, in his nomination of TEP for the award.
The Game and Fish Department maintains reservoirs, called catchments, in wilderness areas across the state. Under normal conditions, rainwater and snow runoff are collected in the large, concrete lined basins and stored for later use by a wide variety of desert animals.
But last year's drought left many catchments almost dry as summer's heat approached. The Game and Fish Department, meanwhile, was struggling with a budget shortfall that left little room for watering expenses.
James Pyers, vice president of Utility Distribution Company operations for TEP, challenged his employees to find a way to help. A team led by Distribution Services Superintendent Joe Sheehey responded by hauling more than 30 loads in the company's tanker truck to remote catchments, delivering water drawn from TEP's Irvington Generating Station.
"Such dedication and uncompensated excellence is outstanding and makes Tucson Electric Power and its employee Joe Sheehey exceptional examples of the model Arizona citizens," Perry wrote.
TEP is one of six recipients of the Commission's Award of Excellence for 2002, and the only recipient from the Tucson area. The award honors individuals, groups or other entities that have excelled in efforts to benefit wildlife, wildlife habitats or programs of the Game and Fish Department.
The Game and Fish Commission, a five member panel appointed by the governor to set policies for the department, presented TEP with the award on January 18 during its annual awards banquet in Phoenix.
"TEP's commitment to this community isn't limited to those species that pay electric bills," said James S. Pignatelli, chairman, president and chief executive officer of TEP and its parent company, UniSource Energy Corp. "I'm proud that we found a way to help our local wildlife survive a particularly dry summer."