AmeriScan: June 9, 2003

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Incentives Encourage Farmers to Slow Greenhouse Gases

WASHINGTON, DC, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - In response to last year's White House request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking steps to encourage farmers to help lessen global warming.

The plans include providing incentives and supporting voluntary actions by private landowners, including farmers as well as forest and grazing landowners.

The agency will give consideration to management practices that store carbon and reduce greenhouse gases in setting priorities and implementing forest and agriculture conservation programs. Financial incentives, technical assistance, demonstrations, pilot programs and education are being offered along with measurements to gauge the success of these efforts.

The USDA will invest almost $3.9 billion in agriculture and forest conservation in 2004, an increase of $1.7 billion over 2001.

Due to the increase in conservation investments and a focus that includes carbon sequestration efforts, the agency estimates these actions will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester roughly 12 million tons of greenhouse gases - measured in carbon equivalent terms - annually by 2012.

Most U.S. cropland soils have lost at least one third, and some up to 60 percent, of their carbon since they were first converted to crop production over the last 200 years. The agency says that cropland does not have to be taken out of production and that the diminished carbon pool can be replenished by changes in land use and land management.

USDA programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and Wetlands Reserve Program have been set up to aid the reaccumulation of carbon in soils.

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New Data Show Emissions From Non-Road Diesel Engines

BERKELEY, California, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - New emissions data reveals that particulate matter in nonroad diesel engines, which power tractors, bulldozers, trains and ships nationwide, account for nearly 50 percent of all particulate matter pollution.

Metropolitan areas in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston and Chicago top the list for the amount of emissions of particulate matter from these engines, according to an analysis released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The highest emissions of smog forming nitrogen oxides were found in the Los Angeles and New York metropolitan areas. Texas, California, Illinois, Louisiana and Ohio have the highest particulate matter emissions.

The report compiled and analyzed the latest emissions inventory from the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board. It found that in the New York metropolitan area, non road diesel engines emitted more tons of particulate matter than in any other area evaluated.

Four major metropolitan areas along the East Coast corridor - Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C./Baltimore - have some of the highest concentration of nonroad diesel emissions in the country.

"Despite substantial progress in technologies that reduce diesel pollution, a double standard allows non road engines to pollute at high levels," said Patricia Monahan, author of the new report, "Cleaning up Diesel Pollution: Emissions from Off-highway Engines by State."

"Unlike diesel trucks and buses, construction and agricultural equipment are held to weak standards, and public health pays the price," Monahan said. "It is imperative that we hold all diesel engines to the same standard."

Diesel exhaust particles are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs and have been linked to cancer and premature death, as well as serious respiratory illness. The dangers of diesel exhaust have led to stricter tailpipe standards for highway trucks and buses over the past 30 years.

But nonroad engines are allowed to pollute at much higher levels. While particulate pollution from highway vehicles has been cut in half over the last two decades, emissions from nonroad engines have increased 23 percent.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a rule that would reduce emissions from new non road diesel engines by 90 percent. Though the current proposal would exclude trains and ships from stricter emission standards, the EPA estimates that by 2030, the rule could prevent 9,600 premature deaths and save $81 billion per year.

"The EPA under Christie Todd Whitman has given us a good proposal, one of the very few environmentally sound actions of the Bush administration," said Kevin Knobloch, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "But it is still just a proposal. Without Whitman at the helm, there is considerable chance this rule will be undermined. The stakes for public health are too great to let that happen."

A recent analysis by an association of state air regulators found that diesel exhaust - a mixture of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, arsenic, dioxin and mercury - increase the incidence of cancer in the United States by as many as 125,000 additional cases over a 70 year lifetime.

The Union of Concerned Scientists study breaks down pollution data on non road diesel engines and other mobile sources in all states, counties and major metropolitan areas. The report also provides a cost analysis of producing cleaner engines, finding that for one to three percent of the cost of equipment, pollution controls for particulate matter and nitrogen oxide can cut emissions by 90 percent or more

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EPA Settles Indiana Clean Air Act Violation

WASHINGTON, DC, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - The Bush administration announced a multi-million dollar Clean Air Act settlement Friday with Southern Indiana Gas and Electric Company that resolves government claims that it violated the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The government had alleged that the violations occurred at the F.B. Culley Station plant in Newburgh, Indiana, where the company had undertaken major modifications and increased emissions of air pollution without installing required air pollution controls. The settlement is expected to eliminate approximately 10,500 tons of harmful air pollutants annually from three coal fired electricity generating units at the Culley Station.

The settlement is consistent with a series of cases pursued by the federal government to bring the power plant industry into full compliance with the New Source Review requirements of the Clean Air Act. The agreement requires the power company to install and/or upgrade state of the art controls at two units and elect to shut down or repower and control a third unit.

"We are happy that SIGECO finally chose to resolve the U.S. claims through a consent agreement rather than battling us in court," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti.

"This excellent settlement shows how the department's aggressive enforcement can help bring industry into compliance with our environmental laws, ultimately making for cleaner air for all citizens to enjoy," Sansonetti said. "I hope defendants in our other cases take the hint that settling with the United States is the right thing to do."

It is estimated that the company will spend approximately $30 million to reduce emissions and come into compliance.

It will also pay a civil penalty of $600,000 and spend at least $2.5 million on an environmental project to install and operate technology to reduce emissions from the Culley plant of sulfuric acid, a chemical affecting air opacity.

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Sea Otter Numbers Encourage Scientists

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - Despite concerns that California's sea otters have been falling sick and dying at an alarming rate, scientists said last week that the number of otters counted rose to a recent record.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said an annual survey over a five day period in May spotted 2,505 sea offers off California's coasts, up substantially from 2,139 a year earlier.

"This is the highest total count and the highest count of adult and young adult sea otters, 2,270, since current standardized methods came into practice in 1983," said USGS biologist Brian Hatfield.

Sea otters were once found along much of the Pacific Rim coast, but the animals were almost wiped out in the 18th and 19th centuries due to the fur trade. In April biologists warned of serious consequences for the species after they noticed a growing number of dead otters washing ashore in California.

University of California analysis found that adult sea otters in California in 1998-2001 died in unusually high numbers from newly recognized diseases and in geographic clusters. The findings suggested that the coastal environment may be so substantially altered that the species could be in jeopardy.

Greg Sanders, an expert on sea otters for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the increase in the number of sick and dead, which experts term "stranded" otters, was likely linked to the larger overall number of the animals, especially in the Monterey Bay area.

"The most likely explanation is that there were more otters off the Monterey coast which resulted in more strandings," Sanders said.

"We are cautiously optimistic about the increase in sea otter numbers for this year, but elevated sea otter mortality is still hindering recovery," said Sanders. "In the long run, we have to minimize deaths of these animals."

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Systematic Pattern of Rainfall Found Across United States

BOULDER, Colorado, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - Summer thunderstorms and heavy rains are difficult to predict, often popping up quickly and disappearing within a few short hours. Scientists looking at radar images have discovered a systematic pattern of rainfall that could help forescasters in the future.

The analysis of 50,000 summertime radar images at the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that the movement of blocks of enhanced rainfall from the Rockies toward the Appalachians, is an identifiable pattern, even when traditional weather maps show none of the typical weather patterns, such as fronts or low pressure systems.

These eastward moving blocks of enhanced thunderstorm activity still have individual storms popping up quickly and disappearing in a few hours, but it appears that the older storms give birth to new storms as the activity moves across the country.

Thus, there is a much greater chance that a particular location will feel the effects of a thunderstorm when one of the activity areas is passing by, rather than either before or after it.

"Heavy rain from thunderstorms is hard to predict because these storms are mostly local, don't last very long, and exhibit chaotic behavior in their evolution," said Richard Carbone, lead author of a paper appearing in the July 1 issue of the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Atmospheric Science.

"But our work shows some clusters of storms actually spawn new clusters of storms. If we can follow this pattern, we may be able to greatly improve our predictions of where the new storms will develop."

Carbone and his colleagues applied sophisticated computer processing techniques to vast quantities of data containing radar imagery of summer thunderstorms between 1997 and 2000. By compiling the images, they found a distinct pattern of old storms generating new storms downstream.

"We can track the signal associated with afternoon thunderstorms in the west to new thunderstorms across the country more than 500 miles on a typical midsummer day," said Carbone.

"Some of these storms, or 'episodes,' last up to two days and 1,500 miles, even though ordinary thunderstorms last about an hour and organized groups of thunderstorms three to ten hours," Carbone said. "You could say, for example, that yesterday's storms in Colorado have a lot to do with the likelihood of storms in Chicago today - and watch out on the East Coast tomorrow!"

Mountains and storm created "waviness" in the atmosphere are mostly responsible for starting weather systems on their way across the country. But what links some of the thunderstorms together is still a mystery, said Carbone.

"We have not discovered the 'silver bullet' yet, what ties these sequences of storms together, but we have some ideas," Carbone said.

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Washington State Water Policies Called Illegal

SEATTLE, Washington, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - This state spent more than $1 million to buy water for the Walla Walla River in November 2000, and the Department of Ecology is illegally giving that water away, according to a water watchdog group.

The group took its case to the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, where a preliminary ruling issued last week has set the stage for a major decision about the Columbia River.

At issue is whether the Department of Ecology can grant a massive new water permit to the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland in the eastern part of the state that would allow them to withdraw up to 80,000 gallons of water per minute from the Columbia River, substituting water from the Walla Walla River.

The Walla Walla water was bought by the state for more than $1 million in November, 2000, to restore salmon habitat there.

The Walla Walla joins the Columbia miles downstream from the four cities, and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy says the science does not support taking so much water from the Columbia and that the state shouldn't be subsidizing further water withdrawals at taxpayer expense.

"We think buying water to put back in a river that needs it, only to give it away for free later is a waste of tax dollars, and bad for the river besides," said Shirley Nixon, attorney for the water group. "Common sense water efficiency could get these four cities all the water they need without taxpayers footing the bill."

With a combined population of 200,000 people, Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland already have water permits for nearly 200 million gallons of water per day, which is enough for 1,000 gallons per person.

By comparison, Seattle's water customers, which number more than 1.2 million people and businesses, use around 180 million gallons of water per day, an average of 150 gallons per person, and the same total amount of water used in 1975, thanks to improved technology and efficiency measures.

Nearly 40 percent of the average natural flow of the Columbia at McNary Dam, located about 40 miles downstream from the cities, is already withdrawn, mostly for irrigation. Hundreds of users do not yet take all of the water they are permitted to use, so river levels on the Columbia are likely to continue dropping, even if Ecology issues no new water rights.

Agencies as diverse as U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, B.C. Hydro of Canada, the Bonneville Power Administration, and Indian tribes are working to improve salmon habitat by restoring water to the Columbia River system.

Ecology has budgeted $588,000 for two studies to determine whether the Columbia can even afford more water withdrawals, the complaint says.

Those recommendations are due by Spring 2004.

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Report Blasts U.S. for Mad Cow Guideline Violations

LITTLE MARAIS, Minnesota, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - Saying it is trailing the rest of the world to keep the disease from spreading, a new report blasts the United States for continuing to violate key World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations to keep bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, from spreading.

"U.S. Violates World Health Organization Guidelines for Mad Cow Disease: A Comparison of North American and European Safeguards" was written by the Organic Consumers Association, a grassroots nonprofit public interest organization.

The report says that the potentially risky widespread practices of weaning U.S. calves on cow blood protein, feeding the rendered remains of cows to poultry and pigs, and the subsequent feeding of poultry manure and swine remains back to cows is a threat to public safety.

"Even though mad cow disease has now been uncovered in North America, the U.S. beef industry continues to risk public safety and the U.S. government continues to protect business interests over those of the consumer," said report author Dr. Michael Greger.

The report says that the WHO issued four concrete recommendations to reduce the likelihood of the disease spreading to human populations, and that the United States continues to violate each one.

The number one recommendation, for example, was that no "part or product" of any animal showing signs of a mad cow disease should be fed to any animal. The report says, "In the United States, it remains legal to feed deer and elk known to be infected with a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy called chronic wasting disease to livestock such as pigs and chickens."

The WHO guidelines included establishing adequate testing and surveillance for mad cow according to international standards. Though the beef industry and the United States Department of Agriculture say that U.S. testing "far exceeds" the international standards, the report finds that they are not telling the whole story, especially when it comes to "downer cattle," or cattle that collapse and are too sick or injured to rise.

"The beef industry's position is an illustration of circular reasoning: We don't rigorously test, because we have not found any cases," the report states.

To read the report, go to: http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/greger060603.cfm

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Preservation of Cypress Gardens Gets Big Thumbs Up

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, June 9, 2003 (ENS) - The effort to save Florida's oldest theme park got a boost when the state's Acquisition and Restoration Council voted unanimously to make Cypress Gardens a priority for acquisition through Florida's land conservation program.

"When a piece of property becomes a cultural icon, it is important to protect and preserve it," said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David B. Struhs. "The support shown yesterday by those who traveled hundreds of miles to appear before this council definitely gives Cypress Gardens icon status."

The 70 year old attraction was closed in April, putting an end to a long legacy that included water ski shows, film making and Southern Belles. Governor Jab Bush directed the Department of Environmental Protection to explore options for the park's preservation.

"Cypress Gardens is a piece of Florida's modern history," Struhs said. "There can be no better way to continue its tradition than through the Florida Forever program."

Several management alternatives are under discussion if acquisition is approved by Governor Bush and the Florida Cabinet in August. Parts of the 233-acre attraction, such as the Florida shaped pool and botanical gardens, meet the criteria of the National Historic Registry.

Other projects placed on the Florida Forever priority list for acquisition includes Half Circle L Ranch, an 11,220 acre project in Collier and Hendrick counties within primary habitat zones for the Florida panther and the Florida Black bear; the Nose Plantation in Walton County, which would provide a natural land buffer to Egis Air Force Base; the Upper St. Marks River Corridor that protects the watershed of the St. Marks River and the San Fellahs Conservation to provide a corridor stretching from the Santa Fe River to San Fellahs Hammock State Park.