AmeriScan: June 10, 2003

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Senate OKs Oil Savings of One Million Barrels a Day

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - The Senate today passed an amendment to the energy bill now working its way through Congress that requires the President to enact measures to conserve enough oil throughout the U.S. economy to reduce demand by one million barrels a day by 2013.

Seen as a clear victory for energy conservation, national security, and oil price stabilization, the bipartisan measure passed the Senate by a vote of 99 to 1.

The amendment by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, was cosponsored by Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Republicans Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The United States consumes 19 million barrels of oil a day and is dependent on oil imports to meet this need. The bill also requires the President to reduce dependence on imported petroleum. While the amendment offers suggestions to reduce energy, it gives the President the flexibility to develop his own measures.

"American families, communities and businesses all depend on affordable and reliable oil for their health, safety and livelihood," said Landrieu. "As a Senator from this nation's top oil producing state, I know that quite simply we can and should produce more oil at home."

Landrieu may have been motivated by the needs of the Louisiana oil industry and her constituents, but environmentalists say her amendment constitutes a giant shift in the nation's energy debate.

Daniel Lashof, director of the Climate Center Science at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said, "The bipartisan landslide for Senator Landrieu's oil savings plan reflects overwhelming public confidence in American know-how, and Americans' strong demand for an oil security plan to slash our dependence on Middle East oil through sensible savings and reduced energy waste."

"What we see today is a gigantic shift in the nation's oil security debate. From the staunchest Republican to the most liberal Democrat, senators in both parties suddenly realized we must curb our dangerous oil addiction," said NRDC legislative director Alys Campaigne.

If the measure becomes law, President George W. Bush would have one year to deliver plans for oil savings that must be realized within 10 years. The savings represent about four percent of projected oil demand, and could come anywhere oil is used in the economy.

Landrieu suggests alternative ways to reduce oil consumption that include - weatherizing homes that use home heating oil, reducing heavy duty truck idling, encouraging consumers to use the correct grade of gasoline, increasing use of renewable fuels, ensuring that replacement tires are as fuel efficient as original vehicle tires, keeping tires properly inflated, and improving air traffic management.

The NRDC says today's vote signifies "growing recognition that we cannot drill our way to oil security." The U.S. has just three percent of world oil reserves, compared with 65 percent beneath the Persian Gulf. A provision in the House energy bill passed earlier this year to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would expand reserves by one-third of one percent.

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Senate Bill Called First Step to End Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act has found that it could be a cost effective measure to address global warming. The legislation proposed in January by Senators John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, suggests an alternative to the existing approaches to address climate change in the United States based on a new broad, flexible, and domestic framework. It requires domestic, mandatory, and economywide emissions reductions.

Calling it "the most developed proposal for instituting a cap and trade system in the United States to control greenhouse gas emissions," the analysis says the measure would cover about 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and somewhat less of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Cap and trade is an incentive system which allows companies to sell emissions licenses if they reduce their own pollutants.

The analysis finds that the most important part of the congressional provision is that the cap for Phase I (2010-2015) would return to 2000 emissions levels and Phase II (2016-2020) would return to 1990 levels. "The Phase II tightening of the cap is substantial and means that the banking provision is quite important in reducing overall costs," the report says.

Katherine Silverthorne, U.S. director of the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) Climate Change Program, said, "According to the analysis, during a period when median household incomes are expected to rise from $40,000 to $61,000 per year, the annual price of implementing the bill could cost a household as little as $40 per year, approximately the price a family of four might pay for a night at the movies."

"In fact, WWF's work with Fortune 500 companies shows that many companies are making more significant cuts than those required by this bill and are even realizing net savings," she said.

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Deception Charged in Coral Calcium Supplement Marketing

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Marketers of a dietary supplement that claim it can cure cancer and other diseases have been sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which says they are making false and unsubstantiated claims about the product's health benefits.

The FTC alleges that Kevin Trudeau, Robert Barefoot, Shop America, and Deonna Enterprises falsely claimed that Coral Calcium Supreme can treat or cure cancer and other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease. These claims go beyond existing scientific evidence regarding the recognized health benefits of calcium, the complaint says.

The FTC also seeks a temporary restraining order to stop all defendants from making the challenged claims and freeze their assets.

The advertisements are a nationally televised 30 minute infomercial on cable channels in rotation on Women's Entertainment, Comedy Central, the Discovery Channel, and Bravo, and on brochures that accompany the supplement. The FTC is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, including restitution to consumers who purchased Coral Calcium Supreme.

"The commission has voiced strong concerns about deceptive claims for dietary supplements," said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "These cases demonstrate that the FTC will take aggressive enforcement action, particularly when, as alleged in this case, the products are marketed as cures for serious diseases like cancer and heart disease. Marketers who step over the line will find themselves between a rock and a hard place."

One of the defendants, Kevin Trudeau, was also charged separately with violating a 1998 federal district court order that prohibits him from making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits, performance, or efficacy of any products.

The Food and Drug Administration and the FTC are sending dozens of warning letters to website operators selling coral calcium products and claiming it as a treatment or cure for cancer and/or other diseases. The letter asks them to remove the claims immediately.

A website today advertising Coral Calcium Supreme claims only that the product's calcium to magnesium ratio is a biologically perfect 2:1 with 75 trace minerals and the substance was obtained in an environmentally sensitive manner.

The charges over Coral Calcium Supreme are part of a series of initiatives the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have taken against the makers of products who make unsubstantiated health and medical claims.

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Summer Driving Will Cost Consumers Less Than Expected

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Gasoline prices this summer will average $1.46, less than what motorists paid in the last two years, says the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The independent statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy says that crude oil prices have increased in response to continued world oil demand, inventories of oil are low, and there is uncertainty about when Iraqi oil exports will resume.

But the report predicts that world oil production will increase for the remainder of the year, which will allow a stock buildup, and the agency forecasts oil prices in 2004 to be the $25 per barrel range.

Natural gas prices have remained well above average, the agency says, and are expected to average $5.50 to $6 per million Btu for the remainder of the year, with 2004 natural gas prices expected to ease slightly.

"EIA's report is good news for the consumer in many ways, including a drop in gasoline prices and heating oil prices throughout the summer and a slight increase in U.S. oil production," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

"But EIA has again noted that the nation's stocks of natural gas in underground storage are unusually low due to weather factors and declines in both domestic production and net imports," Abraham said. "Industry is already responding by increasing storage rates, marked this week by a record storage injection, but a hot summer could increase demand for natural gas and exacerbate the problem."

Abraham had asked the National Petroleum Council to conduct a study of natural gas in the United States but now says there is no time to wait. "Therefore I have called for a special meeting on June 26 during which the National Petroleum Council will gather information, discuss problems and solutions and identify those actions that can be taken immediately to ease short term supply constraints. The challenge requires us to act today."

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Scientists Puzzled by Decline of Atmospheric Mercury

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Though the amount of gaseous mercury in the atmosphere has dropped sharply from its peak in the 1980s and has remained relatively constant since the mid-1990s, scientists cannot figure out why it has declined.

The lower numbers, the scientists say, may result from control measures undertaken in western Europe and North America, but a scientific study of atmospheric mercury says they cannot reconcile the amounts actually found with current understanding of natural and human sources of the element.

An international group of scientists, led by Franz Slemr of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, studied the worldwide trend of total gaseous mercury at six sites in the Northern Hemisphere, two sites in the Southern Hemisphere and on eight transatlantic ship cruises since 1977. Their findings were published in "Geophysical Research Letters," a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

The fixed sites ranged from the Canadian Arctic to Antarctica. In both hemispheres, total gaseous mercury increased in the late 1970s, apparently peaked in the late 1980s, decreased to a minimum in the mid-1990s and has remained relatively constant since then.

Concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere are about one-third less than in the Northern Hemisphere, which fits well with data on mercury deposited in peat bogs and found in ice cores, the researchers found.

The level of atmospheric mercury is important even though it is not directly toxic at current levels. The problem, says Slemr, "is that some 5,000 metric tons of atmospheric mercury are currently deposited worldwide every year. The atmospheric lifetime of elemental mercury is about one year and, thus, the mercury is deposited even in remote areas."

Some of the atmospheric mercury is deposited into soil and water, Slemr says, where it can be "transformed to methyl mercury, one of the most toxic compounds."

In ocean water, methyl mercury concentrates in plankton and in fish, especially those high in the food chain, such as tuna. High methyl mercury levels in tuna can lead to chronic diseases in persons who eat the fish, with pregnant women most in danger.

Slemr and his colleagues conclude that future emission inventories must take into account the difference between atmospheric mercury levels in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the historic and present day emission trends.

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Study Measures Hurricanes' Effects on N.C. Coastline

DURHAM, North Carolina, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - More hurricanes than usual have been predicted for the Atlantic Ocean, and Duke University professors say that could mean big changes in store for the state's coastline and sounds.

More than a dozen tropical storms are forecast with winds of 39 mph to 73 mph for this season. Six to eight of those are expected to become hurricanes, with up to four of them possibly major storms.

The Duke researchers will be monitoring water quality changes in Pamlico Sound, the nation's largest lagoonal estuary. Biological oceanographer Joseph Ramus of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and Hans Paerl of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have monitoring stations on three ferries, two running from mainland points to Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks and the third crossing the Lower Neuse River.

In the event that a hurricane strikes the coast this summer, they are ready to monitor data on dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature, turbidity, chlorophyll levels, and other parameters in the estuary.

"For the first time we will have almost real time data on the impact of record runoff events like that of the 1999 hurricane season," Ramus says.

"The Ferry Division vessels are the last off the water and the first back on the water following hurricanes. They are the lifelines to the Outer Banks and lowland areas of eastern North Carolina. Money could not buy coverage like this," says Ramus.

Changes in barrier islands often happen during hurricanes, says Orrin Pilkey, a professor emeritus of geology at the Nicholas School and the director of Duke's Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

"Barrier islands require hurricanes for their survival, especially at times of rising sea levels such as now," Pilkey says. "It is during hurricanes that islands get wider and higher. From a purely natural standpoint hurricanes are a blessing for islands, but they are a curse for people who live on those islands."

Pilkey's 1979 book, "The Beaches Are Moving," gave scientific evidence that barrier islands such as North Carolina's Outer Banks are not stationary structures but rather dynamic ones that migrate over time in response to ocean and weather.

"It is important to note that in the big storms, the category 4 or 5 hurricanes, it really doesn't matter how well constructed your building is," Pilkey says. "And it does not matter whether you have a seawall or not. The chances are pretty good that if you have beachfront property, it is history."

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Space Soybeans Similar to Land Based Crops

WILMINGTON, Delaware, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers at Dupont, using data from a International Space Station mission, have found that the first soybeans grown there are similar to land grown crops, a discovery that suggests that food for long term space missions can be grown onboard.

The 97 day growth research initiative was the first to complete a major crop growth cycle in space. During a DuPont research mission that concluded in October, soybean seeds were planted, germinated, developed into plants, flowered and produced new seedpods aboard the space station.

Several analytical studies were conducted on 83 harvested seeds. The spacegrown seeds were manually split, with one part of the seed sowed to grow and the other half grounded to examine its biological characteristics.

The space grown seeds and their subsequent plants were compared to a variety of independent earth grown soybean seeds and plants. After several months of analysis, DuPont researchers discovered that the space grown soybeans were similar in physical and biological characteristics, developmental rate, morphology and seed yields.

Scientists noted the spacegrown seeds were higher in sugar content but lower in oil and amino acid content, which they think is due to the higher carbon dioxide levels on the space station.

"This clearly demonstrates soybeans can be grown as a crop in space to provide both food and serve as an atmospheric scrubber for long term space travel," said lead researcher Dr. Tom Corbin. "We were unsure if the seeds would even remain planted in space without any gravity, let alone grow."

Corbin said that studying the effects of soybean plants grown in space has expanded our knowledge of soybeans and made continued improvement of soybean seeds for farmers.

According to the United Soybean Board, soybeans are the largest single source of protein meal and vegetable oil in the human diet. Soybeans provide 80 percent of the edible consumption of fats and oils in the United States.

Through video monitoring and data telemetry sent from the International Space Station, scientists also examined the effects of zero gravity and other elements in space regarding plant growth.

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Trawling for Yellowfin Sole Closed in Alaska Waters

JUNEAU, Alaska, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Finding that the seasonal allowance of 49 metric tons of halibut bycatch would be passed, the National Marine Fisheries Service has closed all trawl fishing for yellowfin sole in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area until June 29.

The agency waived the requirement to provide notice and opportunity for public comment, saying it is contrary to the public interest. It would delay the fishery's closure, lead to exceeding the third seasonal apportionment of the halibut bycatch allowance, and reduce the public's ability to use and enjoy the fishery resource, the agency determined.

The National Marine Fisheries Service manages the groundfish fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands according to the Fishery Management Plan for the Groundfish Fishery of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Area prepared by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council under authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Colorado Peak Named in Memory of Columbia Astronauts

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10, 2003 (ENS) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton and NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe today announced the naming of Columbia Point, a 13,980 foot mountain peak in Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Mountains, in honor of the Space Shuttle Columbia's astronauts.

Relatives of the astronauts, who were lost upon re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere on February 1, joined the ceremony at the Department of the Interior. They included Judge Paul and Dorothy Brown of Arlington, Virginia, parents of the late astronaut David Brown, and Doug Brown, David's brother.

"Today, we name a point in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado in honor of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Seven brave astronauts perished during her final mission," Secretary Norton said.

"Columbia Point is an appropriate honor for this shuttle's last voyage. Those who explore space in the days ahead may gaze back at Earth and know that Columbia Point is there to commend a noble mission. The point looks up to the heavens and it allows us, once again, to thank our heroes who soared far beyond the mountain, traveled past the sky and live on in our memories forever."

Secretary Norton called mission specialist Brown and the other astronauts, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, William C. McCool, and Ilan Ramon modern day heroes.

"The people of NASA and the families of the Columbia crew are humbled and grateful for this unique American honor that the Interior Department has bestowed upon the crew of STS-107," NASA Administrator O'Keefe said.

"When people look upon these mountains, they see the challenge of the American frontier, bold in vision, courageous in spirit and endless in horizon. The crew of Columbia, like the Challenger before her, had these qualities at their core. These mountains are a natural testament to their memory, their spirit of exploration and will endure forever."

Columbia Point is located on the east side of Kit Carson Mountain. On the northwest shoulder of the same mountain is Challenger Point, a peak previously named in memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded soon after liftoff on January 28, 1986.