AmeriScan: June 13, 2003

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Hydrogen Leakage Could Expand Ozone Depletion

PASADENA, California, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - Hydrogen is generally considered an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline as a transportation fuel, but new research indicates that leakage of hydrogen gas could cause problems in the Earth's ozone layer.

In an article appearing this week in the journal "Science," researchers from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) report that the accumulation of leaked hydrogen gas resulting from a hydrogen economy could indirectly cause as much as a 10 percent decrease in atmospheric ozone.

The ozone layer is a concentration of ozone molecules in the stratosphere which extends from about six to 30 miles above the Earth's surface. Stratospheric ozone is a naturally occurring gas that filters the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A depleted ozone layer allows more radiation to reach the Earth's surface, exposing people to skin cancer, cataracts, and weakened immune systems. Increased UV can lead to reduced crop yields and disruptions in the marine food chain.

While a hydrogen fuel cell economy would almost certainly improve urban air quality, the researchers found, it has the potential for unexpected consequences due to the "inevitable" leakage of hydrogen from cars, hydrogen production plants, and the transportation of the fuel.

If hydrogen were to replace all fossil fuels for transportation and to power buildings, the CalTech researchers estimate that 60 to 120 trillion grams of hydrogen would be released each year into the atmosphere, four to eight times as much hydrogen as is released today by human sources. The scientists assumed a 10 to 20 percent loss rate due to leakage.

The researchers say that would create a doubling or tripling of hydrogen input to the atmosphere from all sources.

Because molecular hydrogen freely moves up and mixes with stratospheric air, the result would be the creation of additional water at high altitudes and, consequently, an increased dampening of the stratosphere, and, indirectly, destruction of ozone.

Uncertainty remains about the effects on the atmosphere because scientists still have a limited understanding of the hydrogen cycle. At present, it seems likely such emissions could accumulate in the air.

In this respect, hydrogen leakage would parallel that of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - once the standard substances used for air conditioning and refrigeration. They were intended to be contained within their devices but in practice CFCs leaked into the atmosphere and attacked the stratospheric ozone layer, causing the annual holes over the South and North poles.

"We have an unprecedented opportunity this time to understand what we are getting into before we even switch to the new technology," said Tracy Tromp, a CalTech research scientist and the study's lead author. "It will not be like the case with the internal combustion engine, when we started learning the effects of carbon dioxide decades later."

Understanding the effects of hydrogen on the environment now should help in choosing the technologies that will be the basis of a hydrogen economy. "If hydrogen emissions present an environmental hazard, then recognizing that hazard now can help guide investments in technologies to favor designs that minimize leakage, Tromp said.

"On the other hand," she said, "if hydrogen is shown to be environmentally friendly in every respect, then designers could pursue the most cost effective technologies and potentially save billions in needless safeguards."

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Forest Service To Study Impacts of Thinning Project

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact statement to study the impacts of a forest thinning project and watershed improvement activities within the Red Pines project area in northern Idaho's Red River watershed.

The 31,466 acre Red Pines project area is located on the Nez Perce National Forest. The agency plans to reduce existing and potential fuel loads by thinning and/or salvaging and underburning on approximately 4,760 acres while improving aquatic conditions in the area's subwatersheds.

About 25 miles of temporary road would be constructed to access the areas. Some 18 miles of existing roads would be reconditioned prior to use, and 40 to 45 miles of existing roads that do not improve access to the area for public recreation or administrative use would be decommissioned.

Preliminary issues the agency says could be associated with the plans include potential effects of the activities on lynx and its habitat, the candystick plant, soil productivity,on threatened, endangered, and sensitive fish, fish habitat and water quality, reduction in access to the area, and consistency with the anticipated Total Maximum Daily Load of the South Fork Clearwater River.

The Total Maximum Daily Load is a federal government standard that defines the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards.

The agency hopes the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will help answer these questions:

A draft EIS is expected in January 2004 and a final version in April 2004. Should an action alternative be selected, implementation could be initiated in fall or winter of 2004.

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EPA Promotes Environmental Management Systems

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - To encourage the widespread use of Environmental Management Systems for businesses, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new guidance to promote their use in compliance assurance and enforcement programs.

Many businesses and government facilities have implemented formal Environmental Management Systems to systematically manage their environmental and health safety activities.

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a cycle of planning, implementing, reviewing, and improving the processes and actions that an organization undertakes to meet its business and environmental goals.

Most Environmental Management Systems are built on what the EPA calls a "plan, do, check, act" model. This includes identifying environmental aspects and establishing goals, implementing those goals, monitoring and taking corrective action, and reviewing to make necessary changes.

The guidance is intended to increase the use of Environmental Management Systems in civil legal settlements. The guidance document also explains how these management systems will be used to address the root causes of violations of U.S. environmental laws and regulations and the risks these violations pose to communities and ecosystems.

The agency is working with the U.S. Department of Justice to implement Environmental Management Systems in appropriate criminal plea agreements to achieve beneficial outcomes for the environment. The EPA has issued a memorandum to encourage and expand the use of these management systems in enforcement settlements and in community involvement.

The guidance is an extension of the Environmental Protection Agency's May 2002 position statement on Environmental Management Systems, in which the agency committed to promote their use and emphasize their adoption to achieve improved environmental performance and compliance and pollution prevention through reduction of waste and hazardous materials at the source.

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Open Space Enhances Nearby Property Values

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - Researchers at Penn State's College of Agriculture Studies have found that agriculture and and other land uses that provide open space increase the value of houses located within a quarter mile radius. Landfills and large scale animal operations lower the value of nearby homes.

The researchers collected sales prices and other information on more than 8,000 Berks County, Pennsylvania, homes sold between 1998 and 2002, along with information on nearby land uses. A geographic information system and statistical tools were used to analyze the data.

Berks County was chosen because it is experiencing rapid development in its farmland areas and because data were readily available and the county has a mix of land uses and agricultural production.

Open space, including forested acreage and grass, pasture and cropland located within a quarter mile of a house, had the largest positive effect on the value of that house, the study says. Large lot, single family residential land had a positive effect almost as large.

Commercial, small lot single family residential, multi-unit residential, and industrial land uses were less favorable for nearby property values.

These results can be used to predict the effect of land use change on nearby residential property values, says Richard Ready, an assistant professor of agricultural and environmental economics and co-author of the study. "This kind of information can be used by local officials to evaluate the consequences of planning and zoning decisions and efforts to preserve open space in their communities."

"Undoubtedly, there will be interest in applying the Berks County results elsewhere," says co-author Charles Abdalla. "But until more research is conducted in areas with conditions that differ from Berks County, care should be used in trying to generalize these results."

The research was funded by the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, and by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future. Read the report at: http://www.landuse.aers.psu.edu/

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Potato Growers Honored For Environmental Actions

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - A partnership between WWF, the conservation organization, Wisconsin potato growers, and university researchers to reduce pesticide use received the Department of Agriculture's "Secretary's Honor Award."

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman presented the award to the Eco-Potato Partnership for "maintaining and enhancing the nation's natural resources and environment."

The six year collaboration between the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, the University of Wisconsin, and WWF resulted in the accelerated adoption of integrated pest management systems and reduced reliance on toxic pesticides. The partnership led to the establishment of Protected Harvest, an independent ecolabel.

Wisconsin potatoes are the first product certified under the Protected Harvest label and are marketed under the brand "Healthy Grown." To qualify for the Protected Harvest seal, crop management practices must be employed that reduce the use of toxic pesticides, improve soil and water quality, and protect wildlife habitat.

"The World Wildlife Fund is thrilled about the success of the Eco-Potato Partnership and pleased that the Department of Agriculture supports the work of conventional farmers who are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact while remaining competitive," said Jason Clay, vice president of the WWF's Center for Conservation Innovation and a member of Protected Harvest's board of directors.

The collaboration was formed in 1996 to help educate growers about using more biologically based pest management systems and developed a measurement system and methodology on which the standards of Protected Harvest ecolabel are based.

"The Secretary's Honor Award is a result of a true partnership, a farmers' association, a university, and an environmental organization bringing together their varied expertise to work toward a common goal," said Mike Carter, executive director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association.

"Through the work of the collaboration, we hope to improve our bottom line and help the entire potato industry become more sustainable."

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$5 Million Offered for Clean School Bus Program

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - A grant program that makes $5 million available for cleaner school buses was announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

More than 24 million children travel on a bus to and from schools across the United States every day. There are roughly 440,000 school buses on U.S. streets and roads every morning and afternoon.

Up to 20 grants are being offered to help school districts across the country upgrade their school bus fleets, either by replacing older buses with new, cleaner ones or by retrofitting existing buses with devices that reduce diesel air pollution.

The grants are offered under the agency's Clean School Bus USA initiative, which was created to limit children's exposure to diesel exhaust from school buses, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said during a visit to the Green Acres Elementary School here today.

"We now have the opportunity to significantly reduce pollution from school buses and improve the health of those who ride them," said Whitman. "Upgrading our nation's school bus fleet is not easy and is not cheap. I am pleased to announce that the $5 million appropriation is being made available to local school districts nationwide. Our goal is simple - to make the bus ride to school cleaner for all our nation's children."

The Clean School Bus USA program was announced in April to minimize pollution from school buses and encourage policies and practices to eliminate unnecessary school bus idling.

While statistics show that school buses are the safest way to transport children, the agency wants to ensure that they are also the cleanest. Children are especially sensitive to air pollution and diesel exhaust because their respiratory systems are still developing and they have a faster breathing rate, the EPA says. Reducing pollution from school buses will help improve local air quality and reduce children's exposure to diesel exhaust.

The application deadline for the EPA grants is Friday, August 1. For more about the program, go to: http://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus.

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Western Gray Squirrels Given No Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - Based on findings that western gray squirrel populations in the state of Washington are not a distinct population segment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that they do not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The western gray squirrel is the largest native tree squirrel in the Pacific Northwest. It is the only member of the genus sciurus native to Washington.

The Washington populations do not meet the regulatory criteria for being treated as a distinct population segment under the act, the service concluded.

The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and the Tahoma Audubon Society petitioned the service in 2001 to list three geographically isolated populations of the western gray squirrel subspecies in Washington as a threatened or endangered Distinct Population Segment.

On October 29, 2002, the agency determined that the petition presented enough information to initiate a status review of the three populations. The finding is the result of that review.

The Endangered Species Act allows the listing of distinct population segments of vertebrae species. A distinct population segment is a portion of a species' or subspecies' population or range and is generally described geographically.

The policy for designating distinct population segments is included in criteria under the Vertebrate Population Policy, which Congress instructed to use only when supported by biological data.

Those criteria include the requirements that a distinct population segment must be discrete and significant. Information on genetics, behavior, distribution and ecology is used in making a determination of whether a population meets those qualifications.

"This finding is primarily based on the fact that the available information does not demonstrate that the Washington populations are significant to the rest of the western gray squirrel subspecies in California, Oregon, and Washington,"said Dave Allen, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region. "They lack the marked genetic, ecological, or behavioral differences that would qualify them as a distinct population segment."

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Delaware Offers Reward Eagle's Nest Destroyed

MILLSBORO, Delaware, June 13, 2003 (ENS) - Delaware authorities have offered a reward to locate those responsible for cutting down a bald eagle's nest that in early May was home to two fledgling raptors at Possum Point near Millsboro.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons who took down the nest.

"I cannot understand what could possibly make a person want to destroy a bald eagle nest," Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner said. "I was shocked to learn about this cruel and senseless act, and I have instructed DNREC to investigate this incident and locate the person responsible."

The division is collecting evidence and considers the site a crime scene. Agents have been ordered to spare no energy in pursuing and apprehending the guilty person or persons.

"This is clearly intentional, indefensible and arguably premeditated," said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary John Hughes. "I can not remember anyone in Delaware ever committing an intentional and malicious attack on a national bird. I consider this an unprecedented act of environmental desecration."

The bald eagle is on the federal Threatened Species List and the state's Endangered Species List. Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife Acting Director Lloyd Alexander said the bald eagle has been coming back in recent years but is still at risk from lost of habitat.