AmeriScan: June 25, 2003

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Wildfire Partly Contained After Jumping Rio Grande

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, June 25, 2003 (ENS) - Cleanup operations have begun after a wildfire that began Tuesday jumped the Rio Grande in Albuquerque and forced the evacuation of more than 600 residents along the river.

Gil Santistevan, a captain with the Albuquerque Fire department, told ENS that the fire was first reported Tuesday at 3:35 pm in the riverbed that runs underneath Interstate 40, the major east-west artery in the city.

“We had very hot, windy conditions, and the fire picked up and worked its way along the bosque,” Santistevan said. Though they had trouble reaching the fire at first, firefighters responded within eight minutes. The bosque is the extensive riparian area on both sides of the river.

“Residential structures line both sides of river,” he said, “As you move northward through the city the houses become more closely integrated with the bosque.”

For several hours, I-40 was closed to all traffic, and power to about 16,000 homes and businesses was interrupted Tuesday.

Though the fire came within 20 feet of some homes, Santistevan said, only one residence that was under construction was destroyed. Given dry conditions and the amount of brush in the bosque area, the fire department considers itself lucky that more homes or lives were not lost, he added.

“It had the potential for being very significant,” Santistevan said.

No civilian injuries were reported, although three firefighters were treated at local hospitals for minor injuries.

At the peak of the fire last night, more than 300 firefighters, 160 from the city and others from the New Mexico Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management were fighting the blaze. About 50 firefighters are still on the scene of the fire, which officials call 50 percent contained.

“We had significant fire operations through the evening and into the early morning hours,” Santistevan said. “We didn’t want what happened in Los Alamos a few years back.”

In May of 2000, a massive fire that began with a prescribed burn blazed through the town of Los Alamos, destroying more than 220 structures and leaving some 400 families homeless.

Investigators are on the scene to determine the fire’s cause, but no finding has been made, Santistevan said. No lightning strikes were reported during the period before the fire began.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, burn out operations continue in the Mt. Lemmon area northwest of Tucson.

More than 170,000 gallons of water and 27,000 gallons of retardant were delivered on Tuesday, and more than 200 people were assigned to the north end of the fire to help stop its spread. Structure protection is in place for the YMCA camp and three ranches that are threatened by the fire. The fire is considered about 25 percent contained.

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Eastern Cities Under Red Ozone Alert

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2003 (ENS) – Ozone levels in nearly every Eastern state prompted code red alerts to be issued in many cities today. More than 31 million Americans were advised to limit outdoor activity because of unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Major cities from Atlanta, Georgia, to Detroit, Michigan, issued code red alerts, including Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. With dozens of other cities forecasting code orange smog levels, which warn active children and adults in addition to people with respiratory disease to limit outdoor activity, Americans in 24 states and Washington, DC are under unhealthy air alerts.

Ground level ozone, or smog, is a harmful gas that forms in the air from other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by incompletely burned fossil fuels. It can bother the eyes and nose, cause chest pain and coughing, make it hard to exercise or even breathe, and weaken the body's power to fight disease.

People with lung diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, need to be most concerned about breathing smog, but healthy adults will experience lower lung function on a high smog day. Repeated smog exposure can permanently damage human lungs.

Ozone triggers an estimated six million asthma attacks per year and sends another 150,000 people to hospital emergency rooms.

Under a code red alert, everyone is warned to limit outdoor activity, and children, the elderly and people with asthma or other lung problems should avoid all outdoor activity.

"The temperature is rising and so is the smog, which means that millions of Americans will breathe unhealthy air today," said Rebecca Stanfield, clean air advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The "Draft Report on the Environment," issued Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency, says that more than 133 million Americans, nearly half of the U.S. population, live in areas where there is sometimes unhealthy air.

The agency’s forecast for Thursday is for more red code alerts across much of the East coast.

"The only way to avoid high smog days is to reduce pollution, primarily from power plants and automobiles," said Stanfield. "We're calling on Congress to reject any measure that weakens our clean air safeguards, leading to more code red days in the future."

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International Carbon Sequestration Pact Signed

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2003 (ENS) - U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Energy Ministers and their representatives from around the globe today signed the first international charter in support of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum.

The charter sets the framework for international cooperation in research and development for the separation, capture, transportation and storage of carbon as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Because sequestration may ultimately prove to be an essential element in limiting global carbon emissions, we must have a global effort devoted to marshalling the talents and resources from around the world," Secretary Abraham said.

The global partners include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission. Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum members are given rights to participate in building the world's first emissions free power plant, also known as FutureGen.

Secretary Abraham called for the creation of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in February 2003 in coordination with the U.S. Department of State.

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and permanently storing them in geologic formations, including oil and gas reservoirs, coal seams and deep saline reservoirs.

Carbon sequestration can also be achieved terrestrially in forests, crop and agricultural lands, and wetlands. Naturally occurring reservoirs of carbon dioxide can be found in geologic formations throughout the world.

"Every nation here today - including both energy producing and energy consuming nations - must ensure that our energy future is capable of meeting the demands presented by growing economies, expanding populations, vital energy security issues and environmental requirements,” said Secretary Abraham.

The Carbon Sequestration Initiative furthers two goals from President George W. Bush's National Energy Policy - protecting America's environment and strengthening global alliances, Abraham said. Carbon sequestration is a rapidly advancing area of study that has been singled out by the Bush administration as one of the most promising approaches for reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"I believe that President [George W.] Bush's leadership in this and other energy initiatives will strengthen global economic growth, expand trade and investment, and ensure our generation lives up to its environmental responsibilities," said Secretary Abraham. “We must leave our children with a strong notion of energy security and an environment that is as clean as we can make it.”

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Democrats Introduce Forest Thinning Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2003 (ENS) - Democratic Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico Tuesday introduced comprehensive legislation to protect communities from the threat of wildfire by expediting fuel reduction in high risk areas and targeting resources to the areas closest to communities.

"South Dakota and America need a comprehensive, common sense approach to managing our forests and protecting our communities and municipal watersheds," said Senator Daschle.

"The Collaborative Forest Health Act is just such an approach. It focuses on protecting communities, avoiding time consuming appeals and targeting the resources where they are needed most."

The new bill was introduced in answer to new rules announced by the Bush administration May 30 to expedite forest thinning projects in order to reduce the risk of wildfire on public lands. The rules reduce the federal government's responsibility for studying the environmental impact of forest thinning projects and limit the timing and scope of appeals to challenge these projects.

Under the Bush rule, which is open for public comment until July 30, the administration plans to relax the Forest Service's obligation under the Endangered Species Act to consult with federal agencies on the impacts to endangered wildlife from hazardous fuel reduction and ecosystem restoration projects.

Daschle's bill excludes hazardous fuel reduction projects in high risk fire areas from environmental review documentation and administrative appeals.

Daschle said the Democratic legislation is not meant to replace the need for locally negotiated agreements like the Black Hills Fire Prevention Agreement, but to create a common sense forest management framework that can be applied to all national forests. Locally negotiated agreements may still be necessary to solve local forest problems.

The Democrats' bill also makes protecting communities the top priority by directing 70 percent of the funds for hazardous fuel reduction to projects within one-half mile of communities and municipal watersheds.

"In the most high risk areas, the Forest Service needs to be able to manage the forest without delay," said Daschle. "We need to do everything we can to protect the homes and businesses in communities near the forests, and my legislation ensures that this is the top priority of fire prevention initiatives."

The legislation would provide $100 million annually in grants to reduce wildfire risk and restore burned areas on state, tribal, and private lands. Daschle said forest fires often do not originate on national forests and public lands, and it is important for state and local governments to have the resources necessary to prevent the spread of wildfire that begins on land under their jurisdiction.

South Dakota is infested by pine beetles, and the legislation also creates a $25 million insect infestation research program with universities to look into this epidemic and help determine the best ways to prevent it in the future.

The bill promotes fire management initiatives that maintain the integrity and beauty of the forest. It calls for thinning practices that avoid removing old and large trees, protect municipal watersheds and prevent new road construction in roadless areas.

"In South Dakota, we are fully aware that areas like the Black Hills are truly a national treasure that must be maintained for future generations to enjoy,” Daschle said. “That means taking a balanced approach to forest management that expedites forest thinning and improves forest health."

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Mop Up of Oregon Oil Spill Underway

COOS BAY, Oregon, June 25, 2003 (ENS) – Federal and state officials are coordinating the cleanup of oil spilled Sunday evening on a highway near Coos Bay.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Coos Bay trucking firm Tompkins and Weeks are directing the cleanup of oil spilled Sunday evening on the eastbound lanes on Highway 42.

At 5:50 pm Sunday, the trailer on a tanker truck traveling east on Highway 42 hit a guardrail and ripped open, spilling 2,900 gallons of waste oil.

The oil dispersed along the road bank adjacent to Wall Creek, a small tributary of Isthmus Slough. When the trailer came to rest, the remainder of the oil flowed across the highway and collected in the soil of the median strip. The tanker trailer is owned by Tompkins and Weeks. No injuries were reported.

A slight oil sheen has been seen in Wall Creek and in Isthmus Slough. Booms, floating barriers that help contain oil spills, will stay in place. The Oregon Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is monitoring the situation, says that Isthmus Slough is populated by several species of fish, that so far have not been affected.

First responders cleared the highway of the wreckage, sanded the surface, and placed booms in Wall Creek. Cleanup operations Tuesday included soil removal from the road shoulders and creek bank, as well as sampling of the spilled oil.

One lane has been closed on the eastbound side of the highway so cleanup work can proceed along the south side of the road where oil drenched the vegetation. Contractors will remove more contaminated soil from the road shoulder area.

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Review Sought for Wind Power Impacts on Wildlife

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2003 (ENS) - More than 25 national and regional conservation groups called on Secretary of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton and other federal officials to assess the impacts of planned extensive wind power development on Appalachian mountain ridges on migratory birds.

In a letter to Secretary Norton and others, the groups cited documented bird kills by existing wind turbines in the region, and urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop appropriate criteria for locating and construction of these facilities under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to kill migratory birds.

"Wind power should be a part of our energy future, but it won't live up to its environmentally friendly reputation if we're not careful about how and where we build it," said Mike Senatore, director of the legal department at Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups that signed the letter.

"If we do it right, we'll have another source of clean energy,” he said. “If we do it wrong, we'll kill hundreds of thousands of migratory birds every year."

Current plans for the wind turbines, which can rise as much as 400 feet above the surrounding terrain, call for hundreds of the structures along ridges in the Appalachian range along documented migratory routes for songbirds, hawks, and many other migratory species. Existing turbines have been implicated in the deaths of warblers and other songbirds in West Virginia and elsewhere.

"Because most of the rapidly increasing number of wind farm proposals in the Appalachians are still in the development and pre-construction stages,” the letter notes, “now is the time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide necessary federal oversight before extreme damage is done - as happened in the case of communication towers - and ensure that the Appalachian ridges do not become a gigantic deathtrap for migratory songbirds and raptors."

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that communications towers, similar in size and profile to wind turbines, kill approximately four to five million migratory birds every year.

There are currently proposals for more than 500 wind turbines within an approximately 15 mile radius along ridgetops in Maryland and West Virginia alone. Companies are rushing to complete construction by the end of 2003, when a federal tax credit for wind power is due to expire.

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Alien Earthworms Altering Northeast Forest Ecology

KINGSTON, Rhode Island, June 25, 2003 (ENS) – Some forests across the Northeast are changing, but most observers will not notice the changes unless they take a close look at the soil beneath their feet. The driving force behind the changing forests are increasing numbers of alien earthworms. They play a key role in recycling nutrients in the soil, but they may also be altering habitat for plants, salamanders, birds and other wildlife.

Only a few forest stands are known to be affected, according to University of Rhode Island soil scientists Josef Gorres and Jose Amador. But they say the threat to forests from exotic earthworms is real. Most of the earthworm species found in the Northeast are not native to the area.

Gorres and Amador are evaluating the environmental impact of the common nightcrawler, one of the region's 16 to 20 species of earthworms. While the spread of the worms in Rhode Island has not yet been evaluated, the researchers note that bait cups littering popular fishing spots suggest that local forests may be affected soon.

"These exotic earthworms arrived here either in plant materials imported by European settlers, from fishing bait that escaped, and some that were imported here for use in composting," Gorres said. "Any native earthworms that may have been in New England thousands of years ago were crushed by the glaciers."

When earthworms move into a new area, they feed on the organic material on the forest floor and bring it down into their burrows. They feed primarily on the top layer of leaf litter, as well as on the duff - the spongy layer of decomposing vegetation beneath the leaf litter.

Gorres said that while earthworms do an excellent job of recycling nutrients, "when they eat away the duff layer, all the plant seeds that germinate there, like trillium and mayflowers and wood anemone, may disappear or may not have any place to germinate.”

Other creatures that live in the duff and forest litter like salamanders and ground nesting birds may be affected as well,” the researchers said. “Within a decade or two, the worms can essentially change the soil profile into something like the black mineral rich soils that are found in many European forests."

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Rhode Island Agricultural Experiment Station, Gorres and Amador have set up study plots in local forests to evaluate the impact of the worms. They expect that over time the leaf litter and the duff layer in the protected plots will disappear because of the voracious worms.

"At some point, the number of worms that can survive in a given area will be regulated by the amount of new leaf litter that falls," said Amador. "We'll also see a change in the plant and animal communities that live there."

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Federal Scientific Information Goes Online

WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2003 (ENS) - Looking for obscure yet important science and technology information? The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) has launched a series of web searching products, that make available many technical information resources. The starting point for them all is online at: http://www.osti.gov.

As OSTI director Walt Warnick explains, "The library includes three vast virtual resources for web patrons, covering each of the three main ways by which scientists and engineers communicate their findings - gray literature, preprints, and journal literature. Many other resources of interest are also available, including the new DOE R&D portfolio website."

Gray literature, which includes technical reports produced by DOE national laboratories and grantees, is presented in the OSTI Information Bridge. It has more than 85,000 searchable reports comprising millions of pages.

In addition, the GrayLIT Network provides a portal to more than 119,000 full text technical reports from various federal agencies.

Servers around the world host preprints and ePrints, the newest way by which scientists communicate their findings. The OSTI PrePRINT Network links to many of these preprint servers, with an estimated 400,000 e-prints, and makes them accessible via a variety of indexing techniques.

Especially innovative is the distributed search feature, which allows patrons to launch parallel searches on any or all of the preprint servers that have their own search engines.

This is the first web service that harvests information from what Warnick calls "the Deep Web." The underlying content of multiple databases is searched rather than only surface web pages."

To accomplish its novel search capability, PrePRINT applies the Explorer Distributed Query Engine, developed in collaboration with OSTI by Innovative Web Applications, Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Unlike web crawler search engines like Google, Explorer passes the patron's query on to the local search engines, thereby accessing entire databases.

PrePRINT Alerts, the newest feature added to this product, allows users to automatically receive notice of the most current preprints from 28 databases. People simply set up a personalized search, and the newest preprint information will be delivered to their desktops via email on a weekly basis.

Peer reviewed journal literature is presented by a variety of tools presenting bibliographic information about articles in disciplines relevant to the DOE R&D program.

OSTI and the Government Printing Office, via a new Interagency Agreement, provide the Energy Citations Database, which offers public access to bibliographic citations of scientific publications of DOE and predecessor agencies' scientific and technical information from 1948 to the present. Links to electronic full text are provided when available. Full text documents in this system are available in Depository Libraries and online via GPO Access, a service of the U.S. Government Printing Office.

There is also the DOE R&D Accomplishments website, and the DOE R&D Project Summaries, which describes some 22,000 research and development projects in progress. Federal Research and Development Project Summaries provides federal R&D information from over 370,000 project summaries. As with PrePRINT, with a single query, users may search individual databases residing at different agencies.

Beyond all this, OSTI provides the technical support for the new interagency website, Science.gov at: http://www.science.gov. The 10 principal federal science and technology agencies have launched this web portal to make nonmilitary government funded research results available to all.

This site also provides access to technology development results, including the Patent Server on the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Science.gov does not include all of the research repositories of all the agencies, but just what its creators term the "best and brightest content." This is about 1,700 agency web sites and document databases.

The site features three modes of search. One is a taxonomy of web sites based on topic, with several hundred categories and subcategories. The other two involve word search. The simplest search is on web content, but there is also searching the "deep web" developed by the OSTI, to get to documents in databases that are not accessible to web crawlers. Science.gov taps 29 such databases, with millions of documents.

In addition to DOE, sponsoring agencies include the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey.

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