AmeriScan: June 27, 2003

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Democratic Hopefuls Air Views on Environment

LOS ANGELES, California, June 27, 2003 (ENS) – Democratic presidential hopefuls squared off on the environment during a debate Thursday evening sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

About 550 people turned out for the League of Conservation Voters forum on the University of California-Los Angeles campus, where five of the Democratic presidential hopefuls blasted the Bush administration while trying to outreach one another in campaign promises.

Five of the nine announced candidates for the Democratic primary election - former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun, and the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York – offered their views on national energy policies and protection of clean air standards.

Organizers said that the forum highlighted the critical importance of the environment to voters in the 2004 presidential election.

The forum was "the first close look Americans get at the environmental views of these presidential candidates," said LCV President Deb Callahan. "This exchange of ideas on the environment, an issue that voters care so deeply about, will serve the presidential candidates and the country well."

The debaters offered numerous crowd pleasers in taking aim at the Bush administration's record on everything from climate change, which Bush has downplayed, to genetically modified food, which his administration has promoted.

"They can hear lawyers talk in the middle of the night,” said Reverend Sharpton. “But they can't find polluters who are breaking the law in the middle of the day.”

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Judge Rides Over Offroaders to Safeguard Dunes

SAN DIEGO, California, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - A suit filed two years ago to take away endangered species protections and open the Algodones Sand Dunes to off road vehicle use was thrown out by Judge Rudi Brewster of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the vehicle closures in November 2000 to implement a court approved settlement it agreed with conservation groups and some offroad organizations.

The dunes are located in the Sonoran desert 26 miles east of Brawley, California, and cover 1,000 square miles, making the area one of the largest dune complexes in North America.

The flat-tailed horned lizard, desert tortoise and Colorado desert fringe-toed lizard have all been spotted in the region.

The dunes are also impacted by as many as 240,000 offroad enthusiasts on some weekends.

The Bureau of Land Management closed 49,300 acres to offroad vehicles to protect the Peirson's milkvetch, a perennial plant found in the area, and other endangered species, while leaving open 68,000 acres to off road vehicles.

Shortly after the closures, the BLM initiated a review under the National Environmental Policy Act. A September 2001 decision kept the closures in place.

The American Sand Association, San Diego Offroad Coalition, and the Offroad Business Association sued the Bureau of Land Management to remove the Peirson's milkvetch from the endangered species list, claiming the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Lands Policy Management Act had been violated.

In an eight page decision Judge Brewster found that an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is not necessary for federal actions that conserve the environment.

"The court upheld the legality and need for the closures to protect endangered species," said Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"This is a big win for the environment and a big loss for the offroad industry,” Patterson said. “But these fragile and scenic dunes are still threatened by a pending Bush administration decision to open all the conservation areas to intensive offroading."

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Hemp Industry Seeks Review of Drug Rule

SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - The Hemp Industries Association filed a brief this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asking for a review of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Final Rule regarding hemp foods.

If the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) Final Rule were to take effect, it would ban hemp seed and oil. The group, which represents the interests of the hemp industry and the development of new hemp products, says that would destroy the multi-million dollar hemp food industry.

A court ordered stay keeps hemp foods on shelves while the court hears arguments from the Hemp Industries Association and the DEA.

The brief charges that the final rule should be invalidated because the agency is exercising arbitrary and capricious authority by attempting to outlaw hemp seed and oil without holding formal hearings on the issue or finding any potential for abuse.

Because trace tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in hemp seed is not psychoactive, Congress exempted hemp seed and oil from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), in the same way it exempted poppy seeds, although they contain trace opiates otherwise subject to control.

North American hemp food companies voluntarily observe reasonable THC limits similar to those adopted by European nations as well as Canada and Australia.

The brief charges that the DEA acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in exempting hemp seed mixed with animal feed, arguing that Congress made no such distinction in the Controlled Substances Act.

It also questions the lack of hearings and the failure to comply with the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires an assessment of the effects of the proposed change on small businesses.

The final rule was issued on March 21. On March 28 the Hemp Industries Association, several hemp food and cosmetic manufacturers and the Organic Consumers Association petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court to prevent the DEA from ending the legal sale of hemp seed and oil products in the United States. On April 16 the court again issued a stay of the rule.

Oral arguments in the case begin September 17 in San Francisco.

The brief and other court documents are available at:

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Panama City Pair Arrested for Felony Dumping

PANAMA CITY, Florida, June 27, 2003 (ENS) – Enforcement agents from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection arrested two Panama City men Thursday. The pair was charged with one count of felony violation of the Florida Litter Law and one count of misdemeanor solicitation each.

Edward Hunter Jr., 60, and Riley Jordan, 55, of Panama City Beach, were arrested after a five month investigation of Beach Mosquito Control, a Panama City pest control company where Hunter is director and Jordan a supervisor.

According to the investigation, Hunter and Jordan directed an employee to dispose of liquid waste, including diesel fuel and pesticide chemicals, illegally over a seven year period ending in February 2003.

The chemicals were mixed with ash and chlorine, stored in a company holding tank and pumped through a chain link fence onto adjoining private property belonging to Columbia Research Corporation.

Research done on soil samples taken from Columbia’s property and analyzed by the Department of Environmental Protection showed levels of petroleum hydrocarbons above regulatory thresholds, which can present a threat to area groundwater.

Hunter and Jordan were booked into the Bay County Jail and are scheduled to appear before a local judge. If found guilty, each faces up to five years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine for the felony and six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor.

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Paper Mill Sludge Used to Create Fuel Cell Catalyst

MADISON, Wisconsin, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - Chemical and biological engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say they have found a cost effective nickel-tin catalyst that can replace the expensive metal platinum in a new process for making hydrogen fuel from plants.

Along with a second innovation that purifies hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cells, the catalyst offers new opportunities in a transition from a world economy based on fossil fuels to one that is based on hydrogen produced from renewable resources.

The research was published in this week’s issue of the journal “Science,” a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

James Dumesic, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, and graduate students George Huber and John Shabaker, tested more than 300 materials to find a nickel-tin-aluminum combination that reacts with oxygenated hydrocarbons derived from biomass to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide without emitting large amounts of unwanted methane.

"Platinum is very effective, but it's also very expensive," said Dumesic. "It's also problematic for large scale power production because platinum is already in demand for use as anode and cathode materials in hydrogen fuel cells.”

The single step process uses temperature, pressure and a catalyst to convert hydrocarbons such as glucose, the energy source used by most plants and animals, into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and gaseous alkanes, with hydrogen constituting 50 percent of the products.

More refined molecules, such as ethylene glycol and methanol, are almost completely converted to hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the process. Because plants grown as fuel crops absorb the carbon dioxide released by the system, the process is greenhouse gas neutral.

Glucose is manufactured in the form of corn syrup, but it can also be made from sugar beets, or low cost biomass waste streams like paper mill sludge, cheese whey, or wood waste.

While hydrogen yields are higher for more refined molecules, Dumesic says glucose derived from waste biomass is likely to be the more practical candidate for cost effective power generation.

Because the Wisconsin process occurs in a liquid phase at low reaction temperatures, the hydrogen is made without vaporizing water.

That represents a major energy savings compared to ethanol production or conventional fossil fuel based hydrogen generation methods that require water to be boiled away, the scientists say.

The dramatic reduction in carbon monoxide emissions achieved by the team's new process overcomes a technical obstacle in the efficient operation of hydrogen fuel cells. Carbon monoxide poisons the electrode surfaces of the devices, hampering their reliability.

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Underwater TV Cable Threatens Coral Reefs

VERO BEACH, Florida, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - Underwater fiber optic cable corridors damage coral reefs and the cable lines themselves, according to a three year study made public Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The study urges Governor Jeb Bush to adopt more rigorous rules protecting Florida's shoreline coral reefs from the telecommunications industry.

The report is authored by marine biologists, economists and telecom industry specialists who have been studying the governor's management plan for placement of fiber optic cables from Broward County to the Bahamas since 2000.

Last December the team released findings showing that the governor's plan, which would lay the cables on top of reefs, produces sustained environmental damage as undersea currents turn the cables into battering rams that rock back and forth, shattering the fragile coral.

The report recommends that the state instead bury cables under the reefs. The plan will not only be safer for the reefs, the authors say, but will provide protection to the delicate fiber optic cables themselves from damage by anchors, dredging, fishing drag nets, and even intentional damage by terrorists.

The costs to repair these damages would be passed on to the public consumers of Internet and telephone services.

Florida's reefs are inhabited by sponges, crabs, turtles, lobsters and nearly 600 fish species. Because many coral reef organisms can tolerate only a narrow range of conditions, reef communities are highly sensitive to environmental or human caused damages.

"Florida's reefs took thousands of years to develop," said Dan Meyer, general counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "The least we can do is take minor precautions to keep them around for the next generation."

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Helios Solar Wing Crashes Into Pacific Ocean

PACIFIC MISSILE RANGE, Kauai, Hawaii, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - The remotely operated Helios Prototype solar aircraft was destroyed Thursday when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a checkout flight from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

Helios, a proof-of-concept solar-electric flying wing, was designed to operate at extremely high altitudes for long periods of time.

Except for the aircraft itself, there was no property damage or injuries as a result of the mishap. The remotely piloted aircraft came down in the ocean, within the confines of the Pacific Missile Range Facility test range.

The cause of the mishap is under investigation.

The lightweight flying wing had taken off from the test range on a functional checkout flight and had been in the air about 29 minutes. The crash occurred during a shakedown mission in preparation for an endurance flight planned for next month.

Helios Prototype is one of several remotely piloted aircraft whose technological development has been sponsored and funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program.

Current to power the craft’s electric motors and other systems during the day was generated by high efficiency solar cells spread across the upper surface of its 247 foot wing. At night Helios was powered by an experimental fuel cell electrical system.

The prototype was designed to fly at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet on single day atmospheric science and imaging missions, as well as perform multi-day telecommunications relay missions at altitudes from 50,000 to 65,000 feet.

Helios set a world altitude record for winged aircraft, 96,863 feet, during a flight in August 2001.

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American Ecology Writes off Ward Valley Losses

BOISE, Idaho, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - Stephen Romano, president and CEO of American Ecology Corporation today announced that subsidiary US Ecology, Inc., is appealing the March 26, 2003 decision by Judge E. Mac Amos in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego denying the company's monetary damages claim against the state of California.

US Ecology filed the suit following the California's abandonment of the Ward Valley low-level radioactive waste disposal project after earlier issuing a license to the company in 1993.

The notice of appeal was filed following a May 30 ruling by Judge Amos that denied US Ecology's motion to vacate the March 26 ruling and enter new judgment.

"American Ecology believes the Superior Court ruling misapplied the law to the facts," Romano said, adding "We look forward to vigorously pursuing our claim on appeal."

On March 28, American Ecology announced that in light of the trial court's ruling, it was writing off the entire $21 million deferred site development asset then carried on its balance sheet for the Ward Valley project. The write off was based on management's view that it was no longer probable from an accounting standpoint that the Ward Valley asset will be recovered.

"American Ecology's prior decision to write off the Ward Valley asset reflects a conservative application of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, not any lack of confidence that our claim is valid," Romano explained.

The Ward Valley site, near Needles, California in a known earthquake zone, is 18 miles from the Colorado River, a drinking water source for downstream cities, including Los Angeles.

The company's plan to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, laboratories and medical facilities in shallow unlined trenches raised concerns that the radioactivity would migrate to the river and contaminate its flow.

Native Americans and environmental activists occupied the site from February through June 1998 to protest the proposed waste disposal facility. Steve Lopez, Fort Mojave tribal leader, said at the time, "This is a sacred place to us. There is no church or cathedral out here. The entire valley is sacred to us. Ward Valley, we call it Silyaye Ahease, is sacred to us. This is our history, our culture and our future."

Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, American Ecology is the oldest radioactive and hazardous waste services company in the United States. Through its subsidiaries, provides radioactive, PCB, hazardous and industrial waste services to commercial and government customers throughout the United States, such as nuclear power plants, steel mills, medical and academic institutions and petrochemical facilities.

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