AmeriScan: May 24, 2001


WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental organizations and states today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that the agency's mobile source air toxics rule falls far short of fulfilling legal requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Spearheading the litigation are Sierra Club, Earthjustice, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Attorneys General of New York and Connecticut. Groups supporting today's actions include the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials (ALAPCO), the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators (STAPPA), and the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM).

The Clean Air Act required EPA to reduce by 1995 the threat of toxic air pollutants from mobile sources, such as cars, trucks, buses, boats, snowmobiles, construction equipment, aircraft and lawn equipment, and motor vehicle fuels. The final rule, adopted in December 2000 and released by EPA in March 2001, adopts no new controls on toxic emissions from motor vehicles or motor vehicle fuels, the groups charge.

"It is crucial to public health that EPA set effective standards to reduce these toxic pollutants," said Jim Pew, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the environmental groups in court. "But EPA's regulations do nothing. In fact, they allow emissions of the worst pollutants to increase."

EPA estimates that motor vehicles, construction equipment, lawn and garden equipment and other mobile sources emitted 1.6 million tons of toxins in 1996. According to an EPA study, more than 250 million people Americans are subject to an unacceptable cancer risk due to mobile source toxic pollutants.

"Communities throughout New York, particularly heavily congested neighborhoods, are hard hit by toxic air pollution from cars and trucks. EPA's failure to adopt timely, comprehensive, and common sense regulations to reduce these pollutants is unacceptable," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "As a result, I am filing this lawsuit to protect the health of all New Yorkers.''

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - Two studies released today raise questions about how much the planting of trees could reduce the effects of global warming.

Policy makers are searching for ways to reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). One suggested way is to lock up some of the extra gas in growing wood, or in the soil created by microbes from fallen vegetation.


The Duke University research site includes equipment to regulate and monitor the amount of carbon dioxide and nutrients available to the trees (Photo courtesy Duke University)
Some earlier experiments had suggested that the extra atmospheric carbon dioxide might itself have a fertilizing effect on forests, causing them to lock up extra amounts of CO2 and thus mitigate global warming impacts.

But results from continuing experiments near Duke University - where forest plots grow in the higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide expected by the mid 21st century - suggest that trees and soil may not sop up much of the extra gas over the long term under real world conditions.

The two articles, published in today's issue of the journal "Nature," shows that while 20 year old loblolly pine trees began growing up to about 25 percent more wood after becoming exposed to 1.5 times current levels of CO2, that initial growth spurt dropped back to only marginal gains after the first three years.

Researchers found they were able to enhance wood production as much as 74 percent at a nearby experimental site by providing extra nitrogen fertilizer as well as CO2 to trees growing in nutrient poor soils. But growth did not increase at all without the supplemental nitrogen.

"When we exposed trees in low nutrient soil to elevated CO2, they maintained growth increases only with added nutrients," said co-principal investigator David Ellsworth, assistant professor of plant physiological ecology in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan. "While CO2 initially acts as a stimulus to the tree's physiology, our experiments suggest that short term increases in growth are not sustainable over the long term in low nutrient environments."

"That suggests that CO2 effects on tree growth in pine forests will be highly variable and depend greatly on site fertility, perhaps to the point of not responding at all on the nutritionally poorest sites," concluded the article's 11 authors, led by Ram Oren, an associate professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - The Reverend Al Sharpton was sentenced to jail Tuesday by a federal judge in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for protesting Navy bombing on Vieques in April.

Judge Jose Antonio Fuste surprised Sharpton and three Puerto Rican politicians by sentencing them all to serve time in jail for trespassing on Navy property on Vieques. Sharpton, who has a record of previous convictions for protesting, was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

"I don't come from Puerto Rico," Sharpton told the court. "But I am one for standing up for something that is right. This building will be closed next January in honor of Martin Luther King, who stood for civil rights. Before you sentence me, I would like to wish you a happy King Day."

The three politicians - New York state assembly member José Rivera, New York city council member Adolfo Carrión Jr., and former state legislator Roberto Ramirez - were sentenced to each serve 40 days in jail. Ramirez is now the Bronx County, New York Democratic leader.

Seven other protesters were also sentenced to spend time in jail for their roles in the April protests.

A number of high profile politicians and activists have visited Puerto Rico in recent months to signal their support for opponents of Navy training on Vieques. In April, New York Governor George Pataki led a delegation of New Yorkers to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as part of his effort to end U.S. Navy bombing on the island.

Vieques residents have been protesting the bombing for decades, but the protests escalated after a wayward bomb killed a civilian guard and injured four others manning an observation post.

The bombing has littered the island with shells and bomb casings, leaving toxic metals and chemicals in the water and soil, and destroying coral reefs around the island.

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GAINESVILLE, Florida, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - A tiny new fly may be the best weapon found so far to combat invasive fire ants.

In addition to a species of phorid fly they have been releasing since 1997, University of Florida (UF) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers now are releasing a second variety to target smaller fire ants. The objective: to broaden the successful offensive established with the original release, said Sanford Porter, a UF and USDA entomologist.

"We have two kinds of flies, one that attacks little fire ants and one that attacks big fire ants," said Porter, an assistant professor with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "We're hoping that releasing both species of flies will have a bigger impact on fire ant populations."

The female phorid fly swoops down on an anthill and injects its eggs into the ants. When an egg hatches, the larval fly moves into the ant's head, where it grows into an adult fly, causing the ant's head to fall off in the process.

The fly is a natural parasite of the fire ant in South America but was left behind when the ants were accidentally imported to the U.S. 60 years ago, Porter said.

"Fire ants are not very common in South America," Porter said. "But here in the United States they are five times as abundant and we think that's because they have escaped their natural control agents like these phorid flies."

Lloyd Morrison, a postdoctoral associate and USDA research entomologist, said the tiny flies will reduce but not eliminate fire ant populations.

"We know phorid flies cause fire ants to decrease their foraging," Morrison said. "This gives other ant species a competitive advantage, so we hope native ant populations will increase and fire ant populations will decrease."

"But it won't happen overnight," Morrison added. "It will take months, and perhaps years, until a new equilibrium of these ant populations is reached."

Morrison said the tiny flies pose no threat to humans or animals.

"We've done extensive testing of these fly species to see if they attack any other species of ants, other organisms or whether they would be attracted to people or food," Morrison said. "We have found that they are not attracted to anything other than ants and in fact are very specific to fire ants."

Porter said the tiny phorid flies offer the hope of a natural alternative to commercial pesticides.

"Fire ants are found everywhere in the Southeast," Porter said. "The problem is that the imported fire ants are running out a lot of our native species, which creates problems for agriculture, people's health and the environment. The only real hope we have of wide scale, permanent fire ant control are classic biocontrol agents like these flies."

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WASHINGTON, DC, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham made a quick start of his agency's implementation of the president's new National Energy Policy by directing the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to undertake a strategic review of its energy efficiency research and development programs.

This is the first recommendation of the National Energy Policy to be implemented since it was announced last week.

"The President offered the American people a balanced and comprehensive plan to address our nation's energy challenges," Abraham said. "With energy demand outpacing supply, it's also clear that the National Energy Policy is urgently needed. That's why we are moving swiftly at the Department of Energy to implement key recommendations contained in the plan."

The President's energy policy recommended a review of current funding and historic performance of DOE's energy efficiency research and development programs. Abraham will propose appropriate funding of those research and development programs that are found to be performance based and are modeled as public private partnerships.

"Today we are announcing a program review that highlights the balance in the President's policy. The Energy Department researches and develops energy saving technologies for energy efficient lighting, windows and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks," said Abraham. "This review will identify ways to improve the lives of Americans through energy efficiency while streamlining our programs and saving taxpayer dollars. I welcome the public's input in this comprehensive review."

Public input will be sought at the outset of the review to be conducted by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The review will evaluate past performance and identify ideas for future public private partnerships.

The review is aimed at complementing a current National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study, expected to be released this summer.

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LIVERMORE, California, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers from a Sacramento energy firm and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe a rocket technology may have a down to earth application - producing electricity.

Clean Energy Systems Inc. officials - mostly retired rocket scientists - have developed a technology they think can generate low cost, pollution free electricity from fossil fuels. But, since utility companies require five or six years of demonstrated operation for a new technology before purchasing it, Clean Energy officials approached LLNL about building a research facility there.

"Utilities are known for wanting to buy the second or third plant, never the first," said Ray Smith, LLNL's Applied Energy Technology Program leader. "We think the government should reduce the scientific and economic risk by building the first plant."

Lab officials plan to submit a proposal this year to the Department of Energy to build a 10 megawatt, $70 million facility at the Laboratory based on Clean Energy's technology.

"Clean Energy's technology represents a whole new approach to producing steam and electricity cleanly. It replaces six story high steam boilers with a generator that is seven to eight feet long and one foot in diameter," Smith said.

A variety of fossil fuels - natural gas, synthetic gas from coal, petroleum and biomass - are among the possible sources that could power the Clean Energy system.

The firm's gas generator burns the fuel, along with oxygen and water at high temperatures, and produces a gas mixture of steam and carbon dioxide. Like a rocket engine, the generator burns pure oxygen to produce steam and avoids producing nitrogen oxides.

The steam, in turn, powers the turbines that drive an electric generator and produces electricity without pollutants. A condenser cools the steam into water and separates it from the carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) from the system could be injected into aging oil fields, where it can help retrieve up to two barrels of oil per barrel of CO2.

"A key part of the research we want to do is for the sequestration of carbon dioxide - how much of the gas stays in the oil field and whether it can also be sequestered in deep saline aquifers," Smith said.

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BOULDER, Colorado, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have developed a novel means of producing ethanol that could decrease the cost of renewable fuel.

Associate professor Kathleen Danna of the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department and her research team created a new technique they expect to produce low cost enzymes vital for the conversion of plant cellulose into ethanol. Producing large quantities of the enzymes could slash costs for the processing of renewable fuels from plant biomass, said Danna.

"By promoting the development of renewable fuels, our work should have significant economic and environmental impact," Danna said. "An established biofuels industry will strengthen U.S. agriculture and reduce our country's dependence on foreign oil."

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, is a clean burning fuel that is used as a gasoline additive in some states, including Colorado, during the high pollution months in winter. In Brazil, ethanol has been used on an experimental basis to run fleets of cars with modified engines using fuel made of 95 percent ethanol.

Although the ethanol now used as a fuel additive in America is derived from cornstarch rather than cellulose via biomass conversion, cornstarch as a source of raw material would not be able to meet the demand if ethanol were to become a major transportation fuel, Danna said. While there is a competing use for cornstarch - food - the supply of plant biomass is so large that households, industry and government often must pay for its disposal.

"The increased use of biofuels at the expense of petroleum will reduce air pollution, particularly particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrous oxide and will slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases," Danna said.

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DALLAS, Texas, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - A proposed new soccer stadium planned in Dallas, Texas, would require that more than 120 of the city's oldest cedar elm trees be cut down.

Ursuline Academy has filed a rezoning application with the City Plan and Zone Commission for the new stadium, which would include eight 50 foot light standards with four lights each, bleachers for 300, restrooms, lockers, storage, public address system, scoreboard with space for advertising and a concession booth. The Academy plans to lend or lease the stadium to third parties.

Ursuline says it is "creating a park like setting" on the 2.2 acre area. The Academy has assured its neighbors that they are raising funds for their legal fight to develop the plot and cut down the trees.

Ursuline knew the property was zoned residential when it acquired the 2.2 acres. However, Ursuline now claims the right to cut down the old trees, and the right to subject its neighbors to frequent nighttime games, complete with bright lights and loudspeakers.

Several local groups, including Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins, Protect All Children's Environment, the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition, and Working Effectively for Clean Air Now (WE CAN), are collaborating to oppose the proposed stadium.

They are asking Ursuline to withdraw its application for rezoning, and consider alternative uses for the property, such as a new science building for the Academy.

A public hearing on the proposed stadium is scheduled for June 7 at Dallas City Hall.

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DAYTON, Ohio, May 24, 2001 (ENS) - A study presented Wednesday at the General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reports that paper currency is often contaminated with bacteria, and this may play a role in the transmission of harmful organisms.

One dollar bills collected at a food concession stand at a high school sporting event and a check out lane at a grocery store near Dayton, Ohio were tested for bacterial contamination by Dr. Peter Ender and his associates at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

They found that the majority of the 68 dollar bills they studied were contaminated with the types of bacteria that can cause infection. Five bills were contaminated with types of bacteria that can cause infections in healthy people, and 59 were contaminated with types of bacteria that can cause dangerous infections in hospitalized patients and those with depressed immune systems.

Just four bills checked out as carrying no bacterial contamination.

"One dollar bills are widely used and each is exchanged many times," Ender said. "If some are contaminated with bacteria, there is potential to spread these organisms from person to person."

There are very few data on the degree to which paper money is contaminated with bacteria.

"It is important to note that this study of 68 dollar bills out of the billions in the general circulation did not prove that bacteria can be spread from person to person during the exchange of money," Ender cautioned. "A more complex study involving molecular biologic methods would be required to accomplish that objective. However, this study highlights the possibility that money can be a vehicle for rapid spread of bacteria."