AmeriScan: May 15, 2003

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Organic Farms Contaminated by Transgenic Organisms

SANTA CRUZ, California, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - Certified organic farmers have reported the first direct financial and operational impacts associated with the threat of contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a nationwide survey conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). One-third of the survey respondents rated the risk of exposure and possible contamination of their organic farm products by GMOs as high or very high.

National standards for organic products, implemented by the U.S. Deptartment of Agriculture last year, exclude recombinant DNA technologies from use in organic farming. There are also a variety of strict tolerances for GMO contamination imposed on organic growers by foreign and domestic buyers.

"In 1998, when OFRF conducted our previous survey, GMO contamination was not yet a national issue," said OFRF executive director Bob Scowcroft. "These new survey results based on the 2001 crop year document that significant impacts have begun to occur within a very short time frame. If this trend continues, what we're seeing now will prove to be just the tip of the iceberg."

According to OFRF president Ron Rosmann, a diversified organic farmer from Harlan, Iowa, "This new data supports OFRF's call for a moratorium on the release of GMOs until there is a solid regulatory framework that prevents genetic pollution and assigns liability for the damages imposed by GMO contamination."

The OFRF survey found that 17 percent of survey respondents have had GMO testing conducted on some portion of their organic farm seed, inputs or farm products. Eleven percent of those who had GMO testing said that they received positive test results for GMO contamination.

Eight percent of respondents indicated that their organic farm operation has borne some direct costs or damages related to the presence of GMOs in agriculture.

They may have had to pay for testing seed, inputs, or organic farm products for GMO contamination. They may have lost organic sales or markets due to actual contamination or perceived contamination risk. They have lost sales due to the presence of GMOS in organic products, and several respondents have lost organic certification due to presence of GMOs in organic products.

Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said they have taken some measures to protect their organic farms from GMO contamination. The greatest percentage, 24 percent, indicated that they have communicated with neighboring farmers about GMO risks to their farm.

Others have increased the size of buffer zones to neighboring farms, discontinued use of certain inputs at risk for GMO contamination, adjusted timing of crop planting, altered cropping patterns or crops produced, or changed cropping locations.

Only 10 percent of survey respondents believe that a regulatory framework is in place to adequately protect their organic farm products from damages due to contamination from GMOs.

The OFRF survey results will be released this week at the Organic Trade Association's All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show in Austin, Texas. The complete results of OFRF's 4th National Organic Farmers' Survey: Sustaining Organic Farms in a Changing Organic Marketplace will be published in fall 2003.

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Black Soot Increases Global Warming

NEW YORK, New York, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - Black carbon particles of soot are more plentiful in the world's atmosphere and contribute more to climate change than was previously assumed by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), a team of university and government researchers has found. They conclude that soot contributes about twice as much to warming the climate than had been estimated by the IPCC.

The researchers, led by scientists from Columbia University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), concluded if these microscopic soot particles are not reduced at least as quickly as light colored pollutants, the world could warm more quickly. Both soot and the light colored particles, most of which are sulfates, pose problems for air quality around the world.

The findings appear in the latest issue of the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." The study is authored by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, and others from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University, New York; Oleg Dubovik, Brent Holben and Mian Chin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; and Tica Novakov, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California.

"There is a pitfall, however, in reducing sulfate emissions without simultaneously reducing black carbon emissions," Hansen said. Since soot is black, it absorbs heat and causes warming, he explains. Sulfate aerosols are white, reflect sunlight, and cause cooling. At present, the warming and cooling effects of the dark and light particles partially balance.

Sato, Hansen and colleagues used global atmospheric measurements taken by the Aerosol Robotic Network, a global network of more than 100 sun photometers that measure the amount of sunlight absorbed by aerosols, fine particles in the air, at wavelengths from ultraviolet to infrared.

The scientists compared the network data with Chin's global aerosol computer model and a GISS climate model, both of which included sources of soot aerosols consistent with the estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, a group of some 2,500 scientists from around the world.

The researchers found the amount of sunlight absorbed by soot was up to four times larger than previously assumed. This larger absorption is due in part to the way the tiny carbon particles are incorporated inside other larger particles - absorption is increased by light rays bouncing around inside the larger particle, the scientists said.

The larger absorption is attributable also to previous underestimates of the amount of soot in the atmosphere.

Black carbon or soot is generated from traffic, industrial pollution, outdoor fires and household burning of coal and biomass fuels. Soot is a product of incomplete combustion, especially of diesel fuels, biofuels, coal and outdoor biomass burning.

Emissions are large in areas where cooking and heating are done with wood, field residue, cow dung and coal, at a low temperature that does not allow for complete combustion. The resulting soot particles absorb sunlight, just as dark pavement becomes hotter than light pavement, the research team explains.

The research was funded by NASA's Earth Science Enterprise which is working to understand the Earth as an integrated system and to apply science to improve the prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.

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Online Tool Measures Personal Daily CO2 Output

PORTLAND, Oregon, May 15, 2003 (ENS) – Mercy Corps and The Climate Trust have launched CarbonCounter.org, a website designed to help people learn about, measure, and reduce their personal impact on global climate change. The tool is the first personal CO2 calculator tied to one of the world’s largest non-profit offset buyers, The Climate Trust.

Corporations have begun to measure, reduce, and offset their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant greenhouse gas that causes climate change. Individuals can do the same with the CarbonCounter, giving them the ability to offset their carbon emissions online in less than five minutes.

“We are very excited about empowering individuals to do something about this urgent global issue,” said Michael Ashford, deputy director of The Climate Trust, which manages 11 projects in the United States and around the world designed to offset CO2 that is produced by human activities. “People, like corporations and governments, must do something now to slow the advance of climate change and we are here to help,” Ashford said.

Using an online calculator, visitors to the website can measure the amount of carbon dioxide they produce each year at home, commuting, and through air travel. Visitors are then provided the opportunity to mitigate their CO2 output with credit card donations to The Climate Trust’s global portfolio of offset projects.

Climate Trust offset project examples are landfill gas electric generation with carbon dioxide recovery and marketing, Oregon wind power, and permanent forest sequestration projects.

"Mercy Corps recognizes that solving environmental problems such as global warming is directly related to our humanitarian relief and development efforts around the world," said Matthew De Galan, Mercy Corps chief development officer. “We believe that this project – like many of our existing programs – can play an important role in helping to create healthier communities around the world."

Donations to CarbonCounter.org are invested in The Climate Trust’s projects that reduce CO2 levels across a range of sectors, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation efficiency, and reforestation. Part of the donation will also go towards Mercy Corps’ global poverty alleviation programs, including projects that counter the impact of climate change on the poorest peoples in the poorest countries around the world.

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EPA Consents to Clean Up San Joaquin Valley Air

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - In a textbook example of citizen enforcement litigation, community, environmental, and medical groups and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lodged a proposed consent decree with the Northern District Court of California Wednesday resolving an October 2002 lawsuit that challenged the federal agency's failure to regulate air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Clean Air Act requires local agencies to develop and implement plans to clean up the air. If the local agencies don't do their job, the EPA is required to step in and develop a federal plan for the region. If the EPA then fails to take action, the Clean Air Act authorizes citizens to step in and sue to enforce the act, explains Earthjustice, a not-for-profit public interest environmental law firm that is representing the plaintiffs in this case.

Plaintiffs agreed to settle the claim in exchange for a commitment by the EPA, subject to Court Order, to enact an aggressive federal plan to control particulate matter pollution in the Valley. The San Joaquin Valley has exceeded public health standards for particulate matter since they came into effect in 1990.

In 1999, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Sierra Club, and the Latino Issues Forum formed a coalition to work towards clearing the air in the San Joaquin Valley.

"Particulate matter is especially hard on Latinos and communities of color who often lack access to regular medical visits," said Rey Leon of the Fresno office of Latino Issue Forum. "Too many people end up in the emergency room and too many children are being told to stay indoors. This ruling is an important step to help clean up our air."

The settlement will require EPA to step in and develop a plan to regulate particulate matter pollution in the San Joaquin Valley by July 31, 2004. Unless the regional air district comes up with a plan that the EPA can approve before then, the EPA will be required to take control of the process.

"For two decades, the San Joaquin Valley air district has come up with one plan after another; every one of them ineffectual and loophole-ridden, and EPA has never been unable to approve a single one," said Deborah Reames, an attorney with Earthjustice. "It may be 11 years late, but finally, EPA will be bound by a Court Order to produce a plan to control particulate matter in the Valley by a date certain."

Particulate matter, fine particles such as dust, soot, smoke, and fumes, is known to cause premature death and the aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The effects of particulate matter pollution are most severe among children, the elderly, asthmatics, and people with lung and heart.

The settlement lodged with the court Wednesday will end six months of litigation over EPA's failure to regulate particulate matter (PM) pollution in the valley, as required by the Clean Air Act. The EPA was supposed to impose sanctions on the valley and develop a federally enforceable plan to regulate particulate matter pollution by December 17, 1993, Earthjustice says, but 10 years later the valley still does not have a plan in place to control particulate matter.

The federal plan mandated by the consent decree will require EPA to implement the "best available control measures." This requirement is even more aggressive than the "reasonably available control measures" that were originally mandated by the December 17, 1993 deadline and demanded by the lawsuit.

Representing the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Dr. David Pepper said, "We see all forms of respiratory disease in the valley increase during the particulate season, and the science clearly links PM with increased disease and earlier death. This is the first step, and a long overdue one, toward cleaning the air we breathe."

The consent decree will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment.

Read the consent decree online at: http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/5-03/BACMConsentDecree.pdf

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California Governor Orders $1 Billion Cut in Electric Bills

SACRAMENTO, California, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - California Governor Gray Davis has directed state regulators to cut $1 billion in electricity rates. Power prices skyrocketed in 2001 when a shortfall in the power supply to California residents triggered a series of rolling blackouts. California energy users paid premium prices for electricity during that period.

"The critics said the answer to the energy crisis was to pass along 400 percent increases in rates. But my plan from the get-go was to keep rates down, not let them go up," Davis said announcing the order on Tuesday. "We are putting money back in the hands of ratepayers instead of into the coffers of energy companies. Our energy plan is working."

The governor ordered California's power buying agency, the Department of Water Resources (DWR), to seek Public Utilities Commission approval for the rate cut.

The DWR began buying power in January 2001. It turned over energy procurement to the state's investor-owned utilities early this year.

The DWR had estimated in 2002 that they would spend $5.5 billion during the 2003 calendar year. By returning the utilities to buying power on January 1, the agency was able to reduce its estimate by $1 billion.

Governor Davis wrote to Public Utilities Commission Chairman Michael Peevey Tuesday, requesting that he speed the agency's approval for the rate cut. The Commission could act on the governor's request within two months.

Ratepayers, both residential and commercial, would see their bills decline as early as this fall. Precise savings are unknown until the Public Utilities Commission designs a plan to implement the rate cut.

To gain further relief for Californians, Governor Davis Tuesday urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to further consider California's request to abrogate or reform the long term power contracts the state entered during the height of the energy crisis.

"Contracts entered into with a gun at your head are not sacrosanct. Fixing California's long term contracts is an integral part of restoring trust in the energy market. As long as the FERC allows these contracts to stand, the public interest has not been met. They're rewarding bad behavior by looking the other way. We're calling on the FERC to take the next logical step - making good on wrong. Until these long term contracts are fixed, justice hasn't been done."

FERC met today, but has not issued a decision on the California long term power contracts.

Since Davis took office in 1999, the California Energy Commission has licensed 36 power plants totaling 13,685 megawatts. Of the 36 plants, 19 are now on-line producing 5,722 megawatts of electricity. In addition, 14 projects, representing 8,629 megawatts are currently in the Energy Commission licensing process.

California also is saving up to 3,000 MW, under the Davis Administration's energy conservation plan. The governor also has signed legislation to ensure that California receives 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2017.

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Lake Sturgeon Back in Milwaukee River after 100 Years

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - Lake sturgeon are cruising the Milwaukee River today for the first time in 100 years. Improvements in water quality and the removal of the North Avenue Dam that once blocked spawning runs of this enormous, ancient fish are making it possible for sturgeon to repopulate the river.

On Monday, fisheries crews from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Great Lakes Water Institute scientist transferred about 51,000 juvenile sturgeon to the Milwaukee River at Grafton. A release of up to 100,000 young sturgeon is planned for later this week in the Manitowoc River.

Each fish, about three-quarters of an inch long today, can grow to 200 pounds and live 100 years. They will still encounter some obstacles to their spawning runs, such as remaining dams on the Milwaukee River.

The DNR sees these sturgeon releases as milestones in the resurrection of the two rivers, and for Wisconsin's lake sturgeon management program, which is 100 years old this year. The agency points to its success in Lake Winnebago where the world's largest lake sturgeon population now flourishes, and now the DNR is working to restore lake sturgeon in other parts of its original range in Wisconsin.

"This represents the first stocking in a Lake Michigan tributary that we know of and is an important step in a multi-agency effort to help restore lake sturgeon to Lake Michigan," says Brad Eggold, DNR Southern Lake Michigan fisheries team supervisor.

"It's the same story in the Manitowoc River. Improvements in water quality and removal of dams," says Steve Hogler, the DNR fisheries biologist leading the Manitowoc River effort.

Female sturgeon do not start spawning until they are 20 to 25 years old, and males start at 10 years or so, so most of the biologists now working on the project will be retired when the fish released this week start their spawning runs.

Programs requiring wastewater dischargers to meet pollution limits, and the investments that those public and private dischargers made, greatly reduced pollution in two rivers from industry and municipal wastewater treatment plants, the DNR said. State and local efforts to reduce polluted runoff from farms and urban areas have also helped.

In 1997, the City of Milwaukee, DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency turned the corner on sturgeon restoration when they spent $4.5 million to remove the 17 foot high, 350-foot wide North Avenue Dam and to reclaim habitat and improve conditions along the river.

The removal of the structure, which was about three miles upstream of the Milwaukee River confluence with Lake Michigan, marked the first time since 1835 that that stretch of the river flowed freely.

The Milwaukee River project is partly funded by a grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service and a contribution from the Milwaukee River Revitalization Council.

"This is really a great day," said Ray Krueger, who chairs the Milwaukee River Revitalization Council and was among several members of that group watching the stocking. "This is important because it's a benchmark for the river. It's a part of our past being reintroduced to the river."

Today, 30 species of fish have been documented in the Milwaukee River, including the Greater redhorse, a state threatened species. Under suitable flow conditions, trout and salmon have migrated about 30 miles upstream to the Village of Grafton and Cedarburg on Cedar Creek.

Future lake sturgeon rehabilitation efforts in Lake Michigan will be guided by a plan for the entire lake being developed by a task group of the Lake Michigan Committee.

The committee establishes community objectives for fish Lake Michigan and coordinates management activities of mutual interest among representatives from the Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois Departments of Natural Resources, and the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority.

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Study: No Detectable Risk from Mercury in Fish

ROCHESTER, New York, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - Contrary to warnings from government and environmental organizations, a study of 643 children from before birth to nine years of age shows no detectable risk from the low levels of mercury their mothers were exposed to from eating ocean seafood.

According to a University of Rochester Medical Center study of mothers and children in the Republic of the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, children born to mothers who ate an average of 12 meals of fish a week – about 10 times the average U.S. citizen eats – showed no harmful symptoms. The study is published in the May 16 issue of the British medical journal "The Lancet."

The study is the latest in a series of updates on children who have been studied since their birth in 1989 and 1990. The children have been evaluated five times since their birth, and no harmful effects from the low levels of mercury obtained by eating seafood have been detected.

"Consumption of fish is generally considered healthy for your heart, yet people are hearing that they should be concerned about eating fish because of mercury levels," says lead author Gary Myers, MD, a pediatric neurologist. "We've found no evidence that the low levels of mercury in seafood are harmful. In the Seychelles, where the women in our study ate large quantities of fish each week while they were pregnant, the children are healthy."

In a commentary on the research in "The Lancet," Johns Hopkins scientist Constantine Lyketsos writes that, "For now, there is no reason for pregnant women to reduce fish consumption below current levels, which are probably safe." He calls the Seychelles study a "methodological advance over previous studies."

Fish are the primary source of exposure to mercury for most people. Scientists estimate that about half the mercury in the Earth and its atmosphere originates from natural sources such as volcanoes, and about half comes from human activities.

People receive most of their mercury exposure by eating ocean fish like tuna, swordfish and shark. The fish eaten by women in the Seychelles had approximately the same levels of mercury as those eaten by consumers in the United States – but they ate much more fish than most people in the United States.

"This study indicates that there are no detectable adverse effects in a population consuming large quantities of a wide variety of ocean fish," says Myers, the senior author of the Seychelles study and an internationally recognized authority on mercury. "These are the same fish that end up on the dinner table in the United States and around the world."

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Roosevelt Island Building to Be Solar Powered

NEW YORK, New York, May 15, 2003 (ENS) - The 147 acre Roosevelt Island in New York's East River will soon feature a solar powered multi-family apartment building. The Octagon Park Apartments will incorporate 500 new apartments, including 100 affordable apartments, the restored historic Octagon building, and a new ecological park on the site of the former Metropolitan Hospital. The project is expected to start construction late this summer, with new residents starting to move in late in 2004.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced today that the Octagon Park Apartments will receive up to $250,000 in funding to support the installation of photovoltaic panels that will generate solar electricity for the building. The decision marks the second green building award to the project this year, following the announcement of $6 million in Green Building Tax Credits from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation in February.

"Solar panels are a cost-effective solution to managing electricity costs. Octagon Park Apartments will not only save on electricity costs, but become more energy independent," said NYSERDA Acting President Peter Smith. "NYSERDA's programs offer the technical and financial assistance necessary for most alternative energy projects, which ultimately helps the customer save on energy bills and improve New York's environment."

The Octagon Park Apartments plans to install a set of solar panels, mounted flat on the roof, that will generate up to 50 kilowatts, enough to power common areas, including lights, mechanical systems, and elevators. The photovoltaic panels are an important part of the project's "Green Building" designation, according to the project's developer, Bruce Becker of Becker and Becker Associates of New Canaan, Connecticut.

"The panels won't be apparent by looking at the building, but they will reduce electrical demand significantly - especially on sunny summer days when demand is highest and the electrical grid is most stressed," said Becker.

In addition to solar electricity, other green features include a geothermal well field, which uses the constant temperature of groundwater to both heat and cool the building, as well as super-insulated windows, walls, and roof.

Natural gas fired microturbines will generate additional electricity and provide hot water for the well field and the building's domestic hot water needs. The improvements will help make the building more than 35 percent more energy efficient than the new State Building Code requirements.

Named Welfare Island in 1921 when the City of New York purchased the it from the Blackwell family, the long, narrow island was transformed into an island for municipal institutions such as prisons, poor houses, and nursing homes.

In 1969, the New York State Urban Development Corporation signed a 99 year lease with New York City to develop the island, using a master plan that called for a mixed income community of 20,000 people living in 5,000 units in a traffic free environment. The island was renamed Roosevelt Island in 1973, and the first residential complex opened in 1975.

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation was created by the New York State Legislature in 1984 as a public benefit corporation charged with maintaining, operating and developing the island.

Becker pointed out that Roosevelt Island, from its inception as a community, has been a leader in environmental practices, up to the Island's pursuit this year of low emissions buses, and he said that the Octagon project is intended to continue this tradition.

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