AmeriScan: May 20, 2003

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EPA Agrees to Update National Soot and Smog Standards

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed Monday to a proposed court settlement with a coalition of environmental and public health groups that sets a schedule for reviewing national standards for soot and smog and orders the agency to strengthen these standards if supported by recent scientific evidence.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the settlement tasks the EPA to review the soot studies by the end of 2003 and recommend new limits for soot emissions by December 2005. Ozone studies must be reviewed by December 2004 and the EPA must recommend new limits by December 2006.

The coalition, which supports stricter standards, believes the settlement offers the prospect of improved air quality standards across the country.

"We simply want the agency to move forward towards cleaner air and improved public health as fast as possible," said Ann Weeks of the Clean Air Task Force, which represented regional groups in the lawsuit.

The air quality standards to be reviewed were set in 1997, in response to data showing that the previous standards were inadequate to protect public health and welfare.

The Clean Air Act requires review and, if appropriate, revision of these standards every five years to ensure that they reflect the latest scientific research. The coalition is in particular concerned with tightening the short term exposure standard for soot, or particulate matter.

Soot pollution is currently held to both an annual average as well as a daily average, but many believe the daily average is too lenient and still allows for short-term spikes drastic enough to cause premature death.

"Over the past five years, new research has shown that even short term exposure to particulate pollution can be dangerous for some people, particularly the elderly, young children and people with asthma and other serious lung diseases," said John Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association. "These new data need to be taken into account to adequately protect public health. That is why the mandatory five-year review is so critical."

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Bush Urges Congress to Pass Wildfire Bill

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today urged the U.S. Congress to pass a controversial House bill that supporters say will reduce the threat of wildfire.

The bill being debated today on the House floor, "The Healthy Forests Reduction Act," is intended to protect the nation's forests from wildfire by speeding up the removal of underbrush and limiting legal challenges to federal forest thinning projects.

The bill builds on the success of the Healthy Forests Initiative, Bush said, and it is a "practical piece of legislation."

"It is good, commonsense environmental policy is what we are talking about," Bush said in a speech today at the White House.

The bill looks to expedite hazardous fuel removal on 20 million acres of Forest Service land by easing the legal and regulatory requirements for approval of forest thinning projects. Supporters say the process must be streamlined in order to allow the Forest Service to quickly and effectively deal with the threat of wildfires.

But environmentalists and many Congressional Democrats believe the bill is anything but commonsense and say its supporters and the administration are trying to ram it through the House.

Critics argue the bill fails to protect homes and communities from wildfire, unfairly and illegally cuts the public out of forest management decisions and allows timber companies free reign to take valuable timber far from communities under the guise of forest thinning projects.

"The bill is a plan to benefit industry under the guise of fire prevention," said Nathaniel Lawrence, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It would undermine our bedrock environmental laws and the independent judicial review that is a cornerstone of American democracy."

Some seven million acres went up in flames last year, in the second worst fire season in fifty years. The federal government forecasts that the 2003 fire season for May through September may not be as severe as it was in 2002, though much of the interior West, south central Alaska, parts of California, the western Great Lakes states and northern Maine could experience an difficult fire season.

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Rocket Fuel a Growing Concern for Cape Cod

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - Levels of perchlorate - a suspected carcinogen used in rocket fuel - have more than doubled in private well waters outside of the Defense Department's Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, according to Massachusetts state officials.

In documents released Monday by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER), state officials detail that the military is responsible for the increased perchlorate levels and must address the problem.

Officials with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection sent a "Notice of Responsibility" last week to the U.S. Army Environmental Center at Camp Edwards. The notice cites new "validated analytical data" showing that the levels of perchlorate are above the state standard and directs the Army to submit a cleanup plan by June 10, 2003.

The state officials warned that "failure to meet this deadline may result in enforcement actions by the Department." Clean up could take some five years.

The new perchlorate levels reported by the Army to DEP are 1.75 parts per billion (ppb) - well above the state standard of 1 ppb. Massachusetts set its standard based on the premise that consuming even one glass of contaminated water could be harmful to a pregnant woman or a small child.

Perchlorate is a suspected carcinogen that affects thyroid function.

The new perchlorate levels are more than double the previous high level of 0.74 ppb for the same area, suggesting that the chemical plume is migrating farther into residential areas surrounding the base.

Environmentalists say the military is not addressing the issue of perchlorate contamination even though there is increasing evidence of contamination near military bases across the country.

They argue that despite congressional hearings over the past two months, Bush administration officials at the Pentagon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have delayed setting a national standard for the chemical.

"The Pentagon is playing hide-and-go-seek with the public's health," said New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a biologist who formerly worked in EPA's New England regional office. "Not just in Massachusetts but across the country, the Pentagon has been throwing up every possible obstruction to an honest assessment and remediation of what has become a perchlorate plague."

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Narragansett Bay Clean Up Boosted with $800,000 Grant

NARRAGANSETT, Rhode Island, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided a $800,000 grant to support fish restoration and water quality improvements in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay and its tributaries.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced the funding Monday at Narrow River and praised the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts for submitting a "standout" proposal that was selected from among more than 176 nominations from across the country.

"It was the close cooperation between the state of Rhode Island and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, coupled with the high level of community involvement, that made this project stand out from the crowd," Whitman said.

"I look forward to returning two years from now to see cleaner water and other measurable environmental improvements - such as the return of eelgrass beds in the Bay and larger numbers of herring and shad in the bay's tributaries," Whitman said.

The grant was awarded to the Partnership for Narragansett Bay, one of 20 watershed organizations nationwide that received funding as part of the agency's $15 million Watershed Initiative.

The watershed of the Narragansett Bay covers some 1,800 square miles - 60 percent in Massachusetts and 40 percent in Rhode Island. The bay suffers from nutrient runoff and urban pollution runoff.

The $800,000 grant will support water quality/habitat improvement projects in Narragansett Bay and a half-dozen fish restoration projects in tributaries of the bay. Among those projects is an $85,000 stormwater remediation project to reduce sediment loadings in a narrow section of the Narrow River in Narragansett.

The grant will fund $300,000 in eelgrass restoration and monitoring work, as well as money for to restore herring and shad runs on the Pawtuxet River and for fish ladders on the Three Mile River.

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Organic Supermarket Lured By Sustainable Fishing

AUSTIN, Texas, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - Alarmed by recent evidence that overfishing is a more serious problem than once thought, Whole Foods Market has announced it will fund the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) new initiative aimed at increasing the number of certified sustainable fisheries in the United States and throughout all of the Americas.

The initiative provides certification to enable consumers to readily identify seafood that has not been over fished or caught with methods that harm the ocean environment.

"As a retailer often responsible for setting trends within the sector, we believe this initiative is a natural step to further demonstrate our commitment to the sustainable seafood movement and to help certify more fisheries that offer seafoods commonly preferred here in the United States," said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of governmental and public affairs for Whole Foods Market and co-chair of the MSC's Stakeholder Council and member of the Board of Trustees.

Whole Foods, the world's largest organic and natural foods supermarket with $2.7 billion in annual sales, will spend $225,000 on a grant over three years to fund the "Whole Foods Market Americas Fisheries Initiative," which it says will help the MSC retain a dedicated Fisheries Outreach Officer to identify and certify more fisheries in the Americas.

According to Jim Humphreys, the director of the MSC's Americas region, the new position will allow the initiative to expand its outreach to fisheries in North and South America, "ultimately resulting in more certified seafood products being made available to the consumer."

Currently, seven fisheries have been certified under the MSC's international program for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

Wild Alaska Salmon was the first North American seafood species to earn the seal of approval from the MSC.

Catch levels of MSC-certified seafood are monitored by a third party certifier, as are the age and gender of the fish being caught, which helps to maintain population levels and appropriate reproductive capacity.

For the "Whole Foods Market Americas Fisheries Initiative," the MSC has identified nine of the most important seafood products in the U.S. market to target over the next three years. These include: cold water prawns (shrimp), warm water prawns, cod, pollock, crab, mackerel, herring, hake and tuna.

"These species are of interest to an environmentally concerned retailer like Whole Foods Market because of their importance as widely consumed seafood," Wittenberg said. "We expect this project to both identify fisheries that may ultimately be certified and to engage other fisheries in the movement toward becoming more sustainable so that we may truly have fish for future generations to enjoy."

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Bloodroot Studied for Commercial Potential

ATHENS, Georgia, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - Scientists believe the antimicrobial properties of bloodroot make it worthwhile to research how to propagate the native Eastern wildflower as a commercial crop.

Researchers at the University of Georgia say the commercial opportunities for bloodroot are growing, with some European companies already using it in animal feed to improve appetite and digestion.

"Bloodroot is not terribly hard to grow, but it has not been produced on a commercial scale," said Jim Affolter, a horticulturist who is leading the studies in the University of Georgia College (UGA) of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"It is not rare, but it is not common, either," he said. "Natural populations could easily be decimated if industry production sent people out to scour the forests the way the ginseng market has done."

The plant is rich in alkaloids that have antibiotic properties, Affolter explained, in particular sanguinarine.

Some European companies have used sanguinarine as a feed additive for livestock, in the same way antibiotics have been used as growth promoters for U.S. livestock.

As more and more companies look for alternatives to antibiotics, Affolter sees the potential for "an enormous market."

To grow bloodroot for its sanguinarine, UGA researchers are focusing on three unknowns. They are searching for where where exactly in the plant and when during its growth cycle sanguinarine concentrations are highest.

Second, the researchers want to know how bloodroot, which flowers in woodland areas in early spring, responds to differing sunlight levels.

And third, says UGA horticulture researcher Selima Campbell, the researchers need to figure out how to grow the plant for commercial cultivation.

"Right now, bloodroot is wild-gathered," Campbell said. "It is a slow growing plant, so gathering it by the ton would definitely stress natural populations. It is crucial to develop a way to propagate the plants."

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FedEx Rolls Out Hybrid Delivery Vehicle

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - Global shipping giant FedEx, along with Environmental Defense and the Eaton Corporation, has unveiled a low-emission, hybrid electric powered delivery vehicle that the company says could become a standard medium-duty delivery truck for the FedEx Express fleet.

Company officials say the FedEx OptiFleet E700 hybrid electric vehicle will decrease particulate emissions by 90 percent, reduce smog-causing emissions by 75 percent and increase fuel efficiency by 50 percent.

"FedEx Express is proud to be the first company to make a long-term market commitment to develop and utilize hybrid electric delivery trucks," said David Bronczek, president of FedEx Express. "This hybrid electric truck demonstrates that technology is available now to begin to achieve environmental goals and meet our operational requirements. The environmental and business gains of this project signal a revolution in truck technology and set a new standard for the industry."

The hybrid electric powertrain for the vehicle was designed and produced by Eaton Corporation, which will provide FedEx Express 20 hybrid electric diesel delivery trucks. Later this year and into early 2004, these 20 vehicles will begin operation in four yet-to-be-named U.S. cities. These hybrid electric vehicles will endure real-world FedEx operating conditions to verify and prove their viability in commercial applications, according to the company.

"With this project, FedEx enhances its role as an environmental leader in the business community," said Fred Krupp, president, Environmental Defense. "Working together with Environmental Defense, FedEx has developed a truck that will deliver cleaner and healthier air, reduce oil dependency, and reduce climate change impacts. Environmental Defense now challenges other companies to step up to the plate and meet the green standard set by FedEx."

As the trucks succeed in meeting project goals, FedEx OptiFleet E700 hybrid electric trucks will be placed in the company's pick up and delivery fleet as early as Fall 2004.

FedEx Express expects to purchase hybrid electric vehicles on the company's normal purchasing schedule for routes in the U.S. and Canada, where medium-sized delivery trucks are used and the company says the program has the potential to replace the company's 30,000 medium duty trucks over the next 10 years.

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Michigan Engineering Students Ready to Ride in Solar Car

ANN ARBOR, Michigan, May 20, 2003 (ENS) - Students from the University of Michigan's College of Engineering will unveil its new design for a solar powered vehicle this Friday, seeking its fourth victory in the American Solar Challenge.

This year's entry - dubbed SpectruM - is part of a worldwide effort to highlight alternative energy sources and build vehicles that run solely on solar energy. Following a two-year design and racing cycle, SpectruM represents Michigan's seventh entry since joining the effort in 1989.

In the last cycle, Michigan's car M-Pulse won the American Solar Challenge and took third place in the World Solar Challenge in Australia among a tough field of professional and student teams.

The students say this year's car resembles a sleeker, larger version of M-Pulse with one major exception - it is a two-seater. But unlike traditional vehicles, the driver and passenger of this solar car will sit back-to-back with the passenger facing rearward.

The increased weight of the new design mandated an increase in the car's solar array from 4,000 to 5,000 solar cells. The students expect their car will have a top speed of 75 miles per hour and go from zero to 60 miles per hour in about 15 seconds with zero emissions.

The University of Michigan team will compete in the American Solar Car Challenge in July, which is a 2,200-mile, open-road race from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California.

In October, the team hopes to take SpectruM to the premiere solar car event, the World Solar Challenge in Australia, which runs 1,800 miles from Darwin to Adelaide.

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