AmeriScan: November 20, 2002

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Stanford Forms Climate & Energy Research Center

STANFORD, California, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - Up to $225 million in private sector donations will help Stanford University launch a major research project into new energy systems that can reduce greenhouse emissions.

Stanford President Dr. John Hennessy announced the multi-million dollar collaboration today, which will bring together leaders of the global scientific and engineering communities and several major corporations. The Global Climate and Energy Project (G-CEP), an alliance of scientific researchers and leading companies in the private sector, will be different from other privately sponsored research initiatives, as scientists will have the intellectual freedom to explore a wide array of energy technologies and solutions, Hennessy noted.

"I think it works remarkably well for the kind of research that a university does," said Hennessy. "It's quite basic, it's multidisciplinary in nature, and it's long term. It's beyond what companies normally think of as their competitive horizon."

As manager of the project, Stanford University will identify preeminent scientific researchers from around the world who will work with the private sector sponsors to conduct research into low greenhouse gas emission energy technologies.

ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical company, plans to invest up to $100 million over the next 10 years of the project. General Electric, the world leader in power generation technology and services, plans to invest $50 million, and Schlumberger, a global technology services company, plans to invest $25 million to help fund the research.

E.ON, Europe's largest privately owned energy service provider, has signaled its intention to contribute $50 million and join G-CEP, along with other academic and corporate sponsors from Europe. The combined amount is equal to the total of all the corporate sponsored research at Stanford over the past 10 years.

The university expects to involve additional global companies in the automotive and technology industries as the research progresses. Stanford engineers and scientists will conduct much of the research, joined by other institutions around the world.

Sponsoring companies in North America, Europe and Asia will provide commercial insights and expertise to the research in addition to financial resources.

"We are convinced the Global Climate and Energy Project will make significant academic and private sector contributions to the development of practical technologies to address the potential long-term risk of climate change," said ExxonMobil chair and CEO Lee Raymond. "ExxonMobil is proud to work with a University of the reputation, experience and ability of Stanford, and to be among the select group of sponsors coming together to make this project happen."

More information about the Global Climate and Energy Project is available at: http://gcep.stanford.edu

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Suit Challenges Weapons Incineration at Anniston

ANNISTON, Alabama, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - A coalition of a dozen environmental and citizens groups have filed a lawsuit trying to halt a new chemical weapons incinerator now scheduled to be fired up at the Anniston Army Depot next year.

The 12 groups filed a federal suit in Birmingham, demanding that the U.S. Army undertake additional environmental studies before beginning to burn about 2,254 tons of chemical weapons, including shells of nerve gas and mustard gas, at the Anniston Army Depot.

Other, less dangerous alternatives should be used to destroy the weapons, the suit charges.

The suit is the latest in a string of challenges that have delayed the opening of the $1 billion facility. A lawsuit by Alabama Governor Don Siegelman kept the incinerator from opening this fall, and the state's Department of Environmental Management has also slowed the plant's progress by rejecting test results aimed at demonstrating the plant's safety.

Critics of the incinerator say it is located too close to a populated area, where residents could be harmed by accidental releases of the deadly chemical weapons. Attempts to mollify Anniston's 24,000 residents with promises of gas masks and tape to seal their homes backfired when many townspeople saw the offers as proof that Army managers know the incinerator will not be safe.

About nine percent of the nation's chemical weapon stockpile is now stored at the Anniston Army Depot. About 25 percent of the total stockpile has already been destroyed by incineration at temperatures of 2,700 degrees or more, using incinerators located in Tooele, Utah and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

"It is important to note that the chemical stockpile project has already safely eliminated 25 percent of the nation's chemical stockpile, including 38 percent of all munitions, using the incineration technology," said Michael Abrams, a spokesperson for the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday charges that the federal government is required by law to consider safer alternatives for destroying chemical weapons, including neutralization with various chemicals. Other states, including Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky and Maryland, plan to use these neutralization techniques instead of incineration.

Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group Inc., one of the plaintiffs in the suit, says that neutralization is faster and safer than incineration. In July, an accident at the Tooele incinerator that exposed workers to nerve gas shut the site down, delaying its mission of helping to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, Williams noted.

The lawsuit claims that weapons incineration creates an "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health," and charges that the Army "knowingly misrepresented and underestimated the risks and impacts" of incineration on Anniston's minority population, which includes about half the town's residents.

"The Army's chemical weapons incinerator has turned Anniston into a human sacrifice zone," said Brenda Lindell, a member of the group Families Concerned About Nerve Gas Incineration, speaking at a press conference announcing the lawsuit. "Incineration is unsafe, unjust and completely unnecessary, given that safer methods exist that have been proven viable for our stockpile."

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Dairy Cattle Disease Genes Decoded

WASHINGTON, DC, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - Scientists have sequenced the genome of the bacterium that causes Johne's Disease, a chronic wasting disease that threatens dairy cattle around the world.

The bacterium, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, is among the biggest threats worldwide to the health of dairy cattle and other ruminant species such as deer and goats, and poses a risk to the safety of the milk supply. The gene sequencing will allow researchers to develop new ways of early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of a disease that costs the dairy industry more than $200 million a year.

"This represents a major research breakthrough that could speed the development of new ways to detect and ultimately eliminate Johne's disease," said Joseph Jen, undersecretary for research, education and economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Jen chairs the U.S. Interagency Working Group on Domestic Animal Genomics.

Johne's is a chronic and sometimes fatal intestinal disorder that causes severe diarrhea and weight loss in infected cattle. It is found in eight percent of beef herds and 22 percent of dairy herds in the United States.

"This is a horrible, hard to diagnose disease, largely because we lacked an understanding of the basic genetic makeup of the organism and the tools to differentiate the bacterium from other closely related species," said principal investigator Dr. Vivek Kapur, a faculty member in the University of Minnesota Medical School and College of Veterinary Medicine, director of the university's Advanced Genetic Analysis Center and co-director of the Biomedical Genomics Center.

"The genome sequence sheds new light on the genes and biochemical pathways in the bacterium, and the research offers a starting point for defining the mechanisms by which the organism causes disease and helping devise new strategies to detect infected animals and ultimately help control the spread of the organism," Kapur added.

Kapur said several genes discovered during the sequencing may help differentiate M. paratuberculosis from other related bacterial species.

"I believe the genomes sequence's availability will provide a much needed boost to research toward the detection of the disease, the development of vaccines and the ultimate eradication of the disease," said Kapur.

M. paratuberculosis' slow growth - it takes up to six months to identify in laboratory culture -hampers the diagnosis of infected animals and lab based research on the microbe.

"The genome sequence may enable us to not only understand why this pathogen grows so slowly, but to identify it more rapidly," said co-investigator Dr. John Bannantine of the USDA's National Animal Disease Center.

"The genes we've identified will serve as targets for the development of new generations of diagnostic tests that are critically needed for the detection and ultimate eradication of the disease," Bannantine added.

The results of the sequencing analysis are available online at: http://www.pathogenoics.umn.edu, and more about Johne's disease can be found at: http://www.johnes.org

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EPA Touts Success of Acid Rain Program

WASHINGTON, DC, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the agency's Acid Rain Program continues to reduce emissions through market trading of pollution credits.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the latest report on the program illustrates a "dramatic victory for the environment and for public health."

The latest data available in the report confirm major reductions nationwide in emissions of two acid rain causing pollutants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

"The Acid Rain Program has been an enormous success story in America's efforts to ensure that emissions reductions go hand in hand with economic well being. This program has delivered cleaner air faster and with less expense than anybody anticipated," said Whitman. "Cleaner air means fewer Americans will suffer from respiratory related illnesses such as asthma, lung disease and heart disease."

The Acid Rain Program, based on a market based cap and trade approach to achieving emissions reductions from the electric power industry, uses emission rate requirements to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and has set a permanent cap requiring a 50 percent reduction from 1980 emission levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 2010.

The most recent data, available in the "Acid Rain Program 2001 Progress Report," confirm that the program has helped reduce emissions of SO2 and NOx. The Acid Rain Program, created as part of the 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act signed by President George H.W. Bush, set a goal of reducing annual SO2 emissions by 10 million tons below 1980 levels.

Sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in 2001 were 10.6 million tons, a one-third reduction from 1990 emissions, a five percent reduction from 2000 emissions and down from 17.3 million tons in 1980. Nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants also continued a downward trend of 4.1 million tons in 2001, a 25 percent decline from 1990 emissions levels and an eight percent reduction from 2000 emissions.

These emissions reductions have contributed to measurable improvements in air quality, reductions in deposition and recovery of acid sensitive waters, Whitman said. The trading component of the SO2 program has lowered the costs of compliance and has not resulted in any major geographic shifts in emissions, she said.

The EPA's "Acid Rain Program 2001 Progress Report" is available online at: http://www.epa.gov/airmarkets/cmprpt/arp01/index.asp

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Great Lakes States Seek Help With Invasives

LANSING, Michigan, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - Attorneys General from around the Great Lakes states have filed a court brief seeking help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in addressing the problem of aquatic nuisance species in the ballast water of Great Lakes ships.

In a "friend of the court" brief filed by Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and New York, the states asked the EPA to repeal its exemption of ballast water from federal Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations. The CWA now requires sea going vessels that discharge pollutants to obtain a permit, but ballast water is exempt from the requirement.

Michigan and the other states believe the exemption, issued by the EPA in 1973, contradicts the intent of the Act, which covers all "biological materials."

Exotic species are taken up in ballast water, often from the Black and Caspian Seas, and released in the Great Lakes causing damage and changing lake ecology.

"Especially in a state so defined by its Great Lakes, we can't afford to ignore the dangers of aquatic species in our waters," said Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. "By the EPA's own estimates, aquatic nuisance species cause $5 billion in damages every year. Yet the cost of preventing this harm may cost only a fraction of that amount. Protecting and preserving the Great Lakes is a win-win situation for our economy and our environment."

While exotic species have raised havoc in Great Lakes waters for decades, increases in transoceanic shipping has accelerated new harmful introductions. Years ago, the sea lamprey decimated the Great Lakes commercial fishery. Now species like the zebra mussel, round goby, and the spiny water flea harm native species through competition for food and predation.

The zebra mussel is so prolific that a million or more organisms can be found within one square meter on water intake pipes and docks. Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year to combat this one species.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has established a Ballast Water Reporting Program, and all ships operating on the Great Lakes have registered with the program and are using ballast water management practices onboard ship. The DEQ is now working to determine an effective method of treating ballast prior to its discharge into the Great Lakes.

"Michigan is a leader in addressing the devastating impact caused by invasive species, but I continue to urge the EPA to act now to remove the most damaging policy roadblock to ending the spread of invasive species: the exemption to the federal Clean Water Act that allows ballast water to go unchecked into the waters of the Great Lakes," said Michigan state Senator Ken Sikkema.

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Rescued Polar Bear Dies in Transit

SILVER SPRING, Maryland, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - One of six bears confiscated from a circus in Puerto Rico died Tuesday during a trip to its new home in a zoo.

The male polar bear, named Royale, died in transit from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Memphis, Tennessee. Royale, along with the other five bears, had been performing in the Suarez Brothers Circus until a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigation uncovered alleged violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which resulted in the bears' confiscation.

A bear expert and a veterinarian were traveling with the bears during their shipment via FedEx from Puerto Rico to their eventual destinations at three zoos. Royale, who was captured in the Canadian wilderness, was one of three bears headed for the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, along with Wilhelm, who was born at the Copenhagen Zoo, and Marsha, born at a zoo in Russia.

Boris, born in Germany, and Kenneth, captured in Canada, will reside at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Baerle, the only female bear, who was captured in Canada, will go to the Detroit Zoo in Michigan.

In the past year, bear experts from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) had made several trips to Puerto Rico to evaluate the bears' condition and to prepare them for transport. Health assessments of the bears in Puerto Rico indicated that their health had deteriorated since March of 2002, when one bear, Alaska, was confiscated and moved to The Baltimore Zoo.

"We are saddened to learn of this bear's death," said Sydney Butler, executive director of the AZA. "While every effort was made to ensure the safety of the animals, we've had increasing concerns about their health."

A necropsy will be performed to identify the cause of death.

The five polar bears will travel to their respective landing locations accompanied by zoo veterinarians, who will again conduct health assessments and administer any additional veterinary care needed. The bears will be held in quarantine at each zoo in order to ascertain their health and safety.

The polar bears were freed after an 18 month campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The Suarez Circus, based in Mexico, could face charges of multiple violations of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, including keeping the bears in inhumane and unhealthy conditions. If convicted, the circus owners could be fined up to $20,000 for each violation and face imprisonment.

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Greenpeace Targets Genetically Engineered Corn

AURORA, Nebraska, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - Two Greenpeace activists unfurled a banner Tuesday on a silo containing 500,000 bushels of soybeans contaminated by corn that was genetically engineered to produce a drug or other medical product.

The banner read, "This is your food on drugs. Ban genetically engineered drug crops."

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The Greenpeace banner marked a silo containing 500,000 bushels of soybeans contaminated by genetically engineered corn. (Photo 2002 Greenpeace/Lombardi)
Greenpeace marked the contaminated food to expose the what the group calls the "inherent dangers" of conducting genetically engineered crop experiments in open fields near food crops.

"The biotech industry is playing genetic roulette with our food," said Margulis. "This crazy experiment of growing drugs in one of our nation's most important staple foods must cease immediately. We urge President Bush to take swift action to protect our food."

In a letter faxed to President George W. Bush on Tuesday, Greenpeace, the Center for Food Safety, National Family Farm Coalition, and several other national organizations urged the President to ban open field planting of genetically engineered drug crops, and to prohibit drug production in food crops because it risks contaminating the nation's food supply.

The genetically engineered drug that contaminated soybean stocks is a protein that is intended to vaccinate pigs. Anthony Laos, CEO of ProdiGene, the company that caused the contamination, admits that no human health tests have been conducted on the pig drug to date.

"All allergens are proteins, and any food contaminated with the GE drug poses an unacceptable risk to the people who unwittingly eat it," said Doreen Stabinsky, staff scientist for Greenpeace's genetic engineering campaign.

Environmentalists and scientists, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, have warned that growing drug producing crops in open fields and not in laboratories could contaminate the food supply. Drug crops grown on farms across the U.S. today include corn that produces compounds such as untested AIDS and hepatitis B vaccines, a blood clotting agent, and other compounds not meant for human consumption.

"These unregulated drug crops threaten our nation's food security," said Charles Margulis, genetic engineering specialist with Greenpeace. "Even though genetic engineers said it could never happen here, Americans have narrowly escaped eating GE contaminated food twice in three months. We must stop taking chances with untested drug crops that could poison our corn flakes, tacos, and baby food."

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New Atlas Details Hawaii's Coastal Hazards

HONOLULU, Hawaii, November 20, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has released a new atlas of the coastal hazards of Hawaii.

An old Hawaiian proverb says that on Hawaii, "when the gales blow, the sea is white backed; when the sea rises, corals are washed ashore." The new USGS report supports that adage.

The report, "Atlas of Natural Hazards in the Hawaiian Coastal Zone," should allow Hawaiian citizens and regulatory authorities to better understand the relative intensity of coastal hazards in the state and their effects on the natural environment and property. It will also help planners and managers guide the future of coastal land use and planning, said Dr. Bruce Richmond, a USGS scientist and one of the coauthors of the report.

The report, prepared in cooperation with the University of Hawaii, State of Hawaii Office of Planning, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was co-authored by Richmond, C.H. Fletcher, a professor at the University of Hawaii; and E.E. Grossman and A.E. Gibbs, both of the USGS.

The report investigates the history and characteristics of seven threats to coastal areas of the Hawaiian Islands: coastal erosion, sea level rise, major storms, volcanic and seismic activity, tsunami inundation, coastal stream flooding, and extreme seasonal high wave events. Richmond said the report assimilates previous efforts to document Hawaiian coastal hazards and combines this information into a single comprehensive coastal hazard data set that is easy to use.

"Our ultimate goal is to make the Hawaiian coast a safer place by educating the people of the state, and their leaders, about the hazardous nature of the environment," said Richmond. "In doing this, we will also be taking steps toward improved preservation of coastal environments because the best way to avoid costly and dangerous mistakes in terms of lives and property is to avoid inappropriate development in the coastal zone."

To quantify the effects of individual hazards, Richmond and his colleagues evaluated past magnitudes and occurrences of such hazards from historical records for each of Hawaii's main islands: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii. The atlas ranks each hazard as low, moderately low, moderately high, or high for given segments of the Hawaiian coast.

The atlas offers small scale maps that show a general history of the hazards on each island and that summarize coastal hazards for general use. Another, large scale series of technical maps depict coastal sections about five to seven miles in length, with the relative intensity of each hazard at the adjacent shoreline ranked using color bands.

Together, said Richmond, these maps should provide a strong dataset for managers to plan for hazards and to guide the future of coastal resources.

The atlas can be found online at: http://geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/I-map/i2761/