AmeriScan: October 18, 2001


HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - The Harrisburg and Lancaster airports were closed for four hours yesterday after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant received what officials are calling a credible threat of a terrorist attack.

Federal officials declined to describe the nature of the threat, but said the warning, which was received Wednesday night from U.S. intelligence services, seemed credible. Although the plant's one functioning nuclear reactor was shut down earlier this month for routine maintenance, plant workers and local law enforcement remain on high alert.

Plant workers were not evacuated, and maintenance work continued throughout the night, said David Carl, spokesperson for Exelon Nuclear, which operates the plant.

The closures of two area airports were lifted at one o'clock this morning after federal authorities determined that there was no immediate threat to the Three Mile Island plant. No other nuclear power plants received specific threats, officials said.

Security at all of the nation's nuclear power plants - 103 reactors at 64 sites in 31 states - has been increased since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11. National Guard troops are on duty to protect reactors in some states, and the U.S. Coast Guard has created no entry zones around plants located next to water.

Three Mile Island, located outside Harrisburg, was the site of the nation's worst commercial nuclear reactor accident in 1979, when about a third of the fuel inside one of the plant's three reactors melted, and radiation was released into the atmosphere. Just one reactor is operational at Three Mile Island today.

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SILVER SPRING, Maryland, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman today attempted to allay fears about the security of the nation's water systems during a visit to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Consolidated Laboratory in Silver Spring.

Whitman said the EPA believes the possibility of successful contamination of a water system is small.

"As someone who drinks water at home from the tap - as does my family - this is a concern I certainly understand. People are worried that a small amount of some chemical or biological agent - a few drops, for instance - could result in significant threats to the health of large numbers of people. I want to assure people that scenario just can't happen," said Whitman.

"It would take large amounts of contaminants to threaten the safety of a city water system," Whitman explained. "Because of increased security at water reservoirs and other facilities around the country - and because people are being extra vigilant as well - we believe it would be very difficult for anyone to introduce the quantities needed to contaminate an entire system."

The Administrator explained that systems already in place for treating drinking water before it comes out of the tap will, in many cases, remove the immediate threat to public health. The EPA has worked with partners like the Association of Metropolitan Water Authorities, (AMWA), to make sure water utilities receive information on the steps they can take to protect their sources of supply and their infrastructure.

"For more than 80 years, our mission has been to supply safe, clean water to our customers," said Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission general manager John Griffin. "Since our nation's recent tragedies, we've strengthened our already solid foundation of safety and security measures."

Sandia National Laboratories is working with the EPA to develop training materials for water companies so they can conduct thorough assessments of their vulnerable points.

"Several weeks ago I directed that these materials, originally scheduled to become available next year, be put on a fast track. I'm pleased to announce that training using these materials will begin for water system operators early next month," Whitman said.

The EPA has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations to advise every local law enforcement agency in the country of steps they can take to help watch for possible threats to water systems.

But Whitman noted that despite small probabilities and stepped up prevention, there are no "iron clad guarantees." Should an attack succeed, the EPA is ready to respond , Whitman said.

"Our experts are ready to provide guidance. Our federal labs are ready to provide analysis. And our specialists are ready to assist in recovery," said Whitman.

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - The White House is backing a new farm bill introduced by Senator Richard Lugar that would slash farm subsidies and double spending for conservation programs.

"Today, Senator Lugar has taken a very important step toward the continued viability of our farmers and ranchers," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "This is a thoughtful piece of legislation and is consistent with the president's principles outlined last month in our report, 'Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century.'"

The bill would shift federal funding from direct assistance to large grain and cotton farms, and into support for insurance policies that shield growers from crop failures and market losses.

The legislation by Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, would also provide more support for farmers that raise fruit, vegetables and livestock, which now receive almost now subsidies.

"The bill has many positive attributes consistent with our principles," said Veneman. "It would provide new risk management tools more broadly to farmers, as well as tackle critical issues in the areas of land and water conservation, rural development, infrastructure, nutrition, and trade expansion. It also allows $25 billion of new farm spending over a five year period, which would bring total farm spending to more than $82 billion over the next five years.

The White House has said it wants to spend no more than $82 billion for any five year farm plan. In contrast, a bill passed by the House earlier this month would spent $170 billion for farm programs over the next 10 years.

"The Administration believes it is unnecessary and unwise to undertake action on a farm bill in this wartime, national emergency environment," Veneman said. "While we are firmly committed to completing farm bill reauthorization before it expires next September, we need to focus our collective attention at this time on the immediate challenges facing our Nation. It is our preference to allow more time to ensure a thoughtful, thorough approach to developing a farm bill that best assists all our farmers, ranchers and producers to compete in the global marketplace."

The White House farm policy, released in September, emphasizes slashing subsidies for big farms, increasing conservation spending, and promoting programs that benefit all growers and ranchers.

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA) spoke out today in Las Vegas on why Yucca Mountain should not be the nation's radioactive waste dump.

The Alliance is a coalition of grassroots organizations from around the United States that have served as the public's watchdogs on the Department of the Energy's nuclear weapons sites.

"For years the Department of Energy (DOE) has failed to protect the public at weapons sites around the nation, so that now nearly every site has some form of contamination moving into the public domain." said Susi Snyder, of the Shundahai Network, "Some of the radioactive waste slated for Yucca Mountain would come from these weapons sites. If Yucca Mountain is approved, it will be another leaky radioactive waste site."

ANA has come together in Las Vegas to argue that Yucca Mountain is not a suitable site for a permanent high level radioactive waste repository. The coalition wants the DOE to devote more resources to contain existing contamination at DOE laboratories and former weapons sites, and to develop safe short, intermediate, and long term plans to handle the nation's radioactive waste.

Friday, October 19 is the last day to comment on the Secretary of Energy's possible recommendation to President George W. Bush on whether the Yucca Mountain Project should move forward as a high level radioactive waste dump.

The DOE only held hearings on the plan in Nevada, though the coalition argues that people outside of Nevada have a stake in this process since wastes from reactors and other sites will have to pass through 43 states.

There was widespread criticism during the draft environmental impact statement hearings, calling the DOE's transportation analysis inadequate. Many people called for the DOE to redo the transportation study.

"The DOE and nuclear industry would like Americans to believe that Yucca Mountain and the site recommendation is only about Nevada, yet whether the highly radioactive waste can be safely transported across the nation clearly forms part of the basis on the recommendation to the President," said John Hadder, northern Nevada coordinator for ANA. "Despite the essential role the final EIS will play in the recommendation the public will not see it until it is too late."

To comment on the plan, visit the Yucca Mountain Project's website at:

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - As so called Fast Track legislation moves towards a floor vote in the House of Representatives, activists and organizers in the Green Party of the United States have urged Congress to defeat the bill.

"We encourage Americans who care about democracy and about labor and environmental protections to call their representatives in Congress, and tell them to say no to HR 3500," said J. Roy Cannon of the Delaware Green Party. "Fast Track can and will be used to nullify labor and environmental protections and to bypass Congress and public scrutiny in deference to powerful corporate interests."

The Trade Promotion Authority bill would give President George W. Bush fast track authority to order expedited congressional action, without amendment, on international trade agreements that have been negotiated by the administration. A broad coalition of environmental, human rights, family farm, religious, consumer and union groups have spoken out against giving the president such authority.

"Family farms and food safety will be among the first casualties," said Anita Rios, national Green Party steering committee member. "The U.S. has already allowed pesticide residues on produce in amounts that violate current standards - because we fear trade challenges under current free trade pacts. Fast Track will give the President even more power to nullify such protections."

Commerce Secretary Don Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick spoke out earlier this month in support of fast track legislation.

"Trade can be an engine for international economic recovery and help build confidence in markets," the Bush administration officials said. "We will work closely with the Congress throughout the legislative process to ensure that the President has the authority to promote U.S. economic leadership, help invigorate the global economy, and negotiate the best deals for American farmers, businesses, workers and consumers."

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $55 million in research grants to scientists, engineers and educators to discover the relationships between living things and their environment.

"Earth is a living, ever-changing planet, with interconnecting threads everywhere," explained NSF director Rita Colwell. "Complexity is a defining characteristic of these threads. All levels of biological organization are more than the sum of their parts. Understanding how complex systems develop from the interactions of living things and their environment is critical to an understanding of how our planet supports life."

Investigations of biocomplexity in the environment, Colwell said, provide science a more complete understanding of natural processes, of human behaviors and decisions in the natural world, and of ways to use new technology effectively to observe the environment and sustain the diversity of life on earth. Scientists, engineers, and educators must work in teams across diverse fields, she added, that go well beyond biology to include, for example, physics, systems engineering, mathematics, economics, and geochemistry on studies that extend from the submolecular to changes in the world's climate.

"The biggest, most exciting scientific questions are now at the interfaces of traditional disciplines, such as biological chemistry, computational ecology, and environmental genetics," said Colwell.

This special competition, called Biocomplexity in the Environment: Integrated Research and Education in Environmental Systems 2001, is the third phase of a multi-year effort supporting full research projects and smaller exploratory projects, workshops and planning activities. In the competition, 32 research projects and 41 exploratory projects were funded.

Research project topics include: modeling the interactions among urban development, land cover change, and bird diversity; coupling rhizosphere biogeochemical cycles to plant growth under differing levels of carbon dioxide; meta-genome analysis of extreme microbial symbiosis; and developing instrumentation to measure the emission and transport of biological aerosols into the atmosphere.

Exploratory projects include: sustaining multiple functions for urban wetlands; simplification and recovery of soil biocomplexity following agricultural cultivation and forest logging; complementary development of new chemical sensor and probe microscopy techniques for environmental research in hydrothermal ecosystems; and developing portable devices to map the distribution of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh.

For a complete list of research and exploratory projects, visit:

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WASHINGTON, DC, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has announced more than $110 million in new projects to apply leading edge clean coal technologies to improve the reliability and environmental performance of the nation's coal burning power plants.

Abraham announced that the federal government will share the costs of outfitting eight power plants to become showcases of ways coal plants can continue generating low cost electricity with better performance and in compliance with tight environmental standards.

Coal fired power plants are the workhorses of the nation's power industry, Abraham said. More than 600 coal burning generators today account for more than half the electricity that Americans consume.

President George W. Bush called for millions of dollars in so called clean coal technology research and development in his national energy plan released earlier this year.

"Our national energy plan recognizes that America cannot generate the electricity it needs without coal," Secretary Abraham said. "That is why the president has pledged a new effort to work with the power industry to apply our best technology to use our vast coal reserves cleanly and economically. The projects we are announcing today will give us a jump start on the President's clean coal commitment."

The projects will be funded under the "Power Plant Improvement Initiative," a Congressionally directed effort that will serve as the precursor to President Bush's planned clean coal technology program.

Congress approved the initiative last October following a summer of intermittent power supply disruptions and price increases. Using funding allocated in the 1980s for clean coal technology demonstrations, Congress directed the Department of Energy to use up to $95 million for projects to improve the performance of existing and new coal fired electric power plants.

The projects were selected from 24 proposals submitted to the department in April. Most will focus on lower cost technologies for reducing pollutants from coal burning power plants.

With many coal plants threatened with shutdowns because of environmental concerns, more effective and lower cost emission controls can keep generators running while improving the quality of the nation's air and water, Abraham said

One project will tackle the problem of waste handling from coal-burning power plants by turning the sludge from a Virginia power plant into masonry blocks, reducing the need for landfills.

The Energy Department expects to provide about $51 million for the eight projects. Private sector sponsors are expected to contribute almost $61 million.

Details on each of the projects can be found at:

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MAITLAND, Florida, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - Save the Manatee Club (SMC) and a coalition of 18 environmental and animal welfare groups are condemning a petition by the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) seeking the reevaluation of the Florida manatee's endangered species status.

The coalition called the petition a "blatant attempt to put the recreational needs of a small group ahead of the needs of an entire species."

"The CCA has continuously spoken out against regulations that would protect manatees," said Judith Vallee, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. "At every step, they have opposed the adoption of new manatee refuges, sanctuaries, safe havens, and speed zones proposed under a legal settlement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), Save the Manatee Club, and a coalition of 18 environmental and animal welfare groups, because it would modify access by fishermen and other recreational users while providing essential protection for manatees."

Despite its name, Vallee charged, the CCA is an organization dedicated to recreational saltwater anglers.

According to Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for The Humane Society of the United States, new protections are essential if the manatee is to survive.

"The protected areas outlined in the settlement agreement will ensure that manatees have safe areas to mate, birth their young, rest, and feed in relative safety away from dangerous boat traffic and human harassment," said Rose. "Without these protections, the future of the Florida manatee remains very much in doubt."

The CCA petition will come before the FWCC Commissioners on October 31 at the Commission meeting in Key Largo. The Commission is expected to appoint a review board to consider available data and make recommendations as to whether the Florida manatee should be downlisted, delisted entirely, or remain listed as endangered.

"The federal government is currently attempting to designate 19 areas off Florida's east coast as 'no fishing zones' to combat a dramatic decline in fish populations," said Patti Thompson, SMC's director of science and conservation. "With many of their favorite fishing spots proposed for closure, the CCA has apparently concluded that any additional regulations - even regulations that would protect the manatee - are intolerable."

"The CCA petition not only jeopardizes the settlement agreement with the state of Florida, but even puts at risk regulations protecting the manatee that are already on the books," added Thompson.

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GREENBELT, Maryland, October 18, 2001 (ENS) - A new collection of Earth science data is now available to advance global studies of how the planet's lands, oceans, atmosphere and life all interact to define the world's water cycle, carbon cycle, and climate system.

The data are courtesy of the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard the Terra satellite operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Although good MODIS data have been available since November 2000, the newly released data set, called Collection 3, marks a step forward in data quality and consistency.

"MODIS achieved a steady state level of operations in November and since that time we have continued to make every attempt to improve the algorithms," said team leader Vince Salomonson of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "In June, we decided to provide the Earth science community with a set of consistently processed data products based upon our best efforts at that time."

Like an advanced digital camera in space, MODIS has been measuring visible and infrared wavelengths from all over our world at multiple scales of time and space since February 2000. Collection 3 includes three months of data products - March, April and May of 2001 - and is now being expanded to encompass a one year span from November 2000 to November 2001.

The interdisciplinary collection of Earth science data includes information on more than 40 meteorological, biological and hydrological characteristics of the Earth, including some of the first ever routine, global observations of key Earth science characteristics such as aerosol concentrations over land.

"We now have the ability to track and characterize aerosol optical properties over land and ocean, globally," said atmosphere group leader Michael King. "And we have an unprecedented ability to separate small particles that result from human activities and biomass burning from coarse particles that result naturally, such as sea salts and desert dust."