AmeriScan: September 27, 2002

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Energy Exploration Could Damage Utah Wilderness

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop an oil exploration project near Arches National Park.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Wilderness Society have also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order against exploration on the 23,000 acres of public wild lands to the east of the park.

The Department of Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has authorized a project sought by WesternGeco to explore for oil in the Dome Plateau region, also known as the Yellow Cat 2-D Swath. The project area encompasses more than 35 square miles of scenic landscapes popular with hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationalists.

Some of the lands are proposed for wilderness designation in America's Redrock Wilderness Act. The region is home to several threatened or endangered species including the black-footed ferret, the bald eagle and the Mexican spotted owl.

The environmental groups charge that the BLM failed to analyze the full environmental impacts of the project, ignoring both the environmental damage it would inflict upon the area and its potential negative effects on endangered and threatened species in the region.

Attorneys for the case say that BLM relied on an inadequate Environmental Assessment that failed to demonstrate there would be "no significant impact" on the human environment. They note that the proposed exploration project would involve 60,000 pound thumper trucks crossing undisturbed and sensitive desert soils, pounding the ground at regular intervals to record seismic information about oil deposits.

Thumper trucks damage the desert soil, causing ecological impacts that can take almost 300 years to heal.

Environmentalists charge that the BLM never considered less damaging exploration alternatives, or available mitigation measures that could lessen the impact of exploration activities. The BLM also failed to require WesternGeco to comply with rehabilitation standards to repair environmental damage, the suit charges.

This project gained attention earlier this year when the Interior Board of Land Appeals halted the project after reviewing letters from the U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others that were critical of the quality of the BLM's environmental review. The Board reversed itself last month after the Secretary of Interior obtained expedited review of the appeal.

"In Utah we have seen the Department of Interior approve an unprecedented number oil and gas exploration projects, which neatly coincides with record setting levels of oil and gas leasing and drilling on some of this country's most scenic public lands," said SUWA attorney Steve Bloch. "We are not going to let the Department of Interior relinquish these areas to destructive oil and gas development without first conducting thorough environmental impact reviews."

Last week, the BLM approved exploration by WesternGeco in nearby Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, through a settlement with The Wilderness Society, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Colorado Environmental Coalition, and Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

"Approving oil exploration and drilling in America's most scenic wilderness landscapes has become a pattern in the Department of Interior," said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director of The Wilderness Society. "These breathtaking public lands should not be the subject of corporate giveaways."

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Hawaii Groups Plan Suit Over Polluted Stream

KAUAI, Hawaii, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Community groups in Hawaii plan to sue over a developer's damage to a spring fed stream on Kauai.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, sent a letter on behalf of Kauai community groups the Limu Coalition and the KÔlauea Neighborhood Association (KNA), notifying Kauai developer and retired Oahu auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger of the groups' intent to sue for violations of the federal Clean Water Act's prohibition on the unauthorized discharge of fill material.

In the summer of 2000, Pflueger dumped tons of dirt, rocks and gravel into a stream in the ahupua`a of Pila`a on the north shore of Kauai to build a new access road to PÔla`a Beach. Pflueger has continued to add dirt and gravel to prevent the stream from reasserting itself over the road.


Runoff from Pflueger's stream filling. (Photo courtesy Earthjustice)
Pflueger also installed several culverts and dug a diversion ditch to redirect stream flows away from the road. The Clean Water Act prohibits such activities without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which Pflueger has never sought.

"Pflueger's failure to secure the required permit and to implement necessary erosion control measures and other management practices has destroyed a formerly intact native stream ecosystem, leaving a rutted roadway where once spring waters flowed clear and cool into the Pacific," said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. "It's time that developers like Pflueger learn that they have to play by the rules, or pay the price."

The Clean Water Act provides for civil penalties of up to $27,500 per day that unpermitted fill material remains in the stream at Pila`a.

The Act requires citizen groups like the Limu Coalition and KNA to provide written notice of the groups' intent to sue at least 60 days before filing suit. In their letter, the groups demanded that Pflueger restore the stream to its original condition, or obtain and comply with the requirements of a proper federal permit for the discharge of fill material into the stream, which would include the implementation of erosion control measures and other management practices.

"Pflueger's irresponsible dumping of fill material and stream diversions have left the stream choked with silt and muck, which flushes into the ocean with every heavy rain," explained KÔlauea Neighborhood Association board member Linda Pasadava. "We sent this notice letter because we want Pflueger to clean up his mess now."

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Efficiency Could Cut California Gas Prices

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - California refineries can not keep up with demand for gasoline, and the problem is getting worse, states a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report warns that motorists will face higher prices and volatility at the gas pump unless the state reduces petroleum demand through a combination of fuel efficiency, advanced vehicle technologies, public education and smart growth.

California imports about 30,000 barrels of gasoline per day to make up for the refining capacity shortfall. Experts predict that number will jump to 80,000 barrels per day when the state phases out the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) by the end of 2003. MTBE is being phased out because it is contaminating the state's water supplies.

But the gap will grow even greater as the state's population increases by an estimated 14 million people by 2020. During this time, the NRDC projects that gasoline demand will grow by 30 percent, resulting in a refining capacity shortfall of 280,000 barrels per day.

"California is in for gas pains, if it doesn't reduce its oil dependence," said Roland Hwang, NRDC senior policy analyst and principal author of the report, "Fueling the Future: A Plan to Reduce California's Oil Dependence."

"Our addiction to oil threatens consumers with higher prices at the gas pump and more pollution from oil drilling and refining, tanker traffic and vehicle tailpipes," Hwang added.

The Energy Commission and Air Resources Board are required by a 2000 law (AB 2076) to develop a strategy to reduce the state's petroleum dependence. The state also is studying other ways to make up the shortfall, like building a gasoline pipeline from Texas and creating a gasoline reserve.

The agencies are expected to submit their recommendations to the governor and state legislature by the end of this year.

"The best solution is to use less gasoline," said Hwang. "If we expand or build more refineries, we'll pay with more pollution and run afoul of state and federal clean air requirements. And we can't just import more gasoline because supplies are scarce, unreliable and costly to consumers."

The NRDC report outlines a four step plan for California to reduce its gasoline demand and eliminate its dependence on imported gasoline by 2011. The plan would save drivers about $28 billion by 2020, while protecting the economy, environment and public health.

Step one involves raising the fuel efficiency of the state's auto fleet from today's average of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) to about 42 mpg, using existing technology and tax incentives to support purchases of fuel efficient hybrid and electric vehicles. Step two requires the state to invest in a hydrogen fuel infrastructure that could support hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.

Step three involves a public education campaign to promote vehicle maintenance and smart driving, which increases vehicle fuel efficiency. Step four would promote smart growth and diverse transportation options, encouraging more people to use public transit.

"It's totally unnecessary for Californians to suffer from petroleum dependence," said Hwang. "We have an opportunity to make investments in a clean, reliable fuel supply that will power continued economic growth, while protecting the environment and public health."

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U.S., United Nations Support Renewable Energy Projects

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the United Nations Environment Programme are working together to support promising wind and solar power sites in developing countries.

An agreement between the two organizations will expand the pilot Solar and Wind Energy Resource Assessment (SWERA). Under the existing project, surveys and high quality solar and wind maps are being prepared for 13 developing countries.

The new agreement, termed a Memorandum of Understanding, will increase the number to 14 by including the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. An existing plan to map Bangladesh will also be expanded under the new deal.

SWERA, which has secured US$6.7 million investment from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), is seen as an important new initiative to deliver cleaner forms of energy to developing nations.

"Delivering cleaner and less polluting forms of energy to poorer parts of the world is absolutely crucial for fighting poverty and helping to reduce emissions of pollutants linked with unhealthy indoor and outdoor air and global warming," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "A lack of energy has other severe environmental consequences. Those without access to electricity are forced to fell trees for firewood and cooking fuel, accelerating impacts such as soil erosion and the loss of the world's wildlife."

More than two billion people in developing countries now have little or no access to reliable source of energy and nine out of 10 Africans have no access to electricity at all. Last year, the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force outlined how, given financing, political will and creative projects, renewable energy could be delivered to one billion extra people by 2010.

"While the costs of renewable energies like solar and wind have been tumbling in recent years, obstacles remain to their widespread deployment particularly in developing countries. One of these is the uncertainty about the size and intensity of the solar and wind resource," said Toepfer. "The SWERA project aims to bridge this knowledge gap so potential investors can know, with a great deal of accuracy, the locations where they can secure a good and reasonable return."

SWERA pilot countries include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. The program's effectiveness was demonstrated in the Philippines after a SWERA type assessment persuaded the government to increase its investment in wind power.

Experts claim that, by using the information gained through SWERA, wind developers may be able to find the best wind sites faster, shaving 12 months or more from the time it takes to gather sufficient data to advance a wind project.

More information about SWERA is available at:

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Ethanol Facilities Charged With Excess Pollution

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - The Sierra Club intends to sue two ethanol facilities in the Midwest for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The Club's announcement came after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned ethanol producers in a letter sent in April 2002 that "most, if not all, ethanol facilities" were in "significant violation" of the Clean Air Act, and offered to meet with producers to discuss resolving the violations "on terms most favorable to industry."

The two facilities named in the lawsuit are Ethanol 2000 of Bingham Lake, Minnesota and New Energy Corporation of South Bend, Indiana.

"By the EPA's own admission, these two plants are only the tip of the iceberg," said David Bookbinder, senior attorney with the Sierra Club. "There's a clear pattern in this industry of systematic disregard for the law. These lawsuits should serve as a warning to the entire industry to clean up their act, and to the EPA to enforce the law."

The EPA's findings, based on data from recent emissions tests, reveal that corn based forms of ethanol production - which account for about 95 percent of all ethanol produced in the U.S. - are far more dangerous than had been suspected. The two plants which are the subject of the initial lawsuits were found to be releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals well above permitted levels.

Ethanol 2000 was exceeding its permitted level by almost 10 times, and was emitting acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. Both of these chemicals are classified by the EPA as probable human carcinogens, while VOCs contribute to the production of ozone, which causes respiratory problems including asthma and lung diseases.

Other ethanol facilities were found by the EPA to be emitting unlawful amounts of carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas which causes visual impairment, reduced work capacity, reduced manual dexterity, and a host of other human health problems.

Despite this indication that many ethanol producers are breaking the law and putting human health and the environment at risk, Congress is now developing an energy bill that would provide $5 billion in subsidies for the ethanol industry. Lawmakers would also exempt ethanol producers from any liability when people become sick from drinking polluted water.

"When ethanol producers violate the Clean Air Act and endanger human health, Congress should treat them like the corporate polluters they are, not give them yet more tax breaks," Bookbinder said. "Until these plants clean up their acts, they deserve fines, not hand outs."

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Corps, Biking Group Sign Trail Partnership

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) will sign an agreement Saturday to work together to develop and improve cycling trails on Corps projects.

Army Corps Commander Lt. General Robert Flowers will join Tim Blumenthal, IMBA executive director, in signing the Memorandum of Understanding in honor of National Public Lands Day.

IMBA volunteers have worked with the Corps in the past to develop trails on Corps projects. The agreement will formalize and expand this relationship between the two organizations, and provide increased opportunities for volunteers to share in the stewardship of public lands.

"There is a great deal of effort and planning involved in managing the natural resources on public lands. Effective partnerships with federal, state, and private natural resource and recreation organizations are essential for the successful stewardship of this trust," Lt. Gen. Flowers said. "This memorandum of understanding with the IMBA lays the groundwork for a valuable partnership that will benefit both the visiting public and nature."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the nation's largest providers of outdoor recreation, managing more than 4,300 recreation areas at 463 projects, mostly lakes. The Corps hosts almost 400 million visits a year at its lakes, beaches and other areas, and estimates that 25 million Americans - about one in 10 - visit a Corps project at least once a year.

IMBA works to create, enhance and preserve trail opportunities for mountain bikers worldwide. IMBA, a national and international education and advocacy organization with 450 member clubs and 32,000 individual members, conducts hundreds of trail building schools and volunteer trail work sessions each year.

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Geoexchange Systems Could Help California Schools

WASHINGTON, DC, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Two southern California schools will have geoexchange heating and cooling systems installed as part of a pilot project from the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium.

Geoexchange, sometimes called geothermal, or ground source heating and cooling, uses the difference between above ground and below ground temperatures to supply cool air in the summer and warmth in the winter.

In winter, warmth is drawn from the earth through a series of pipes, called a loop, installed beneath the ground. A water solution circulating through this piping loop carries the earth's natural warmth to a heat pump inside a building.

The heat pump concentrates the earth's thermal energy and transfers it to air circulated through interior ductwork to heat a building. In the summer, the process is reversed: heat is extracted from air inside the building and transferred to the ground underneath the building through the ground loop piping.

Geoexchange technology can cut heating and cooling costs by 25 percent to 40 percent. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have both recognized geoexchange technology as one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly home heating and cooling systems available.

The Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium (GHPC) has launched a program to increase the awareness and use of geoexchange technology in southern California. The program will seek to increase the use of geoexchange in schools and commercial buildings within Southern California Edison's service territory, which includes 4.2 million business and residential customers over a 50,000 square mile area in coastal, central and southern California.

"This program will allow school officials and building owners the opportunity to benefit greatly from the energy efficient and environmental benefits of geoexchange technology," said John Kelly, chair of the Consortium's board of directors. "With over a thousand public schools and community colleges in the area and nearly one-third of them in need of modernization, the Consortium sees tremendous opportunity for geoexchange to help schools lower their energy costs while creating a comfortable learning environment for students."

GHPC will conduct a public education campaign targeting the people involved in heating and cooling decisions. GHPC will hold a series of educational seminars for school officials and building owners, and offer training workshops for engineers, architects, contractors and drillers. GHPC will also conduct informational seminars for state and local governmental officials and utility representatives to educate them about the technology.

Two schools will benefit from the program right away, with free or low cost installation of geoexchange systems. GHPC is now identifying prospective schools, which will be selected based on limited funding resources and limited access to information about energy efficient technologies.

"It's really exciting to have the opportunity to be directly involved in the installation of this technology in hard-to-reach schools," said Wael El- Sharif, interim executive director for the Consortium. "Under this program, we will install a geoexchange system in two California schools at little or no cost to the schools."

GHPC is partnering with the Davis, California based Association of Energy Efficient Environmental Systems (AEEES), who will spearhead the public education effort. The program is slated to run through December 2003.

More information about geoexchange technology is available at:

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Hot Times in the City Getting Hotter

ITHACA, New York, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - U.S. cities have 10 more hot nights a year than 40 years ago, Cornell University climate researchers have discovered.

But while summers are heating up in urban areas, in rural areas, temperatures have remained more constant, said Arthur DeGaetano, a Cornell associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. DeGaetano reviewed temperature trends from climate reporting stations across the United States over the past century and examined data from the last 40 years in greater detail.

"What surprised me was the difference in the extreme temperature trends between rural and urban areas," said DeGaetano. "I expected maybe a 25 percent increase for the urban areas compared to the rural ones. I didn't expect a 300 percent increase across the U.S."

Working with Robert Allen, a researcher in earth and atmospheric sciences, DeGaetano found that urban areas across the United States now have an average of 10 more very warm nights a year than they did 40 years ago. In rural areas there was an average increase of only three warm nights a year in the same period.

"This means that cities and the suburbs may be contributing greatly to their own heat problems," he said. "Greenhouse gases could be a factor, but not the one and only cause. There is natural climate variability, and you tend to see higher temperatures during periods of drought."

DeGaetano classified a warm night as 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the eastern, southern and midwestern United States. In the southwest, he said, 80 degrees would be considered a warm night and 70 degrees would be considered cool.

Since the beginning of the 20th century almost three-fourths of the climate reporting stations examined in the study have shown an increase in the number of very warm nights. DeGaetano said that the decade of the 1960s stands out as a transition between a period that was stable and cool, and the sharp increase in warm nights that has occurred in recent decades.

"You would not expect such a change in the number of very warm nights to occur by chance. We saw a statistically significant shift," DeGaetano said.

In very warm periods throughout the past century, drought has been a factor in temperature fluctuations.

"Warm temperature trends in the past century across the United States are strongly influenced by the peaks in warm maximum and warm minimum temperature extremes during the 1930s and to some extent the 1950s," said DeGaetano. "These peaks tend to coincide with widespread drought."

The Cornell research article, "Trends in Twentieth-Century Temperature Extremes in the United States," describes average temperature increases for all cities and rural areas across the United States. It will be published in an upcoming issue of the "Journal of Climate."