AmeriScan: March 19, 2007

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Drought Forecast to Intensify Across California, Southwest

CAMP SPRINGS, Maryland, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - Much of southern California has just experienced its driest autumn-winter in at least 112 years, according to latest Seasonal Assessment released Thursday by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs.

The assessment, which covers the period through June 2007, finds that with the dry season approaching, prospects for significant relief across California and the Southwest have diminished, and drought will persist or intensify during the spring.

There is also the potential for "drought expansion" into Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, and western New Mexico, the Climate Prediction Center, CPC, said.

Persisting drought is predicted for Wyoming and western South Dakota, but many other areas in the northern Plains should see some improvement.

Although the severe to extreme drought area over northern Minnesota is expected to improve, it is unlikely there will be enough rain or snow to end the long-term drought there, the CPC said.

Some improvement is anticipated over the lingering drought areas in Oklahoma and Texas, as storms are forecast to dump above-normal rainfall on the Plains during the second half of March.

The drought area extending from eastern Tennessee into Mississippi should see some improvement too, the CPC said.

Below normal rainfall is forecast across the Florida Peninsula through April, a relatively dry time of the year, but some improvement is likely by June as the thunderstorm season gets underway.

Elsewhere, drought affecting parts of Puerto Rico are expected to ease. Although drought is not forecast in Alaska, much of the interior has been abnormally dry, the CPC said.

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Bush Would Buy More Non-U.S. Products for Food Aid

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration is proposing to increase the amount of U.S. food aid funds that could be used to purchase food that is available in regions experiencing an emergency instead of bringing in foods produced in the United States.

The change would set aside for local or regional food purchases up to 25 percent of annual funds designated to assist people threatened by a food-security crisis, Mark Keenum, Department of Agriculture under secretary for farm and foreign services, told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday.

The administration is requesting $1.2 billion for the commodity program in fiscal year 2008, about $80 million more than the enacted amount for fiscal year 2006.

"The change would provide the flexibility needed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. food-assistance efforts," Keenum told the subcommittee.

Food purchased in the United States often can take at least four months to arrive at its destination while food purchased locally can reach the hungry within days or weeks, according to the proposed farm bill the administration submitted to Congress in January.

Speed can be crucial when an emergency occurs with little warning, such as natural disasters, interruptions in food deliveries, or after the end of hostilities when aid workers' seek immediate access to populations in need, according to the proposal.

The current farm bill - the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act - expires at the end of 2007 crop-production year.

Keenum also said the United States wants to maintain flexibility in its food-aid programs and operate them in ways that do not disrupt local markets.

The administration’s proposal has received mixed reactions. It is supported by the UN World Food Programme, WFP, said James Morris, the agency's outgoing executive director.

Morris told the subcommittee that the commodity food aid program needs additional funding to cope with increased numbers of people in need and higher commodity and transportation costs. He said WFP wants to be allowed to combine U.S. donated cash for food aid with donations from other sources.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian relief organization. The United States provides almost half of the food aid distributed by WFP.

But Cynthia Brown, president of the U.S. Dry Bean Council, disagreed with the administration proposal. She told the committee that U.S. taxpayer-supported aid should be used to purchase only commodities produced in the United States. She said the United States should "resist" transferring food aid resources to overseas purchases.

Walter Middleton, vice president of World Vision, agreed with Morris' view that the United States should increase its funding for food aid. World Vision is an implementing partner of U.S. and WFP food aid efforts.

Middleton told the committee that the United States should devote more money also to long-term agricultural development programs to help countries avert hunger emergencies.

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Colorado Renewable Fuels Venture Teams Scientists, Businesses

DENVER, Colorado, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - Businesses and Colorado research institutions are joining forces to develop renewable fuels in an unprecedented venture that was announced today at the state capitol in Denver.

The new Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, C2B2, is a research venture between large and small businesses and the newly formed Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, announced last month.

A biorefinery is similar in concept to a petroleum refinery, except that it is based on conversion of biomass such as agricultural and forest waste rather than crude oil.

Four of Colorado's premier research institutions are involved - the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, based in Golden.

At the launch ceremony, U.S. Senator Ken Salazar said, "Producing fuels, fabrics, plastics and more from biomass will increase national security, bring new prosperity to rural America and reduce our impact on global warming. It is a win, win, win."

Congressman Mark Udall said, "By training today’s and tomorrow’s premier scientists, this center will give Colorado a unique advantage as we move away from petroleum and toward biorefineries for the production of fuels, power, and chemicals."

"This collaboration is extremely important for workforce development, too," said Stan Bull, NREL associate director. "Students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty from the universities will work closely with national laboratory scientists and engineers and industry professionals, developing the skills needed to help the nation develop clean, secure sources of energy."

ConocoPhillips Senior Vice President of Technology Ryan Lance said, "We believe that America’s energy security is enhanced by the efficient and effective use of a variety of energy sources, and we welcome the opportunity to work with major universities and a national laboratory to advance the use of renewable fuels."

Other companies, large and small, that are involved in the C2B2 venture include Dow Chemical, Shell Global Solutions, GreenFuel Technologies, Range Fuels, Solix Biofuels, PureVision Technology, Copernican Energy, Rocky Mountain Sustainable Enterprises, and Blue Sun Biodiesel.

Companies participate in C2B2 as sponsors by paying a membership fee. These fees will fund shared research, and sponsors will have the opportunity to participate in the discoveries and patents generated by the shared research, with the goal of commercializing the new technologies as soon as possible. Sponsors may also enter into individual agreements to fund proprietary research through C2B2.

Biofuels include plant-derived energy such as ethanol and biodiesel. The focus will be on fuels based on cellulosic plant material such as corn stalks, switchgrass and wood waste. In addition to transportation fuels, biorefining promises to create new sources of agricultural fertilizers, synthetic fibers for clothing and other uses, plastics and commercial chemicals.

Because these materials are now derived from petroleum and natural gas, biorefining will reduce U.S. dependence on oil and gas, will provide alternative, domestic sources of energy and commercial products, and will cut greenhouse gas emissions, helping to reduce global warming.

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Pennsylvania to Transform Two Heavy Industrial Sites

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell today designated former heavy industrial sites in Allegheny and York counties for Brownfield Action Team redevelopment assistance.

Brownfields are abandoned, idled or underused industrial and commercial sites where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by environmental issues.

The Brownfield Action Team, BAT, administered by the Department of Environmental Protection, helps accelerate redevelopment deals and gives investors the incentive they need to clean up contaminated industrial sites. BAT projects typically get permitted in half the usual time.

"Cleaning up abandoned industrial sites enhances the quality of life, addresses serious environmental problems in communities and provides new opportunities for job creation and business development," the governor said.

The York County project covers what is known as the Northwest Triangle in the city of York. The area includes a handful of operating industrial firms but much of the land is vacant.

The redevelopment plan includes attracting commercial and waterfront recreation businesses to the land adjacent to the Codorus Creek in downtown York.

New downtown residents are expected to move into the area with the development of attractive housing in an urban park setting. This development is near the minor league baseball park slated to open in the spring of 2008, which is also expected to spur related economic activity in the area.

The Allegheny County project calls for the redevelopment of 135 acres of the former Carrie Furnace steel site on both sides of the Monongahela River in Swissvale, Rankin, Whitaker, and Munhall boroughs, as well as the city of Pittsburgh.

Plans for this site include commercial and professional offices, light industrial and research businesses, tourism activities related to steel industry heritage, and residential development.

This site would make use of prime riverfront property and would also coordinate redevelopment with other major initiatives such as the Mon Fayette Expressway, Route 837 improvements, the waterfront on the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works land, riverfront trails, the North Versailles Redevelopment Area, Hazelwood Redevelopment, and the South Side Works.

"Both of these projects make creative use of waterfront properties and the redevelopment occurring in adjacent areas," said DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty. "BAT works directly with community leaders to cut delays because time is money."

Since 2004, BAT has fast-tracked 35 projects in 22 counties to redevelop more than 6,286 acres of brownfields. More than 1,000 sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped since 2003.

Sites remediated under the state’s brownfields program also satisfy requirements for three key federal laws - the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act, commonly referred to as Superfund; and the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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Asbestos Disposal at Army Landfill Challenged

MERRIMAC, Wisconsin, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - A proposal to compact uncovered wastes containing asbestos at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant landfill in south central Wisconsin has drawn a challenge from a community group that has become a national leader on military toxics issues.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, CSWAB, is concerned that proposed changes to the way asbestos waste is treated are not practiced at any other Wisconsin landfill and may pose "unnecessary and excessive risks to human health and the environment."

The group has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to formally review proposed permit modifications for the landfill approved in January by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, WDNR.

The EPA is authorized to enforce the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and other federal environmental laws that the group says may be violated by the way the U.S. Army proposes to treat the asbestos wastes.

The construction and demolition landfill was established in 2004 to accept wastes generated by the decontamination and demolition of hundreds of unwanted buildings and structures at the closing 7,400 acre base.

The Army has been required to apply three feet of daily soil cover before compaction of wastes that are contaminated with asbestos. The soil cover assures that workers and nearby residents are protected from fugitive dust and fibers that are released when asbestos wastes are crushed or crumbled.

People who are exposed for a short time to even a small amount of asbestos fibers may be at risk for mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdominal organs, and heart.

Instead of soil, the Army recently began utilizing ground-up wood wastes as cover material. The wood chips could constitute as much as 90 percent of the remaining waste that will enter the landfill, Army officials said.

On November 8, the Army proposed eliminating the daily soil cover requirement at the landfill and utilizing instead the application of landfill leachate water to meet the "no visible emissions" standard for asbestos.

The permit modification was approved in a January 17 letter from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The WDNR’s letter cited concerns that the Army’s equipment was not providing sufficient compaction of landfill materials and ordered the facility to secure a larger machine. The WDNR approval stipulated compaction of asbestos-containing materials sufficient to break up the waste.

The Army appealed the decision and has entered into negotiations with the WDNR, which will ultimately take responsibility for the facility.

Negotiations with the Army are expected to continue. In the interim, the Army has agreed to submit a formal "asbestos waste management plan" to the WDNR.

In a related matter, the Army has announced plans to demolish approximately 30 buildings that contain asbestos, utilizing a spray of water to reduce fugitive emissions.

Normally asbestos removal occurs before demolition, but structural engineers who have examined these buildings have found that they are in danger of imminent collapse and are unsafe to enter.

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Getting Naked to Save the Oaks

BERKELEY, California, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - Protesters, performance artists, models and environmental activists got naked Sunday at the University of California-Berkeley to save a grove of oak trees that are slated to be cut so an athletic center can be built on the site.

The demonstrators stripped down and hugged the trees in support of six activists who have lived in the threatened trees since December.

San Francisco photographer Jack Gescheidt arranged the nude photo shoot as part of his "Tree Sprit Project," a series of photos showing naked people in and around large trees.

"This is an activity I am proud to support and honored to be part of," said Debbie Moore, a co-founder of Berkeley's nude theater troupe X-plicit Players. "Besides, I never turn down a chance to take off my clothes."

The university plans to fell 42 oaks, redwoods and other trees in the 1.2 acre grove to build a $125 million athletic training center that is part of a larger project to upgrade Memorial Stadium.

The stadium is bisected by the Hayward Fault and could be demolished by an earthquake.

Four lawsuits, including one from the city of Berkeley, have been filed to stop the project.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge granted an injunction on January 29 blocking the plan for now. The judge ruled that the university did not adequately address the seismic risks of building on or near an earthquake fault.