AmeriScan: December 1, 2000

GLOBAL WARMING COULD REDUCE RICE HARVESTS

GAINESVILLE, Florida, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - Temperature increases anticipated as part of global warming appear to reduce rice yields, a finding with worrisome implications for the third of the world's population that relies on rice as a food staple. University of Florida (UF) researchers have found that above average temperatures interfere with the life cycle and pollination process in rice plants. Modest temperature increases predicted by some climate change scenarios would reduce rice yields by 20 to 40 percent by 2100, while the most severe predicted temperature increases could force yields to zero.

The findings are among the latest to come out of the Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change Project at UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Researchers involved in the project, managed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and funded by UF and several federal agencies, have discovered that warmer temperatures also lead to declines in yields of peanuts, soybeans and dry beans such as kidney beans. "I think we've demonstrated clearly that seed producing plants are much more at risk from rising temperatures than are vegetative plants such as forage plants," said Hartwell Allen, a USDA and UF crop and climate research scientist. Testing two varieties of rice - one grown in tropical climates and one from temperate areas - the scientists found that the plants produce the most rice at temperatures lower that those now found in their normal growing environments. "We're on the downhill side for rice and soybeans now, so if there's any temperature increase the yield will slide down," said Kenneth Boote, a UF agronomy professor. Although the plants continued to flourish, they produced almost no rice at the highest temperature cycles tested, the study found. "We were hoping to find some evidence that the tropical cultivar could sustain reproductive ability at the highest temperature, but it didn't, which is bad news," said Alison Snyder, a UF graduate student.

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FOREST SERVICE VULNERABLE TO LAWSUITS OVER TIMBER CONTRACTS

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - The U.S. Forest Service has considerable financial and legal liability for suspended or canceled timber sales contracts, a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) finds. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, looked into the contractual liability of the Forest Service at the request of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, the Republican who chairs the Senate subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Forest Service sometimes terminates logging contracts to protect threatened or endangered species. In 1996, the GAO investigated the financial effects of those actions, and found that the agency was being sued for about $61 million, and could be liable for at least $198 million more. The GAO recommended that the Forest Service finalize new regulations for canceling timber sales contracts and a new standard timber sales contract that it had been developing since the late 1980s. "The regulations and contract would have limited the government's liability on canceled or suspended timber sales contracts and redistributed the risk between the government and the purchaser," the GAO said.

However, "the Forest Service has not finalized either the cancellation regulations for timber sales contracts or its new standard timber sales contract," the GAO now says. "Forest Service officials said that higher priority work, such as the proposal to end the construction of roads on 43 million acres of Forest Service land and revising the Forest Service's planning regulations, took precedence over finalizing the new timber sales contract." Because of the agency's delay in completing the contract and regulations, the agency remains liable for millions of dollars in lawsuits. "As of October 31, 2000, information from the Forest Service shows, pending claims of about $51 million for timber sales contracts that were suspended or canceled to protect threatened or endangered species. This does not include future claims that could arise from purchasers as a result of favorable rulings on other claims on similar issues," the GAO said.

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BRIDGE BUILDERS FINED FOR DUMPING DEBRIS

PENSACOLA, Florida, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - A construction company and three of its supervisors have been sentenced in Florida for dumping bridge construction debris into Pensacola Bay. Court documents revealed that during the course of building the 3.6 mile Garcon Point Bridge spanning the bay, Odebrecht-Metric dumped concrete, cement pilings and steel reinforcement bars into the open water. Investigative dives and sonar have revealed that at least 3.75 acres of construction debris were left under the bridge span on the bottom of the East Bay and the Pensacola Bay. The dumping violated a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit allowing the company to dump non-hazardous construction debris several miles off the coast, where it could have been used as artificial reef material.

Odebrecht-Metric admitted the company violated the Clean Water Act. The company was sentenced to pay a $1 million criminal fine and $3 million in restitution. Three corporate superintendents - Frank Doddi, Steven Spry and Marcelino Romero - were each sentenced to serve three years probation and pay a $1,000 fine. Odebrecht-Metric will pay restitution to the Garcon Point Restoration Trust, which will use the funds to clean up and restore the bay. Several state and local agencies that responded to the dumping will also receive money from the company. Another $500,000 of the penalty will go toward a state fund created to help finance environmental crime investigations in Florida. Odebrecht-Metric will also buy 60 acres of land in Santa Rosa County and donate it to the state of Florida for conservation and public use.

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CONGREGATIONS FOR CLEANER AIR PROMOTE GREEN POWER

TRENTON, New Jersey, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - In an effort to improve air quality, religious leaders from across New Jersey are calling on their followers to consider a higher power authority when selecting an electricity supplier. Representatives from eight denominations announced at their Congregations for Cleaner Air Conference Thursday, the first ever, statewide faith based environmental campaign, sponsored by Partners for Environmental Quality (PEQ). The alliance includes Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker and Unitarian faiths, representing as many as 6,000 congregations in New Jersey. "We come together out of our common faith expressed in the 24th Psalm, that 'The earth is the Lord's, and all that is in it'," declared Reverend Dr. Franklin Vilas, an Episcopal priest and president of PEQ. "This is a coalition of faith, commitment to the environment as God's creation, and economics as a tool of justice and healing."

PEQ's Interfaith Energy Alliance hopes to help improve air quality by stimulating demand for renewable energy. To do so, the group has entered into a year long agreement with Green Mountain Energy Company. "Making electricity causes more air pollution than any other industry. We're urging people to buy electricity based on principle, not just price," stated Vilas. The group plans to launch its campaign in over 200 congregations in northern New Jersey. Trained volunteers will help educate their fellow congregants about the moral implications of choosing electric supply, and provide information about signing up for Green Mountain Energy. "Green Mountain Energy Company and Partners for Environmental Quality share a vital common goal. That is, to change the way electricity is made and used," said Clifton Payne, Mid-Atlantic regional president for Green Mountain Energy Company. "We are honored that religious leaders from throughout New Jersey have put their faith in Green Mountain Energy Company to reliably provide cleaner and renewable electricity to their followers."

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MICROBES MAKE MINE WASTE DRINKABLE

TENNYSON, Wisconsin, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - Tiny bacteria that usher dissolved zinc into a solid form may help make the removal of mining waste more efficient in groundwater and wetlands, according to a study in today's issue of the journal "Science." The bacteria can clean up contaminated water to meet drinking standards after they strip water of impurities and repackage them into zinc sulfide crystals called sphalerite. These bacteria may explain how many low temperature zinc ore deposits formed in natural systems, said the interdisciplinary U.S. and Australian research team. Scuba divers collected the bacteria from a flooded tunnel in Tennyson, Wisconsin. The scientists found that members of this particular family of bacteria, Desulfobacteriaceae, grow and help mineralize microscopic beads of sphalerite within a protective "biofilm" that holds together a microbial community.

zinc sulfide

Nanometer size spheres of zinc sulfide found in biofilms discovered deep in the flooded tunnels of an historic lead and zinc mine in Wisconsin. The zinc sulfide crystals were formed by bacteria in a process that converts the mine pollutant sulfate to sulfide and scavenges toxic metals from groundwater (Photo Copyright 2000, Science)

These tiny spheres, known as "aggregates," cluster from the bacteria and measure up to 10 nanometers in diameter each. With a zinc concentration a million times more than the surrounding water, they can each hold up to a billion zinc sulfide particles and even contain trace amounts of selenium and arsenic. "These results show how microbes control metal concentrations in ground water and wetland based remediation systems and suggest biological routes for formation of some low temperature zinc sulfide deposits," the researchers wrote. Many sulfate reducing bacteria thrive in environments without oxygen, but some species thrive at low levels of oxygen. In these systems, the bacteria may offer an effective means for removing pollution from contaminated groundwater and wetlands, suggested the authors. The process is "what has been envisaged for acid mine drainage treatment using constructed wetlands which are rich in organic matter," said Jillian Banfield, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of geology and geophysics. "Maybe our work can be used to refine development of these strategies."

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LAST VX LANDMINES DESTROYED AT JOHNSTON ATOLL

JOHNSON ATOLL, Pacific, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - The Army announced on November 30 that it has destroyed the last of a large stockpile of landmines filled with the nerve agent VX that long had been stored on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Army Lieutenant General Paul Kern, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said completion of the destruction process on November 29 represents an historic event "which will improve the security of the United States." VX landmines were produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In all, 13,302 mines that were stockpiled on the Pacific Atoll have been destroyed. The land mines were the last of the chemical munitions stored on Johnston Atoll - about six percent of the nation's original stockpile - to be destroyed.

The operators of the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS) completed destruction of the VX mines on November 29. The facility, located 825 miles southwest of Hawaii, is the nation's first integrated facility designed for the disposal of chemical weapons. Army officials said the knowledge and experience gained from this process was used at other weapons disposal facilities and will be shares with other nations seeking technologies to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles. "Completion of the VX land mine campaign, the last of the Johnston Island chemical weapons stockpile, paves the way for the Army to close its doors at JACADS," said James Bacon, the Army's program manager for Chemical Demilitarization (PMCD). Before the facility is closed, the military must dispose of secondary waste produced during disposal operations. Chemical Agent Identification Sets that were shipped from Guam remain to be destroyed. The Army is now working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to refine the procedures for safe destruction of these sets. Closure is scheduled to take up to 33 months.

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WTO PROTEST VETERANS VOW TO FIGHT ON

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - On the one year anniversary of the massive protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, Washington, some of the activists involved said Thursday they will continue the fight. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, and Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, announced plans to carry on the fight for global fairness launched last year during the Seattle Summit of the WTO. November 30th marks the anniversary of the coalition of "turtles and teamsters" formed to protest the WTO's neglect of labor and environmental concerns in global trade pacts. Rallies, marches and other protests were held in cities across the U.S. to mark the anniversary.

"Together with our coalition partners in the religious, student, consumer and family farm organizations, we have put the issues of workers' rights, environmental protection, sustainable development and democracy on the table of the globalization debate," said Sweeney. "The tens of thousands of people who came together peacefully on the streets of Seattle one year ago signaled the beginning of an international movement that is gaining strength and momentum as it moves forward." The two organizations plan to deepen their cooperation by organizing joint town hall meetings, visits with elected officials, and other activities over the next year. "We have only just begun to fight for global fairness," said Pope. "The Sierra Club pledges to work with our labor allies to carry the spirit of Seattle to America's main streets. In the coming year, we will organize citizens across the country to join the effort to make trade clean, green, and fair."

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STUDENT SUMMIT DIVES INTO OCEAN ISSUES

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 1, 2000 (ENS) - The New England Aquarium, in partnership with the National Geographic Society, Coastal America (a consortium of federal agencies) and the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, is hosting a landmark student Ocean Summit today. This event welcomes students from schools across Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The primary goal of the conference, entitled "Here Today, Here Tomorrow: A Geographic Focus on Conservation," is to engage these 60 young people in debating some of the complex issues related to protecting ocean areas. Of particular interest is the new Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located about 25 miles east of Boston. The conference features talks by renowned environmental experts including ocean explorer and scientist Sylvia Earle; Dan Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuaries Program; and Bill Hubbard, chair of the New England Coastal America team.

After welcoming remarks from Aquarium president Jerry Schubel and a screening of the interactive "Storm Over Stellwagen" program, students split into small groups, mixing students from different schools. Each group represented one of the major stakeholders: fishermen, conservationists, general public, whalewatching industry, transportation and waste disposal. Each group had a facilitator and a professional who is an expert in that area. After discussing the issues, the small groups reported to a panel of environmental experts. This provided an opportunity for students to give feedback to national and local environmental leaders, and for students to hear about environmental issues from leaders in the field. The conference was funded by a grant from the National Geographic Society's Geographic Education Foundation, in collaboration with the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, Coastal America, its partner Federal agencies and the Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers.