AmeriScan: December 4, 2000

MIDWESTERN HIGHWAY PROJECTS GET STREAMLINES APPROVAL PROCESS

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Ten federal agencies and agencies of six states have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among 10 to streamline the development of highway projects in the Midwestern states while preserving environmental protections. The MOU is intended to reduce the time needed for environmental evaluation of federal aid highway projects in the Midwestern region, while assuring that the environment is protected and all environmental laws and regulations are satisfied, said officials of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agreement will help meet requirements of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which calls for a streamlined transportation planning process that promotes environmentally sound transportation investment choices.

"The ultimate outcome of this MOU is to improve mobility and safety and enhance the environment by working together with all our partners to improve coordination," said FHWA administrator Kenneth Wykle. "This partnership will help make our communities more livable and improve the quality of life for all." The MOU is a broad regional agreement under which individual state streamlining agreements are planned. The agreement establishes shared commitments among six midwestern states and 10 federal agencies to work together, resolve conflicts and apply performance measures, benchmarks and goals to make the highway project development process more efficient. "This MOU on streamlining is an important first step," said Francis Lyons, EPA Region 5 administrator. "We anticipate that this agreement will lead to state agreements that, when implemented, will lead to process improvements and on-the-ground environmental results." The MOU contains several strategies to assist the streamlining process. Examples include expansion of successful existing streamlining practices; better coordination of land use, growth, and transportation issues; alternative strategies to mitigate the environmental impacts of highways, and closer coordination of transportation planning with the environment. The MOU is available at the FHWA Midwestern Resource Center: http://mrc.fhwa.dot.gov.

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SCIENTISTS LOOK FOR OZONE RECOVERY

BOULDER, Colorado, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Scientists predict that the earth's ozone layer will make a gradual recovery over the next 50 years. For decades the ozone layer has been eroded by ozone depleting substances entering the stratosphere. Dr. Elizabeth Weatherhead, a University of Colorado researcher at the U. S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Air Resources Laboratory, and her colleagues have developed estimates of where ozone recovery trends are likely to occur around the world and how long it will take to detect these predicted trends. Only by detecting and analyzing the recovery, defined as both a decrease in ozone depleting substances and an increase in total column ozone, can scientists verify that the causes of ozone depletion have been identified and effective measures have been taken to keep the ozone layer intact.

Weatherhead and her team developed estimates for the time required to detect a fixed trend in ozone at various worldwide locations based on ozone measurements obtained from NASA's Nimbus 7 Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS). They used a computer model from the Goddard Space Flight Center to predict future ozone trends by latitude. The model showed that the largest recovery trends are expected in the Southern Hemisphere and at the polar regions. Ozone recovery is expected to be detected earliest in the Southern Hemisphere near New Zealand/eastern Australia and around southern Africa and southern South America, the researchers said. The first signs of recovery could be detected in about 15 years. Recovery may not be detected in parts of the Northern Hemisphere for at least 25 years.

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AVENTIS SUED OVER STARLINK MARKETING

ST. LOUIS, Illinois, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Farmers have filed a class action lawsuit against Aventis CropScience, the biotechnology company that developed StarLink corn. StarLink, a corn variety that is not approved for human consumption, has been found in a number of corn products in recent months, including taco shells, tortillas and chips. The suit accuses Aventis CropScience, a unit of Aventis S.A., of negligence in selling StarLink seed without informing farmers that the crop could not be sold for food uses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing Aventis's application for human food uses for StarLink corn. EPA is concerned that the corn could cause allergic reactions among some consumers.

The lawsuit charges Aventis with deliberately misleading farmers about the approval process for StarLink. The discovery of StarLink in food products has led to the recall of millions of items from grocery shelves. Farmers who planted StarLink along with traditional corn varities are discovering that their entire crops are considered contaminated with the genetically engineered corn. Because StarLink can only be sold as animal feed or for industrial purposes, which pay less than food grade corn, these farmers stand to lose thousands of dollars in profits. Grain elevators and corn processing plants are also having to reroute or discard millions of bushels of contaminated corn. Many overseas markets are now closed to U.S. corn due to fears of StarLink contamination. Aventis has already agreed to spend millions of dollars to buy up StarLink corn and compensate some farmers.

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BATTERY MAKER AGREES TO CLEAN UP LEAD POLLUTION

LAURELDALE, Pennsylvania, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Two environmental groups have settled their lawsuit against Exide Corporation, the world's largest automotive battery manufacturer. The L.E.A.D. Group of Berks County, a local nonprofit group, teamed up with the national Clean Water Action to sue the company over environmental violations and lead contamination around its Laureldale facility. The lawsuit alleged hundreds of violations of state and federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. As a result of the suit, an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that Exide and its subsidiary, General Battery Corporation, contributed to the handling, storage, treatment and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes which may present an "imminent and substantial endangerment" to human health or the environment surrounding the facility.

Under the terms of the settlement, Exide is required to:

"We are very pleased with the outcome of this case," said Nancy Tobias, president of L.E.A.D. Group of Berks County. "The settlement of this litigation means that we have accomplished what we set out to do - getting the lead contamination in our community cleaned up and protecting area children from toxic lead."

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NATIONAL CAMPAIGN SEEKS END TO PUBLIC LANDS GRAZING

RENO, Nevada, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Public lands advocates from the eleven western states, several other states and Canada, have launched a national campaign and organization to end livestock grazing on public lands. The advocates met last week in Reno to share experiences regarding the consequences of public lands grazing. "The native grasslands, shrublands, seeps, streams, forests and wildlife of the public lands have been damaged by livestock grazing, are threatened by ongoing livestock grazing, and can recover much of their original diversity, richness, and vigor if livestock are removed," said Mary O'Brien, a botanist and advocate for native canyon grasslands in eastern Oregon and western Idaho.

The conference adopted a declaration which notes the importance to the nation of wild and biologically diverse public lands, the adverse ecological and economic consequences of livestock grazing throughout the West, and the potential for restoring much of these lands if livestock are removed. "Our vision of the West is a place teeming with wildlife once again, and public lands are central to this," said Don Knutson, a Sacramento, California animal rights activist. Mike Hudak, director of Public Lands Without Livestock, a project of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs of Binghamton, New York, noted that, "This is a national issue. Taxpayer dollars are being used to prop up the private exploitation of our public lands to the detriment of the nation's wildlife. Animals and plants by the hundreds are being pushed onto threatened and endangered lists by livestock production." Symposium participants agreed to organize a follow up 2001 grazing conference, then returned home to continue their work to get cows and sheep off our public lands. The RangeNet 2000 Declaration is available at: http://www.rangenet.org/rn2k/declaration.html

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CENTRAL CALIFORNIA GETS FIRST COASTAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

GUADALUPE, California, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - The new 2,553 acre Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge - the first National Wildlife Refuge along the central California coast - was dedicated Sunday. The new refuge is located west of the town of Guadalupe, and is part of the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Ventura, California. Michael Spear, operations manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) California-Nevada Operations Office, said, "The formation and management of this new Refuge involves a unique collection of federal, state, non-governmental organizations and private individuals working together as partners. This dedication is our way of recognizing these partners who saw the opportunity and value in protecting and restoring these coastal dune habitats."

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is an important part of the largest coastal dune area in California and is one of the few remaining intact ecosystems of its type and size in the western U.S. The property is home to many threatened and endangered species. More than 200 species of migratory and resident birds have been identified in the refuge area. Other species found within the refuge include a number of federally listed endangered and threatened species, including the Western snowy plover, California least tern, and southern sea otter. The wetland areas within the refuge support endangered Gambels's watercress and marsh sandwort. Also dedicated was the Dunes Center, a non-profit visitor, education and research center which promotes conservation of the dune ecosystem and the cultural and history of the community of Guadalupe. The Center houses interpretive displays and exhibits of the flora, fauna, geology and geography of the dunes.

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LOUISIANA PROJECT TRAPS SEDIMENT TO PROTECT WETLANDS

ABBEVILLE, Louisiana, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - The Little Vermilion Bay Sediment Trapping Project, part of a 10 year old campaign to restore and protect coastal Louisiana, was dedicated Friday. The project was designed to protect the bay's shoreline from erosion, trap sediments for marshes and restore existing wetlands. The dedication was led by officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and drew local citizens and government officials, including Representative Chris John, a Democrat. "The restoration project at Little Vermilion Bay, provided for under the Breaux Act, is a great example of a successful federal/state partnership," said John. "Coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana have received much attention this past year, and we must continue to build upon partnerships and projects like Little Vermilion Bay, in order to protect our valuable coastline."

The Little Vermilion project features a series of marsh terraces, also called chevrons, designed to slow shoreline erosion and trap sediment. The 40 acres of chevrons have begun to allow marsh development through sediment accretion. The project also was designed to protect existing wetlands by reducing wave action in the shallow waters of the bay. Over the life of the project, officials estimate that 441 acres of wetlands will be created or protected. The project is located in the northwestern corner of Little Vermilion Bay in southern Vermilion Parish. The total project area is 964 acres, including 67 acres of marsh and 897 acres of water. "The goal of Little Vermilion and our other restoration projects here is to protect and restore ecologically valuable areas of coastal Louisiana for the benefit of fisheries, marine habitat and other important resources," said Captain Gary Petrae, acting deputy regional administrator for NMFS's Southeast regional office. "We plan to apply what we're learning here to future projects."

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ENGINEERED MICROBES COULD AID FUTURE CLEANUPS

BROOKHAVEN, New York, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Understanding the genetic makeup of microbes that thrive in polluted environments may one day help scientists engineer bacteria that can clean contaminants from soil. In a step toward that goal, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) has just released the draft gene sequence of one such toxin tolerant bug. The bacterium, known as Ralstonia metallidurans, is being deciphered by John Dunn and Geoffrey Hind, biologists at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory, in collaboration with scientists in Belgium and others at JGI. This bacterial strain was first isolated in 1976, from the sludge of a settling tank in Belgium that was polluted with high concentrations of heavy metals. Examination revealed that Ralstonia has two large plasmids - genetic material that is separate from the chromosomal genes necessary for ordinary cell function.

Dunn said these plasmids house genes that make Ralstonia resistant to the harmful effects of a wide array of heavy metals. "Having a draft sequence of the Ralstonia genome, which contains some 3,000 genes, will make manipulation of these naturally existing resistance factors much more practicable," said Dunn. "Eventually, we'll want to understand how these genes are regulated under a variety of growth conditions and in different environments to see how they might be applied in bioremediation." Scientists might be able to transfer the heavy metal resistant genes from Ralstonia into other microbes that decompose organic pollutants. Or the scientists might use Ralstonia as a host for other bacterial genes that would enable it to break down a variety of pollutants. In either case, the result would be bacterial strains with a combination of traits, ones that can tolerate heavy metals in a polluted environment while digesting organic contaminants to convert them to harmless forms. "Here's a bacterium that potentially could be used as a tool to help us clean up the environment and to monitor how well we're accomplishing that goal," said Dunn.

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ANGEL FORUM PRESENTS ECO-FRIENDLY INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES

BOSTON, Massachusetts, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Private investors seeking environmentally friendly opportunities should check out the Angel Forum to be held Wednesday in Boston. The "Angels for the Environment" forum, sponsored by The Environmental Capital Network (ECN) and the Investors Circle, will showcase 15 early stage companies from the innovative energy and environmental sectors. The companies were selected from over 50 applicants for their great promise and growth possibilities. The presenting companies all have proven technologies and business models led by management teams with strong track records, the ECN says. The ECN is featuring companies looking for between $500 thousand and $4 million to build production capabilities, expand sales capacity and grow revenues.

Presenting companies will include: off-grid energy services and finance; online marketplaces for solar energy, waste management, and green building design; international market development and distribution; recycling of building materials; natural biological pesticides and fungicides; and several other innovative energy deals. The Environmental Capital Network (ECN) offers specialized services that introduce individual, professional and corporate investors to early and expansion stage companies and assists firms commercializing a wide range of industrial processes, energy and environmental technologies, products and services. More information is available at: http://www.ecn-capital.net