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Friday, November 22, 2002

Food Travels Far to Reach Your Table

Washington, DC, (ENS) - As families travel across the United States next week to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, many will sit down to eat food that has traveled even farther - between 1,500 and 2,500 miles (2,500 and 4,000 kilometers) from farm to table. A new study by the Worldwatch Institute details the lengthy journeys that much of the nation's food supply now takes, finding a growing separation between the sources and destinations of American food.

[Read More...]

By Cat Lazaroff

Posted by Richard
11/22/2002 05:39:05 PM | PermaLink

Thursday, November 21, 2002

U.S. Eyeing More Oil Exploration in Alaska Reserve

Anchorage, Alaska (Reuters) - The Bush administration is considering loosening Clinton-era policies that limited oil development on some environmentally sensitive areas of a federal reserve on Alaska's North Slope, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's top Alaska official said on Thursday.

Changes may be made in the management of oil drilling on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), BLM Alaska Director Henri Bisson told a business group.

"We would propose to revisit several issues, including the areas that are currently available for leasing in NPR-A northeast," Bisson said at the annual conference of the Resource Development Council for Alaska in Anchorage.

The protected areas are believed to have high oil potential. A decision may come in 2004 on whether to open them up for development, Bisson said.

His news was welcomed by a round of applause from the pro-industry audience.

The Clinton administration opened the western North Slope reserve to oil drilling after a long industry hiatus in the area. But oil companies had been disappointed that certain segments were kept off-limits to drilling because of environmental concerns.

The Interior Department in 1999 held the first NPR-A lease sale in 15 years, and companies paid $104.6 million in bids for 33 tracts. Bidding was dominated by Arco Alaska Inc. and BP Plc.


The sale area, the 4-million-acre (1.62-million-hectare) northeast corner of the 23-million-acre (9.3-million-hectare) reserve, excluded most of vast Teshekpuk Lake, considered critical habitat for migrating birds, and limited development on other areas classified as important for migrating caribou and other wildlife.

Bisson said exploratory drilling in the reserve so far, dominated by Arco Alaska and its successor companies, Phillips and ConocoPhillips, has been conducted responsibly. That has encouraged the idea of expanded leasing, he said.

"From an environmental standpoint, we've very happy with what's been happening up there," he said after his speech. "We think we can put more flexibility into our program as a result, now that we know what's been going on."

Bisson told the conference audience that oil production from the reserve could be on the horizon. He said the BLM and ConocoPhillips have been discussing possible full-scale development of discoveries announced last year.

"If a plan was submitted within the next month we are committed to completing the environmental-impact statement (and) permitting process by next July," he said. "If the decision is made to allow development, BLM would anticipate the first production from NPR-A to be in 2007."

In the meantime, interest in leasing continues, he said.

The BLM last June held a second lease sale for the reserve's northeast portion, netting $63.8 million in bids for 60 tracts. Bidders included France's TotalFinaElf and Canada's EnCana Corp. as well as Phillips and partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp.


The agency is tentatively planning more lease sales in 2004, perhaps including other regions in the reserve, Bisson said.

The petroleum reserve, west of the Kuparuk oil field, was established in 1923 by President Warren Harding to provide a source of energy for the nation's military forces. Despite sporadic exploration since the 1940s, there has never been commercial oil development there.

New interest in the petroleum reserve was piqued after Arco in 1995 announced discovery of a major oil find on state land on the area's eastern border.

That discovery, called Alpine, is now the westernmost producing oil field on the North Slope. It is estimated to hold at least 430 million recoverable barrels and is producing up to 100,000 barrels a day. ConocoPhillips is the operator and majority owner, and Anadarko holds a minority interest.

Recent exploration and successes in and around Alpine prompted the U.S. Geological Survey to more than quadruple its estimate of technically recoverable oil in the reserve. The new estimate, released in May, predicts a mean value of 9.3 billion technically recoverable barrels. The previous estimate, 2.1 billion barrels, was more than 20 years old.

By Yereth Rosen

Posted by Richard
11/21/2002 07:47:37 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Suit Seeks to Block Burning of Chemical Arms

Birmingham, Ala. -- An alliance of environmental and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit here today in a last-ditch effort to block the Army from burning tons of chemical weapons in a populated area.

The suit demands that the Army complete more environmental studies before proceeding with its plan to incinerate thousands of old shells containing nerve gas, mustard gas and other deadly agents at the Anniston Army Depot. The lawsuit contends that the plan should be halted so scientists can consider recently discovered, less risky alternatives.

The Army plans to begin destroying the weapons early next year. To stop the project, one of the issues the alliance must prove is that the weapons disposal poses an "imminent danger" to the community.

"To place this burden on us is unacceptable," said Brenda Lindell, a homemaker who has been active in local causes in Anniston, a city of 24,000 people 58 miles east of Birmingham. "If there is an accident, there is no way to protect us. What about our children? What about our elderly? What about those of us who like to be outside?"

To help make Anniston residents feel better, local officials said they would pass out gas masks and duct tape to seal homes. That made most people feel worse.

"They know it's not safe or they wouldn't be doing do that," said the Rev. Abraham Woods, president of the Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "And I hate to play the race card, but it's always in communities with high proportions of minorities that the government is committed to using outdated, dangerous technologies."

Anniston is about half white and half black.

The Army, which houses 9 percent of the nation's chemical weapon stockpile at the Anniston Army Depot, says that its process of burning chemical weapons at 2,700 degrees is completely safe and that no fumes that could hurt the public will be released.

"The project has already safely eliminated 25 percent of the nation's total stockpile, including 38 percent of all munitions using the current technology," said Michael B. Abrams, spokesman for the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.

Local officials, though, say they are not ready for the burning to begin. They are still waiting to obtain bids for gas masks and other equipment. The project has already been delayed several months.

Opponents of the plan called a news conference today on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Birmingham, where the suit was filed, but the turnout was sparse.

Several environmental lawyers accused the Army of taking advantage of what they called Alabama's lax environmental laws and its image as backwoods and poor.

"They're treating us like a third world country," said Byron Bart Slawson, who helped draft the suit.

There are other plants that burn old chemical weapons, including ones on Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean and at Tooele, Utah, in the Great Salt Lake Desert. But none are in populated areas. The Anniston plant is in a hilly region surrounded by churches, parks, schools, fast-food restaurants and homes.

Despite the repeated assurances from Army officials, people here expect trouble. They have been told that a shrill whoop-whoop is the most serious of several public-address siren tones, signaling a major disaster. They have studied evacuation plans.

Army officers now acknowledge that more than 800 mortar shells and M-55 rockets are leaking, though only trace amounts, of deadly nerve gas.

The lawsuit, which seeks a preliminary injunction against the Army, is similar to suits filed in other states, including one pending in Oregon, but few have prevailed.

The Anniston suit has three parts, with the first arguing that the government is obligated, under federal environmental law, to research safer alternatives to burning weapons.

In the past few years, scientists have discovered how to neutralize weapons with chemicals, but the last environmental impact study the Army did for the Anniston plant was in 1995, before much of that research was done.

The second part of the suit says burning weapons creates "imminent and substantial endangerment to public health." The third says the Army "knowingly misrepresented and underestimated the risks and impacts" of the emissions on minority populations.

Mr. Abrams, the Army spokesman, declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

By Jeffrey Gettleman

Posted by Richard
11/20/2002 09:33:59 PM | PermaLink

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

It Is As If We Have Learned Nothing...or Did We Learn Anything?

Here we go again. Dr. Strangelove, aka Don Rumsfeld, dodged a question put to him on CSPAN last week about the use of nuclear weapons and then came out two days ago with a statement that "there are those that consider" the use of small, bunker-busting nuclear weapons as the only option to properly attack regimes and arsenals that are buried far below ground (e.g. like Washington D.C.'s shadow government?).

The sub-kiloton nukes (sometimes as large as a couple kilotons) would be smaller than the 15-20KT blasts that were used during WWII; but what Rumsfeld and the military conveniently forget to offer is that virtually all non-military scientists have declared that this is a horrible idea and not at all safe. A nuclear weapon is still a nuclear weapon --- and most of its damage is truly done after the blast has exterminated everthing in the surrounding area, with the release of fallout and collateral radiation (that takes thousands of years to return to normal). The military suggests that all this radiation would be buried underground and not released into the air -- as was done in the hundred or so above-air tests done in Nevada (one that was visible as far away as Los Angeles) -- and so the effects of the radiation would be very minimal. However, this is false for two reasons: 1) we saw even in below ground nuclear testing that occasionally "vents" would form that would release toxic clouds high into the air like a radioactive geyser, and 2) the notion of radioactivity being safe below ground is a concept from the 1950s, when people weren't knowledgeable about issues like the "water table" and that all this toxicity simply leeches into the surrounding land, mutating life, and carrying on its legacy in cancerous abortions.

As if to prove that this technology is feasible and will be used, the military would now like to begin nuclear testing in Nevada. Besides the fact that this is not their land, and that they are illegally occupying native lands, this is a horrible idea when seen through the lens of the prior testing done there. Let the military come clean about what has actually been done -- to soldiers, civilians, native peoples, and plant and animal life as a result of these tests -- and not just within the Proving Grounds area, but across the US and beyond. For instance, a recent US Dept. of Health report finally began to wonder if the amount of nuclear testing in Nevada could have traceable medical affects within the population at large. It's findings: yes, it can and it has, with an increase in cancers and thyroid problems as the main ailments. While it was not the purpose of the study, estimates pointed towards an expectation of many tens of thousands, if not hundred thousands, of deaths as a result of the nuclear tests within America alone.
U.S. official wants review of nuclear test freeze

By Jonathan Wright, Reuters

WASHINGTON — A senior U.S. military official has recommended the United States consider resuming nuclear tests, which were suspended in 1992, according to a memorandum made available Monday.

In the Oct. 21 memo to members of the Nuclear Weapons Council, Defense Undersecretary Edward Aldridge said, "It would ... be desirable to assess the potential benefits that could be obtained from a return to nuclear testing with regard to weapon safety, security, and reliability."

A leading arms control specialist, Daryl Kimball, said the memo was another sign the Bush administration is moving toward a resumption of nuclear weapons tests, a step that would probably generate an international outcry.

When the tests ended, the United States said it was confident it could manage and maintain its stockpile of thousands of nuclear warheads through computer simulations and "sub-critical" tests that do not produce nuclear explosions.

Aldridge, who is undersecretary of defense for acquisition, logistics, and technology, argued in the memo that the United States faces "major challenges" in maintaining the reliability of its nuclear arsenal and deterrent. "We will need to refurbish several aging weapon systems, but the limitations of the nuclear weapon complex will not permit us to perfectly replicate the original designs. We must also be prepared to respond to new nuclear weapon requirements in the future," Aldridge added.

He did not specify any new requirements, but in a review of nuclear policy in 2001, the administration said it was assessing the need for weapons to penetrate bunkers and nuclear warheads that reduce collateral damage.


Aldridge appeared to be preparing the groundwork for new tests by saying that nuclear experts may have been overconfident about their ability to assess weapon components. Aldridge made a series of recommendations for reviewing the system of stockpile management that began when the United States gave up testing.

One suggestion was the nuclear weapons laboratories "readdress the value of a low-yield testing program."

Kimball, who is executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said, "I think this is yet another sign that some in the Pentagon are trying to move the White House toward a resumption of testing. He is saying two things: that the labs need to be prepared to respond to new nuclear weapons requirements in the future and that maintaining confidence in the existing arsenal will be very challenging."

The Bush administration has asked Congress for money to improve the readiness of the nuclear test sites and to explore the idea of bunker-busting weapons.

U.S. officials say the administration has not made any decision to resume nuclear tests. But the administration has abandoned its predecessor's commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban all nuclear tests in perpetuity.

Posted by Richard
11/19/2002 07:59:00 AM | PermaLink

It's Back: Controversial Navy Sonar Cleared for Limited Testing

In a related story, I dreamt of whales beaching themselves last night...
San Francisco (ENS) - A federal judge has lifted a worldwide ban on the U.S. Navy's experimental new sonar system, clearing the way for limited testing of the controversial system. The judge approved an agreement reached by the Navy and a coalition of environmental groups who seek to limit the sonar's potential impacts on marine mammals.

Friday's agreement will allow limited testing of the Navy's Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System Low Frequency Active sonar (SURTASS LFA) while the federal court in San Francisco considers a lawsuit challenging the legality of the system. Conservation groups have argued that the federal government has not done enough to ensure that the new, high intensity sonar system will not hurt or kill whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles with its loud signals.

Late last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth LaPorte had issued a preliminary injunction stopping the deployment of the sonar system, which relies on very loud, low frequency sound to detect submarines at great distances. On Friday, she signed a temporary agreement between lawyers for the Navy and a coalition of conservation groups, allowing limited testing of the sonar system under strictly defined conditions.

The Navy originally had planned to deploy SURTASS LFA across about 14 million miles of the North Pacific by the end of last summer. The Navy developed the system to protect warships against super quiet diesel submarines, owned by Russia and other nations.

Under the agreement signed Friday, the Navy will launch the system in about one million square miles of ocean around the Mariana Islands, avoiding to coasts of the Philippines and Japan.

"What the Navy sought - and had been permitted for - was 14 million square miles of Pacific Ocean," said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the groups that has challenged SURTASS LFA in court.

"What we ultimately agreed upon, after winning the preliminary injunction, was somewhere between 10 -15 percent of that - in an area of the Pacific Ocean that our experts unanimously told us was among the least productive sections of the much larger permitted area," Reynolds added.

The NRDC agreed to the limited deployment after concluding that Judge LaPorte was unlikely to authorize a complete ban on the sonar system while the court heard continuing arguments in the case. After issuing her temporary injunction, LaPorte had ordered the Navy and conservation groups to work out a compromise that would allow testing to begin.

"The very real risk of not reaching an agreement was that the court was not prepared to order anything close to the amount of geographic exclusion that the Navy finally accepted," Reynolds explained, adding that the NRDC and the other environmental plaintiffs will still seek to get the Navy's permit for SURTASS LFA "invalidated on a permanent basis as soon as possible."

On July 15, the Navy received a permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to "harass marine mammals" in the course of operating SURTASS LFA, and was approved to deploy two ships that use the new sonar system.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, which issued the permit, concluded that the sonar would have "no more than a negligible impact on the affected species," as long as it was operated at least 12 miles from shore, and was shut down if its operators spotted whales or other sensitive species.

But environmental groups argued that the survival of entire populations of whales and other marine mammals may be jeopardized by the deployment of this sonar, which has been measured at 140 decibels 300 miles away from the sound's source.

"From a scientific point of view, there is very little question that, given the right set of circumstances, active sonar can kill marine life," says Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society of the United States, one of the coplaintiffs.

"The frightening thing about LFA is that we're flying blind, because the Navy has never seriously applied the lessons from previous strandings to its LFA system," said Rose.

The mass stranding of multiple whale species in the Bahamas in March 2000 and the simultaneous disappearance of the region's entire population of beaked whales has been linked to another type of Navy sonar. A federal investigation identified testing of a U.S. Navy mid-frequency active sonar system as the cause.

In late September, new mass strandings occurred in the Canary Islands as a result of NATO military sonar, and in the Gulf of California two whales died as the likely result of an acoustic geophysical survey using loud air guns.

Under Friday's agreement, the Navy can immediately begin testing SURTASS LFA in the deep waters of the western Pacific, in a region that is believed to avoid major whale migration routes, feeding areas and breeding grounds. The testing area excludes a marine protected area around the Mariana Islands.

The compromise will "minimize the exposure to a long list of endangered and depleted species," said the NRDC's Reynolds.

The U.S. Navy's SURTASS LFA website is available at:

Posted by Richard
11/19/2002 07:30:31 AM | PermaLink

Monday, November 18, 2002

Leonid Meteor Shower: Meteor Event of the Shower?

Important Note: The Leonids will peak between 11 p.m. Monday and daybreak Tuesday morning. Please read detailed predictions carefully to choose prime viewing times for your location.

One of the most anticipated meteor storms of modern times is about to send two flurries of comet debris raining down through Earth’s atmosphere. Peak activity for the Leonid meteor shower is due to arrive between now and when the Sun comes up Tuesday.

In the parlance of hurricane forecasters, the storm is nearly upon us and all preparations should be rushed to completion.

The Leonids won’t produce a dramatic shower again until at least 2033. The next time the annual event will perform as well as this year is likely to be 2098 or later, astronomers believe.

Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society figures that all adds up to 2002 being a must-see event.

"This may be the last opportunity for many of us to see a true meteor storm," Lunsford told "The Leonids of 2033 and 2066 are predicted to be weak in comparison to the displays of the last few years."

Just go out

Fortunately, there’s not much you need to do, other than to dress warmly. Most important, know when to go out.

Residents of the northeastern United States and Canada have a chance to see significant numbers of meteors from the first peak late Monday night, low on the eastern horizon. These so-called earthgrazers would be visible around 11 p.m. EST Monday evening, when the first outburst arrives (equal to 0400 Universal Time on Tuesday). Europeans will be center stage for this initial storm should plan to get up early and be in position well before the predicted peak.

All interested North American viewers should plan mostly for the second peak, however, slated to occur around 5:30 a.m. EST (2:30 PST) on Tuesday. Rates could pick up significantly, with sharp bursts of activity, at least an hour before the predicted peak.

Smart skywatchers will go out at least 30 minutes before the expected peak and staying at least 30 minutes later or until dawn. Diehard meteor watchers will be out all morning.

Easterners will get the best view, weather permitting, but the show should be grand across the North American continent, astronomers say. Near peak times, expect six to 10 shooting stars per minute, possibly more, under dark skies. Rates will be lower in cities and bright suburbs.

Which brings up the other important preparation: Select a good location.

Turn out the lights

The darker the viewing site the better. Get out of town if you can. Turn off porch lights. The Moon is nearly full and will outshine many fainter meteors, so blocking it with a tree or tall building will prove helpful. [Viewing Tips]

"Even with the Full Moon, this year's Leonids will probably be better than any other for the next hundred years," said Don Yeomans, an astronomer at NASA (news - web sites)'s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "If you're ever going to see them, this might be the year to try."

Already, some early reports are rolling in. A Kansas observer, Bert Matous, reported to an amateur meteor observing website called Meteorobs that he'd spotted 11 faint Leonid meteors on Sunday morning.

Radio observers -- not hampered by poor weather -- reported the typical expected handful of Leonids and other meteors over the weekend. NASA scientists aboard an Air Force jet, observing the shower from above, reported spotting a bright fireball during a practice run Sunday morning over Europe.

The Leonids tail off rapidly after the Tuesday morning crest in activity. Only a trickle of shooting star might be visible Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

People in Asia and the Southern Hemisphere will not see either of the outbursts but could witness the typical Leonid output of a dozen or more shooting stars per hour in pre-dawn skies. The Leonid shower gets its name from the constellation Leo, from which the meteors appear to emanate. The meteors are bits of dust left behind by repeated passes of a comet called Tempel-Tuttle.

By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer,

Posted by Richard
11/18/2002 09:37:50 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Navy to Limit Sonar Testing Thought to Hurt Sea Mammals

Citing concerns about marine life, the Navy has agreed to temporarily scale back the testing of a new sonar system designed to detect enemy submarines.

Posted by Richard
11/17/2002 12:40:34 PM | PermaLink

Some Fur Now Flies in Unlikely Directions by Michael Janofsky, NY Times

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has collected thousands of used fur coats in recent years and given them to homeless people.

Posted by Richard
11/17/2002 12:39:32 PM | PermaLink