UPI NewsTrack Health and Science News

Kerry, Lieberman offer climate bill

WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) — U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced a compromise energy and climate change bill they hope will find bipartisan support needed for passage.

Kerry, D-Mass., and Lieberman, Ind-Conn., couched their argument for passage in terms of national security and potential economic growth.

“The American Power Act will finally change our nation’s energy policy from a national weakness into a national strength,” Kerry said in a statement announcing the measure. “We can finally tell the world that America is ready to take back our role as the world’s clean-energy leader. This is a bill for energy independence after a devastating oil spill, a bill to hold polluters accountable, a bill for billions of dollars to create the next generation of jobs, and a bill to end America’s addiction to foreign oil and protect the air our children breathe and the water they drink.”

Kerry noted the House has already passed its version and support has been growing in the Senate.

Lieberman called this version “fundamentally different” from previous energy and climate bills.

“Our bill will create jobs and transform the American economy; make our country more energy independent, which in turn will strengthen our national security; and improve the quality of the air we breathe,” he said.

The Washington Post said the Kerry-Lieberman bill differs from the House bill in several ways, including provisions for carbon reductions from specific sectors of the economy rather than a nationwide cap and greater incentives for new new nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had bailed on the effort to write a bipartisan bill, said in a statement on his Web site that while he hadn’t seen the changes Kerry and Lieberman had made, he looks forward to reviewing the bill.

“We should move forward in a reasoned, thoughtful manner and in a political climate which gives us the best chance at success,” Graham said. “The problems created by the historic oil spill in the gulf, along with the uncertainty of immigration politics, have made it extremely difficult for transformational legislation in the area of energy and climate to garner bipartisan support at this time.”

Biofuel combustion research needed

LIVERMORE, Calif., May 12 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve embarked on needed research into the chemistry of biofuel combustion.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories in California say a better understanding of the key elements of biofuel combustion will be important in developing the next generation of alternative fuels.

Sandia researcher Nils Hansen and Lawrence Livermore scientist Charles Westbrook lay out the diverse and complex chemical reactions of biofuel combustion in a paper published in the May 10 edition of the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Hansen and Westbrook point out that while bioethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel are gaining interest as alternatives to oil-based transportation fuels, little research has been done on what happens in biofuel combustion.

In their paper, the pair examine, for the first time, the characteristic aspects of the chemical pathways in the combustion of potential biofuels.

With funding from the U.S. Energy Department, the researchers, along with colleagues in Germany, China and the United States, used a combination of laser spectroscopy, mass spectrometry and flame chemistry modeling to explore the decomposition and oxidation mechanisms of certain biofuels, and the formation of harmful or toxic emissions.

“To understand the associated combustion reactions and to identify recurring reaction patterns, it is important to study prototypical variants of potential biofuels,” Westbrook said.

Expert: Dispersants don’t solve problem

SOLOMONS, Md., May 12 (UPI) — Large-scale use of chemicals to disperse the massive Gulf of Mexico oil slick creates pollution trade-offs, a University of Maryland expert says.

So far, at least 325,000 gallons of dispersants have been added to the gulf waters to help break up the 5,000 barrels of crude oil that have leaked into the gulf each day since the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

But dispersants don’t eliminate the pollution problem, says Carys Mitchelmore, an environmental chemist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Solomons. While less toxic than earlier generations of dispersants, the chemicals only succeed in changing which marine and other wildlife are affected — fewer animals on the beaches and more in other parts of the ocean and at the sea floor, Mitchelmore says in the journal Nature.

“It’s a trade-off, and no one will tell you using dispersants won’t have an effect,” said Mitchelmore, co-author of a 2005 U.S. National Academies report on dispersants. “You’re trading one species for another.”

In a yet-to-be published study, for example, Mitchelmore and her colleagues found soft corals exposed to crude oil and the Corexit 9500 dispersant currently in use experienced significantly lower growth rates.

“The long-term effects are really unknown,” Mitchelmore said. “The dispersant has inherent toxicity. And these oil droplets tend to be the same sort of size as food particles for filter-feeding organisms.”

While dispersants had been applied primarily at the ocean surface, robots are being employed to inject them as the oil leaks from the ocean floor a mile deep, a method never tried before and one the Environmental Protection Agency says will have a “still widely unknown” impact on the environment, the Nature article reports.

Genomes may help chart human migrations

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, May 12 (UPI) — Breakthroughs in genetic science will, before too long, help researchers chart the migration patterns of ancient humans, experts in Denmark and elsewhere say.

Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen says researchers are comparing ancient genomes with those of modern-day humans to gain insights into human evolution and migration.

“For the first time, ancient and modern genetic research is going hand in hand,” Willerslev said in an article published in the journal Nature. “It is really a fantastic time.”

Jeffrey Long of the University of Mexico in Albuquerque says the hope is ancient-modern genome comparisons can one day be used to chart splits in human populations and correlate them with climatic changes.

“I call this molecular stratigraphy,” Long said of the effort to trace prehistoric migration routes. “I then want to use this relative chronology of genetic events to compare to the palaeoclimate of Earth’s biomes.”

Willerslev said genomes will allow researchers to test theories that have been debated for a century.

“In the next five years, we will see a whole spectrum of discoveries,” he said.

“I honestly believe this new era will change our view of human evolution.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.