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“No More Wilderness” Policy is No More

The Obama administration plans to repeal a Bush-era policy that prevented undeveloped acres of land from being recommended for federal wilderness protection.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that his agency will undo the “No More Wilderness” policy, which was enacted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2003.

Congress remains the only governmental body capable of designating new “Wilderness Areas,” but the order will allow U.S. Bureau of Land Management field members to protect areas with “wilderness characteristics,” MSNBC reported.

“Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike, and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf,” Salazar said in a statement.

The 2003 policy was adopted in an out-of-court deal between Norton and then-Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to remove federal protections for 2.6 million acres in the Rocky Mountain region. The move allowed oil and gas drilling, mining, and other commercial development on land under consideration as wilderness areas.

“I am proud to sign a secretarial order that restores protections for the wild lands that the Bureau of Land Management oversees on behalf of the American people,” Salazar said Thursday in Denver, according to MSNBC.

The policy shift creates a new management category called “Wild Lands,” which will be determined through a public process.

“Because the ‘Wild Lands’ designation can be made and later modified through a public administrative process, it differs from ‘Wilderness Areas,’ which are designated by Congress and cannot be modified except by legislation, and ‘Wilderness Study Areas,’ which BLM typically must manage to protect wilderness characteristics until Congress determines whether to permanently protect them as Wilderness Areas or modify their management,” Salazar explained.

Congress will still make the final call on whether areas of land receive permanent wilderness protection. The BLM has six months to submit new criteria for wilderness evaluations.

Posted in Conservation, Courts & Litigation, Parks by Region, Policies, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

Los Angeles Rain Causes Mudslides, Flooding, Evacuations

Heavy rain hammered Southern California relentlessly this week, prompting Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger to declare a state of emergency for six counties in the Los Angeles area.

The torrential downpour caused major flooding in the Orange County coastal community of Laguna Beach, forcing officials to close the downtown area, which was several feet underwater.

Police evacuated several thousand residents in areas near Los Angeles in danger of mudslides, UPI reported.

A rain-swollen hillside collapsed onto a busy highway road east of Los Angeles, AP said.

In San Diego and southern Orange County, about 13,000 lost power, San Diego Gas & Electric said.

Wednesday’s storm followed nearly a week’s worth of heavy rain in the region.

According to UPI, the severe flooding caused sewage and petroleum leaks in San Diego, Fresno, and La Mesa.

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Wastewater & Runoff, Water Pollution, Water, Ecosystems & Agriculture0 Comments

Wind Energy: The Promise of City Turbines

Opponents of wind power keep a store of questions on hand about the method’s relevancy as an alternative energy source. Won’t it disrupt migratory bird patterns? Is it really enough support our needs?

And then there’s that other question, the one that’s less practical but still a prevalent concern: Won’t it look bad?

Sometimes it seems like that’s wind power’s biggest adversary–its own unsightly aesthetic. Challengers protest that fleets of turbines in rural areas mar the beauty of the landscape. They are, to most folks anyway, an eyesore, a disruptor of idyllic scenery.

But maybe all that’s about to change. Cleanfield Energy, an Ontario-based renewable energy company, recently spoke of its plans to install wind turbines in urban areas all over the world.

While traditional wind farms in remote areas require the construction of towers and transmission lines to transport power back to the market, the company’s urban turbines can be placed on rooftops to directly power city buildings.

“The market potential for urban wind is quite massive,” CEO Tony Verrelli said in a press release.

Urban windmills, called Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs), have already been installed in the U.S., Canada, Slovenia, China and Ireland, and they are gaining popularity, the company says.

“We expect to be in a number of new markets in the months ahead,” Verrelli said.

Posted in Air, Atmosphere, & Weather, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Wind0 Comments

Oil Spill: U.S. Sues BP and Others for Deepwater Horizon Disaster

The Department of Justice is suing BP and eight other companies over the catastrophic oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico region last April.

The United States filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans Wednesday, alleging that federal safety violations contributed to the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

“We will not hesitate to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those who are responsible for this spill,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press conference, according to the New York Times.

On April 20th, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, killing the eleven workers onboard and leaving millions of gallons of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from the well it was drilling. The leak was not sealed until July.

The 27-page complaint requests that the companies be held liable for removal costs and damages. While it does not mention a specific amount, the suit could cost BP and the other companies tens of billions of dollars, The New York Times reports.

“This is welcome and long overdue news to the fishermen and others who depend upon the Gulf of Mexico for their lives and livelihoods,” Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization, said in a statement, according to UPI.

Aside from BP, the lawsuit also involves: Anadarko Exploration & Production LP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH, Transocean Holdings LLC, Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc., and Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and QBE Underwriting Ltd.-Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036.

Posted in Drilling for Oil, Ecosystems, Fish, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Water Pollution, Well Drilling0 Comments

McDonald’s Faces Class Action over Happy Meals

McDonald’s Faces Class Action over Happy Meals

McDonald’s Corp. is facing a class action lawsuit that claims the fast-food giant baits young children into buying nutritionally poor meals.

California mother of two Monet Parham says she filed the lawsuit in conjunction with The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Wednesday in San Francisco. She believes the chain restaurant violates several consumer policy laws by marketing Happy Meals directly to young children.

“What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that’s designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters,” Parham said, according to The Associated Press. “For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald’s to stop interfering with my family.”

The suit doesn’t seek damages, but aims to convince the court to stop McDonald’s from advertising meals that contain toys to California children.

McDonald’s says it is ready to fight the suit.

“We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food,” company spokesperson Bridget Coffing said in a statement. “We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet.”

San Francisco recently barred the burger chain from including toys in meals with more than 600 calories or more than 35 of their calories from fat.

“I am concerned about the health of my children and feel that McDonald’s should be a very limited part of their diet and their childhood experience,” Parham said.

Steve Gardner, litigation director for the CSPI, says that a typical Happy Meal containing a cheeseburger, fries and a Sprite has 640 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat and nine teaspoons of sugar.

Posted in Children’s Health & Parenting, Courts & Litigation, Food & Nutrition0 Comments

Giant, Distant Galaxy Cluster Found

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 14 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they’ve discovered the biggest galaxy cluster ever seen, a massive grouping of hundreds of galaxies 7 billion light-years from Earth.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics found the cluster using the South Pole Telescope, a Harvard release said.

“This galaxy cluster wins the heavyweight title. It’s among the most massive clusters ever found at this distance,” said Mark Brodwin, a Smithsonian astronomer at the center.

Because it’s 7 billion light-years distant, we’re seeing it as it was 7 billion years ago when the universe was only half its present age and our solar system didn’t exist yet, researchers say.

“This cluster is full of ‘old’ galaxies, meaning that it had to come together very early in the universe’s history — within the first 2 billion years,” Brodwin said.

The Harvard-Smithsonian team said it expects to find many more giant galaxy clusters once the South Pole Telescope survey is completed.

“After many years of effort, these early successes are very exciting. The full SPT survey, to be completed next year, will rewrite the book on the most massive clusters in the early universe,” Brodwin said.

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.

Posted in History, Other, Solar0 Comments

U.N. Hails Eradication of a Cattle Disease

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 14 (UPI) — For the first time in history, human efforts will have wiped out an animal disease in the wild, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says.

The infectious viral disease rinderpest will soon be officially eradicated in an ambitious worldwide effort, a U.N. release said Thursday.

Smallpox is the only other disease successfully eradicated by human efforts, the FAO said.

Rinderpest, from the German for “cattle plague,” does not directly affect humans, but the swift, massive losses of cattle and other hoofed animals it causes has wreaked havoc on agriculture for thousands of years, resulting in famine and economic destruction.

At one point its spread extended from Scandinavia to the Cape of Good Hope and from Africa’s Atlantic shore to the Philippine archipelago.

Outbreaks have also been reported in Brazil and Australia.

The last known outbreak of rinderpest occurred in Kenya in 2001.

FAO headed a global effort to study the plague to help farmers and others recognize and control the disease, start vaccination campaigns and ultimately eradicate it.

“The control and elimination of rinderpest has always been a priority for the organization since its early days in its mission to defeat hunger and strengthen global food security,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said.

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.

Posted in History, Other0 Comments

Record Long-distance Dinosaur Flights?

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 12 (UPI) — Ancient flying dinosaurs may have been able to fly for 10,000 miles non-stop on wings stretching up to 30 feet, a U.S. scientist says.

The fliers belonged to four species some researchers call supergiant pterosaurs, flying reptiles such as Quetzalcoatlus northropi from Texas, ScienceNews.org reported.

First appearing 70 million years ago, they were about as tall as a modern giraffe and flew on membrane wings.

These supergiants were “big by pterosaur standards,” biomechanist Michael Habib of Chatham University in Pittsburgh said. “They are truly gruesomely huge by bird and bat standards.”

If scientists are correctly estimating their body masses and wing dimensions based on fossils, and if they could catch thermals and glide as birds do, “it would make them the longest single-trip-distance fliers in the Earth’s history,” Habib said.

Other researchers such as David Unwin, a pterosaur researcher at the University of Leicester in England, aren’t so sure but he said “we didn’t fall on the floor laughing” upon hearing of the idea.

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.

Posted in Birds, History, Other, Reptiles0 Comments

Commercial Spaceship in First Flight Test

MOJAVE, Calif., Oct. 11 (UPI) — A commercial suborbital spaceship made its first solo glide test from 45,000 feet to a landing at California’s Mojave Air Space Port, its developer said.

The Virgin Galactic space vehicle VSS Enterprise has had four previous flights attached to its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, but the Sunday glide test was it first solo outing, Discovery News reported.

“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin,” company founder Richard Branson said in a statement.

“For the first time since we seriously began the project in 2004, I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment,” Branson said.

With the glide flight completed, spaceship builder Scaled Composites says it will begin rocket-powered flights next year and test flights in space in late 2011 or early 2012.

Virgin Galactic is selling rides on the six-passenger, two-pilot ship for $200,000 and has received $50 million in deposits from 370 customers so far.

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.

Posted in History, Other0 Comments

15 Percent of Middle-age Women Depressed

NEW YORK, Oct. 9 (UPI) — Fifteen percent of U.S. women between the ages of 45 and 64 experience frequent depression, a U.S. researcher says.

Katherine Muller, director of Psychological Training at Montefiore Medical Center, says recent research suggests the odds of being diagnosed with depression peak for women at age 44.

“When you’re tense, levels of stress hormone cortisol go up,” Muller tells Women’s Day. “Cortisol affects the balance of mood chemicals in the brain in such a way that you’re more susceptible to depression.”

At this stage of a woman’s life she is usually experiencing transitions and wholesale changes including having children leave for college, doubts about relationships, juggling careers, marriage, aging parents and over analyzing and concerns about “life so far,” Muller says.

“Genetics is a major risk factor for developing a psychiatric disorder” so people with a family history should pay special attention to their behavior, Muller advises.

However, depression is very treatable and getting help in a combination of therapy and medications is a crucial step, Muller adds.

The November issue of Woman’s Day, on newsstands Monday, offers a comprehensive report on the rise of midlife depression in women.

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.

Posted in Chemicals, History, Other0 Comments

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