Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Conference looks at oil spills in Arctic

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OTTAWA - Climate change may make Arctic energy resources easier to reach but it could also make them harder to exploit because of changes to sea ice, a U.S. scientist said ahead of an international oil and ice conference in Alaska.

Hajo Eicken, a University of Alaska scientist, is one of the presenters from at least five countries scheduled to speak about oil spills in ice-choked waters at a conference in Anchorage that starts Wednesday.

Eicken said Sunday that climate change is rewriting the rules for Arctic sea ice and becoming a crucial consideration in any offshore drilling.

He says drillers will have to be aware that the old certainties of shore-bound ice - where much of the current exploration will take place - have changed.

"Conditions are more variable, less predictable. Even in winter, when normally you would expect to see the landfast ice to be stable and locked in place, we're starting to see ... larger tracts of landfast ice detach from shore and drift out to sea," Eicken said.

The conference is organized by Ottawa-based SL Ross Environmental Research Ltd.

Oregon teacher wants to take gun to school

MEDFORD, Ore. - High school English teacher Shirley Katz insists she needs to take her pistol with her to work because she fears her ex-husband could show up and try to harm her. She's also worried about a Columbine-style attack.

But Katz's district has barred teachers from bringing guns to school, so she is challenging the ban as unlawful, since Oregon is among states that allow people with a permit to carry concealed weapons into public buildings.

"This is primarily about my Second Amendment right and Oregon law and the simple fact that I know it is my right to carry that gun," said Katz, 44, sitting at the kitchen table of her home outside this city of 74,000.

"I have that (concealed weapons) permit. I refuse to let my ex-husband bully me. And I am not going to let the school board bully me, either."

In Oregon, a sheriff can grant a concealed-weapons permit to anyone whose criminal record is clean and who completes a gun-safety course.

Thirty-eight states, along with the District of Columbia, prohibit people from taking guns to school, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. But it's unclear how many offer an exemption for people holding concealed-weapons permits, since the council does not track such exceptions.

Superintendent Phil Long insists employees and students are safer without guns on campus at South Medford High School, where Katz teaches. The district plans to make that argument when the case comes before a judge on Thursday.

Pollution found in remote areas of park

WEST GLACIER, Mont. - Pollution has tainted even the most remote areas of Glacier National Park, and some fish in backcountry waters are so contaminated they could endanger the wildlife eating them, a federal scientist has found.

Dixon Landers of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency led a three-year study examining pollution that travels in the air.

Landers first hiked into Glacier in 2003. Later he and his team used more than a dozen mules to transport some 2,000 pounds of scientific gear to places such as Snyder Lake, high above the park's McDonald Valley. The researchers took samples that included water, lake sediment, vegetation and fish.

Water tests revealed contamination such as a pesticide that is not used widely in the United States but is applied in Canada, and pesticides that are banned in North America but still are used in some other parts of the world.

Other scientists who have studied water and snow chemistry in Glacier have looked mostly for the "dirty dozen," consisting of pesticides known collectively as persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. Landers' work searched for more than 100 semi-volatile organic compounds, or SOCs.

Both POPs and SOCs have relatively low molecular weights and volatilize easily in the atmosphere when put under heat. They move around the globe, scrubbing out of the air in rain or snow and then vaporizing back into the sky during warmth. Glacier is the kind of cold spot in which they can become trapped.

Effort to halt climate change blocked in Wyo.

WASHINGTON - As one of the largest energy producers in the nation, Wyoming is no stranger to the debate over global warming.

With a Democratic governor who embraces energy development even as he advocates for emerging clean-coal technologies, the state has tried to address climate change head-on - without swerving from its energy-dependent economy.

Yet those efforts, including a $3 billion clean-coal project, have been sidelined at the federal level and left the state's leaders frustrated. With no clear indication of the federal government's direction on climate change, Wyoming is finding it difficult to strike out on its own.

A federal energy bill approved in 2005 appeared to launch a close energy alliance between Wyoming and the federal government. The bill included a congressional commitment to an advanced coal-fired power plant near Rock Springs with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without cutting into Wyoming's production of 430 million tons of coal annually.

But Congress has failed to follow through on promised subsidies for the plant. And last month came indications that Wyoming's struggles to land funding could get even tougher, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his opposition to three coal-fueled power plants proposed in his home state of Nevada.

Reid's spokesman Jon Summers said the senator has no intention of getting involved in similar proposals in other states. But Summers added that Reid's antipathy toward coal extends beyond Nevada - and is not limited to conventional plants.

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