German nuclear waste may be headed to South Carolina site

The U.S. Department of Energy said on Wednesday it will study the environmental risk of importing spent nuclear fuel from class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany that contains highly enriched uranium, a move believed to be the first for the United States.

The department said it is considering a plan to ship the nuclear waste from class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany to the Savannah River Site, a federal facility in South Carolina.

The 310-acre site already holds millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste in tanks. The waste came from reactors in South Carolina that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1989.

 
 
 

The Energy Department said it wants to remove 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of uranium the United States sold to Germany years ago and render it safe under U.S. nuclear non-proliferation treaties.

A technique for the three-year process of extracting the uranium, which is contained in graphite balls, is being developed at the site in South Carolina, according to the Energy Department.

Some critics question whether the department has fully developed a clear plan to dispose of the radioactive waste."They're proposing to extract the uranium and reuse it as fuel by a process that has never been done before," said Tom Clements, president of SRS Watch, a nuclear watchdog group in South Carolina.

"There's no place to take high-level waste in the U.S.," he said. "Uranium that is turned into commercial fuel is not contained inside nuclear waste. It's pure material."

A public environmental meeting on the proposed project will be held June 24 in North Augusta, South Carolina. 

Clements said shipping the uranium to South Carolina would only add more nuclear waste to the Savannah River Site.

German and U.S. officials signed a statement of intent for the import in March and April. A feasibility study is under way, the Energy Department said."The Germans couldn't quite figure out what to do with it," Clements said.German officials have been embroiled in a fight over who will pay for clean-up of nuclear waste from nine remaining nuclear plants.

Sources told Reuters in May that German utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a "bad bank" for nuclear plants, in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to close them all by 2022 after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.

(This story corrects paragraph 13 to reflect nuclear plants have not been decommissioned)

(Editing by Kevin Gray, Bill Trott and Jim Loney)

Volcanic eruption disrupts air travel in Alaska

A volcanic eruption in Alaska that sent a plume of ash and smoke high into the sky forced a regional airline to cancel flights on Wednesday, even as scientists downgraded a rare red alert warning for volcanic activity.

Pavlof class="mandelbrot_refrag">Volcano, which has been spewing ash and lava for years in an uninhabited region nearly 600 miles (966 km) southwest of Anchorage, began erupting with new intensity this week and prompted Alaska scientists to issue their highest volcanic alert in five years on Monday.

Regional airline PenAir began cancelling flights late on Tuesday from Anchorage to a pair of Aleutian Island destinations, Cold Bay and Dutch Harbor, because of a mix of high winds and volcanic ash from Pavlof class="mandelbrot_refrag">Volcano, PenAir spokeswoman Missy Roberts said.

 
 
 

Cancellations continued through Wednesday as the airline continued monitoring activity hourly. PenAir serves many communities that are off the state's road system and is accustomed to extreme year-round weather conditions.

Pavlof lies below a route frequently used by jetliners flying between North America and Asia, but those planes generally fly at elevations of 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) and likely would be unaffected by ash at lower elevations, observatory scientists have said.

Scientists at the federal-state Alaska Volcano Observatory reduced the alert level from red to orange, the second-highest level, thanks to reduced seismic tremor activity, according to geologist Game McGimsey.

A red alert means a hazardous eruption is imminent, underway or suspected, while an orange alert indicates an increased potential for eruption or that an eruption is underway but poses limited hazards, according to the observatory.

Plumes of steam and diffused ash from Pavlof continue to reach heights as high as 24,000 feet (7,315 meters) or about 4.5 miles, and the volcano remains under close watch, McGimsey said. No ash has reached any communities, he added.

"The eruptive activity continues pretty strong," McGimsey said. "There is lava fountaining going on. It's very visible at night time from web cams."

Activity at Pavlof began to intensify over the weekend pushing thin ash upward. The red alert issued on Monday night was the first since 2009, when Alaska's Mount Redoubt produced a series of eruptions that spewed ash 50,000 feet (1,500 meters) into the air.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler)

Despite political uproar, Kentucky could meet EPA emissions goal

Kentucky may be well positioned to meet a carbon emission target for power plants set by federal regulators, even as U.S. Senate candidates there blast the plan, saying it will cripple the state's class="mandelbrot_refrag">coal industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency seems to have listened to feedback from state officials before the rollout on Monday, said John Lyons, Kentucky's assistant secretary for climate policy.

The result: the Bluegrass State may be able to meet EPA targets between now and 2030.

"I appreciate EPA’s stakeholder process. Undoubtedly they did listen to our concerns," Lyons told Reuters.

Shedding the carbon intensity of its fleet by 400 pounds of CO2/MWh will rely on retiring class="mandelbrot_refrag">coal plants and shifting to class="mandelbrot_refrag">natural gas, measures already planned to meet separate EPA rules on slashing mercury emissions.

"How far down the road that gets us? I'm not sure yet," he said, adding that market conditions could change drastically by 2030, making class="mandelbrot_refrag">natural gas more expensive.

Kentucky gets over 92 percent of its electricity from coal plants, the second-highest proportion of any state, and is a major coal producer.

Its coal industry is the rallying point in the state's Senate race, in which Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, is being challenged by Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Lyons and Len Peters, the state's Energy and Environment Secretary, talked to the EPA for months. They urged a flexible approach that would allow Kentucky to use a range of measures to allow an achievable target.

The EPA assigned Kentucky one of the lowest targets in its proposal, which is based on a complex formula that factors in actions states have already taken to cut carbon and the potential they have to make further cuts.

By 2030 Kentucky must cut another 18.3 percent in emissions from its utility fleet from 2012 levels, the sixth-lowest target of the 50 states.

Washington state, in comparison, has a reduction target of 71.8 percent. Most of that is expected to come from the closure of a single coal plant.

Kentucky could also be hamstrung, Lyons said, by a state law that stops officials from using certain measures to comply with EPA rules.

The law, backed by the state's coal industry, says state regulators can only comply with EPA rules by making improvements at the site of a power plant.

And while the EPA has said that states should be able to reduce coal plant heat rates by 6 percent on average, Lyons said Kentucky's aging fleet may be unable to exceed a 1 percent cut.

Regardless of the anti-EPA noise in the dueling Senate campaigns, Lyons plans to keep working with the EPA during the next public stakeholder process, a 120-day comment period.

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"Our job is to assess the rule and see what it is going to require and what impacts it is going to have," he said. "The elections don’t play any part of what we have to do here."

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(Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)

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Alaska fishing community sues U.S. interior secretary over road plan

An isolated Alaska class="mandelbrot_refrag">fishing community filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday challenging a decision by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that stopped it from building a road through a wildlife preserve to an all-weather airport.

King Cove, in the Aleutian Islands chain, is inaccessible by land. It is seeking to reverse Jewell's decision last December that halted the community's a plan for the 10-mile (16-km) road using land exchanged as part of a 2009 plan approved by Congress.

Jewell cited the potential for "irreversible damage" to wildlife in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, home to many shorebirds and waterfowl, posed by the gravel road that would have linked King Cove to the airport in Cold Bay.

 
 
 

No roads lead in or out of King Cove, a coastal community of about 1,000 residents where the chief industry is class="mandelbrot_refrag">fishing.

Supporters of the road cite access to healthcare as a top concern. Since December, several King Cove residents have needed emergency medical evacuation by either the U.S. Coast Guard or private helicopters, often in extreme weather conditions.

"This access is so important," said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Corp. "We are putting people's lives at risk to get medevaced (evacuated). There is no reason for it."

Laura Tanis, a spokeswoman for the Aleutians East Borough, said King Cove residents met the secretary in March to make their case, but to no avail.

"She asked for more information and we gave it to her, but we haven't heard a response," said Tanis, describing the lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in Juneau as a last resort.

A spokeswoman from Jewell’s office said in an email that the department could not comment on matters of litigation. Jewell's office has 60 days to respond to the suit.

In 2009, Congress approved a land exchange giving the federal government 56,000 acres (22,600 hectares) from the state and the King Cove Native Corp. Of that, 46,000 acres (18,600 hectares) would receive wilderness status. In exchange, King Cove, remote even by Alaskan standards, would receive 206 acres (83 hectares) for the road.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

Mineral site key to Antarctica's history gets protected status

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Antarctica pact partners have set up a new protected geological site on the frozen continent in a bid to preserve rare minerals that could shed light on the region's history and evolution over millions of years.

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At a meeting in Brazil last month, the signatories to the Antarctic Treaty designated the Larsemann Hills region of the continent as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area.

Geological analysis shows that one billion years ago, the nearby Stornes Peninsula was a shallow inland basin, rich in boron and phosphorus, the key chemical constituents of the rare minerals.

 
 
 

At the time of their discovery, four of the minerals - boralsilite, stornesite, chopinite and tassieite - were new to science, while the rest were extremely rare elsewhere.

"It's fantastic to see these extremely unusual, unique minerals being protected, and being recognized for their geological significance," Chris Carson, the head of Australia's Antarctic Geoscience program, told Reuters.

Carson, who helped map the area more than 10 years ago, collected small samples of rock that were taken to class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia for analysis, to yield insights into the geological processes that led to the evolution and formation of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Antarctica.

"Geological features are extremely valuable to science and to our understanding of how Antarctica has evolved and developed over millions of years," Carson said.

"We can actually say things about this sedimentary basin in Stornes Peninsula that we can't say about anywhere else."

Environmental protection status in Antarctica is usually given to sites of biological or cultural importance, but only five sites, in total, have been covered for geological significance.

The protection includes curbs on use of surface vehicles and survey markers, as well as class="mandelbrot_refrag">construction activity. Access to each site is to be restricted through the use of a permit system, with limits on the numbers of samples taken.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Australia led the protected area proposal, which was jointly sponsored by other nations with research programs in the area, including China, India and Russia.

Much of Antarctica is protected by the 1959 pact, which has the backing of major powers including the United States and China. It bars nuclear explosions, radioactive waste disposal and military deployment, and sets environmental safeguards.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Kenyan police seize 300 elephant tusks being packed at port city

Kenyan authorities seized 228 whole elephant tusks and 74 others in pieces as they were being packed for export in the port city of Mombasa, police and wildlife officials said.

Poaching has surged in the last few years across sub-Saharan Africa, where gangs kill elephants and rhinos to feed Asian demand for ivory and horns for use in traditional medicines.

Wildlife authority Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officers and police confiscated the ivory in a raid at a warehouse in the port city of Mombasa, KWS said in a statement.

 
 
 

“The ivory was ... was being prepared for loading and export to a destination we are yet to establish," Nelson Marwa, Mombasa County commissioner, told journalists in Mombasa. "Our officers had to break into the store to access them.”

A Reuters reporter at the scene said the tusks were being packed in sacks made of nylon and sisal.

Police arrested one suspect and were searching for another who escaped, Marwa said, noting that the suspect in custody tried to bribe police officers by offering them 5 million shillings ($57,100).

Arthur Tuda, KWS officer in charge of the coastal region, said some of the ivory could have come from as far away as the Democratic Republic of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Congo.

“From the coloration of the tusks, we can estimate that the ivory is from different sources," he said, saying some appeared to be from elephants from Kenya's savannah and others from Congolese forests.

Kenya has imposed stiffer penalties - longer jail terms and bigger fines - for wildlife poaching or trafficking, saying poaching is harming tourism, a major earner of foreign exchange.

KWS said in March that Kenya poachers have killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants this year. In 2013, 59 rhinos and 302 elephants were killed, compared with 30 rhinos and 384 elephants in 2012.

Kenyan officers seized 13.5 tonnes of ivory in Mombasa last year, mostly originating in other countries in the region. At least 249 suspects have so far been arrested this year and prosecuted for various wildlife offences, KWS said.

In January, a Kenyan court convicted a Chinese man of smuggling ivory and ordered him to pay a fine of 20 million shillings ($233,000) or serve seven years in jail, the first sentencing since Kenya introduced the new anti-poaching law.

($1 = 87.5000 Kenyan shillings)

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Ireland)

Indian monsoon may arrive in 24 hours: weather official

India's southern coast could witness the arrival of this year's monsoon in the next day or so after sporadic rains in recent days heralded the arrival of the wet season that is crucial to farmers in Asia's third-largest class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy.

"Conditions have turned favorable for the monsoon onset in about 24 hours," an official of the class="mandelbrot_refrag">India Meteorological Department (IMD) told Reuters on Thursday.

In a typical year, the monsoon begins on or around June 1 but government forecasters had forecast a five-day delay and below-average rainfall in this year's wet season.

Rains are vital to rejuvenate an class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy battling its longest economic slowdown since the 1980s and to cool inflation that has averaged nearly 10 percent for the past two years.

The farm sector accounts for 14 percent of India's nearly $2 trillion economy, with two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population living in rural areas.

Half of India's farmland still lacks access to irrigation. The country plans to expand irrigation coverage by at least a tenth by 2017 to cut its dependence on the seasonal rains. Experts said the spread of rainfall near the southern coast does not qualify for a formal announcement of the monsoon onset.

Last month, the IMD predicted a delayed onset for this year's monsoon over the Kerala coast around June 5, give or take four days.

"IMD considers factors such as wind speed, cloud formation with rainfall quantum before announcing the onset of monsoon," said D.R. Sikka, former director of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. Heavy rainfall has already reached Sri Lanka, with flooding reported earlier this week in capital Colombo.

Usually, it takes around 24-48 hours for the monsoon rains to arrive on the south of coastal Kerala after crossing northern tip of Sri Lanka. Sowing operations in rice, pulses and cotton have already started in many growing areas of Northwest and Southern class="mandelbrot_refrag">India, taking advantage of pre-monsoon showers.

Farmers have taken notice of the farm ministry's advisory to sow summer crops early this year as the second half of the four-month rainy season could be witness drier weather due to the El Nino weather pattern. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology in its latest update said there is high chance of El Nino weather event this year. ElNino has the potential to cause severe droughts in Asia Pacific including India.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

U.S. weather forecaster sees 70 percent chance of El Nino

The U.S. weather forecaster said there was an increased likelihood of an El Nino weather phenomenon striking during the Northern Hemisphere summer in its monthly outlook on Thursday.

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The Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, said there was a 70 percent chance of El Nino, which can wreak havoc on global crops, during the summer and 80 percent during the fall and winter.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Global warming damages corals vital to small islands: UN

Global warming is causing trillions of dollars of damage to coral reefs, aggravating risks to tropical small island states threatened by rising sea levels, a U.N. report said on Thursday.

The rise in sea levels off some islands in the Western Pacific was four times the global average, with gains of 1.2 cms (0.5 inch) a year from 1993 to 2012, due to shifts in winds and currents, said the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP).

The study, released to mark the U.N.'s World Environment Day on June 5, said a warming of waters from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean was damaging reefs by killing the tiny animals that form corals with their stony skeletons.

 
 
 

"These 52 nations, home to over 62 million people, emit less than one per cent of global greenhouse gases, yet they suffer disproportionately from the climate change that global emissions cause," said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.

"Some islands could become uninhabitable and others are faced with the potential loss of their entire territories," the study said.

The loss of corals is wiping trillions of dollars a year off services provided by nature, usually counted as free. Corals are nurseries for many types of fish, they help to protect coasts from storms and tsunamis and also attract tourists.

"Our fishermen are reporting less and less catches in areas where there was once a thriving trade," Grenada's Environment Minister Roland Bhola said on the sidelines of U.N. talks on climate change in the western German city of Bonn.

"We have been able to associate that with the issues of climate change ... the destruction of our coral reefs and other ecosystems like mangroves," he said.

THREATENED ECOSYSTEMS

A study last month estimated that each hectare (2.5 acres) of the world's coral reefs provided services worth $350,000 a year. That means that a loss of 34 million hectares of corals since the late 1990s is worth $11.9 trillion a year.

"Corals .. are probably the most threatened ecosystems on the planet," Robert Costanza, of the Australian National University and lead author of the study, told Reuters.

Some people in small island developing states are considering moving inland due to rises in sea level that are causing erosion and bringing more salt onto farmland, said Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist of UNEP.

"But many of them don't have places to retreat towards."

The U.N. panel of climate scientists said in March there were warning signs that warm water corals were already experiencing "irreversible" shifts. It also says it is at least 95 percent probable that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of a rise in average world temperatures.

"Addressing climate change ... is absolutely vital to the survival of small island states," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told a news conference.

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The report said that small islands could shift to abundant solar and wind power to help cut fuel import bills, which are often between five and 20 percent of gross domestic product.

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"We are doing what we can," said Marshall Islands Environment Minister Tony de Brum, pointing to plans to invest in solar energy. His nation also has the world's largest shark sanctuary as part of efforts to protect nature, he added.

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(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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China aims to cap greenhouse gas output soon, but no date set

class="mandelbrot_refrag">China plans to cap its soaring emissions of greenhouse gases as soon as possible but has not yet decided when, Beijing's top negotiator at U.N. climate talks said on Thursday.

Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission, also welcomed U.S. measures to combat global warming, saying both nations were "working very hard to address climate change".

"We will try our utmost to peak as early as possible," Xie told reporters on the sidelines of U.N. talks on global warming in Bonn, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, referring to greenhouse gases. "Opinions of the scientists and scholars differ quite a lot."

 
 
 

Actions by class="mandelbrot_refrag">China and the United States, the top emitters of greenhouse gases, will be benchmarks for the ambitions of other nations when world leaders meet at a summit in Paris in late 2015 to agree a new U.N. pact to slow global warming.

On Monday, a senior advisor to the Chinese government said China was considering imposing a cap on its carbon emissions when its next five-year plan starts in 2016. Xie said no decisions had been taken about the level of any cap, nor when it would be announced.

A cap would be a radical change for Beijing. Until now, China has merely sought to reduce the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it needs to burn more energy to raise living standards for its 1.3 billion citizens.

"We are working very hard to find a balanced equilibrium between economic development and environmental protection," Xie said. He said China hoped to define which measures it will present to the Paris summit in the first half of 2015.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters it was an open secret that Beijing has been studying ways to cap its emissions. "And that is of course going to have huge, positive implications and will be a very important contribution to the world’s effort to cap emissions," she said.

U.S.-CHINA

Xie said that U.S. President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama's climate envoy, Todd Stern, called him on June 2 to brief him about a U.S. plan to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 as the cornerstone of U.S. policies. "One thing in common is that we are both working very hard to address climate change," Xie said. On Monday, He Jiankun, chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change, suggested at a conference in Beijing that China would set a cap on its emissions in a coming five-year plan from 2016.

Carbon emissions in the coal-reliant class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy, which have more than tripled since 1990, were likely to continue to grow until 2030, He said. Rising emissions from coal plants cause pollution and health problems, as well as climate change. A U.N. scientific panel says climate change will cause more droughts, heatwaves, floods and rising seas.

Xie said that China had reduced the amount of carbon dioxide it burns per yuan of economic output by 28.6 percent from 2005 levels, on track for its existing goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy by 42 percent by 2020. He said that energy efficiency and measures to promote wind and solar power had slowed the rise of China's greenhouse gases by 2.5 billion tonnes - almost double Japan's annual emissions.

In Brussels, the Group of Seven industrialised nations gave their backing on Thursday to a climate change deal in 2015 after the U.S. promises revived momentum.

Two weeks before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its plan to cut power plant emissions, China's He Jiankun visited Washington with two academics from Tsinghua University and had meetings including with U.S. officials.

Ailun Yang, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute, which organised the meetings, said the Chinese delegation wanted to learn more about U.S. policies to cut emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

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"He was inspired by the upcoming EPA rules. Even though he didn't know what would be in it (at the time), he knew the significance of it," she said.

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(With extra reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington, Editing by Robin Pomeroy/Ruth Pitchford)

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G7 leaders back 2015 climate deal, aim to build on U.S. momentum

The world's leading industrialised nations gave their backing on Thursday to a new global deal on climate change in 2015 after promises from the United States at the start of the week galvanised flagging momentum.

The United States' plan to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030 prompted the European Union into a defence of its own record.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, also gave a hint that it would set some kind of cap on its emissions.

In a communique after summit talks in Brussels, the G7 leaders affirmed their "strong determination" to adopt a new global deal in 2015 that is "ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances".

It said the G7 nations - Britain, Canada, class="mandelbrot_refrag">France, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Italy, Japan and the United States - remained committed to low-carbon economies and limiting temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the limit scientists say can prevent the most devastating effects of climate change.

The communique also committed nations to announcing national contributions to reducing emissions by the first quarter of next year, ahead of a Paris conference on deciding a global deal in December 2015.

SECURE SUPPLIES

At the same time, the G7 offered the EU support with its efforts to make its energy supplies more secure, promising to "complement the efforts of the European Commission to develop emergency energy plans for winter 2014-2015".

In Europe, the quest for energy security in the face of threats from class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia that it could disrupt supplies of gas pumped through class="mandelbrot_refrag">Ukraine, has knocked the climate debate down the agenda.

But Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in an address at the start of the G7 summit, said the issues went "hand in hand".

Many EU nations say domestic, renewable sources, such as solar and wind, can reduce the need for fossil fuel imports from nations such as class="mandelbrot_refrag">Russia, while Poland, which relies on polluting coal, says coal is a reliable, domestic fuel source.

Of the G7 nations, Japan and Canada have pulled out of the Kyoto process on tackling climate change. The United States signed but did not ratify the original treaty.

Republicans in Congress are expected to resist the latest U.S. proposals, but just the proposed policies could encourage action elsewhere.

"I think it puts the United States in a strong position to lift up the need for international action heading into next year on concrete plans to reduce emissions," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, told reporters.

"There’s more work to be done for sure, both domestically and with other international partners. The key principle here is that every nation is going to have to step up to the plate in its own way."

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Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, said the EU was still in the vanguard and would "substantially over-achieve" its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, delivering more than its promised 20 percent cut versus 1990 levels.

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"None of them wants to be perceived as the laggard, which is a good thing," Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said on the sidelines of preparatory talks for the 2015 deal in Bonn this week.

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In addition to the plan to cut power sector CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, the United States has an existing national goal, set in 2009, to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, equivalent to 3.5 percent below 1990 levels - the U.N. benchmark year - after a sharp rise in emissions in the 1990s.

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Following on from its 2020 goal, the EU is trying to reach agreement on 2030 targets.

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In January, the EU executive put forward the idea of a 40 percent emissions cut by 2030 and in March EU leaders gave themselves until October to agree on the target.

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(Additional reporting by Luke Baker, Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason in Brussels and Alister Doyle in Bonn; Editing by Mike Peacock and Robin Pomeroy)

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US agency: Faulty blowout preventer contributed to deadly BP spill

A faulty blowout preventer and weaknesses in how companies analyze potential hazards in offshore oil and gas operations contributed to BP Plc's deadly Gulf of class="mandelbrot_refrag">Mexico oil spill more than four years ago, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said on Thursday.

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Despite tougher regulations, a slew of other investigations and an ongoing federal civil trial with potentially billions of dollars at stake, companies may still drill without demonstrating that they have adequate barriers in place to prevent deadly accidents, the agency said.

The CSB, which has no enforcement authority but can recommend safer practices, routinely probes accidents at chemical plants and refineries. The BP investigation was its first involving an offshore accident.

 
 
 

The CSB did not examine all aspects of the Macondo blowout and explosion that killed 11 men and unleashed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.

Rather than re-examine issues already covered by other probes, including those by the U.S. Coast Guard and a commission appointed by President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama, the CSB studied equipment and hazardous materials operations and safety management.

BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said the core findings were consistent with other probes that said the disaster stemmed from multiple causes involving multiple parties.

The CSB concluded that the blowout preventer failed because the drillpipe inside of it was off-center and could not be fully sheared. The blowout preventer's control systems also were miswired, but likely could still have sealed the well had the pipe not buckled, the report said.

A blowout preventer is a multi-ton stack of valves and pipes that sits atop deepwater wells to stop oil and gas from gushing upward in an accident.

Also, the board said different pressures inside the drillpipe and the area between the pipe and the well caused it to buckle and move off center, so a key piece of equipment called a shear ram could not cut through the pipe to seal the well.

Other probes had found that explosions aboard Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig moved the pipe. Transocean refused to cooperate with the CSB's probe, challenging the agency's jurisdiction.

The issues underscore existing and undetected design limits in the blowout preventer, the CSB said.

In addition, the board said that while regulators began requiring operators to do hazard analyses for all offshore structures post-Macondo, the rule doesn't require a risk reduction target or documented rationale of hazard control.

That means companies can still comply with the rule even if they do a weak analysis that does not identify the operating condition of critical safety equipment such as a blowout preventer, the board said.

In 2011, class="mandelbrot_refrag">Cameron International Corp, the maker of the blowout preventer, agreed to a $250 million settlement with BP to help pay for costs associated with the spill.

(Reporting By Kristen Hays; Editing by Terry Wade, Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

Low over Bay of Campeche has 40 percent chance of becoming cyclone: NHC

A low-pressure area over southern Bay of Campeche has a 40 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Friday.

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"Some development of this system is still possible over the next day or two while the low drifts generally northwestward toward eastern class="mandelbrot_refrag">Mexico," the Miami-based weather forecasters said.

This disturbance has potential to produce extremely heavy rains and life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over parts of southeastern class="mandelbrot_refrag">Mexico during the next few days, the NHC added.

(Reporting by Anupam Chatterjee in Bangalore. Editing by Andre Grenon)

Storm over Bay of Campeche has 50 percent chance of becoming cyclone: NHC

A low-pressure system over the southern Bay of Campeche has a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Friday.

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"Regardless of development, this disturbance will continue to produce extremely heavy rains, along with life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, over portions of southeastern class="mandelbrot_refrag">Mexico during the next few days," the Miami-based weather forecaster said.

(Reporting by Ratul Ray Chaudhuri in Bangalore. Editing by Jane Merriman)

Monsoon reaches India coast slightly later than usual

Monsoon rains reached India's southern coast a few days later than usual on Friday, offering relief to farmers eagerly waiting for the start of the wet season that is crucial for their summer crops.

But the slight delay in the monsoon's onset is unlikely to have a major impact on sowing of rice, pulses and cotton that has started in many growing areas of northwest and southern class="mandelbrot_refrag">India, taking advantage of pre-monsoon showers.

The formation of a possible El Nino weather phenomenon, which can cause drought in South Asia, is only expected to have an impact later in the four-month rainy season.

"We don't foresee any El Nino impact in the first month of the monsoon season," said B.P. Yadav, head of the National Weather Forecasting Centre at the class="mandelbrot_refrag">India Meteorological Department in New Delhi.

Last month, the IMD forecast a patchy monsoon season with a high chance of El Nino. [ID:nL3N0NG3LO] Weather officials on Friday confirmed the monsoon's onset - a decision that takes into account rainfall measured at weather stations in the southern state of Kerala and westerly wind speeds.

Rainfall was around 40 percent below average across India in the first week of the season. Progress northwards of the annual rains is expected to be slow and they are unlikely to cover half the nation by the first half of June.

Farmers have heeded the advice issued by the newly elected government to sow crops early this year to take advantage of pre-monsoon showers. They were also advised to use short duration seeds of cotton, pulses, corn and soybeans.

FIVE DAYS LATE

In 2013 the monsoon hit Kerala on June 1, two days ahead of the official forecast and in line with the long-term average. The season brought above-average rainfall across the country, resulting in a record grain harvest. Rains are vital to rejuvenate an class="mandelbrot_refrag">economy battling its longest economic slowdown since the 1980s and to cool inflation that has averaged nearly 10 percent for the past two years. The farm sector accounts for 14 percent of India's nearly $2 trillion economy, with two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population living in rural areas. Half of India's farmland still lacks access to irrigation. The country plans to expand irrigation coverage by at least a tenth by 2017 to cut its dependence on the seasonal rains. Poor rains could hit summer crops such as rice, soybean, corn and cotton, raising food prices and pressuring economic growth that has nearly halved to below 5 percent in the past two years. India's weather office had forecast the monsoon would arrive over Kerala on June 5, give or take four days. The chance of dry spells in this year's monsoon is 40-45 percent compared to the usual 33 percent, said Andrew Colman, senior climate scientist at the UK Met Office. Southern India, mainly parts of rice-growing areas of Andhra Pradesh, and cane areas of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, received plenty of rains in May, providing a cushion against any delay in progress of the wind-borne monsoon rains towards the mainland. Farm Commissioner J.S. Sandhu said contingency plans have been in place for around 500 drought-prone districts, if the monsoon fails to arrive on time.

The healthy showers prior to the monsoon season raised water levels in the country's reservoirs to nearly half-way above normal, he added.

Usually, the monsoon covers half of India by mid-June, and engulfs its entire landmass by mid-July.

(Editing by Douglas Busvine and Joseph Radford)

China says aid a key to climate deal, not just CO2 cuts

China led calls by emerging economies on Friday for the rich to raise financial aid to the poor as a precondition for a class="mandelbrot_refrag">United Nations deal to combat global warming.

Many countries at U.N. climate negotiations from June 4-15 have welcomed news this week that the United States plans to slash emissions from power plants, but emerging nations said cash was just as important to unlock progress.

"When the financing is resolved, this will set a very good foundation to negotiate a good agreement," China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua told delegates from about 170 nations.

A global U.N. deal to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions is meant to be decided in Paris in late 2015 to slow global warming that a U.N. panel of experts says will cause more heatwaves, floods and rising sea levels.

Xie said developed nations, which have promised to raise aid to $100 billion a year by 2020, should have legally binding obligations to provide class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance and technology to emerging economies, along with legally binding cuts in emissions.

But European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said it would be hard to treat promises for cash in the same legal way as cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases.

"More than one class="mandelbrot_refrag">finance minister would say: 'how are we going to do that?'" she told a news conference.

$100 BILLION

Developed nations agreed in 2009 to raise aid to developing nations to the $100 billion target by 2020 from an initial $10 billion a year from 2010-12.

But austerity cuts in many nations mean they have not set clear milestones for raising aid between 2012 and 2019, money meant to go to everything from expanding the use of solar power plants to flood defences along vulnerable coastlines.

Last month, a "Green Climate Fund" - a U.N. body based in class="mandelbrot_refrag">South Korea due to channel billions of dollars to developing nations - said it was ready to start accepting cash after agreeing details of how it will work.

Donors will also meet in July, in a venue yet to be decided. Peru's Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who will host a U.N. climate conference in late 2014, said he hoped for contributions for the Green Climate Fund of $10 billion this year.

Alix Masounie, of the French branch of international environmental network Climate Action Network, said: "The Green Climate Fund is finally open for class="mandelbrot_refrag">business ... but it remains an empty shell," adding that developed nations should come up with $15 billion as a first payment.

Berlin said on Friday it would provide cash, but gave no details. " class="mandelbrot_refrag">Germany will make a significant financial contribution," Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said.

Rich nations say the private sector is most promising. "We should use public resources to mobilise far greater sums of private finance," said Trigg Talley, the U.S. representative.

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The United States on Monday announced plans to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 as a cornerstone of President class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama's climate policies, an encouragement to U.N. negotiations after little progress.

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The White House contested a report by a group of scientists that said its plans were insufficient to meet a national goal of a cut of 17 percent in emissions by 2020, from 2005 levels. "The United States is on track to fulfil our commitment," a spokesman said.

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China also said that its scientists were divided over a plan to cap its soaring emissions, but said it would set a cap as early as possible.

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(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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Californians say drought is problem but don't want taxes to fund projects

As California struggles through its third year of drought, nearly half of state residents said they would be willing to pay higher water bills to ensure a more stable supply, a new poll showed on Friday.

The poll, released by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times, comes as lawmakers in the most populous U.S. state are fighting over ways to ease the drought's impact. Some have called for increased spending to build reservoirs and underground storage, while others have stressed conservation.

Some 46 percent told the pollsters they would be willing to pay higher water bills to shore up supply, slightly more than the 42 percent who said they would not. But Californians stopped short of being willing to spend taxpayer money: 51 percent said the state should not spend taxpayer dollars to improve storage and delivery systems, compared to 36 percent who were in favor.

The drought is expected to cost thousands of farm jobs and cause 400,000 acres of cropland to be fallowed.

Governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency in January. He requested voluntary conservation, funneled millions of dollars to farmers and municipalities and provided funds to help idled farm workers.

The state has temporarily eased protections for some endangered fish in order to allow more water to be pumped from the fragile San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, prompting concern from environmentalists who urge conservation instead.

Californians will vote in November on a measure to issue billions in class="mandelbrot_refrag">bonds to shore up the state's supply, but lawmakers are debating which projects to fund.

Brown's administration is also pushing a $15 billion plan to send water through a pair of tunnels that would divert water from the Sacramento River.

Nearly all of those polled, about 89 percent, said the drought was a crisis or a major problem, but most said it had not had a major impact on their lives.

About two-thirds of those surveyed said they had cut back on watering their lawns, and 87 percent said they had changed their personal habits, including taking shorter showers and flushing the toilet more sparingly.

Asked the causes of related problems with the state's water supply, 69 percent blamed old delivery systems and not enough water storage. About 67 percent said climate change was also to blame, and 53 percent cited agricultural use of water.

The telephone survey of 1511 registered voters was conducted May 21-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein)

Two killed in Kosovo power plant blast, supplies hit

A hydrogen tank exploded at Kosovo's second biggest power plant on Friday, killing two people and injuring 14, officials said.

The 40-year-old Kosovo A plant, considered one of the worst polluters in Europe, was shut down following the blast that was heard in the capital, Pristina, some 10 km (6 miles) away.

The explosion threatened electricity supplies in a country already plagued by blackouts. Power imports were increased to cover demand.

"We have found two bodies," Edmond Nulleshi, a manager at the Kosovo's Energy Corporation (KEK), told Reuters.

Local television footage showed soldiers rescuing a worker who had been trapped in the building for more than five hours.

An investigation has been launched into the incident. The Yugoslav-era plant and the larger Kosovo B account for 90 percent of electricity generation in the Balkan country, which still suffers chronic power shortages 15 years after breaking free of Serbia in a 1998-99 war during the collapse of federal Yugoslavia.

Costly plans to build a new plant that would allow Kosovo A to be closed for good have been delayed for years, with some critics blaming the government for toying with the rules of the tender.

Kosovo's main political parties canceled final campaign rallies planned for Friday before a parliamentary election on Sunday.

Health Minister Ferid Agani told reporters that 13 people had been treated for injuries that he said were not life-threatening.

class="mandelbrot_refrag">Economy Minister Fadil Ismajli, whose ministry covers the energy sector, told Reuters that the 345 megawatt (MW) Kosovo A had been shut down. The blast occurred in the electrolysis unit, not the generators.

Kosovo's energy distribution and supply company, KEDS, said it had imported 250 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to cover demand. Spokesman Guri Shkodra told Reuters it was unclear when the plant would be back online.

Albania's energy ministry said it has started sending 50 MW of electricity out of 200 MW per day demanded by Kosovo to help it cope with shortages.

It said Albania's power utility KESH and power distributor OST and their counterparts in Kosovo were trying secure interconnection capacities to meet the need for the requested power.   

Kosovo is connected to Albania via a 220 kV line. Work is under way to build a more powerful 400 kV line.

Last year, international donors pledged 154 million euros ($209.67 million) to help close down Kosovo A, improve energy efficiency and diversify energy sources in the landlocked Balkan country, one of Europe's poorest.

The European Commission says the cost to decommission the plant, which produces a quarter of electricity consumed in Kosovo, is seen at 60 million euros, and that the commission is ready to ask member states to fund the project.

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(Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo and Benet Koleka in Tirana; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Evans)

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Pennsylvania voters support fracking, but not in parks: poll

Pennsylvania voters are in favor of using the fracking technique to produce class="mandelbrot_refrag">natural gas in the state, but oppose Republican Governor Tom Corbett's plan to drill under state parks and forests, a Quinnipiac University poll revealed on Friday.

Some 58 percent of the state's voters support fracking, a process in which rock formations are cracked and infused with chemical-laced water to extract class="mandelbrot_refrag">natural gas. Thirty three percent oppose it.

But a similar majority, 57 percent, said they would oppose fracking under state parks and forests, with 36 percent supporting the idea. Opinion is split largely along party lines, with 71 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Independents opposed, and 58 percent of Republicans in favor.

 
 
 

"People in Pennsylvania have a high regard for the natural gas industry," said Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. "But they want it done in an environmentally sound way."

Some 39 percent of voters said Corbett's executive order of May 23 allowing park drilling would make them less likely to vote for him when he seeks re-election in November.

The order is also under attack in the state’s Commonwealth Court, where a judge is expected to rule later this month on a petition from a coalition of conservation groups to stop the drilling with an injunction.

Corbett is counting on $75 million from the drilling to help get the state out of a budget hole in the coming fiscal year.

His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the poll results.

Quinnipiac said the poll of 1,308 registered voters was conducted from May 29 to June 2. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

Miami dredge project to restart, ending efforts to save coral

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday denied a request from researchers seeking more time to save an underwater field of coral in a Miami channel where dredging is set to begin this weekend.

"Taxpayers would be paying $50,000 to $100,000 a day to keep that dredge on standby and that's not happening," said Susan Jackson, a corps spokeswoman.

The channel is being deepened to 50 feet (15 meters) in the hopes of attracting the larger cargo ships expected to pass through the expanded Panama Canal when it is completed.

Researchers began daily dives to gather coral in and around the dredge site on May 26 after Illinois-based dredging contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock finished relocating about 900 more mature corals to an artificial reef as required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

 
 
 

"We've been able to remove more than 2,000 corals in less than two weeks and if we had another two weeks we'd get thousands more," said Colin Foord, a marine biologist and co-founder of Miami-based Coral Morphologic, which is part marine biology lab and part art and music studio.

Though dredging work will resume on Saturday, scientists say environmental studies underestimated the number and kinds of corals living near the channel.

"We now have another set of eyes in the water looking at what's down there and we want to be sure what was required in the permit was done," said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of the Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers, which unsuccessfully sued the state in 2011 in hopes of halting the $150 million project.

Coral is a stationary animal that slowly grows on seafloors over tens and even hundreds of years. Foord and scientists at the University of Miami say the corals living in the shallow waters just south of Miami Beach may offer clues as to how the world's disappearing coral can survive in changing oceans.

"The corals in the disturbed environments are the most pre-adapted and might be the most valuable in terms of saving them," said Andrew Baker, a marine biology professor at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Will Dunham)

Utah approves first crow hunt to cull growing population

Utah will hold its first ever crow hunt this fall as authorities try to contain the noise and mess from a population of the big, black birds that officials say has tripled over the last 12 years.

The state's Wildlife Board voted 3-2 on Thursday to let hunters cull up to 10 crows each per day in September, and then again between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, an official said on Friday.

State data shows the crow population has grown some 300 percent since 2002, in part because they live mostly in urban areas across northern Utah where they are relatively safe from predators and have easy access to food.

As communities have grown bigger along the Wasatch Front, the number of crows has grown alongside them, said Blair Stringham, the state's migratory game bird coordinator.

"It's gotten to be a nuisance issue," Stringham said.

"When they roost, it can be in groups of 1,000 or more, so there's a lot of noise associated with that and a lot of fecal matter and mess, which people don't like."

The proposal was prompted by a growing number of complaints from urban residents, and from farmers who say the birds damage corn, fruit and grain crops.

Bird enthusiasts and other opponents of the plan say it will not solve the problem because hunting will remain prohibited in the urban neighborhoods where most crows are found.

Bill Fenimore is an avid hunter and Wildlife Board member who voted against the proposal. He said he doubted many of his fellow hunters would rush to kill the birds for food.

"Nobody's going to go out to hunt crows because they are hungry," said Fenimore. Crows look similar to protected ravens, he added, and he said he worried that younger, less experienced hunters might accidentally shoot the wrong birds.

Under the new rules, homeowners will also be allowed to kill nuisance birds if other means of driving them out, such as the use of shiny objects or loud noises, are unsuccessful.

Crows are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, but about 45 states allow them to be hunted, Stringham said.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)

To make a hit, you've got to get personal, says Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams pauses, takes a breath and considers how the past year has unfolded for the R&B producer and singer: four Grammy Awards and three mega hit singles including a song that has galvanized countless fans to class="mandelbrot_refrag">express how they're "happy."

And the key, says the 41-year-old known simply as Pharrell, in the midst of a career second act, has been tapping into audiences' thirst for sincerity and heartfelt personal stories.

"I think we've entered a new singer-songwriter era, regardless of the genre or music," said Pharrell, who produced and performed on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," the raunchy R&B hit that was last year's top song across the U.S. Billboard music charts.

 
 
 

"People want a story. They want a story they can connect to," he said while promoting his Tuesday concert from New York's Apollo Theater, which will be live streamed and directed by Spike Lee as part of American class="mandelbrot_refrag">Express' "Unstaged" series.

"It's not about what you have or what you don't have, it's more about your journey and your perspective that's important to people," the musician told Reuters.

Pharrell said he noticed a shift in audiences' tastes over the past year in particular with the runaway success of "Happy," his up-tempo song from the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack that received little fanfare upon its release but has turned into an international viral hit.

Countless videos populate sites like YouTube with people from class="mandelbrot_refrag">Portugal and Macau to Abu Dhabi and class="mandelbrot_refrag">Iran singing and dancing along to the song with the exuberant chorus that declares, "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof ... clap along if you know what happiness is to you."

After seeing how far his song traveled, the singer broke down in tears during a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.

"It isn't how great the execution is, it's the level of intention, it's the level of connotation that you put behind it," Pharrell said.

"It's just encouraging to people who have something to say, something to express," he added.

Pharrell has cemented himself as a master collaborator who was behind hits with rappers Snoop Dogg and Jay Z a decade ago, as well as with his own hip-hop band N*E*R*D.

This year, he won the Grammy award for best non-classical producer for his work with Thicke and French electronic music duo Daft Punk on their album "Random Access Memories."

The success over the past year has demonstrated to Pharrell that people are searching for personal and emotional links, perhaps as an antidote to reliance on mobile devices in the virtual age, he said.

"People want to feel. They're over-inundated with thinking," the singer said.

"We're a different species we were 15 years ago," he added. "The only thing we have left that reminds us that we are humans that cannot be duplicated is feeling. It's the most important thing ever."

The concert will be streamed at amexunstaged.com.

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(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Marguerita Choy)

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Gwar frontman David Brockie died of heroin overdose: coroner

David Brockie, frontman for the Grammy nominated "extraterrestrial" metal band Gwar, died of an accidental heroin overdose in March, the Virginia State Medical Examiner's Office said on Tuesday.

Brockie, 50, who gained an international fan base performing as a 43-billion-year-old alien vocalist for the satirical band, was found by his roommate on March 23 dead in his Richmond home.

Brockie died from "acute heroin toxicity and the manner of death is accident,” Arkuie Williams, administrator of the medical examiner's office, said in an email.

 
 
 

U.S. deaths from heroin have soared as prescription painkiller abusers turn to the drug because it is cheaper. Across the United States, the number of fatal opiate overdoses increased 45 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Brockie's band had returned earlier in March from a tour in class="mandelbrot_refrag">Japan.

Jack Flanagan, the band’s manager, could not immediately be reached for comment on the future of Gwar. Don Drakulich, another founder of the band and one of its costume and prop makers, declined to comment.

Brockie helped found Gwar, billed on its website as "Earth’s only openly extra-terrestrial rock band," in the 1980s with fellow art students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

    The Grammy nominated group gained a worldwide following for its mix of thrash metal, grotesque costumes and outrageous stage shows.

    Described by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper in 2007 as "the mutant child of early '80s hair music," Gwar's onstage antics included simulated urination, dismemberment of lifesize puppets and lots of fake blood. It released its latest album last year.

    Performing as "Oderus Urungus," Brockie wore an elaborate costume of a horned mask, shoulder pads, massive helmets and armor with blades jutting out it.

    In a profanity-laced 2014 television interview produced by Australia's Soundwave music festival, Brockie said performing sober was not part of the act.

    "For me, being wasted is not being wasted. When I'm sober, that's being wasted, literally," he said while in full costume, a bottle in one armored hand.

(Reporting by Gary Robertson; Editing by Ian Simpson and Andre Grenon)

U.S. considers updating music licensing accords with ASCAP, BMI

The U.S. Department of Justice is considering changing or scrapping agreements it reached with two music licensing giants more than 70 years ago to freshen them up for the Internet age, the department said in a statement.

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The move follows a push from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), which license about 90 percent of music heard on online services, in movies, televisions and class="mandelbrot_refrag">restaurants.

ASCAP represents artists including Beyonce, Billy Joel, Katy Perry and Hans Zimmer while BMI is home to Lady Gaga, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Rihanna and others.

Songwriters use music publishers to promote their works, and to do certain licensing tasks - for example, the licensing of "mechanical" rights, for the sale and distribution of recordings.

 
 
 

Publishers and songwriters typically use BMI and ASCAP, both not-for-profit entities, to collectively license works for public performance to major music users like class="mandelbrot_refrag">Pandora Media Inc, the Internet radio service.

Currently, any dispute over the cost of a license goes to "rate courts," which are based in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

And publishers must have an all-or-nothing relationship with BMI or ASCAP - they cannot use the services for performance licenses to some clients but not others, for example.

The rate courts were established by 1941 consent decrees between ASCAP and BMI and the Justice Department which at the time were not given an expiration date. Generally, consent decrees expire after five or seven years.

In the long run, BMI and ASCAP would like to see the slow, expensive rate courts replaced by arbitration. And they would like to see publishers given more flexibility in contracting with BMI and ASCAP to negotiate on their behalf with some music users but not all, ending the "all-or-nothing" relationship, according to executives with both organizations.

The Justice Department said in a statement that it was interested in receiving comments on both the question of arbitration and whether to keep the "all or nothing" relationship.

ASCAP distributed $851.2 million to its 500,000 members in 2013. BMI has 600,000 members and distributed $814 million in the 2013 fiscal year.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)

Broadcasters say they are left in dark over D-Day TV costs

An international group of commercial broadcasters and global news agencies complained on Monday about access to this week's 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, fearing heavy costs to secure access to images.

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    class="mandelbrot_refrag">France will on Friday host the United States' class="mandelbrot_refrag">Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Russia's Vladimir Putin and other world leaders for a day of events around the beaches of Normandy, where Allied troops in 1944 mounted history's largest amphibious assault to speed the end of World War Two.

    But what could be the last big commemoration with a major gathering of surviving veterans is mired in a row over French broadcasters' handling of the so-called "pool" - the widespread arrangement under which media groups agree to share material.

    While Europe's national, often publicly-run broadcasters can secure access to the images via the European class="mandelbrot_refrag">Broadcasting Union (EBU), commercial stations and the news agencies that distribute such coverage around the world said the arrangements for them were still surrounded in confusion.

    "We are getting very close to the event itself and nobody seems able to give us satisfactory guarantees as to what the situation is going to be," said Mark Evans, Head of News for the ENEX broadcaster association, with members in some 40 countries across Asia, the Americas and Africa.

    "This is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with worldwide appetite for coverage of a commemoration for one of the major events of World War Two - an event in which people from many nations across Europe and wider lost their lives," he added.

    Privately-held French broadcaster TF1 and class="mandelbrot_refrag">France 2 of the state-run France Televisions group at first asked for fees ranging up to 61,000 euros ($83,000) for access to certain D-Day events, according to charge sheets seen by Reuters.

After early protests, President Francois Hollande's office intervened on Friday to say the main ceremony would be available to foreign stations for free. Separately, the U.S. government assured agencies access on a par with the French pool for a ceremony at the U.S. cemetery in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer.

    ENEX and the news agencies Reuters, AP and AFP issued a jointly agreed advisory to clients on Monday welcoming the move by Hollande's office but warning that many broadcasters still risked heavy costs. Such expenses include arranging satellite feeds to retrieve the signal, which can run to several hundred dollars an hour.

"The best way of achieving global distribution of this major event is to allow the agencies to distribute it free of charge," Reuters Chief Executive Andrew Rashbass wrote in a letter to Hollande's office dated June 2, urging officials to "urgently bring an end to the confusion".

"To attempt to charge a fee more suited to a sports event is unheard of, and a very disturbing development," he added.

Contacted for a comment on Monday, a French presidency official referred questions to the pool operators.

Guy Lezec, news coordinator for France Televisions, rejected complaints, saying host broadcasters incurred heavy expenses in handling such an event but that arrangements for retrieving the signal were now "extremely simple".

    "We are making the signal available for free to all foreign stations but we are not making (it) available to agencies as they are resellers," Lezec said by telephone.

    "This is the way the Elysee (presidential office) wanted it ... it's free - apart from the cost of coming to get it in France," he said, adding that the same arrangements applied to the TV stations' increasingly important website platforms. ($1 = 0.7349 Euros)

(Reporting by Mark John and Elizabeth Pineau; writing by Mark John; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

'Fault in Our Stars' tugs at heart strings in life-affirming tale

In a summer of blockbusters with superheroes, a rampaging monster and a wicked fairy, "The Fault in Our Stars," the film adaptation of John Green's best-seller, is a heart-wrenching story of young love that could become a box-office hit.

Green's 2012 young adult novel has sold 10.7 million copies worldwide, providing a built-in fan base for the film that opens Friday in U.S. theaters.

The 36-year-old prize-winning author, also known for the vlogbrothers video blog on YouTube, has been tweeting about the film to his 2.47 million followers. And Fandango said it is the biggest pre-selling romantic drama in the online ticket-seller's 14-year history.

"The Fault in Our Stars"- the title based on a Shakespeare quote - features Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, who last appeared together in the dystopian thriller "Divergent."

"It is a movie that celebrates life and is incredibly hopeful," Woodley, 22, said in an interview. "It is about falling in love for the first time and the beauty of being in love, and all the trials and tribulations and glory that comes from that."

Woodley and Elgort play smart, witty teenagers who begin a romance after meeting at a cancer support group.

"I fell in love with the story and the relationship between Augustus and Hazel," said Woodley, who wears a nasal cannula and wheels around a portable oxygen tank throughout the film.

"I also loved that, at the age of 16, Hazel understood that you don't need to live a long life to lead a meaningful life."

Hazel and Augustus, who lost a leg to the disease, are fun-loving and never let their illness define them. Although cancer is the backdrop, Elgort said, it is not the focus of the story.

"What it does do is put a clock on things, which makes things interesting because I think it allows both characters to live in the moment," the 20-year-old actor explained.

Academy Award nominee Laura Dern ("Rambling Rose") plays Hazel's protective mother, Frannie. Nat Wolff is the couple's friend, and Willem Dafoe, who won Oscar nods for "Platoon" and "Shadow of the Vampire," is the elusive Peter Van Houten, the author of Hazel's favorite novel.

Perplexed by the book's unsatisfactory ending, Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam to meet Van Houten and learn the fate of the book's characters.

Early reviews for the film, shot in Pittsburgh and Amsterdam, have been overwhelmingly positive. It is expected to bring in $36 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales during its opening weekend, according to Boxoffice.com.

For director Josh Boone ("Stuck in Love") the film was always about two young people in love.

"To me it just seems like I hadn't seen a movie like this before, done this way, with characters like this, with a love story like this. I just thought it was a fascinating backdrop to talk about illness and death and life and family," he said.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Gunna Dickson)