International business briefs: Great Lake recovery, Brazilian green aid, US price crisis, Tyco must pay, Laos project, US fish scare, US energy awards

In the US, the Great Lakes' water has recovered from a record low after months of heavy rain, to the relief of boat owners, swimmers and fish, scientists have said. Rising a foot from a 45-year low last year, the five lakes have reversed a six-year, three-foot drop that had exposed large stretches of beaches.

The World Bank announced Tuesday it will lend $1.2 billion to Brazil over the next four years to help protect the environment. Vinod Thomas, the World Bank’s director for Brazil, said it was the bank’s biggest single loan dedicated to protecting the environment of a single country. Brazil’s environment minister, Marina Silva, said the money would be used to finance 10 projects, ranging from protecting the Amazon rainforest to employing environmental analysts.

President Bush’s economic advisers have warned this week that high energy prices will become a serious drag on the US economy and not merely a threat to growth, but also to his upbeat election-year projections, increasing pressure on him to act on the issue. The Treasury Secretary warned that the economic slowing in the United States was directly attributable to high energy prices.

A subsidiary of Tyco International was sentenced on 12 counts of violating the Clean Water Act this week. The plea agreement calls for the company to pay a total of US$10 million in fines. Of that amount, US$6 million will be paid as a federal criminal fine; US$2.7 million will go to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) natural resources fund; the Towns of Stafford and Manchester will receive US$500,000 each to fund improvements in their sewer and water treatment systems; and US$300,000 will pay for recycling de-ionized and other wastewater at the company’s Stafford and Staffordville facilities.

After three decades of near isolation, Laos will come under global scrutiny as international groups and its communist government debate the viability of a power project that could eject the tiny and poorest East Asian state out of poverty and enhance political reforms there. The World Bank is to host a series of consultations in Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris and the US over the next two months on the feasibility of the US$1.3 billion Nam Theun II hydroelectric project in central Laos.

A report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that Americans were cautioned about eating fish from more than one-third of US lakes and nearly one-fourth of its rivers last year due to pollution from mercury and other chemicals. Nationwide, about 102,000 lakes and about 846,000 river miles were under fishing advisories in 2003.

And finally, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) presented five energy efficiency awards at its biennial conference this summer. Recognising leadership and accomplishment in the energy efficiency field, awards were given to those who had demonstrated excellence in the programme implementation, research and development, energy policy, private sector initiatives or international initiatives.

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