April 30, 2010

Earth Day Reminder of Fossil Fuel Costs

The oil rig which exploded off the Louisiana coast, a tragic reminder of why the movement that mobilized forty years ago for Earth Day is still so necessary, has now sunk below the waves in a fiery grave, spilling thousands of gallons of oil underwater with eleven men dead. 

Grist's Jonathan Hiskes notes that this comes within weeks of:
– The awful coal-mine explosion that killed 29 men under the criminal safety record of Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.
– The crash of a coal freighter into the fragile Great Barrier Reef as it tried to take a shortcut from Australian mines to Chinese furnaces.
– The Tesoro oil refinery explosion that killed five workers in Washington state.
– The spillage of 18,000 gallons of crude oil from a Chevron into a canal in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, also in Louisiana.
The cold reality is that fossil fuel production, just like its combustion, is neither clean nor safe, despite the endless propaganda from the mouthpieces of Big Oil and King Coal.

Cape Wind Approved - Coast Guard Burning Oil Spill in Gulf

Ken Salazar has approved the Cape Wind project, the first offshore wind project in the United States. This is a huge victory for clean energy. 

Meanwhile, the disaster from the oil rig explosion in the Gulf continues to expand as an oil slick the size of Rhode Island heads towards shore. None of the oil industry's methods of containing the oil spill are working, so the US Coast Guard has made the decision to burn the oil

This is a very interesting confluence of events. It would be hard to imagine how one could more dramatically illustrate the divergent futures we can expect for our world if we follow the clean energy path or if we follow the dirty, drill-baby-drill, fossil-fuel powered vision of the future. 

Our nation made the commitment 40 years ago to clean water and clean air after the Cuyahuga River caught fire as a result of an oil spill there.  When we see that our best case scenario from an deep oil rig accident is to set fire to an oil slick the size of Rhode Island, we are just beginning to understand the true costs of this type of accident. 

To those residents of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod who are concerned about the view from their beach front properties, I ask that you consider the effect of an oil slick the size of Rhode Island traveling up the Gulf Stream and polluting our shores from Louisiana to Cape Cod. We are all connected. 

Our rivers and oceans should not be on fire. We must commit to ourselves, to our nation, to our children that we will do everything in our power to ensure that this does not occur again! 

Big Oil Fought Off Safety Regulations

Here is an Interesting article on how BP fought off safety regulations before the rig explosion in the Gulf.  

I've also attached another article that has NASA pictures of the oil spill that is now bigger than Rhode Island. 

As families mourn the 11 workers thrown overboard in the worst oil rig disaster in decades and as the resulting spill continues to spread through the Gulf of Mexico, new questions are being raised about the training of the drill operators and about the oil company's commitment to safety.
Deepwater Horizon, the giant technically-advanced rig which exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, is leaking an estimated 42,000 gallons per day through a pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has spread across 1,800 square miles -- an area larger than Rhode Island -- according to satellite images, oozing its way toward the Louisiana coast and posing a threat to wildlife, including a sperm whale spotted in the oil sheen.
Relatives of workers who are presumed dead claim that the oil behemoth BP and rig owner TransOcean violated "numerous statutes and regulations" issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a lawsuit filed by Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane, a deck floor hand, was thrown overboard by the force of the explosion and whose body has not yet been located.]
The Minerals and Management Service of the Interior Department proposed taking a more proactive stance by requiring operators to have their safety program audited at least once every three years -- previously, the industry's self-managed safety program was voluntary for operators. 
BP and TransOcean have also aggressively opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling -- which were prompted by a study that found many accidents in the industry.
The cost of those extra audits? $4.5 million. 
The cost to our environment of not conducting safety audits? Inestimable. 

World Temperature Map for March

For those of you who like to see the graphical depictions of global warming in progress, here is the image for March. 

The short summary is that the three month period, January - March 2010, was the hottest three month period on record and March 2010 is the hottest March on record. 

The record temperatures we're seeing now are especially impressive because we've been in the "deepest solar minimum in nearly a century." The solar minimum now appears to be over, so we can expect warming from both increased CO2 and increased solar radiation over the next few years. 

Good News from IBM

IBM announced that it will require its 28,000 suppliers in more than 90 countries to install management systems to gather data on their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste and recycling.

Those companies in turn must ask their subcontractors to do the same if their products or services end up as a significant part of I.B.M.'s $40 billion global supply chain. The suppliers must also set environmental goals and make public their progress in meeting those objectives.
"We will be amongst the first, if not the first, with these broad-based markers on our supply base and we're going to have to spend an appropriate amount of time and money to help our suppliers do what we're asking them to do," John Paterson, vice president for I.B.M.'s global supply and chief procurement officer, said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong.

April 14, 2010

Shareholder calls for Massey Energy CEO's Resignation

As federal and state investigators begin to investigate what caused the deadly blast that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli called on Massey Energy Chairman Don Blankenship to resign.
DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the $129.4 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds 305.550 shares of Massey stock, worth $14.1 million.
"This tragedy was a failure both of risk management and effective board oversight," he said. "Blankenship must step down and make room for more responsible leadership at Massey."
The CtW Investment Group, a subsidiary of the labor federation Change to Win (comprised of five unions representing six million members), sent a letter to Massey Energy lead director retired Admiral Bobby R. Inman calling on the mining company's board "to immediately seek the resignation of Don Blankenship as chairman and CEO."

Earth Day - Let's Get to Work

President Obama is calling on all Americans to help make their communities greener and healthier this Earth Day.

"As we continue to tackle our environmental challenges, it’s clear that change won’t come from Washington alone. It will come from Americans across the country who take steps in their own homes and their own communities to make that change happen."

Sign up to attend an Earth Day service project in your area. LEARN MORE

April 12, 2010

Newsweek - Wrong on Coal

Newsweek wrote an article last week on coal's future in America which was so filled with factual errors and false pretexts that it might easily have been written by someone in the coal industry. 

Let's correct some of the mis-statements of fact in that article. 

1) The article leads with the statement - "Coal is the one fuel that powers most of what we do."
The false pretext is that the author assumes that electricity is our only source of energy in America. In actual fact, coal provides about 22.4% of US energy. (2007 data)

Even if you look only at electricity, the notion that coal provides "most" of our power is also incorrect. Most means more than 50%, while coal provides about 44.6% of the nation's electrical energy. (2009 data). 

2) Then the author claims that "as demand for power increases... coal is poised to play a bigger, not smaller, role in our energy landscape." 

The Department of Energy disagrees in its 2010 Annual Energy Outlook, which suggests that coal's share of our energy generation will decline slightly over the next 25 years. During the same period, renewable energy's share of total energy consumption is projected to grow by a factor of 2.2x. 

3) The author then states that the reason coal will play a bigger role is because it is just so much cheaper than the alternatives. This again turns out to be false. The Department of Energy shows that new natural gas plants produce electrical energy at about 79% to 83% of the cost of new coal fired electrical plants. These projections of levelized cost of energy do not even include the cost of negative externalities (for example, mountain top mining, toxic sludge containment breaches, health and climate) that result from the burning of coal. 

4) The author then makes the case that externalities like miner's safety shouldn't be included in the cost of our energy, stating that  "because accidents—from mine cave-ins...  don't happen often enough for safety to become a formidable factor in the national discussion on our energy future." 

Perhaps they should. Over 300 people have died in accidents while mining coal in the United States in the last decade and over 10,000 miners die each decade from black lung disease. 

And then there are the health risks for the rest of us. Over 23,000 people die each year from the particulate matter emissions from power plants. The cost to society from particulate emissions from power plants is $150 billion dollars a year. That works out to $1,300 per year each and every household in America is paying in higher health care bills to subsidize coal power plants. 

How much do you pay for electricity each year? How does that number compare to the $1,300 you are paying in increased health care costs? 

Of course there is the very real risk that you or a loved one could be one of the people who end up in the hospital or the morgue as a result of breathing the toxic chemicals emitted by the coal plants. That risk should certainly be part of our national energy discussion. 

As is so often the case, when the fossil fuel industry tells you about the benefits of "cheap coal", they really mean that someone else is paying the price and that person may very well be you or your family. 

Bill McKibben on Feedlot Beef

The Only Way to Have a Cow

A call for America to divest its heart and stomach from feedlot beef


MAY I SAY—somewhat defensively—that I haven't cooked red meat in many years? That I haven't visited a McDonald's since college? That if you asked me how I like my steak, I'd say I don't really remember? I'm not a moral abstainer—I'll eat meat when poor people in distant places offer it to me, especially when they're proud to do so and I'd be an ass to say no. But in everyday life, for a series of reasons that began with the dietary scruples of the woman I chose to marry, hamburgers just don't come into play.
I begin this way because I plan to wade into one of the most impassioned fracases now underway on the planet—to meat or not to meat—and I want to establish that I Do Not Have A Cow In This Fight. In recent years vegetarians and vegans have upped their attack on the consumption of animal flesh, pointing out not only that it's disgusting (read Jonathan Safran Foer's new book) but also a major cause of climate change. The numbers range from 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions to—in one recent study that was quickly discredited—51 percent. Whatever the exact figure, suffice it to say it's high: there's the carbon that comes from cutting down the forest to start the farm, and from the fertilizer and diesel fuel it takes to grow the corn, there's the truck exhaust from shipping cows hither and yon, and most of all the methane that emanates from the cows themselves (95 percent of it from the front end, not the hind, and these millions of feedlot cows would prefer if you used the word eructate in place of belch). This news has led to an almost endless series of statistical calculations: going vegan is 50 percent more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than switching to a hybrid car, according to a University of Chicago study; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization finds that a half pound of ground beef has the same effect on climate change as driving an SUV ten miles. It has led to a lot of political statements: the British health secretary last fall called on Englishmen to cut their beefeating by dropping at least a sausage a week from their diets, and Paul McCartney has declared that "the biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle to help the environment would be to become vegetarian." It has even led to the marketing of a men's flip-flop called the Stop Global Warming Toepeeka that's made along entirely vegan lines.
Industrial livestock production is essentially indefensible—ethically, ecologically, and otherwise. We now use an enormous percentage of our arable land to grow corn that we feed to cows who stand in feedlots and eructate until they are slaughtered in a variety of gross ways and lodge in our ever-larger abdomens. And the fact that the product of this exercise "tastes good" sounds pretty lame as an excuse. There are technofixes—engineering the corn feed so it produces less methane, or giving the cows shots so they eructate less violently. But this type of tailpipe fix only works around the edges, and with the planet warming fast that's not enough. We should simply stop eating factory-farmed meat, and the effects on climate change would be but one of the many benefits.
Still, even once you've made that commitment, there's a nagging ecological question that's just now being raised. It goes like this: long before humans had figured out the whole cow thing, nature had its own herds of hoofed ungulates. Big herds of big animals—perhaps 60 million bison ranging across North America, and maybe 100 million antelope. That's considerably more than the number of cows now resident in these United States. These were noble creatures, but uncouth—eructate hadn't been coined yet. They really did just belch. So why weren't they filling the atmosphere with methane? Why wasn't their manure giving off great quantities of atmosphere-altering gas?
The answer, so far as we can tell, is both interesting and potentially radical in its implications. These old-school ungulates weren't all that different in their plumbing—they were methane factories with legs too. But they used those legs for something. They didn't stand still in feedlots waiting for corn, and they didn't stand still in big western federal allotments overgrazing the same tender grass. They didn't stand still at all. Maybe they would have enjoyed stationary life, but like teenagers in a small town, they were continually moved along by their own version of the police: wolves. And big cats. And eventually Indians. By predators.
As they moved, they kept eating grass and dropping manure. Or, as soil scientists would put it, they grazed the same perennials once or twice a year to "convert aboveground biomass to dung and urine." Then dung beetles buried the results in the soil, nurturing the grass to grow back. These grasslands covered places that don't get much rain—the Southwest and the Plains, Australia, Africa, much of Asia. And all that grass-land sequestered stupendous amounts of carbon and methane from out of the atmosphere—recent preliminary research indicates that methane-loving bacteria in healthy soils will sequester more of the gas in a day than cows supported by the same area will emit in a year.
We're flat out of predators in most parts of the world, and it's hard to imagine, in the short time that we have to deal with climate change, ending the eating of meat and returning the herds of buffalo and packs of wolves to all the necessary spots. It's marginally easier to imagine mimicking those systems with cows. The key technology here is the single-strand electric fence—you move your herd or your flock once or twice a day from one small pasture to the next, forcing them to eat everything that's growing there but moving them along before they graze all the good stuff down to bare ground. Now their manure isn't a problem that fills a cesspool, but a key part of making the system work. Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere's oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that's on the same scale as the problem of global warming. It won't do away with the need for radically cutting emissions, but it could help get the car exhaust you emitted back in high school out of the atmosphere.
Oh, and grass-fed beef is apparently much better for you—full of Omega 3s, like sardines that moo. Better yet, it's going to be more expensive, because you can't automate the process the same way you can feedlot agriculture. You need the guy to move the fence every afternoon. (That's why about a billion of our fellow humans currently make their livings as herders of one kind or another—some of them use slingshots, or dogs, or shepherd's crooks, or horses instead of electric fence, but the principle is the same.) More expensive, in this case, as in many others, is good; we'd end up eating meat the way most of the world does— as a condiment, a flavor, an ingredient, not an entrĂ©e.
I doubt McDonald's will be in favor. I doubt Paul McCartney will be in favor. It doesn't get rid of the essential dilemma of killing something and then putting it in your mouth. But it's possible that the atmosphere would be in favor, and that's worth putting down your fork and thinking about. 

Another step forward for Clean Water

The EPA set new water-quality standards for surface coal mining in central Appalachia that Administrator Lisa Jackson said would likely block mountaintop-removal projects from dumping wastes in streams.

"The people of Appalachia shouldn't have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them," she said. "This is not about ending coal mining, it is about ending coal mining pollution."

The guidance sets the first-ever numeric water standards for conductivity — a measure of the level of salt — in streams near surface coal mines and is intended to protect 95 percent of the region's aquatic life and freshwater streams, the agency said.

To qualify for a Clean Water Act permit, mining companies must show their proposed project will leave streams with conductivity measured at no more than 500 microsiemens per centimeter, a measure of salinity that EPA said is roughly five times above normal levels.

There are "no or very few valley fills that are going to meet this standard," Jackson told reporters in a conference call. "Valley fill" refers to the practice of dumping waste from mines into nearby valleys. Mining operations have buried nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams, the agency said.

"We expect this guideline to change behaviors, to change actions," Jackson said. "Because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we'll continue to see degradation of water quality."

The standards were prompted by a growing body of research indicating surface mining is damaging Appalachia's environment and public health, Jackson said.

EPA today also released two draft studies, one documenting the adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems of pollutant levels associated with high conductivity. Conductivity levels are on average 10 times higher downstream from mountaintop mines and valley fills than in unmined watersheds, the draft concludes.
The new regulations are effective immediately on an interim basis while EPA takes public comment and considers revisions. The regulations do not apply retroactively to existing Clean Water Act permits, but they will be applied to the nearly 80 permits that EPA last year held for "enhanced review," Jackson said.
Jackson said the new guidelines apply for now only to surface mines in central Appalachia because that is where the data they are based on were gathered, but she said the science could eventually compel the agency to consider conductivity standards for waters surrounding underground mines, as well.

West Virginia's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Robert Byrd, praised EPA's action. "I am pleased that EPA Administrator Jackson took our concerns about the need to provide clarity very seriously and has responded with these guidelines," he said in a statement. "Today's announcement will hopefully now have everyone reading off the same page."

 Environmental groups called the standards a major and much-needed crackdown on coal-mining pollution.
"The new policy represents the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop-removal coal mining," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "Today's announcement reaffirms the Obama administration's commitment to science and to environmental justice for the communities and natural areas of Appalachia."

Nissan Leaf Electric Car - Competitive with Prius

The Nissan Leaf electric car will cost $32,780 when it rolls into showrooms in December. Add in the federal EV tax credit, and the bottom line is $25,280, a price that makes the Leaf competitive with the Honda Civic and the Toyota Prius. 

Nissan announced the price today and said it starts taking reservations for the Leaf electric car April 20.

Sign a 36-month lease and put $1,999 down, and your monthly payment will be $349.

"If you include the energy costs, it works out to $408 a month for the Leaf, $414 a month for the Civic and $389 a month for the Prius," Jung said.