Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A little bit of good news about Coal River Mountain

I just read this blog item by Ken Ward Jr., dated November 20 from the West Virginia Gazette, which I quote in full below. But go to the link to read the comments. Also be sure to watch the video and check the link to I Love Mountains to see videos about mountaintop removal and take action to stop this!
EPA taking closer look at Coal River Mountain mining
An interesting development just in concerning Massey Energy’s Bee Tree Mine, the Southern West Virginia operation where environmentalists had hoped to put a wind energy facility instead of a mountaintop removal job.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are investigating the Bee Tree site, examining Massey’s operation there without first obtaining a “dredge-and-fill” permit under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act.

Yesterday, EPA regional officials in Philadelphia sent this letter to Massey’s Marfork Coal Co. subsidiary, seeking a long list of information about the Bee Tree operations.

Recall that Massey made a change in its surface mining permit from the state that the company apparently believed allowed it to — at least at this point — not need a 404 permit that could face EPA scrutiny before it would be approved by the federal Army Corps of Engineers. Massey had applied for a 404 permit, but then withdrew that application.

According to the new EPA letter, federal officials visited the site earlier this month and now are concerned that the site does need a 404 permit. The letter cautions Massey:
The activities underway at the site do not appear to have independent utility from the proposed mining project that is the subject of the Section 404 permit application. EPA is concerned that Marfork Coal Company may be committing signficant resources and conducting operations in reliance on a Section 404 permit that has not been issued. The Corps has not yet made a determination of jurisdictional waters and we have some concern that ongoing activities at the site could impact such waters if sufficient precautions are not exercised.

Updated: Massey General Counsel Shane Harvey tells me the company has received EPA’s letter and is reviewing it.
I will keep you posted here about what happens at Coal River Mountain and other locations.

Save America's Most Endangered Mountains

See a Google map where the destruction is very obvious, with links to more video at ilovemountains.org/endangered/#.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Save Coal River Mountain!

Once again I am writing about Coal River Mountain. I get to see the new movie about it on Wednesday at a houseparty, and expect to find it both hopeful and devastating (just like mountaintop removal.) This picture shows the impoundment of toxic mining wastes, which lies directly above a village and a school. The vibrations of the blasts at Coal River Mountain could cause the dam to break down (it's happened before elsewhere) and inundate the school and the village. The article where I found the picture is at Earthbytes: Save Coal River Mountain, providing excellent background information. Then they ask you to go to I Love Mountains / Coal River, where there is a petition to the important people in the EPA, asking them to stop the blasting.

Please take action!
Save Coal River Mountain today

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"On Coal River" four minute trailer

Urge the Obama administration to help save
Coal River Mountain

I received this email from NRDC:
Rising above a picturesque valley in southern West Virginia, like an oasis in the midst of coal country, Coal River Mountain represents the last, best hope for a community resisting the legacy of dirty energy in this part of Appalachia. For the past two years, local residents have been waging a fight against time -- and an industry behemoth -- to save their beloved mountain from the fate of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Mountaintop removal strip mining has leveled hundreds of other Appalachian peaks already, leaving scarred landscapes, polluted water and impoverished communities. But creative residents proposed a clean energy alternative that would keep the last remaining mountain in the Coal River valley intact. Their proposed wind farm would place 200 turbines on a ridge that would power more than 70,000 homes with clean electricity, provide hundreds of much-needed jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local economy through the project's construction and operation, as well as annual tax revenue.

Local politicians, however, have once again succumbed to industry influence by rejecting this obvious windfall to the community. Recently, Massey Energy -- the nation's fourth-largest coal company -- began blasting on Coal River Mountain in preparation for a massive mountaintop removal operation. This mountain has the highest peaks ever slated for mining in the state; turning it into a pile of rubble would lower the elevation by several hundred feet, eliminating the height required to tap the wind speeds necessary to spin turbines.

West Virginia's governor has ignored requests to stop the blasting, but it's not too late for the Obama administration to step in and save Coal River Mountain from the fate of so many others in America's oldest mountain range.

What to do

Send a message right away urging the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately halt the blasting on Coal River Mountain.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mountaintop Removal hasn't stopped yet

Unfortunately even though the EPA has at least temporarily halted a lot of MTR projects for environmental studies, there are a lot of permits out there to be acted on. The website I Love Mountains keeps track of what is happening, and provides information about how to help. You can read about the new destruction at Coal River Mountain on I Love Mountains and Coal River Wind. As you can see in the video, Coal River Wind is working toward the most obvious solution - using those mountaintops for windmills instead of destroying them. This will also provide much needed jobs in a clean industry.

If you are a teacher, you can find a lot of classroom resources about mountaintop removal on I Love Mountains as well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tuna exploits in Papua New Guinea (PNG),

Watch the video about tuna fisheries ruining the local environment in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and then sign the petition at Save the Rainforest.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coal pollution goes from air to water

In a long article yesterday in the New York Times, Cleansing the Air at the Expense of Waterways, Charles Duhigg writes about how coal pollution is being moved from scrubbed smokestacks to waterways.
So three years ago, when Allegheny Energy decided to install scrubbers to clean the plant’s air emissions, environmentalists were overjoyed. The technology would spray water and chemicals through the plant’s chimneys, trapping more than 150,000 tons of pollutants each year before they escaped into the sky.

But the cleaner air has come at a cost. Each day since the equipment was switched on in June, the company has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater containing chemicals from the scrubbing process into the Monongahela River, which provides drinking water to 350,000 people and flows into Pittsburgh, 40 miles to the north.
I have to quote Gwen Ifill on this one: "What were they thinking?" Who in their right mind would authorize this pollution dump? Regulators are looking the other way, it seems. We spent so much energy fighting water pollution for years, but now that environmentalists' attention has turned to energy, there is apparently less attention being paid to the pollution of energy, other than its airborn effects.
Yet no federal regulations specifically govern the disposal of power plant discharges into waterways or landfills. Some regulators have used laws like the Clean Water Act to combat such pollution. But those laws can prove inadequate, say regulators, because they do not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste, like arsenic and lead.
Although the plant in the picture in Hatfield’s Ferry, PA, claims to have used high tech methods to remove toxic materials, which it then is hoarding in a lagoon with an impermeable membrane,
The plant’s water treatment facility ... does not remove all dissolved metals and chemicals, many of which go into the river, executives concede. An analysis of records from other plants with scrubbers indicates that such wastewater often contains high concentrations of dissolved arsenic, barium, boron, iron, manganese, cadmium, magnesium and other heavy metals that have been shown to contribute to cancer, organ failures and other diseases. Company officials say the emissions by the plant will not pose health risks, because they will be diluted in the river. (My italics)
But the toxics go down river - to Pittsburg, into the Ohio, the Mississippi and ultimately the Gulf, which is already suffering from toxic runoff from mid-western farms.

Obviously the only solution is to ban coal. But it won't be easy, of course.

In 2000, Environmental Protection Agency officials tried to issue stricter controls on power plant waste. But a lobbying campaign by the coal and power industries, as well as public officials in 13 states, blocked the effort. In 2008 alone, according to campaign finance reports, power companies donated $20 million to the political campaigns of federal lawmakers, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
In my humble opinion, the coal industry should be using that money to clean up its act. Or required clean-up measures should be so high, that the costs of its externalities get added to the cost of burning coal. Coal is only cheap today because the coal and energy companies are letting others pay for their pollution, as cancer, asthma, toxic groundwater, dead and ruined waterways, etc. etc.. At some point, their lobby money won't work anymore. When you get too outrageous, even your paid loyalists will turn against you.
This is just one more reason to move to renewables as soon as possible!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

There are still mountaintops being removed

Just because the EPA has declared that all pending mountaintop removal projects are in violation of the Clean Water Act and must be reviewed further doesn't mean mountaintop removal is vanquished. For one thing, the projects are being reviewed with the companies to see if there is an acceptable solution; they aren't canceled. For the other, there are lots of permits being used right now. The Nation has an article by Jeff Biggers about The Coalfield Uprising which tells a lot more. Here's a short quote:
For the past few years, ever since a massive twenty-story dragline landed on a ridge near their home, the Webbs had endured twice-daily, bone-rattling explosions and the quasi-apocalyptic storms of coal dust and fly rock that blanketed their home and garden. Lindytown's creeks and mountain hollows no longer exist, and a once-thriving community has been reduced to a ghost town. "It's unreal. It's like we're living in a war zone," Lora Webb told a local newspaper last fall.
Recently they gave up and sold their ancestral home to the mining company, Massey Energy, and were given 60 days to get out.
The temporarily homeless Webbs are a stark example that mountaintop removal does more than "likely cause water quality impacts," as the EPA has determined. More than 3.5 million pounds of explosives rip daily across the ridges and historic mountain communities in West Virginia; a similar amount of explosives are employed in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and eastern Tennessee. Mountaintop removal operations have destroyed more than 500 mountains and 1.2 million acres of forest in our nation's oldest and most diverse range, and jammed more than 1,200 miles of streams with mining waste.
Let us hope that the EPA finally puts a complete stop on those new projects, and begins to look at the old ones as well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thank you, Lisa Jackson!

Not only has the EPA under Lisa Jackson's guidance stopped Mountaintop removal at one site in West Viginia as reported in the previous post, but all 79 permits submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers have been returned, stamped Likely to violate the Clean Water Act. According to the Sierra Club newsletter I received today, this is not necessarily the end of MTR.
Now the Army Corps has 60 days to review and revise their proposals, and we expect coal companies to spend this time pulling out all the stops in attacks on the EPA. King Coal will say and do anything they can to get away with as they try to reverse this decision.

Friday's announcement is a stark reminder that the coal industry is the beneficiary of loopholes that no other industry enjoys. It is time to close these loopholes, protect public health, and return the rule of law not just to Appalachia, but to all of America. It's time to end the hideous practice of mountaintop removal coal mining once and for all.
They ask that you send a note of thanks to Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, but ask her to work toward laws that will forbid this entirely.

If you'd like to read more about this decision, try Jeff Bigger's article in the Nation Magazine: EPA Turns the Lights on Mountaintop Removal that reminds us that these reversals are just related to Clear Water Act issues, not life-style, community, and nature preservation. That will take entirely different laws, which, according to the article, are slowly working their way through Congress.

The news came as a bit of a surprise to some coalfield activists. "Since January we've been skeptical about how serious the new administration would be about addressing mountaintop removal," said Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a citizens' organization in the state where more than half of the designated permits are located. "It looks like EPA is prepared to do everything it can, within the existing regulatory framework, to protect the mountains and people of Appalachia. This is great news, but it will take more than regulations to end the destruction. Mountaintop removal and valley fills should be banned."

Many activists welcomed the announcement but, like Blanton, pledged to keep pushing legislators until the practice is abolished. Judy Bonds, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, said, "We will continue our fight for a total, complete reprieve for our children and for our beloved mountains and streams."

So we can't relax yet, but at least we know that these 79 mountains can breathe easier for a while longer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Great News! EPA saves WVA mountaintop

All those petitions must have made a difference! The EPA this weekend decided to reject applications for mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, saying that there is "clear evidence" that environmental damage would occur if they were permitted. According to Ken Ward Jr.'s blog EPA moves to block W.Va.'s largest mining permit for the Charleston, WVA, Gazette:
William E. Early, acting regional EPA administrator, recommended the corps conduct a new environmental impact study of the permit proposal to evaluate "new information and circumstances" and "recent data and analyses" of mountaintop removal.

In a five-page letter, Early cited the Spruce Mine's "potential to degrade downstream water quality," the need for the company to give "serious consideration" to reducing valley fill size, and scientific studies that show mine operators cannot effectively replace the environmental functions of streams buried by mining waste.
I hope this is the beginning of the end of all 57 permits the EPA has on its board.

If you want to know more about mountaintop removal, I recommend the blog quoted here: MiningtheMountains. For example, Coal's costs outweigh benefits, WVU study finds or Coal lawyer visits future mine site

Monday, September 7, 2009

Good News, but need your help

I've been receiving information recently from several sources about mountaintop removal. Evidently the EPA has requests for 86 mountaintop removal permits to go review here in September. The Rainforest Action Network asks you to sign this petition to Lisa Jackson of the EPA to go to Appalachia and view the destruction before she reviews the requests. As they write:
We're still on the precipice of disaster. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will review 86 new mountaintop removal permits. If approved, these 86 new permits could mean 86 less mountains in Appalachia. That spells disaster as mountaintop removal coal mining has already destroyed 500 mountains, buried 2,000 miles of rivers and streams under rubble and greatly harmed Appalachian communities and culture. If approved, these permits will be devastating for the people and ecosystems of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other parts of Appalachia and authorize a new round of blasting, flooding, and water contamination.
Lisa Jackson discussed the Energy Bill in an NPR interview September 3 on the Diane Rehm show, including a section on Mountaintop Removal (about 16 minutes into the interview) where she admitted that she didn't quite know that this is all about. The decisions on this is based on the Clean Water Act, which she says is the only area the EPA can act on. She admits that there are other issues, besides landscape and social issues. She equate this with coal mining in Wyoming, although the issue is very different, since the coal-mining area in Wyoming is not where people have lived, worked, hunted and fished for generations.

Siohban Hughes, writing in The Wall Street Journal of September 3, EPA to Soon Decide on Mountaintop-Mining Permits reported on the NPR interview with Lisa Jackson.
She said the EPA is reviewing about 84 such permits, deciding whether to block the permits from being issued. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues the permits, though the EPA has veto power.
Mountaintop mining involves using explosives to blast off the tops off mountains in order to get at coal seams under the surface. The technique has become increasingly common -- surface mining operations in central Appalachia account for about 10% of U.S. coal production. But the EPA says that streams have been contaminated in the process and some forest lands have been destroyed.
Ohio Citizen Action reports on the NPR show with Lisa Jackson, pointing out that she admitted that she'd never seen a mountaintop removal site.
"U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson found herself struggling to explain the Obama Admininstration's policy on mountaintop removal coal mining yesterday on National Public Radio's Diane Rehm Show. In response to questions from Ohio Citizen Action's Kate Russell and Guest Host Susan Page, Jackson said "we should uphold science" and agreed with Russell that the scientific research shows that mountaintop removal sites could not be reclaimed. She could not, however, state what the Obama policy on mountaintop removal is."

"At one point it was not clear that Jackson understood what mountaintop removal coal mining was. Jackson said she had never seen a mountaintop removal site: "I have not yet seen it with my own eyes." Then she compared mountaintop removal first to strip mining and then to mining methods in Wyoming, neither of which are comparable," Paul Ryder, Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action.
Fortunately, there is also some good news (also from the Rainforest Action Network:)
Last Monday, it was announced that after a grassroots pressure campaign state-owned utility Santee Cooper is canceling its plans to build a $1.25 billion coal plant on the banks of the Great Pee Dee River in South Carolina. On Tuesday, two activists courageously climbed 80 foot trees to prevent mining company Massey Energy's mountaintop removal operations from raining debris and destruction on the Coal River Valley in southern West Virginia. Truly effective grassroots action has proven that Big Coal can be stopped in its tracks if we put our minds to it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Health Care for all is not "socialized medicine"

5 Myths About Health Care Around the World were rebuffed by T. R. Reid in the Washington Post on Sunday.Here are some short quotes from the article, with comments from my own experience.
  • Myth 1: It's all socialized medicine out there
    Some countries, such as Britain, New Zealand and Cuba, do provide health care in government hospitals, with the government paying the bills.
    Others -- for instance, Canada and Taiwan -- rely on private-sector providers, paid for by government-run insurance.
    But many wealthy countries -- including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and Switzerland -- provide universal coverage using private doctors, private hospitals and private insurance plans.
  • Myth 2: Overseas, care is rationed through limited choices or long lines
    As for those notorious waiting lists, some countries are indeed plagued by them. Canada makes patients wait weeks or months for nonemergency care, as a way to keep costs down. But studies by the Commonwealth Fund and others report that many nations -- Germany, Britain, Austria -- outperform the United States on measures such as waiting times for appointments and for elective surgeries.
    If you think about how long it takes in this country to get an appointment for the doctor who will be performing elective surgery, you get up to similar waits in this country.
    When I lived in Denmark, I could get an appointment with my family doctor the same day I called. I was never refered to a nurse practitioner or PA. The emergency procedures were done immediately. I had a (benigh) breast tumor removed the day I discovered it.
  • Myth 3: Foreign health-care systems are inefficient, bloated bureaucracies.
    U.S. health insurance companies have the highest administrative costs in the world; they spend roughly 20 cents of every dollar for nonmedical costs, such as paperwork, reviewing claims and marketing. France's health insurance industry, in contrast, covers everybody and spends about 4 percent on administration. Canada's universal insurance system, run by government bureaucrats, spends 6 percent on administration. In Taiwan, a leaner version of the Canadian model has administrative costs of 1.5 percent; one year, this figure ballooned to 2 percent, and the opposition parties savaged the government for wasting money.
    My family doctors' office had minimal staff, who could even do simple lab procedures, because they didn't have to spend all their time on paper-work.
  • Myth 4: Cost controls stifle innovation
    Overseas, strict cost controls actually drive innovation. In the United States, an MRI scan of the neck region costs about $1,500. In Japan, the identical scan costs $98. Under the pressure of cost controls, Japanese researchers found ways to perform the same diagnostic technique for one-fifteenth the American price. (And Japanese labs still make a profit.)
  • Myth 5: Health insurance has to be cruel
    Foreign health insurance companies, in contrast, must accept all applicants, and they can't cancel as long as you pay your premiums. The plans are required to
    pay any claim submitted by a doctor or hospital (or health spa), usually within
    tight time limits. The big Swiss insurer Groupe Mutuel promises to pay all claims within five days. "Our customers love it," the group's chief executive told me. The corollary is that everyone is mandated to buy insurance, to give the plans an adequate pool of rate-payers.
    The key difference is that foreign health insurance plans exist only to pay people's medical bills, not to make a profit. The United States is the only developed country that lets insurance companies profit from basic health coverage.
  • Corollary to Myth 5: America has "the finest health care" in the world
    We don't. In terms of results, almost all advanced countries have better national health statistics than the United States does. In terms of finance, we force 700,000 Americans into bankruptcy each year because of medical bills. In France, the number of medical bankruptcies is zero. Britain: zero. Japan: zero. Germany: zero.
  • I have family members who persist with this one. Some of the conservative men in my family are small business owners (who would benefit from any Obama plan, so they could provide health benefits to their employees.) Both receive their health benefits from their wive's job as school employees.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

China Greener than the US?

Thomas Friedman has been to China many times and knows it well. He is also very involved in the environmental debate. His Op Ed article in the NYT today Can I Clean Your Clock? (For those who are as ignorant in such things as I am, according the the first definition I found by googling: If you clean your clock, you beat someone decisively in a contest or fight.)

Friedman's thesis is that China's figured this out and is out to "clean America's clock" in the field of Environmental Technology (E.T.), while we are still dithering about whether to put up windmills at Cape Cod, or allow solar panels in historical landmark sites.
Yes, you might think that China is only interested in polluting its way to prosperity. That was once true, but it isn’t anymore. China is increasingly finding that it has to go green out of necessity because in too many places, its people can’t breathe, fish, swim, drive or even see because of pollution and climate change. Well, there is one thing we know about necessity: it is the mother of invention.

And that is what China is doing, innovating more and more energy efficiency and clean power systems. And when China starts to do that in a big way — when it starts to develop solar, wind, batteries, nuclear and energy efficiency technologies on its low-cost platform — watch out. You won’t just be buying your toys from China. You’ll be buying your energy future from China.
Personally I almost don't care if China "beats us" in the E.T. business. They have a lot of reasons to do so - growing economy that needs energy, for one thing. If they can do this cleanly, then more power to them. I don't think saving the world should be a cause for competition. We're all in this together, and either we all win, or we all lose.

Nevertheless, I don't think we should be skurking in the shadows, arguing the small stuff, while they are leading the way. For one thing, if we made our own panels, then China could use the ones they produce in China to help cut back thei need for coal. And we have a lot of people looking for jobs who might as well be creating E.T. - People who have lost jobs in the old economy need jobs in the E.T. economy.

As Friedman writes,
And this is why I disagree with President Obama when he signals that he has to focus on extending health care and put the energy/climate bill — now in the Senate — on the backburner.

Health care and the energy/climate bill go together. We need both now. Imagine how poor we would be today if U.S. firms did not dominate the top 10 Internet companies. Well, if we don’t dominate the top 10 E.T. rankings, there is no way we are going to be able to afford decent health care for every American. No way.
Again, I disagree with the need to "dominate," because there is room for every bit of E.T. any one can produce, but obviously health care is linked to the environment in more ways than economics.
I'm catching up on a big pile of magazines. I just read a column in last week's Time Magazine by Justin Fox, called Let Someone Else Buy. He thinks we should worry if what he calls the "BIC" nations (leaving Russia out of the usual BRIC acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China) take up the slack while we learn to live within our means and they grow to meet us.
In fact, the U.S. might turn out to be more competitive. American dominance has in recent years been a mixed blessing. Many countries got addicted to selling to American consumers and poured capital into the U.S. to keep the buying going. These inflows kept the dollar strong, making life tough for U.S. exporters; they also saddled Americans with the unsustainable debt loads that led to the financial crisis. Now no one abroad is willing to lend to deadbeat American households, and the U.S. government has temporarily taken over as the world's chief borrower and spender. But as we've just learned from the example of the American consumer, one can't borrow and spend forever.

Sometime in the near future, then, the U.S. will have to start living within its means — or at least a lot closer to them than it currently does. To keep this new American frugality from battering the global economy even more than it's been battered, somebody has to pick up the resulting slack in demand. Europe and Japan have been hit harder by the downturn than the U.S. has, and they have aging, slow-growing populations unlikely to ignite consumer booms. That leaves the BICs as pretty much the only remaining candidates. These economies are still too small to take up all the slack: together their GDP amounts to less than half that of the U.S. But they are expanding rapidly. Yes, their ascent spells relative economic decline for the U.S. The faster it happens, though, the sooner a durable global economic recovery will get under way. Go BICs!
I don't think Fox sees things as dire as Friedman. We have to let others come to the trough - as long as they clean up after themselves!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I haven't been paying attention

When I saw that the Clean Energy and Security Act, so far passed by the House, includes a LOT of money for the oxymoron "clean coal" and for nuclear projects, which both with tunnel vision allowably would reduce CO2, but with wide vision will continue to destroy the rest of the plane we're trying to save.

If these are necessary to pass the bill, then so be it. Politics is a nasty business.

But once the bill finally gets passed, we'll continue our pressure to drop coal and nuclear entirely as they can be phased out by developing the renewable industry. I haven't studied the Act (see the above link) to see exactly how much is apportioned to coal, nuclear and renewables. But I'm hoping the coal and nuclear part is a small percentage of the total.

If you Google clean energy and security act you can read about the positive and negative reactions to the bill from environmentalists, politicians, newspapers and bloggers. There's a lot to read.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Clean Energy and Security Act took its first step

My email Inbox was full of jubilant emails about how the Clean Energy Bill passed the House by 1 vote today. Of course, it has a long ways to go before it can become law. I have also received emails recently from some environmental groups that don't want it. Carbon Cap and Trade is the baby of Environmental Defense, which does a lot of work with industries to get them to change their ways. I rather think that they are the most pragmatic of the environmental groups I support.

With my background in Environmental Management, I found that getting business to change is probably the most effective way to move in the right direction. That's what cap and trade is all about. But it has to be done correctly. I'm hoping that the people who will implement it have looked to Europe to see what went well, what needs improving, and make the American model better!

Even though the situation requires giant steps these days, politicians are not known for more than baby steps. I think a first step is a good thing, and it can grow to met the task.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

James Hansen and Darryl Hannah Arrested for Prostesting Mountaintop Removal

Elizabeth Kolbert has written a long article in the New Yorker magazine about James Hansen, NASA's chief climate scientist, which unfortunately is only available to subscribers. But this blog item "Elizabeth Kolbert: James Hansen Arrested" - along with Darryl Hannah at a mountaintop removal site in West Virginia - has a link to the abstract (and the whole article if you want to purchase it, or go out and buy this week's New Yorker, which they'd probably prefer!)

James Hansen is the guy the Bush administration hassled because he was trying to wake us all up. Of course it isn't convenient if big financial backers just happen to earn their money with coal. He wants to see all coal fired plants stopped entirely in 20 years, which means we'd better start now to find alternatives, and retire the dirties ASAP, so we don't suddenly find us without enough energy.

There are lots of alternative energy solutions ready to go, so it shouldn't be a problem. We just have to get a move on.

By the way, I was at a job fair today looking for a teaching job. Unfortunately some are quite a ways away. I wouldn't mind an hour or so commute if it could be done on public transportation, so I could sleep or read or grade homework during the trip, but I mentioned that to some people and they were thinking more about total time than total available time. why anyone would take a job where they sit in a freeway parking lot for an hour to get to and from is beyond my comprehension, but that's sort of how everyone does in the LA area, because public transportation does not cover the area enough, does not run often enough (and some of the trains share the tracks with freight trains, who own the track!)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Obama, please save the world for your daughters and my grandchildren

Here on Father's Day, the journalists are all over Obama, our First Father. One of the jobs of a father is to protect his children (and maybe also his grandchildren,) which you would think would include the world they are growing up in. He even gave lip-service to this concept in his Letter to his daughters in Parade Magazine in January:
I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you'll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer.
But if Daddy Obama doesn't get it soon, the world his grandchildren play in will be dismal.

If you clink the "label" for Barack Obama in this blog, you will find a blogs at the bottom about how fantastic his speech in Berlin was, and a few other positive items, but then as the campaign neared a close, I got more desperate, because he kept mentioning "coal," while I've been fighting mountaintop removal and coal in general time after time.

Today's news in the LATimes brought it home again. Mr Obama is showing again that he is listening more to Big Coal and Oil, not to the environentalists.
Environmentalists baffled by Obama's strategy
The administration is defending in court environmental measures that the president once vowed to roll back. Officials say it is part of a long-term plan, but critics see it as backpedaling.

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama wooed environmentalists with a promise to "support and defend" pristine national forest land from road building and other development that had been pushed by the George W. Bush administration.

But five months into Obama's presidency, the new administration is actively opposing those protections on about 60 million acres of federal woodlands in a case being considered by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other cases where our promising administration, who came in supporting sustainability, is backpedalling include "spotted owl protection, energy efficiency standards,...hazardous-waste burning", and of course coal.

Mr. Obama! Coal's costs far outweigh benefits

Ken Ward of the Charleston, West Virginia, Gazette reported today on a study by University of West Virginia researcher Michael Hendryx which found that the costs of coal far outweigh the benefits for West Virginia and the entire Appalachian region.
"Coal-mining economies are not strong economies," Hendryx said in an interview last week. "[Coalfield communities] are weaker than the rest of the state, weaker than the rest of the region, and weaker than the rest of the nation."

Writing with co-author Melissa Ahern of Washington State University, Hendryx reports that the coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region.

But, Hendryx and Ahern put the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the Appalachian coalfields at -- by their most conservative estimate -- $42 billion.

"The human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits," they wrote.
Far from providing jobs, the report says that the number of jobs has decreased from 122,102 to 53,509 between 1985 and 2005, which
"corresponded to increases in mechanized mining practices and the growth of surface mining, which requires fewer employees than underground mining per ton mined."
Although people point to the cheap electricity you can get by burning coal, the study says that this does not reflect the true cost of coal if you include the costs of the externalities: ruined natural resources on the surface, and particularly the human lives lost or ruined to asthma and other results of coal's toxicity.

The study does not count costs of the loss of jobs, since far more have been lost recently due to mining mechanization. Instead it recommends a new Appalachian economy.
"Potential alternative employment opportunities include development of renewable energy from wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, or hydropower sources; sustainable timber; small-scale agriculture; outdoor or culturally oriented tourism; technology; and ecosystem restoration," the study says.

"The need to develop alternative economies becomes even more important when we realize that coal reserves throughout most of Appalachia are projected to peak and then enter permanent decline in about 20 years."
The article in the Gazette was written by Ken Ward, who has been following the coal mining situation closely in the Gazette and in his blog Coal Tattoo.

Please, someone, put this article and the report in front of President Obama. He has been listening to the lies of Big Coal and the politicians dependent on Big Coal for too long. Let him know how citizens in Appalachia really live. Let him kick-start a new sustainable economy for Appalachia that will preserve its natural resources and improve the lives of its citizens.

Monday, June 15, 2009

LA Times says Obame is caving in to Big Coal

I don't have much time to write these days. (See why at ToDoTheImpossible), but the journalists are finally catching on what I've been writing all along: Obama is in cahoots with Big Coal!Here is today's editorial from the Los Angeles Times:
Is Obama caving in to coal?
The administration deserves credit for some minimal restrictions on mountaintop mining, but the president's hands-off approach to coal defeats his climate-change efforts.

June 15, 2009

Clear-cutting forests, then blowing the tops off of mountains and dumping the debris into stream beds is an environmentally catastrophic way of mining for coal. President Obama and the green activists he has appointed to run his interior-focused regulatory agencies surely know this. But their contortions over mountaintop mining would make a Cirque du Soleil performer wince.

The administration last week announced a number of new restrictions on mountaintop coal mining in the six Appalachian states where it occurs. They are minimal steps that, among other things, will make it harder for mining companies to escape environmental review when seeking permits to blow up mountains. For this, Obama merits polite applause.

That's in contrast to the much-deserved boos he received last month from environmentalists after his administration quietly sent a letter to coal industry loyalist Rep. Nick Rahall II (D-W.Va.) saying the Environmental Protection Agency wouldn't stand in the way of at least two dozen new mountaintop-removal projects. It was a dismaying move from an administration that in March had blocked several such projects on grounds that they needed further review -- yet some of the ones it greenlighted in May were as big and damaging as the ones it blocked two months earlier. What gives?

Obama is clearly intimidated by coal's powerful lobby. The industry is a major employer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other Appalachian states, where miners tend to vote for whichever party is friendliest to Big Coal. Yet there's also strong grass-roots opposition to strip mining in those states because of the effect it has on local communities; the technique poisons water supplies and pollutes the air with coal and rock dust. It also turns forests into moonscapes, ravages ecosystems and buries streams, which is good for neither wildlife nor the tourism industry.

The best approach to mountaintop mining would be to ban it completely. It's cheaper and less labor-intensive than underground mining, but not worth the environmental cost. At a minimum, Obama should address some other highly destructive rule changes imposed by the Bush administration -- a good place to start would be restoring a regulation that forbade mining within 100 feet of a stream, and disallowing the use of mine waste as "fill" material in waterways.

Obama can't sidestep this issue forever, especially because his hands-off approach to coal defeats the purpose of his efforts to fight climate change. Coal is a key culprit in global warming, and it makes no sense to encourage cheap coal while seeking to boost renewable energy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Obama wants coal ash storage sites to be secret - AP

My husband cut this little article out of our local newspaper, the Ontario, CA, Daily Bulletin, but since it's from the AP, it's all over the web, with various titles, like Communities at risk, but coal ash sites secret. Time and again, our administration, which is doing admirably on other fronts, shows how much it is in the hands of Big Coal. We have to stop him on this one. Obama is too smart to do this. I doubt he wants his daughters to grow up next to a coal ash site!
Officials cite security concerns, don’t alert those in risky areas.
By Dina Cappiello, Associated Press, Saturday, June 13, 2009

WASHINGTON —- The Obama administration has decided to keep secret the locations of nearly four dozen coal ash storage sites that pose a threat to people living nearby.

The Environmental Protection Agency classified the 44 sites as potential hazards to communities while investigating coal ash waste storage sites after a spill at a Tennessee power plant in December. The classification means the waste sites could cause death and significant property damage if an event such as a storm, a terrorist attack or a structural failure caused them to leak into surrounding communities. The sites have existed for years with little or no federal regulation.

The Army Corps of Engineers in a letter dated June 4 told the EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that the federal government should not alert the public to the sites’ locations because it would compromise national security. The Corps said state officials or the owner of the site should communicate the risks to those nearby.

“Uncontrolled or unrestricted release (of the information) may pose a security risk to projects or communities by increasing its attractiveness as a potential target,” Steven L. Stockton, the Army Corps’ director of civil works, wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in a press conference on Friday, questioned why coal ash storage ponds are not treated like other hazardous waste sites. For instance, the EPA readily discloses the location of Superfund hazardous waste sites and also annually reports pollution released by chemical facilities and other factories in neighborhoods.

EPA officials said Friday the National Dam Safety Review Board, a collection of federal agencies, state agencies and one private industry representative, was notifying local governments and states, some of which regulate the structures like dams.

Eric Halpin, special assistant for dam and levee safety for the Corps of Engineers, said that “we did not direct anyone to withhold or not release information.”

His agency releases that information to local governments “so they can, in turn, communicate it to the public,” Halpin said.

On Dec. 22, more than 5 million cubic yards of ash and sludge poured out of a storage pond after an earthen dike failed at a power plant near Kingston, Tenn. The grayish, toxic muck covered 300 acres and destroyed or damaged 40 homes.
It's not as if the local people don't know they're there. This article from the Knoxville TN News, reports of 11 sites just as dangerous as the one that spilled last Christmas.
Watchdog groups say coal ash sites unsafe. Report claims cancer risk upped for neighbors
By Michael Collins, Friday, May 8, 2009
WASHINGTON - Eleven coal ash storage sites in Tennessee are among dozens across the country that may pose a serious risk to public health, according to a new study based on government data that environmentalists say the Bush administration kept secret for years.

The data, compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and released Thursday by two watchdog groups, indicates that one out of every 50 Americans living near landfills or ponds used to store ash or sludge from coal-fired power plants has a high risk of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated with arsenic...
Let's get them cleaned up and stop adding to them. Let's stop coal!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama doesn't like mountaintops

The LA Times was not fun to wake up to today. On the front page, just over the fold, stood "A quiet OK for peaks' removal," which has become Obama walks a fine line over mining in the online version. The picture just makes me want to cry! (I've found some Flickr pictures to show you what Appalachia looks like, so you can see what they're destroying.) Here is a little quote from the article.

Fall Color In Kentucky
Originally uploaded by JRyle79.
The administration's decision is not the final word on the projects or the future of mountaintop removal. But the letter, coupled with the light it sheds on relations between the mining industry and the Obama White House, has disappointed environmentalists. Some say they feel betrayed by a president they thought would end or sharply limit the practice.

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Originally uploaded by carl_r_grant.

The issue is politically sensitive because environmentalists were an active force behind Obama's election, and the president's standing is tenuous among Democratic voters in coal states. West Virginia, for example, voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election largely because Democrat Al Gore was critical of the coal industry.

You can't say we haven't been aware of Obama's treachery on this topic. I've written about it numerous times here. These are all the posts tagged Barack Obama. They aren't all positive. How can someone we have treated like a god destroy his own country?

The article goes on to talk about the EPA's role in saving the mountains, which I've also written about in a blog post called Great News from the EPA. But I saw a link to an article about the EPA on FaceBook today, posted by the author of the blog I just wrote about, Seabird's Hollow. From Watchdog to Lapdog: An Insider's History of the EPA by Evaggelos Vallianatos, AlterNet, May 30, 2009, concludes with a possibly much too optimistic version of Obama's EPA. I hope he's right!

Environmental protection is human protection, in addition to being a moral act. It is a last-ditch effort to save the earth from its human masters.
That's why a new EPA, carefully crafted to repair and uphold the integrity of threatened ecosystems while protecting us from our own technics and poisons, could be America's greatest contribution to its own well-being and survival and that of the planet.

In the meantime, we have to sign every petition that comes along, write letters to editors, contribute if you can. Tell Obama you want renewable energy coming from Appalachia, like in this last picture, not coal from destroyed mountains!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Seabird's Hollow - a new blog about dirty coal in Tennessee

I just discovered a new blog from East Tennessee, called Seabird's Hollow, thoughts from the coalfields of East Tennessee, which so far has drawn attention to the problems of coal dust, even far from the coal mines and removed mountaintops. For example. she describes the ravages caused when Dominion Virginia Power built a golf course with fly ash from its Deep Creek coal-fired power plant near Chesapeake, Virginia, as a way to get rid of the dirty stuff:
The golf course, with 1.5-million tons of fly ash land-sculpting its greens and fairways, is now two years old. Water tests from samples under the course in 2008 revealed high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in groundwater. EPA tests confirmed elevated levels of arsenic and lead. The original study said that 82 percent of residents with wells in the area drew water from the same aquifer that underlies the unlined ash reception areas, and warned that any well drawing from it might suck up elements leaching out from the golf course's toxic fill.
How do these people get away with this sort of thing? Everyone knew how toxic the ash was, specially the guys who were moving it around to landscape it. But they probably earned good money to shut up and do what they were told, while they ruined the drinking water for most everybody nearby.

The miners who participate in removing mountaintops, I understand, are generally not locals, but people who've been brought in, and don't have any relationship to the mountains and streams they've destroyed. And I understand they're not even really earning good money - just better than no money at all. We have to figure out other ways that they can support their families, like producing renewable energy products, putting up windmills on mountaintops instead of removing them, learning how to make homes more energy efficient... That's who the green jobs should be for!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Diane Feinstain on Mountaintop Removal

I received the following letter from my Senator, Diane Feinstein, about the politics involved in Mountaintop Removal. (I added the links.)
Thank you for writing to express your support for the "Appalachia Restoration Act" (S. 696). I share your concerns about the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

As you know, the practice of mountaintop removal mining - which involves removing mountaintops to mine coal seams within the mountain - has been found to have damaging effects on nearby streams as large quantities of excess rock and dirt may cause the deterioration of the watershed and the filling of streams.

On March 25, 2009, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) introduced the "Appalachia Restoration Act" (S. 696), which would amend the Clean Water Act to prevent the disposal of mountaintop mining waste into streams and rivers. This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Although I am not a member of this Committee, I will keep your support in mind should S. 696, or similar legislation, come before the full Senate.

You may also be interested to know that on April 27, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior (DOI) is taking action to rescind a Bush Administration rule that eased restrictions on mountaintop removal mining to allow discharges of coal mining waste within the 100-foot buffer zone surrounding streams. Secretary Salazar has asked the Department of Justice to file a motion in U.S. District Court requesting that the rule be set aside and sent back to DOI for further review. DOI will draft a new rule and seek public comment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also taken action to address concerns about mountaintop removal mining by suspending permitting for mountaintop mining projects until the EPA can assess the impact of this practice on water quality and aquatic life.

Stop Oil Shale Before They Ruin the West

Oil shale in Australia

America has oil shale, Canada has oil sands, which I've written about a lot. There are those who would love to destroy America's oil shale areas as much as Alberta, Canada, is destroying its tourist areas and native lands, and American coal companies destroying Appalachian and native American home lands.

I received this email today from The Wilderness Society.
Did you know that Bush-era environmental policies are still on the books, jeopardizing our natural places?
Because of a rule issued by the Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management is poised to lease millions of acres of public land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to develop oil shale – the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.
Please let the Bureau of Land Management know that you want public lands protected from oil shale development.
Oil shale development is not environmentally sound, nor is it economically viable. If it moves forward now, we don't know if we'll get usable energy sources – but we do know that we'll end up with polluted air, wild lands that are carved up by roads and transmission lines, and depleted water resources in these already arid Western States.
Write the Bureau of Land Management today and urge them to protect our public lands from oil shale development.
In case you were wondering what oil shale is (I was!) I checked out some other sources as well. Wikipedia writes about Oil Shale:
Oil shale is an organic-rich fine-grained sedimentary rock. It contains significant amounts of kerogen, a solid mixture of organic chemical compounds from which liquid hydrocarbons can be extracted. The name oil shale represents a double misnomer, as geologists would not necessarily classify the rock as a shale, and its kerogen differs from crude oil. Kerogen requires more processing to use than crude oil, which increases its cost as a crude-oil substitute both financially and in terms of its environmental impact. Deposits of oil shale occur around the world, including major deposits in the United States of America. Estimates of global deposits range from 2.8 trillion to 3.3 trillion barrels (450 × 109 to 520 × 109 m3) of recoverable oil.
And if you really want to know a lot about oil shale and its impact, you can read the government required Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Oil Shale and Tar Sands PEIS).

It is only now that oil prices have been high, and are expected to go up again that extracting and processing oil shale can be profitable. With Obama's new rules on truck and car efficiencies, and the development of more environmentally benign fuels, we can cut our need for oil drastically. No sense even getting started ruining the environment in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, when we won't need it!

So please follow the link to write the Bureau of Land Management today and urge them to protect our public lands from oil shale development.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More China and Coal

Last Monday I wrote about China and Coal, based on an article in the New York Times that implied that China was starting to think about how coal is affecting it's own climate and the health of its citizens, as well as global Climate Change.

In yesterday's NYT, however, prize-winner journalist Paul Krugman reports on his recent trip to China, investigating its carbon impact in an Op-Ed piece Empire of Coal.

Evidently the Chinese still think that they should have the same opportunity to pollute as we in the West did while growing our economies. They say the current situation isn't their fault, it's the result of years of our profligacy.

Mr. Krugman begs to differ, and fears that all out effects to cut back CO2 will be worthless without bringing the Chinese into to equation. I know that many organizations are working with them, but this is a major issue we all should be concerned about, and do something to abate.

Read his article, and keep posted on what's happening in China.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Energy Efficiency - really sustainable energy

I've often mentioned energy efficiency as one of many kinds of sustainable energy. The Sierra Club has just made a very nice site on their Global Warming and Energy site called Energy Efficiency: Cleaner, Faster, Cheaper.

My husband and I have been trying to be as energy efficient as possible, installing Energy Star appliances when others break down, and in case of the refrigerator long before, because old refrigerators (not even really old ones, use loads more energy than new ones. The new air conditioner a couple of years ago was the super-saver. That, and driving hybrids and turning of lights, and having all my computer things collected on a strip that I turn off at night, etc.

Read their page. I'm sure you'll find an idea you can use, too.

Obama Budget Snubs Oil, Gas and Nuclear!

The Associate Press's Josef Hebert reported a few days ago that the Obama budget rescinds energy industry tax breaks.
President Barack Obama outlined a budget plan Thursday that would end $26 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks, point to a new direction for dealing with nuclear waste and shift government aggressively toward helping to develop renewable energy sources. Obama called the tax break to the oil and gas industry "unjustifiable loopholes" in the tax system that in most cases other companies do not get.
This is really great news, which will start giving oil and gas the same financial handicaps as renewables. This may mean that energy prices will be forced upwards again, but that will only put them at a level where they reflect more their true costs. Government can used to taxes paid by the industry to fund health care for all those people who have developed asthma and cancer from the pollution spewed into their neighborhoods from various exhausts. This will be the incentive financers of renewables need, because they will be on a better cost par with carbon-based (or nuclear based) technologies./p>

Unfortunately, coal is not mentioned in this article, so I don't know how coal is being treated in the budget. I wrote numerous times that both candidates Obama and McCain were too friendly to coal, but at least the courts have been better at cutting them down to size, and financial institutions have also been listening, so they've been finding other uses for their money than to support removing mountaintops and new plants to burn the stuff in (But see below.).

Other Energy-related Links;

  • Robert Redford wrote an op-ed piece called Time to transform Utah's energy-producing future in the Salt Lake Tribune May 8.
    Why keep buying foreign crude when we could be making energy right here in Utah from sunlight, wind and geothermal power? Why rip up more pristine wilderness to extract dirty fuels when we could generate clean power from the energy nature delivers to our doorstep?
    Dollar for dollar, investing in clean energy creates more jobs than investing in traditional energy sources like oil and gas. That really matters, especially when you consider that more than 30,000 Utah workers lost their jobs last year.
    We've got tens of thousands of windy acres here in Utah, sites for geothermal energy abound, and the southern part of the state has tremendous potential for solar power. We will have to carefully pick renewable energy sites that don't endanger critical habitat and wilderness-quality land, but the opportunity is vast.
    And that goes for all of the country!
  • CREDO asks us to Stop Bank of America from lending bailout funds to the polluting coal industry. Please sign their petition!
    Bank of America received almost $200 billion in bailout money — and now that money is leveraging the construction of new coal plants. Coal is the single biggest cause of global warming and Bank of America is one of the leading funders in the industry.
    Coal is the absolute wrong answer to our energy challenges. Burning coal is about the dirtiest way to make electricity. Coal-fired power plants currently account for 40% of our nation's carbon dioxide emissions, the leading cause of global warming. Coal-fired power plants release millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, as well as close to 100,000 pounds of mercury (a very dangerous neurotoxin), every year.

Monday, May 11, 2009

China and Coal

An article in today's New York Times, China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants, starts out by intimating that China's producing mostly "clean coal" power, mostly through much more efficient plants, and retiring one old dirty inefficient plant for each new "clean" one. They are evidently far ahead of the US in "clean coal" technologies, including gasification.

In addition, they are installing large numbers of wind-turbines and leading the world in production of solar panels - which I think mostly go to export, though. Furthermore, they have a number of nuclear plants under construction. All of these new installations will help keep their CO2 at a lower level than otherwise.

But is this a competition we in the US should take up to "better" China? That is, do we want to build more efficient coal plants and nuclear (at present almost all future U.S. construction of such plants are on hold) as our way to cut CO2? I personally believe that we can generate all the energy we need with sustainables, and gradually retire the oldest coal-fired and nuclear plants as the sustainables become the major sources if energy, while energy conserving buildings, appliances and vehicles lower our future needs for energy.

Obviously, China is in a different situation. Their population is yearning for consumer goods we take for granted, like cars and larger homes, all of which will use energy that wasn't needed before. So even if they have higher gas mileage requirements for cars than the US does, they will still be growing their auto inventory faster than we will, and thus produced CO2. Our market for large, energy consuming goods is at replacement, not introducing, as in China. Efficiencies here can lower our present usage, efficiencies there will only slow their growth.

So does it make global sense for China to build nuclear plants, and to do a lot better with coal? Or would it be better for all of us to put all our financial resources into bringing sustainables (including conservation!) into the mainstream, lowering their costs drastically.

Sustainable, renewable methods can be brought online much faster than either new coal or nuclear power plants, and if you add in the costs of externalities, like polluted air causing asthma and mercury-related damage besides climate change, sustainables win on cost hands down.

I just received an appropriate Dr Seuss quote with today's Daily Ray of Hope:
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
-- Dr. Seuss

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Green Mountain Coffee is trying to make K-cups sustainably

The topics that have caught the most eyes on my blog are those about Green Mountain Coffee's K-cups, which produce so much trash that the packaging outweighs whatever environmental benefits of the excellent coffee they contain. (My personal estimate, not from an official life-cycle analysis.) (The second most popular topic is about Clif's Bars and candy wrappers.)

I just followed one of the searches that brought someone to those articles, and found a link to the Green Mountain Coffee page called Protecting the Environment: Sustainable Packaging: K-Cups®. I'd like to think that my post was part of what inspired them to look into sustainable K-cups.

Use a My K-cup!

But just remember that they aren't there yet. The only sustainable K-cup is "My K-Cup" for Keurig Brewers, shown in the picture.

As long as you're here, why don't you check out my favorite topics:
coal and renewable energy.

Smart Grid and Renewables

I just received an email from RenewableEnergyWorld.com with a link to a fantastic series of podcasts, which they've called All There is To Know About the Smart Grid and Renewables, which may be overstating it a bit. But they've called on all the experts they could think of.

I've just started looking at it, but I thought I'd put it out here for others. This is an important subject. Our present grid was started back with Edison, and still includes (I think) some of his initial technology. Since we're so great with other technologies, we might as well move into the 21st century on this as well! And think of all the jobs this will create!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Vets Vote for Clean Energy

The organization VoteVets.org is very much aware that their fellow soldiers have died in a war that was started because of oil, fueled by oil, and supported the enemy through payments for oil. Therefore they are creating a series of TV ads like this one (for Utah) to convince their own Congressmen to back Clean Energy.

As cofounder of the organization Jon Soltz wrote today in Why Vets Are Backing Clean Energy in the Huffington Post:

It's very rare that you'll find a group like VoteVets.org -- which was initially formed to oppose the war in Iraq -- agree with the neocons who helped plan the war.

But, indeed, one of the staunchest Iraq war backers and self-professed "Member of the Dick Cheney Fan Club", Frank Gaffney, wrote in a column, "We are funding both sides in this war for the free world, as our petrodollars are enabling much of the threat we most immediately confront. This is an intolerable -- and unsustainable -- situation." He's called for a greater focus on efficiency and alternative power.

James Woolsey, the former CIA director, famously now drives a Prius with a bumper sticker that says, "Osama bin Laden Hates This Car." He also partially powers his home -- and even his laptop -- with solar panels.

They need support for the ads and other activities. You can help at VoteVets.org.

Amazon Packaging Rating

Amazon Packaging Rating
Originally uploaded by bonbayel.

Amazon is listening to its customers about packaging!

Unfortunately, I just discovered this the other day, so I don't remember what the packaging was like on the other ones in the list.

But I will try to remember to go in each time and rate them in the future.

I wrote another post about a particularly bad Amazon package a while back.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

BBC says: 'Safe' climate means 'no to coal'

A BBC report today, 'Safe' climate means 'no to coal', discusses how to figure out what we have to do to keep climate change at acceptable ranges. Evidently someone has figured out that we don't want more than a 2 degrees C increase, and we're already almost half-way there, and will reach it by 2050 (which I guess I could conceivably experience at the age of 107?)

Up to now the discussion has been what percentage of carbon emissions we should be cutting back to, but this article supports Bjorn Lomborg (see a couple of posts back) that we shouldn't be looking at emissions, but just saying "no to coal" in particular and the other carbon-based fuels ASAP.

Of course this is by no means easy to do if we just stand around on one foot and figure "someone" will solve this all. But we all have to start now to move us to renewables.
  • Put renewables on your home or business.
  • Invest in renewables.
  • If you're in the renewables business, put your next plant on one of the lovely "flat places" where mountains have been removed in Appalachia, to provide clean, green jobs for the people who now depend on coal to provide for their short lives.
  • Send in every petition you get to government officials and business people to let them know you want sustainables, not coal, thank you.
  • Write letters to your local paper, or better, an Op Ed piece, explaining why this is so important.
  • Get into the renewable industry, for example, by signing up to become an Ecopreneur for solar panels (see the banner at the top right of this page.)

Sorry about the ads

I just decided to see if I can earn anything by "monetizing" my two blogs, since right now I don't appear to have any other income. If the results are just pennies, however, I will remove them. On this blog, in particular, there is so much other stuff, that they just take up valuable "landscape." I hope the ads won't be offensive in anyway, like for pesticides or coal! I've seen sometimes that they get to be somewhat related to the labels on the posts. I wouldn't mind ads from sustainable services, for example!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rule Reversal to Protect Appalachian Streams from Coal Slag

My Kentucky blog friend told me about the local TV station WYMT's coverage of the President's plan to reverse Bush era kowtowing to coal companies: Possible Rule Reversal on Surface Mining. The Administration is working on "rules that would make it more difficult for coal companies to dump waste near steams, reversing a policy put in place by former president George W. Bush." The news story mostly interviews mine owners and managers, but the reporter also talks with an "environmentalist," a local guy who is concerned about Kentucky, not profit at the expense of the land.

If you read this today, be sure to vote in the online poll in the middle of the page.

The really interesting part is the comments section at the bottom - where you can read local residents' views on the matter. One big argument for mountaintop removal appears to be that they now have "flat land" to build malls and the like which they didn't have before. But there are a lot of commenters who are pleased. You wonder who are the commenters who really like their homeland destroyed! Managers and owners, maybe, who don't even come from East Kentucky? This person puts it into perspective:

The rule being reversed puts the coal industry back into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The Bush Administration illegally allowed coal companies to flaunt the law and then did a last second rule change to effectively reverse the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. It is based on an earlier act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments, signed into law by Richard Nixon. Neither of these men was exactly a foaming at the mouth environmental radical and both considered these measures the absolute minimum that could be done to preserve the nation's water supply. The "right" of an individual or company to destroy the watershed, or the "right" of a person to have a new pick-up every year and drown in debt in downturn cycles does not supersede the right of the rest of us to have clean drinking water nor does it override the obligation of the federal government to protect the majority of the people against one industry, blinded by greed, which has willfully broken every law ever made affecting environmental quality and workplace safety.

In the same day's news was another coal related story: Hundreds Of Coal Miners Are Laid Off. The notice the men received says the layoffs are temporary and the managers hope to call them back to work when the market improves. This is of course very bad news for people who have families to support. Unfortunately for them, coal companies have a history of laying off union minors and shutting down mines, only to reopen them with new non-Union hires, sometimes brought in from elsewhere. The only deep mines are also being abandoned for the relative ease of strip mining, where only a few employees can move a lot of coal - destroying the landscape at the same time.

You can't help thinking that there's a connection between the two stories. By laying off workers, with the large local impact, those affected will be unhappy with Obama's proposed rule change, even though it is for the greater good of Appalachia to preserve the mountains.

We have to find new jobs for these people in green industries, fast, to show that leaving the old will result in cleaner, better paying jobs in the long run. But right now, life is pretty miserable around the coal fields, for those who have lost the family farm to slag, and to those who have lost dangerous, relatively well-paying jobs as deep mines are closed. For the rest of us, the poor market for coal sounds promising.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

You're right for a change, Bjorn Lomborg!

Change is what I believe in. My PhD dissertation was about language change (I'm afraid I never completed it, so I'm not a PhD.) I ran a diaper service about 15 years ago to change the way people changed diapers. (Never made a profit, though). I worked for a while with a Danish management consultant who was very big on using motivation to effect change, and used what I learned there in a job working on motivating Danish telephone company employees to recycle more.

Danish Statistics Professor Bjorn Lomborg is interested in cost-effectiveness, which is also a worthy thing to be concerned about. In fact most of my motivational work was connected with the cost-effectiveness of managing resources as part of environmental management programs. Now of course we have to motivate an entire planet to the cost-effectiveness of managing our resources, including habitats, energy, and people.

Mr. Lomborg, the organic vegetarian who calls himself the Skeptical Environmentalist, has long doubted the need for spending lots of money to save the planet from Climate Change. He was more interested in using the same money for very necessary projects for health, education and the like. But he seems to have come around now to thinking that just letting the Climate Change maybe wouldn't be all that cost effective anyway.

But still he doesn't like the methods that have been suggested so far to combat Climate Change. Instead of fighting symptoms, which emissions are, we should be removing the sources of the emissions by spending more money researching (and I assume also installing) renewable energy. That is a great change that is also cost-effective. Climate Change is a change we need to slow down -by changing ourselves, the way we think, and the way we spend our money.

For once, Mr Lomborg, I agree with you. Let's get things moving even faster than they are to implement this systemic change that will save the globe only if we do it fast enough. No more stalling with new coal technology or nuclear plants, which are decidedly NOT cost-effective. Let's get those PV panels up on roofs and over parking lots, or in military areas (as long as they don't affect tortoises, gophers and other desert wildlife.) Lets get those windmills turning in Nantucket Sound, Mr. Kennedy. It's cost-effective, all you conservatives who don't like to spend government money. In the long run it will save you piles of tax-money - or maybe it will be there for you when your insurance company throws you out because you got cancer...

Green green green

According to today's LA Times, Military embraces green energy, the US Army has discovered what we've been saying all along. Environmental management, including energy management, like all good management, saves money on the bottom line for businesses. Environmental and energy management is resource management. and resources cost money. If you can find ways to use fewer resources, partly by doing the job more efficiently, or by ensuring that the job you're doing is the right thing to do, you save money. If you find less expensive resources that do the (right) job just as well, then you've saved even more.

Of course sometimes you have to spend money to save resources in the long haul. I am getting really tired of reading that Obama's emphasis on renewable energy and carbon caps are going to cost us a lot more money. We're throwing money away hand and foot now, supporting wars and widows, orphans and mentally and physically ruining soldiers, all because we need oil from the mideast. We have a problem with people who can't pay mortgages because they lost their jobs, because it's too expensive to keep them in this country. What support we can give them also comes from tax-payer money. Carbon caps make traditional energy sources more expensive to provide an incentive to conserve energy with insulation, Energy Star houses, hybrid cars - just read more here in my blog, if you don't know what I'm talking about. It also encourages energy companies (or private businesses, citizens - and the military!) to install wind, solar, geothermal, hydro or other methods to avoid the high costs of conventional carbon-based energy. Once they're installed, they provide practically free energy, since their sources do not have to be renewed and they come (mostly) from the pretty undepletable energy of the sun.

Several years ago in September 2005 I attended the Sierra Club Summit in San Francisco. There I went to a fascinating meeting pairing Dave Foreman, co-founder of the radical EarthFirst and the more mature Rewilding, with, believe it or not, Marine Brigadier General Mike Lehnart from Camp Pendelton of the Marine Corps, who initiated a program to protect endangered species and perform environmental management on Marine bases. That was back when "environment" was things like habitat protection. But it was at the Sierra Summit that the Sierra Club decided to focus on sustainability and renewable energy (which my local chapter hasn't really caught up with.)

In the LATImes article you can read how the Fort Irwin army base in the Mojave Desert (not too far from here) has been going green for numerous reasons. By using insulated, sun reflecting tents they have got air conditioning costs (running generators) by up to 75%. By producing energy using wind, solar and geothermal sources, they figure they can soon be off the grid.

In the military, this doesn't just save money, it saves lives. In Iraq many lives have been lost among soldiers defending fuel transport convoys, which understandably are a popular target. If they can avoid the fuel entirely through conservation and locally generated energy, lives will be saved (as well as the costs of supporting widows and orphans, if you want to look at it cynically.)

As the article points out, the military (as well as the space program) have provided us with everything from Tang to cellphones to Hummers. Since the military is an enormous, its conversion to renewables will have a tremendous effect on our fuel needs, as well as the general attitude toward renewables.

Some in the green energy sector hope that as the military adopts alternative power sources, the technology will gain broader acceptance among political conservatives.

"Just hearing that their military is embracing this new technology that was thought of as left-of-center is going to swing people's thoughts" about using it, said David Melton, president of Albuquerque-based Sacred Power Corp., which installed some of Ft. Irwin's photovoltaic panels and wind turbines.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Coal and Nuke Plants Not Necessary

I'm not just making that up, and it's not just propaganda, although I've been saying it all along here in my blog. But the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff speaking at a U.S. Energy Association forum said that he doesn't think we'll be needing more "baseload" energy in the form of coal, nuclear or even NG.

With energy efficiency from Energy Star rated products, alternative fuel vehicles, better building insulation, inspired by LEED, etc. reducing our needs for energy in the first place, locally distributed solar, wind, geothermal, and new hydro energy sources will cover our needs sustainably, cheaply, quickly, and providing lots of local jobs. Building new coal and nuke plants is too expensive, he said. You can read about it in this article from yesterday's NYT: Energy Regulatory Chief Says New Coal, Nuclear Plants May Be Unnecessary.

Further support of the future of solar (and other sustainable energy) came an announcement from Alteris Renewables and SunRun that they will be making Solar Power Cheaper than Utilities for First Time in Northeast, which is similar to the plans by Citizenre, which I am associated with. We will be renting panels to homeowners at a rate under that of which they are paying their utility company with a very low deposit, compared with buying panels. SunRun, Citizenre and SunEdison, who have a similar offering for businesses, will quickly be able to make solar a viable component in the energy mix.

Even Walmart understand this. They have announced plans to double their solar power usage by the end of 2010 under a similar arrangement with BP. They have already seen some savings, and with the price of energy increasing in the future and their solar expenses staying flat, the savings will be increasing as the years go by. This of course is a business decision, not just some green public service!

There is even good news about wind now, in this article from the LA Times: Offshore wind turbines get further boost from Obama administration. Soon projects like Cape Wind between Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard and Deepwater Wind, in Rhode Island, will be providing energy for heavily populated areas up and down the Atlantic coast, where the continental shelf provides relatively easy sites for off-shore installations. The Great Lakes also provide perfect sites for future off-shore wind projects near industrial areas. Manufacturing the turbines is already becoming an alternative to jobs in the old dirty industries, as even European companies like Vestas are opening manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

What a great way to celebrate Earth Day!