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 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!