Environment

Clean Coal Air Freshener

This seems to me to be an especially effective commercial:

Tire Inflation

Yesterday Obama said:

"There are things that you can do individually though to save energy," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, said. "Making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they're talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much."

Today, Limbaugh and others ridiculed the comment:

"My friends, this is laughable of course, but it’s stupid!  It is stupid! How many of you remember the seventies? When we had these shortages, all through the Jimmy Carter years and we have all these tips, all these tips on how to save gasoline?  Avoid jackrabbit starts, keep your tires properly inflated, there’s a list of about ten or twelve these things.  I said if I follow each one of these things I’ll have to stop the car every five miles, siphon some fuel out, for all the fuel I’m going to be saving. This is ridiculous.  This is a presidential candidate and he's talking about keeping your tires inflated and getting regular tune-ups and that would save as much oil as drilling would produce. And this guy is the Democrat presidential nominee.  Who has filled his head with this stuff"

I accept that some might find the statement laughable because convincing everyone to diligently keep their tires properly inflated is not practical. Fair enough, but that’s not what Obama was intending to communicate anyway. I figure he was making the point that conservation and improved efficiency will inevitably be part of the energy solution, as will technology advances and development of other energy sources. As a statement of fact, Obama’s probably doesn’t hold up exactly…a careful examination indicates proper tire inflation would probably only account for 2/3 of offshore drilling (link), but I’d hardly say that’s a laughable comparison (link) and would also point out that Republican governors of both California and Florida recently (one of who is on the short list for the Republican VP spot) (link):

…appealed to those with the real power to make change — average citizens — to drive slower, keep engines tuned and tires properly inflated, to buy hybrids and lower overall consumption.

Of course, that quote hardly a complete summary of Obama’s energy policy. If you care to be informed, a thorough description of his energy policy can be found here: link

Lipscomb Goes Green

Today Lipscomb University announced that it's planning to build a "green" housing complex on campus.  From The Tennessean

Construction of an $8.2 million, 50,000-square-foot apartment-style complex with several environmentally-friendly features will begin Dec. 5 at Lipscomb University.

The housing, the first new student residences since 1983, is expected to open next fall and accommodate 168 students.

Don Johnson, facilities director, said the complex will be built with:
• geothermal heating and cooling
• low-emission paints and stains
• low-flow toilets, showers and kitchen faucets
• energy-efficient light fixtures
• native plant landscaping

When Lisa and I were at Lipscomb 1990-1994 we started aluminum and paper recycling programs on campus.  I don't know how long that lasted after we graduated...not long, I assume.  I'm glad to see Lipscomb going green, though Lisa isn't very impressed: "sounds only light green to me......would be more impressed with solar or wind energy usage"

By the way, on November 6 Mark Elrod issued a challenge to Harding, ACU, Lipscomb, Pepperdine, and Freed-Hardeman to make the list of 10 greenest colleges in America, and 3 weeks later Lipscomb responds.  Now that's what I call influence. ;-)

This comes on the heels of another green announcement from Lipscomb, but Elrod probably can't claim credit for that.  Also from The Tennessean:

Lipscomb University will offer the state's first degrees in environmental sustainability, university officials announced Thursday.

Through its newly-established Institute for Sustainable Practice, the school will offer a bachelor's degree in sustainability and a master's of business administration with a concentration in sustainability in 2008, Lipscomb spokeswoman Janel Shoun said.

The institute will also host the Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee, a meeting between environmental groups Tennessee Environmental Council and Tennessee Conservation Voters, Nov. 15-16.

Can you buy a greener conscience?

Smokestack_in_Detroit.jpgA recent article of the same title by Alan Zarembo in the LA Times examines the current trend in purchasing carbon offsets:

The race to save the planet from global warming has spawned a budding industry of middlemen selling environmental salvation at bargain prices.

The companies take millions of dollars collected from their customers and funnel them into carbon-cutting projects, such as tree farms in Ecuador, windmills in Minnesota and no-till fields in Iowa.

In return, customers get to claim the reductions, known as voluntary carbon offsets, as their own. For less than $100 a year, even a Hummer can be pollution-free -- at least on paper.

Driven by guilt, public relations or genuine concern over global warming, tens of thousands of people have purchased offsets to zero out their carbon impact on the planet.

But the industry is clouded by an approach to carbon accounting that makes it easy to claim reductions that didn't occur. Many projects that have received money from offset companies would have reduced emissions by the same amount anyway.

The growing popularity of offsets has now prompted the Federal Trade Commission to begin looking into the $55-million-a-year industry.

Several environmental and clean energy groups have also raised concerns about verifying projects, monitoring their actual carbon reductions and ensuring that each carbon offset is not sold more than once.

It seems that the middlemen buying and selling the carbon offsets often pay a tiny fraction of a projects cost buy claim 100 % of the carbon reductions. That's how they can sell the carbon reductions so cheaply and why the carbon reductions would have occurred anyway regardless of whether or not someone purchased an offset.

I assume that there are plenty of cases where purchased offsets really were integral to the success of a project (while this article focused on the more sensational examples to the contrary), but to me, this sets a pretty horrible precedent. It's an example of appearance without substance...of people cheaply satisfying their consciences without actually making much of a real difference. And when you try to convince people to make a lifestyle change that would actually make a real difference, they'll be suspicious that what you're advocating will have as little substance to it as these offsets.

As Zarembo put it:

Offsets are so convenient that they may foster a false sense that global warming can be easily solved when the hard and expensive work remains undone.

The director of An Inconvenient Truth put it this way:

All of us knew when you're doing offsets that the theoretical and symbolic quality to doing this is as important as the practical quality.

I'm not sure I agree.

Lisa's Letter to the Editor

I haven't seen it yet nor has it appeared online, but I'm told that my letter to the editor appeared in Friday's Midland Daily News. For more information about the fight against coal in Midland, check out the website of the grassroots organization MidlandCARES.

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my concern with the coal plant proposed for Midland by Mid-Michigan Energy, an affiliate of the LS Power and Dynegy. The Midland plant is proposed to use conventional pulverized coal technology instead of the newest gasification technology called IGCC. Through large ads found in this paper and public comment made by the power plant representatives, Mid-Michigan Energy contends that IGCC technology is not an option for the Midland plant for three main reasons: poor reliability, higher emissions, and cost. I would like to take this opportunity to inform our community of what the MDEQ thinks of IGCC technology. In a document titled "Fact Sheet: Environmental Permitting of Coal Fired-Power plants in Michigan" made public by the MDEQ on their website this summer, the following statements were made regarding IGCC technology:

"The availability and reliability of IGCC facilities has been steadily increasing, and new IGCC facilities have reliabilities comparable to conventional coal-fired power plants."

"Mercury control on IGCC plants is significantly more effective than mercury control on conventional coal-fired power plants. IGCC has superior sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and mercury control, resulting in significantly lower emissions of these pollutants compared to conventional coal-fired facilities."

"With the advent of climate change as a national issue, the ability to capture and sequester carbon emissions has become a concern related to coal-fired power plants. As an outfall to these considerations, it has been noted that Michigan has unique geological formations which could make carbon sequestration in Michigan both economically and technically advantageous. IGCC has a much higher potential for carbon capture than conventional facilities. As climate change strategies are implemented, these considerations will serve to offset IGCC's higher capital and operating costs in Michigan more than in other locations."

Document can be found here.

I urge Mid-Michigan Energy to explain to our community why their information seems to contradict that of so many other sources, including the MDEQ. I am skeptical of supporting a new coal power plant in Midland that will not be using the best technology to control emissions. At least thirteen IGCC plants are already proposed across the nation. In the Great Lakes Region alone, at least three IGCC plants have recently received permits or are in the last stages of the permitting process.

Why would our community willingly settle for old conventional coal technology while so many other cities are moving forward embracing the future?

BTW, I spoke directly to the MDEQ Lead Engineer who drafted the document mentioned above to clarify what was meant by "conventioanl coal plant". He said that "conventional coal plant" describes any pulverized coal plant - subcritical, supercritical, and even ultra-critical. So the above statements certainly show the superiority of IGCC to even the cleanest possible pulverized coal plant.

Local Solutions Not Suitable for Global Issues

From an editorial of the same title by William Falk in the current issue of The Week:

To accurately calculate a product's carbon impact, they found, you have to go beyond "food miles"—the distance that kiwi or artichoke-flecked sausage traveled before reaching your table—and figure in how much fertilizer, transported water, electricity, and other energy was used to produce it. Lamb raised on New Zealand's sunnier, grassier hills and shipped 11,000 miles to Britain, the study found, produced a mere 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions per ton. "Local" British lamb, which requires more intensive care, produced 6,280 pounds—four times as much.

As if that heresy were not upsetting enough, a British scientist has calculated that walking to the store contributes more to global warming than driving a car. Walking, it seems, burns calories, which have to be replaced by eating food. And producing food—especially beef and dairy products—is more carbon-intensive than burning a smidgen of gasoline, particularly since ruminating cattle emit so much methane.

It was funny when I read that today because I had just finished listening to a Science Friday segment where the guests were emphasizing the virtues of locally-grown food.

There is a New York times op-ed that argues, based on the New Zealand study, that buying local food isn't always best for the environment here. Response letters are here.

An article about walking vs driving is here.

This reminds me of a talk I heard by a professor within a month or so of joining Dow (fall 1999). He had done an analysis that showed, at least for a particular case, creating fuel from crops was a net energy drain primarily because of the energy used to make fertilizer.

New Power Plants Fueled by Coal Are Put on Hold

An article of the same title by Rebecca Smith appeared in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. This caught our attention because a pulverized coal power plant has been proposed for our hometown and we are uneasy about this proposal, to say the least.

The articles main thesis is huge number of new coal-fired power plants that have been announced in recent years as one-after-one they fall by the wayside due to either cost or environmental concerns.

From coast to coast, plans for a new generation of coal-fired power plants are falling by the wayside as states conclude that conventional coal plants are too dirty to build and the cost of cleaner plants is too high.

If significant numbers of new coal plants don't get built in the U.S. in coming years, it will put pressure on officials to clear the path for other power sources, including nuclear power, or trim the nation's electricity demand...

As recently as May, U.S. power companies had announced intentions to build as many as 150 new generating plants fueled by coal, adding to the 645 existing units that produce about half the nation's electricity. One reason for the surge of interest in coal was concern over the higher price of natural gas, which has driven up electricity prices in many places. Coal appeared capable of softening the impact since the U.S. has deep coal reserves and prices are low.

But the fleet of coal-powered plants that was supposed to be coming over the horizon is vanishing, a little more every week, as one developer after another cancels projects or quietly slows development activity. Coal has come under fire because it is a big source of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming, in a time when climate change has become a hot-button political issue.

The article illustrates the trend by discussing some specific examples from TX:

An early sign of the changing momentum was contained in the $32 billion private equity deal earlier this year to buy TXU Corp. To gain support for the deal, the buyers decided to trim eight of 11 coal plants TXU had proposed in Texas. Recent reversals in Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and other states have shown coal's future prospects are dimming. Nearly two dozen coal projects have been cancelled since early 2006, according to the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, a division of the Department of Energy.

and Florida:

The rapid shift away from coal shows how quickly and powerfully environmental concerns, and the costs associated with eradicating them, have changed matters for the power industry. One place where sentiment has swung sharply against coal is Florida. Climate change is getting more attention there because the mean elevation is only 100 feet above sea level, so melting ice caps would eat away at both its Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

In mid-July, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist convened a climate change summit to explore ways the state could improve its environmental profile. In June, he signed into laws bill that authorizes the Florida Public Service Commission to give priority to renewable energy and conservation programs before approving construction of conventional coal-fired power plants.

It also mentions that coal gasification plants are having trouble because of higher costs:

Coal plants emit more than twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced as natural-gas-fired plants, but there's no cheap, easy way to capture and dispose of the greenhouse gas.

Even proposals to build so-called "clean coal" plants have been met with skepticism. This new technology, which primarily involves converting coal into a combustible gas for electricity generation, has been touted as a solution to coal's global-warming problems.

Concerns about Proposed Midland Coal Power Plant

300px-Mohave_Generating_Station_1.jpgLisa has been having fun lately rabble-rousing and working against a coal-fired power plant proposed for Midland. Here's the email she sent out to friends today:

Hello friends. I hope all is well with you and your families. If you haven't already heard, Midland is entertaining the idea of a new coal power plant. Jonathan and I feel strongly that a decision such as this, having the potential to affect so many people, should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of information out there. So if you are unfamiliar with the details, we would like to inform you so that you too can voice your opinion to the decision makers if you so desire. I have read up on the issue and I went to the company open house. Since plans seem to be proceeding so quickly in the local government, I decided to get an email out to friends with our information and concerns about it. I am including several links to articles and documents so you don't just have to take my word on it.




PLANT DETAILS

The plant is proposed on land at the corner of Saginaw Rd and Gordonville Rd (Waldo) across from the fishing ramp area just south of town. According to statements made by the company, the plant will burn "pulverized coal" using the latest technology to help reduce emissions (required by law). They will be a privately owned firm that could sell its power at "wholesale rates" to clients like the Dows and Hemlock Semiconductor. They could also sell to the "grid" but would not be selling to the public. The list could include clients out of state or country. The plant will provide up to 1200 jobs during construction time (though not necessarily local bids). The plant will provide 100 permanent jobs. Here are a couple of links to the announcements and details of the proposed plant:

announcement

announcement

OUR CONCERNS

1. Our biggest concern: We would rather see renewable energy and energy efficiency be the focus. If coal is inevitable, however, then we should insist on the cleanest and most efficient coal technology available. Midland, the City of Modern Explorers, should be a leader in this arena. The type of coal plant the company plans to build is NOT the cleanest coal plant possible. Pulverizered coal is the old technology. The company plans to "meet or exceed" all government regulations by utilizing the best technology associated with pulverized coal plants. However, a cleaner and more efficient type of coal plant that uses a technique called Intergrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) exists and is in operation today. It turns the coal into a gas before burning it, practically eliminating emissions and potentially allowing for an easier capture of carbon dioxide. This technology is cutting edge and being proposed in many other states. According to the companies that have developed and improved the IGCC, the technology is available "turn-key" and guaranteed. The start up cost for an IGCC plant is approximately 20% more (though the projection is to drop to 10% in the near future). Studies show that over the life of the plant the IGCC cost could be comparable to a pulverized coal plant, especially when considering the likely increased environmental regulations and predictable negative health effects.

Here are some links, including one from last week in the Bay City Times, that discuss the difference between the two technologies.
Also, if you do a google news alert for "IGCC" you will get hits daily.

Link Basic facts and comparisions between pulverizered coal and IGCC

Link "Clean or Clean Enough" Bay city article

Link Article from Alma with interesting details about our plant compared an IGCC plant going in at Alma

Link DOE report and IGCC program performance goals

Link EPA report on IGCC

Link Report on the economic benefits of renewable resources specific to Michigan

Link Article reporting on the progress of an IGCC plant in Arizona and the responsible way those city officials are leading, taking a stand, handling their decision process.

Link A very encouraging article from April 2004 on how concerned citizens in Manistee joined together to defeat a proposed coal power plant in their town.

The above is our biggest concern, however, the most effective way to express concern right now would be to address the zoning issues...

2. We are opposed to rezoning Residential Land to Heavy Industrial when this parcel borders other residential land. Although not our top concern, the rezoning issue is the first step to approving the plant and a first opportunity to express concerns to the city officials. In response to LS Power's request, the Midland Planning Commission has recommended to the City Council rezone 2 parcels of land. Petition No. 542 requests a parcel that is currently "Residental A-1"and borders other residential land to be rezoned to "Heavy Industrial B". Not only would this rezoning be a large jump in rezoning categories (bypassing the "Light Industrial A"), it would also inappropriately allow for "Heavy Industrial B" to border remaining residential land. Drive down to the area. You'll see that there are several families living very close to the location. Of course, as Jonathan says, the smoke stack will spew it too high to effect these people; it's the ones in Freeland and Auburn that need to be concerned! The other petition, No. 543, to rezone light industrial to heavy industrial seems reasonable.

3. We are opposed to changing the text of the Heavy B zoning ordinance to include "electrical generating station" as a "Principle Permitted Use" (Amendment No. 144-A)....this mean any kind of electrical generating plant (coal, nuclear, wind, etc) would be permitted by right to build in any Midland Heavy B industrial Zone. The Planning Commission's recommendation to the City Council on this petition was to decline the petitioners request for "principle permitted use" in favor of an amendment that adds "electrical generating station" as a Conditional permitted use. That's good news! However, the City Council does not have to honor the Planning Commission's recommendations and instead could not include conditions. We are in support of the planning commissions recommendation for "conditional use" due to the special circumstances and obvious potential negative impacts of certain stations that fall under this category. We feel it is important for Midland to have conditions on the land permits for projects of such magnitude and scale. This "conditional use permit" is common practice and should be utilized here. Conditions could potentially include things such as the environmental/health impacts, a need for special buffers near residents or even a requirement that the best technology be used. You can watch and listen to the planning Commission's interesting discussion of this petition and Scott Gaynor's plea to add "conditional use permit" to the amendment.

Link you can "jump to" zoning text amendent 144A

In my opinion, this zoning text amendment is even more important than the zoning itself. If Midland gives electrical generating stations permission "by right", then we may be eliminating future opportunities to regulate what comes to Midland. Our hands will be tied so to speak.

4. Questions about LS Power practices and experiences. I have come across some interesting information about the petitioning company. They are lobbying against Renewable Energy mandates and writing "improper" letters to the Iowa state representatives threatening to withdraw contributions to the university research program if the mandate passes........sounds sleezy to me. Link In addition, LS Power has never operated a coal plant before. They have 4 coal plants in the development stage and 1 in the very early construction phase, but none in operation.

The need for new jobs and more base-load energy in Michigan seems to be a well-documented fact. However, we are not convinced that a coal plant using old technology, run by a company who opposes renewable energy legislation, giving Midland a reputation that in embraces the past and not the future, creating only 100 permanent jobs, while spewing tons of pollution to our air is best for the City of Midland. Jonathan and I have written a letter to the Midland City Council expressing our concerns. If you are also concerned, we encourage you to do the same. At a minimum, please write to ask the Council to thoroughly consider the implications of their actions, to educate themselves on the topic using a variety of resources in addition to those provided by the company and to proceed slowly. For some reason they seemed rushed to get this done as evidenced by the fact the Planning Commission used only 15 of the 60 days they had to consider the rezoning and text amendment petitions.

The City Council members' names and addresses are found here Link . They are to hear a "first reading" on the zoning and text amendment petitions at the July 23rd council meeting. A public hearing will most likely be held on August 13th. Letters should be sent before August 6th.

I have a friend who recently spoke to one of the councilmen about this issue. After he told her of the positive aspects of plant (need for jobs in our community and energy in the state) she asked him what he thought about the potential environmental and health effects. He actually responded by saying that he had not even considered them!!!! I have no doubt that these men want what is best for our community, but they must become informed on both sides of the issues. You can encourage them to do this.

If you would like a copy of the letter we sent to the City Council regarding the rezoning and text amendments to use as an example, let us know and we can email it to you. We plan to send another letter with more specific concerns about the plant itself once a site plan is put before the planning commission. The group MidlandCARES (clean and renewable energy solutions) will soon have a website full of more information at www.midlandcares.org . If you have any questions or comments, please write to us. If you think we are overlooking an important point, please feel free to bring it up.

Sincerely,
Lisa

The Year Without Toilet Paper

You folks who are giving Al Gore and other environmentalists a hard time for talking the talk but not walking the walk (as you see it) should be careful about what you ask for...you might get it. From an article of the same title by Penelope Green in the NY Times:

...Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.

Ms. Conlin, acknowledging that she sees her husband as No Impact Man and herself as simply inside his experiment...Ms. Conlin is clearly more than just a good sport — giving up toilet paper seems a fairly profound gesture of commitment...

Don't push them, please! You don't want your neighbors giving up toilet paper, do you?!?

Evangelicals Ally With Democrats on Environment

Interesting things are happening on the faith/politics front, and the news isn't good for the Republicans. David Kuo is making the rounds (I've seen him on The Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher) promoting his book and its thesis that Christians are disrepected and used by some in the White House. Apparently, some Christians also think that the Republican tent is too big if it is big enough to include gay conservatives ("Some Seek 'Pink Purge' in the GOP", LA Times).

Global warming is also coming into the mix. From an article of the same title by Stephanie Simon in the LA Times:

Democratic strategists are joining forces with conservative evangelicals to promote a faith-based campaign on global warming, in an improbable alliance that could boost Democratic hopes of taking control of Congress.

At a news conference today, the president of the Christian Coalition and a board member of the National Assn. of Evangelicals — both groups closely tied to the religious right — will announce Call to Action, an effort to make global warming a front-and-center issue over the next three weeks for Christians in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado and several other states with pitched election campaigns.

Through ads on Christian radio, sermons from the pulpit, Bible studies, house parties and a documentary film, "The Great Warming," Christians will be urged to view protecting the environment as a religious and moral issue every bit as urgent as opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.

"We're not abandoning our previous positions: We're still pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-morality. But one or two issues can't adequately express the Gospel," said the Rev. Joel Hunter, new president of the Christian Coalition of America.

Hunter is one of scores of evangelical leaders who have become convinced — often reluctantly, after months of study — that the planet is facing a crisis and that God expects Christians to act, in part by electing committed environmentalists to office. "I'm trying to make Christians ... look at candidates in a broader way, and look at individuals, not just parties," he said...

"The Great Warming" is heavy on science, but it also lays out the biblical case for acting on global warming, starting with God's command to Adam to be a good steward of the Earth. Faith leaders increasingly make a moral argument as well, saying that floods, hurricanes and other effects of global warming will disproportionately affect the poor — whom Christ commanded his followers to help.

In the long run, evangelicals leading the Call to Action say they hope, and expect, more Republicans to take up global warming as a priority cause.

"Evangelicals are in the best position to change the GOP's mind on this — a better position than any group in America, other than big business," said Cizik, the vice president of governmental affairs for the National Assn. of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million Christians.

But evangelicals are not united on the issue. Dissent is so pointed that Cizik did not sign his name to the Call to Action on global warming for fear of embroiling his group in controversy.

A small minority of Christians believes that environmental degradation and natural disaster may be a sign of the Second Coming. Many others hold that science has not proved global warming is a crisis — or that God simply puts a higher priority on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Some links:

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