Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Historic News: Alexandria Coal-Fired Power Plant to Close

This just in from Alexandria:
The City of Alexandria and GenOn Energy have reached an agreement to permanently close the company’s Potomac River Generating Station, which began operating in 1949. To facilitate the retirement of the plant, the City of Alexandria will release approximately $32 million currently held in escrow, which was set aside to pay for the additional environmental controls at the station as a result of a 2008 agreement between the City and GenOn.

“Today announcement is a path forward for both Alexandria and the power company that works for everybody, and truly reflects the interest of both parties,” said Alexandria’s Mayor William D. Euille. “Both the Alexandria City Council and community have worked extremely hard toward this goal, and we are very proud of the final result. This news strengthens Alexandria’s future and opens the door to an enhanced quality of life for our residents.”

Under the terms of the agreement, GenOn has agreed to retire the generating station by October 1, 2012, or, if the plant is needed beyond that date for reliability purposes, as soon as it is no longer needed.
The news comes in the wake of a report that the polluting plant isn't necessary to meet the area's energy needs.

Considering how long Alexandria public health and environmental advocates have been fighting to close this dirty coal-fired power plant, this is a historic victory. Congratulations to Rep. Jim Moran, Mayor Euille, the Alexandria City Council, and all the activists who've stuck with this fight!

UPDATE: From Rep. Moran's statement reacting to the closing: "Today's action maintains our commitment to a better, cleaner environment for our region's next generation. The extinction of this dinosaur of a facility is heartily welcomed."

UPDATE #2: Just found the numbers from a 2010 study by Abt Associates estimating the annual toll of the Potomac River Generating Station's pollution:
Deaths: 37
Heart attacks: 60
Asthma attacks: 610
Hospital admissions: 28
Chronic bronchitis: 23
Asthma ER visits: 30

I Reckon The Corn's Comin' In Mighty Fine This Year

Last month, I posted on some mysterious stalks that showed up next to my patio in East Falls Church. I pulled out a couple of the smaller ones to give the big ones room and have watered them here and there. The stalks seem small, only shoulder-high. But sure enough, it looks like ears of corn are sprouting on the sides:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bottled Water Blitz Wastes Money & Ignores a Real Risk

The Costco before the stormWas the DC region's mad rush for bottled water ahead of Hurricane Irene a necessary evil of disaster preparation or a waste of money? As with many questions like this, it's an environmental concern, sure - but the bigger issue is what an unnecessary waste of money it is, along with the real risk we're ignoring.

Yes, bottled water is worse for the environment and might be worse from a health perspective than tap water. But considering Americans drink nearly 9 billion gallons of bottled water last year requiring millions of gallons of petroleum to produce, the Irene surge is a drop in the bucket.

If there's a storm coming and you don't already have backup water, there's absolutely no need to waste money on buying it from the store. Any household has plenty of pitchers, bottles, Tupperware and pots that can serve as temporary tap water storage. For free! Putting those containers in the fridge or freezer can then keep your food cold longer in case you lose power. (Side note: I think people take "water" too literally. Just looking in my own fridge right now, I have a case of Sprite Zero that could sustain me for few days in a pinch. I guess waiting in long lines to purchase items specifically to ward off this threat gives people a sense of security.)

But the whole mad dash to prepare shows just how unprepared most people really are for sudden disaster. It's the unforeseen catastrophes that are the real danger, like if Tuesday's earthquake had been stronger. Ready.gov advises you to keep a disaster kit with three gallons of water for each person in your household. Ideally, you'd buy three gallon jugs of water, stick them in your closet, and forget about them until you needed them. Unopened bottled water doesn't go bad, so these jugs could literally last a lifetime. You could also just get a battery-powered UV water sterilizer, as my friend Every Day Father points out.

I don't say "a lifetime" by accident - it's extremely rare for the DC area to lose both safe tap water AND the ability to travel for three consecutive days. The only recent example I could find of a disaster knocking out drinking water was after the remains of Hurricane Isabel hit the DC region in 2003. Fairfax County issued a boil water order, but lifted it just two days later and even then, free bottled water was distributed. And since then, Fairfax has worked to upgrade its water facility's backup power system.

My concern is that obsessing over canned goods, water and flashlight batteries ignores a huge gap in our emergency response system. More than a quarter of American households now rely only on wireless phones. As the earthquake reminded us, our cell phone system can't handle disasters.

Even if the system survives, how long would our cell phone batteries last without electricity? When I woke up Sunday morning, there were 118,000 customers without power in Northern Virginia. My Blackberry battery sometimes lasts less than a day. How many people paid for bottled water, yet would've relied on only their cell phones for emergency calls during an extended power outage - a much more likely storm outcome than losing water?

Fortunately, there's an easy solution available for under $30. Ready.gov recommends keeping a solar cell phone charger in your disaster kit. And when you're not riding out a storm, you can use it to charge your devices while camping.

As for upgrading our national wireless infrastructure, cell phone companies say it's not their job. "For cell phone carriers it really doesn't make sense from a cost perspective for them to be building their networks for the highest demand," CNET's Maggie Reardon told CBS News.

Would the federal government be willing to invest a few billion dollars putting people to work making sure our wireless networks are ready for the worst? Not while Rep. Eric Cantor's running the House - for him, not even earthquake response is worth funding without simultaneously laying off other government workers.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene Links (Or: Print These for Blackout Reading!)

As I charge my electronics in case we lose power, here are a few Hurricane Irene links:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Exploiting the Earthquake & Hurricane Irene to Point Out We've Cut Earthquake & Hurricane Monitoring

Earthquake DamageSince I never waste an opportunity to exploit a tragedy, I thought I'd point to this tweet from the Center for American Progress' Michael Linden in the wake of yesterday's earthquake:
US Geological Survey's budget was cut by some $20 million this year. #justsaying
And as Hurricane Irene approaches, CAP's ThinkProgress.org reports on budget cuts hurting weather monitoring & emergency response. You may also remember Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) mocking funding for life-saving volcano monitoring and Republican efforts to cut tsunami monitoring at the same time the Japanese earthquake & tsunami struck.

"[P]ointing out that they cut funding on this stuff doesn’t constitute 'politicizing' any ongoing natural disasters," writes Matt Yglesias, "Astute readers will note, however, that the meaning of across the board spending cuts is that you’re cutting spending on all programs."

"Across the board" spending cuts sound equitable, hence are more politically palatable. But as Matt points out, that means cutting funding for feeding hungry children, taking care of sick people, and fighting forest fires - things that cutting might get you voted out of office. Any politician who'd rather cut funding for earthquake monitoring and feeding hungry children than raise taxes on the wealthy should have to explain that choice to voters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moderate Earthquake Shakes East Coast from Virginia to Vermont

OK, so it was moderate by California standards. By East Coast standards - holy crap! An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.9 shook Virginia at 1:51pm. It was centered 41 miles northwest of Richmond and 83 miles southwest of Washington, DC.

The Green Miles is in Vermont for work this week. I felt the conference center here in Stowe start rocking gently and thought it was a small, local earthquake. My jaw dropped when I saw tweets from DC friends reporting shaking there. The epicenter was 600 miles away, but it was still strong enough here to send the chandeliers swaying. Amazing!

While DC residents will remember the minor earthquake centered near Germantown on July 16, 2010, there was also a small earthquake in central Virginia on October 3, 2010.

UPDATE: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, it was the largest earthquake in Virginia since 1897.

Virginians: Vote Today

A reminder for Virginians to vote in today's primary for General Assembly races & some local elections. Since I'm in Vermont for work this week, I voted in-person absentee on Saturday for the only race on my ballot in Falls Church, voting for Theo Stamos in the Democratic primary for Commonwealth's Attorney. Wish I was still back in my old Arlington stomping grounds so I could vote for Jaime Areizaga-Soto for Virginia State Senate!

How Many Virginia Jobs Could Strong Solar Incentives Create?

According to One Block Off the Grid, strong incentives for solar power could create more jobs in Virginia (7,675) than the coal industry employs (5,262):

Monday, August 22, 2011

With Demand Near Record Highs, Governments Cut Supply of Public Transit

Crowded PlatformAt exactly the time when governments should be working to meet rising public demand for transit, they're instead cutting back:
The economic downturn is playing havoc with the nation’s public transit systems even as ridership remains near record levels: since 2010, 71 percent of the nation’s large systems have cut service, and half have raised fares, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Public Transportation Association, a transit advocacy group.

And in many cases, those fare increases and service cuts — made necessary by flat or reduced state and local aid — are being implemented on top of similar moves earlier in the downturn.

“It’s compounding,” Art Guzzetti, the vice president for policy at the transportation association, said of the repeated years of service cuts and fare increases. “I’ve been in the business 32 years. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs along the way. That’s been the nature of the business. But notwithstanding that, this is the worst it’s been in my time.”

Since 2006, transit systems have been carrying passengers on more than 10 billion trips a year, a level not seen since the 1950s, the association has found. But on average, they get around a third of their operating money from fares. Most of the money comes from state and local governments, and with tax collections still struggling to get back to pre-recession levels, 83 percent of the transit agencies surveyed reported receiving flat or reduced state aid.
Two things. First, it kills me that progressives are reluctant to raise gas taxes to fund transit because of the myth that the gas tax is regressive. In reality, as ClimateProgress' Joe Romm has detailed, 1 in 4 low-income households don't even own a car. And "most, if not all" gas-guzzling SUVs & pickups are bought by mid- and high-income households. Makes sense - if you're barely scraping by, are you going to buy a Corolla or a Canyonero?

And second, for all the people who take to their smartphones to complain about Metro, how many have ever written Gov. Bob McDonnell to urge Virginia to finally give Metro a dedicated funding source? Who took action to support Democrats like Rep. Jim Moran & Rep. Gerry Connolly in their fight against efforts by Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor & Rep. Frank Wolf to gut Metro funding?

To get updated on when you can take action to support public transit in the DC area, sign up for emails from the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Or for national news, visit Smart Growth America.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Poking the Climate Hawk

My friends' favorite way to try to get a rise out of me this summer has been, "The weather this summer has been so extreme! Hey, The Green Miles, you don't think our climate is changing, do you? NAH. Must be natural variation or sunspots or something."

I know anything I say will come out sounding like Charlie's dad from So I Married An Axe Murderer ranting about The Pentaverate. So I pretend like I'm laughing along and go back to drinking my beer.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Is "Here's a Picture of a Cute Chipmunk" an OK Blog Post Title?

This chipmunk was like a little vacuum cleaner, scrambling across my patio and barely slowing down to pick up sunflower seeds as it went:

I've seen tons of bunnies around East Falls Church, but hadn't seen one on my patio until this weekend. Or more accurately, saw my cat seeing the rabbit:

My friend Brian was over recently & noticed Wilma watching a chipmunk, a squirrel & a few birds on the patio. "I wonder what Wilma would do if she could get out?" he asked. Having previously observed this vicious predator in action, I said, "Let's find out!" and opened the door. Wilma lunged out onto the patio and ... watched the chipmunk & squirrel run away, watched the birds fly away, and moseyed over to the grass and started munching. Cats may be America's top threat to birds, but mine is apparently a pacifist.

So here's the updated list of species I've spotted in just the 7 months since I put a bird-feeder on my patio:

I hadn't realized that as much as I complain about invasive European sparrows & starlings, American squirrels have been introduced to & invaded other parts of the world.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Starbucks CEO's Political Advice: Stunningly, Self-Defeatingly, Cynically Wrong

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz Talks to the MediaStarbucks CEO Howard Schultz blaming "Washington" for our problems is stunningly wrong. "Washington" did not take our economy hostage by creating a debt ceiling crisis. Republicans did. "Washington" did not turn down a $4 trillion deficit reduction package in the name of anti-tax orthodox. Republicans did.

I'm not saying all Democrats are blame-free, but reasonable Americans should not be mad at, say, Bernie Sanders. They should be mad at Republicans.

Saying reasonable Americans should stop contributing to all politicians regardless of sanity is self-defeatingly wrong. A friend approvingly posted Schultz's comments to Facebook, saying, "Stop feeding the monster."

But if you're reading this, you aren't one of the ones feeding the monsters. Just 150 wealthy people & couples have fed new Tea Party favorite Gov. Rick Perry $37 million and have seen a handsome return for their investment. Now as much as ever, America needs reasonable people to be engaged and reasonable politicians to be supported. Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers are not going to stop injecting huge sums of cash into funding Tea Party insanity. Telling reasonable people to boycott politics is equivalent to calling for only the forces of good to be disarmed.

Finally, refusing to assign blame to Republicans is cynically wrong. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) was the prime mover behind the Tea Party's creation of the voluntary debt ceiling crisis, and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) & Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went along with what they knew was bad politics & policy to avoid losing their leadership positions to the Tea Party hordes.

So why isn't Schultz blaming Republicans by name? It would be terrible for business! Can you imagine how much it money it would cost Starbucks if its CEO accurately blamed Republicans for creating political gridlock in an attempt to weaken Democrats & President Obama in advance of the 2012 election? Within minutes, GOP talking heads from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity would be telling their millions of followers to get their lattes from Dunkin' Donuts until Schultz was fired, which he would be in short order. I don't see Starbucks' Wall Street investors standing up for him, do you?

Instead, Schultz takes the easiest of routes - blaming "Washington" and literally asking people to do nothing. Soak in praise from the frustrated while not having to actually stick your neck out to change anything.

Look, if change is going to come to Washington, it's not going to come from a billionaire who screwed over Seattle SuperSonics fans. It's going to come from millions of reasonable Americans deciding that even after a long day of getting the kids ready, getting the kids to school, going to work, putting up with their boss' shit, coming home, making dinner, cleaning up, and getting the kids to bed, they still have enough energy to put pen to paper and write their members of Congress letters asking them to stop fighting about how much to gut education spending and start talking about how much we can reasonably bring taxes back to Clinton-era levels to help build a better America.

And if your members of Congress don't listen to you, find someone to run against them and give them money and knock on doors for them. It's hard work and it takes a long time and you don't always win. But if you want to change things in Washington, we need more reasonable people to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work, not fewer.

Key Faith Group to Mobilize Members Behind Keeping Virginia's Uranium Mining Ban

Virginia's oldest faith-based advocacy group has announced it will put its weight behind keeping Virginia's ban on uranium mining:
Officials at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy say they will be mobilizing activists across the state to lobby the General Assembly to continue a moratorium on uranium mining in the state.

Trieste Lockwood, director of the group’s power and light program, said that mining could harm drinking water, residents’ health and the economy by damaging agricultural, tourism and fishing industries if there is an accident.

Tests indicate that about 119 million pounds of uranium are located in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania County. A company pushing to mine the uranium, Virginia Uranium, says that it could be worth as much as $10 billion.

The financial gain of one corporation is really simply not worth the longterm risks to so many people,” Lockwood said.
And what about the review of existing data some skittish General Assembly members say they're waiting for before making any decisions?
We do not believe an unbiased study exists that suggests uranium is no longer radioactive and no longer has severe health consequences," she said.
For more on why Virginia's uranium mining ban is just as necessary today as it was when first implemented decades ago, check out KeepTheBan.org or read this excellent article by the Virginia Sierra Club's Mary Rafferty.

Navy Testing Cool New Compact Solar Enegy System at Virginia's Fort Story

061029-N-4515N-006It's a story we're hearing more and more often - the military is increasingly turning to renewable energy solutions because they simply work better than dirty energy sources. Testing is underway on the latest innovation at Virginia's Fort Story:
The Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training and Evaluation Unit 2 in Virginia has been testing five prototype lightweight field power kits that include solar cells as a key component. The kits replace fifty pounds of equipment with a compact system that weighs only about nine pounds.

The heart of the kit is a one-pound device called a Soldier Power Manager. The Power Manager functions like a smart micro-mini-grid. In contrast to a portable generator that runs only on diesel fuel, the Power Manager can receive energy from various sources including solar panels and fuel cells. It recharges other devices by cable attachments, eliminating the need for individual battery chargers.
The idea is just one of several developed thanks to suggestions given to the Office of Naval Research's TechSolutions program:
Though the concept is basically the same as an old fashioned employee suggestion box, a single request can have a profound effect on operations. In one recent example, TechSolutions has been testing high efficiency LED bunk lights in response to a sailor's complaint about noisy, outdated fluorescent fixtures. Aside from improving readiness and health the new lighting system has already yielded significant savings in energy, maintenance, storage and disposal logistics, and it may soon go fleetwide.
For the military, clean energy isn't about politics - it's about saving lives with fewer fuel convoys & more mobile soldiers. And as nice added benefits, clean energy also saves money and cuts the oil dependence & carbon pollution that threaten our national security.

Monday, August 15, 2011

DC Oil Spill: Petroleum Product Spotted in Anacostia River

Reports WUSA9:
DC Fire's Hazardous Materials Unit is searching for the source of a petroleum-based product on the Anacostia River.

The product is said to stretch from the 11th Street Bridge to Benning Road.

DC Fire and EMS Spokesperson Pete Piringer said hazmat has not identified the product yet but he said it's a low level flammable, like oil.
UPDATE 8/16: The Coast Guard doesn't seem to be able to find much oil. They're going to keep an eye on things but there doesn't seem to be much threat to the river at this point.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Topper Shutt's Clumsy Climate Denier Dog-Whistle

If WUSA Chief Meteorologist Topper Shutt doesn't accept the established science that our planet is warming, man-made carbon pollution is to blame, and we need to switch to cleaner energy sources as quickly as possible, that's his personal choice. As the Columbia Journalism Review has reported, some meteorologists deny global warming for political reasons or because they misunderstand the science, so Shutt certainly wouldn't be alone. But I wish he'd just come out and say so instead of sneaking coded panders to the denial crowd into his articles.

Shutt recently wrote a couple of blog posts (republished in the Washington Examiner) about climate & energy issues. Over at Blue Virginia, Lowell has already examined the posts in detail, so I won't go too in-depth. But I did want to draw attention to this one line:
Some would have us believe that 'global warming', or now as it is called 'climate change' is our biggest threat to humanity.
Shutt's posts never come out and say what he really thinks about climate science, but this line is clearly his attempt at a dog-whistle to the science denial crowd. Climate science deniers like to say, "Scientists used to warn about 'global warming,' but then it didn't get warm, so they started saying 'climate change'!" Given that the article ran in the conservative Washington Examiner, owned by a conservative billionaire who made his fortune in part in oil, it's especially shameful.

First, who cares what you call it? The climate crisis, climate change, global warming, global boiling, global weirding, call it whatever you want. Arguments about terminology are just one of many ways climate science deniers try to deflect the conversation from the actual temperature record. Predictions of human-induced climate change have stayed remarkably consistent since they began in earnest in 1859, continued through (to pick just two examples) this video from 1958 and this report from 1975, right through today.

Second, that temperature record thing:

What's most ridiculous about the whole thing is that Shutt failed to mention global warming (or climate change!) when he was blogging about the DC region's record-shattering July heat just a few days before. As Media Matters has reported, it sure seems like climate skeptics only want to talk about global warming when it's snowing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Green Miles' Favorite Food Makes Its 2011 Arlington Appearance

The Arlington County Fair is underway at Thomas Jefferson Community Center, which means The Green Miles will once again be on the hunt for fried Oreos:
Fried Oreos

Beyond the fried Oreos, the fair's booths & exhibits are a great way to connect with the community. If you've been looking to start volunteering, you'll find representatives from dozens of groups happy to talk to you about opportunities. My friend Jan-Michael tweets that you can look out for The Green Miles featured on the Arlington County Fair poster with some friends from the Arlington Community Volunteer Network.

There are shuttles to the fair running every 30 minutes from the Ballston Metro, the Arlington Career Center, and the I-66 parking garage. But (assuming it's not 100 degrees) the fair's location at the geographic center of the county makes it a surprisingly decent walk from many parts of Arlington. It's an especially good idea for those of us planning on downing one if not several orders of fried Oreos. (Note: If there are fried Oreos to be found year-round in the DC area, please do not tell me about them. Regular access to fried Oreos would mean certain death.) 

Finally, you can check out my photo-blog of the 2008 fair from the now-defunct What's Up Arlington.

My Apartment Building Says Bikes Hurt Property Values

From my August newsletter here at Roosevelt Towers in Falls Church:
In walking in the community, we have seen a number of bicycles locked up on the railing of the lower lobby entrance. This is NOT the place for them, not the look we want to portray for potential and/or current residents and more importantly, it is an extreme safety hazard. Because we are unaware of who they belong to, we ask that the owners of these bicycles please remove them immediately. We do have storage space allotted for bicycles. We ask all residents to please help us in keeping the community beautiful and safe!
Given that my building is less than a mile from East Falls Church Metro & the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, I can imagine bike commuting is a popular option. I can also understand why people might not want to drag their bikes into the building, up some stairs, and down a long hallway to a storage area, then repeat the process before work the next day.

What's less understandable is the "extreme safety hazard" reference. The areas in question are wide paths, so they're not blocking the way. And there are railings on either side, so it's not like they're costing elderly residents their only handhold. If you were trying to move in or out through that entrance, it might be annoying, but dangerous? What are they really getting at here?

Then we come to the real meat of the argument: Thinly-veiled references that only poor people use bikes to get around frequently. The rest of us can lock up our bikes in storage and only pull them out on weekends.

It's strange that building management would respond to apparent resident need for more convenient bike storage not by gauging interest in a bike rack but by threatening to confiscate bikes. And it's not like the complex is hurting for outdoor space - even on the most-full nights, there are always at least 5 empty spots in the parking lot and usually a lot more.

They were responsive on my request for more recycling, so I emailed them:
I don't have a bike myself, but if there's such great demand for bike storage closer to the street, why not install a bike rack in one of the surplus parking spaces on the north side of the building?
I haven't heard back.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Development on Feds Teleworking on Extreme Heat Days

The good folks over at Greater Greater Washington invited me to write about my idea for giving federal workers more telework flexibility on extreme heat days. And just as they did, I heard Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) was writing a letter to the Office of Personnel Management about the idea.

Read the post and an excerpt from Rep. Connolly's letter at GreaterGreaterWashington.org.

Colbert Mocks Fox on Spongebob & The Wavy-Arm Global Warming Theory

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Saving Money, Sustaining Jobs: What New Fuel Efficiency Rules Mean for Virginia

The Obama administration has announced new fuel efficiency standards for cars & trucks that will save consumers billions at the gas pump. But what many people don't realize is those standards will also sustain thousands of jobs in states like Virginia:
At least 155,000 auto industry jobs now exist in the United States devoted to fuel-efficient vehicle technologies, with that number likely to grow, according to a joint report released today by the UAW and two environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council National Wildlife Federation.

The new study found that more than 300 companies in 43 states and the District of Columbia are currently involved in manufacturing tied directly to clean and fuel efficient technologies. That number is likely to expand even more in the wake of recently announced fuel economy standards that would require a fleet average of 54.5 m.p.g. by 2025.
By 2030, the new fuel efficiency rules will save America 3.4 million barrels of oil per day. If you believe estimates that Virginia has 130 million barrels of oil offshore, that means the new standards will save more oil every 38 days than we could possibly drill for off our beaches:
Jim Lyon, senior vice president of conservation programs at the National Wildlife Federation, said moving to cleaner vehicles will not only lessen dependence on foreign oil – but lessen the pressure to drill for oil domestically in sensitive areas. "The best place to drill for oil is under the hoods of cars and trucks," Lyon said.
Here's what I find most interesting about this jobs report from a Virginia perspective. All we hear about from politicians in Richmond is that Virginia's a coal state, we can't ever possibly hope to burn one lump less of coal than we do now, etc. But according to the most recently available numbers in 2006, the coal industry only employs 5,262 people in Virginia.

Yet according to this report, 11 facilities supplying clean, fuel efficient vehicle technologies employ 2,373 people in Virginia. How often do you hear politicians like Gov. Bob McDonnell talking about how important it is to buy hybrid cars to support those jobs?

Read the full report at NRDC.org & learn more about the new fuel efficiency standards at EPA.gov.

Note: I work for the National Wildlife Federation for my day job, but my blog posts are my own.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Washington & Lee U. to Install Virginia's Largest Solar Project

Great news from Virginia's Washington & Lee University:
Washington and Lee signed an agreement with Secure Futures L.L.C., a solar-energy developer based in Staunton, Va., today to install two solar photovoltaic arrays, totaling approximately 450 kilowatts, at two separate locations on the University's campus.

The first solar array, with a capacity of 120 kilowatts, will be installed on a canopy to be constructed over the upper deck of the University's parking structure. Lewis Hall, home of the Washington and Lee School of Law, will host the second array, a rooftop installation with a capacity of 330 kilowatts. Scheduled for completion by the end of the year, the two arrays combined will become the largest solar project in Virginia, with enough power to supply the total average annual electricity needs for the equivalent of 44 homes in Lexington.
As the Washington Post recently reported, demand for on-site solar power is heating up in our region.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Doonesbury Whiffs on White Roofs

Today's edition of Doonesbury uses white roofs as part of the joke, and while I'm excited for the concept to reach a new audience ... the comic gets their economic benefits wrong, severely underestimating their impact.

If white roofs didn't deliver year-round energy savings, why would anyone do it? Yet that's exactly what Garry Trudeau's character Mike Doonesbury mistakenly claims.

As Mother Jones' Kiera Butler detailed last year, white roofs are a net energy win no matter where you live:
The latest white-roofs study used computer simulations to figure out what might happen if every roof in every city of the world were white. The finding: An average temperature reduction of .7 degrees Fahrenheit. Good news in general, but here’s the problem for homeowners: Since white roofs cool buildings all year round, some people have pointed out that folks with white roofs in northern climates might end up cranking the thermostat higher than their neighbors with dark-colored roofs during winter months.

Roofs of the future might solve this problem: Last year, a team of MIT researchers came up with a prototype of high-tech tiles that change color based on the air temperature. A cool idea for sure, but unfortunately the smart tiles aren't on the market yet. So till they are, should you spring for a white roof even if you live in the chilly north? Hashem Akbari, a senior scientist and leader of the Heat Island Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, says yes, since AC typically uses a lot more energy than heat. "The wintertime penalties are only a fraction of summer time savings."
White roofs can save up to 20% of a building's energy costs on a hot day, as Bill Clinton recently wrote in Newsweek. The further south you go, the more in energy savings you'll see from having one - but even in Maine, you'll see a net benefit. Makes sense - not only does AC cost more than heat, but deflecting strong summer sun is a bigger benefit than absorbing much weaker winter sun.

And above & beyond the net energy benefit, white roofs would cut the urban heat island effect and take some of the edge off global warming. So why aren't we putting people to work painting every roof white?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Harris Teeters Toward Local Foods

The Harris Teeter in Ballston has recently started highlighting "Fresh off the Farm" fruits & vegetables. Each item is identified with its local farm and the prices are no higher than usual:

So far, so good. But I noticed the blueberries also got a "from your regional neighbor" tag, which is supposed to be for produce shipped six hours or less. They're from "California Giant Berry Farms," which, call me cynical, but sounds suspiciously non-local. On top of that, the blueberries are marked "Product of Canada," so who knows how many passport stamps they've earned:

So while on the whole this is progress, as always, shop smart ... shop S-Mart.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Don't Be a Menace While Drinking Your Juice

Regular readers of The Green Miles know I'm not big on pushing lifestyle changes - I mostly stick to things that make it greener, more fun, lower energy-consumptive & less stuff-intensive to do the things you already do. Switch to wind power, eat local organic meat, drive a Prius, give Christmas cookies instead of sweaters, etc. But given that my experiment with green deodorant remains one of my all-time most popular posts, I know there's a great thirst out there for tales of trying out more radical change.

My friend Lauren Dunn, a producer with NBC4 here in Washington, recently tried a juice cleanse diet. Health was her motivation, but given her past vegetarianism, how many questions I get about diets like this & how entertaining her posts are, I thought I'd link them up for The Green Miles readers:
  • Part I: "My juice arrives Tuesday, July 26, and I'll will report back in three days. For now, wish me luck -- and if you happen to see me passed out on the floor, don't steal my wallet."
  • Part II: "Feeling pretty energetic, I went to my boxing class that night. But when the instructor commented on my technique, I full on bit his head off. (Note to self, do not snip at professional boxers.) I wanted to scream: 'I've only been drinking juice for three days!! Leave me the hell alone!'"
  • Part III: "The whole process was truly a lesson in discipline. No, I didn’t always feel so fabulous. Yes, my sanity was put into question multiple times. But as I come out on the other side of this, I truly have reaped the benefits."
Lauren's early posts reminded me of a quote from baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who struggled with his weight as he transitioned from everyday player to bench-warming manager. One year he tried the grapefruit diet and said, "It's OK for the first few days. Then you get a little tired of grapefruit. And after about a week, you want to go find a grapefruit farmer and blow his head off." 

But the short duration seemed to keep any homicidal tendencies from growing within Lauren. And the juice seemed to convince her it would be easy to keep doing the things she liked while making them even healthier (say, replacing cheese with anything plant-based). So, #winning.

What Lauren doesn't mention: It was The Green Miles' influence that got her to try meat again after 10 years of vegetarianism! That's right! FEEL THE BURN, VEGAN TREEHUGGERS. Don't you feel betrayed for having read my posts all these years? I feel like Vince McMahon revealing himself to be "The Higher Power" who'd been screwing over Stone Cold Steve Austin. 

(OK, so I don't care if my friends are vegetarians & it was actually the delicious smell of my Dinosaur BBQ Sauce that got Lauren to want to try meat. But let me enjoy acting like a villain for once.)

Balconies & SUVs: People Love Things They Never Use

BalconyMy last two apartments have been in buildings in which every unit a balcony or patio. I can see about 60 balconies from my current parking lot, and if I look up on three different nice summer evenings, I might see one balcony in use one time. I've always been amazed at how all these people paid whatever little bit extra to move into a building with a balcony, almost always populating it with some sort of outdoor furniture, then absolutely never use it.

A friend mentioned this weekend she'd soon be in the market for a new car and asked if I had any recommendations. (Everyone always assumes I'll say a Toyota Prius. Does this happen to Emeril? If people ask what they should make for dinner, do they assume he'll say andouille sausage?)

I asked what she expected to use the car for. She said she mostly makes a very short drive to work here in the DC area, short trips around town, and that she needed something to get to the mountains for snowboarding.

I said, "How many times a year do you drive to the mountains to snowboard?"

"Once. Maybe," she replied.

"Well, maybe rather than paying twice as much up-front and twice as much in gas for an SUV, you could get something more affordable, more fun to drive, and easier to park," I said. "Then when you DO go to the mountains, you can take a tiny fraction of the thousands you'll be saving and rent the biggest, baddest, most tricked out SUV you can find."

I suggested checking out the Ford Focus (including the hybrid), Volkswagen's diesel models (great mileage but not necessarily better emissions), and yes, the Prius, still a great car at a low price compared to other hybrids.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Merchants of Doubt Now Attacking Polar Bears

All on board!I usually try to keep my day job with the National Wildlife Federation & my personal blog separate, but I have a new post at the NWF blog I wanted to share.

The same polluter front groups that defended cigarette companies & attacked climate scientists are now targeting polar bears. Journalists, rather than trying to determine the truth, are instead reporting to the controversy & leaving it there.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mark Warner Thinks Disabled Seniors, Not Big Oil, Should Sacrifice to Balance Budget

Mark WarnerSen. Mark Warner's "Gang of Six" budget plan would've repealed the CLASS Act, part of the 2010 health reform law designed to help seniors who need help with daily tasks such as bathing and dressing. Who does Sen. Warner think should not be asked to sacrifice? Wildly-profitable oil companies:
On Thursday, a handful of Senators wrote a letter (PDF) to President Obama that stated, “as you continue your negotiations, we urge you to remember the oil and gas industry is part of the solution.” Or, in other words, don’t single out big oil companies and their taxpayer subsidies as a way to reduce the deficit.

These nine Senators—six Republicans and three Democrats—have received $7.1 million in oil and gas industry cash during their career in Congress, according to our analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics. [...]

Ending oil subsidies didn’t make it into the tentative default deal reached over the weekend, but as Congress looks to create a commission to enact further deficit reduction measures, it’ll be important to watch what influence Big Oil and other industries will exert on the process.
Sen. Warner himself has received a smaller amount of oil & gas money relative to his oil state co-signers. But it's interesting to note the letter he signed onto tries to pass off as fact the oil & gas industry's claim to be "supporting over 9 million jobs." Just 2 years ago, the oil & gas industry was only claiming to employ less than 1.8 million people & support 4 million more. So either the oil & gas industry's share of jobs has shot up by more than a third in the midst of nationwide stagnant employment, or they now feel the need to fudge their numbers because clean energy employs more than 2.7 million Americans, 50% more than the oil & gas industry had claimed 2 years ago.

After his Gang of Six failed, Sen. Warner now wants a seat on the debt commission. Our Democratic leaders shouldn't pick someone who'll be fighting to protect Big Oil subsidies while trying to slash our social safety net.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Washington Post's Selective Transit Austerity

$140 million for the Columbia Pike streetcar that would give people a cheap, less-polluting way to get to work and draw people to a sorely under-utilized area? A waste of money! Spend it on something else instead! Anything! Like, uh, how about education? Clearly, if you support the Columbia Pike streetcar, you must hate kids!

$110 million to upgrade just one road interchange for drivers (Route 29 & Gallows Road in Merrifield), while leaving it insufficient for pedestrians and bike commuters? Still waiting to hear from the Washington Post editorial board on how that could be better spent on schools. Should be any day now.

My point is not that Columbia Pike streetcar is more worthy of funds than the Route 29 interchange. My point is that maybe at a time of crazy low interest rates when a lot of people need work, we should be doing every project we can. By the time we need to start paying it back, the economy will have recovered - and if it hasn't, we're screwed anyway.

And if you have to resort to "but what if we spent it on free health care for puppies instead?" to make your argument, maybe you should re-think your case.

Welcome to Your New Climate: July Shatters DC Heat Records

Lime ice cream 7/2011 Washington, DCWhen I first moved to the DC area, one of the things I appreciated most was that the summer evenings were absolutely perfect. No need to grab a sweatshirt or a blanket before heading out to the backyard or Westover Beer Garden - DC summer evenings have been just right.

But the summer of 2011 has been different. No backyards, no beer gardens, just an endless search for the safety of air conditioning.

First, let's talk about the record-hot days. In today's Washington Post, Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow details the carnage:
Relentless and punishing, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C., weather record-keeping. The July temperature averaged 84.5 degrees at Reagan National Airport — Washington’s official weather station — more than a degree above July 2010 and July 1993, which previously held the mark for hottest month.

The high temperature was at least 90 on 25 occasions, the most on record.
And what about the nights? So much for just right - July nights were just plain hot:
There were seven days in July with low temperatures of 80 or higher. During the entire period from 1871 to 1930, only three such days occurred, all in 1876.
The Washington Post deserves credit for daring to speak the truth - that heat waves like this are exactly what climate scientists have predicted as a consequence of global warming fueled by man-made carbon pollution. While global temperature data for July will take time to compile, we know June was the 7th-hottest on record and 2011 has been the 11th-hottest year on record so far.

As for me, maybe I gave up on New England weather too soon. Thanks to global warming - still accelerating unabated thanks to Congress' refusal to lead at home or abroad - those perfect nights can now be found somewhere north of here.

Photo via Flickr's Tom Faulkner Photographs