Thursday, May 31, 2012

North Dakota Faces Oil and Gas Drilling Revenue Trap

Drilling the Bakken FormationAre communities really making money off of oil and gas drilling if they have to spend nearly all of the tax revenue building infrastructure to support oil and gas drilling?
The state should invest up to $5 billion in northwest North Dakota communities with the most oil activity, the president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council said Wednesday.

Ron Ness, while testifying to a group of legislators meeting in Williston, said communities need significant resources to do long-range planning, but the state’s grant program for those areas is only helping them react. Ness called for a five-year plan with $800 million to $1 billion per year invested in schools, roads and infrastructure for communities in the core areas of the Bakken. [...]

The industry paid $1.3 billion in oil and gas production tax last year, and will pay even more this year, Ness said. Those dollars should be targeted at the counties with the greatest oil activity, he said.
It makes oil and gas drilling sound like a Ponzi, doesn't it? You'll make lots of money eventually, but only if you keep re-investing! As places like Virginia consider whether to allow oil and gas drilling, politicians like Gov. Bob McDonnell make it sound like every penny of tax revenue will go to existing roads and schools. But if the oil and gas industry expects the money to be spent on supporting the industry, how much will really be left for your community?

And that's to say nothing of the societal costs. "Just about anybody I talk to that's a neighbor — and some of them are getting wealthy — are sick of it. It's never going to be the same in this country, and they're starting to realize that we had it kind of good, even though we weren't No. 1 in oil and we weren't the No. 1 state economically," North Dakota rancher Donnie Nelson told NPR. "We had a good life up here."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

We Talkin' 'Bout PRACTICE? Virginia Tech May Cut Woods for Football Facility

Virginia Tech is considering clear-cutting five acres of forest to make way for a football practice facility:
What's the value of an old-growth forest fragment that may be unique on the East Coast? In a report commissioned by Virginia Tech officials, Maryland-based consulting firm Biohabitats Inc. has put the ecological value of the woods at just more than $5 million. [...]

Now university President Charles Steger and the board of visitors — which will meet in Blacksburg on Sunday and Monday — must weigh that calculation against the value of an indoor football practice facility proposed for up to 5 acres of the woods. The report puts the total footprint of the woods at 13.75 acres. [...]

The report estimates that the woods contain up to 59 white oaks that may be 300 years old or older. These findings are in line with estimates of the number and age of old-growth white oaks found in the woods by retired extension specialist Jeff Kirwan, whose work touched off the debate about the future of the woods in November.
If this was some sort of multipurpose athletic facility that benefited the entire student body as the woods do, that would be one thing. But as a famous Virginian once said ... we talkin' 'bout practice. Not a game ... practice.

Does the football team really need a $20 million indoor practice facility? Can the school afford it at a time when the athletic department is already gouging students for $7.2 million in fees every year and Virginia Tech just raised in-state tuition & fees by 4%?

Over 9,000 people have already signed an online petition to preserve the woods. Learn more at

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Protecting Troops with Clean Energy "Most Foolish Thing in the World," Says Climate Denier

RDECOM solar panels, Djibouti, May 2011Denial isn't just about ignoring real-life impacts of global warming - it's also about ignoring real-life impacts of our dependence on fossil fuels. One prominent professional denier is even willing to ignore the safety of American soldiers, calling the military's efforts to cut its need for risky fuel convoys "the most foolish thing in the world."

Fuel supply convoys are a frequent target for insurgent attacks, with attacks on fuel convoys being responsible for over 3,000 American soldier or contractor deaths between 2003 and 2007 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering over 10,000 U.S. soldiers and contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, fuel convoy deaths make up a sizable percentage of total casualties.

The military has responded with a furious effort to cut its need for fuel convoys increase fuel efficiency and deploy clean energy. To cut its dependence on fossil fuel-powered generators and slash fuel costs, the military is developing everything from large solar tents to provide both power & shade to small, foldable solar panels that troops in the field can use to recharge their laptops and other electronic devices.

I joined CCTV's The Heat this weekend to talk about the impacts of global warming and what to do about it. Alongside me was longtime science denier Steve Milloy, who's moved from taking money from Phillip Morris and denying the link between cigarettes and cancer to taking money from Exxon and denying the link between man-made carbon pollution and global warming.

Milloy dismissed the military's clean energy efforts and called for the fuel status quo to continue. Watch here (starts at about 16:40):

Ask The Green Miles: Mattress Disposal

January 5, 2012 Inmates at the Hutchinson, Kan., Correctional Facility disassemble a mattress for recyclingHere's a question that cuts to the core of me, Baxter:
Do you have any ideas on mattress disposal?
You see, I recently bought a new mattress when I didn't really need to ... and trying to get rid of the old one made me wish I'd held onto it a little longer.

Goodwill & similar organizations won't accept used bedding for fear of bedbugs. Putting it on Craigslist only got me emails from scammers. I spent a week looking for a way to keep it out of the incinerator with no luck.

"There are some awesome mattress recycling facilities ... but unfortunately not in this area," says Allison Lohrenz, the solid waste programs coordinator here in Falls Church. "Cross your fingers that one will be here soon!"

Right now, mattress recycling is limited to local efforts & special events (and special events aren't so great for people who live in apartments & don't have a basement to stick their old mattress in until the next recycling event comes around). Grist's Ask Umbra points to some hope for mattresses in Massachusetts:
Massachusetts is home to one of the nation’s few mattress recyclers, and another outfit is venturing into New England soon. It’s amazing what happens to your mattress: the wood is chipped for energy, the steel springs recycled, the cotton and foam used for insulation or other textile needs.
You should email your local elected officials & recycling coordinator and ask them to support bringing a mattress recycling program to your area ... but in the short term, your mattress is most likely heading for the landfill or an incinerator.

Got a cool mattress recycling program in your area (or an alternate idea for what to do with your old mattress)? Let us know in the comments section.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't Play Chicken with Mother Nature, Says WJLA's Bob Ryan

Storm WindowWith the DC area having its warmest spring on record breaking the old mark by a jaw-dropping 7/10th of a degree, WJLA Meteorologist Bob Ryan says anyone still waiting for "certainty" before supporting climate action is similar to someone ignoring a tornado siren:
Rather than minutes or hours, Americans in the possible path of a hurricane have to make a decision. Days ahead. Do I evacuate? Do I believe the forecast? There is that cone of uncertainty . . . do I take a chance? Is the science of hurricane forecasting, “settled”? Again of course not, but decisions, human and economic decisions affecting sometimes millions are made, knowing the exact outcome is uncertain.

Supposedly the great Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough making predictions, especially about the future”. However, we make decisions every day about some prediction whether it is the traffic during rush hour, canceling a weekend picnic or headed with my family to a shelter when I hear a tornado siren.

Why should a decision about what action we take based on expert outlooks for our climate and national, regional and local changes 50 or 100 years from now be any different than making a decision, taking actions, minutes, hours, days or even a week from now knowing the tornado or hurricane, snow storm or seasonal forecast is also uncertain. The science is not settled but the modern science of forecasting short term weather is solid and the modern science of estimating long term climate changes (yes global warming and it impacts) is solid. Are either 100% accurate? Do we require 100% accuracy before making a decision or taking action? Ask folks in Joplin what they will do the next time a tornado warning siren sounds.

We make decisions every day without 100% certainty, other than the sun will come up. The science of short-term weather and longer-term climate is solid. Neither is 100% certain but look where we have come in 60 years from no alerts to “You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter”. Where will we be in making climate related decisions 60 years from now? Let’s hope history gives us some perspective for our future shared decisions.
You hope your chance of having a car accident is less than 100%, yet you buy car insurance anyway. You hope the chance of your home catching fire is closer to 0%, yet you buy home insurance anyway.

The cost of cutting carbon pollution is tiny compared to how much inaction could cost. With 97% of climate scientists agreeing that our climate is warming, man-made carbon pollution is to blame, and we only have a narrow window to take action, shouldn't we get moving now?

Or should we kick up the footrest on our recliner & hope that tornado out the window will miss us?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Wednesday: Talking Sustainable Development with Matt Yglesias at GGW

On Wednesday, I'll be hosting a live chat at with Matt Yglesias, Slate Moneybox writer & author of The Rent Is Too Damn High. The book's a quick & entertaining read and a great introduction to why progressives & conservationists should care about loosening restrictions on urban development. Check it out if you can, then leave your questions in advance of Wednesday's chat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How Many Jobs Did GOP Clean Energy Obstruction Just Cost Virginia?

Blow me awayCongressional Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), have been blocking extension of several key clean energy tax credits, investments that represent a tiny fraction of the subsidies received by the oil, gas & nuclear industries over time. And here in Virginia, officials have dragged their feet on encouraging offshore wind and been accused of letting Dominion Virginia Power slow down the process.

Now the GOP's ideological war is having real consequences and costing Virginia jobs at a critical time for the fragile economic recovery. Wind energy giant Gamesa has announced that if the U.S. and Virginia can't commit to wind energy, it can't commit to the U.S., building key new wind prototypes off Spain & Africa instead:
While still committed to developing a U.S. market, a Gamesa spokeswoman said the slow pace of regulatory actions, uncertainty over the future of tax credits for offshore development and the lack of a federal energy policy all conspired against investment in the prototype.

"Without a mature offshore wind market in the United States, it is extremely difficult to justify the enormous expenditure of capital and utilization of engineering and technical resources that would be needed to build and install a prototype in the U.S.," Gamesa spokesman Susana Sanjuan wrote in an email to The Associated Press. The prototype was to rise in the lower Chesapeake Bay, about three miles off the town of Cape Charles. It had a late 2013 completion date, which would have made it the first wind turbine in offshore U.S. waters.

The prototype was the first publicly announced product to emerge from a partnership between Gamesa and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding. Gamesa also announced that partnership will "wind down" by year's end with the design of a new offshore platform completed.
Just a couple of months ago, Gov. Bob McDonnell had raved about the project. "This wind turbine prototype will bring jobs, jobs and more jobs, and it positions Virginia to be a leader in clean energy technology," said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech.

Will Cantor and McDonnell now idly sit by while Virginia gets left in the dust by leaders that are serious about creating jobs and protecting public health with offshore wind?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Harp Seals: Lazy?

Harp seals are suffering from the impacts of global warming and you can help preserve their Arctic habitat by supporting limits on industrial carbon pollution.

But a new video asks an important question - are harp seals more interested in cuddling with cute girls than fighting for survival? The Green Miles reports, you decide.

Why Isn't the Tea Party Outraged About Fracking?

Don QuixoteIf you're looking for evidence the Tea Party is a fake movement funded by polluters like the Koch brothers to distract voters into freaking out about fake threats while overlooking real ones, look no further than fracking.

As Mother Jones reports, Tea Partiers in Kansas and Arizona are losing their minds not just about current made-up anti-sustainability and Islamophobic conspiracies, but the possibility of future residents deciding to solve aforementioned made-up problems.

But what about the very real threat posed by the natural gas drilling technique known as fracking? While it creates huge profits for corporate drillers, nearby residents see few benefits and face potential health threats:
The report, based on three years of monitoring, found a number of potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near the wells including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Benzene has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a known carcinogen. Other chemicals included heptane, octane and diethylbenzene but information on their toxicity is limited.

"Our results show that the non-cancer health impacts from air emissions due to natural gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells," the report said. "The greatest health impact corresponds to the relatively short-term, but high emission, well completion period."

That's due to exposure to trimethylbenzenes, aliaphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes, all of which have neurological and/or respiratory effects, the study said. Those effects could include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

"We also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to the wells as compared to those residing further [away]," the report said. "Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk from both scenarios."
Much more data is needed on the threats posed by fracking to our air, water and public health. To learn more about fracking, tune in to NPR's series this week, The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Did Washington Post Downplay Poll's Support for Silver Line?

UntitledPolls show DC area residents support train, bus, biking and pedestrian projects much more than they support building new or wider highways. However, the Washington Post editorial board strongly supports new highways and spun a poll this week to mean that our fellow Virginians don't support the Silver Line. As Slate's Matt Yglesias points out, the numbers don't necessarily back up that spin:
But the really weird thing is that it's by no means clear that this is what the poll has found. What it says is that 32 percent of the population says the Silver Line project is "not at all important" while 32 percent deems it either "extremely" or "very" important and a further 32 percent says it's "somewhat" important. The "not important to most Virginians" interpretation is supported by lumping the "somewhat" and "not at all" categories together as "negative" responses. But the straightforward reading of the poll is that the median Virginian thinks the Silver Line project is somewhat important. And it is somewhat important! So why not just say that?
In the face of Republican political games, The New Republic's Alec MacGillis says strong support of the Silver Line can be a winner for Tim Kaine in his U.S. Senate race against George Allen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Tearing Its Wealth Out of the Ground and Shipping It Overseas"

Roger Ebert reviews Surviving Progress:
"Surviving Progress," a bone-chilling new documentary, argues that the world has financed an unsustainable growth rate by essentially encouraging whole nations to take out unpayable mortgages on their own futures. Brazil is given as an example. Enormous loans are given to the nation, which cannot meet the payments, and is then encouraged to liquefy its own natural assets — the rainforests. When the assets are gone, the wealth will have been taken out in the same process, and corporations will leave behind a drained nation and move on to another loan customer. [...]

"Surviving Progress" is a bright, entertaining (!), coherent argument in favor of these principles I have simplified so briefly. It's self-evident and tells the truth. It is an irony that the actual victims of the process are often those most in support of it. Think of the opposition to "tree huggers." In Brazil, they are seen as a cause of unemployment in the lumber and logging industries. Actually, they are opposed to the nation essentially tearing its wealth out of the ground and shipping it overseas, resulting not only in unemployment but in devastation.
Just replace lumber with coal and Brazil with Appalachia and the analogy is equally apt.

The film's screening dates include a May 12-16 run at Williamsburg's Kimball Theatre and June 6 showing at Norfolk's Naro Cinema. Watch the trailer:

Going Solar is About Savings & Security, Not Organically Pickling Stuff

A solar power company called SunRun has unveiled these brilliant new ads. The company will put solar panels on your home for little or no up-front payment, take care of all the maintenance, and sell you the energy at a rate that's not just competitive with or lower than energy produced by huge, expensive, centralized power plants, but locked in no matter how high non-renewable resource prices spike.

The service is available in 10 states, but not Virginia, because if anyone tries to help Virginians lower their energy rates, cut their carbon footprints and gain independence from giant polluting power corporations, they can expect to get dragged into court by Dominion Virginia Power with the tacit approval of Virginia's elected officials.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Ad Asks Virginians to Speak Up for Industrial Carbon Pollution Limits

On the same day a new poll shows supermajorities of small business owners support clean energy & limits on industrial carbon pollution, a new television ad is asking Virginians to stand up for clean air:
The ad focuses attention on a recent Department of Labor study showing that transitioning away from dirty sources of energy to clean technology development and innovation in turn creates jobs. In fact, the Labor Department study concludes that the transition to cleaner energy and technology has already created 3.1 million jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2012).

"Clean air protects health and enhances our economy," said Martin Hayden, vice president of policy & legislation at Earthjustice. "According to a Brookings Institute study, between 2003 and 2010, the clean tech sector outperformed the national economy as a whole, expanding 3.4 percent annually. Letting the EPA enforce the Clean Air Act and limit dangerous air pollution spewing from smokestacks will not only make it easier for Americans to breathe, it will also boost the clean technology sector and help create more jobs."

"Whether aimed at toxic air pollutants like mercury or dangerous carbon pollution, there are multiple benefits from job-creating clean air standards," said Joe Mendelson, global warming policy director at the National Wildlife Federation, the sister organization of NWF Action Fund. "EPA air standards that clean up power plants are good for our economy, the health of our families and communities, addressing climate change and for protecting wildlife and their habitat."
Over 800,000 Americans have already told the Environmental Protection Agency that they support the new rules. It only takes a minute, so please speak up for clean air right now.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Copley Square to Cambridge, Now by Helipad: Global Warming's Impact on MBTA

When The Green Miles was growing up in Boston, T service on the Green Line would occasionally be disrupted by flooding. Much of downtown Boston was built on landfill and severe rainfall would flood the Green Line tunnels with dirty water.

The group Metro Boston Climate Defense shows what severe global warming-fueled sea level rise and storm surges would do to the MBTA map:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why Mitt Romney Loves High Gas Prices

Mitt Romney profits twice from high gas prices - Mitt can pander to your anger, then his Big Oil friends pump the money you pay at the gas station right back into Mitt's tank. That's according to an op-ed in Politico today by the League of Conservation Voters' Gene Karpinski & Priorities USA Action's Bill Burton:
Record profits now give oil executives even more cash than usual to spend on advancing their political agenda — and that begins with electing Romney. In fact, Big Oil executives pledged more than $200 million to aid Romney’s campaign and defeat Obama.

What does Big Oil get in return for its $200 million investment in Romney? It gets to keep its billions in special tax breaks every year. So middle-class families pay twice — high gas prices when they fill up the tank and $4 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies for an industry where the top five companies combined made $137 billion in profits last year.

At the same time, Big Oil gets one of its own dictating Romney’s energy policy. Harold Hamm, Romney’s top energy adviser, is a billionaire oil executive who says clean energy is a “magical fantasy” and wants high gas prices. He admitted as much when he declared in 2009 that cheap oil would be a “disaster.”
Mitt Romney's magical gas price prescription: More drilling! And Virginia GOP Senate candidate George Allen is just as deeply snuggled in Big Oil's back pocket. But here's the problem - even Romney's own economic team knows that wouldn't lower gas prices or help the economy.

West Wing Talks Walks

I still prefer this video on the benefits of walking, but there's no better way to reach the DC political nerd crowd than a West Wing reunion:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When Energy Industry Greed and Wall Street Corruption Converge

Aubrey McClendonChesapeake Energy has been fined repeatedly for its sloppy safety record when it comes to "fracking" natural gas drilling, particularly in Pennsylvania. Now Aubrey McClendon, the same CEO who repeatedly professed Chesapeake's innocence on safety violations, is stepping down as chairman of the board after a Reuters report revealed he was playing Wall Street-style accounting games, using company resources to rake in extra cash for himself:
Aubrey McClendon, the embattled chief executive of natural gas company Chesapeake Energy, will relinquish his title as chairman of the board, the company said Tuesday.

The news follows last week's announcement by Chesapeake that McClendon agreed to negotiate an early termination of the controversial Founder Well Participation Program (FWPP), which allowed him to take personal stakes in wells drilled by the company.

The incentive program came under fire last month following news that McClendon took out loans worth over $1 billion against his personal stake in the company's wells, raising concerns about a conflict of interest.
How the hell does this asshole not get fired outright? What does it say about the state of the energy industry & corporate America that this guy is revealed to be using Chesapeake Energy as his own personal piggybank and he still gets to stay on as chief executive officer?

Side note: McClendon is also one of the weasels who helped screw over Seattle Sonics basketball fans.