Friday, November 30, 2007

Tell Virginia Regulators: No New Coal!

Just got this from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

By now you've heard that Dominion Virginia Power is planning to build a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Va. The Richmond Times Dispatch projects that this plant will be "one of the biggest air polluters in Virginia." It will cost $1.6 billion, and will emit more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually (the equivalent of adding 200 million cars to the road!). And best of all, Virginia ratepayers will foot the entire bill.

It is absolutely critical that the State Corporation Committee (SCC) hears from you. Let them know that Virginians DO NOT WANT NEW COAL PLANTS! Click here to submit written comments to the SCC!

There are plenty of reasons to dislike this power plant plan even if you're not an environmentalist. Virginia is last in the nation in spending on energy efficiency and conservation, so even minimal efforts to save energy will result in big savings. Why wouldn't we invest in conservation before blowing $1.6 billion on a new plant?

There's also the question of the future price of coal power. With legislation increasing the price of carbon emissions coming down the pike, other states are trying to reduce their reliance on coal now to avoid feeling the pinch from high coal power prices down the road. Virginia, on the other hand, is moving us towards more reliance on coal.

In fact, Google is gambling that it can make renewables cheaper than coal even without carbon pricing.

So to recap, building a new coal-fired power plant will cost us a lot now, cost us a lot later, and hurt our environment. Why is this even a close call? Please take a few minutes to contact the SCC right now!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Can a Steakhouse be Green?

Can you be an environmentalist and have a cheeseburger every now and then? It's a debate that recently caught fire over at Gristmill, as well as on AOL Instant Messenger between myself and a friend after I told him about Ted's Montana Grill, a steakhouse with some eco-friendly practices.

I won't get into the Gristmill debate because I think it was yet another example of PETA doing whatever it takes to get publicity. But I have a lot of respect for this friend, so when he said a steakhouse can never be "green" because it serves so much meat, it got me to doing some thinking (and fortunately for you, blogging).

My friend is an
environmental vegetarian, choosing not to eat meat because of its production's detrimental effects on the planet. Because of the intensive amounts of energy it takes to raise cattle, and to a lesser extent pigs and poultry, some environmental vegetarians will make the case that you can do more to lower your carbon footprint by not eating meat than you could by switching your car to a Prius. Fish isn't necessarily much better unless you're eating sustainable seafood.

The Green Miles, on the other hand, is an omnivore. We don't ask people to stop driving altogether. Why should we ask them to stop eating meat? I recognize the detrimental effects of beef production, and just like I try to avoid driving when I can, I avoid red meat when I can, recently
switching to vegetarian lunches.

So if I'm going to eat a cheeseburger anyway, why not get a bison burger? It's
better for the planet than beef:

Bison are leaner than cattle because they are still wild animals who range and eat grass; they do not tolerate confinement well, and so they cannot be fattened the way we do cattle, which we have bred to eat rich corn mixtures their entire adult lives. Growing corn to feed cattle costs the nation dearly in terms of pesticide and fertilizer runoff. The pollution and inhumanity of the confinement-feedlot beef system make it one of postwar America's biggest ecological blunders.

Bison, on the other hand, eat grass that grows freely, and the manure they produce is a natural fertilizer. True, some bison ranchers are irresponsibly corralling and then "finishing" their animals with a fattier diet of grain just before slaughter. This makes the meat richer, more like beef. Ted's Montana Grill serves grain-finished bison, for instance, although CEO George McKerrow Jr. says the chain is testing grass-finished meat for consistency and quality.

That last line is definitely a black eye for Ted's. But they do try to make up for it in other ways:
* Menus and tablecloths are printed on 100% recycled paper
* Paper straws (hadn't been produced in the U.S. since 1970)
* To-go cups are made of biodegradable cornstarch
* To-go ware is made of aluminum so we can recycle it
* Soft drinks are served in recyclable glass bottles
* Organic beer on the menu
* The entire chain is non-smoking
Will Ted's save the planet? No. But they don't claim they will. I didn't even know about their eco-friendly features until I went in search of a tasty low-fat burger. And considering how few Arlington bars and restaurants have any green features at all, it's nice to see an establishment going after some of the low-hanging fruit on sustainability. Why don't other places do more? It's a good question for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ask The Green Miles: Most Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise?

A question from The Green Miles' dad:
Is there a place that would show a rising ocean first and most dramatically? Would it be Florida, Holland, Venice, Bangladesh, some Pacific Island group, or where? Or is it too soon for that kind of extrapolation?
Too soon? The impacts are already right here in my backyard. No fewer than 13 islands in the Chesapeake Bay have already been swallowed up by rising sea level. According to a recent National Wildlife Federation report, over the last century air temperatures in the Bay region have risen 1.4 degrees, water temperatures are up two degrees, and sea levels have risen two feet. That's due mostly to thermal expansion (warmer water takes up more space than cooler water), not melting glaciers or ice caps as commonly though.

But back to the question. Obviously I am not a scientist, so my answer will be more subjective based on what I've seen and read, but this is a blog and you should know this already. In the US, the these are the areas that are most screwed when it comes to rising sea levels:
- New Orleans (I know, you're shocked). It's below sea level already and still sinking due to subsidence, the natural compression of land composed of flood deposits. Why hasn't this been a problem until now? Because before people came along, the land would sink, then Mississippi would flood and retreat, leaving a layer of sand and silt to build it back up. Then we decided to put levees up and build on the floodplain. Now there's just sinking, no silting.
- Hampton Roads, VA (Hampton/Norfolk/Newport News/Virginia Beach), just a few feet above sea level and home to major naval installations.

- Miami, three feet above sea level.
- Lower Manhattan and its hundreds of miles of subway tunnels.
All of the above are not only below or right at sea level but are in prime hurricane landfall zones. But let's be honest - as the richest country in the world, America can afford to build flood barriers or even relocate key populations without a devastating economic impact. Globally, it's the poor nations that can't afford to adapt that will be hit the hardest.

Island nations just a few meters above sea level like The Maldives face grave threats, but for total number of people threatened, I'd have to go with Bangladesh. Not like they're so safe and sound to begin with - a recent cyclone killed 3,400 people, about twice as many people as killed by Hurricane Katrina. One estimate says just a 1.5 meter rise in sea level could affect 17 million people in Bangladesh.

The most frightening part about sea level rise is that no one can truly say how fast it will occur. The human brain tends to think of everything as rational and directly related - a 1% rise in temperature will result in a 1% rise in sea level. But as anyone who has ever, say, made ice knows, at the margin a one degree difference is all it takes to go from solid ice to water.

How will we know if and when we're approaching a similar tipping point? The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change has more or less punted on the issue, focusing on sea level rise probability due to known factors like thermal expansion. Now Arctic Sea ice is retreating faster
than even the most pessimistic projections. Can anyone say definitively that Greenland's ice sheet, with its potential to raise sea levels 20 feet, won't beat expectations as well?

Wikipedia can tell you
much more about sea level rise. And if you have a question about the environment, ask The Green Miles!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Vote for NWF for Nonprofit of the Year!

Please vote for the National Wildlife Federation for MySpace Nonprofit of the Year! You'll make Ranger Rick very happy.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alexandria Climate Action Rally: Eyeing the Rising Tide

I spent a recent Saturday morning a climate action rally at Alexandria's Waterfront Park. It was great to see a strong showing from Alexandria's elected officials, including (left to right) Councilman Rob Krupicka, Councilman Paul Smedberg, Vice Mayor Del Pepper, and Del. Adam Ebbin. The National Environmental Trust organized the event to take place on the morning the IPCC released its latest report on global warming:
Global warming is destroying species, raising sea levels and threatening millions of poor people, the United Nations' top scientific panel will say today in a report that U.N. officials hope will help mobilize the world into taking tougher actions on climate change.

The report argues that only firm action, including putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions, will avoid more catastrophic events. Those actions will take a small part of the world's economic growth but will be substantially less than the costs of doing nothing, the report will say.
Your humble blogger was asked to open the event. I detailed both the threats to the very waterfront we were standing on and the vast, so far untapped possibilities that could slash our carbon emissions.

Relative sea levels have risen a foot in the Chesapeake Bay over the last century, a combination of higher water and subsidence, the same phenomenon that left Lousiana so vulnerable to Katrina. Already, the Bay has lost 13 islands to the rising tide, and according to the National Wildlife Federation, relative sea levels are expected to rise another 22 inches over the next 93 years, as I'm demonstrating here. Oh, this would also be a good time to mention the NET had us wear life preservers to emphasize the threat of rising water.

But there's reason to believe we can curb the worst effects of global warming by dramatically reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. How? A combination of renewable energy, higher efficiency, and better technology. And a surprise boost has come from Hillary Clinton's strong words on renewable energy on the presidential campaign trail:
"We are now more dependent on foreign oil than we were on 9/11," Clinton said. "We are basically at the mercy of all these oil-producing regimes ... that all too often use that money against us.

"We have all this empty federal land in Nevada. It should be packed with wind turbines and solar panels," she said.
There's no silver bullet to solve the climate change problem, but there is, as we say in the NWF's hunter and angler outreach, silver buckshot - a series of solutions that can add up to get us to cutting carbon emissions 80% by 2050, the minimum scientists say is needed to curb the worst effects of global warming. It was fantastic to see the Democratic Party's presidential frontrunner recognize that we've left such obvious low-hanging fruit unpicked.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network's Paul Burman (seen at right in the orange vest) closed the event detailing CCAN's efforts to block Dominion Virginia Power's planned coal-fired power plant in Wise County. If you believe some sort of levy on carbon emissions is coming, as virtually everyone does, then why would you invest $1.6 billion ratepayer dollars in a form of energy that's currently low-cost but is certain to get much more expensive in the future? Regardless of your feelings about the environment, it makes no economic sense.

You can check out a clip of my talk on YouTube and a full photo gallery of the event over on Flickr!

Cross-posted from
Raising Kaine

Friday, November 23, 2007

Monday: Arlington Green Living Gala

Coming up on Monday:

The Arlington Green Living Gala!
Monday, Nov. 26th, 7–8:30pm

Join Arlington County leaders for an environmentally friendly celebration to premier the documentary Upclose: FreshAIRE and present the Green Living Challenge Awards to Arlington’s greenest residents and neighborhoods. The festivities will celebrate Arlington’s efforts to reduce emissions and honor Arlingtonians committed to protecting our environment. Meet and learn from your neighbors who are leading the way in greening their homes and lifestyles. Special guests will include Paul Ferguson, Arlington County Board Chairman, the Green Living Challenge winners and Professor Rob Farr, the rakish and affable star of the Fresh AIRE Tips Free. Refreshments will be served.

Courthouse Plaza County Administrative Building
2100 Clarendon Blvd., 3rd Floor, Arlington, VA

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pain at the Pump: A Thanksgiving Tall Tale?

Gas prices are nearing record highs. So people are driving less, right?
Almost six in 10 people surveyed for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association of Bethesda, Md., said they have modified their behavior since pump prices began rising. [...]

Of those who said they had changed their behavior, 90 percent said they were driving less, and 75 percent said they were better maintaining their vehicles.
There's only one problem with that ... drivers are telling pollsters a little Thanksgiving holiday fable. They're actually planning to drive more:
Some 31.2 million vacationers will travel by car, up 1.3 percent from last year, AAA said. Another 4.7 million will go by air, up 2.2 percent. The rest will take trains, buses or other modes of transportation. [...]

"This is the first time that we have seen gas prices tipping over $3.00 a gallon in November," said AAA's Darbelnet. "A year ago, prices were in the range of $2.20 a gallon, so this year travelers are really feeling the pinch."
Ah, there's another hiccup. Are drivers really "feeling the pinch"? Obviously drivers are allocating more of their budget to paying for gas. And the media certainly loves to play to populist themes to convince their audience they're clearly not highly-educated McMansion-dwelling SUV-driving elitists but rather Average Joes like them.

But if high gas prices were causing a such a painful "pinch," wouldn't people, like, y'know, drive less? Nope. Gas consumption hasn't posted year-to-year decline in more than 15 years.

Well then Americans must be demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles, right? Nope. Fuel economy hasn't increased significantly in 25 years. In fact, it's not a whole lot different than it was 57 years ago.

OK, OK, so aren't Americans demanding changes from their elected officials? Eh. The energy bill is stuck in Congress and tighter fuel economy standards face an uncertain future.

And as Marc Fisher points out in his "Pretend Primary" series, politicians don't have much incentive to show leadership on problems like sprawl and long drives on the national level:

In Iowa and New Hampshire, there's not much reason for presidential candidates to talk about any of this: In those relatively thinly populated states, people think a 20-minute back-up on the Interstate is bad traffic.
There are plenty of ways we could reduce our national gas bill -- more carpooling and public transportation, higher fuel economy standards, plug-in hybrids, biofuels -- but it seems like both the majority of Americans and the majority of elected officials would rather rail against those dastardly oil barons than embrace real solutions. And as Stuart Smalley once said ... every time you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

There's a New Sheriff in My Backyard

I was tossing some old bread out into my backyard in Ballston today (my first-floor apartment has a back door) to my usual customers of sparrows, starlings, and squirrels. As soon as the weather turns colder business picks up considerably, so this afternoon dozens of them had gathered.

All of the sudden every single one of them scattered. Not just their usual, "A person's coming, let's hang back for a minute, but I still got dibs on that piece of crust." They took off like their lives depended on it.

Then I saw why. The tall bushes across the parking lot shook and out flew a hawk.

We'll call him Mordecai. He landed on a utility line above the parking lot. Not particularly large for a hawk, but he still had a wingspan of close to four feet. If Mordecai had been in a better and less noisy position, I'm sure any of the birds or squirrels that had been in my backyard would've made a tasty dinner.

I've spotted several hawks in Arlington, usually in Rosslyn where the local parks make a good habitat, the tall buildings provide places to perch, and the urban setting serves up plenty of prey. My closest encounter came on Roosevelt Island during the 2006 ACE Hike & Happy Hour, though it wasn't as close as the meetup vividly described by Herb of DC.

I'd like to think the sighting isn't completely unrelated to Arlington's ongoing environmental efforts and its certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat, wouldn't you?

Friday, November 16, 2007

More Bogus Climate "Uncertainty"

The Bush administration's war on science continues. Today's Washington Post, "Scientists Fault Climate Exhibit Changes":
Some government scientists have complained that officials at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History took steps to downplay global warming in a 2006 exhibit on the Arctic to avoid a political backlash, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The museum's director, Cristián Samper, ordered last-minute changes to the exhibit's script to add "scientific uncertainty" about climate change, according to internal documents and correspondence. [...]

In the interview, Samper said "one of his main concerns" was that the exhibit was indicating a level of certainty that he thought went beyond the contemporary science. "I think as scientists we present the information, but we let the people draw their own conclusions," said Samper, who was promoted earlier this year to serve as acting secretary of the Smithsonian.
I wonder what Mr. Samper thinks of Newton's Laws? Should we stick with "what goes up must come down" or should we just present the information and let people draw their own conclusions?

It's phony uncertainties like this that have given the public a skewed perception of the science of global warming. It's not just Bush and his cronies - the media is also to blame. If you want the straight, unadulterated science on global warming, go to

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What's Your Connection to Mountaintop Removal?

Appalachain Voices' site has unveiled a new feature that allows you to directly tie the electricity that comes out of your power socket to the source it likely comes from:
Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining where entire mountains are literally blown up -- devastating communities throughout Appalachia, polluting drinking water and destroying rivers. And the worst part is, you're paying for it.

If your home or business is on the electric grid, chances are you are connected to mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains. Find out how -- and then find out what you can do about it.
The Green Miles is most closely tied to Cogentrix's Birchwood Power plant in Virginia's King George County. According to the site, "This power plant purchases coal directly from Central Appalachian strip mines. Of the Appalachian communities featured on this site, the one most closely connected to this power plant is Bob White, West Virginia."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New Details on How to Comment on Kaine's Energy Plan

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has released details on how to give your feedback on Gov. Tim Kaine's Virginia Energy Plan. You can submit short comments online or submit long comments via e-mail (not sure how/why they're separating the two).

For more details, you can visit
energy plan website or download the complete PDF document (5.5MB). You can also read The Green Miles' review of the the Virginia Energy Plan or the Sierra Club's alternative Citizens Energy Plan (777K PDF).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Saturday in Alexandria: Stop Global Warming & Protect Our Threatened Coastline

I'll be speaking at this event on Saturday in Alexandria organized by the National Environmental Trust:

Stop Global Warming & Protect Our Threatened Coastline
Location: Waterfront Park, 1A Prince Street, Alexandria, VA
When: Saturday November 17, 2007
Time: 11AM

In response to the newest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, join area youth, and environmentalists on Alexandria's threatened coastline to voice concern that sea level rise, due to global warming, will greatly effect the Chesapeake Bay region's surrounding communities. Attendees will be addressed by community leaders including Alexandria's Vice Mayor Redella S. "Del" Pepper and Adam Ebbin, Virginia State Delegate 49th District.

The Chesapeake Bay region (including the Potomac) has one of the most vulnerable coastlines to sea level rise. According to the National Wildlife Federation, due to land subsidence relative sea-level rise in the Chesapeake Bay region could reach 17 to 28 inches above 1990 levels by 2095. An increase significantly greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change average projected sea-level rise.

On Saturday we will gather at this beautiful, threatened coastal park to thank our elected officials who have taken action and to ask all our elected officials to ensure their actions are as strong as the science says is necessary to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Redella S. "Del" Pepper, Vice Mayor of Alexandria
Adam Ebbin, Virginia State Delegate 49th District
Miles Grant, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment
Evan Glazer, Principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Paul Burman, Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Willing to Pay More for Metro?

From the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock:

Metro Fare Increase Hearings
They're Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with open houses at 6:30 followed the hearings at 7 p.m. Full details about the locations in the various jurisdictions are on
this page at Metro's Web site. You can also submit a written statement to Metro by as late as Monday, Nov. 26. Mail it to the Office of the Secretary, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 600 Fifth Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. Or you can send it as an e-mail to Tell them you're commenting on Docket B07-3.
Personally, I'm willing to pay more for Metro if it helps the trains run on time. I'm also a big fan of gearing those increases towards charging people more at rush hour to encourage off-peak commuting.

The Washington Post has decided to take some sort of a populist stand against any Metro fare increase, headlining its story, "Rider Outrage May Lead Metro to Tweak Fares" even before the hearings take place. Of course riders are going to be unhappy with fare increases - who's going to be excited to pay more for something as thrilling as the daily commute?

The question is, will the fare increases prompt riders to stop taking Metro as a protest or for financial reasons? At just 30 to 80 cents for rail riders and zero to 10 cents for bus riders, I can't imagine anyone changing their commuting patterns. The parking changes are definitely more drastic, but it seems like competition for spots is so stiff, the market can bear them.

What do you think? Let us know what you'll be telling Metro about the proposed increases!

Friday, November 9, 2007

I Once Caught a Fish This Big

On my recent trip to Florida, I got to go deep sea fishing. I caught my first-ever fish, a barracuda:

No, I didn't eat it. Apparently barracuda aren't good eatin' (which I suppose is why you don't ever see Filet of Barracuda with Lemon Butter on the menu at your local restaurant). But they do recycle them, using them as bait for future fishing trips.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Saturday: ACE Pickup & Drinkup

Saturday's Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Four Mile Run event just got a little more fun. Unless you're a Florida State fan.

First, there's The Pickup. At 2pm. we'll meet at the pedestrian bridge at S. Arlington Mill Dr. and S. Randolph St. in Shirlington, then head down to Four Mile Run to pick up trash along the stream banks. The forecast is for the low 50s, so to paraphrase
Mary Schmich, if I could offer you only one tip for Saturday, layers would be it.

And now we've added The Drinkup. At 4pm, we'll head over to
Bungalow Billiards (2766 South Arlington Mill Drive) for some drinks and appetizers. They'll have The Love Shack reserved for us, a corner with chairs and a railing made up to look like a front porch, though with those chilly temperatures outside, I don't think we'll be ordering mint juleps. While we're chatting up Fresh AIRE, the Green Living Challenge, and the impact of Tuesday's elections on Virginia environmental policy, Virginia Tech fans can also watch the Hokies beat up on Florida State. Arlington Community Role Models has a volunteer event in Shirlington on Saturday as well, so we've invited them to join us at Bungalow. Should be a fun crowd!

You're welcome join us for both ends of the event, but if you can only make just the Pickup or just the Drinkup, that's fine too. Hope to see you on Saturday!

Stonyfield Goes from Natural to Organic. So What's the Difference?

My new favorite breakfast is Stonyfield Chocolate Underground fat-free yogurt with BearNaked peanut butter granola. It's like a Reese's peanut butter cup, if Reese's was run by damn dirty hippies.

Recently I noticed Stonyfield's label had switched from "natural" to "organic." What's the difference? More than you might think.

Basically, natural just means the product was made with no artificial ingredients. Organic means the product was made without the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers or antibiotics and no genetically modified organisms. It's especially complicated when dealing with dairy products, because grazing land and feed cannot be treated with chemical fertilizers or persistent toxic pesticides for a period of three years.

For Stonyfield, it was no accident that their suppliers were able to meet the stringent organic requirements:

Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley/CROPP have worked together in recent years to further encourage organic conversion. In addition to establishing a transition fund to provide monetary support for farmers during the conversion process and providing more staff to work directly with farmers, the companies scheduled hundreds of procurement and membership retention events, and sponsored organic workshops and conferences for farmers. Stonyfield CE-Yo Gary Hirshberg and his wife, Meg, also contributed $100,000 to a loan fund to supply needed support to organic farm families, and Stonyfield Farm was the lead sponsor, with a gift of $450,000, of the nation's first land grant-based organic dairy farm, at the University of New Hampshire.
You can read the short version of Stonyfield's organic process on the Stonyfield website or the long version in the Stonyfield Organic Guide booklet.

Packaging with confusing claims can make it difficult to tell what's really organic. You can easily tell what's organic and what's not by looking for the USDA's organic seal. The USDA's website has an extensive rundown of the procedures for a product's organic certification. Wikipedia also has a thorough explanation of organic practices and benefits.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Green Miles Reaches 20,000 Hits

Just realized The Green Miles crossed the 20,000 hit threshold this week:

Considering Daily Kos gets that many hits per hour, 20,000 may not sound like much. But my target audience is a bit smaller - Arlington environmentalists with unhealthy obsessions with daylight savings time.

In any case, thanks for reading!

Think Green, Vote Blue

Don't forget to get out and vote today! More than any single thing you could do individually, voting for environmentally-conscious candidates is the best thing you can do to fight global warming. Elected officials have the power to implement policies and use the state's purchasing power to drive rapid change.

Here in Arlington, we're lucky enough to have plenty of candidates who understand the threat posed by global warming. But generally speaking in statewide elections, unless you're lucky enough to have a strong Green Party candidate running in your district, if you're going to be green, you have to vote Democratic. While some individual Republican candidates may be friendly to the environment, their party leadership long ago chose to back big business and fossil fuels over our environment and public health.

It's something the Sierra Club didn't get when it endorsed Lincoln Chafee last year, prompting Kos to say, "This may very well be the most moronic move by any organization this election cycle." And it's apparently something the Virginia League of Conservation Voters doesn't get either as it endorses a long line of Republicans.

For example, I understand Republican Del. Bob Marshall takes good stands on environmental issues. But Marshall is in a close race against Democratic challenger Bruce Roemmelt. Let's say Democrats pick up eight other seats in the House and this race decides control. Marshall's individual positive environmental vote could not outweigh his party's ability to kill environmental legislation in committee before it ever reaches the House floor. Even though he's not as strong on environmental issues in general, you'd clearly want Roemmelt in that case to give you a much more environmentally friendly House leadership.

So if you'd want the Democrat in that case, why wouldn't you want the Democrat in every case?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Dominion's Latest Global Warming Smokescreen

Dominion Virginia Power has a simple profit strategy -- sell Virginians as much cheap power as they'll consume, providing that power through risky nuclear power or environmentally disastrous mountaintop-removed coal-fired power.

I don't blame Dominion for that as much as I blame our elected officials, who've sold out our health and environment for a few thousand short-term coal mining jobs. If our legislators and governor were serious about protecting our environment and securing our energy future, they'd decouple Dominion's profits from the amount of power it sells and promote net metering to turn every roof into a power generator.

So why am I rehashing all of the above today? Because Dominion is hoping to make you forget all that:

RICHMOND, Va., -- Dominion (NYSE: D), one of the nation’s largest energy producers, will provide $500,000 to the Virginia Center for Coal & Energy Research at Virginia Tech to help the center find a way to keep carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
$500,000 sounds like a lot, until you remember Dominion brought in $1.4 billion in profit last year on $16.5 billion in revenue.

What will Dominion get for its investment in carbon capture and storage technology? According to Virginia's Commitment, not much:
Those who have looked seriously into carbon sequestration say it will be decades to never before we find a way for the concept to work. In his book, “The Weathermakers”, Tim Flannery says that the special power plants required, if ever brought on line, would use about 25 percent of the energy they made just to keep them running. Another 20 percent would be wasted turning the gas into liquid. Untold amounts of energy would be used to transport the liquid gas to locations remote from the power plant locations where no underground chambers exist.

Flannery says: "All indications suggest that building them on a commercial scale will be expensive and that it will take decades to make a significant contribution to power production.”

Still, research into carbon sequestration makes for a significant contribution to power production … of a different sort. For $500,000, less than Dominion Power contributed to Virginia political candidates of each political party this year alone, it makes for a feel-good press release.
Even the most optimistic guesses say carbon capture and storage technology won't be ready for rollout until 2020 at the earliest. So what are we better off doing? Investing in cabron sequestration or in already-existing solar technology that could provide limitless, carbon-neutral power at a competitive price?

If we leave it up to Dominion, we'll be helping ourselves to a nice, big slice of globally-warmed pie in the sky.

Friday, November 2, 2007

What Do Arlington County Board Candidates Think About Global Warming?

I emailed Mary Hynes, Mike McMenamin, Josh Ruebner, and Walter Tejada on Sunday asking for details about their positions on global warming. Ruebner, Hynes, and McMenamin responded; Tejada did not. I even followed up at a different email for Tejada on Wednesday afternoon; still nothing.

Since he replied first, we'll start with the Green Party's Josh Ruebner:

As the Green Party candidate, I care a lot about this issue. Below are my top three ideas for building on the efforts of Fresh AIRE and further reducing Arlington's carbon footprint.

1) Institute pay-as-you-throw trash disposal pricing. This proposal is a win-win, both economically and environmentally. According to a study commissioned by the EPA, over 7,000 U.S. jurisdictions have implemented PAYT, thereby reducing both the volume of trash hauled to landfills and the costs associated with its disposal. The idea is simple. Like water and sewage rates, pay only for what you use. This encourages recycling, composting, and a reduction in consumption by providing a financial incentive to throw out less trash. This can be implemented in a variety of ways-special stickers affixed on garbage bags, county-issued bags, different size trash cans, etc. Why should people who generate less trash subsidize those who generate more through a flat disposal fee?

2) Establish a comprehensive recycling program for Arlington's parks. Arlington's recycling contract is due to expire next year, offering Arlington an opportunity to renegotiate and expand its recycling efforts. Currently, there is no comprehensive recycling program in Arlington's nearly 150 parks. Last month, the Green Party collected recyclables that were thrown into the trash in a few of Arlington's park. Based on the amount of recyclables we collected, we estimate that the equivalent of 5 million one-liter plastic bottles is being thrown out every year in Arlington's parks. If we had comprehensive recycling in our parks, we could prevent 235 metric tons of CO2 emissions being released into the air every year.

3) Expand curbside recycling. As Arlington renegotiates its recycling contract, the County should expand curbside recycling opportunities. Currently, only some #1 and #2 plastics can be recycled curbside. If elected to the County Board, I would conduct a feasibility study to see if it is possible to expand curbside recycling options to include plastics #3-6. Expanding curbside recycling would further reduce trash disposal costs for the County and save energy.

NASA Scientist James Hansen says that we must take action now to stop global warming. Reducing our carbon footprint by 80 percent by 2050 is what we need to aim for as a nation. But global warming isn't just a challenge for the world's scientists – it's a moral crisis for everyone.

As you know, Arlington County and its Fresh AIRE initiative has made us a national leader on this issue. Outgoing County Board Member Paul Ferguson deserves our gratitude for his leadership on this effort. Arlington does a lot of things right – hybrid fleet vehicles and a strong transit infrastructure. An increasingly pedestrian and bike-friendly environment. But even great plans can be improved.

The impact on the environment needs to be a constant factor in Arlington’s decision making.

· Energy consumption and LEED scores must continue to part of all new development proposals.
· I’d like to make sure that ALL buildings used for county activities have had recent energy audits and that a plan to upgrade and retrofit them as needed is implemented in the next 12
· I want to work with small businesses and non-profits to help them reduce their energy consumption and expand their recycling efforts.
· We need to proactively plan the redevelopment of smaller commercial areas throughout the county so that more Arlingtonians can come home at night and do their errands on foot or by bike.
· Expanding the ART bus routes so that reliable, regular service helps more people can get around inside Arlington without a car is also a priority for me.
· Using the proposed Columbia Pike Streetcar to connect Skyline in Fairfax, Arlington and Potomac Yards in Alexandria is also something that I support.

By working together and keeping Arlington's green tradition alive, we can continue to lead Virginia to a clean energy future.
And here's Republican candidate Mike McMenamin:

I am currently a member of the Arlington County Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission ("FAAC"). The FAAC makes recommendations to the County Board on programs that should or should not be implemented. It also looks at the county budget and makes recommendations.

Last year, I voted to implement the Fresh Aire Initiative as a member of FAAC. Currently, there is roughly 1.5 million dollars allocated to the program. We can do more and also help with county costs. For instance, we could allow knowledge based county employees to work from home. This would save the county the costs associated with office space, help relieve congestion on our over crowded roads and save energy. Moreover, I also supported tax relief for owners of hybrid vehicles.

Finally, if elected, I would work to ensure that our two water parks recycle the 30,000 gallons of water used per day for 100 days every year. Today that water goes right into the storm water drainage system. It could be used to water flowers and grass in those parks. We can do better as a county. I believe that fresh Aire is only the beginning. That is why I ask for your vote on November 6, 2007.

I didn't expect every candidate to sit down and craft extensive replies, though I'm thankful Josh, Mary and Mike did. But if Walter and his campaign staff don't have the time to reply to emails at all, why post an email address on your website?

I won't be endorsing candidates; I'll leave that to the Washington Post, Sun Gazette, and Buckingham Herald Tribblog.