Wednesday, December 29, 2010

EPA Moves to Restore Chesapeake Bay

Juvenile blue crab, Poplar IslandSince the attempts of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) to protect his big agriculture & tobacco donors the Chesapeake Bay were flunked, I'm glad to see President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency stepping in to provide a real plan:
Shawn M. Garvin, the agency's regional administrator for the mid-Atlantic, described the plan as "the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation" and possibly "number one or number two" in the world. He noted that it will affect "basically every drop of water that gets to the bay" from as far north as Upstate New York.

The legally enforceable road map, which runs roughly 200 pages along with 800 pages of appendices, will help determine everything from how pig farms in West Virginia will dispose of waste to the way Pennsylvania copes with stormwater runoff. Environmentalists hailed it as the most promising plan the United States has ever adopted to revive an estuary plagued by low oxygen and struggling fish and oyster populations, while some critics warned it could be costly and hard to execute.
It's saving the Bay that could be costly? Damaging the Bay has cost the economies of Virginia, Maryland & DC more than $4 billion over the last 30 years. Hopefully the EPA's plan is the first step towards real leadership on restoration - something that's been lacking in a generation worth of elected officials from both political parties.

SUV Driver Tries To Destroy Rest Stop, Fails

It's not just that SUVs use more oil hurting our national security, are a terrible investment & make the roads less safe for all of us.

It's that the people who drive them tend to be giant douches.

I'm not saying you're automatically a giant douche if you drive an SUV. But the day you buy one, you are joining a club dominated by douches. The Green Miles was driving back from Christmas with family in Massachusetts this weekend & had not one but two encounters with members of that select club.

At a rest stop in Connecticut, I was about to help The Green Mom get across the slush into the passenger side of the car when a giant Canyonero pulled into the next parking spot about six inches away from my door - then gave me a look like, "Well, you should've known I was coming." I might've said something ("Nice minivan" came to mind) but he had kids with him, so I just backed up my car, mom got in & we were on our way.

Later we stopped for gas & an SUV driver decided he'd come up with a way to beat the long lines for gas for vehicles that fill up on the left side: He'd pull up to a right-filling pump & pull the hose around to the other side.  Brilliant! What could go wrong?

As I finished filling up my car & put the nozzle back, I looked up and there was gas literally gushing out of his tank as he obliviously stared at the price meter. The hose was stretched so far that apparently the nozzle didn't make it all the way into the tank & the auto shutoff hadn't registered. His brain wasn't much of a blowout preventer, either.

The SUV driver was unaware - serenely watching the numbers as his shoes, rear wheel & tailpipe were soaked in a fountain of gasoline - I wasn't even sure whether to yell at first. "Hey! Is that gasoline?" I said.

"Oh," he said as he finally realized what was going on, "Thanks." He made no effort to clean the gasoline off himself or his car, didn't alert the attendant and immediately hopped back into his SUV & drove off, still oblivious to the world. Douche.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Conservatives Make Their Own Reality: Clean Air Act Edition

It's incredible how many Republicans were rabidly behind the unitary executive wielding unlimited power two years ago & how many Republicans today rail about checks & balances. (To be fair, James Joyner is one of the few conservatives willing to call out Bush administration jackassery.)

An incredible 71 percent of Americans say the federal government should regulate carbon pollution. Polls show that support is remarkably deep - strong majorities support regulation even if it would cost them money.

In the face of that mandate, how do conservatives reconcile their continued opposition to action? James Joyner says let's play make believe!
Frustrated that it couldn’t achieve desired environmental legislation despite huge majorities in both Houses of Congress, the Obama administration has decided to govern by executive fiat. [...]

Presidents have, since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, made unilateral decisions arguably outside the scope of their Constitutional power and dared Congress or the Courts to stop them. The practice has increased over time and been made easier by Congress having delegated much of its power to Executive agencies. The consequence is an administrative state where the elected representatives of the people have a mostly reactive role, acting to check these agencies, rather than making affirmative decisions on national policy.
Let's review all the realities Joyner must ignore to make his argument here:

  • The Obama administration is acting on the direction of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, a decision from 2007's conservative Supreme Court. That decision found the Bush II administration's argument for why it shouldn't have to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act "inadequate."
  • The Clean Air Act was passed by a Democratic Congress & signed by a Republican president (Bush I).
  • Clean energy & climate legislation passed the House & had majority support in the Senate but failed to pass because Senate Republicans were willing to abuse the filibuster in historic numbers.
  • How many individual EPA regulations get an up or down vote before the full Congress? Just six months ago, the Senate confirmed its approval of carbon regulations under the Clean Air Act (the House did not vote but would certainly have overwhelmingly approved).

It's the classic move of a climate peacock for Joyner to claim his opposition to climate action is based on some sort of procedural grievance. Well, you know, I'm not some science-denying fossil fuel-shilling ignoramus like Sen. Jim Inhofe ... but but but ... what would Jefferson say?

What would Jefferson do about global warming? I think Jefferson would get off his ass & do something instead of sitting around conjuring whiny complaints about process. Don't you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Arlington County's Green Jail

Congratulations to Arlington County's Courthouse & Detention Center for earning the Energy Star label. The improvements won't just cut energy use & carbon pollution - they'll pay for themselves within a little over a decade.

Hey, maybe that jail is where they'll throw The Green Miles after I get arrested for not using a plastic bag at the VA ABC store!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Possibility of Wind Farm to Ruin Christmas

The concerns of nearby residents are one of many things that need to be considered when deciding where to put a wind farm. But fears in Virginia's Tazewell County seem to be getting a little ... well, exaggerated. Here's a recent column from the local paper:
While Christmas stories fill the season with hope and love, there is always a story about the Grinch who stole Christmas. With Dominion Resources recent announcement that it is acquiring 100 percent ownership of a 2,600-acre tract of land on East River Mountain for the purpose of developing the proposed Bluestone River Wind Farm, the Grinch is back — at least in the opinion of area people who oppose the windmills for many reasons. 
Yeah, you remember the Grinch? And that Dr. Seuss story about how he tried to build a $200 million project in Whoville that would deliver $10 million in local tax revenue & $10 million in related development? THE NERVE.

"Many reasons" looks more like reason being completely replaced by the fear of something new. Residents say they worry about property value, but even the National Association of Realtors says wind farm impact on property values is minimal (if existent at all). Residents express concern about unsightliness, but take a look at how the windmills would look in these Dominion projections:
Tazewell Proposed Wind Turbines

I mean, really? Seeing these pictures, I could only be reminded of the melodramatic OH MY GOD of South Park's Randy Marsh. That's what you're protesting? The dots on the ridgeline?

It always strikes me as weird that people in places like Tazewell County suddenly act all protective of their land when all I had to do was a Google Map search of "Tazewell County, VA" to quickly find sites like this:

Massive open-pit mines? No problem! Windmills off in the distance? Christmas ruined. How does that work?

And in the big picture, for every windmill we don't build, we need to rely on that much more coal power, which annually kills thousands of people via air pollution & dozens more in mine disasters.

But it's hard to feel much sympathy for electric utilities in this case. They've stood by & watched for years as Republicans & Rush Limbaugh have trashed renewable energy as a socialist plot to leave your children shivering in the dark, because in the short term they were doing just fine making money off of coal power. I wonder if they regret it now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering BP's Many Smokescreens

Pulling Up Oiled Seaweed Off PensacolaI usually try to keep The Green Miles (my personal blog) separate from my work at the National Wildlife Federation. But I thought I'd share the link to a post I wrote at NWF's blog on the top 10 heroes of the Gulf oil disaster.

It was interesting to think about the first days of the disaster in light of what we know now. Can you believe BP claimed the gusher was only 200,000 gallons a day when it was closer to 200,000 gallons every few hours? Or that BP had live cameras of the gusher that it didn't make public for weeks? Or that the federal government didn't object in either case until conservation groups & members of Congress protested?

Here's a link to all my NWF posts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

And Now Your Moment of Wren

As soon as the weather got really cold, a bird that seems to be a Carolina wren started showing up on my back patio. I'm not exactly an expert on backyard birding, but clearly the birdseed I was throwing out wasn't cutting it. The wren just stomped around angrily:

Carolina Wren in Falls Church, VA

I mean, if it's possible for a bird to look mad ... that wren is pissed.

So I did some Googling, found out what wrens like to eat, ordered some truly gross suet studded with insects & hung it above the patio. Sure enough, the very first morning the new feeder was up, the wren found it:

Carolina Wren in Falls Church, VA

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Energy Sources Do Your Tax Dollars Subsidize?

Via (click to enlarge):

Republicans squawk about incentives for renewable energy because those are new & need approval, while dirty energy sources locked in their subsidies long ago - like, say, the tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks Virginia gives to dirty coal companies every year.

Why not eliminate all subsidies & put a simple price on carbon pollution? That's what truly terrifies dirty energy companies (and the politicians they fund).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coming Soon: Best. Cars. Ever.

Like most treehuggers, The Green Miles acts insufferably indifferent when it comes to cars. TheGreenMilesMobile is now in its 12th year of getting great gas mileage & with 124,000 miles on it, the next time it needs a costly repair I'll probably just sell it to scientific experiment.

But recently I needed a car for my drive to Danville to campaign for Rep. Tom Perriello & ended up with a new Ford Focus from the rental agency down the street. Much as I like to maintain my veneer of vehicular insouciance ... it was a flippin' sweet ride. Fun to drive AND incredible gas mileage.

And now it's poised to get even better. Next year, an electric Ford Focus that gets 100 miles to the charge will be available, ideal for DC drivers like me who make almost all of our trips within 25 miles. Ford is also literally stuffing it with greenness:
Ford vehicles continue to become more eco-friendly through the creative use of renewable and recycled materials. For instance, one of the clothing materials used in the next-generation Focus is post-consumer cotton that comes from recycled blue jeans.

"The good news is these jeans didn’t end up in a landfill, nor did we use the water, fertilizer and land to grow virgin cotton," Majeske said. "It’s an alternative that our customers can appreciate, it’s cost effective, and it’s better for our planet. These are the kinds of sustainable solutions we are looking for in all our vehicles."
Here's a look at that recycled blue jean material:

The electric Ford Focus is part of a new wave of cars designed to save you money at the gas pump (or eliminate your need for oil altogether):
I'm still planning to stick to a car-free diet once TheGreenMilesMobile has run down the curtain & joined the choir invisible. But if I do find myself needing new wheels, it's awfully nice to know that automakers are listening to our demand for greener cars.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Temperature Records Fall Out West

Given that we've had a colder-than-normal December here in the DC area, I'm surprised I haven't read more silly "how can there be global warming if it's warm here now" stories. Maybe it's because out west, they're in the grips of record-breaking warmth? For an area already facing threats to water supplies due to reduced snowpack, it's not a good way to start the winter.

UPDATE: My friend Jenn in Colorado reports, "Sandals for me today."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Time For Crosswalks To Go High-Tech?

Over at, they track crashes between cars, bikes & pedestrians on a weekly basis. It's a stark reminder that while shootings & stabbings lead the 5pm news, as a society we've quietly decided that cars smooshing a certain amount of cyclists & walkers are the cost of getting those drivers to work on time.

If pedestrians are lucky, their interests will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to put a traffic signal at an intersection. If they don't have a signal, what safety do we offer pedestrians? Crosswalks, which are about as effective protection as crossing lion territory wielding a paper towel tube.

What percent of drivers actually stop when you're waiting in the crosswalk? Maybe 10%? I get that up to maybe 30% by taking a step into the crosswalk & looking like I might do the Matrix stomp on their hood. I don't think that's the best option though for, say, my mom.

But the "solution" of crosswalks fails to protect pedestrians a vast majority of the time - or even lulls them into a false sense of security - and we've just sorta shrugged & moved on. And drivers know we don't care about enforcement & act accordingly.

What if we attacked crosswalk enforcement with the same zeal for safety (and revenue) that lawmakers have with traffic red light cameras? What if there was a button you could push that signaled drivers to stop AND activated a small video camera that recorded what happened next, with steep tickets given out to drivers who didn't stop if they safely could have?

Given such a system might be relatively pricey to install, you could do it at just a few particularly busy intersections. The benefit could be widespread if it changed the wiring in drivers' brains by sending a clear signal with enforcement & penalties that we actually cared about getting them to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Bad idea? Good idea? Already being tried somewhere? Let me know & I may use your comments in a follow-up post.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Washington Post Rips Arlington's "Hounding" of Business

Arlington County's had quite a year for harassing local businesses, from  Screwtop & Bakeshop in Clarendon to Westover Market Beer Garden. Well now one business owner is fighting back: Kim Houghton of Wag More Dogs is taking the county to federal court over its ludicrous war on her dog mural.

Today, you can add the Washington Post to those who think Arlington County has gone too far:
Arlington officials argue that the mural promotes the canine boarding and grooming facility run by Ms. Houghton, a former ad executive for The Washington Post. It's only fair to other dog businesses, they say, that she conform to the rules. But the county undercut its own argument when it suggested Ms. Houghton add the wording, in 4-foot-high letters, "Welcome to Shirlington Park's Community Canine Area," which in effect would co-opt the mural into a sign for the county. Ms. Houghton balked at the estimated cost of $7,000; the mural had already cost her $4,000, and she had put another $150,000 into starting the business.

Instead, she filed suit in federal court with the help of the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm. The suit argues Ms. Houghton's First Amendment right to express herself through art is being abridged. And it notes that there would not have been a problem if the mural depicted flowers, dragons or ponies instead of dogs. The absurdity that reveals should cause Arlington residents to wonder about their government's grasp of common sense.
"We have to enforce our sign ordinance fairly," county spokesman Mary Curtius had told a Post reporter. Which I guess is is true -- lately, Arlington County has treated all businesses with equal absurdity.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Is What Runaway Global Warming Looks Like

December 2009 to November 2010 was the hottest climate year on record & 2010 stands poised to become the hottest calendar year on record. Each of the last ten years features in the top 11 hottest years recorded & the 20 hottest years on record have all come since 1983.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Farmers Get Behind Plastic Bag Ban or Fee

The Virginian-Pilot today editorializes in support of a statewide plastic bag ban or fee:
Drive past a farm field in or near Hampton Roads these days, and you're likely to see a bumper crop of plastic shopping bags. The cotton, corn and soy are gone, but the seeds of our throwaway culture yield an unending harvest. [...]

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, whose members are weary of damage to machinery and harm to livestock, is already on board.

As the Farm Bureau can attest, there's more than aesthetics - or mowing time - at stake here. In addition to helping livestock and harvests, a ban would benefit wildlife and marine life, particularly sea turtles, that eat or become entangled in the plastic.
So to recap, farmers will benefit. Our environment will benefit. Retail stores will benefit by spending less money on giving away bags & under Del. Adam Ebbin's plan, retaining 1 or 2 cents of the fee on each bag, depending whether they offer customers a carryout bag credit program for reusable bags. Virginia's budget will benefit not just from the revenue of the fee, but from saving money on picking up discarded bags (Maryland’s Department of Transportation spends $29 per bag of litter collected along the state’s highways & counties spend millions more).

Why not do it? Accusations of nanny statism? I mean, isn't the current state of affairs the definition of nannyism? If you carelessly discard a plastic bag, we all have to pay higher taxes to fund a worker to go pick it up. Isn't a bag fee a way to encourage personal responsibility?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bald Eagle Sighting in Arlington

OK, so this beats the brown creeper sighting. Today at noon, I was waiting at a red light at Wilson Boulevard & John Marshall Drive in Arlington near the Falls Church line. I spotted a bald eagle gliding high above the Madison Manor neighborhood:

That black dot between the power lines is the eagle. Apparently my own personal Murphy's law of bird-watching is that anytime I see a bald eagle, I don't have a high quality camera with me. I once saw a bald eagle swoop down over the Potomac & catch a huge fish with its talons - no camera with me.

Frank Wolf: Fraud Peacock

Dancing PeacockRep. Frank Wolf wants you to think he's taking a bold stand against fraud, loudly squawking for an independent auditor on the 2nd phase of the Metro to Dulles project, estimated to cost as much as $4 billion:
Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), whose district encompasses much of the route for the new Metrorail extension into Loudoun County, is requesting that the agency overseeing construction of the line bring in an outside auditor to monitor design and construction of the second phase of the project.
The project, of course, hasn't even begun taking bids yet. But reality has never stopped Rep. Wolf from trying to get attention! Why wait until the project has actually begun to issue ominous warnings about waste, fraud & abuse to divert attention from the fact that you're holding up tax cuts for everyone to get even bigger tax cuts for your wealthiest donors? Caw!

Strangely, I haven't heard the fraud peacock squawk about this billion-dollar transportation expenditure:
By the end of the December, the Virginia Department of Transportation will have advertised $1.1 billion in construction and maintenance projects since the fiscal year began on July 1, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) told the Dulles Area Transportation Association at a luncheon Monday. About $500 million of that figure will be advertised just this month.
Why no dire warnings from Rep. Wolf about waste, fraud & abuse on this project? Oh, right. Because this project is supported by Virginia's Republican governor. And Frank the fraud peacock is partisan above all else, only getting his feathers up about Democrats - never members of his own party.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Best Way To Make Positive Change: Ask.

Having grown up in Boston, one of my favorite shows is NPR's Car Talk. Nothing gets Tom & Ray madder than when people call with a critical problem that they've been driving around with for six months. "You've waited six months - and even then you don't take it to a mechanic, you call us? You're lucky you're not lying in a ditch somewhere after your wheel flew off!"

I have a similar issue when people relate their green problems to me. The first thing I say when people tell me about their problems is, "Have you asked your landlord/boss/whoever to address it?" Invariably, they haven't. (Also, I keep trying to get people to write their problems on the back of a $20 bill and send them to The Green Miles Plaza with no luck.)

Roosevelt Towers, my new apartment building in East Falls Church, had a trash bin but not a recycling bin in the mail room. Every day the trash bin would be overflowing with junk mail. So I emailed the leasing office to see if they'd consider adding a recycling bin, a small step that would keep hundreds of pounds of paper out of the landfill every month.

Roosevelt Towers wrote back right away:
Great suggestion. One has been placed in mailroom as of today.
And here it is:
From the apartment building's point of view, if a $2 plastic bin makes me that much more likely to keep paying five figures annually to live here, it's a slam dunk. I suspect that little blue basket won't be able to handle the days those big, annoying Washington Post advertising circulars hit our mailboxes. But partial solutions tend to lead to full solutions - if the recycling bin is overflowing, they'll replace it with a bigger one.

The best, most effective way to address environmental issues is through personal action. In the big picture, government intervention often becomes necessary, but it should be the last resort. Your landlord wants you to be happy with where you live. Your boss wants you to be happy with where you work. Your hotel wants you to come back & stay there again. If you don't think they're operating as sustainably as they could, ask nicely if they've considered changing. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Can Qatar World Cup Be Green? (UPDATE: No.)

When I heard that the 2022 World Cup had been awarded to Qatar, my first thought was, "Least green World Cup ever?" (You can tell The Green Miles is not a soccer fan. I tend to agree with Homer Simpson's take.)

Temperatures in Qatar in June & July average 106 degrees. Won't huge amounts of energy be required to keep spectators & players cool? But Qatar claims its World Cup will be carbon-neutral:
We’re pioneering technologies that will allow for outdoor, air-conditioned stadiums that will be carbon neutral, benefitting the environment and creating ideal conditions for players and spectators. After the FIFA World Cup™, these stadiums will be partially deconstructed, allowing us to build 22 new stadiums in the developing world. The technologies we are developing to cool our stadiums will also be made available for use around the world.
I'm eager to hear details & learn whether Qatar's plan is viable or greenwashing. I'm sure we'll hear much more in the months & years ahead.

UPDATE: From Planet Forward's David Raish:
This air conditioning will be powered by solar panels on the stadiums themselves. It is a $50 billion project designed by a German firm, Büro Albert Speer & Partner. The air conditioning system will reduce temperatures inside the stadium to 27°C, which will be a much more bearable temperature for both fans and players.

According to Al-Jazeera, “solar thermal collectors on the stadium roof will transfer and store energy which on match days will chill water, creating cold air that will be delivered into the stadium and on to the pitch through slots in the seats.” When the stadium is not in use, “The system will continuously export energy to the Qatar electric grid, enabling the stadiums to be carbon neutral.”
UPDATE #2: Fast Company is a bit skeptical of Qatar's ability to pull off all of its carbon-neutral promises.

UPDATE #3: If the stadiums can't be cooled down enough, will soccer's rules have to change for the 2022 World Cup? (For answer, see update #5.)

UPDATE #4: Qatar is canceling 4 of its 12 planned stadiums because it couldn't meet its budget unless it used slave labor. Not a great vote of confidence for surviving global warming with massive air conditioning schemes.

UPDATE #5: FIFA has moved the 2022 Qatar World Cup to winter to prevent athletes from dying in the heat and stripped Qatar of Confederations Cup hosting priviledges, a pre-World Cup series of friendlies that usually serves as a test run for the host.

Teh Crazy Lines Up Behind BP Apologist Barton

Rep. Joe Barton, John BoehnerRep. Joe Barton, best known for his groveling apology to BP CEO Tony Hayward at the height of the Gulf oil disaster, says the rules don't apply to him - he wants an exemption to committee chairmanship term limit rules so he can once again chair the House Energy & Commerce Committee in 2011.

His fight against Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is looking increasingly quixotic. How bad is it? Just look at the members standing by him:
“I didn’t line up against anyone, but I did line up with Joe Barton,” said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one of the Republican conference’s most conservative lawmakers. “I did that because I watched the job that he’s done, not only has he been a reliable conservative leader, he’s wanted to engage in the fight.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), another conservative favorite closely aligned with the tea party, said she would vote for Barton if he appealed the ruling of the GOP Conference.
Rep. Steve King is best known for ... where to start? He's had more controversies than I can count. If I had to pick his most insane moment, it would be saying that he wasn't sure if a 9/11-esque suicide plane attack on an IRS building that killed a federal worker was justified or not.

The best example of crazy from Rep. Bachmann? There are few issues on which The Green Miles & the National Electrical Manufacturers Association agree. One of them is that Rep. Bachmann's War on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs is batshit insane.

If you were looking to make a list of the most unreasonable, most politically toxic members of Congress, you could save yourself a lot of time by just copying the roster of Camp Barton.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bob Ryan: DC Trending Towards Warmer Winters is hosting a Winter Weather Chat right now. WJLA's Bob Ryan has been a leading voice in asking his fellow meteorologists to examine global warming from a scientific - not a political - point of view. The question of climate change came up early in the chat:
Max Margolis: Is Global warming the reason why our winters are warmer?

Bob Ryan: Can't ascribe one winter to climate changes but the decadal trend is for milder winters
Bob also took a question from The Green Miles on another aspect of global warming's local impacts. To see his answer, check out the TBD Winter Weather Chat.