Friday, February 23, 2007

Can we 'govern' our way out of our energy problems?

By M.D. Harmon
Portland Press Herald Friday
February 23, 2007

This column has taken issue recently with the enthusiasts who would have us retrench our standard of living severely on the miniscule chance that 1) "climate change" will be as serious a problem as Al Gore says it will and 2) we can greatly affect the outcome in any case.

But just because environmentalists have their heads in the wrong location on this issue, that doesn't mean their hearts are misplaced as well.

Trouble is, vapid sentimentalities tend to dominate the present debate on energy issues.

So conservatives should, once they point out the ills associated with statist enthusiasms, offer alternatives that can achieve their promised benefits without either bankrupting or enslaving the citizenry.

Ergo, here's a four-point plan that would boost our economy rather than throttle it.

1) When you're in a hole, stop digging. So, stop throwing billions of federal dollars at programs that do nothing but drive up the re-election hopes of Midwestern politicians.

When you add up all the costs of producing ethanol, you discover that there's a reason it takes immense federal subsidies to bring it to market.

Nobody would produce the stuff if it sold for what it cost to grow the grain and process it.

And its producers' demand for corn and other grains is driving up the cost of feed and thus the cost of meat.

That means consumers are paying twice -- in subsidies and higher food costs -- for something that, to truly displace gasoline, would require using every farmable acre in the nation for fuel-producing crops. Environmentalists can't really think that's desirable.
Regarding hybrid cars, their buyers are discovering that their relatively small mileage advantages take a decade or more to compensate for their higher price. As subsidies decline, they have fewer buyers.

Hydrogen is the most likely (and cleanest) alternative, but we'll get to that in a second.

It's worth nothing that, if we had let government "experts" tell Henry Ford what to use for fuel, we'd be raising whales for their oil along the entire coast.

2) Lift the restrictions on drilling for oil along our coasts and in the Arctic. Environmentally unsound, you say? Well, how sound is it to keep shipping our dollars overseas to pay the Saudis for what we still have plenty of at home?

We won't really be seen as being serious about lessening our dependence on foreign oil until we actually act to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

I know it's tough for some people to grasp, but there it is.
True, many will say we can achieve the same end by raising the gasoline tax by a couple of bucks or boosting mileage standards for cars to 50 mpg.

What isn't said is that the cost of both those proposals will come straight out of Joe Consumer's pockets, directly for the gas tax and indirectly from far higher costs of shipping goods and the greatly increased price of new cars.

I understand that's a price activists are willing to pay -- or, rather, make someone else pay -- but they are hardly being up- front about it with taxpayers.

3) Wind power is fine, but it will never come close to meeting our national demand for energy. We've also seen how vulnerable it is to opposition based solely on aesthetics.

Thus, we should build nuclear power plants, and lots of them.
Conservatives are hardly alone in recommending this -- more environmentalists are seeing the necessity, too.

The good news is that this effort is well under way.
As many as 80 new reactors, using standardized designs that yield far less waste than older models, are on the drawing boards and entering the permitting process.

There are two ways to clean up a "dirty" coal-fired power plant. Since coal is our most plentiful fossil fuel, we'd be nuts not to use it, but incentives (not penalties) to burn it more cleanly provide the way to aid conversion.

The other way to clean them up is to shut the dirtiest of them down, but the only way we can do that without hurting the economy is to have something ready to replace them.

Building those reactors will accomplish that, and eventually lead to my final point:

4) If hydrogen, a common element whose combustion yields only water as a by-product, is to be the fuel of the future, we have solve the physics first.

Right now, it costs more energy to produce a given unit of hydrogen than we get out of burning it. We need a plentiful, relatively cheap and nonpolluting source of power to produce enough pure H to be useful in reducing our dependence on oil, coal and natural gas.
So, see 3) above.

We're not going to "govern" ourselves out of our problems. We can, however, let the genius of capitalism address them, with far higher odds of success.

And at a lower cost, to boot.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial page writer and editor. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Turbines on mountains a better choice

Maine Today
Beth Negusky
February 19, 2007

Perhaps 20 years ago, we had the luxury to reject a wind power project in the mountains of western Maine. But, no more. We now know too much about the dangers of our fossil fuel dependence and the threat of global warming to turn down renewable energy projects.

It is true the Redington wind project would alter views from segments of the Appalachian Trail. But every energy project, including renewable ones, faces sincere objection from some individuals or groups.

The stark truth about climate change, however, is this: If each of us is unwilling to make accommodations and sacrifices, Planet Earth is in very big trouble. Ironically, it is not today's decision-makers (or those on the sidelines) who stand to lose the most, it is our children and grandchildren.

Soon after the Land Use Regulation Commission voted preliminarily to deny the Redington wind project a permit, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fourth assessment report. The panel is comprised of the world's experts on the science and impacts of global warming.

Over the past six years, the panel has become more certain that humans are influencing the climate. Its members now describe the human influence as "very likely," or greater than 90 percent probable. They have concluded global warming is "unequivocal." Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary culprit.

The panel's climate-change assessment says the human influence on climate is already detectable through the observational record. Extreme weather events have become more frequent. These include droughts, heavier precipitation, heat waves and more intense typhoons and hurricanes.

Widespread decreases in glaciers and the ice caps have been observed. Arctic sea ice is shrinking at about 3 percent per decade, possibly threatening the polar bear with extinction.
Sea levels are rising and will continue to do so, threatening coastal nations and their people. The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has increased and wind patterns have changed, as has ocean salinity.

Most people in Maine have already made observations of changes in weather and climate. Last month will go down in the record books for having a 74-degree spread between the highest and lowest temperatures.

Maine people have seen an increase in torrential rains, earlier ice-out dates on our lakes, a lengthening of our growing season, less snowmobiling and skiing, and more disease-carrying insects, among other changes.

The bottom line is that climate change on the order predicted will have dramatic effects in the coming decades, and most of them will be negative.

These impacts threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions around the globe, including up to one-third of the Earth's plant and animal species.

In fact, over the long run, unchecked climate change will have a far greater negative impact on Redington Mountain, and its native plants and animals, than the proposed wind power project.

It is going to take a heroic effort to reverse the course of climate change, but much of that heroism will have to occur through day-to-day decisions about our driving habits and our electricity usage and in decisions about wind turbines and other renewable energy projects.

We must change our frame of reference when making these decisions and understand that each step away from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction.

Considering what is at stake for our planet and every living thing on it, the acceptability of altered views on parts of the Appalachian Trail should be clear.

Friday, February 16, 2007

War over wind

Maine Today
Staff Writer
February 16, 2007

FREEDOM -- Given their first chance to ask questions about a proposed wind turbine project, board of appeals members on Thursday offered a glimpse of the concerns they will carry into deliberations.

Representatives of Competitive Energy Services, which hopes to erect three electricity generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, were quizzed on issues of noise and whether they would be able to hook the turbines into the electrical grid, should the project go forward.

Anthony Rogers, the consultant hired by Competitive Energy to conduct a sound study, said he did not take ambient noise readings before concluding the proposed turbines would meet the 45-decibel limit mandated by the ordinance.

He based his findings on an ambient, or background, noise level of 35 decibels.

Steve Bennett, one of several abutters appealing the planning board's December decision to grant a permit for the project, said ambient sound readings he took over several days never fell below 33.5 decibels.

"The predicted sound levels (of the turbines) are very close to the limit," said appeals board member Francis Walker. "Whether there are ambient noises or not might make the difference in whether the project is compliant or not."

Andy Price of Competitive Energy said Rogers' study was intentionally conservative to ensure the turbines would not exceed the decibel ceiling. Noise can be reduced by slowing the turbine blades, Price added.

"(Rogers) made it very clear there are uncertainties, which is why he used conservative numbers," Price said.

Given the ambient noise, board Chairman Addison Chase said he found it difficult to believe Competitive Energy could meet the 45-decibel standard. Board member Mike Smith pointed out that if Competitive Energy exceeded the decibel limit the project could be shut down, but Chase wanted more certainty.

"Will you go on record as saying you will never ask for more than 45?" Chase asked Price. "I want to know you're committed to 45 or go home."

"I can't tell you what we would do (if the turbines exceed 45 decibels)," Price said.

The noise level was just one of the issues the board addressed. Members also wanted to know whether the company would be able to hook the turbines into the electrical grid.

The company believes it has the right to install utility poles over a road the town stopped maintaining in 1975.

Town attorney Al Stevens suggested that because the road was discontinued prior to 1977, the company lacks authority to install the poles.

The power company with which Competitive Energy works would have the right to take an easement by eminent domain, but would not be required to do so, Stevens said.

"If we can't get power, we can't build the project," Price said.

The board plans to begin deliberations at its next meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on March 8 at the Congregational Church.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tidal power test facility proposed for Maine river

Maine Today
Thursday, February 15, 2007

CASTINE - Maine Maritime Academy wants to establish a tidal power test facility in the Bagaduce River.

Officials submitted a formal application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week for a preliminary three-year permit.
Maine Maritime Academy, which plans to collaborate with Cianbro Corp. and other partners, wants to create a place to test and evaluate tidal energy technologies, said Leonard Tyler, the college's president.

"This is a way in which we can expand our service as an educational resource, by providing a means to inexpensively and efficiently test the feasibility of renewable energy devices in Maine and other places," he said.

There's growing interest in tidal energy.

Last year, the Electric Power Research Institute concluded that the tidal movement at three sites, including one in Maine, can produce electricity at a cost that competes with wind power and natural gas power plants.

If the Bagaduce River project is approved, the Tidal Energy Device Evaluation Center will be only the second such facility in the world.

In addition to Maine Maritime and Cianbro, the partners include Marinas Power of Houston and OceanWorks International, a Canadian company.

The center would test tidal energy devices that generally are being developed by small companies and academic institutions that have limited resources, said Mark Cote, chairman of MMA's engineering department.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Companies Pressed to Define Green Policies

NY Times
February 13, 2007


Correction Appended

Tracey C. Rembert, the coordinator of corporate governance and engagement for the Service Employees International Union, acknowledges that Wells Fargo is the country’s largest purchaser of renewable energy offsets and has specialists on staff studying all of the implications of climate change on its businesses.

Still, Ms. Rembert’s union has filed a shareholder’s resolution asking Wells Fargo to specify how it is addressing both the risks and market opportunities presented by global warming.

She wants to know if Wells Fargo is lending money to companies that could be forced into bankruptcy because of greenhouse gas regulations, if the bank is financing new technologies for alternate energy or if it is offering consulting services to clients on climate issues.

“We want them to rethink their business, and set themselves up to take strategic advantage of climate change,” Ms. Rembert said.

The New York City Comptroller’s Office feels the same way about Dominion Resources, an electric power and natural gas company, and Massey Energy, a coal mining company. The Sierra Club Mutual Fund feels that way about the retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Calvert Group about ACE Insurance.

All of them are calling upon companies to provide proof that their business decisions also consider issues involving climate change.

“It is incumbent on us as trustees of pension funds to find out how companies are mitigating risk to our investments from climate change,” said Kenneth B. Sylvester, assistant comptroller for pension policy for the New York comptroller.

According to Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, investors have filed 42 resolutions asking for such information during the 2007 proxy season, up from 31 last year. And today, Ceres will issue a list of 10 companies that shareholders say are not looking at climate change through an investor’s eye and may not be investing in alternative energy technologies.

“This has nothing to do with social investing,” the president of Ceres, Mindy S. Lubber, said. “These investors are owners who want the companies to stop being laggards when it comes to minimizing risk and taking advantage of opportunities.”

Like most corporate hit lists regarding global warming issues, the Ceres list is heavily weighted with energy companies. In addition to Dominion and Massey, it includes Exxon Mobil, Allegheny Energy, Consol Energy, Conoco Phillips and TXU. In each case, the investors are complaining that the companies do not pay enough attention to the impact of climate change on their bottom lines — and thus share prices. “Renewables are the fastest growing segment of the energy market, and ConocoPhillips is letting an important market opportunity go by,” said Shelley Alpern, director of social research and advocacy for Trillium Asset Management Corporation. Conoco could not be reached for comment.

Many companies say they are bewildered at their inclusion. “The way we shape our future business footprint and strategy will certainly evolve as the policies evolve,” a spokesman for Dominion Resources, Mark G. Lazenby, said.

Lisa Singleton, a spokeswoman for TXU, said that the company, which has been criticized by environmental advocates for its plans to build coal-fired plants, has dedicated almost $2 billion to new technologies. And, she said, it has posted much of the information on its Web site.

Other companies say they are being faulted not for inaction, but for silence. Michael J. Callahan, vice president and corporate council of Bed Bath & Beyond, said that his company was “addressing the issues” that climate change poses, but “we have not produced the type of reporting that a group such as Ceres is seeking.”

Mary S. Wenzel, vice president of environmental affairs for Wells Fargo, is more specific. Ms. Wenzel said Wells Fargo has invested $125 million in renewable energy projects in the last six months, and has lent more than $750 million to developers of green buildings in the last few years.

“We have not issued the kind of public policy statements that shareholders seem to want,” she said, “but we are certainly demonstrating that we are addressing risk and seizing opportunities.”

Maybe so — but Ms. Rembert still wants more proof.

“Climate change will involve regulatory risks, reputational risks and physical risks to the companies in any bank’s portfolio,” she said. “We need to know that Wells Fargo is ahead of the curve in addressing it.”

Correction: February 14, 2007

An article in Business Day yesterday about 10 companies that Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, says may not be paying enough attention to global warming, rendered incorrectly a word in a quotation from Mary S. Wenzel of Wells Fargo, who discussed the bank’s track record on green investing. She said, “We are certainly demonstrating that we are addressing risk and seizing opportunities” — not “ceasing” opportunities.

Exxon Chief Cautions Against Rapid Action to Cut Carbon Emissions

NY Times


HOUSTON, Feb. 13 — The chief executive of Exxon Mobil, Rex W. Tillerson, warned Tuesday that governments should not rush into policies that could damage the global economy in order to limit carbon emissions.

In a speech at a major industry gathering, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged that the planet was warming while carbon dioxide levels were increasing, suggesting a more accommodating position than the hard-nosed stance Exxon had held.

But in the same speech, Mr. Tillerson, who leads the world’s largest publicly traded company, gave an unalloyed defense of the oil industry and predicted that hydrocarbons would dominate the world’s transportation as energy demand grows by an expected 40 percent by 2030.

There is no significant alternative to oil in coming decades and Exxon will continue to make oil and natural gas its primary products, he said.

“The scale advantages of oil and natural gas across a broad array of applications provide economic value unmatched by any alternative,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson’s tone, if not the substance of his remarks, at times broke with the rigid positions of his predecessor, Lee Raymond, who has long been considered a skeptic in the global warming debate.

“That’s Exxon-speak,” said Barbara Shook, an analyst for Energy Intelligence Group, a publishing and information services company. “It’s their own dialect, but if you look at where Exxon was one and a half years ago they may not have shifted their position 180 degrees, but they are moving.”

Mr. Tillerson’s remarks were his first formal and extensive comments since the publication of a report two weeks ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a leading panel of international scientists and reviewers, concluding that there is 90 percent certainty that human activity is decisive in changing the global climate.

Mr. Tillerson told reporters that he had not read the report but said, “My understanding is there’s not a clear 100 percent conclusion drawn.” He added: “Nobody can conclusively 100 percent know how this is going to play out. I think that’s important.”

Taken together, his statements suggested that Exxon was navigating between positions defending oil as an energy source and its core business, and showing sensitivity to growing public concerns about a warming climate.

President Bush has called for increasing development and use of biofuels. And Democrats now controlling Congress have said they favor higher taxes on oil companies to pay for research in alternative energy.

Mr. Tillerson acknowledged a small role for alternative fuels in the future, saying he thought that ethanol and other types of biofuels have “an important role to play” given the projected growth in energy demand.

He poked fun, however, at ethanol, calling it “moonshine.”

“I am not an expert on biofuels,” he said. “I am not an expert on farming. I don’t have a lot of technology to add to moonshine.”

But it was on the subject of global warming that Mr. Tillerson drew the most interest from energy leaders at the conference, which was organized by the energy consulting firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

“The risks to society and ecosystems from climate change could prove to be significant,” Mr. Tillerson said. “So, despite the uncertainties, it is prudent to develop and implement sensible strategies that address these risks.”

But at the end of speechmaking and answering questions, Mr. Tillerson expressed concern that policy makers could damage the world economy with precipitous environmental policies. He warned that future generations could be sorry for hasty policies taken today without more careful study.

“This is a centuries-long kind of problem, and we are going to learn more as we go,” he said.

He noted that some scientific reports describing models of climate change concluded with a “range of potential outcomes.” He added: “A range implies a certain degree of uncertainty. Policy decisions need to accommodate that uncertainty.”

Exxon, which has had record earnings the last two years, has been a target of environmental groups for financing organizations that have questioned climate science and for its business activities around the world. Much of the emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming come from the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline and natural gas.

Mr. Tillerson said his company supported breakthrough research in cellulosic ethanol, which is made from grasses and woodchips, and he was clear about Exxon’s role. “There is really nothing I see Exxon can bring to this,” he said. “We don’t see a direct role for ourselves.”

The report by the panel on climate change was widely considered the most authoritative study on the subject. It said for the first time that global warming was unequivocal and concluded that human activity had very likely caused most of the rise in temperatures since 1950. The report said that global warming could be blunted by prompt action.

Mr. Tillerson defended the energy industry as being environmentally responsible. “The footprint required of our activities is getting smaller and more efficient,” he said, “proving that energy production and environmental protection need not be a zero-sum.”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Interesting ideas/products in March 2007 Popular Science


The March 2007 issue of Popular Science had a write up on a couple of interesting products.

First, they mention a Power Cost Monitor. Basically you attach a magnetic monitoring device to your electric meter (no it does not mess with the working of the meter). This device transmits data back to a base unit which among other things tells you in lay terms your current power usage and the cost. Information on this product can be found at

Second, they highlight a new photo voltaic technology known as Heliotube. In a nutshell, this panel uses thin strips of photo voltaic material located within reflective troughs which focus sunlight onto the strips. Information on these panels can be found at


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Efficiency the way to shrink our carbon footprint

Thursday, February 8, 2007


Bravo for Saco. This pretty coastal community in York County is showing foresight and fortitude by exploring a host of ways to reduce energy consumption and save money.

As lawmakers in Augusta gear up to consider one of the most far-reaching global warming policies in the nation's history ­ the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ­ Saco stands for the principle that small actions count, too.

The city of 18,000 has managed to save $100,000 a year thanks to a handful of energy-scrimping investments and purchasing decisions.
Most of the savings have come from simple steps ­ swapping incandescent bulbs for efficient flourescent lighting and eliminating one garbage truck by converting to an automated unit.

But the city is also exploring less -conventional angles: Solar panels are heating part of the wastewater treatment plant. A small wind turbine will contribute about one third of the energy used to power the plant's offices.

Officials are also exploring a way to capture the heat in sewage effluent to warm the facility.

Saco isn't alone. Portland's fleet of school buses and snowplows now run on biodiesel. Maine's largest city also headlines the slew of businesses and institutions that have accepted Gov. Baldacci's challenge to reduce carbon emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Increased investments in efficiency will need to play a major role.

In the past three years, the state's Efficiency Maine program has helped homeowners, schools and businesses, Saco among them, save more than 121 million kilowatt hours.

Over the life of these investments, this will translate to $86 million in avoided energy costs.

And lawmakers will soon be asked to approve a bill to implement RGGI and direct funds raised through an auction of carbon credits to efficiency programs. This is one domestic energy resource we should be doing all we can to develop.

Bright ideas

Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald
February 7, 2007

SACO - A new wind turbine catches the breeze coming down the Saco River, powering the energy-efficient lights in a nearby office building.

Solar panels catch the sunlight on the roof of another building, producing enough heat to keep the equipment inside from freezing up.
Welcome to Saco's wastewater treatment plant, where the city treats its sewage and showcases alternative energy. Next up, officials hope to heat part of the facility using the 2.4 million gallons of effluent that flows through each day and into the Saco River.

Saco and its sewage treatment plant are leaders of a new trend among Maine's local governments to reduce energy use and environmental damage. The efforts appear to be gaining momentum as citizens mobilize to fight global warming and as municipal officials calculate the tax dollars that can be saved by using less oil, diesel fuel and electricity.

"It's easy," said Eric Cote, a city councilor in Saco and leader of the city's energy-efficiency campaign. "No one fights about it."

Efforts in Maine range from Saco's new windmill and Portland's fleet of biodiesel-fueled school buses and snowplows to energy-efficient light bulbs in schools in Kennebunk.

Four Maine communities have signed a U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and pledged to reduce emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide at least 7 percent by 2012. At least seven more are considering signing, said Glen Brand, a Falmouth resident and national campaign director of the Sierra Club's Cool Cities program.

"Last year there were no Maine cities signed on yet," Brand said.

"These cities are demonstrating that clean-energy solutions like cleaner vehicles and clean renewable power are feasible, cost-effective and politically popular."

Nationwide, 393 cities and towns have signed the agreement, Brand said.

The trend started in large cities such as Seattle and Portland, Ore. New York and Boston are now considered leaders, too. Efforts include land-use policies that discourage sprawl, mass transit investments and energy-efficient building codes.

At least one study of the trend points out that it follows a shift in American cities from manufacturing economies to service economies, reducing the potential costs of local environmental regulation. Communities may be taking the lead on sustainability in part because, politically speaking, they can.

Many of those driving the trend say it's a response to a lack of action or leadership on the national level, especially the Bush administration's refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol and regulate global warming pollution.

"I think we're motivated by the slow pace of progress on global warming. The science is so clear now and yet the progress is so slow," said Jennifer Niese of Kennebunk.

Niese, a biology teacher and the mother of a kindergartner, was one of a group of friends and acquaintances in Kennebunk who last summer started the Sustainable Energy Alliance (

The group made a pitch to the town's Board of Selectmen last fall, pointing out the dollars to be saved from reduced energy use.

Niese expects her town to begin by switching to energy-efficient lighting and computer screens and then move through a list of other improvements that should cost little and save a lot. "There's a lot of opportunity to save money on energy bills before you get into things that require a big investment," she said.

Portland was Maine's first community to pledge to cut back emissions of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the city accepted Gov. John Baldacci's carbon challenge and promised to reduce emissions by 10 percent within five years.

The city has taken a range of actions, from switching to energy-efficient lighting -- including its traffic lights and Christmas tree lights -- to reducing truck and bus idling. In November, it switched all 200 of its diesel vehicles to soy-based biodiesel, a mixture of diesel and renewable fuels.

The switch isn't intended to cost or save the city money, but it is reducing the city's air pollution and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 650,000 pounds a year, said Mike Bobinsky, Portland director of public works. "It has great advantages for our community and our region," he said.

Saco also is clearly among Maine's greenest communities.

The new wind turbine is considered a small test to see the potential for wind power. It cost about $10,000 and is expected to pay for itself within about 10 years. It provides 400 kilowatts per month, or one-third of the power needed by the small office building next to it.

An emerging plan to use the city's wastewater for heat is a twist on geothermal energy technology, which typically involves the expensive process of drilling deep into the bedrock to find 50-degree water. It turns out the effluent flushed through sewers arrives at about that same temperature.

Howard Carter, deputy director of the Public Works Department, said simple heat pumps can draw the energy off the effluent and use it to heat outside air drawn into the treatment plant.

Cote, the city councilor, said Saco is saving more than $100,000 a year because of the energy-efficiency investments. The City Council was so pleased with the savings generated by initial efforts that last year it approved a $300,000 budget for energy-efficiency improvements, with no opposition.

"I've been involved in local government for 20 years now. That's one of the most unusual things I've experienced," said City
Administrator Rick Michaud.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

State: Incinerator is best regulated locally

Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald
February 7, 2007

BIDDEFORD ‹ The state eventually would like to see the Maine Energy Recovery Co. incinerator move out of downtown Biddeford, provided all parties are treated fairly and the impetus comes from the community.

In the meantime, federal and state laws give government agencies limited means for regulating odors and other nuisances created by the plant, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday night.

Commissioner David Littell made the comments while answering a battery of questions about MERC at a special meeting of the Biddeford City Council.

The DEP commissioner and two staffers answered written questions from the council and the public regarding odor control, the extent to which MERC must abide by local regulations and the plant's state license. Their appearance came at a crucial time in the city's relationship with the trash-burning plant, a highly visible and sometimes odoriferous landmark in downtown Biddeford.

The city must decide in the next few months whether to enter into a new long-term contract with the plant's owner, Casella Waste Systems of Vermont.

Some city officials maintain a contract is the best way to protect the city's financial interests and control nuisances. A vocal anti-MERC citizens group, The Working Alliance for Biddeford's Future, favors cutting ties with Casella. The group calls the company an untrustworthy business partner and its incinerator an impediment to downtown revitalization.

Many of the questions directed at the DEP commissioner Tuesday night dealt with the issue of odor and why the DEP does not take a more active role in trying to regulate it. In a statement issued before the meeting, the Working Alliance stated that neither the city of Biddeford nor the DEP has ever fined MERC for an odor violation in nearly 20 years of operation.

In response to a question about the state's approach to regulating odor, Littell said on-the-spot enforcement by local officials was usually more effective than state control. Paula Clark, the director of the DEP's division of solid waste management, added that regulating odor is a subjective process. "If we're dealing with a factory that has frequent, consistent odor events Š we'll take that and make a judgment," she said.

Other questions dealt with state standards for negative pressure requirements that are intended to contain odor within the incinerator building. Littell said the state takes its lead from the federal Environmental Protection Agency but conceded there are regulatory gaps in federal statutes.

If the city developed its own negative pressure rules, the department would stand behind the effort, said Bryce Sproul, the DEP's director of licensing and enforcement.

After the hour-long question period, both supporters and opponents of the MERC contract said they thought the commissioner's basic message was that Biddeford must take primary responsibility for dealing with MERC.

Kyle Noble, a former city councilor and member of the Working Alliance, said he was encouraged by the DEP officials' pledge of support for a local ordinance intended to control odor. He said he would like to see city officials draft a negative pressure ordinance immediately and use it to control the plant. Biddeford city councilor Ken Farley, a member of the contract negotiating team, said he still sees a business relationship with the trash plant as the best way to settle ongoing litigation with MERC and safeguard the city's finances.

"It's not just about the money, but there's a significant amount of money we have to consider," he said.

Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be reached at 282-8225 or at:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lithium an endangered resource?

I have read several articles concerning the depletion of Lithium resources around the globe and how the electrification of transportation will have to rely on battery technologies not based on lithium. Below is a link to a white paper which spells out just how serious this problem is:


Bush Budget Funds NASA, Cuts EPA


By Luke O'Brien
Feb, 05, 2007

WASHINGTON -- President Bush unveiled his $2.9 trillion budget request for next year Monday, beefing up spending for NASA while cutting back environmental protection and several science research programs.

With more than $140 billion set aside for research and development, the proposal is a mixed bag for scientists and engineers around the country. It was greeted by Congress with everything from tempered enthusiasm to outright derision.

Leading Democrats criticized the White House for the uneven approach. "The president once again is using a 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' approach," said House Science and Technology Committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tennessee) in a statement Monday.

Among other complaints, Gordon noted that the budget request increases overall funding at the National Science Foundation to $6.4 billion, but cuts funding for K-12 math and science educational programs run by the foundation.

Other agencies face a similar discrepancy. The White House is asking for $17.3 billion dollars for NASA, an increase of more than $1 billion. But much of that money will be directed toward manned space exploration, which diverts funds from other research initiatives.

Some of the president's plans for space exploration include: spending $1 billion to design and develop Orion, "a crewed spacecraft that will return humans to the moon"; doling out $436 million over three years in award money to private developers to build spaceships that will resupply the International Space Station; and spending $345 million to create the Mars Science Laboratory to "increase our knowledge of the Martian environment and test technologies that may assist human exploration."

In his State of the Union address last January, Bush promised to tackle the more terrestrial problem of U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The president proposed a range of clean fuel technologies. His budget request follows suit, asking for around $640 million to develop solar power, biofuels and hydrogen power. But the request also asks for $385 million to burn more coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy.

"This is a bag of snakes," said Marchant Wentworth, the legislative representative for clean energy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. According to Wentworth, the budget request doesn't do enough to tap into solar, wind and hydropower.

"We already know how to make clean, renewable energy," Wentworth said. "But the research and development of any renewable technology has to go hand in hand with its market development. That's one of the things that's lacking" in the budget request.

Wentworth said he would have preferred to see the administration ask for a renewable energy standard to force public utilities to ramp up their use of clean energy.

Some agencies were happier than others Monday. Although the White House proposed to cut overall funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology by 4 percent to $640.7 million, the institute received a big boost to its nanotechnology programs, prompting its director, William Jeffrey, to declare Monday a "great day" in a press briefing.

Other initiatives in the budget request called for protecting the nation's fisheries through market-based approaches, improved weather satellites and hurricane prediction, and an "ocean action" plan that would provide $80 million to advance ocean science and research. The White House wants to cut Environmental Protection Agency funding again and has also requested more than $865 million to develop better bomb-sniffing technologies, and $463 million for the US-VISIT program to tighten border security and roll out biometric devices.

In the Rockies, Pines Die and Bears Feel It

NY Times
January 30, 2007


Jesse Logan retired in July as head of the beetle research unit for the United States Forest Service at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Utah. He is an authority on the effects of temperature on insect life cycles. That expertise has landed him smack in the middle of a debate over protecting grizzly bears.

You just never know where the study of beetles will take you.

Dr. Logan seems, in fact, to be on a collision course with the federal government, in the debate over whether to lift Endangered Species Act protections from the grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park.

The grizzly population in the greater Yellowstone area is estimated to be at least 600. The population is centered in the park proper, federal scientists say, where it has reached its likely natural maximum and has leveled off. But in adjoining stretches of national forest, the number of grizzlies is continuing to go up by 4 percent to 7 percent a year. Their resurgence in the past 50 years is why the federal government announced in 2005 the start of proceedings to take them off the endangered or threatened species list.

Dr. Logan enters the fray on the question of what grizzly bears eat, how much of it will be available in the future, and where. All that, he says, hinges on the mountain pine beetle and the whitebark pine.

The tree (Pinus albicaulis) has no value as commercial timber. But gnarled and bushy whitebark pines anchor the timberline in much of the West. They hold the soil for other vegetation to get a foothold, and they trap snow, prolonging the spring runoff.

They are slow-growing trees and may not even bear cones until they are a half-century old. In the late 19th century, the naturalist John Muir counted rings in a weatherbeaten example high in California’s Sierra Nevada. Its trunk was just six inches across. To his astonishment it was 426 years old.

The beetle’s usual targets were once midaltitude lodgepole and ponderosa pines. But it has begun extending its range as it adapts to warming temperatures in the Rockies — two degrees since the mid-1970s. As a result, it has been killing whitebark pines at altitudes in the Rockies and the Cascades of Oregon and Washington that would have once been too cold.

Beetle attacks have added to the toll taken by a disease called white pine blister rust. In the northern Rockies, the beetle infests 143,000 acres. Entire forest vistas, like that at Avalanche Ridge near Yellowstone National Park’s east gate, are expanses of dead, gray whitebarks.

“We are very worried the whitebarks may be locally extirpated, if not driven extinct,” said Diana Tomback, professor of biology at the University of Colorado, Denver, and president of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, a nonprofit organization. One recent Forest Service study suggested that in the next century a global warming would reduce by 90 percent the acreage that has the kind of cold and high altitude climate where the trees now grow.

The plight of trees may not catch the attention of most people. But the seeds of the whitebark pine, the pine nuts, feed Clark’s nutcracker birds; red squirrels, which store the nuts underground; and grizzly bears.

“There is this general notion that grizzly bears are omnivores that will eat anything and do all right, but that’s not the case in Yellowstone,” says David Mattson, a wildlife biologist with the United States Geological Survey on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff.

The diet of the Yellowstone grizzlies changes radically from season to season. After emerging from dens in early spring, they gorge on elk and bison calves and adults that died over the winter, or they chase wolves off their kills. Later in the spring and in early summer, tourists most often see them in rivers near Yellowstone Lake, where they go after spawning cutthroat trout.

They eat roots and bulbs, too. But by late summer the bears head for remote high country. They turn to delicate fare: moths and pine nuts. In alpine meadows a grizzly can lap up 40,000 army cutworm moths a day from under rocks where the fat insects congregate during daylight hours.

But mostly the bears depend on whitebark pines. A federally supported Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team says the tree’s plump seeds, among the largest of any North American pine, “are arguably the most important fattening food available to grizzly bears during late summer and fall.” Loss of the whitebarks, the task force said, would endanger the bears’ survival.

The hefty bears — a male can exceed 700 pounds — do not climb the trees. They raid messy, cone-stuffed middens on the ground that red squirrels build as winter storehouses.

Grizzlies in northernmost Montana, Canada and Alaska have a wide variety of berries available in the fall, and those near the coast have spawning salmon in the rivers. But when winter looms in Yellowstone, “the whitebark pines are about it” on the bear menu, Dr. Mattson says. The Wind River Pines

Because of the close relationship between the pines and the bears, Dr. Logan has taken up advocacy for the bears as a means of bringing attention to the overall ecosystem in the Wind River Range in Wyoming. The range is high, broad, relatively far from the moderating effect of the Pacific Ocean and exposed to arctic blasts off the plains. They therefore are colder than nearby ranges. Dr. Logan’s computer models show them resisting a warming climate longer than other mountains and remaining a refuge for the pines and the bears.

Earlier analyses that Dr. Logan conducted correctly predicted beetle movements. In the 1990s, his analyses predicted a northward invasion by mountain pine beetles from near the Washington-Canada border deep into the lodgepole forest of the British Columbia interior.

Rising temperatures were revving up the beetles’ metabolisms, and he surmised that they would soon complete a full cycle of reproduction in one year. Eventually their reproduction would get in pace with the calendar well north of their usual range, a condition called adaptive seasonality. It means millions of adults emerging simultaneously from infested trees.

Like an army roaring out of the trenches, they overwhelm their next round of piney prey, emitting pheromones that draw more attackers to individual trees. Forest managers say defenses — quarantines, burning and other methods — are ineffective over large areas.

The result in Canada turned out as bad or worse than Dr. Logan feared. It may be the largest forest insect blight ever seen in North America, and it seems nowhere near its peak. It covers a patch running about 400 miles north-south and 150 miles across. Officials expect 80 percent of British Columbia’s mature lodgepoles to be dead by 2014.

Loggers are frantically cutting lifeless trees for lumber before they rot. Funguses carried by beetles stain the wood a blotchy blue. Lumber mills promote it as stylish “denim wood.” In 2002, high winds carried the beetles through the Rockies and into the Alberta plain. They appear poised to sweep east to the Atlantic through Canada’s jackpine boreal forest.

In 2001, Dr. Logan set up an observing station at a broad stand of whitebark pines at the timberline at Railroad Ridge in the White Cloud Mountains of Idaho. He expected a beetle infestation, but not for a while, and planned to collect data before the insects showed.

Almost immediately, in 2002 and 2003, telltale patches of “red top” trees appeared. Today virtually all the mature whitebarks there are dead. “It was the most magnificent whitebark ecosystem I’d seen,” Dr. Logan said. “It broke my heart.”

New computer projections done by Dr. Logan and Jacques Régnière of the Canadian Forest Service based on recent climate and other data for the mountain West show most whitebark pine forests being wiped out as warming continues. But the Wind River Range is projected to stay cold until 2100 or so, which, if the model is right, means they could be a refuge for grizzlies forced out of areas where the trees die.

The exercise produced a map on which most of the realm of the whitebarks, previously out of reach of mountain pine beetles, turns red as the computer calculates ever-warmer decades ahead. A recent trip there showed that so far, the Wind River Range is, in fact, fending off beetle attack. Dr. Logan and several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, argue that the Wind River Range should be included in areas in which grizzlies are protected.

The government’s plan to ease Endangered Species Act protection for Yellowstone’s bears does not mean an end to local and federal conservation measures for them. A detailed plan has been put together by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. It includes close surveillance of bears and maintenance of their population at no fewer than 500 adults, and continued full protection in a 9,300-square-mile “prime protection area” that includes and extends out from the 3,300-square-mile national park.

A far larger area farther out, including the Wind River Range, is designated as suitable grizzly bear habitat but would be subject to state and local regulations.

But Dr. Logan’s projections shows devastating whitebark damage from the beetles in the government’s core area for grizzly protection by the end of the century. He says that the government’s recovery area “is completely out of touch with what is actually happening.”

Government biologists say the official plan can be adjusted if the whitebarks go into serious decline and the bears are not able to adopt an adequate replacement diet of roots or other late-fall food. And if the Wind River Range to the south does turn out to be the bears’ best refuge, that’s where they’ll go.

“A lot of that area is wilderness already,” said Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Missoula, Mont. “The bears will move in there regardless of what our rules say, and the beetles don’t care what regulations we have either.”

He also argued that even outside the proposed primary protection area, state authorities had “signed up” to help protect the bears. And if things turn seriously bad, he said, the government can relist the bears.

Bear Activism

Bear supporters are already lining up to oppose the near-certain delisting.

“The federal government has a core recovery area that it says is adequate,” said Douglas Honnold, managing attorney for Earthjustice, a Montana-based group. “Jesse’s work, and his is not the only such analysis, suggests that this is flat-out wrong. The federal government has a head-in-the-sand approach.” Mr. Honnold promised a federal court challenge.

Another bear supporter, Lance Craighead of the Craighead Institute in Montana, says that “the Winds may be critical. Our own work, and Jesse’s, all say the whitebark pine will last there longer than it will anywhere.”

Many believe that if the delisting goes forward, bear hunting will follow, particularly in the Wind River Range. Livestock interests, as well as hunters and some back country backpackers, do not want to share the land with grizzly bears. Wyoming’s published bear management plan, set to go into effect as soon as the bears are off the federal list, declares that significant presence of grizzly bears will not be permitted in much of the range, including nowhere in roughly the southern half.

One management tool, it says, is “hunter harvest.” Fremont County, which includes the Wind River Indian Reservation, has declared grizzlies “an unacceptable species” and resolved to protect its residents.

In an essay Dr. Logan wrote before the trip into the Winds, he said that if it confirmed a potential bear refuge, “we can efficiently allocate protection and reconstruction strategies.” It will be costly, he wrote, but it would be “inconsolable to simply walk away from a problem that is largely our making.”

During a break on the trip’s second day, high on a pass called Kirkland Ridge, Dr. Logan said: “As for active management to encourage bears here, I don’t know. That’s a policy to be developed. But look, this is clearly a special place, a special ecosystem. It is all connected, we know that, from the plains to the mountain tops.”

In the end, of course, the discovery of places that will resist warming effects may only buy time. “It’s all about global warming,” Dr. Logan said. “I can’t say if the beetle will stay out of the Winds for all the next century. I don’t know how long it will take. But one thing I do know. If it keeps on warming, they’ll get nailed there too. The trees can’t move uphill, you know. They’ll run out of mountain.”

What the bears will fatten for winter on then, nobody knows.

Bolivia’s Only Ski Resort Is Facing a Snowless Future

COMMENT: I have to wonder if Maine will soon have winters without snow and not enough weather at the freezing point to allow for snow making. The current lack of snow this winter is not going to bode well for our aquifers.

NY Times
February 2, 2007


CHACALTAYA, Bolivia, Jan. 28 — The lodge here at what bills itself as the world’s highest ski resort has fraying black-and-white photos evoking memories of the years when this country had an Olympic ski team.

Bolivia’s die-hard skiers still boast about the place, asking where else one can ski above the clouds at a dizzying 17,388 feet with a view of Lake Titicaca on the horizon.

Where else, they ask, would the après-ski tradition include coca tea and soup made from the grain of the quinoa plant?

Their pride in the ski resort here, the only one in Bolivia, soon gives way to a grim acceptance that the glacier that once surrounded the lodge with copious amounts of snow and ice is melting fast.

Attributing the melting to the growing emission of greenhouse gases causing global warming, scientists say Bolivia’s skiing tradition could be extinguished when Chacaltaya’s modest ski run disappears forever in a few years.

“This is a tragedy I can hardly bear to witness,” said Franz Gutiérrez, 65, who has been a member of the Bolivian Andean Club, which operates Chacaltaya, since he was a teenager. Guiding a group of about a dozen skiers on the opening day of this year’s season, Mr. Gutiérrez reminisced about how he skied nearly every weekend until Chacaltaya’s glacier began melting significantly a decade ago.

“It is magical,” he said, “to ski at an altitude at which planes don’t fly in parts of the world.”

Chacaltaya, of course, never had the glamour of a Vail or a Zermatt. Founded in the late 1930s by a dreamer named Raúl Posnansky Lipmann, it can be reached only by a dirt road winding through the chaotic markets of El Alto, a sprawling city of slums above La Paz, and with nail-biting-inducing switchbacks that lack guardrails.

Though ski resorts in Chile and Argentina thrive during the South American winter, from July to September, the best skiing at Chacaltaya is — or rather, was — from about January through March, when snow and hail are somewhat more common here. After Mr. Posnansky died in an avalanche in the 1940s little was done to alter Chacaltaya’s spartan operations.

Its lift, which stopped working recently, was powered by an old automobile engine. Now skiers must hike 30 minutes to Chacaltaya’s only run. For those not acclimated to La Paz, the capital, much less to Chacaltaya, which is about a mile higher, that effort intensifies the splitting headaches and shortness of breath that afflict visitors to such heights.

“I thought training at this altitude would offer some advantages,” said José Manuel Bejarano Carvajal, 50, a member of the team that competed in the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in 1984. “But I finished last.” Mr. Bejarano said Bolivia was represented in the Olympics as recently as 1992, before its team was disbanded.

He and other members of the Bolivian Andean Club, which operates from a building in downtown La Paz whose facades are sprayed with graffiti, have followed the studies of their disappearing snow with alarm.

Scientists say that glaciers are increasingly receding throughout the Andes, but that Chacaltaya’s melting has been especially quick. More than 80 percent of the glacier has been lost in 20 years, said Jaime Argollo Bautista, director of the Institute of Geological Investigation at the University of San Andrés, in La Paz.

“I would give Chacaltaya three more years,” said Mr. Argollo, adding that the relatively small size of the glacier and the abundance of rocks under its ice, which easily absorb heat, have quickened its retreat.

Beyond the impact on skiing, the pastime of only a small elite in Bolivia, Mr. Argollo said, the country’s receding glaciers threaten drinking water supplies and water for hydroelectric plants that supply power to La Paz and El Alto.

“Chacaltaya is but a preview of what’s to happen to our other glaciers,” Mr. Argollo said.

Bolivia’s skiers seem to approach the impending end at Chacaltaya with a mixture of denial and resignation. Some members of the Andean Club talk of transforming their lodge into a gymnasium where mountain climbers and other athletes could adapt to high altitudes. This would involve redesigning the club’s proud emblem, a condor on skis.

Others dream of bringing in artificial snow, a prohibitively expensive solution here in South America’s poorest country, or of building a new lodge on nearby Mount Mururata, which still has ample snow so far, an idea limited by terrible road access.

Humor helps those who have frequented Chacaltaya most of their adult life. Alfredo Martínez, 72, a sprightly former skier and mountain climber, said global warming had nothing to do with the snow’s disappearance.

Mr. Martínez said it was because “Bolivia’s women have grown too mischievous.” He did not explain his joke further, and the younger women who had come for the first day of skiing this year were not amused.

Some skiers continue trekking to the only remaining ski slope here to get a few runs in before Chacaltaya surrenders its claim to being the world’s highest ski area to peaks like Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in China, Gulmarg in the Indian Himalayas or Tochal in Iran.

“Let’s just say this place is unique,” Darrel Nitshe, 41, a Canadian who works for a skiing outfit that brings people to the tops of ski runs in British Columbia by helicopter, said as he stopped to catch his breath on the trek to the summit here, which is surrounded by the snowcapped peaks of the Andes.

But there are some who seemingly refuse to admit that the end is near. Angelo Martínez, 22, a dentistry student in La Paz, took no fewer than four runs on his snowboard on Sunday, climbing to the top after each descent as if he were ascending a flight of stairs at sea level.

“There’s no place I’d rather be,” Mr. Martínez said, squinting as the sun beat down on the lonely slope. “At least Chacaltaya is ours.”

Panel Issues Bleak Report on Climate Change

NY Times
February 2, 2007


PARIS, Feb. 2 — In a bleak and powerful assessment of the future of the planet, the leading international network of climate change scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main driver, "very likely" causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.

They said the world is already committed to centuries of warming, shifting weather patterns and rising seas, resulting from the buildup of gases in the atmosphere that trap heat. But the warming can be substantially blunted by prompt action, the panel of scientists said in a report released here today.

The report summarized the fourth assessment since 1990 by the group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, sizing up the causes and consequences of climate change. But it is the first in which the group asserts with near certainty — more than 90 percent confidence — that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.

In its last report, in 2001, the panel, consisting of hundreds of scientists and reviewers, put the confidence level at between 66 and 90 percent. Both reports are online at

If carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reach twice their pre-industrial levels, the report said, the global climate will probably warm by 3.5 to 8 degrees. But there would be more than a 1-in-10 chance of much greater warming, a situation many earth scientists say poses an unacceptable risk.

Many energy and environment experts see such a doubling as a foregone conclusion sometime after midcentury unless there is a prompt and sustained shift away from the 20th-century pattern of unfettered burning of coal and oil, the main sources of carbon dioxide, and an aggressive quest for expanded and improved nonpolluting energy options.

Even an increased level of warming that falls in the middle of the group’s range of projections would likely cause significant stress to ecosystems and alter longstanding climate patterns that shape water supplies and agricultural production, according to many climate experts and biologists.

While the new report projected a modest rise in seas by 2100 — between 7 and 23 inches — it also concluded that seas would continue to rise, and crowded coasts retreat, for at least 1,000 years to come. By comparison, seas rose about 6 to 9 inches in the 20th century.

John P. Holdren, an energy and climate expert at Harvard University, said that the “report powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable.” [Read a report by Mr. Holdren. (PDF format)]

“Since 2001 there has been a torrent of new scientific evidence on the magnitude, human origins and growing impacts of the climatic changes that are underway,” said Mr. Holdren, who is the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “In overwhelming proportions, this evidence has been in the direction of showing faster change, more danger and greater confidence about the dominant role of fossil fuel burning and tropical deforestation in causing the changes that are being observed.”

The conclusions came after a three-year review of hundreds of studies of clues illuminating past climate shifts, observations of retreating ice, warming and rising seas, and other shifts around the planet, and a greatly expanded suite of supercomputer simulations used to test how earth will respond to a building blanket of gases that hold heat in the atmosphere.

The section released today was a 20-page summary for policymakers, which was approved early this morning by teams of officials from more than 100 countries after three days and nights of wrangling over wording with the lead authors, all of whom are scientists.

It described far-flung ramifications for both humans and nature.

“It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent,” said the summary.

Generally, the scientists said, more precipitation will fall at higher latitudes, which are likely also to see lengthened growing seasons, while semi-arid, subtropical regions already chronically beset by drought could see a further 20-percent drop in rainfall under the midrange scenario for increases in the greenhouse gases.

The summary added a new chemical consequence of the buildup of carbon dioxide to the list of mainly climatic and biological impacts foreseen in its previous reports: a drop in the pH of seawater as oceans absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide, which forms carbonic acid when partly dissolved. Marine biologists have said that could imperil some kinds of corals and plankton.

A vast improvement in the science of climatology — including “larges amounts of new and more comprehensive data” — has allowed the group to become far more confident and specific in its predictions, compared with its previous assessment in 2001, the authors said.

The report essentially caps a half-century-long effort to discern whether humans, through the buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases released mainly by burning fuels and forests, could influence the earth’s climate system in potentially momentous ways.

The group operates under the aegis of the United Nations and was chartered in 1988 — a year of record heat, burning forests, and the first big headlines about global warming — to provide regular reviews of climate science to governments to inform policy choices.

Government officials are involved in shaping the summary of each report, but the scientist-authors, who are unpaid, have the final say over the thousands of pages in four underlying technical reports that will be completed and published later this year.

Big questions remain about the speed and extent of some impending changes, both because of uncertainty about future population and pollution trends and the complex interrelationships of the greenhouse emissions, clouds, dusty kinds of pollution, the oceans and earth’s veneer of life, which both emits and soaks up carbon dioxide and other such gases.

But a broad array of scientists, including authors of the report and independent experts, said the latest analysis was the most sobering view yet of a century of transition — after thousands of years of relatively stable climate conditions — to a new norm of continual change.

Should greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at even a moderate pace, average temperatures by the end of the century could match those last seen 125,000 years ago, in the previous warm spell between ice ages, the report said.

At that time, the panel said, sea levels were 12 to 20 feet higher than they are now. Muych of that extra water is now trapped in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which are eroding in some places.

The panel said there was no solid scientific understanding of how rapidly the vast stores of ice in polar regions will melt, so their estimates on new sea levels were based mainly on how much the warmed oceans will expand, and not on contributions from the melting of ice now on land.

Other scientists have recently reported evidence that the glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctic could flow seaward far more quickly than estimated in the past, and they have proposed that the risks to coastal areas could be much more imminent. But the I.P.C.C. is proscribed by its charter from entering into speculation, and so could not include such possible instabilities in its assessment.

Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the United Nations World Meteorological Organization, said the lack of clarity should offer no one comfort. “The speed with which melting ice sheets are raising sea levels is uncertain, but the report makes clear that sea levels will rise inexorably over the coming centuries,” he said. “It is a question of when and how much, and not if,” he said, adding: “While the conclusions are disturbing, decision makers are now armed with the latest facts and will be better able to respond to these realities.”

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which oversees the I.P.C.C. along with the meteorological group, said society now had plenty of information on which to act.

“The implications of global warming over the coming decades for our industrial economy, water supplies, agriculture, biological diversity and even geopolitics are massive,” he said. “This new report should spur policymakers to get off the fence and put strong and effective policies in place to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.”

The warming and other climate shifts will be highly variable around the world, with the Arctic particularly seeing much higher temperatures, said Susan Solomon, the co-leader of the team writing the summary and the section of the I.P.C.C. report on basic science. She is an atmospheric scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The kinds of vulnerabilities are very much dependent on where you are, Dr. Solomon said in a telephone interview. “If you’re living in parts of tropics and they’re getting drier and you’re a farmer there are some very acute issues associated with even small changes in rainfall — changes we’re already seeing are significant,” she said. “If you are an Inuit and you’re seeing your sea ice retreating already that’s affecting your lifestyle and culture.”

The 20-page summary is a sketch of the findings that are most germane to the public and world leaders.

The full I.P.C.C. report, thousands of pages of technical background, will be released in four sections through the year — the first on basic science, then sections on impacts and options for limiting emissions and limiting inevitable harms, and finally a synthesis of all of the findings near year’s end.

In a news conference in Paris, Dr. Solomon declined to provide her own views on how society should respond to the momentous changes projected in the study.

“I honestly believe that it would be a much better service for me to keep my personal opinions separate than what I can actually offer the world as a scientist,” she said. “My stepson, who is 29, has an utterly different view of risks than I do. People are going to have to make their own judgments.”

Some authors of the report said that no one could honestly point to any remaining uncertainties as justification for further delay.

“Policy makers paid us to do good science, and now we have high very scientific confidence in this work — this is real, this is real, this is real,” said Richard B. Alley, one of the lead authors and a professor at Penn State University. “So now act, the ball’s back in your court.”

A Disaster Epic (in Slo-Mo)

NY Times
February 4, 2007


The fourth report since 1990 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a huge network of climate experts operating under the United Nations, contained much to fear, but no clanging alarm bells were attached.

Before the report’s arrival on Friday, the consequences of global warming had been epically imagined — New Orleans-style swampings by superstorms, the specter of an Arctic meltdown and a water gush that would block heat-toting currents in the Atlantic Ocean and trigger an abrupt European cool-down.

But those advocating policies to blunt the growing human impact on the climate have long held out hope that a new threshold of substantiation, like the important conclusions of a major report, would break the public’s inertia. The incremental, “someday” issue of the climate would suddenly warrant a fast-motion response.

As it turned out, the panel’s scientific projections deflated some of the more dramatic possibilities.

The report includes the biblical risk of the world’s seas rising — everywhere — a dozen feet or more. Such a view renders a highly charged recent debate over whether seas would rise a few inches or a few feet in this century “lampoonable,” in the words of Jerry Mahlman, a veteran climate expert.

But the panel’s prognosis for sea level, while epic, is dispersed over dizzying stretches of time: a thousand years or more.

In essence, the debate over characterizing the near-term rise in seas is akin to arguing whether a car starting to roll down a hill toward a cliff is going 1 mile per hour or 2.

Scientists were left wondering if the public would grasp this as disaster.

How quickly does the water have to move toward your neck before you panic (especially if, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic,” you’re handcuffed to the ship)?

“Does it take a crisis to get people to go along a new path or can they respond to a series of rational, incremental gains in knowledge?” asked Ralph J. Cicerone, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, on Friday. “That’s the question.” Dr. Cicerone, an atmospheric scientist, once helped identify another looming threat: the harm to the ozone layer from chemicals.

One reviewer of the panel’s report, James G. Titus, who has been studying seas and warming since the 1980’s for the Environmental Protection Agency, has tried writing songs about the threat, hoping to catch the public’s attention.

But it’s the tune he sings at home on the Jersey Shore that might be worth the listen. In 2005, Mr. Titus spent $20,000 to elevate his house and yard about five feet.

Melding Science and Diplomacy to Run a Global Climate Review

NY Times
February 6, 2007


More than a few scientists think that Susan Solomon must be a glutton for punishment.

Who in her right mind would want to detour from doing world-class atmospheric research at a laboratory tucked under the Rockies to be a co-leader of a years-long, largely administrative review by hundreds of experts from dozens of countries of existing studies on the atmosphere? Dr. Solomon, who won a National Medal of Science in 1999 for linking synthetic chemicals to the seasonal ozone hole over Antarctica, nonetheless chose that course in 2002.

“Thomas Jefferson once said something like, ‘Science is my passion, politics my duty,’ ” Dr. Solomon, 51, said Sunday in a telephone interview. “That’s probably how I think about it, too. Science does have a duty, when called upon, to provide information that’s important to society the best way it can.”

In place of making expeditions to the South Pole and Greenland, her old stomping grounds, she spent chunks of the last five years hunkered in gray buildings in Beijing, New Delhi, Marrakech and Paris running meeting after meeting of experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The panel was convened by the United Nations in 1988 — a year of record heat, burning forests and the first big headlines about greenhouse gases and global warming — to provide regular reviews of climate science to governments to inform policy choices.

Dr. Solomon, a senior scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Qin Dahe, head of the Chinese meteorological agency, were charged with generating the fourth report and summary since 1990 of advances in climate science. The final editing of the 20-page summary through four days and nights last week involved approval by 113 governments. Several participants credited Dr. Solomon with ensuring that last-minute demands, particularly from China and the United States, did not derail the process or distort the science.

Dr. Solomon and many colleagues defend this procedure, melding science and diplomacy, as a way to give nations some ownership of the results and, thus, responsibility for reflecting the findings in policies. But others see it as an opportunity for political meddling.

The summary, released on Friday in Paris, was the first from the group to pinpoint with greater than 90 percent certainty that humans had become the main force driving warming and that centuries of increasing temperatures and seas could be blunted only if emissions of heat-trapping gases were promptly reduced. At a news conference in Paris on Friday, United Nations officials quickly called for action to cut emissions and limit catastrophic effects, particularly on the poorest countries.

When a reporter asked Dr. Solomon “to sum up what kind of urgency this sort of report should convey to policy makers,” she gave the furthest thing from a convenient sound bite.

“I can only give you something that’s going to disappoint you, sir, and that is that it’s my personal scientific approach to say it’s not my role to try to communicate what should be done,” Dr. Solomon said. “I believe that is a societal choice. I believe science is one input to that choice, and I also believe that science can best serve society by refraining from going beyond its expertise.

“In my view, that’s what the I.P.C.C. also is all about, namely not trying to make policy-prescriptive statements, but policy-relevant statements.”

Almost immediately, and predictably, the findings were criticized by both sides in the debate over what to do, or not do, about human effects on the climate. Politicians and groups with links to industries that oppose restrictions on greenhouse gases said the report played down uncertainties and relied too much on murky computer models.

Some scientists and groups pushing for aggressive cuts in the gases said the panel was much too conservative in some projections, particularly in assessing how much melting of ice sheets might raise sea levels in the next 100 years. Some scientists expressed frustration with Dr. Solomon for not making a stronger statement on the conclusions.

“As we all know, Susan is an outstanding scientist, and everybody has to make their own decision how to react to more political questions,” Robert T. Watson, the chief scientist of the World Bank and a former chairman of the panel, wrote in an e-mail message. “Ducking the question of what is needed did weaken the impact of the report to many observers. However, Susan could argue that her neutrality on the policy question provides her greater credibility as an unbiased scientist and chair.”

In the interview, Dr. Solomon was steadfast. She said: “I take the view that I’ll talk about science, but that policy is a collective decision. There are a lot of different ways different people view this. This is reflective of the fact that scientists are human beings like everyone else.”

Dr. Solomon, who fell in love with science at age 9 after watching Jacques Cousteau’s films about the sea, said she was unfazed by the pressures of working on the panel.

She faces months of additional work on reports related to the summary. After that, she said, she plans to take a little time off and, for the first time, really, enjoy the Rocky Mountains around her base in Boulder, Colo.

“I’m going to learn how to fish,” she said.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Praying at the Pump

NY Times



ONCE again, the price of oil is making Americans nervous. After falling by more than one-third since peaking above $75 per barrel last summer, the price has rebounded to $58 with the re-emergence of cold weather and news of a production cut by OPEC. As Congress and President Bush face off over energy policy, we should reaffirm a few basic principles. A very important one is that our most critical goal in enhancing our energy security is to maintain a stable price for oil.

When we talk about energy “dependence” or “security,” we really mean oil. We do not import coal or wind or the sun or geothermal steam, and we import only a tiny percentage of the natural gas we consume from anywhere other than Canada. Thus there is virtually no geopolitical risk in using any of these sources.

This is why energy policy statements frequently begin with the goal of “eliminating the import of Middle East oil.” Such aims presume that our insecurity derives from oil imports, and reflect our distaste of being beholden to autocratic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere that we perceive as sharing neither our interests nor our values. This presumption, however, is wrong.

Simply put, our oil addiction undermines our well-being because the volatility of oil prices threatens our economy. Because we spend so much on oil and there are no short-term substitutes, price spikes wreck household, business and government budgets alike. Our sense of insecurity is magnified because volatility is both unpredictable and generally beyond our control.

If we could predict future oil prices, we could plan for them. But few people can adjust their lifestyles to reduce their oil consumption significantly in response to price spikes. Likewise, businesses may be reluctant to invest in efficiency or alternative fuels because the higher oil prices that make such investments cost-effective could collapse virtually overnight.

It is important to remember that our insecurity is related to price volatility and not to the source of the oil. If OPEC members suspended exports but the price of oil mysteriously did not rise, we would not care about the interruption. It is only because a supply interruption always affects price that we care about oil’s uninterrupted flow.

Yes, the oil market does care where oil comes from, because the political and economic stability of the supplier informs the market about its reliability as a producer. And because there is a world market for oil, supply interruptions anywhere affect the price of oil everywhere. Even if we imported oil only from the most stable countries (or eliminated imports altogether), so long as unstable countries and regions supply the world market, we would be exposed to the risks of a volatile market. It is precisely the economic risk posed by price fluctuations that forces us to spend diplomatic and military capital in oil-producing regions.

This means that the percentage of oil we import is relatively unimportant. Even the use of alternative liquid fuel instead of oil-derived gasoline will not allow us to escape this volatility, because as direct substitutes for each other, gasoline and alternative fuels will be similarly priced, just as gasoline sold by different oil companies or at different gas stations is similarly priced today.

Accordingly, while the domestic production of oil or alternative liquid fuels may be critically important for other reasons — it can create jobs, stimulate development of new technology, reduce the trade deficit, protect our environment and lower the baseline price of oil — it won’t do much to end oil price fluctuations.

It’s true that we can help mitigate the effects of oil price volatility by increasing fuel economy standards on cars and trucks. In fact, the more efficient use we make of oil today as opposed to 25 years ago has certainly reduced some of the effects of recent price fluctuations. But tighter fuel standards cannot eliminate the effects of volatility, because new business and governmental budgets already assume increased efficiency; nor would they protect us from price spikes brought on by, say, a new military conflict in the Middle East.

The only way to truly address price instability is to find ways to, in a crisis, quickly and substantially increase fuel production, or to develop some means by which consumers could quickly switch from liquid transportation fuels to other fuels. Not only would it be remarkably difficult to develop these new abilities to such an extent that they could offset the effects of the largest foreseeable supply interruption, but achieving them might have an unexpectedly negative effect: undermining incentives to increase oil production and decrease demand.

In the short term, technology like plug-in hybrid cars could help with volatility, because it allows consumers to choose day to day whether to power their cars with oil or with the sources their utilities use. In the long term, however, if we cannot find a way to increase production and inoculate ourselves from oil-supply interruptions, we are either going to have to develop cars that need no oil, or learn to live with the risks of the global market.

When Americans fill up the tank, they do not care where their gasoline comes from — they just want a stable price. And the fact that we import so much oil does not, in itself, cause its price to fluctuate so wildly or promote inflation. There are many paths to take as we seek to improve our energy security, but all should be based on one principle: real security can come only through finding a way to keep prices stable.

Ronald E. Minsk, a lawyer who represents electric utilities, was a special assistant for economic policy to President Bill Clinton.

Bonneville Environmental Foundation: The Key to Climate Recovery

NOTE: The below was sent out by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Both papers referenced are well worth at least a cursory read.

Dear Friends:

Last week saw two major announcements regarding action on global warming.

One was the release of the latest assessment on climate change science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The New York Times described the IPCC report as "a bleak and powerful assessment of the future of the planet," with its conclusion that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main driver for the rise in global temperature since 1950. The principal human activity contributing to global warming is, of course, the extraction and use of fossil fuels, including coal, oil and natural gas.

The second announcement last week did not garner as much attention, but perhaps it should have. While many scientific organizations continue to focus on assessing the scope of the problems associated with global warming, others have moved on to focus on the solutions. One such example is the publication last week of a significant report by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), entitled Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.

The ASES report describes, in a highly engaging and readable form, the potential carbon emissions reductions from employing energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2030. The report includes separate sections on energy efficiency, including energy in building and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as well as sections on renewable energy options such as concentrating solar power, photovoltaics (PV), wind power, biomass energy, biofuels, and geothermal power.

Its conclusion? That energy efficiency and renewable energy together can provide the U.S. with its share of the 60 to 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions needed from industrial countries to limit the increase in temperature to 1 degree C (about 1.8 degrees F), and to reduce substantially the risk of unprecedented warming and disastrous consequences.

Global warming is only one the reasons to support the transition to a clean, renewable energy future – a compelling case can also be made on the basis of economic development, energy security, or other environmental benefits. But it's a good enough reason in its own right, and a reason to act sooner – that is to say, immediately – to enable a future that is more stable and secure, more affluent and egalitarian, more environmentally benign and healthier.

What are we waiting for?


The Bonneville Environmental Foundation

Take Action Now:

Read the IPCC summary report for policymakers:

Read the ASES report entitled Tackling Climate Change:

Find out what you can do to reduce your own carbon footprint:

For the Bonneville Environmental Foundation:
Michele Hirschhorn

About the Bonneville Environmental Foundation
The Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 1998 and was a pioneer in developing the market for renewable energy certificates, which it calls Green Tags. BEF reinvests all the net revenues from Green Tags sales in support of its mission, which funds solar power systems for schools and businesses, wind power systems for farms and ranches, and restoration efforts for salmon-bearing streams. Visit to learn what individuals, utilities, and businesses are doing to increase the use of wind and solar power in our nation's electricity grids.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Maine's established culture of opposition costs opportunities

Bangor Daily News - Op Ed
Sam Zaitlin

Last week, Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission made a decision that surprised a lot of folks. It voted 6-1 to reject its own staff recommendation to approve rezoning about 1,000 acres to build a 90-megawatt wind farm on two western Maine mountains. The vote was a major setback for those who believe the country must embark on a serious program of energy conservation while pursuing the development of indigenous, alternative fuels. Wind power is one of those alternatives, as is biomass.

Yet almost every one of these projects has run into a buzz saw of opposition from a variety of sources. It seems there isn't a project proposed in the state today - whether it's a residential subdivision, a group home, an energy or industrial facility, a bottled water plant, a development in the North Woods, or a piece of public infrastructure - that doesn't become the target of neighborhood protest or the focus of some group's latest fund raising campaign.

Here in Maine we have institutionalized a culture of opposition at the expense of creating a society of opportunity. We have reached a point where people believe they have a right to object to anything they don't like anywhere near them; and they've come to define "near" as including the whole state of Maine. But not everyone has the same responsibility to make this state work. By that I mean local organizing and vociferous opposition is not the same as developing public policies that generate the tax dollars necessary for us to provide the services a relatively poor state like Maine requires or to make our government and our communities function well.

In December 2005, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's newly created New England Public Policy Center held a conference on energy policy. Henry Lee, the director of the environment and natural resources program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, argued that public officials have given too much weight to local opposition and not enough to the regional and statewide benefits of new facilities. "This 'there should never be a loser' concept is not going to work if we are ever going to get these facilities sited," Lee said.

No, he wasn't being hard-hearted. He was being realistic. The stakes for America today are enormous, particularly so since Sept. 11. It is sheer insanity to continue funneling billions of dollars annually to some of the most repressive regimes in the world because we cannot - or will not - wean ourselves off our petroleum dependency.
That's one face of institutionalized opposition - on the energy front. There is another, and it can be seen in the marriage of ideology and money, especially over issues of development in Maine's North Woods and the role that fund raising - much of it from out-of-state donors - plays in shaping public policy in Maine.

I can recall few campaigns as vituperative as the one now being waged against Plum Creek's proposal for development in the Moosehead Lake area, a campaign replete with expensive television ads and sophisticated direct mail appeals.

It brings to mind a different environmental battle that took place 10 years ago. The issue was dioxin. The question turned on which control strategy for paper mill discharges into Maine's rivers was best for the environment: elemental chlorine-free or totally chlorine-free.

When it appeared that the Working Study Group, appointed by then-Gov. Angus King, was not going to endorse the TCF approach, six environmental groups quit the study group process entirely.

Their walkout led me to pen the following, which was part of a broader essay. I've replaced the word "dioxin" with "Plum Creek."
"Plum Creek has come to represent an ongoing battle for political relevance within the environmental movement and the public interest sector, and between different organizations within those spheres. It has become a poster child, an emotional issue around which membership drives focus and organizations prove their worth to staff and board while providing a vehicle for ongoing fund raising efforts. Of course, it is also about core beliefs. But now, 25 [actually 35] years after the birth of the environmental and public interest movements, they, too, in large measure, have become just like every other organization: budgets to meet, members to please, a board to keep satisfied. In short, a need to maintain their own institutional momentum just like everyone else.

"Except, the media and the public have accorded these groups a level of credibility that shields their actions from the same scrutiny given other players in the public policy arena. The assumption is made that they have no ax to grind, that they're neutral players acting in the public interest only. This fits neatly with a well-crafted image that since the groups have no visible economic gain they can't be operating with anything other than the purest of motives.

"The reality is far more complicated than that."

What was true 10 years ago is even truer today. Here in Maine we have institutionalized the role that opposition plays in the setting of public policy. Yet rarely do we seek to understand the organizational dynamics that underlie so much of this opposition.

There is the natural conservative nature of Mainers, which makes us suspicious of and resistant to change. There is also the role that newcomers play in seeking to maintain what they value now that they've moved here. And part of the tension is driven by the economic disparities that often exist between wealthier in-migrants and longtime residents.

When it comes to emotionally charged debates over how Maine's natural beauty and resources are to be developed, we should not be surprised that so much fund raising focuses on parts of the state where the actual development is not happening or in urban areas of the northeast where the pitch is all about saving a piece of wilderness in which the benefactor doesn't happen to live or need to make a living.

I raise these points not because I have the silver bullet that will solve Maine's myriad problems, but to stimulate a conversation about what is going on when opposition and not opportunity becomes the prevailing characteristic of our time.

Protecting a precious legacy is important. Being good environmental stewards is equally important. But when opposition shadows almost every form of development, something is seriously out of balance.

Sam Zaitlin of Saco is a public policy consultant and former chairman of Maine's Board of Environmental Protection. He also has served as chairman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and currently serves as a member of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Wind farm road plan criticized at meeting

Maine Today
February 2, 2007


FREEDOM -- The company that hopes to erect three wind turbines on Beaver Ridge worked on the cheap when it submitted its application to the Planning Board, according to attorney Ed Bearor.

"It's a mystery to me how a $10-$12 million project can be on such a skinflint budget when it comes to getting approval," said Bearor, who represents Steve Bennett and other property abutters opposed to the project, during Thursday's appeals board meeting.

The board, which is considering overturning the Planning Board's December decision to approve the project, was still meeting as of 8:30 p.m.

Portland-based Competitive Energy Services hopes to build the towers on property owned by Ron and Susan Price. Each turbine would rise nearly 400 feet at its tallest point.

Bennett argued in his letter of appeal that the planning board made its decision without sufficient evidence that the project would meet the town's standards in several areas, including noise and fire suppression.

Bearor spent part of Thursday's meeting hammering the planning board's decision to waive a storm water management plan required by the ordinance. The planning board required Competitive Energy to rebuild the road leading into the site according to "best management practices," but Bearor argued such a condition was insufficient.

"If there are provisions for storm water run off, it must be an issue," Bearor said. "There should be a storm water management plan."

The town discontinued maintenance on the road that will be used to deliver the turbines to Beaver Ridge in 1975. Since then the road has deteriorated to a point that only a four-wheel-drive vehicle can pass during certain times of the year, Bearor said. The road, which is currently about 12 feet across, would need to be widened to 16 feet.

"It's is not a road, by any stretch of the imagination, that will accommodate (the proposed use)," Bearor said.

Code enforcement officer Jay Guber said the state has set the standards for best management practices. Competitive Energy's building permit would be suspended if Guber determined the road's construction did not meet those standards.

"We don't believe you can do better than best management practices," said Richard Silkman of Competitive Energy. "If there's a practice that's better than best, we'll adhere to it."

Bearor, however, argued that Competitive Energy could not legally make the substantial improvement required for the road to handle the heavy turbine delivery because the town has discontinued maintenance.

Price, who has plowed the road in the winter and used it to access his fields, said he asked state officials what improvements he could make to make the road passable for his farm equipment.

"The response was I can do pretty much anything I want as long as I don't infringe on the property rights," Price said. "That's a public way."

Bearor argued the road must maintain its character. Competitive Energy can not rebuild the road into something it has never been.

"He doesn't have that right," Bearor said. "I hope this investment isn't based on that premise, because it simply isn't there."

The board is scheduled to meet again at 7 p.m. on Feb. 8 in the basement of the Freedom Congregationalist Church.