Thursday, August 30, 2007

Gasification plant opposition grows

Maine Today
Dennis Hoey
August 30, 2007

WISCASSET — Lobstermen in Westport worry that coal barges might damage their traps. Area environmentalists fear the ecological damage that might result from a proposed coal-to- gas plant. Others wonder about the effect on boaters.

They all also wonder how much influence they'll have in deciding whether the project moves forward, because few live in the town where the plant would be built.

"The effects from this power plant are going to be felt outside of Wiscasset," said former Portland radio personality Willy Ritch, who lives in Woolwich and has formed the Back River Alliance to voice concerns about the project.

"They claim the plant won't make noise and won't make pollution. We question that."

Opposition to a proposed energy plant seems to be growing, both in town and out. But opponents say they are at a disadvantage because many live outside Wiscasset and won't have a voice in the final decision.

The $1.5 billion proposal from Twin River Energy Center, which became public in July, has reached a possible turning point.

All the company needs before seeking state and federal permits is permission from Wiscasset voters — likely in November — to build a 230-foot-tall gasification plant. The plant would convert coal and wood biomass into a gas that would be burned to power a 700-megawatt generator. The process also would produce diesel fuel.

The plant would be the most expensive commercial construction project in state history.

Before it can move ahead, voters must approve a change to the town's zoning ordinance to allow the plant to exceed building- height restrictions. The present ordinance allows for 60-foot buildings, Town Planner Jeffrey Hinderliter said.

Opponents, though, want to educate the public about other aspects of the project, which they claim will place undue strain on local natural resources and will harm local fishermen.

"As soon as the town passes the zoning amendment, they lose control of their destiny," said Steve Hinchman, staff attorney for the Brunswick-based Conservation Law Foundation.

Hinchman contends that using coal to make diesel will more than double greenhouse gases. Water consumption (for cooling), water disposal, odor and noise are additional concerns.

When the plan was announced on July 18, Scott Houldin, project manager for Twin River Energy Center, focused on the environmental benefits of the process, which he said would produce low-cost electricity and low-emission diesel fuel.

"We are not burning coal, and we need to make that absolutely clear," Houldin said at the time.

The gasification plant would occupy a 50-acre parcel within what is now called the i.Park, an industrial park that was part of the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant property.

The land is owned by National RE/sources, a Greenwich, Conn.- based development company that is also developing a maritime village on the site of the former Mason Station power plant in Wiscasset.

Houldin said the plant and a proposed research-and- development center would generate 200 year-round jobs and provide about 78 percent of Wiscasset's total property tax base.

The windfall would help replace the property-tax revenues lost when Maine Yankee was decommissioned, according to town selectmen, who have given the project an initial nod.

The board will host a public hearing on Sept. 6 on the proposed zoning ordinance change, and a townwide secret ballot has been tentatively set for Election Day, Nov. 6.

"We are at a critical juncture," said Houldin.

Opponents such as Ritch agree that this is a critical time, but for different reasons.

Ritch, a sailor, said the plant will receive about 5,000 tons of coal daily, and pointed out that the Back River channel is narrow, making it a tight fit for barges, pleasure boats and lobster boats.

Ritch and others also question where the plant will get the 8.5 million gallons of water it will need each day for cooling.

Dave Bertan, a retired chemical engineer from Westport Island, worries about carbon emissions from the plant.

"The only control Wiscasset will have over this plant is the height of the building and stacks," he said.

Houldin said they cannot be any shorter than 165 feet.

Lobstermen who fish in the Back and Sheepscot rivers, meanwhile, say they are worried about the impact on their industry.

"There is nothing about this plant that I like," said Terry Ashton, who fishes for lobster out of Wiscasset on his father's boat, the Top-Notch.

Father and son set traps from Wiscasset Harbor all the way to Five Islands in Georgetown. Ashton said coal barges will damage lobster traps and wreak havoc with lobstermen.

"A coal barge would clean out everything and eat into our season," he said.

At the North End Co-op on Westport Island, manager Adam Webber, a Westport Island resident, said, "I don't know that anyone here is in favor of it. People are worried about the coal barges. No industry is good for the river."

Houldin said coal will arrive by barge and rail, and admits that more studies need to be done before a plan is put in place.

"I don't really have an answer for the fishermen until we do a (feasibilty) study, and that is going to take time and money," Houldin said.

John Reinhardt, a member of the town's Comprehensive Plan Committee, said guidelines call for light industry on the site, "not heavy industry that will be shooting a plume into the air."

Rienhardt, who owns a bed and breakfast in Wiscasset and is president of Stewards of the Sheepscot, worries that finances will drive the decision.

"There are people in this town who are going to vote for this because they view it as tax relief," he said.

Houldin said he is undaunted by opposition. The proposal is offering the town new jobs and tax revenues, and the region a way to reduce energy costs, he said.

"It is time for the town to tell us that they want us to move forward, because right now all this is, is an opportunity," Houldin said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be reached at 725-8795 or at

Global Warming is a Hoax - The Truth About Denial

By Sharon Begley

Aug. 13, 2007 issue - Sen. Barbara Boxer had been chair of the Senate's Environment Committee for less than a month when the verdict landed last February. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal," concluded a report by 600 scientists from governments, academia, green groups and businesses in 40 countries. Worse, there was now at least a 90 percent likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves, way up from earlier studies. Those who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change have spent decades disputing that. But Boxer figured that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered." As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. "I realized," says Boxer, "there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."

If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. Yes, 19 million people watched the "Live Earth" concerts last month, titans of corporate America are calling for laws mandating greenhouse cuts, "green" magazines fill newsstands, and the film based on Al Gore's best-selling book, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar. But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion.


Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. "They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry," says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. "Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That's had a huge impact on both the public and Congress."

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do." In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world's economies—are altering climate. A new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the influence of the denial machine remains strong. Although the figure is less than in earlier polls, 39 percent of those asked say there is "a lot of disagreement among climate scientists" on the basic question of whether the planet is warming; 42 percent say there is a lot of disagreement that human activities are a major cause of global warming. Only 46 percent say the greenhouse effect is being felt today.

As a result of the undermining of the science, all the recent talk about addressing climate change has produced little in the way of actual action. Yes, last September Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a landmark law committing California to reduce statewide emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent more by 2050. And this year both Minnesota and New Jersey passed laws requiring their states to reduce greenhouse emissions 80 percent below recent levels by 2050. In January, nine leading corporations—including Alcoa, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, Du Pont and General Electric—called on Congress to "enact strong national legislation" to reduce greenhouse gases. But although at least eight bills to require reductions in greenhouse gases have been introduced in Congress, their fate is decidedly murky. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives decided last week not even to bring to a vote a requirement that automakers improve vehicle mileage, an obvious step toward reducing greenhouse emissions. Nor has there been much public pressure to do so. Instead, every time the scientific case got stronger, "the American public yawned and bought bigger cars," Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey congressman and physicist, recently wrote in the journal Science; politicians "shrugged, said there is too much doubt among scientists, and did nothing."

It was 98 degrees in Washington on Thursday, June 23, 1988, and climate change was bursting into public consciousness. The Amazon was burning, wildfires raged in the United States, crops in the Midwest were scorched and it was shaping up to be the hottest year on record worldwide. A Senate committee, including Gore, had invited NASA climatologist James Hansen to testify about the greenhouse effect, and the members were not above a little stagecraft. The night before, staffers had opened windows in the hearing room. When Hansen began his testimony, the air conditioning was struggling, and sweat dotted his brow. It was the perfect image for the revelation to come. He was 99 percent sure, Hansen told the panel, that "the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now."

The reaction from industries most responsible for greenhouse emissions was immediate. "As soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change, the pushback began," says historian Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego. Individual companies and industry associations—representing petroleum, steel, autos and utilities, for instance—formed lobbying groups with names like the Global Climate Coalition and the Information Council on the Environment. ICE's game plan called for enlisting greenhouse doubters to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact," and to sow doubt about climate research just as cigarette makers had about smoking research. ICE ads asked, "If the earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis [or Kentucky, or some other site] getting colder?" This sounded what would become a recurring theme for naysayers: that global temperature data are flat-out wrong. For one thing, they argued, the data reflect urbanization (many temperature stations are in or near cities), not true global warming.

Shaping public opinion was only one goal of the industry groups, for soon after Hansen's sweat-drenched testimony they faced a more tangible threat: international proposals to address global warming. The United Nations had scheduled an "Earth Summit" for 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, and climate change was high on an agenda that included saving endangered species and rain forests. ICE and the Global Climate Coalition lobbied hard against a global treaty to curb greenhouse gases, and were joined by a central cog in the denial machine: the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think tank. Barely two months before Rio, it released a study concluding that models of the greenhouse effect had "substantially exaggerated its importance." The small amount of global warming that might be occurring, it argued, actually reflected a simple fact: the Sun is putting out more energy. The idea of a "variable Sun" has remained a constant in the naysayers' arsenal to this day, even though the tiny increase in solar output over recent decades falls far short of explaining the extent or details of the observed warming.

In what would become a key tactic of the denial machine—think tanks linking up with like-minded, contrarian researchers—the report was endorsed in a letter to President George H.W. Bush by MIT meteorologist Richard Lindzen. Lindzen, whose parents had fled Hitler's Germany, is described by old friends as the kind of man who, if you're in the minority, opts to be with you. "I thought it was important to make it clear that the science was at an early and primitive stage and that there was little basis for consensus and much reason for skepticism," he told Scientific American magazine. "I did feel a moral obligation."

Bush was torn. The head of his Environmental Protection Agency, William Reilly, supported binding cuts in greenhouse emissions. Political advisers insisted on nothing more than voluntary cuts. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, had a Ph.D. in engineering from MIT and "knew computers," recalls Reilly. Sununu frequently logged on to a computer model of climate, Reilly says, and "vigorously critiqued" its assumptions and projections.

Sununu's side won. The Rio treaty called for countries to voluntarily stabilize their greenhouse emissions by returning them to 1990 levels by 2000. (As it turned out, U.S. emissions in 2000 were 14 percent higher than in 1990.) Avoiding mandatory cuts was a huge victory for industry. But Rio was also a setback for climate contrarians, says UCSD's Oreskes: "It was one thing when Al Gore said there's global warming, but quite another when George Bush signed a convention saying so." And the doubters faced a newly powerful nemesis. Just months after he signed the Rio pact, Bush lost to Bill Clinton—whose vice president, Gore, had made climate change his signature issue.

Groups that opposed greenhouse curbs ramped up. They "settled on the 'science isn't there' argument because they didn't believe they'd be able to convince the public to do nothing if climate change were real," says David Goldston, who served as Republican chief of staff for the House of Representatives science committee until 2006. Industry found a friend in Patrick Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia who keeps a small farm where he raises prize-winning pumpkins and whose favorite weather, he once told a reporter, is "anything severe." Michaels had written several popular articles on climate change, including an op-ed in The Washington Post in 1989 warning of "apocalyptic environmentalism," which he called "the most popular new religion to come along since Marxism." The coal industry's Western Fuels Association paid Michaels to produce a newsletter called World Climate Report, which has regularly trashed mainstream climate science. (At a 1995 hearing in Minnesota on coal-fired power plants, Michaels admitted that he received more than $165,000 from industry; he now declines to comment on his industry funding, asking, "What is this, a hatchet job?")

The road from Rio led to an international meeting in Kyoto, Japan, where more than 100 nations would negotiate a treaty on making Rio's voluntary—and largely ignored—greenhouse curbs mandatory. The coal and oil industries, worried that Kyoto could lead to binding greenhouse cuts that would imperil their profits, ramped up their message that there was too much scientific uncertainty to justify any such cuts. There was just one little problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC—the international body that periodically assesses climate research—had just issued its second report, and the conclusion of its 2,500 scientists looked devastating for greenhouse doubters. Although both natural swings and changes in the Sun's output might be contributing to climate change, it concluded, "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on climate."

Faced with this emerging consensus, the denial machine hardly blinked. There is too much "scientific uncertainty" to justify curbs on greenhouse emissions, William O'Keefe, then a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute and leader of the Global Climate Coalition, suggested in 1996. Virginia's Michaels echoed that idea in a 1997 op-ed in The Washington Post, describing "a growing contingent of scientists who are increasingly unhappy with the glib forecasts of gloom and doom." To reinforce the appearance of uncertainty and disagreement, the denial machine churned out white papers and "studies" (not empirical research, but critiques of others' work). The Marshall Institute, for instance, issued reports by a Harvard University astrophysicist it supported pointing to satellite data showing "no significant warming" of the atmosphere, contrary to the surface warming. The predicted warming, she wrote, "simply isn't happening according to the satellite[s]." At the time, there was a legitimate case that satellites were more accurate than ground stations, which might be skewed by the unusual warmth of cities where many are sited.

"There was an extraordinary campaign by the denial machine to find and hire scientists to sow dissent and make it appear that the research community was deeply divided," says Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. Those recruits blitzed the media. Driven by notions of fairness and objectivity, the press "qualified every mention of human influence on climate change with 'some scientists believe,' where the reality is that the vast preponderance of scientific opinion accepts that human-caused [greenhouse] emissions are contributing to warming," says Reilly, the former EPA chief. "The pursuit of balance has not done justice" to the science. Talk radio goes further, with Rush Limbaugh telling listeners this year that "more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not likely to significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect. It's just all part of the hoax." In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, 42 percent said the press "exaggerates the threat of climate change."

Now naysayers tried a new tactic: lists and petitions meant to portray science as hopelessly divided. Just before Kyoto, S. Fred Singer released the "Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change." Singer, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as a boy, had run the U.S. weather-satellite program in the early 1960s. In the Leipzig petition, just over 100 scientists and others, including TV weathermen, said they "cannot subscribe to the politically inspired world view that envisages climate catastrophes." Unfortunately, few of the Leipzig signers actually did climate research; they just kibitzed about other people's. Scientific truth is not decided by majority vote, of course (ask Galileo), but the number of researchers whose empirical studies find that the world is warming and that human activity is partly responsible numbered in the thousands even then. The IPCC report issued this year, for instance, was written by more than 800 climate researchers and vetted by 2,500 scientists from 130 nations.

Although Clinton did not even try to get the Senate to ratify the Kyoto treaty (he knew a hopeless cause when he saw one), industry was taking no chances. In April 1998 a dozen people from the denial machine—including the Marshall Institute, Fred Singer's group and Exxon—met at the American Petroleum Institute's Washington headquarters. They proposed a $5 million campaign, according to a leaked eight-page memo, to convince the public that the science of global warming is riddled with controversy and uncertainty. The plan was to train up to 20 "respected climate scientists" on media—and public—outreach with the aim of "raising questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom' " and, in particular, "the Kyoto treaty's scientific underpinnings" so that elected officials "will seek to prevent progress toward implementation." The plan, once exposed in the press, "was never implemented as policy," says Marshall's William O'Keefe, who was then at API.

The GOP control of Congress for six of Clinton's eight years in office meant the denial machine had a receptive audience. Although Republicans such as Sens. John McCain, Jim Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee spurned the denial camp, and Democrats such as Congressman John Dingell adamantly oppose greenhouse curbs that might hurt the auto and other industries, for the most part climate change has been a bitterly partisan issue. Republicans have also received significantly more campaign cash from the energy and other industries that dispute climate science. Every proposed climate bill "ran into a buzz saw of denialism," says Manik Roy of the Pew Center on Climate Change, a research and advocacy group, who was a Senate staffer at the time. "There was no rational debate in Congress on climate change."

The reason for the inaction was clear. "The questioning of the science made it to the Hill through senators who parroted reports funded by the American Petroleum Institute and other advocacy groups whose entire purpose was to confuse people on the science of global warming," says Sen. John Kerry. "There would be ads challenging the science right around the time we were trying to pass legislation. It was pure, raw pressure combined with false facts." Nor were states stepping where Washington feared to tread. "I did a lot of testifying before state legislatures—in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Alaska—that thought about taking action," says Singer. "I said that the observed warming was and would be much, much less than climate models calculated, and therefore nothing to worry about."

But the science was shifting under the denial machine. In January 2000, the National Academy of Sciences skewered its strongest argument. Contrary to the claim that satellites finding no warming are right and ground stations showing warming are wrong, it turns out that the satellites are off. (Basically, engineers failed to properly correct for changes in their orbit.) The planet is indeed warming, and at a rate since 1980 much greater than in the past.

Just months after the Academy report, Singer told a Senate panel that "the Earth's atmosphere is not warming and fears about human-induced storms, sea-level rise and other disasters are misplaced." And as studies fingering humans as a cause of climate change piled up, he had a new argument: a cabal was silencing good scientists who disagreed with the "alarmist" reports. "Global warming has become an article of faith for many, with its own theology and orthodoxy," Singer wrote in The Washington Times. "Its believers are quite fearful of any scientific dissent."

With the Inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001, the denial machine expected to have friends in the White House. But despite Bush's oil-patch roots, naysayers weren't sure they could count on him: as a candidate, he had pledged to cap carbon dioxide emissions. Just weeks into his term, the Competitive Enterprise Institute heard rumors that the draft of a speech Bush was preparing included a passage reiterating that pledge. CEI's Myron Ebell called conservative pundit Robert Novak, who had booked Bush's EPA chief, Christie Todd Whitman, on CNN's "Crossfire." He asked her about the line, and within hours the possibility of a carbon cap was the talk of the Beltway. "We alerted anyone we thought could have influence and get the line, if it was in the speech, out," says CEI president Fred Smith, who counts this as another notch in CEI's belt. The White House declines to comment.

Bush not only disavowed his campaign pledge. In March, he withdrew from the Kyoto treaty. After the about-face, MIT's Lindzen told NEWSWEEK in 2001, he was summoned to the White House. He told Bush he'd done the right thing. Even if you accept the doomsday forecasts, Lindzen said, Kyoto would hardly touch the rise in temperatures. The treaty, he said, would "do nothing, at great expense."

Bush's reversal came just weeks after the IPCC released its third assessment of the burgeoning studies of climate change. Its conclusion: the 1990s were very likely the warmest decade on record, and recent climate change is partly "attributable to human activities." The weather itself seemed to be conspiring against the skeptics. The early years of the new millennium were setting heat records. The summer of 2003 was especially brutal, with a heat wave in Europe killing tens of thousands of people. Consultant Frank Luntz, who had been instrumental in the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, suggested a solution to the PR mess. In a memo to his GOP clients, he advised them that to deal with global warming, "you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue." They should "challenge the science," he wrote, by "recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view." Although few of the experts did empirical research of their own (MIT's Lindzen was an exception), the public didn't notice. To most civilians, a scientist is a scientist.

Challenging the science wasn't a hard sell on Capitol Hill. "In the House, the leadership generally viewed it as impermissible to go along with anything that would even imply that climate change was genuine," says Goldston, the former Republican staffer. "There was a belief on the part of many members that the science was fraudulent, even a Democratic fantasy. A lot of the information they got was from conservative think tanks and industry." When in 2003 the Senate called for a national strategy to cut greenhouse gases, for instance, climate naysayers were "giving briefings and talking to staff," says Goldston. "There was a constant flow of information—largely misinformation." Since the House version of that bill included no climate provisions, the two had to be reconciled. "The House leadership staff basically said, 'You know we're not going to accept this,' and [Senate staffers] said, 'Yeah, we know,' and the whole thing disappeared relatively jovially without much notice," says Goldston. "It was such a foregone conclusion."

Especially when the denial machine had a new friend in a powerful place. In 2003 James Inhofe of Oklahoma took over as chairman of the environment committee. That summer he took to the Senate floor and, in a two-hour speech, disputed the claim of scientific consensus on climate change. Despite the discovery that satellite data showing no warming were wrong, he argued that "satellites, widely considered the most accurate measure of global temperatures, have confirmed" the absence of atmospheric warming. Might global warming, he asked, be "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people?" Inhofe made his mark holding hearing after hearing to suggest that the answer is yes. For one, on a study finding a dramatic increase in global temperatures unprecedented in the last 1,000 years, he invited a scientist who challenged that conclusion (in a study partly underwritten with $53,000 from the American Petroleum Institute), one other doubter and the scientist who concluded that recent global temperatures were spiking. Just as Luntz had suggested, the witness table presented a tableau of scientific disagreement.

Every effort to pass climate legislation during the George W. Bush years was stopped in its tracks. When Senators McCain and Joe Lieberman were fishing for votes for their bipartisan effort in 2003, a staff member for Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska explained to her counterpart in Lieberman's office that Stevens "is aware there is warming in Alaska, but he's not sure how much it's caused by human activity or natural cycles," recalls Tim Profeta, now director of an environmental-policy institute at Duke University. "I was hearing the basic argument of the skeptics—a brilliant strategy to go after the science. And it was working." Stevens voted against the bill, which failed 43-55. When the bill came up again the next year, "we were contacted by a lot of lobbyists from API and Exxon-Mobil," says Mark Helmke, the climate aide to GOP Sen. Richard Lugar. "They'd bring up how the science wasn't certain, how there were a lot of skeptics out there." It went down to defeat again.

Killing bills in Congress was only one prong of the denial machine's campaign. It also had to keep public opinion from demanding action on greenhouse emissions, and that meant careful management of what federal scientists and officials wrote and said. "If they presented the science honestly, it would have brought public pressure for action," says Rick Piltz, who joined the federal Climate Science Program in 1995. By appointing former coal and oil lobbyists to key jobs overseeing climate policy, he found, the administration made sure that didn't happen. Following the playbook laid out at the 1998 meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, officials made sure that every report and speech cast climate science as dodgy, uncertain, controversial—and therefore no basis for making policy. Ex-oil lobbyist Philip Cooney, working for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, edited a 2002 report on climate science by sprinkling it with phrases such as "lack of understanding" and "considerable uncertainty." A short section on climate in another report was cut entirely. The White House "directed us to remove all mentions of it," says Piltz, who resigned in protest. An oil lobbyist faxed Cooney, "You are doing a great job."

The response to the international climate panel's latest report, in February, showed that greenhouse doubters have a lot of fight left in them. In addition to offering $10,000 to scientists willing to attack the report, which so angered Boxer, they are emphasizing a new theme. Even if the world is warming now, and even if that warming is due in part to the greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, there's nothing to worry about. As Lindzen wrote in a guest editorial in NEWSWEEK International in April, "There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe."

To some extent, greenhouse denial is now running on automatic pilot. "Some members of Congress have completely internalized this," says Pew's Roy, and therefore need no coaching from the think tanks and contrarian scientists who for 20 years kept them stoked with arguments. At a hearing last month on the Kyoto treaty, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher asked whether "changes in the Earth's temperature in the past—all of these glaciers moving back and forth—and the changes that we see now" might be "a natural occurrence." (Hundreds of studies have ruled that out.) "I think it's a bit grandiose for us to believe ... that [human activities are] going to change some major climate cycle that's going on." Inhofe has told allies he will filibuster any climate bill that mandates greenhouse cuts.

Still, like a great beast that has been wounded, the denial machine is not what it once was. In the NEWSWEEK Poll, 38 percent of those surveyed identified climate change as the nation's gravest environmental threat, three times the number in 2000. After ExxonMobil was chastised by senators for giving $19 million over the years to the Competitive Enterprise Institute and others who are "producing very questionable data" on climate change, as Sen. Jay Rockefeller said, the company has cut back its support for such groups. In June, a spokesman said ExxonMobil did not doubt the risks posed by climate change, telling reporters, "We're very much not a denier." In yet another shock, Bush announced at the weekend that he would convene a global-warming summit next month, with a 2008 goal of cutting greenhouse emissions. That astonished the remaining naysayers. "I just can't imagine the administration would look to mandatory [emissions caps] after what we had with Kyoto," said a GOP Senate staffer, who did not want to be named criticizing the president. "I mean, what a disaster!"

With its change of heart, ExxonMobil is more likely to win a place at the negotiating table as Congress debates climate legislation. That will be crucially important to industry especially in 2009, when naysayers may no longer be able to count on a friend in the White House nixing man-datory greenhouse curbs. All the Democratic presidential contenders have called global warming a real threat, and promise to push for cuts similar to those being passed by California and other states. In the GOP field, only McCain—long a leader on the issue—supports that policy. Fred Thompson belittles findings that human activities are changing the climate, and Rudy Giuliani backs the all-volunteer greenhouse curbs of (both) Presidents Bush.

Look for the next round of debate to center on what Americans are willing to pay and do to stave off the worst of global warming. So far the answer seems to be, not much. The NEWSWEEK Poll finds less than half in favor of requiring high-mileage cars or energy-efficient appliances and buildings. No amount of white papers, reports and studies is likely to change that. If anything can, it will be the climate itself. This summer, Texas was hit by exactly the kind of downpours and flooding expected in a greenhouse world, and Las Vegas and other cities broiled in record triple-digit temperatures. Just last week the most accurate study to date concluded that the length of heat waves in Europe has doubled, and their frequency nearly tripled, in the past century. The frequency of Atlantic hurricanes has already doubled in the last century. Snowpack whose water is crucial to both cities and farms is diminishing. It's enough to make you wish that climate change were a hoax, rather than the reality it is.

With Eve Conant, Sam Stein and Eleanor Clift in Washington and Matthew Philips in New York

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Go Green and Save Money

The concept Mr. Rogers is proposing is not all that novel. I watched a re-run of a story on "Race to Save the Planet" which highlighted the efforts of a mid-western utility to reduce energy demand. This utility (I forget the name) financed energy audits for the community it served. They then helped finance the necessary work to improve the efficiency of the community. After a couple of years, this community used 25% less energy than the U.S. national average. Not a bad start.

NY Times

By Thomas Friedman
August 22, 2007

Have your eyes recently popped out of your head when you opened your electric bill? Do you, like me, live in one of those states where electricity has been deregulated and the state no longer oversees the generation price so your utility rates have skyrocketed since 2002?

If so, you need to listen to a proposal being aired by Jim Rogers, the chairman and chief executive of Duke Energy, and recently filed with the North Carolina Utilities Commission. (Duke Energy is headquartered in Charlotte.) It’s called “save-a-watt,” and it aims to turn the electricity/utility industry upside down by rewarding utilities for the kilowatts they save customers by improving their energy efficiency rather than rewarding them for the kilowatts they sell customers by building more power plants.

Mr. Rogers’s proposal is based on three simple principles. The first is that the cheapest way to generate clean, emissions-free power is by improving energy efficiency. Or, as he puts it, “The most environmentally sound, inexpensive and reliable power plant is the one we don’t have to build because we’ve helped our customers save energy.”

Second, we need to make energy efficiency something that is as “back of mind” as energy usage. If energy efficiency depends on people remembering to do 20 things on a checklist, it’s not going to happen at scale.

Third, the only institutions that have the infrastructure, capital and customer base to empower lots of people to become energy efficient are the utilities, so they are the ones who need to be incentivized to make big investments in efficiency that can be accessed by every customer.

The only problem is that, historically, utilities made their money by making large-scale investments in new power plants, whether coal or gas or nuclear. As long as a utility could prove to its regulators that the demand for that new plant was there, the utility got to pass along the cost, and then some, to its customers. Mr. Rogers’s save-a-watt concept proposes to change all of that.

“The way it would work is that the utility would spend the money and take the risk to make its customers as energy efficient as possible,” he explained. That would include installing devices in your home that would allow the utility to adjust your air-conditioners or refrigerators at peak usage times. It would include plans to incentivize contractors to build more efficient homes with more efficient boilers, heaters, appliances and insulation. It could even include partnering with a factory to buy the most energy-efficient equipment or with a family to winterize their house.
“Energy efficiency is the ‘fifth fuel’ — after coal, gas, renewables and nuclear,” said Mr. Rogers. “Today, it is the lowest-cost alternative and is emissions-free. It should be our first choice in meeting our growing demand for electricity, as well as in solving the climate challenge.”

Because energy efficiency is, in effect, a resource, he added, in order for utilities to use more of it, “efficiency should be treated as a production cost in the regulatory arena.” The utility would earn its money on the basis of the actual watts it saves through efficiency innovations. (California’s “decoupling” systems goes partly in this direction.)

At the end of the year, an independent body would determine how many watts of energy the utility has saved over a predetermined baseline and the utility would then be compensated by its customers accordingly.

“Over time,” said Mr. Rogers, “the price of electricity per unit will go up, because there would be an incremental cost in adding efficiency equipment — although that cost would be less than the incremental cost of adding a new power plant. But your overall bills should go down, because your home will be more efficient and you will use less electricity.”

Once such a system is in place, Mr. Rogers added, “our engineers would wake up every day thinking about how to squeeze more productivity gains out of new technology for energy efficiency — rather than just how to build a bigger transmission or distribution network to meet the growing demands of customers.” (Why don’t we think about incentivizing U.S. automakers the same way — give them tax rebates for save-a-miles?)

That is how you produce a more efficient energy infrastructure at scale. “Universal access to electricity was a 20th century idea — now it has to be universal access to energy efficiency, which could make us the most energy productive country in the world,” he added.

Pulling all this off will be very complicated. But if Mr. Rogers and North Carolina can do it, it would be the mother of all energy paradigm shifts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New green products take cue from old days

Maine Today
August 10, 2007
Edward Murphy

Very few people actually want to harm the environment or contribute to global warming, but for many, it's hard to avoid because of the impact of the products they use every day.

F.W. Horch in Brunswick hopes to make it easier for people to lessen their impact on the planet by tapping into both their better nature and a desire to conserve what's in their wallets.

"With the environment, it seemed like there were a lot of things that people could do, if they had the right product in their hands," said Fred Horch, who opened F.W. Horch Sustainable Goods & Supplies slightly more than a year ago on Maine Street in Brunswick.

The store and its Web site stock everything from home composting kits to solar energy products. There are green cleaners, electricity-conserving light bulbs and Earth-friendly paints.

"Our stationery and office products allow you to conduct your personal and business affairs with style," Horch's Web site says, "without destroying the planet in the process."

Horch came to Maine from North Carolina with his family about five years ago to work for Maine Interfaith Power & Light, which provides electricity derived from renewable power sources. But he felt his efforts to improve the environment would have a greater reach if he focused on getting green products into the broader consumer product stream.

Initially, he bought into The Green Store, which also has a location in Belfast. He opened up a Green Store in Brunswick, but felt that including items such as vitamins and all-natural health and beauty products was a little too far afield from what he envisioned. Horch also felt the wider variety of products made staffing difficult, because it required people with expertise in subjects as diverse as solar power and nutritional supplements.

So Horch sold back his piece of The Green Store, moved, sharpened the focus and looked for a new name. He and a marketing firm went through about six dozen different alternatives that sought to convey what the store offered, but none of them felt right. Finally, they decided to call it F.W. Horch, figuring that they'll build a brand identity around the name, much as L.L. Bean means outdoor gear to consumers.

The company's logo has an old-fashioned look to it, and that jibes with Horch's belief that people would be more efficient if they thought more like their parents and grandparents.

"It's really going back to the old ways," he said, noting that those who grew up during the Great Depression developed a natural inclination to conserve. Many of the steps that people take to lessen their impact on the environment mimic that instinct, Horch said.

"They were efficient and did amazing things because they were forced to," he said of earlier generations that experienced hardship. "It costs you money to be inefficient."

Societal changes are aiding the store as well, Horch said.

Like many communities in Maine, Brunswick is trying to cut waste disposal costs by broadening recycling programs while also charging a per-bag fee for garbage. That's spurred interest in composting by residents who want to cut the amount of waste they produce and the cost of disposing of it, Horch said, and his store has kits and related products to help people turn their garbage into garden compost.

"It's easier in some ways than schlepping your stuff out to the curb every week," he said.

Stores such as F.W. Horch are filling an important niche, said Denis Bergeron, director of energy programs at the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

He noted that the PUC has been sponsoring rebate coupons on energy-efficient light bulbs as part of its effort to get those products to consumers and cut electricity use in the state. The bulbs are starting to gain traction, Bergeron said, and that's reflected in the growing availability of specialty low-energy models, such as floodlights, three-ways and bulbs that work with dimmers.

"The market demand actually causes the manufacturer to put more products in the field," he said, and some of that demand is built by people who shop at stores such as F.W. Horch. "Their consumers tend to be early adopters," he said, and stores like F.W. Horch "are the ones that are likely to be the first to bring in three-way lights or floodlights and the other stores tend to follow. The whole point is to transform the market. Do stores like this help? Absolutely."

Horch said he gets a lot of ideas for new products from both vendors and consumers, but he tries to go through a formal review before setting aside shelf space. He and his staff try out most of the products, Horch said, and that not only provides an assurance of a product's quality, it also means someone in the store has experience using it.

"I feel I can really focus on what's going to make the biggest difference," he said.

Horch said the store "barely missed" turning a profit after its first year of operation, which he considers "astounding."

"We're really looking forward to this next year," he said, during which he hopes to expand the store's visibility, in part by attending events such as the Common Ground Fair.

Beyond next year?

"I dream pretty big," Horch said. He noted that "green stores" have sprouted on the West Coast, but there's a lot of fertile ground in the East for a chain or franchises, but all that's down the road a bit. For now, he's interested in drawing more people to his Brunswick store, where, on a recent day, "We had four Priuses in front of the door."

"It's a really fun store to have," Horch said. "I don't think we'll ever make a ton of money, but people come in the store and say, 'Thank you for having this store,' and that makes it worth it."

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Daily Show on Cape Wind

The below says it all.

Information pertaining to the Cape Wind project can be found on their web site


Russians Plant Flag on the Arctic Seabed

Now this is going to get interesting.

NY Times

Correction Appended

MOSCOW, Aug. 2 — A Russian expedition descended in a pair of submersible vessels more than two miles under the ice cap on Thursday and deposited a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole. The dive was a symbolic move to enhance the government’s disputed claim to nearly half of the floor of the Arctic Ocean and potential oil or other resources there.

The expedition, covered intensely by Russian news organizations and state-controlled television, mixed high-seas adventure with the long Russian tradition of polar exploration. But it was also an openly choreographed publicity stunt.

Inside the first of the mini-submarines to reach the sea floor were two members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament. One of them, Artur N. Chilingarov, led the expedition to seek evidence reinforcing Russia’s claim over the largely uncharted domain. That claim, which has no current legal standing, rests on a Russian assertion that the seabed under the pole, called the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and thus Russian territory.

At least one country with a stake in the issue registered its immediate disapproval of the expedition. “This isn’t the 15th century,” Peter MacKay, Canada’s foreign minister, said on CTV television. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say, ‘We’re claiming this territory.’ ”

Russia submitted its claim in 2001 to an international commission, which has ruled that the available data is not sufficient to support it. But Russia has pressed on.

“We must determine the border, the most northerly of the Russian shelf,” Mr. Chilingarov said on national television before the dive, which was billed as the first of its sort — a descent into the inky darkness far beneath a large window cut into the ice sheet by a nuclear-powered ice breaker.

After resurfacing more than eight hours later, Mr. Chilingarov spoke as if he had been the first to the moon. “If a hundred or a thousand years from now someone goes down to where we were, they will see the Russian flag,” he said. The flag is reproduced in titanium. He later added, “Our task is to remind the world that Russia is a great Arctic and scientific power.”

The day’s events underscored both Russia’s restored sense of confidence and the international competition for access, influence and extraction rights in the far north, which has intensified as oil and gas prices have surged and as trends in global warming have encouraged speculation that the region could become more navigable.

President Vladimir V. Putin called the members of the expedition to thank them personally, an unmistakable sign of the significance of the claim to the Kremlin, which has reestablished itself as a world power in recent years in part through its control of its oil, gas, minerals and other commodities.

Eight countries — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Iceland and Finland and the United States — have Arctic Ocean coastlines and, under international convention, have rights to economic zones within 200 miles of their shores. Denmark has sent its own scientific expeditions to study the opposite end of the ocean-spanning ridge and to seek proof that it is torn from the continental shelf north of Greenland, which is a Danish territory.

Several other countries seek to extend their influence in the circle, seeing the mostly unpopulated region’s potential for providing a hydrocarbon and mineral rush. The ultimate demarcation, if geologists’ estimates of its deposits prove true, could be a key to future national wealth and power.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, speaking from the Philippines, ignored criticism, saying that Russia’s claims were sound and in time could be established as fact.

“The goal of this expedition is not to stake out Russia’s rights, but to prove that our shelf stretches up to the North Pole,” he said on Radio Mayak. “There are concrete scientific methods for this.”

The expedition mixed public and private financing, much of which Mr. Chilingarov raised. Any new evidence it collected for the Russian government would eventually have to be submitted to a commission on continental shelf borders, which is elected by members of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Russia has a long tradition of northern exploration and extraction, and since early Soviet times the Kremlin has had research stations on the Arctic ice. Stalin first dispatched a team in 1937, at the height of the Great Terror.

Whatever the merits of any future submission, Russian scientists marveled at the expedition on Thursday, which involved two small submarines, known as the Mir-1 and Mir-2, descending from a drifting, shifting ice pack to the sea floor more than 14,000 feet beneath the surface.

The pair spent about an hour on the sea floor and left behind the reproduction of the Russian tricolor flag at 1:36 p.m., Moscow time, according to Russia’s official news agency.

Then they ascended, which the scientists said was the most difficult task, because they had to find their way back to the hole on the surface. The submarines are too small to break through the ice on their own, and errant navigation could have left them trapped beneath the cap.

Once news reached Moscow that the journey had succeeded, scientists spoke with evident pride. “We can say that is a great technical and technological achievement,” said Leopold I. Lobkovsky, deputy director of geological studies at the P. P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology here, which provided a research vessel for the expedition.

Another scientist, Ivan Y. Frolov, director of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg, cautioned that whatever the brief dive had found, it would do little to settle disputes about future demarcation. But he noted certain values in the event, which was one element in the annual summer expedition to study climate, the sea and the ice.

“I doubt that this one submersion will make a breakthrough in the problem that is being discussed in the media,” he said. “It was a good chance to demonstrate the capabilities of this equipment and the depths that can be reached, and to demonstrate the courage of Mr. Chilingarov, which is great.”

Andrew C. Revkin contributed reporting from New York.

Correction: August 9, 2007

An article on Friday about a Russian expedition that deposited a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole included an incomplete list of countries with Arctic Circle territory. The list includes Sweden, Iceland and Finland, in addition to the five named in the article — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.

Energy Bill Adopted by House Requires Utilities to Use Renewable Power Sources

NY Times

Correction Appended

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 — The House passed a wide-ranging energy bill on Saturday that will require most utilities to produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill because it does nothing to encourage increased domestic production of oil and gas.

“It’s a big, big deal,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a longtime member of the energy committee. “There has been no legislation like this for a generation.”

The energy measure passed by a vote of 241-172, with 26 Republicans voting in favor and 9 Democrats opposed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had made the bill one of her top legislative priorities for her first year as leader of the House Democrats.

The bill allots money for the development of alternative fuels and for increased efficiency of appliances and buildings. It is also meant to spur research on methods to capture the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are largely responsible for global warming.

The House also passed a bill to repeal roughly $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry enacted in 2005. Some of the money would be used to pay for the research grants and renewable-fuel projects in the energy bill.

The utilities provision, or the so-called renewable electricity standard amendment, was among the most contested measures in the energy bill. Sponsored by Representative Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, and several others, it will force utilities to make a significant share of their electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, water and other nonfossil fuel sources, although they can meet part of the requirement through conservation measures.

The standard applies only to investor-owned utilities and exempts rural electric cooperatives, municipal utilities, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the state of Hawaii from the mandate.

“I think this was a great victory for the planet,” Mr. Udall said. He noted that more than 30 Republicans had voted for the amendment and predicted that it would be part of any energy bill that reaches the president’s desk later this year.

Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, called the House vote “very disappointing” and said it would bring big rate increases to electricity customers. Mr. Kuhn noted that the Senate had failed to pass a similar provision and that its fate in a House-Senate conference committee this fall was uncertain.

The 786-page House energy bill does not include an increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks that supporters called the single most effective way of cutting oil consumption and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Sponsors vowed to bring it up again when Congress reconvenes in September.

The Senate passed energy legislation in June with numerous differences from the House package. The Senate version requires that cars and light trucks sold in the United States achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Democrats said if the bill that emerged from conference contained both the renewable electricity standard and the mandate for higher corporate average fuel economy, it would be the most significant energy legislation ever enacted.

The bill the House passed on Saturday sets new requirements for energy efficiency in appliances and government buildings. It also contains billions of dollars in incentives for production of alternative fuels, new research on capturing carbon emissions from refineries and coal-burning power plants and training for workers in the “green” industries of the future.

One of the bill’s goals is that the federal government, the world’s largest single energy consumer, be “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning that all federal operations, including the Pentagon, would not produce a net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The bill does not specify how the government is to achieve this.

Even if the major provisions of the House bill are enacted into law, consumers will experience few short-term effects, either in higher utility bills, more choices of fuel at the filling station or different vehicles on sale at their local car dealership. Those are longer-term goals.

But Americans will soon light their houses differently. The bill outlaws the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs by 2012 and requires that all bulbs be three times more efficient than today’s ordinary bulbs by 2020.

The White House expressed its opposition to the Democratic energy bills, saying they did not meet their stated goals of reducing oil imports, strengthening national security, lowering energy prices and beginning to address global warming. The White House also said the tax bill unfairly singled out the oil industry.

Republican opponents of the measure echoed the White House position, saying that the package provided no new supplies of energy, would drive up fuel prices and provide billions in what they called “green pork” to support Democrats’ pet environmental projects.

“It tells us to turn the lights out, that’s what this bill does,” said Representative Don Young, Republican of Alaska. “There is no energy in this bill at all.”

Representative Joe L. Barton, who led the Republican opposition to the package on the House floor on Saturday, said the hours spent debating the bills had been wasted.

“This is really an exercise in sterile futility,” Mr. Barton said, referring to the president’s veto threat, “because this bill isn’t going anywhere.”

Rancor from the partisan feuding of the week continued to resonate Saturday as Republicans sought a vote criticizing Democrats for deleting some remarks from The Congressional Record. The move was blocked by Democrats, leading Republicans to cry “cover-up” on the House floor.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

Correction: August 10, 2007

An article on Sunday about energy legislation approved by the House of Representatives incorrectly described a provision involving light bulbs. The measure requires that by the year 2020 all bulbs be three times more efficient than current ordinary bulbs; it does not require them to be 300 times more efficient.

Cooking Up More Uses for the Leftovers of Biofuel Production

NY Times
August 8, 2007


The baking tins and muffin cups lining the countertops in a corner of Ronald Holser’s cluttered laboratory were filled with curious substances resembling angel food cakes and loaves of bread.

But Mr. Holser did not advise eating them. The concoctions were prototypes for biodegradable weed barriers and sticky films intended to hold grass seeds on the ground long enough to germinate.

If Mr. Holser, a research chemist, and his colleague Steven F. Vaughn, a plant physiologist, are successful, they will have found more than ecologically friendly ways to fight weeds and grow grass.

They will have found innovative uses for a byproduct of the production of biodiesel fuel, glycerol. This, in turn, could help transform the biodiesel industry into something that more closely resembles the petroleum industry, where fuel is just one of many profitable products.

“Just like petroleum refineries make more than one product that are the feedstock for other industries, the same will have to be true for biofuels,” said Kenneth F. Reardon, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “Biorefining is what the vision has to look like in the end.”

Glycerol is used in a variety of products, including foods, soap and dynamite. But as biodiesel fuel production in the United States has risen, the market for glycerol has become saturated.

If scientists like Mr. Holser, who works at the United States Department of Agriculture’s research center in Athens, Ga., and Mr. Vaughn, who works at the department’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., can expand the number of valuable uses for the syrupy liquid, biodiesel makers could sell their glycerol instead of paying someone to haul it away.

“Every week I get at least one or two calls from biodiesel producers who have all this glycerol and don’t know what to do with it,” Mr. Holser said.

Glycerol, also called glycerin, is not the only byproduct of biofuel production that is the subject of experiments. Scientists are also looking at profiting from the leftovers from the production of corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, made from materials like switch grass, corn husks and prairie grass. Around the country, scientists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are becoming increasingly interested in making more than fuel out of the raw materials for biodiesel fuel and ethanol.

“The opportunity, as we think about increasing our consumption of biologically derived fuels, is to consider what besides fuels can we make,” said Erik Straser, general partner of MDV Mohr Davidow Ventures, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, Calif.

Some researchers, like Mr. Holser, are simply trying to find new uses for the regular byproducts of biofuels: distillers’ dry grain from corn ethanol and lignin from cellulosic ethanol.

Other researchers are trying to develop technologies and processes that could yield different, more valuable byproducts. And still others are placing their bets on “biorefineries.”

In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, not far from the Coors brewery in Golden, Colo., PureVision Technology is making lignin. A natural compound that helps provide strength and rigidity in plants, lignin makes up 15 to 25 percent of most plants.

Most plans for cellulosic ethanol processing call for burning the lignin to generate steam and heat to run the process. As a fuel, lignin is worth around $40 a ton.

PureVision has devised a way to make a different form of lignin — one with a molecular composition that could make it an attractive material for a variety of industrial products like glues, sealants and detergents.

Ed Lehrburger, PureVision’s founder and chief executive, said he thought his lignin could sell for $300 a ton or more. Mr. Lehrburger said his company was collaborating with a wood and paper products manufacturer that is interested in using the lignin for a biobased glue for its laminates, plywoods and other products.

“Lignin is going to be one of the big drivers of the switch from oil-based to biobased products,” Mr. Lehrburger predicted.

In Ames, Iowa, Victor Lin has created a technology that changes the production process for biodiesel. Among other attributes, Mr. Lin’s invention yields a higher quality form of glycerol, which could be more easily converted into useful industrial materials. A chemistry professor and the associate director of the Center for Catalysis at Iowa State University, Mr. Lin is also the founder of a company, Catilin, which is backed by an initial $3 million in venture financing from MDV.

The production of biodiesel fuel requires a catalyst. Mr. Lin created a catalyst that is safer and easier to use than the one commonly used now, reducing the cost of producing biodiesel and its impact on the environment (requiring less water, for instance).

Dr. Lin and his colleagues are trying to turn the resulting glycerol into a substance called 1,3 propanediol, or PDO, the base material for a substance used in upholstery, carpets, clothing and other applications. DuPont uses PDO to make its Sorona line of fabrics.

“For every gallon of biodiesel you make, you make a pound of glycerol,” said George Kraus, a professor of chemistry at Iowa State, where he is director of the Center for Catalysis and a collaborator of Mr. Lin. “A lot of people have been contacting us about burning it, and we say there have to be better uses.”

The price of glycerol, now 20 to 50 cents a pound, could drop as low as 5 cents a pound as biodiesel production increases.

Mr. Kraus said the higher quality glycerol made with the new process could command a much higher price. “What we see,” he said, “is an opportunity to make something that might cost 80 cents a pound.”

In another lab at Iowa State, Robert C. Brown is using distillers’ dry grain —a main byproduct of corn ethanol that is largely sold as animal feed — to produce hydrogen and a compound called PHA. Mr. Brown hopes his version of PHA, which is biodegradable, could be used for surgical gowns and gloves that must now be disposed of as medical waste.

“Critics of corn ethanol like to say the process isn’t very efficient,” Mr. Brown said. “Part of that is because your products aren’t just fuel.” Finding other high-value applications, he added, lets producers “justly say, this is not a waste stream; it adds to the profitability of the plant.“

Back in Peoria, Mr. Vaughn is also looking at making products from distillers’ dry grain, including another biofuel. The grain is more than 10 percent oil, and one ton of it can yield 30 gallons of biodiesel.

Interest in the biorefinery model is not limited to research scientists and start-up companies. Archer Daniels Midland is expanding some of its wet mill plants, which already churn out ethanol and a variety of other corn-based materials like high-fructose corn syrup, amino acids and sorbitol, to make industrial products. It has begun making propylene glycol, a widely used compound, from glycerol.

“As petroleum prices increase and we try to become more independent with regard to energy and petroleum in general,” said Mark Matlock, senior vice president for research at the company, which is based in Decatur, Ill., “there are other opportunities that come up for industrial chemicals as well as fuels.”

But despite the many uses for byproducts, the biorefinery model is more difficult than it may seem. “The dream is the multiproduct biorefinery,” said Jim McMillan, manager of biorefining process research and development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. “The challenge is that the market for the fuels is like two orders of magnitude bigger than for even a fairly big chemical” that could be produced alongside the fuel.

Analysts See ‘Simply Incredible’ Shrinking of Floating Ice in the Arctic

An example of feedback loops in action. This sort of changes are akin to the canary in the coal mine.

NY Times
August 10, 2007


The area of floating ice in the Arctic has shrunk more this summer than in any other summer since satellite tracking began in 1979, and it has reached that record point a month before the annual ice pullback typically peaks, experts said yesterday.

The cause is probably a mix of natural fluctuations, like unusually sunny conditions in June and July, and long-term warming from heat-trapping greenhouse gases and sooty particles accumulating in the air, according to several scientists.

William L. Chapman, who monitors the region at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and posted a Web report on the ice retreat yesterday, said that only an abrupt change in conditions could prevent far more melting before the 24-hour sun of the boreal summer set in September. “The melting rate during June and July this year was simply incredible,” Mr. Chapman said. “And then you’ve got this exposed black ocean soaking up sunlight and you wonder what, if anything, could cause it to reverse course.”

Mark Serreze, a sea-ice expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said his center’s estimates differed somewhat from those of the Illinois team, and by the ice center’s reckoning the retreat had not surpassed the satellite-era record set in 2005. But it was close even by the center’s calculations, he said, adding that it is almost certain that by September, there will be more open water in the Arctic than has been seen for a long time. Ice experts at NASA and the University of Washington echoed his assessment.

Dr. Serreze said that a high-pressure system parked over the Arctic appeared to have caused a “triple whammy” — keeping away clouds, causing winds to carry warm air north and pushing sea ice away from Siberia, exposing huge areas of open water.

The progressive summertime opening of the Arctic has intensified a longstanding international tug of war over shipping routes and possible oil and gas deposits beneath the Arctic Ocean seabed.

Last week, Russians planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole. On Wednesday, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, began a tour of Canada’s Arctic holdings, pledging “to vigorously protect our Arctic sovereignty as international interest in the region increases.”
An example of feedback loops in action. This sort of changes are akin to the canary in the coal mine.

NY Times
August 10, 2007


The area of floating ice in the Arctic has shrunk more this summer than in any other summer since satellite tracking began in 1979, and it has reached that record point a month before the annual ice pullback typically peaks, experts said yesterday.

The cause is probably a mix of natural fluctuations, like unusually sunny conditions in June and July, and long-term warming from heat-trapping greenhouse gases and sooty particles accumulating in the air, according to several scientists.

William L. Chapman, who monitors the region at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and posted a Web report on the ice retreat yesterday, said that only an abrupt change in conditions could prevent far more melting before the 24-hour sun of the boreal summer set in September. “The melting rate during June and July this year was simply incredible,” Mr. Chapman said. “And then you’ve got this exposed black ocean soaking up sunlight and you wonder what, if anything, could cause it to reverse course.”

Mark Serreze, a sea-ice expert at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., said his center’s estimates differed somewhat from those of the Illinois team, and by the ice center’s reckoning the retreat had not surpassed the satellite-era record set in 2005. But it was close even by the center’s calculations, he said, adding that it is almost certain that by September, there will be more open water in the Arctic than has been seen for a long time. Ice experts at NASA and the University of Washington echoed his assessment.

Dr. Serreze said that a high-pressure system parked over the Arctic appeared to have caused a “triple whammy” — keeping away clouds, causing winds to carry warm air north and pushing sea ice away from Siberia, exposing huge areas of open water.

The progressive summertime opening of the Arctic has intensified a longstanding international tug of war over shipping routes and possible oil and gas deposits beneath the Arctic Ocean seabed.

Last week, Russians planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole. On Wednesday, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, began a tour of Canada’s Arctic holdings, pledging “to vigorously protect our Arctic sovereignty as international interest in the region increases.”

It Takes Deep Pockets to Fight Global Warming

The below is interesting, but climate change is but one piece of the puzzle. Our carbon-based lifestyle has significant impacts on our health due to ozone and other airborne particulate pollution. We also can not continue to import energy from other countries, many of whom hate us. These imports effect our national security and put our financial markets at risk.

NY Times
August 12, 2007


GLOBAL warming is by nature a big-enough problem to create the kind of necessity that could be mother, father and midwife to invention. And plenty of big ideas are out there to address it, some that may even lead to substantial enterprises much as our military needs have.

But the ideas being backed in the United States are things like biofuels and carbon-emissions trading. These are good approaches, but they may not hold much potential for actually staving off climate change. James E. Lovelock, a British scientist whose 2006 book, “The Revenge of Gaia,” argued that most of humankind is doomed, does not think much of renewable energy.

At a panel on climate change at the University of Cambridge this summer, Mr. Lovelock was asked what would be the most effective action people could take. Because humans and their pets and livestock produce about a quarter of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he said, “just stop breathing.”

Now there’s a fine idea.

But even a gloom-and-doomer like Mr. Lovelock thinks that all is not lost. He supports replacing coal-powered utilities with nuclear power, but he also extols largely untested processes, like shooting particles into the atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays. He also endorses sucking carbon dioxide out of the sky and burying it, a process known as carbon sequestration.

These are big ideas, and all of them aim directly at global warming, but they are too costly for individual inventors or even companies to pursue.

Howard J. Herzog at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a proponent of carbon sequestration, which you might call creating carbon landfills. The basic technologies are already used in the energy business. For example, oil companies pump carbon dioxide into old fields to force out more oil.

But we don’t know if it can be done on a scale that will let us keep up with the growth in coal-fired power plants, for instance, or if the carbon dioxide will stay put. To find out, Mr. Herzog estimates that it will take $1 billion a year over the next 8 to 10 years to build a large test project.

The trouble is that of about $2 billion the Department of Energy is spending on research into things like cleaner-burning coal, only about $100 million is available for carbon landfill research.

“I do find it somewhat surprising how little funding sequestration has received,” David M. Reiner, a lecturer on technology policy at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, wrote in an e-mail message.

He noted that the technology has bipartisan support in Congress, and could meet multiple needs. It could help alleviate the rapid growth in emissions of carbon dioxide resulting from huge expansion of coal-driven power plants in China and India, and could help the coal industry survive in a world that wants to be carbon-free.

If creating carbon landfills is a relative slam dunk but is underfinanced, it is little wonder that more exotic ideas get even less money.

For instance, how about capturing solar power in space and using satellite-based lasers or microwaves to zip it back to earth? Martin I. Hoffert, an emeritus professor of physics at New York University, estimates that it would take $5 billion to build a plant that would generate enough power for a small city.

J. Roger P. Angel, a physicist at the University of Arizona, has proposed using millions of small spacecraft to create a solar sunshade that would deflect about 10 percent of the sun’s light from the earth. It would take 25 years and several trillion dollars to build.

Then there’s the idea of geoengineering, which involves shooting particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space, creating what is called the parasol effect. This has a number of proponents, partly because it appears to work: every time a major volcano erupts, producing a similar effect, temperatures decline over large regions.

But John Latham, a senior research associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that there was simply no money for geoengineering, possibly because there’s a certain counterintuitiveness to shooting particles into the atmosphere.

Robert M. Metcalfe, the co-inventor of the Ethernet and now a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners, is surprised that the parasol effect is not getting serious research dollars, because it looks like the simplest and easiest way to deal with global warming. For one, it doesn’t rely on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

But he called it unfundable; it’s barely past the idea phase, and venture capitalists invest in projects that will be commercially viable in three to five years.

“To pursue it is to be seen as a nut,” Mr. Metcalfe said.

It would probably cost a billion dollars to research, and venture capitalists can’t bet that much money on a single project. Nor can commercial companies or public utilities put that sort of money into something that is way more research than development.

THAT leaves the federal government, which spent $137 billion on research and development in fiscal 2007. Federal money was a prime source for the research that led to the Internet. But even that bumped along for more than 20 years before it became broadly interesting to commercial investors. And the government does not often put a billion dollars into a specific project, let alone four or five of them. So don’t go dashing off to form CarbonCapture Inc. or SunShade Spacecraft Ltd. just yet.

But Mr. Reiner at Cambridge expects that climate change will eventually become a research priority, much as the Strategic Defense Initiative, the space program and the Manhattan Project did. The problem won’t go away. Neither will the ideas.

Michael Fitzgerald is a Boston-area writer on business, technology and culture. E-mail:

Beach Closings and Advisories

Proof that many the gray water/sewage systems of many cities are woefully inadequate.

NY Times
August 8, 2007

The number of United States beaches declared unsafe for swimming reached a record last year, with more than 25,000 cases where shorelines were closed or health advisories issued, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported, using data from the Environmental Protection Agency. The group said the likely culprit was sewage and contaminated runoff from water treatment systems. “Aging and poorly designed sewage and storm water systems hold much of the blame for beach water pollution,” it said. The number of no-swim days at 3,500 beaches along the oceans, bays and Great Lakes doubled from 2005. The report is online at

Aid to Help Asia and Africa With Effects of Warming

NY Times
August 9, 2007


The Rockefeller Foundation says it will invest $70 million over the next five years to help Asian cities and African farmers withstand floods, droughts and other global warming hazards.

Foundation officials say the help will be needed no matter what is done to limit greenhouse gas emissions, because the world faces decades of rising temperatures and sea levels as a result of a century-long buildup of gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Poorer communities, lacking the money or technology to deal with a ruined harvest or an eroding coastline, face outsize threats.

Environmental and philanthropic groups have focused on limiting greenhouse gases. But Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said in an interview that helping vulnerable populations adapt to a changing climate must be a high priority.

“Emissions mitigation is fantastically important, but that is about changing behavior relative to future climate change,” Ms. Rodin said. “In the meantime, data and almost daily news reports show climate change is already happening.”

Ms. Rodin said the foundation would develop adaptation strategies that governments as well as international institutions, including the World Bank, could use. The bank has been working on making its third world development projects “climateproof,” so they can withstand the effects of global warming. That initiative, involving efforts like new highways and agricultural programs, could cost tens of billions of dollars.

Bank officials welcomed descriptions of the Rockefeller plan, which is being publicly announced today.

“The poor in developing countries will be hit the hardest by climate change,” said Katherine Sierra, vice president for sustainable development at the bank. “For them, any contribution from any sector to help their economies and societies adapt should be encouraged. So we particularly welcome the Rockefeller Foundation’s initiative.”

Other foundations have started concentrating on the need to limit vulnerability to climate change.

Andrew J. Bowman, director of a $100 million climate program announced last month by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, said about a quarter of that amount would go toward adaptation projects, mainly aimed at preserving wildlife habitat in a shifting climate.

The Rockefeller project, the Climate Change Resilience Initiative, will focus almost entirely on limiting risks to human populations, Ms. Rodin said.

Maria Blair, an associate vice president at the foundation, said a major goal would be to help Asian cities like Mumbai and Bangkok that are prone to flooding. The program will help such cities assess threats and devise tools to cut risks, including land-use plans, building codes and catastrophe insurance, she said.

The foundation says it will help African farmers who face severe hazards from drought along with a host of other problems, find ways to improve yields.

The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that changes in rainfall and temperatures could deplete farm yields in some African countries 50 percent by 2020.

When It Rains, Sewage Often Pours Into Harbor

The below describes a problem which plagues a substantial number of cities around the U.S. The cost to modify the design of these systems needed to prevent the backwashing of the raw sewage into waterways is prohibitively expensive for most cities. And if you think this problem is restricted to big cities such as New York City or Seattle, think again. Even Burlington, Vermont dumps sewage into Lake Champlain whenever there are extremely heavy rains.

NY Times
August 11, 2007

Besides flooding subways, the wild downpour this week provided a disconcerting glimpse into one of New York’s dirtiest environmental secrets: heavy rain regularly overwhelms the city’s vast sewage system and pushes polluted water into places it is not supposed to go.

New York has a storm water drainage system that was linked many years ago to the same pipes that carry wastes from homes and businesses. That, combined with the ever-expanding layer of asphalt and concrete that keeps rain from soaking into the ground, means that whenever it storms, some of the storm water and sewage in the 6,000 miles of sewer pipe in the city start to back up.

When that happens, millions of gallons of rainwater mixed with raw sewage are routed away from the city’s 14 sewage plants and toward a web of underground pipes that empty directly into the East River, the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

The backups could also prevent water from being drained from subway tunnels.

These events — called combined sewer overflows — have been recognized as a major environmental problem for decades. The city has been dealing with the issue in response to orders from the state and the federal government, but still has a long way to go.

This week’s subway snarl-up may increase the pressure for something more to be done.

A special task force will try to sort out exactly what happened in the subways and why. But when he was trying to explain why the transit system shut down Wednesday morning, Elliot G. Sander, the chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, laid some of the blame on the city’s overloaded sewer system.

About half of the city’s subway stations have their storm water runoffs hooked up to the municipal system, environmental officials said. The other half use their own drains.

Mr. Sander said that crews trying to pump water out of the subways were sometimes stymied because the city’s sewers were already overflowing.

Transit officials had offered much the same explanation in 2004 when a similar early morning storm hobbled the subways.

But a subsequent investigation by the Inspector General’s office concluded that limitations in the capacity of the sewers that year may have hampered drainage for a time while it was raining, but “those limits were not the sole cause of delays.” Rather, debris on the tracks and poorly maintained valves were the principal causes.

New York City’s combined storm water and sanitary lines are not unique. About 800 American cities use the same system, although New York’s is by far the largest. In a typical year, about 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted storm water are discharged into the harbor.

On a dry day, the Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the system, normally treats about 1.4 billion gallons of sewage at 14 plants spread throughout the city. But because storm water runoff flows through the same pipes, each plant has been equipped with enough capacity to handle double its ordinary load on rainy days.

But as little as a tenth of an inch of rain coming very quickly can overload that system. A series of devices called regulators that are buried deep in the ground automatically respond to pressure from the extra water by diverting the flow away from the treatment plants to nearly 460 registered sewage outflows that empty directly into the city’s rivers and waterways.

New York has a long history of using its waterways as dumps. Until the late 1980s, the city routinely poured untreated sewage into the harbor; in 1992, it became the last city in the country to halt the practice of dumping sewage sludge at sea.

As the harbor began to cleanse itself, attention was focused on the combined sewer overflows. Since the early 1990s, federal and state regulators have forced New York City to improve the way its handles storm water or face heavy fines. The city is now required to provide treatment for 75.5 percent of storm water flows. That is still below the 85 percent required by federal law but far above the 30 percent of storm water that the city used to treat before the regulators got tough.

Recently though another factor has added urgency to the way the city handles storm water — climate change.

“This is a problem that is getting a lot worse very fast,” said Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Very intense storms, like the one that whipped through the area this week, are becoming more common, Ms. Lloyd said, and the city’s aging sewers are increasingly overtaxed.

At the same time, the few remaining open areas in the city continue to be buried under concrete. From 1984 to 2002, 9,000 acres of trees, bushes and vegetative cover were paved over. That land, according to government analysts, could have absorbed 243 million gallons of water for each inch of rain that fell on the city.

New York is pursuing two different tacks in trying to control combined sewer overflows. One approach, a direct response to the regulators, is to build four giant holding tanks where storm water can be collected and held until the rain stops and the sewers become unclogged. Two of the four have already been completed and are in use, and work is proceeding on the other two.

But such big construction projects are expensive and disruptive. Environmentalists, including Basil B. Seggos, chief investigator at the Hudson River Riverkeeper, an environmental organization, want the city to take a less intrusive approach that could actually reduce the amount of runoff that ends up in the combined sewers.

“Green roofs, parks systems, more trees — these kinds of things will, at a minimum, offset the impact of a big storm like we saw this week,” Mr. Seggos said.

Many of these ideas were included in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s recently released sustainability plan.

But Mr. Seggos said the city should have incorporated such ideas as roofs that can be planted with trees into a plan it submitted to state regulators in June for handling combined sewer overflows.

That plan focused primarily on completing the gigantic holding tanks, he said.

“We could be talking about billions of gallons a year being put to use as nature intended, as opposed to creating a hard engineering solution for responding to an impossible situation,” Mr. Seggos said.

And a side benefit of capturing the water on roofs, in parks, and around planted trees, he said, would be keeping it out of the subways.

Food That Travels Well

Interesting Op-Ed relating to the use of life-cycle analysis for determining the environmental impact of non-local foods.

NY Times
Published: August 6, 2007

THE term “food miles” — how far food has traveled before you buy it — has entered the enlightened lexicon. Environmental groups, especially in Europe, are pushing for labels that show how far food has traveled to get to the market, and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” contemplate the damage wrought by trucking, shipping and flying food from distant parts of the globe.

There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.

On its face, the connection between lowering food miles and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a no-brainer. In Iowa, the typical carrot has traveled 1,600 miles from California, a potato 1,200 miles from Idaho and a chuck roast 600 miles from Colorado. Seventy-five percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, the writer Bill McKibben says, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. These examples just scratch the surface of the problem. In light of this market redundancy, the only reasonable reaction, it seems, is to count food miles the way a dieter counts calories.

But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more — or less — to food miles than meets the eye.

It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of measuring a product’s carbon footprint through food miles alone, the Lincoln University scientists expanded their equations to include other energy-consuming aspects of production — what economists call “factor inputs and externalities” — like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.

Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.

These life-cycle measurements are causing environmentalists worldwide to rethink the logic of food miles. New Zealand’s most prominent environmental research organization, Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua, explains that localism “is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle than during transport.” The British government’s 2006 Food Industry Sustainability Strategy similarly seeks to consider the environmental costs “across the life cycle of the produce,” not just in transportation.

“Eat local” advocates — a passionate cohort of which I am one — are bound to interpret these findings as a threat. We shouldn’t. Not only do life cycle analyses offer genuine opportunities for environmentally efficient food production, but they also address several problems inherent in the eat-local philosophy.

Consider the most conspicuous ones: it is impossible for most of the world to feed itself a diverse and healthy diet through exclusively local food production — food will always have to travel; asking people to move to more fertile regions is sensible but alienating and unrealistic; consumers living in developed nations will, for better or worse, always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer.

Given these problems, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop obsessing over food miles and work to strengthen comparative geographical advantages? And what if we did this while streamlining transportation services according to fuel-efficient standards? Shouldn’t we create development incentives for regional nodes of food production that can provide sustainable produce for the less sustainable parts of the nation and the world as a whole? Might it be more logical to conceptualize a hub-and-spoke system of food production and distribution, with the hubs in a food system’s naturally fertile hot spots and the spokes, which travel through the arid zones, connecting them while using hybrid engines and alternative sources of energy?

As concerned consumers and environmentalists, we must be prepared to seriously entertain these questions. We must also be prepared to accept that buying local is not necessarily beneficial for the environment. As much as this claim violates one of our most sacred assumptions, life cycle assessments offer far more valuable measurements to gauge the environmental impact of eating. While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with what could be their equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness.

James E. McWilliams is the author of “A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America” and a contributing writer for The Texas Observer.

Seeking Relief Where the Air Is Deemed the Dirtiest

ARVIN, Calif., Aug. 11 (AP) — Ana Maria Corona was driving home in June when she began gasping for air. She prayed she would not get into an accident.

“I asked God, ‘Let me see my daughters one last time,’ ” Ms. Corona, 43, recalled in an interview at her home in this San Joaquin Valley farm community. A doctor later told Ms. Corona, who already had asthma, that she now also had a lung infection.

That is life in Arvin, home to the nation’s worst air pollution, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Doctors and public officials say asthma and other respiratory problems are common in this town of roughly 15,000 people about 20 miles southeast of Bakersfield.

Arvin’s level of ozone, the primary component in smog, exceeded the amount considered acceptable by the agency on an average of 73 days per year from 2004 to 2006. Second on the agency’s list was the Southern California town of Crestline, at 65 days. The San Francisco Bay Area averaged just four days over the same period.

Arvin may seem an unlikely setting for the nation’s worst air. It lies in a rich agricultural region surrounded by vineyards and orange groves. The nearby town of Weedpatch was immortalized by John Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath.” Many of its mostly Hispanic residents work in the fields, and it has none of the smoke-belching factories or congested freeways of large urban centers like Los Angeles.

Although the city itself may not produce much pollution, like much of the San Joaquin Valley, it does not get rid of what blows in. Surrounding mountains trap airborne particles that coat the single-story homes and deserted streets and can blot out views of the nearby Tehachapi range on hot summer days.

Arvin’s main problem is its location. It lies downwind of every city in the valley, making it the final destination for air pollution from Bakersfield, Fresno and even the Bay Area. Residents say the air often smells toxic.

A 2002 study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, found children who breathe polluted air are more likely to develop asthma, although that conclusion has been challenged by other researchers.

While specific data for Arvin is not available, surrounding Kern County has a childhood asthma rate that exceeds that of both the state and the nation.

According to a 2003 report from the California Department of Health Services, 17.5 percent of children under the age of 18 in Kern County suffer from asthma. That compares to a state average of 14.8 percent. The national average in 2002 was 12.2 percent, according to the state report.

August 12, 2007

Dr. Ronnie Pasiliao, who works at the community health center in Arvin, said asthma and allergies were the primary conditions he treated. Dr. Pasiliao advises patients to stay inside when the air is bad but realizes not all can follow that advice because they work in the fields.

Still, the San Joaquin Valley air board voted in April to extend by 11 years the region’s deadline to meet federal ozone standards, saying cleaning up the air by the previous target date of 2012 was not possible. Ms. Brar of Arvin was among two board members who voted against the decision.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticized the decision when the California Air Resources Board voted in June to approve the local board’s extension. A few days later he fired the board’s chairman.

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering the extension.