Monday, September 24, 2007

Annual study shows traffic congestion worsening in cities large and small

COLLEGE STATION, TX — Traffic congestion continues to worsen in American cities of all sizes, creating a $78 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel—that's 105 million weeks of vacation and 58 fully-loaded supertankers.

These are among the key findings of the Texas Transportation Institute's 2007 Urban Mobility Report. Improvements to the methodology used to measure congestion nationwide have produced the most detailed picture yet of a problem that is growing worse in all 437 of the nation's urban areas. The current report is based on 2005 figures, the most recent year for which complete data was available.

"There is no 'magic' technology or solution on the horizon because there is no single cause of congestion," noted study co-author Tim Lomax, a research engineer at TTI. "The good news is that there are multiple strategies involving traffic operations and public transit available right now that if applied together, can lessen this problem."

The 2007 mobility report notes that congestion causes the average peak period traveler to spend an extra 38 hours of travel time and consume an additional 26 gallons of fuel, amounting to a cost of $710 per traveler. Along with expanding the estimates of the effect of congestion to all 437 U.S. urban areas, the study provides detailed information for 85 specific urban areas. The report also focuses on the problems presented by "irregular events"—crashes, stalled vehicles, work zones, weather problems and special events—that cause unreliable travel times and contribute significantly to the overall congestion problem. Worsening congestion, the study notes, is reflected in several ways:

* Trips take longer
* Congestion affects more of the day
* Congestion affects weekend travel and rural areas
* Congestion affects more personal trips and freight shipments
* Trip travel times increasingly are unreliable

Researchers spent two years revising the methodology using additional sources of traffic information, providing more—and higher quality—data on which to base the current study.

The report identifies multiple solutions to the congestion problem that, researchers say, must be used together to be effective. These include:

* Get as much service as possible from existing infrastructure
* Add road and transit system capacity in critical corridors
* Relieve chokepoints
* Change usage patterns
* Provide choices
* Diversify the development patterns
* Keep expectations realistic

"Congestion is a far more complex problem than is apparent at first glance," Lomax said. "The better the data we use to define the problem, the more successful we will be in addressing its root causes."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Learning from the Past

Earth Policy Institute
Plan B 2.0 Book Byte
For Immediate Release
September 19, 2007


Lester R. Brown

Our twenty-first century global civilization is not the first to face the prospect of environmentally induced economic decline. The question is how we will respond. We do have one unique asset at our command--an archeological record that shows us what happened to earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble and failed to respond.

As Jared Diamond points out in his book Collapse, some of the early societies that were in environmental trouble were able to change their ways in time to avoid decline and collapse. Six centuries ago, for example, Icelanders realized that overgrazing on their grass-covered highlands was leading to extensive soil loss from the inherently thin soils of the region. Rather than lose the grasslands and face economic decline, farmers joined together to determine how many sheep the highlands could sustain and then allocated quotas among themselves, thus preserving their grasslands and avoiding what Garrett Hardin later termed the “tragedy of the commons.”

The Icelanders understood the consequences of overgrazing and reduced their sheep numbers to a level that could be sustained. We understand the consequences of burning fossil fuels and the resulting CO2 buildup in the atmosphere. Unlike the Icelanders who were able to restrict their livestock numbers, we have not been able to restrict our CO2 emissions.

Not all societies have fared as well as the Icelanders, whose economy continues to produce wool and to thrive. The early Sumerian civilization of the fourth millennium BC was an extraordinary one, advancing far beyond any that had existed before. Its carefully engineered irrigation system gave rise to a highly productive agriculture, one that enabled farmers to produce a food surplus, supporting formation of the first cities. Managing the irrigation system required a sophisticated social organization. The Sumerians had the first cities and the first written language, the cuneiform script.

By any measure it was an extraordinary civilization, but there was an environmental flaw in the design of its irrigation system, one that would eventually undermine its food supply. The water that backed up behind dams built across the Euphrates was diverted onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. Some water was used by the crops, some evaporated, and some percolated downward. In this region, where underground drainage was weak, percolation slowly raised the water table. As the water climbed to within inches of the surface, it began to evaporate into the atmosphere, leaving behind salt. Over time, the accumulation of salt on the soil surface lowered its productivity.

As salt accumulated and wheat yields declined, the Sumerians shifted to barley, a more salt-tolerant plant. This postponed Sumer’s decline, but it was treating the symptoms, not the cause, of falling crop yields. As salt concentrations continued to build, the yields of barley eventually declined also. The resultant shrinkage of the food supply undermined the economic foundation of this once-great civilization. As land productivity declined, so did the civilization.

Archeologist Robert McC. Adams has studied the site of ancient Sumer on the central floodplain of the Euphrates River, an empty, desolate area now outside the frontiers of cultivation. He describes how the “tangled dunes, long disused canal levees, and the rubble-strewn mounds of former settlement contribute only low, featureless relief. Vegetation is sparse, and in many areas it is almost wholly absent....Yet at one time, here lay the core, the heartland, the oldest urban, literate civilization in the world.”

The New World counterpart to Sumer is the Mayan civilization that developed in the lowlands of what is now Guatemala. It flourished from AD 250 until its collapse around AD 900. Like the Sumerians, the Mayans had developed a sophisticated, highly productive agriculture, this one based on raised plots of earth surrounded by canals that supplied water.

As with Sumer, the Mayan demise was apparently linked to a failing food supply. For this New World civilization, it was deforestation and soil erosion that undermined agriculture. Changes in climate may also have played a role. Food shortages apparently triggered civil conflict among the various Mayan cities as they competed for food. Today this region is covered by jungle, reclaimed by nature.

During the later centuries of the Mayan civilization, a new society was evolving on faraway Easter Island, some 166 square kilometers of land in the South Pacific roughly 3,200 kilometers west of South America and 2,200 kilometers from Pitcairn Island, the nearest habitation. Settled around AD 400, this civilization flourished on a volcanic island with rich soils and lush vegetation, including trees that grew 25 meters tall with trunks 2 meters in diameter. Archeological records indicate that the islanders ate mainly seafood, principally dolphins--a mammal that could only be caught by harpoon from large sea-going canoes.

The Easter Island society flourished for several centuries, reaching an estimated population of 20,000. As its human numbers gradually increased, tree cutting exceeded the sustainable yield of forests. Eventually the large trees that were needed to build the sturdy canoes disappeared, depriving islanders of access to the dolphins and dramatically shrinking their food supply. The archeological record shows that at some point human bones became intermingled with the dolphin bones, suggesting a desperate society that had resorted to cannibalism. Today the island has fewer than 4,000 residents.

One unanswerable question about these earlier civilizations was whether they knew what was causing their decline. Did the Sumerians understand that the rising salt content in the soil from water evaporation was reducing their wheat yields? If they knew, were they simply unable to muster the political support needed to lower water tables, just as the world today is struggling unsuccessfully to lower carbon emissions?

These are just three of the many early civilizations that moved onto an economic path that nature could not sustain. We, too, are on such a path. Any one of several trends of environmental degradation could undermine civilization as we know it. Just as the irrigation system that defined the early Sumerian economy had a flaw, so too does the fossil fuel energy system that defines our modern economy. For them it was a rising water table that undermined the economy; for us it is rising CO2 levels that threaten to disrupt economic progress. In both cases, the trend is invisible.

Whether it resulted from the salting of Sumer’s cropland, the deforestation and soil erosion of the Mayans, or the depleted forests and loss of the distant-water fishing capacity of the Easter Islanders, collapse of these early civilizations appears to have been associated with a decline in food supply. Today the annual addition of more than 70 million people to a world population of over 6 billion at a time when water tables are falling, temperatures are rising, and oil supplies will soon be shrinking suggests that the food supply again may be the vulnerable link between the environment and the economy.

# # #

Adapted from Chapter 1, “Entering a New World,” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), available on-line at

Additional data and information sources at

Wind farm factions agree on value, not placement

Maine Today
September 21, 2007
Valerie Tucker

CARRABASSETT VALLEY -- Although fiercely divided on whether wind turbines should be sited in western Maine, the audience at the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission's hearing found some common ground.

Everyone, they agreed, should reduce dependence on fossil fuels, preserve the environment, and create good jobs in rural Maine. Many expressed concern that their children and grandchildren would inherit a planet with serious problems, but that's where the agreement ended.

At the Wednesday hearing in Sugarloaf/USA's base lodge, about 50 people attended LURC's evening hearing. Director of Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and Phillips resident Lloyd Griscom asked commissioners to consider the long-term effects of encroachment on traditional wildlife habitat.

"Please keep this common ground available to many," Griscom said. "Please do not approve this project."

Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane, his voice breaking with emotion, said "we have a responsibility to protect our environment." He and other county commissioners voted at a recent meeting to support the project.

Commissioner Stephen Wight recused himself from discussions on the proposed 18-turbine wind farm near Sugarloaf Mountain to assure the hearings centered on the Black Nubble project rather than on doubts about his impartiality.

Duluth Wing, a retired forest ranger from Eustis, suggested that many other mountains needed protection, and he hoped commissioners would have equal consideration for the protection of Maine people.

Lloyd Cutler, a selectman from Carrabassett Valley, suggested that environmental groups should take more of a leadership role to provide alternatives to the eventual loss of petroleum as a fuel source.

Another project supporter pointed to the long-term health risks for Maine people.

"We have 60,000 supporters in Maine," American Lung Association spokeswoman Michelle Caliandro said. "We need to do all we can to reduce air pollution and emissions."

Opponents to the proposed wind farm criticized Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan for attempting to poll the commission members after a January vote defeated a larger project that would have included Black Nubble and the adjacent Redington Range. McGowan has apologized but denies trying to influence the outcome.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine supports the project. But Maine Audubon, Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have hired William Plouffe, an environmental attorney from Portland, to represent their opposition.

The hearing on Black Nubble Wind Farm, one of several projects requesting LURC's approval, accepted public comment on the first two of the three days. Additional written comment will be accepted for 10 days after the hearing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wind farm generates political tempest - A federal official's stance on Maine's Black Nubble project is questioned by a California congressman.

Maine Today
September 20, 2007
John Richardson

A National Park Service official who oversees the Appalachian Trail is scheduled to testify this morning that a proposed wind farm near Sugarloaf Mountain would have a dramatic effect on one of the most remote and scenic sections of the 2,175-mile hiking path.

Pamela Underhill's testimony is certain to frustrate some observers, including some as far away as Washington, D.C.

After Underhill delivered a similar message last summer about a larger version of the wind-farm proposal, a California congressman called her in for questioning and, in a letter to the secretary of the interior, questioned why someone at Underhill's level was allowed to take a stand against renewable energy.

That letter, which came to light in the past week, was immediately circulated to officials in Maine with a note questioning the credibility of Underhill's testimony.

The struggle over what is now called the Black Nubble Wind Farm has become intense. Accusations of bias and behind-the- scenes influence led one member of Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission to recuse himself from the process at the start of the multiday hearing Wednesday.

The congressional reaction to Underhill's testimony last summer shows that the political pressures swirling around the wind farm go well beyond Maine's borders.

The National Park Service's position, by all accounts, had an important influence on LURC during its review of the original plan, called the Redington wind farm.

Underhill, who testifies in uniform and speaks unequivocally, said that her agency has supported renewable energy projects near the trail. But this one, she said, would dramatically change a rare section of what is "a national treasure of immense proportion. a gift to the American people – past, present and future – from the American people."


Underhill said on Wednesday that her testimony in the proceeding a year ago was approved by officials in the director's office, in keeping with Park Service policy.

Soon after the hearing on Redington, however, she was interviewed by staff members of the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform. The chairman at that time was Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The committee wanted to know by what authority she had taken a stand against the Maine wind farm. On Oct. 19, 2006, Issa sent a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that began: "The United States is in the midst of an energy crisis."

He reminded Kempthorne of an executive order signed by President Bush directing federal agencies to accelerate energy- related projects, "not to impose additional obstacles," and to put energy policy matters in the hands of Cabinet-level executives.

Issa asked for an explanation of why a park manager or deputy director could make the decision to oppose a wind farm because of "the threat of an eyesore."

Issa's spokesman, Frederick Hill, said in an e-mail on Wednesday that questioning the actions of federal employees is a fundamental part of congressional oversight. "The letter sent in this instance was neither unusual nor unique," he wrote. "Given that one can view miles and miles of wind turbines in California and other states, it's dubious for a representative of a Federal agency to say such turbines in a different state are visually unacceptable."

Issa and his state are connected in other ways to Black Nubble.


The major investor and partner in the development company behind the $110 million project is Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International. Both companies are based in southern California – near, but not in, Issa's congressional district, which includes northern San Diego.

Issa is a frequent recipient of campaign contributions from Edison International's political action committee. The PAC gave Issa a total of $33,500 between September 2000 and June of this year, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Issa's spokesman did not directly respond to a question about the financial contributions, but pointed out that the congressman has been active on a variety of energy issues.

Issa's letter last fall reached the Land Use Regulation Commission on the day it was dated, Oct. 19. Jeffrey Thaler, an attorney for the developers, attached it to an e-mail, saying it appeared that Underhill did not have authority to testify against the project "all the way from the top," as she said she did during the hearing.

Thaler said on Wednesday that he believed the letter contradicted Underhill's statement and was important enough to share. He said he could not remember who gave the letter to him or how he got it so fast.

"I was sent the letter by somebody in Washington," he said. "It was public information."

Catherine Carroll, LURC's director, sent Thaler's e-mail and Issa's letter to members of the commission the next morning. She included a note saying she did not think the panel could consider the correspondence unless the record was formally reopened. The letter was not sent to any other parties in the process, or to Underhill.

Carroll wrote back to commission members on Nov. 2 to say they should disregard the letter about Underhill. The Attorney General's Office had learned about it, she said, and told her it was not part of the record.

The assistant attorney general at the time, Jeff Pidot, said Wednesday that it was clear the letter was political in nature and outside the proceeding. He said he considered its circulation a technical error by the staff.

The letter became more widely known only because attorneys have been probing through the commission's correspondence, looking for bias or outside influence in the Black Nubble case.

The Interior Department, meanwhile, did respond to Issa's letter, according to Underhill.

It told Issa that it balances energy needs with the "precious landscapes" it is supposed to protect. It also said that Underhill's testimony was "appropriate and customary," she said.


Underhill watched some of the first day of the hearing Wednesday at the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort. She is scheduled to testify around 9:40 a.m. today.

Her testimony will be much the same as last year's because the revised project would still have a severe impact on the trail, she said.

"I'm paid by the American taxpayers to protect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail," she said. The trail is only one factor for the land commission, she said.

Underhill is not sure whether there will be more fallout this time. She said her testimony has been cleared through the park service.

But while attending the hearing on Wednesday, she got a call from Washington asking her to send a copy of her testimony to an assistant secretary in the Interior Department.

She could not say why she got the request. But, she said, "It's never happened to me before."

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

Wind-power hearing loses LURC member - Wight removes himself but says a complaint from project opponents is full of 'unsubstantiated' claims.

Maine Today
September 20, 2007
Betty Jespersen

CARRABASSETT VALLEY — A longtime member of the state's Land Use Regulation Commission removed himself from the discussion of a proposed wind-power project at the start of a three-day hearing on Wednesday.

Commissioner Stephen Wight of Bethel said he was stepping down "in the interest of preserving the integrity of the process."

"I have made the painful decision to bow out due to the tactics I have been confronted by," he told fellow commissioners and about 50 people in the audience.

Wight said a complaint to the commission filed by William Plouffe, an attorney representing opponents to the wind farm, was a false account of supposed behind-the-scenes conversations commissioners and staff held about the project.

Plouffe's claims were "unsubstantiated," Wight said.

"He proceeded to create a fictional account of what might have happened," Wight said.

Plouffe represents Maine Audubon, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, all opponents of the proposed project.

The 18-turbine Black Nubble Wind Farm proposed by Maine Mountain Power on land west of Carrabassett Valley is a scaled- down version of a 30-turbine project that originally encompassed nearby Redington Pond Range. LURC commissioners rejected that preliminary plan in January.

Plouffe, through the Maine Freedom of Access Act, obtained e- mails and records of conversations and unpublicized meetings between commissioners and state officials that opponents believe indicate bias in favor of the plan.

State law and the commission's policies ban private talks between commission members and anyone advocating a position on a pending application.

The hearing is being held in the conference room at Sugarloaf/ USA.

The commissioners were asked by the state attorney general's office at the outset of the hearing to declare, on the record, whether they could remain impartial after the controversy. The rest affirmed they could.

One of Plouffe's complaints was that Commissioner Ed Laverty was contacted by Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan a day after the Jan. 24 LURC hearing to discuss the proposal. McGowan has since acknowledged that the call was a mistake.

Laverty said that on the positive side, the outcome of the controversy "will enhance the legitimacy and credibility of the regulatory process."

Plouffe told the commissioners that he acted out of a desire to get at the truth after learning in August of the behind-the- scenes activities.

"It was extremely disturbing," he said. "I didn't have all the pieces of the puzzle ... but I wanted to get out into the public what has been going on outside of the public's hearing and sight."

"As you move forward into some very, very difficult proceedings, with Plum Creek (Timber Co.'s development plans at Moosehead Lake) and other wind-power projects coming up, it is important that everyone knows that everything is done in public."

Maine Mountain Power attorney Jeff Thaler characterized Plouffe's letter as full of "suppositions and guesses" based on "selective portions of the record."

He said the recent discussions have been "painful" and that in 30 years of practice, "I have never seen these types of accusations."

"We are very troubled and disturbed about the accusations and efforts that appear aimed at pressuring any commissioners and LURC staff who said anything positive about the project over the past year, publicly or privately," Thaler said.

The rest of the hearing was devoted to the developers' presentation of the proposed $110 million, 54-megawatt facility.

Testimony was presented on the need for renewable energy and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels; the project's minimal impact on the environment; and on soils, visibility, wildlife and the economic effects on the state and the local tax base.

The hearings continue today at 8:30 a.m., with a public hearing at 6 p.m.

Hannaford plans world's greenest supermarket in Augusta - The Maine company says the store will be so green it will have plants growing on the buildi

Glenn Adams
September 20, 2007

AUGUSTA — Hannaford Bros. Co. said Wednesday it will be the first to build a supermarket meeting a building industry group's highest environmental standard.

The store will be so green that plants will be grown on part of its roof to add insulation and control stormwater. It will be built on the former site of Cony High School in Augusta.

"This is a great day in Maine," said Gov. John Baldacci, who joined Hannaford's officials for the announcement. He said the 49,000-square-foot store will join a growing list of state and private buildings that require minimal energy, adding, "We are leading by example."

As of this spring, Maine was the only state in which state-owned buildings buy 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, and was one of the first to use biodiesel to heat state offices. It is home to New England's largest utility-grade wind farm, with at least three more proposed or under regulatory review.

The proposed Hannaford market would be the U.S. Green Building Council's first platinum-certified "green" grocery store in the world, said the chain's President and CEO Ronald Hodge. The nonprofit's system carries ratings of silver, gold and platinum, the highest.

"We can think of no better place for Hannaford to invest in a first-in-the-world environmental design," Hodge said.

The project has been challenged in state courts by those who say it would violate a 19th Century trust agreement of Daniel Cony, who wanted the former site of the high school limited to educational uses.

A judge's decision in favor of the project has been appealed to the state's supreme court.

A new high school has replaced the building that now stands vacant on the proposed supermarket site. The proposed store is being touted as a kind of educational site itself. Hodge sees it as "a research laboratory" for the company to test new innovations that lower energy usage, waste and water consumption.

By pursuing the platinum designation, the company commits to a design including features such as solar photovoltaic panels, geothermal heating and cooling, high efficiency refrigeration, energy efficient lighting and an advanced recycling program, not to mention the vegetation-topped roof.

It's estimated that the store will be 40 percent more energy efficient than the industry standard, said Megan Hellstedt, Hannaford's environmental sustainability manager.

While the platinum rating system encourages the company to recycle 50 percent of the old high school building on the construction site, Hellstedt said the company's goal is to recycle 95 percent of the building and its contents.

Some residents in the neighborhood object to the proposed store and not just because they believe it violates the long- standing Cony trust.

Jerry Bumford of the East Side Neighborhood Network said neighbors are mostly concerned about traffic from shoppers and delivery trucks on local streets.

Bumford said local traffic levels have eased during the last couple of years thanks to a new bridge that crosses the Kennebec River on the city's north side, but "putting a Hannaford's here is going to bring that right back."

Hannaford, based in Scarborough, operates 160 stores throughout the Northeast. The new store would replace an older Hannaford market a couple of blocks from the new site.

The nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council is represented by all segments of the building industry to promote buildings that achieve high environmental standards.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wind farm foes allege unfair tactics - Their complaint claims regulators and backers had improper contacts.

Maine Today
September 18, 2007


Opponents of a proposed wind farm near Sugarloaf Mountain are calling on at least one member of the state's Land Use Regulation Commission to step down from discussions of the project because of what they say is a paper trail revealing bias and improper behind-the-scenes lobbying in favor of the plan.

The complaint cites a call made by Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan to one member of the land use board after the board's preliminary vote last January against an earlier version of the plan. McGowan is supposed to stay out of decisions by the commission, a seven-member panel appointed by the governor to oversee land use in Maine's unorganized territories.

The complaint also points to a series of e-mails and telephone conversations between members of the land use board and people advocating for the wind farm developer. Further, it accuses three board members of attending an undisclosed meeting about the plan last May in violation of the state's right- to-know law.

The complaints of bias and political influence could muddy an already contentious debate on the Black Nubble Wind Farm and leave the land board's decision more vulnerable to a legal challenge. It will at least sidetrack a multi-day public hearing when it gets under way at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort in Carrabassett Valley.

"I received a copy of the letter and I am advising the commission about how to properly respond," Assistant Attorney General Jerry Reid said Monday. "I expect that the commission will address these issues as its first order of business on Wednesday."

Reid would not say whether any members will recuse themselves because of bias or privately advocating positions, or what other actions the land board may take.

The complaint was sent to the land board Thursday by William Plouffe, a Portland lawyer who represents the wind farm's opponents — Maine Audubon, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The groups used requests under the Freedom of Access Act to obtain e-mails, appointment calendars and conversation notes. Their review began last month when land board members first disclosed McGowan's telephone call.

A spokesman for the developer of the Black Nubble Wind Farm said the accusations don't add up to very much.

"The commissioners themselves have said they weren't prejudiced in any way," said Dennis Bailey, who represents Endless Energy Corp. "They've already said they didn't think any of the (side conversations) were that significant."

The commission's director, Catherine Carroll, referred questions on the complaint to the Attorney General's Office. Commission Chairman Bart Harvey could not be reached Monday.

The eight-page complaint cites conversations that began immediately after the land board's surprise 6-1 preliminary vote against the wind farm on Jan. 24. The following day, McGowan called board member Ed Laverty to see what it would take to win approval of the project, according to the complaint. Laverty refused to make any calls to fellow members, it says. The complaint does not call for Laverty to recuse himself.

"It is obvious that LURC staff and Pat McGowan's office wanted the project approved and were shocked that it was not," the complaint says.

McGowan could not be reached Monday. He and Gov. John Baldacci acknowleged publicly last month that McGowan's contact with a land board member was inappropriate. McGowan said then, however, that he was not trying to influence the decision, but called out of concern about the commission's workload.

The complaint says commission member Stephen Wight, the only member to vote for the original proposal, was contacted by project supporters in the days after the vote. Wight then contacted several other board members to talk about the vote and proposal, it says.

At least two fellow members called Carroll, the commission director, to complain about calls from Wight, it says.

According to Carroll's notes, member Rebecca Kurtz said, "Not supposed to be calling each other. Ripe for scandal," the complaint says.

The complaint calls on Wight to recuse himself from participation in the review and decision because "he is an advocate for the project." Wight could not be reached Monday.

It also calls for a second member, Steve Schaeffer, either to pledge publicly that he will be impartial or to recuse himself from the discussions. The complaint says Schaeffer told Wight he wished there was a way he could help the applicant. Schaeffer also could not be reached.

The complaint says an undisclosed meeting last May that included three land board members and a staff member violated state law because it "should have been held in public and noticed."

Based on that meeting and other conversations, the commission's staff also has shown itself to be an advocate for the project, according to the complaint. The opponents are calling for the appointed commission members to make their decision without a staff recommendation, which is expected later this year.

The commission's staff recommended approval of the initial plan, which called for 34 turbines on Redington and Black Nubble mountains, before it was rejected 6-1. The plan that will be the subject of the public hearing starting Wednesday is a scaled-down version that includes 30 turbines on Black Nubble.

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

Environmentally Friendly Fridges - A new magnetic-cooling system could lead to more-energy-efficient refrigerators.

Technology Review
September 14, 2007

By Prachi Patel-Predd

Modern coolers and fridges may not cause holes in the ozone layer like their pre-1994 counterparts, but they still use greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Their compressors also consume a lot of energy: air conditioners and refrigerators used about 340 billion kilowatt hours in 2005--nearly 30 percent of the total energy used in U.S. homes.

Researchers at the Risoe National Laboratory, in Roskilde, Denmark, are now one step closer to building a magnetic-cooling system that promises energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and completely silent fridges. Temperatures in conventional fridges swing between −20 and 20 ºC. Achieving this 40 ºC temperature span is one of the most significant challenges with magnetic refrigeration. The Danish researchers have built a refrigerator that can vary temperature by almost 9 ºC.

This is an important step toward practical temperature spans of 40 ºC, says Nini Pryds, a senior scientist at Risoe who is leading the work. The research team is now working with Danfoss, one of the largest compressor manufacturers in the world, to build a commercial prototype; the company says that it should be ready by 2010.

Magnetic-cooling technology exploits materials that heat up when exposed to a magnetic field and cool down when the magnetic field is removed. As the material cools down, it pulls heat out of its surroundings. The larger the difference between the hottest and coldest temperatures achieved under the influence of a magnetic field, the better the material is at cooling.

Magnetic coolers have been used for years in laboratories for cryogenic temperatures tens of degrees below zero. In 1995, Ames Laboratory, in Iowa, demonstrated the first magnetic refrigerator that cooled contents in a room-temperature environment. The company used the metal gadolinium.

Since then, researchers have found many other materials that work at room temperature. The problem is that the temperature swings in all these substances is only a few degrees. "Achieving a large change of temperature is easy if you use a superconducting magnet," Pryds says. But superconducting magnets are large and require cooling themselves, making them impractical for everyday appliances such as household fridges and air conditioners. For these applications, he says, "the only way to go is a permanent magnet." Ideally, it should be a small, cheap magnet with a field of less than one tesla.

Getting large temperature spans with a permanent magnet calls for some clever engineering. Typically, it means using cooling liquids such as water. The material, with water circulating around it, is alternately placed in and out of a magnetic field. When it's in the field, it heats up. The circulating water draws heat from the material and transfers it to a heat sink. Then the magnetic field is removed, and the material, which was already being cooled by the water, cools down even more. As it cools, it absorbs heat from the water, making it cold enough to be used as the refrigerator. This hot-cold cycle is repeated over and over.

Putting the different pieces--material, magnets, liquid cooling--together in a practical magnetic refrigerator is tough. Researchers need to design a system that gets at least a 40 ºC temperature change and enough cooling power--fridges currently have powers of as much as 150 watts--using a permanent magnet with a magnetic field less than one tesla. That requires a delicate balance between the system's parameters. For instance, as researchers expand the temperature span, the cooling power might go down, or the system may need more energy. "It's an engineering nightmare," says Ames Laboratory researcher Karl Gschneidner, a pioneer in magnetic cooling.

But the rewards will be plenty. Magnetic refrigerators will be much more energy efficient than conventional fridges because they only need energy to circulate the water. "The energy consumption of magnetic refrigerators [should] be as much as 60 percent lower than traditional refrigeration," Pryds says. Also, unlike conventional fridges, magnetic systems do not need refrigerants such as hydrofluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases.

Pryds is confident that his group's work will lead to commercial magnetic fridges. Like other research teams, the Risoe group is using the water-cooling design. But while most research teams are using gadolinium powder, the Danish researchers use plates made from a ceramic material containing lanthanum, strontium, calcium, and manganese. Pryds says that "ceramics are chemically stable; they don't corrode in corroding fluids such as water." The ceramic plates should also be easier to manufacture on a large scale. The combination of ceramic material and the researchers' final refrigerator design--which is not yet public--could lead to practical success, he says.

The researchers face some tough competitors, though. Ames Laboratory researchers, working with Milwaukee-based Aeronautics Corporation of America, have made systems with temperature spans of 25 ºC and 95 watts of cooling power using 1.5-tesla magnets. Andrew Rowe and his colleagues at the University of Victoria, in Canada, have made 15-watt cooling systems with temperature spans of 30 ºC. Meanwhile, researchers at Chubu Electric Power and Toshiba, in Japan, have gone down to about 0.8 teslas to get a 10 ºC span.

Things are looking up, Gschneidner says, and in another 5 to 10 years, magnetic fridges should be on the market. Many research groups are now working on magnetic refrigerators, making better materials and coming up with better system designs. Also, adds Rowe, permanent magnets are getting smaller and cheaper. "The basic principles have been shown and demonstrated," he says. "Magnetic refrigeration works. Now we need some hard thinking [and] good designs, and hopefully these things will come together."

For New Center, Harvard Agrees to Emissions Cut

NY Times
September 18, 2007


Harvard has agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the university’s proposed four-building science center in the Allston section of Boston, the state’s environmental officials announced yesterday.

The agreement, which Harvard entered voluntarily at the state’s suggestion, will cut emissions 50 percent below the levels required by the national standard, said the state’s energy and environment secretary, Ian A. Bowles. Mr. Bowles said the Harvard agreement represented the first legally enforceable limits on emissions from a large real-estate project. The complex is 537,000 square feet.

“I expect the Allston project is going to be watched carefully around the country as other institutions and other states step forward to take on such commitments in years to come,” Mr. Bowles said.

Mandatory controls of the heat-trapping gases that scientists have linked to global warming have thus far been considered largely in the context of industry and vehicle emissions.

But the design of buildings — how they are heated, cooled, insulated and a host of other details — plays a significant role in determining national energy use and emissions.

This year Massachusetts announced a greenhouse gas emissions policy that covers major real-estate projects. All qualify for regulation under the state’s environmental protection laws, and their developers must quantify the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the projects and detail what they are doing to reduce those emissions, a news release from Mr. Bowles’s office said.

In an interview, Chris Gordon, the chief operating officer of the Allston Development group at Harvard, said he welcomed the opportunity to commit the university to the new standards. And, while he declined to estimate publicly how much the science complex would cost, he said he did not expect the new design measures to add significantly to the overall bill.

“First of all, the technology associated with green construction has dropped dramatically in the last decade,” Mr. Gordon said. “Geothermal wells, natural ventilation, natural lighting — most of it doesn’t cost a premium anymore. Also, we think the operating costs will go down. When you save 50 percent on greenhouse gases, you’re burning less fuel and buying less fuel.”

Mr. Gordon said it was not possible, in a short span of time, to quantify the exact tonnage of the greenhouse gas reductions to which the university had committed.

Harvard’s commitment to reductions mirrors what colleges and universities across the country are doing, including Carnegie Mellon and Arizona State.

To date, 399 college presidents have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to assess their greenhouse gas emissions and develop a strategy for reducing them, or buying offsets, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral, or adding no carbon-dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

“We are acting as a model for the rest of society saying we are going to do everything we can to reduce our emissions,” said an organizer of the initiative, Anthony Cortese. “The bigger commitment we are making is that we are going to create the knowledge and the graduates that will help society” achieve the same goals.

Harvard is not a signatory to the climate initiative, but Mr. Gordon said in a statement: “Harvard’s Allston campus ultimately will be the university’s greatest expression of environmental sustainability. Today’s decision continues progress towards an environmental strategy that benefits both the university and the community.”

Residents of the Allston neighborhood have been skeptical, if not prickly, about the university’s expansion from Cambridge. The move is part of a 50-year plan that would increase the campus footprint by about 50 percent. Construction on the science complex, the first part of the expansion, is set to begin this fall and end in 2011.

This year, two members of a task force formed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston criticized the development plans in an article in The Boston Globe. They singled out the science complex for its 125-foot height, which they said was incompatible with the smaller neighborhood homes.

But, when contacted yesterday about Harvard’s agreement with the state, Brent Whelan, one of the critics, said the green component of the construction was one good aspect of a project that had raised concerns about the future of the neighborhood, and about communications between the university and Allston residents.

Although some of the new design elements will add to the height of the complex, Mr. Whelan said that was an acceptable trade-off. “There are some consequences for the green construction,” he said, “but I think most people agree that it’s a really, really good thing they’re doing.”

After approving the plans for the science complex, with the commitment to keep greenhouse gases from energy use 50 percent below the national standard of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Mr. Bowles signed documents setting the terms for the coming environmental reviews of the rest of the Allston project, as it develops.

These establish greenhouse gas limits about 30 percent below those in the national standard.

Katie Zezima contributed reporting from Boston.

Effort to Get Companies to Disclose Climate Risk

NY Times
September 18, 2007


Two environmental groups and the financial officers of 10 states and New York City are asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to require companies to disclose the risks that climate change may pose to their bottom lines. The petition is expected to reach the S.E.C. today, representatives of the groups said.

The action by Ceres, a coalition of environmental activists and investors, along with Environmental Defense and investors managing $1.5 trillion in assets is the second in recent days to focus attention on the potential impact on Wall Street of climate change.

On Friday, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York started an investigation of five energy companies to determine if they had adequately disclosed any financial risk they might face from their ownership stake or operations of coal-fired power plants. Scientists believe that carbon dioxide, the main emission from these plants, is a leading cause of recent global warming.

Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, said in an interview, “We need this because right now more than half of the S.& P. 500 are not disclosing their climate risk, which we would consider a material risk in this day and age.”

A fact sheet prepared by Ceres and Environmental Defense said that regional, state and local initiatives to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions now apply in areas representing 58 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 54 percent of its population.

The fact sheet also said that Allstate, one of the country’s leading insurers, “did not mention climate change, global warming greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide” in its most recent annual report.

Rich Halberg, a spokesman for Allstate, said he was puzzled by that statement. “The very first risk factor we report on Page 1 are significant losses we may face from catastrophes and severe weather,” he said. He added that the company’s social responsibility report, issued separately from the annual report, deals with climate issues.

Ceres has pushed the question of corporate financial disclosure of climate risk, usually in the context of shareholder resolutions, for about five years. This week’s escalation comes as the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress try to fine-tune a legislative approach to energy and climate-change issues.

Joel Seligman, an expert on securities law who is also president of the University of Rochester, wondered whether the agency really needed to cast a wider net in its financial disclosure requirements.

But he also noted that the need to account for material environmental risks, even those that are not easily quantifiable, has long been recognized in the context of the Superfund law, which left companies potentially liable for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cleanup costs for toxic contamination.

Ms. Lubber of Ceres, when asked if it was possible to quantify a risk that might arise from federal legislation that remains unapproved, echoed that point: “You don’t have to put an exact number on it. If federal regulation puts a cap on carbon, it means businesses will have to change their technology, maybe buy new equipment. It needs to be noted.”

Aside from Ceres and Environmental Defense, the petition was joined by Mr. Cuomo and the comptrollers of New York State and New York City; the California state comptroller and the huge California state government and teachers’ pension funds; and Florida’s chief financial officer.

Others involved included financial officials from North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine, and the New Jersey State Investment Council.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One Answer to Global Warming: A New Tax

NY Times
September 16, 2007


IN the debate over global climate change, there is a yawning gap that needs to be bridged. The gap is not between environmentalists and industrialists, or between Democrats and Republicans. It is between policy wonks and political consultants.

Among policy wonks like me, there is a broad consensus. The scientists tell us that world temperatures are rising because humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere. Basic economics tells us that when you tax something, you normally get less of it. So if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax. Q.E.D.

The idea of using taxes to fix problems, rather than merely raise government revenue, has a long history. The British economist Arthur Pigou advocated such corrective taxes to deal with pollution in the early 20th century. In his honor, economics textbooks now call them “Pigovian taxes.”

Using a Pigovian tax to address global warming is also an old idea. It was proposed as far back as 1992 by Martin S. Feldstein on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Once chief economist to Ronald Reagan, Mr. Feldstein has devoted much of his career to studying how high tax rates distort incentives and impede economic growth. But like most other policy wonks, he appreciates that some taxes align private incentives with social costs and move us toward better outcomes.

Those vying for elected office, however, are reluctant to sign on to this agenda. Their political consultants are no fans of taxes, Pigovian or otherwise. Republican consultants advise using the word “tax” only if followed immediately by the word “cut.” Democratic consultants recommend the word “tax” be followed by “on the rich.”

Yet this natural aversion to carbon taxes can be overcome if the revenue from the tax is used to reduce other taxes. By itself, a carbon tax would raise the tax burden on anyone who drives a car or uses electricity produced with fossil fuels, which means just about everybody. Some might fear this would be particularly hard on the poor and middle class.

But Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts, has shown how revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce payroll taxes in a way that would leave the distribution of total tax burden approximately unchanged. He proposes a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, together with a rebate of the federal payroll tax on the first $3,660 of earnings for each worker.

The case for a carbon tax looks even stronger after an examination of the other options on the table. Lawmakers in both political parties want to require carmakers to increase the fuel efficiency of the cars they sell. Passing the buck to auto companies has a lot of popular appeal.

Increased fuel efficiency, however, is not free. Like a tax, the cost of complying with more stringent regulation will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher car prices. But the government will not raise any revenue that it can use to cut other taxes to compensate for these higher prices. (And don’t expect savings on gas to compensate consumers in a meaningful way: Any truly cost-effective increase in fuel efficiency would already have been made.)

More important, enhancing fuel efficiency by itself is not the best way to reduce energy consumption. Fuel use depends not only on the efficiency of the car fleet but also on the daily decisions that people make — how far from work they choose to live and how often they carpool or use public transportation.

A carbon tax would provide incentives for people to use less fuel in a multitude of ways. By contrast, merely having more efficient cars encourages more driving. Increased driving not only produces more carbon, but also exacerbates other problems, like accidents and road congestion.

Another popular proposal to limit carbon emissions is a cap-and-trade system, under which carbon emissions are limited and allowances are bought and sold in the marketplace. The effect of such a system depends on how the carbon allowances are allocated. If the government auctions them off, then the price of a carbon allowance is effectively a carbon tax.

But the history of cap-and-trade systems suggests that the allowances would probably be handed out to power companies and other carbon emitters, which would then be free to use them or sell them at market prices. In this case, the prices of energy products would rise as they would under a carbon tax, but the government would collect no revenue to reduce other taxes and compensate consumers.

The international dimension of the problem also suggests the superiority of a carbon tax over cap-and-trade. Any long-term approach to global climate change will have to deal with the emerging economies of China and India. By some reports, China is now the world’s leading emitter of carbon, in large part simply because it has so many people. The failure of the Kyoto treaty to include these emerging economies is one reason that, in 1997, the United States Senate passed a resolution rejecting the Kyoto approach by a vote of 95 to zero.

Agreement on a truly global cap-and-trade system, however, is hard to imagine. China is unlikely to be persuaded to accept fewer carbon allowances per person than the United States. Using a historical baseline to allocate allowances, as is often proposed, would reward the United States for having been a leading cause of the problem.

But allocating carbon allowances based on population alone would create a system in which the United States, with its higher standard of living, would buy allowances from China. American voters are not going to embrace a system of higher energy prices, coupled with a large transfer of national income to the Chinese. It would amount to a massive foreign aid program to one of the world’s most rapidly growing economies.

A global carbon tax would be easier to negotiate. All governments require revenue for public purposes. The world’s nations could agree to use a carbon tax as one instrument to raise some of that revenue. No money needs to change hands across national borders. Each government could keep the revenue from its tax and use it to finance spending or whatever form of tax relief it considered best.

Convincing China of the virtues of a carbon tax, however, may prove to be the easy part. The first and more difficult step is to convince American voters, and therefore political consultants, that “tax” is not a four-letter word.

N. Gregory Mankiw is a professor of economics at Harvard. He was an adviser to President Bush and is advising Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Conflict in the Wind

Maine Today
September 17, 2007
John Richardson

There's no doubt that Mainers want more windmills.

A poll of 400 Maine voters last May found 85 percent favored the development of wind power in Maine, according to the Portland-based Pan Atlantic SMS Group. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

You wouldn't know it, however, from the debate that gets whipped up nearly every time a wind farm is proposed here. While the projects are pitched as a step toward energy independence and slowing global warming, opponents answer back that the turbines, roads and transmission equipment would do too much harm.

It's a struggle between global benefits and local costs and between competing environmental priorities. It's also one that will culminate around the state over the coming weeks.

A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday on the proposed Black Nubble wind farm near Sugarloaf, a plan that has divided the state's largest environmental groups. Maine's Land Use Regulation Commission will hold another hearing Oct. 2 and 3 on a proposed Kibby Mountain wind farm, also in Franklin County. The commission is expected to issue its decision on a third project, on Stetson Mountain in Washington County, this fall.

Developers are exploring other projects, including putting turbines in Aroostook County potato fields. Former Gov. Angus King and a partner are eying a ridgeline in Roxbury and Byron in Oxford County.

Wind energy is the fastest-growing energy sector in the United States and the world, with capacity expanding at a rate of about 25 percent a year.

Maine has the strongest and steadiest winds of all New England states, and is one of the top 20 states in terms of wind potential nationwide, according to the industry. It already is home to New England's first large-scale modern wind farm — 28 turbines lined up along the sloping ridge of Mars Hill in Aroostook County.

Advocates say Maine ultimately could generate 10 percent or more of its energy from the wind, but that won't be easy, judging by the opposition to specific proposals here.

A study completed this year by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found conflicts like those in Maine are widespread because of a fundamental reality of wind power. The environmental costs — visual impacts, noise, landscape and wildlife disturbances — are primarily felt by those near the wind farm. The benefits, however — reduced global warming emissions and other air pollution, less dependence on foreign oil and less mining and drilling — are felt more on the global scale.

"Benefits and (costs) don't necessarily affect the same people," said David Policansky, who directed the study. "If you talk to a national representative of an environmental organization, it's quite likely that person will be in favor. Whereas, when you talk to a local representative, it is more likely that person will be opposed to some local project."

It's a dynamic that is clearly playing out in Maine.

"Essentially, the benefits go to other states, where we now have to put up with all these wind developments on our landscape," said Stephen Clark of Shapleigh, an opponent of the 18-turbine Black Nubble project near Sugarloaf. "I don't see that Maine people are going to get that much out of it."

Clark leads the wind power committee of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, which opposes the wind farm because the 400-foot- tall towers would spoil views from one of the most pristine sections of the trail.

"They'll be visible from points all the way from Bigelow to Saddleback. That's about 30 miles. At every outlook, you'll have those in your face," Clark said.

Other opponents of Black Nubble, including Maine Audubon, are more focused on preserving rare wildlife habitat atop Black Nubble. The mountain's peak is above 3,500 feet in elevation.

"There are much larger projects that will produce more power that we are supporting," said Jody Jones, a wildlife ecologist with Maine Audubon. "You probably couldn't pick a site with more conflicts."


Critics say Black Nubble and other wind projects have been oversold to a public that is hungry for global warming solutions.

Wind projects and other energy plants are typically described according to their maximum generating capacity. Black Nubble, for example, is proposed as a 54-megawatt wind farm. A modern natural gas plant might be rated at about 500 megawatts or more.

While a gas or nuclear plant can operate at close to its capacity most of the time, however, a wind farm can generate electricity at its capacity only when the wind is blowing at precisely the right speed, not too fast and not too slow. On average, a wind farm can expect to operate at about 30 percent of capacity. In the case of Black Nubble, that would be 16 megawatts.

Also, unlike a gas- or coal-burning plant, the wind can't be turned up when energy demand goes up. Wind farms, therefore, cannot replace so-called base-load energy plants that need to be ready to meet demand.

Some critics say those limitations mean wind farms are not the answer to global warming and do not automatically trump other environmental priorities, such as preserving mountaintops. Simple conservation steps would prevent more fossil fuel use than the Black Nubble wind farm and would not destroy any resources, according to Clark.

"If you took every Maine resident and (had them) unscrew one 100-watt bulb, it would save much more," he said. "Wind power is much more symbolic than it is real in terms of solving global warming."


Wind advocates agree that the technology won't solve global warming on its own, but they say it is absolutely a real part of the solution.

"What we do know about wind power is that once we build these projects, (the power) will always go into the electrical grid and will always displace another form of power that does more environmental harm," said Peter Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "Our goal is to keep the dirty old plants operating at as low a capacity as possible."

While windmills are big and conspicuous, people don't always see the much more severe environmental damage of other energy sources, he said. Also, there are immediate costs in addition to the looming effects of global warming, he said.

"Eleven percent of electricity in New England comes from coal, including coal from northern Appalachia" where coal-rich mountaintops are being blown off with explosives, he said.

"We don't think about the communities and individuals and the environment that are suffering because of our electricity use that comes from coal," he said.

Wind power can't stop global warming, but it can help and it's available now, according to Didisheim.

The Natural Resources Council is a leading supporter of the Black Nubble project and argues that its effects on the western mountains will be far outweighed by the clean energy benefits. As small as the Black Nubble wind farm would be, it still would generate more power than most hydroelectric dams in Maine, he said.

"I think there's a false notion out there that there's some silver bullet just waiting to be used," he said. "We don't have that single bullet. We're going to need probably 20 different 5 percent solutions."

Gordon Weil of Harpswell, an author and former head of Maine's Office of Energy Resources, said wind realistically should be seen as a small part of the state's future energy mix, but an important one.

"Too many people oversell it as solving all of our problems and too many people say, 'If it doesn't solve all of our problems,it's not worth doing.' And neither of them is right," he said.

"People who say we shouldn't do it because it's so small, I could not disagree more with them," Weil said. "Clearly there is a role for wind power."

Gov. John Baldacci is hoping Maine moves forward with wind energy, too. In response to the resistance to specific plans, Baldacci created a study commission to recommend policies he hopes will encourage wind development in appropriate places.

The commission has met three times. Its report is due in January, but it probably won't have any influence on the three major wind farms likely to be approved or rejected by the end of this year.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Google Announces $10M RFP for Electric Vehicle Technology Investments

Since launched the RechargeIT initiative in June as part of our efforts to stop global warming (, a lot has happened in the world of plug-in vehicles. Automakers have made key announcements about future plans for plug-ins. Our grantee the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), along with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), released a comprehensive assessment ( that found that widespread use of plug-in hybrids in the U.S. could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The charge for electrified transportation is heating up, and we couldn't be more excited. But consumers still can't buy plug-in vehicles – and that's a problem. It's time for us to put some money where our mouth is and help accelerate mass commercialization of plug-in vehicles.

Today, has issued a request for proposals to the tune of $10 million in order to advance sustainable transportation solutions ( ). We are inviting entrepreneurs and companies to show us their best ideas on how they can contribute to this important cause. We need catalytic investments to support technologies, products and services that are critical to accelerating plug-in vehicle commercialization. That is why we have structured this RFP to offer investment dollars to for-profit companies to promote social and environmental change. The severity of global warming requires solutions from NGOs, governments, individuals and (very importantly) the private sector. We have already made $1 million in grants to a group of outstanding non-profit organizations (see, and want to expand our impact by spurring innovation in the private sector. While $10 million is a fraction of the total investment needed to transform our transportation sector, we hope this RFP will help catalyze a broader response. We need the automakers to bring these cars to market, but plug-in vehicles also need an entire ecosystem of companies flourish.

We realize that this type of open call for proposals is not the usual model for investment, but we wanted to use a process that was open to new ideas and new entrants. Part of our goal is to get as many people as possible to work on solutions to our vehicle emissions challenges. We welcome and expect to receive submissions from a wide variety of companies -- from cutting edge battery technologies to innovative service businesses – and from companies of all sizes. We also encourage participants from all over the world to submit proposals. This is a global challenge, and it will take all of us to solve it.

This open RFP process is a new approach to mission-focused investing, and we're interested to see what we can learn from it, both in terms of opportunities and gaps that exist in this space today, as well as ways that we can improve on this solicitation process for future investments. Our focus on learning is the primary reason we decided to narrow this first RFP to investments in private companies, rather than a combination of grants and investments.

We will continue to make grants as part of RechargeIT and other programs, but we're excited today to announce our first foray into investments. To learn more, read the RFP at (

As We Stand on the Brink of Catastrophe, Bio-Fuels are no Magic Bullet

By Debi Barker and Jerry Mander, AlterNet
Posted on September 12, 2007, Printed on September 16, 2007

The burgeoning reality of global climate change, rooted in a century of over-consumption of fossil fuels, is merging with another crisis with the same basic root cause--the looming depletion of inexpensive oil and gas supplies ("peak oil"). Combined, they bring the world to an unprecedented and profoundly dangerous moment that threatens global environmental and social crises on an epic scale.

These crises potentially include a breakdown of the most basic operating structures of our society, even industrialism itself, at least at its present scale. Long distance transportation, industrial food systems, complex urban and suburban systems, and many commodities basic to our present way of life--autos, plastics, chemicals, pesticides, refrigeration, et al.--are all rooted in the basic assumption of ever-increasing inexpensive energy supplies.

One would think that such threatening circumstances would bring clear and effective movement from the leaders of national governments, acting on behalf of present and future generations. So far, however, with a few exceptions, the response of most governments has been inadequate to address the scale of the problem. This is particularly the case in the U.S., where government, politicians, and most corporations are still hoping to somehow convert the climate and peak oil crises into a new business opportunity.

We are seeing a lot of scurrying and postulating, as each sector, government, business, and that odd new third sector--presidential candidates--are engaged in a mad rush to identify magic elixirs to solve the energy problem while pushing corporate growth and unabated consumerism. By avoiding reality, they make the problems worse, and real solutions more difficult to achieve. Solutions so far include, for example, desperate grabs for the last remnants of oil and gas supplies, thus the war in Iraq.

An increasingly popular solution is that of biofuels, purported as the renewable energy that will definitively shift our dependency away from fossil fuels. But corn-produced ethanol and many of the other biofuel varieties are leading us down a path of unsustainability as they continue to impact fragile ecosystems, threaten biodiversity, concentrate corporate power and increase inequities in rural communities. These surely offer no magic bullets to solve our problems, and may, in the end, bring more harm than good, as compared with likely alternatives such as wind, solar, small scale hydro, and wave.

Ethanol, the most popular of biofuels, is creating a new competition between land needed to grow fuel for cars versus food for humans. Add to that the fact that generating ethanol costs more energy than it produces and it contributes to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and the entire myth of biofuels as the catch-all solution to global warming is debunked.

Having made ethanol into this magic elixir, politicians, financial investors, and the occasional environmental organization are masking the need for far deeper investigation and solutions. They are pushing us toward practices that actually may be less sustainable and socially just than what preceded them. We are merely trading one set of problems for another.

There is a strong case that no combination of renewables will be sufficient to sustain the industrial system at its present bloated, wasteful scale. Ultimately, the answer must involve renewables plus significant efforts toward all-out conservation, efficiency, reduced consumption and "powering down" of energy use. It is crucial that these latter elements always be included in discussions of sustainable futures.

But there is some good news. A new process and set of evaluative tools is now gaining favor among scientists, which they are calling "Life Cycle Analysis." This basically means that new technologies, and specifically energy technologies, are evaluated in a far more comprehensive way, including all inputs and materials used at every stage of their extraction through mining, assembly, transport and performance from "dust to dust." They offer full ecological footprints from the ground-up, from birth to death. This process has the potential to dissuade us from making glib assumptions about which energy alternative actually contributes more, and harms less, than the others.

The basic goal must be to move toward creating an economy that operates first of all in the interests of ecological sustainability, within the ecological limits of the planet, and which includes social and economic equity, without which no long term solution is possible. The lives of our children and the planet literally depend on our doing the right thing, not the most convenient thing. That's the impetus for a Washington teach-in later this week that seeks to confront the global triple crisis of our time: climate change, peak oil, and global resource depletion. Sixty speakers from all continents will offer their ideas. Visit and join the discussion.

Debi Barker is Co-Director of the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization. Jerry Mander is the Founder and Co-Director of the International Forum on Globalization.

Mali’s Farmers Discover a Weed’s Potential Power

NY Times
September 9, 2007

KOULIKORO, Mali — When Suleiman Diarra Banani’s brother said that the poisonous black seeds dropping from the seemingly worthless weed that had grown around his family farm for decades could be used to run a generator, or even a car, Mr. Banani did not believe him. When he suggested that they intersperse the plant, until now used as a natural fence between rows of their regular crops — edible millet, peanuts, corn and beans — he thought his older brother, Dadjo, was crazy.

“I thought it was a plant for old ladies to make soap,” he said.

But now that a plant called jatropha is being hailed by scientists and policy makers as a potentially ideal source of biofuel, a plant that can grow in marginal soil or beside food crops, that does not require a lot of fertilizer and yields many times as much biofuel per acre planted as corn and many other potential biofuels. By planting a row of jatropha for every seven rows of regular crops, Mr. Banani could double his income on the field in the first year and lose none of his usual yield from his field.

Poor farmers living on a wide band of land on both sides of the equator are planting it on millions of acres, hoping to turn their rockiest, most unproductive fields into a biofuel boom. They are spurred on by big oil companies like BP and the British biofuel giant D1 Oils, which are investing millions of dollars in jatropha cultivation.

Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations, betting that jatropha will help them to become more energy independent and even export biofuel. It is too soon to say whether jatropha will be viable as a commercial biofuel, scientists say, and farmers in India are already expressing frustration that after being encouraged to plant huge swaths of the bush they have found no buyers for the seeds.

But here in Mali, one of the poorest nations on earth, a number of small-scale projects aimed at solving local problems — the lack of electricity and rural poverty — are blossoming across the country to use the existing supply of jatropha to fuel specially modified generators in villages far off the electrical grid.

“We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” said Aboubacar Samaké, director of a government project aimed at promoting renewable energy. “If it helps the world, that is good, too.”

Jatropha originated in Central America and is believed to have been spread around the world by Portuguese explorers. In Mali, a landlocked former French colony, it has been used for decades by farmers as a living fence that keeps grazing animals off their fields — the smell and the taste of the plant repel grazing animals — and a guard against erosion, keeping rich topsoil from being blown away by the harsh Sahel winds. The Royal Tropical Institute, a nonprofit research institution in Amsterdam that has been working to develop jatropha as a commercial biofuel, estimates that there are 22,000 linear kilometers, or more than 13,000 miles, of the bush in Mali.

Jatropha’s proponents say it avoids the major pitfalls of other biofuels, which pose significant environmental and social risks. Places that struggle to feed their populations, like Mali and the rest of the arid Sahel region, can scarcely afford to give up cultivable land for growing biofuel crops. Other potential biofuels, like palm oil, have encountered resistance by environmentalists because plantations have encroached on rain forests and other natural habitats.

But jatropha can grow on virtually barren land with relatively little rainfall, so it can be planted in places where food does not grow well. It can also be planted beside other crops farmers grow here, like millet, peanuts and beans, without substantially reducing the yield of the fields; it may even help improve output of food crops by, among other things, preventing erosion and keeping animals out.

Other biofuels like ethanol from corn and sugar cane require large amounts of water and fertilizer, and factory farming in some cases consumes substantial amounts of petroleum, making the environmental benefits limited, critics say. But jatropha requires no pesticides, Mr. Samaké said, little water other than rain and no fertilizer beyond the nutrient-rich seed cake left after oil is pressed from its nuts.

The plant is promising enough that companies across the world are looking at planting millions of acres of jatropha in the next few years, in places as far flung as Brazil, China, India and Swaziland. A company based in Singapore has announced plans to plant two million hectares, about 4.9 million acres, of jatropha in the Philippines.

Here in Mali, a Dutch entrepreneur, Hugo Verkuijl, has started a company with the backing of investors and assistance from the Dutch government, to produce biodiesel from jatropha seeds.

Mr. Verkuijl, 39, an economist who has worked for nonprofit groups, is part of a new breed of entrepreneurs who are marrying the traditional aims of aid groups working in Africa with a capitalist ethos they hope will bring longevity to their efforts.

“An aid project will live or die by its funders,” Mr. Verkuijl said, but “a business has momentum and a motive to keep going, even if its founders move on.”

His company, Mali Biocarburant, is partly owned by the farmers who will grow the nuts, something he said would help the business to succeed by giving the farmers a stake.

It takes about four kilograms (about 8.8 pounds) of seeds to make a liter of oil, and Mr. Verkuijl will sign contracts with farmers to buy the seeds in bulk. The fuel he produces will cost about the same as regular diesel, he said — more than $1 a liter, which is about 1.06 liquid quarts. He will also return the nutrient-rich seed cake, left after the seeds are pressed for oil, to the farmers to use as fertilizer. He said he hoped to produce 100,000 liters of biodiesel this year and 600,000 a year by the third year.

Even if jatropha proves a success in Mali, it is still not without risks. If farmers come to see it as more valuable than food crops, they could cripple the country’s food production.

These kinds of worries led a recent United Nations report on biofuels to conclude that “the benefits to farmers are not assured, and may come with increased costs,” the report said. “At their worst, biofuel programs can also result in a concentration of ownership that could drive the world’s poorest farmers off their land and into deeper poverty.”

The Art of Mapping on the Run

NY Times
September 9, 2007

It used to be that updated editions of world atlases mainly tracked the shifting of borders and changes in the names of cities and countries determined by politics, diplomacy or war.

The surface of the planet itself was a relatively constant template in the background. You could render it in more detail with, say, better satellite data, but the basics didn’t change much.

Now, though, the accelerating and intensifying impact of human activities is visibly altering the planet, requiring ever more frequent redrawing not only of political boundaries, but of the shape of Earth’s features themselves.

How so?

In the new edition of “The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World” (HarperCollins, 2007), for instance, there are before-and-after views of the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest lake. It shriveled as Soviet-era irrigation projects siphoned off the rivers that replenished it. A dam completed in 2005 now prevents water from flowing out of the lake’s northern lobe, which is expanding as a result.

The lake’s vanishing and rebirth, easily visible from space, are the work of people.

“The impactful thing is the size of some of these changing features,” Mick Ashworth, the editor in chief of the atlas, said in a telephone interview from England.

The atlas charts the shifting coastline of Bangladesh, for example, where land has been lost to rising sea levels. It identifies islands that are likely to be subsumed by the seas, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands among them, and coastal communities that may be forced to move. One of them is Shishmaref, Alaska, located on a narrow island along the Bering Strait, where the break-up of sea ice has left the village more exposed to storms and the sea is advancing at a rate of 10 feet a year.

Some scientists focused on global environmental change say it is no surprise that atlases, in essence, are becoming autobiographical, reflecting the reality that the physical Earth is increasingly what the human species makes of it.

The pace of change will only accelerate over the next two generations, many earth scientists and demographers say, as the human population and its “footprint” — through growing appetites for energy, water and food — crest before leveling off later in the century as communities age and technology advances.

William Clark, an expert at Harvard on global environmental trends, said it was significant that, “even the most conservative of print atlases increasingly go beyond a little map that treats ‘world climates’ or ‘world vegetation’ the way it treats mountain ranges” — as permanent fixtures.

All of this means a lot more work for atlas makers, who now have to keep up not only with political change, but also with large-scale effects of people on the home planet.

Mr. Ashworth said databases tracked by a staff of 50 cartographers are updated every three and a half minutes.

“We can literally see environmental disasters unfolding before our eyes,” he said in a news release last week.

Turning the Ride to School Into a Walk

NY Times
September 11, 2007


The signs say “School Is Open, Drive Safely.” Of course, one should always drive safely, school or no school, and not only “when children are present,” as speed limit signs near schools often state. If only these signs reflected what health and safety experts hope will become a major change in how children get to and from school and after-school activities.

Forty years ago, half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent travel on their own steam. One-quarter take buses, and about 60 percent are transported in private automobiles, usually driven by a parent or, sometimes, a teenager.

The change was primarily motivated by parents’ safety concerns — a desire to protect their children from traffic hazards and predators. But it has had several unfortunate consequences. Children’s lives have become far more sedentary. They are fatter than ever and at greater risk of developing hypertension, diabetes and heart disease at young ages.

The sedentary life also affects their behavior and the ability to learn. Studies have shown that children who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity show improvement in concentration, memory, learning, creativity and problem solving, as well as mood, for up to two hours after exercise.

With more children being driven to school, traffic congestion has mushroomed. That has increased stress to drivers and risks to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as air pollution, especially in and around schools. Parents who drive their children to school make up about a quarter of morning commuters. More traffic also means more vehicular accidents, endangering the lives of children and the adults who drive them. It has become a vicious cycle that must be broken, and soon.

Safely moving children to and from school and after-school activities is a matter of great concern, not only to parents, but also to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in July issued a policy statement on school transportation safety.

School Buses Versus Cars

The academy’s statistics on injuries and fatalities suggest that being driven to school in a passenger vehicle is by far the most dangerous way to get there, and riding in a school bus is the safest. Seventy-five percent of the fatalities and 84 percent of the injuries occur in passenger vehicles, but just 2 percent of student deaths and 4 percent of injuries result from travel by school bus.

The numbers might not tell a complete story. The academy’s Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention and the Council on School Health pointed out that “school bus crash data are incomplete, and that injuries cannot be reliably estimated.

“The first emergency-department-based study of nonfatal school-bus-related injuries found that the number of injuries, 17,000 annually to children 0 to 19 years of age, greatly exceeded previously published estimates.”

When the Minneapolis highway bridge collapsed this summer and a school bus filled with children plunged toward the Mississippi River, witnesses described children “flying” around in the bus. There are just two ways that could have occurred. Either the bus was not equipped with safety restraints or the children, all of whom escaped safely, were not buckled in.

Before child-restraint systems and safety belts came along, large school buses relied on “compartmentalization” to protect their occupants. This meant closely spaced seats with high energy-absorbing backs, which we now know to be inadequate, especially in rollovers and side impacts with other large vehicles. As of this summer, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York, as well as many local school districts, had passed laws requiring seat belts in school buses. California requires them in newly made buses.

Children should be secured in age-appropriate restraints in all motor vehicles. On a school bus, someone other than the driver should be responsible for assuring this.

There are potential side benefits, too: better student behavior, a more consistent seat belt habit among children and fewer distractions for the driver.

The academy urged that all school buses built before 1977 be retired from use “because they are deficient in several significant safety standards.” Old buses also spew undue emissions of pollution that children inhale, increasing respiratory symptoms and hospitalization for asthma.

Safer Routes

Cities and communities throughout the country are trying to encourage more children to walk or bike to school. The only way this can occur is if children can travel there safely. That means more sidewalks and clearly marked bike lanes or paths separated from roadways, lower traffic speed on school routes, safer crosswalks, well-trained crossing guards at all corners near schools and adult supervision.

Also helpful are traffic-calming measures — changes in the design of streets and intersections to slow traffic automatically to acceptable speeds. In 2005, Congress allocated $612 million over five years to help communities create such safer routes to school.

Seattle has reported a 77 percent to 91 percent reduction in traffic accidents after installing a citywide traffic-calming program that included 700 new residential traffic circles. Just last week, Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced that New York would spend $32 million in federal money on a Safe Routes to School initiative that includes transportation and public education projects across the state. More information on traffic calming is available from the Local Government Commission at or by calling (800) 290-8202.

Oct. 3 is the date of national Walk to School Day this year, promoted by the Partnership for a Walkable America ( Children who fail to learn how to walk safely face greater risks whenever they are pedestrians. They have to learn when it is safe to cross and how to judge the speed of oncoming traffic. They must be taught to look both ways for traffic, even on one-way streets. Vehicles do sometimes make mistakes, and bikes can come from any direction.

Parents, who are notoriously pressed for time to exercise, can benefit, too, if they walk or bike with their children to school. Just as parents have managed to organize car pools and play groups, they can organize groups of children who walk or cycle to school accompanied by a different adult each day or week. A walking version of the car pool, the Walking School Bus, has been successful in Canada and England. Parents share the responsibility of escorting children to and from school on foot or bike.

For guidance on setting up a Walking School Bus, a guidebook is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Check the Web site,, or call toll-free, (888) 232-4674.

No need to wait for Walk to School Day. Start today to promote better health and safety for all schoolchildren.

New York Subpoenas 5 Energy Companies

NY Times
September 16, 2007

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has opened an investigation of five large energy companies, questioning whether their plans to build coal-fired power plants pose undisclosed financial risks that their investors should know about.

Mr. Cuomo, using the same state securities law wielded by his predecessor, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, to investigate corruption on Wall Street, sent subpoenas late Friday to the top executives of the five companies, seeking internal documents.

The companies, which have projects in various states, are AES Corporation, Dominion, Dynegy, Peabody Energy and Xcel Energy.

It is rare, if not unique, for a securities law to be used for an environmental purpose, in this case the fight against new coal-fired power plants. The plants’ main emission, carbon dioxide, has been linked by scientists to global warming.

In letters accompanying the subpoenas, the attorney general’s office asked whether investors received adequate information about the potential financial liabilities of carbon dioxide emissions that exacerbate climate change.

“Any one of the several new or likely regulatory initiatives for CO2 emissions from power plants — including state carbon controls, E.P.A.’s regulations under the Clean Air Act, or the enactment of federal global warming legislation — would add a significant cost to carbon-intensive coal generation,” the letters said.

They added, “Selective disclosure of favorable information or omission of unfavorable information concerning climate change is misleading.”

Mr. Cuomo’s move represents a new tactic in an expanding campaign against some of the more than 100 coal-fired power plants currently under consideration.

The nationwide anti-coal effort is being directed by a coalition of environmental groups, shareholder activists and state officials in the Northeast and on the West Coast, including in New York and California.

In an interview, Mr. Cuomo said, “The concept here is using the securities laws to investigate whether the economic risks of these plants are being disclosed — the economic risks which are dovetailing with the environmental concerns.”

Katherine Kennedy, a special deputy attorney general in the environmental protection bureau who worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council for 19 years, added that power plants produced about 30 percent of carbon emissions in the United States, so “it seemed like a logical place to begin.”

Mr. Cuomo said, “It’s a priority for us.”

Two of the five companies disputed Mr. Cuomo’s assertions. Representatives of the other companies postponed comment until they could examine the letters and subpoenas.

The power plant investigation was the second last week in which Mr. Cuomo issued subpoenas under the Martin Act, a 1921 state securities law that predates the creation of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. The New York law grants the attorney general broad powers to compel testimony and subpoena records.

Until Mr. Spitzer used the law as a weapon against corruption on Wall Street, it was obscure. In June, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page called for its repeal, arguing that “it is a law that allows a prosecutor to punish, or even ruin, any financial company regardless of evidence or motive.”

In the case of the five energy companies, Mr. Cuomo said, “This is a very straightforward, consistent use of the act because it’s about disclosure to investors.”

For five years, environmentally oriented shareholder groups have been filing resolutions seeking similar disclosures — including one with Peabody Energy — said Dan Bakal, the director of electric power programs for Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors and environmental groups focused on the environmental impacts of corporate actions.

“This ratchets up the pressure on companies to provide more information as the risks become more and more material,” Mr. Bakal said. Peabody Energy, he added, had increased its disclosure somewhat following shareholders’ requests.

Vic Svec, a spokesman for Peabody, said in an e-mail message yesterday that the company included climate change disclosures “in multiple places” in its public financial filings.

Mr. Svec also said the letter was inaccurate “in claiming that we operate power plants.” He said Peabody is a minority partner in a planned Illinois plant.

Mr. Svec called the New York action “outrageous,” adding, “The legal system was designed to protect — not harass — those such as Peabody who are providing clean energy solutions for America.”

Representatives of Dynegy, Dominion and AES said the documents were under review.

Xcel Energy is building a coal-fired plant in Colorado that was cited in the letter from the attorney general.

A company spokeswoman, Mary Sandok, said in an e-mailed statement: “The plant under construction in Colorado is being built under an agreement we reached with national, state and local environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense. Our financial disclosures are adequate.”

Data from the federal Energy Information Administration shows that about half the country’s electrical generation comes from coal. For the next two or three years, new capacity will be coming largely from natural gas.

But coal, which is now the cheapest fuel — absent expensive technology, still in its experimental stage, to control carbon dioxide emissions — is projected to be the dominant fuel for new electricity from 2009 onward.

The fight against new coal-fired plants has been waged by environmental groups in tandem with their fight at the state, regional and national levels to cap emissions of greenhouse gases in all sectors of the economy.

A group of 10 Northeastern states, including New York, is adopting a program that would cap emissions and allow trading of pollution allotments among projects in those states.

California already has developed rules, which are being copied by New York, Vermont and 10 other states, to reduce heat-trapping gases from passenger vehicles. Those rules were endorsed in a ruling by a federal district judge in Vermont last week — in a case in which Mr. Cuomo’s staff participated.

But this is Mr. Cuomo’s most significant foray into the arena of climate change since taking over in January from Mr. Spitzer, who was one of the most high-profile occupants of the attorney general’s office.

Before he started, Mr. Cuomo acknowledged Mr. Spitzer’s formidable shadow; a Cuomo campaign ad last year said his predecessor had left “big shoes to fill” and featured people holding up the foot-measuring scales used by shoe salesmen. This year, Mr. Cuomo, who is a former federal housing secretary and son of a former governor, has himself made waves nationwide.

He shined a harsh light on close ties between some universities and student lenders, and he is now expanding Mr. Spitzer’s aggressive use of the Martin Act in new areas.

Mr. Cuomo’s office said last week that the attorney general had also invoked the Martin Act and issued subpoenas in his investigation of the oversight of the state’s $154 billion pension fund during the four-year tenure of Alan G. Hevesi as state comptroller.