Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New test for developers in Maine: climate change

Christian Science Monitor
January 16, 2008

Huge development around Moosehead Lake would create 500,000 tons of CO2 over 50 years, environmentalists say.

By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A plan to build thousands of new homes next to a lake in Maine's north woods faces an environmental test that may one day challenge developers nationwide: What's the carbon footprint of a new subdivision or land development?

At hearings last month, Maine environmentalists unveiled for state regulators what is being called a first-in-the-nation study of the greenhouse-gas emissions expected from a huge development planned for Maine's Moosehead Lake. Some observers call it a new front in an emerging battle between environmentalists and developers that started in California two years ago.

"What we're asking in the [Maine] case, for the first time, is to consider the net carbon impacts of a major proposed development," says Michael Stoddard, deputy director of Environment Northeast, the Boston environmental research group that did the study.

So how much carbon does a development emit? Environment Northeast estimates that the plan to clear 14,000 acres of forest to build about 2,300 apartment units and homes could generate up to 500,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions over 50 years, if emissions of vehicles traveling to the distant site are included. The US emits some 12,000 times that amount in a single year.

The developer, Plum Creek Timber Co., disputes the analysis.

"Our plan in Maine is very sensitive to the carbon-footprint issue," says Kathy Budinick, spokeswoman for Seattle-based Plum Creek. "If our plan is approved, more than 400,000 acres of land will be permanently conserved in perpetuity for sustainable forestry, representing the second-largest conservation easement in US history. It's really quite a phenomenal carbon outcome."

At issue is not just the size of a development but the amount of driving it encourages. By being so far from major cities and accessible only by car, the Plum Creek project would produce, conservatively speaking, an additional 9,500 tons of emissions annually, according to the Environment Northeast study. That's the equivalent of putting an extra 1,850 vehicles on the road.

"It's our belief that we can't meet the nation's transportation goals for climate change just by improving automobile technology," says Alan Caron, president of GrowSmart Maine, an antisprawl group that lobbies for compact urban planning and public transportation systems and helped sponsor the Plum Creek study. "You have to pay attention to where things are located."

States eye impact of developments

Other states are beginning to scrutinize the climate impact of real estate developments.

At least 35 states have climate-action plans or are in the process of developing them, says Reid Ewing, executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland. Of those, 17 states have set emissions targets for greenhouse gases.

But laws that allow direct action are still limited. Only California, Massachusetts, and King County, Wash., have specifically incorporated climate-change analysis into the state environmental-review process as it applies to land development, experts say.

"It's mostly talk in the other states," Dr. Ewing says. "But that's only because at this point nobody is exactly sure how to get there. A lot of people are talking about it and many are following California's lead."

California's attorney general has also been a driving force in challenging development because of its climate effects. Last April, he sued San Bernardino County, claiming its development plan didn't go far enough in evaluating greenhouse-gas emissions as required by the California Environmental Quality Act. The attorney general also sued ConocoPhillips over a refinery expansion plan in Contra Costa County. Both cases saw settlements last year that require action to take greenhouse-gas emissions into account.

Liability-conscious California cities and towns are now rushing to include basic greenhouse-gas assessments in their development plans, experts say. At least 148 land-development filings under the environmental quality act last year cited greenhouse-gas emissions as a key issue – compared with just two known cases a year earlier.

"We've seen a substantial increase over years past," says Scott Morgan, senior planner with the California Governor's Office of Planning and Research. "Climate change has kind of permeated everything with regard to land use."

A major challenge for California cities, counties, and developers is the lack of specific threshold standards for greenhouse-gas emissions, he adds. But his office expects to develop such standards by 2010.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are stepping up their legal challenges to new land developments.

In 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity, which specializes in legal action to protect endangered species, sued Banning, Calif., a city of about 30,000, for its alleged failure to evaluate the impact on climate of a proposed development of about 1,500 homes.

"We wanted them to take their carbon footprint into account and really look at the greenhouse-gas issue," says Matt Vespa, an attorney with the center. "They just ignored us."

Officials for the city say they hope the case, which is awaiting a judge's verdict, will validate the city's earlier environmental impact assessment of the development.

"Banning is very concerned about being a green city and being protective of the environment," says Julie Hayward Biggs, Banning's city attorney. "There was no requirement to take greenhouse emissions into account at the time the city approved the development – and there still are no standards."

Plum Creek decision this summer?

Meanwhile, the last hearings on Maine's Plum Creek project are scheduled for this week.

State officials are expected to rule as soon as this summer on the company's request to rezone hundreds of thousands of acres for development.

"Climate change will be the defining issue for urban planning and land development in the years ahead," says Ewing. "It will trump everything."

Energy boost

Boston Globe

Wide-ranging bill aims to promote wind, water power sources and curb harmful greenhouse gases

By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff
November 8, 2007

After months of negotiations with Governor Deval Patrick and business and environmental groups, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and legislative leaders are unveiling a sweeping bill today to promote energy conservation and innovation.

The wide-ranging bill would require the state by 2020 to quintuple - to 20 percent - the percentage of electricity it generates from renewable sources such as wind, hydroelectric, and crop-based fuels while cutting emissions of climate-affecting greenhouse gases by 20 percent.

Several new measures would provide financial incentives and reduce red tape and paperwork for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels, wind turbines, and super-efficient basement-based devices that produce both heat and electrical power. Massachusetts residents buying fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles could qualify for a $2,000 deduction on their state income taxes.

The bill would require utilities to pay customers to install energy-conserving measures. The utilities would pay for such measures only when the measures cost less per unit of electricity than it would cost the utility to purchase power from generators.

The provision, a priority of Patrick's, could lead to utilities paying for hundreds of millions of dollars more in efficiency measures like replacement lightbulbs and appliances and weatherproofing for Massachusetts homeowners, businesses, and institutions.

The 106-page bill heavily reworks the Green Communities Act that the speaker floated 11 months ago.

The new plan is being rolled out by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Energy just 13 days before the end of this year's legislative session. It isn't expected to be taken up by the House until next week, DiMasi aides said.

In an interview, DiMasi said he is hopeful that because so many of the bill's terms have been negotiated in compromises with Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, other legislative leaders, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and several business and environmental groups, it could earn quick approval.

"When this bill is passed, this will be the shining moment of this year's legislative session," DiMasi said. "I think this is the signature accomplishment of the year."

State Senator Michael W. Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat who is co-chairman of the legislative energy panel along with Representative Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, said, "We think we have a great product. It's important now to move the bill ahead to members of the House and Senate and get it to the governor's desk later this year or early next year."

Asked about the likelihood Murray would push the bill through the Senate in the next two weeks, Morrissey said, "I can't say she's in 100 percent agreement with what's going on, but I think we're very close to agreement, subject to the input of my colleagues." Murray had no comment yesterday.

Patrick's energy and environmental affairs secretary, Ian A. Bowles, who plans to speak at a State House event introducing the bill this morning, said, "This legislation reflects the governor's top priorities on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and reflects a lot of cooperation between the administration and the speaker. The public is ready for bold steps on renewable energy and efficiency."

The DiMasi-backed plan would:

Set up a new consumer advocate in Coakley's office to represent consumers in utility rate cases.

Amend state corporation law to require mergers involving Massachusetts utilities be approved by the state Department of Public Utilities.

Require that total energy consumed in Massachusetts be cut 10 percent by 2017.

Replace the Division of Energy Resources with a new Department of Clean Energy to manage hundreds of millions of dollars in energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Change state law to allow utilities - which now are restricted to signing only one-year energy supply deals - to sign some 10- and 20-year contracts that could be crucial for wind farms and other renewable-energy projects to get financing.

The bill is drawing support from business groups, utilities, and advocacy organizations such as the Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Northeast, and Environment Massachusetts. "It's very, very exciting," said Frank Gorke, director of Environment Massachusetts.

Robert J. Rio, vice president of environmental programs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which represents about 7,000 businesses and employers, said businesses are excited that the bill would make more funding available to them to pay for energy-saving measures.

"It's a good bill," Rio said. "We want to work to get it passed."

Peter J. Howe can be reached at

Plan calls for wider, safer I-295

Portland Press Herald

It's the 'wider' that's getting attention; critics say that's incompatible with energy conservation.

January 30, 2008

MEETING NOTE: THE MAINE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION will hold a public meeting at Portland City Hall tonight on the draft report of the I-295 Corridor Study. The meeting will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in the State of Maine Room.

Years in the making, a multimillion-dollar proposal to improve Interstate 295 calls for making exits and entrance ramps safer, reworking key interchanges and possibly widening the highway through South Portland, Portland and the suburbs to the north.

The I-295 Corridor Study, still in draft form, provides recommendations for ensuring safe and efficient travel on the busy stretch of highway from Scarborough to Brunswick over the next 20 years. Some of its recommendations, such as widening parts of the highway from four lanes to six, would be carried out six to 20 years in the future, if at all.

Still, the study already is drawing criticism.

Instead of adding pavement to accommodate more vehicles and generate more pollution, more should be done to promote public transportation, say community and environmental activists.

"This study is coming out with a bias toward single-occupancy vehicles," said Alec Maybarduk, a field organizer for The League of Young Voters, a Portland-based political action group.

The Maine Department of Transportation plans an informational meeting on the report at Portland City Hall tonight, and public comment is invited. "We'll certainly listen to everything people have to say," said Ed Hanscom, project manager for the study.

He said the study does account for public transportation, such as commuter rail north of Portland and rapid transit bus service. He noted that plans to widen I-295 are long-term, and said the study acknowledges that as alternative transportation comes into being, it may take enough vehicles off I-295 to help make widening unnecessary.

Half of tonight's meeting will be devoted to a study that the DOT is just starting, to look at rail and bus service opportunities between Portland and Brunswick, and Portland and Auburn, said David Willauer, planning director for the Greater Portland Council of Governments, which organized the meeting.

Willauer said public comment will be welcomed on the two-year Portland North Alternative Transportation Study, which officials hope will lead to a federal grant for alternative transportation.

Public feedback on the draft I-295 Corridor Study will be considered as a final report is prepared, said Hanscom, who couldn't predict exactly when the report will be finished.

The DOT began studying I-295 in 2000 at the direction of the Maine Legislature, which was concerned about the increasing traffic on the road, much of which was built in the 1950s and 1960s.

I-295 runs today from Scarborough to West Gardiner. Its busiest stretch is in South Portland and Portland, where 75,000 to 85,000 vehicles are on the highway each day. About 50,000 travel between Falmouth and Brunswick each day.

Over the next 20 years, traffic is expected to increase 20 percent, according to the I-295 Corridor Study, which began in 2004.

There has been a series of public meetings on the study, Hanscom said. Two were held in November: one in Brunswick and one in Yarmouth. The meeting in Brunswick was attended only by town officials, Willauer said, and the one in Yarmouth drew about 20 people.

He said most people at the Yarmouth meeting were interested in the study's recommendation for southbound Exit 15 in Yarmouth, where accidents have occurred. The study recommends spending $5 million to realign the entrance ramp with the highway and extend it to make it safer.

The study recommends both short- and long-term fixes to the highway.

Exit 15 is seen as one of the short-term improvements, which Hanscom said are less costly and could be completed within one to six years with $18 million in federal and state funding already secured.

Other short-term improvements would add lanes at exits where traffic backs up at rush hour. For example, ramps would be widened at Franklin Arterial in Portland. There also is a plan to reconfigure the ramps in both directions on Forest Avenue, so drivers no longer would have to merge immediately into traffic.

Another short-term project would be to spend $1 million to increase the number of electronic message boards on the highway, to redirect drivers in case of accidents.

Hanscom said funds have yet to be secured for long-term recommendations in the study. However, the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee has included adding lanes to I-295 high on a list of projects that could be funded with $50 million in federal money that Maine is likely to receive in 2009.

Long-term projects include a $35 million upgrade of Exit 11 in Falmouth to connect I-295 and the Maine Turnpike via the Maine Turnpike spur.

The most controversial long-term project would widen the highway from four lanes to six from Exit 2 in South Portland to Exit 9 in Portland, at a cost of $50 million, and from Exit 11 in Falmouth to Exit 15 in Yarmouth, at a cost of $18 million.

Hanscom said those are the most congested parts of the highway.

Christian McNeil, vice chairman of Portland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, who plans to attend tonight's meeting, said it is "irresponsible" to spend money that's needed to repair the state's existing roads and bridges on a few miles of I-295.

He proposes discontinuing I-295 through the center of Portland and converting that part of the highway to a 25-mph boulevard that is friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. "I just don't think it makes sense to have it go through downtown Portland," he said.

Beth Nagusky, energy and climate director for GrowSmart Maine, a Yarmouth-based nonprofit, also plans to speak at tonight's meeting.

Among GrowSmart's concerns, Nagusky said, is that the I-295 Corridor Study and the Portland North Alternative Transportation Study are separate when they should be connected. "It's the same issue," she said.

Nagusky also plans to object to the widening proposals. "Adding road capacity is a major step backward" for climate goals that Maine set earlier in this decade to reduce greenhouse gases, she said. "You can't talk about climate change without reducing how much we drive."

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Voluntarily going green: A Bath business decides to step up recycling, though it doesn't have to

Times Record


BATH — Inside the signature red and gold of the McDonald's in Bath, there's a hint of green. As a business, the fast food restaurant isn't subject to the city's relatively new pay-per-bag trash disposal program — which encourages recycling by forcing residents to pay a fee for each bag of garbage they leave curbside for pick-up, while the recycling bins are emptied free.

But store manager Mark Fraser has decided to get the Golden Arches on board with increased recycling anyway, and Bath public works officials say there may be a lesson for smaller business owners in the chain branch's initiative.

"Let's forget about being 'green' for a moment, forget about saving landfill space — it saves money," said Lee Leiner, deputy director of the city's Public Works Department. "You can say, 'It's McDonald's, it's a multinational corporation, they're not really saving that much in the overall scheme of things,' but a couple hundred bucks a month is pretty substantial to a small business owner."

Fraser began putting out blue recycling bins near the restaurant's trash receptacles, and prominantly listing the items that could be placed in the bins instead of the trash cans. The list includes much of what the average fast food customer throws away, like empty French fry and sandwich boxes, receipts, relatively clean tray liners, Happy Meal boxes and milk cartons.

So far, Fraser said, only about 10 percent of the customers have caught on. But behind the counter — where store employees recycle storage containers, egg crates and plastic pickle boxes, among other things — the effort has cut the restaurant's total garbage output in half.

"Before we started recycling, we had 16 cubic yards of trash per week," he said. "Now we're down to eight."

The difference is that the store's trash Dumpster, which used to be emptied twice a week, is now emptied only once. That adds up to about $200 in savings a month, said Fraser. At 95 cents apiece, that could buy more than seven cheeseburgers a day.

"Our recycling Dumpster is bigger than our trash Dumpster now," he said.

Joe Breisacher, who owns both the Bath McDonald's and the franchise at Cooks Corner in Brunswick, gives Fraser all the credit for the success of the recycling effort.

"He's gung-ho about it," said Breisacher. "When he sees somebody with something in their hand, he'll remind them, 'Recycle it! Recycle it!' It's amazing, when you put it all together, how much you can recycle."

Leiner said similar programs could benefit other businesses as well.

"The business community is not a formal part of the recycling program," he said. "When a business like McDonald's calls me and says, 'Can you help me recycle more?' I say, 'Sure,' because it's in the best interests of the city and it's in the best interests of the business. For a business person, that saves them money — that to me, links the green of money with the green of the environment."

Refrigerator plan should cut stores' harmful gas

Portland Press Herald

Hannaford Bros. and Whole Foods are working with the EPA to improve efficiency.

January 29, 2008

Hannaford Bros. Co. plans to upgrade refrigerators in its
supermarkets as part of a new federal program aimed at
protecting the earth's protective ozone layer and slowing global

Hannaford, based in Scarborough, and Whole Foods Market,
which has a store in Portland, are two of 10 companies
nationwide to sign on to the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration

The companies are working with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency to reduce the threat that chemical refrigerants
can pose to the ozone layer and the earth's climate, the EPA's
Boston office announced Monday. They also are working on ways
to make refrigeration systems more energy-efficient, to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

"(Refrigeration) is a pretty big chunk of what goes on in any
supermarket," said Harrison Horning, director of facilities and
energy for Hannaford.

The new initiative is a continuation of 15 years of efforts to
improve the efficiency of Hannaford's refrigeration equipment,
he said.

Hannaford will start installing equipment this year that
reduces the amounts of refrigerants that are needed and
reduces energy demand, Horning said. The latest technology, for
example, uses waste heat from refrigerators to heat buildings.

Customers won't notice any of the changes. "It's all behind
the scenes," Horning said.

The company expects the investment to pay off quickly
because of the energy that will be saved, he said.

The EPA program is focusing on reducing energy use and on
ways to prevent leaks and discharges of chemical refrigerants
such as HCFC-22. That commonly used refrigerant is being
phased out because it can deplete ozone. It also is a greenhouse
gas that can contribute to climate change.

The next generation of refrigerants is expected to be safer
for the ozone layer but still will pose a threat to the climate.p>

"You want to feel like you've reached the finished line, but
now we realize the (next class of refrigerants) are still
greenhouse gases, so we have more to do," Horning said.

The EPA estimates that refrigeration improvements can
eliminate as much greenhouse gas as taking 800,000
automobiles off the road every year. It also estimates that
improvements could save the industry more than $12 million a

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

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Monday, January 28, 2008

Groups use 'social marketing' to aid environment

Portland Press Herald

If 20% of the population changes behavior, activists believe the
rest will follow

By ANNE GLEASON Staff Writer
January 28, 2008

By the end of this month, "no idling" signs will be up in park-
and-ride locations across the state. They're already a familiar
sight at spots in Freeport and at ferry terminals, and now even a
few businesses have signs in their parking lots.

Those who ignore the signs are not fined. They're meant to
encourage -- not punish -- behavior, said Joan Saxe, a member
of the executive committee of the Maine Sierra Club chapter,
which partnered with state agencies and the Maine Council of
Churches on the no-idling initiative.

"It's not about preaching. It's about getting community members
and neighbors to act on certain behaviors," she said. "Something
like (no-idling ordinances) are hard to enforce. We feel like peer
pressure -- neighbor-to-neighbor influence -- can make things

Communities across the globe are turning to community-based
social marketing to encourage environmentally conscious
behavior, an idea pioneered by environmental psychologist Doug
McKenzie-Mohr and based on the idea that sustainable behavior
can be marketed using tried-and-true techniques, including
peer pressure.

Traditional public-information campaigns alone, according to
McKenzie-Mohr's guide, have limited success in changing long-
term behavior.

Now environmental advocates in Maine communities, including
Kennebunk and Freeport, are looking at social marketing as one
way to get more residents on board with local green initiatives.
The Maine Council of Churches has a statewide social-marketing
campaign called "Be a Good Apple," which provides churches
with necessary materials to encourage their congregations to
pledge to eat local food.

Last year, Kennebunk's all-volunteer Sustainable Energy Alliance
got the town to sign on to the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection
Agreement, then tried to involve residents as well, with a
community climate challenge encouraging people to pledge to
lower their carbon emissions.

Because of lack of participation, it never got off the ground. Jen
Niese, a founding member of the group, believes the challenge
may have failed because of an abundance of climate challenges
at the time, but also said it could have been marketed better.

Now the group is brainstorming ways to increase recycling rates
in town, and Niese said she would like to draft an effort using
McKenzie-Mohr's guide. He advises communities to identify
barriers to certain behaviors and develop programs to overcome
them. "We need to get people to commit and get people to sign
on (to recycling efforts), instead of just handing them a bin,"
Niese said.

A handful of communities in southern York County are trying a
different approach to behavioral change, building a network of
supporters from the ground up. The Piscataqua Sustainability
Initiative, based in Portsmouth, N.H., started its "sustainability
circles" in seacoast New Hampshire and Maine in the fall of
2006. They're like book clubs, except the discussions are meant
specifically to change the way participants think about their
effect on the environment.

The idea is not to tell people to recycle, but to change their
values so that sustainability becomes an ingrained concept and
actions such as recycling or buying environmentally safe
products become second nature, said Bert Cohen, an adjunct
professor who started the sustainability circles in the seacoast

"You can get people to recycle cans, but that's working on an
individual level," he said. "If you change the value system that
somebody functions with, those values will go out into the
community and affect every decision they make."

Two years ago, Portsmouth began its environmental efforts the
way many communities do, making municipal buildings more
energy-efficient. As a member of the city sustainability
committee, Cohen believed more could be done to involve
residents and businesses. "We felt, the city (government) is a
very small portion of what is happening in terms of the whole
municipality," he said.

The circles quickly spread to Maine communities, including York,
Eliot and North Berwick. Cohen acknowledged that many current
participants are people who already were environmentally
conscious, but said with any product, the "early adapters" spread
information down to the marginally invested, who then talk to
the less invested, and so on.

The "tipping point" for when a new idea or product takes off is
believed to occur when about 20 percent of a population is on
board, he said. The goal right now, Cohen said, is to build that
constituency through the grass-roots meetings.

"When you reach 20 percent of the population with anything,
whether it's a hula hoop or a VW Bug, people see the benefits of
it and they move toward it," he said.

Diane Brandon of Eliot participated in her first sustainability
circle in December 2006. Later she became a facilitator. Her
latest group finished up this month, having met for eight weeks
in the homes of the participants during lunchtime. Brandon still
keeps in touch with the members by e-mail, sending
information about new products or community issues.

"You become part of a network that's out there," she said. "You
try to get engaged in whatever catches you."

Staff Writer Anne Gleason can be contacted at 282-8229 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Friday, January 25, 2008

E.P.A. Chief Defends His Decision on California

NY Times
January 25, 2008


WASHINGTON — Defending his refusal to let California set limits on the greenhouse gas emissions of automobiles, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency insisted before a Senate committee Thursday that climate change posed no “compelling and extraordinary” risk to the state.

Describing such change as “not unique to” and “not exclusive to California,” the agency’s administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, called it “a global problem requiring a global solution or, at least at a minimum, a national solution.”

But internal agency documents cited by members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works listed climate change effects specific to California, including wildfires and species loss.

Fifteen states have signed on to follow California’s lead in regulating automobile emissions, and the governors of three of them — Maryland, Pennsylvania and Vermont — testified before the committee Thursday that attacking the problem was essential for their residents and the world as a whole.

The states are suing to overturn Mr. Johnson’s decision last year to deny California a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act that would allow the emission regulation. It is the only state allowed by the act to apply for such exemptions.

California has used previous waivers to require automobile makers to reduce emissions of smog, a locally severe pollutant. Over the years, other states, many with large urban areas, have adopted California’s program, and the Environmental Protection Agency has adopted many of the changes as national policy.

Mr. Johnson argued that the newly revised federal standard for vehicle fuel efficiency — signed into law a few hours before he announced his intention to deny California’s waiver — was a better approach to reducing auto emissions because it was more uniform.

Appearing before the committee, Mr. Johnson was confronted with a hostile panel of senators, most of them Democrats. The only Republican present, Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, questioned whether human activity was an important cause of global warming and disputed the idea that there was a consensus among scientists that this was the case.

The chairwoman of the committee, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, has been in a dispute with the environmental agency over access to its records, to determine whether Mr. Johnson overruled his staff in blocking state action on global warming.

Mr. Johnson said he could not recall whether the briefing papers prepared by his staff had included a recommendation. He denied having been pressured by the White House to protect the car industry.

The E.P.A. has said that since it was in litigation with the states, it had the right to protect its internal deliberations with its own lawyers.

Mrs. Boxer said her staff had been allowed to review the documents and write down what they said, as agency staff members watched over their shoulders.

One read, “California continues to have compelling and extraordinary conditions in general (geography, climatic, human and motor vehicle populations — many such conditions are vulnerable to climate change conditions) as confirmed by several recent E.P.A. decisions.”

That point is crucial if the agency’s stated reason for denying California a role in controlling automobile emissions of heat-trapping gases is that the state has no local stake in climate change.

Mrs. Boxer announced that she would introduce legislation to grant California its waiver.

“If the administration will not work for responsible federal action in this regard,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, a committee member and the author of a global warming bill, “I believe at the very least it should stay out of the road that many state governments are taking for real forward-looking action to protect our citizens from global warming.”

Doug Haaland, a staff member for the Republican caucus in the lower house of the California Legislature, told the committee that the 16 states, which represent roughly half the country’s automobile market, were trying a “bank shot around Washington’s perceived inability to take action.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Earth Policy Institute
Plan B Update
Embargoed for January 24, 2008, 11:00 AM EST

Lester R. Brown

We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history. The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before.

The world is facing the most severe food price inflation in history as grain and soybean prices climb to all-time highs. Wheat trading on the Chicago Board of Trade on December 17th breached the $10 per bushel level for the first time ever. In mid-January, corn was trading over $5 per bushel, close to its historic high. And on January 11th, soybeans traded at $13.42 per bushel, the highest price ever recorded. All these prices are double those of a year or two ago.

As a result, prices of food products made directly from these commodities such as bread, pasta, and tortillas, and those made indirectly, such as pork, poultry, beef, milk, and eggs, are everywhere on the rise. In Mexico, corn meal prices are up 60 percent. In Pakistan, flour prices have doubled. China is facing rampant food price inflation, some of the worst in decades.

In industrial countries, the higher processing and marketing share of food costs has softened the blow, but even so, prices of food staples are climbing. By late 2007, the U.S. price of a loaf of whole wheat bread was 12 percent higher than a year earlier, milk was up 29 percent, and eggs were up 36 percent. In Italy, pasta prices were up 20 percent.

World grain prices have increased dramatically on three occasions since World War II, each time as a result of weather-reduced harvests. But now it is a matter of demand simply outpacing supply. In seven of the last eight years world grain production has fallen short of consumption. These annual shortfalls have been covered by drawing down grain stocks, but the carryover stocks -- the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins -- have now dropped to 54 days of world consumption, the lowest on record.(See data at

From 1990 to 2005, world grain consumption, driven largely by population growth and rising consumption of grain-based animal products, climbed by an average of 21 million tons per year. Then came the explosion in demand for grain used in U.S. ethanol distilleries, which jumped from 54 million tons in 2006 to 81 million tons in 2007. This 27 million ton jump more than doubled the annual growth in world demand for grain. If 80 percent of the 62 distilleries now under construction are completed by late 2008, grain used to produce fuel for cars will climb to 114 million tons, or 28 percent of the projected 2008 U.S. grain harvest.

Historically the food and energy economies have been largely separate, but now with the construction of so many fuel ethanol distilleries, they are merging. If the food value of grain is less than its fuel value, the market will move the grain into the energy economy. Thus as the price of oil rises, the price of grain follows it upward.

A University of Illinois economics team calculates that with oil at $50 a barrel, it is profitable -- with the ethanol subsidy of 51¢ a gallon (equal to $1.43 per bushel of corn) -- to convert corn into ethanol as long as the price is below $4 a bushel. But with oil at $100 a barrel, distillers can pay more than $7 a bushel for corn and still break even. If oil climbs to $140, distillers can pay $10 a bushel for corn -- double the early 2008 price of $5 per bushel.

The World Bank reports that for each 1 percent rise in food prices, caloric intake among the poor drops 0.5 percent. Millions of those living on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder, people who are barely hanging on, will lose their grip and begin to fall off.

Projections by Professors C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer of the University of Minnesota four years ago showed the number of hungry and malnourished people decreasing from over 800 million to 625 million by 2025. But in early 2007 their update of these projections, taking into account the biofuel effect on world food prices, showed the number of hungry people climbing to 1.2 billion by 2025. That climb is already under way.

Since the budgets of international food aid agencies are set well in advance, a rise in food prices shrinks food assistance. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), which is now supplying emergency food aid to 37 countries, is cutting shipments as prices soar. The WFP reports that 18,000 children are dying each day from hunger and related illnesses.

As grain prices climb, a politics of food scarcity is emerging as exporting countries restrict exports to limit the rise in domestic food prices. At the end of January, Russia -- one of the top five wheat exporters -- will impose a 40-percent export tax on wheat, effectively banning exports. Argentina, another leading wheat exporter, closed export registrations for wheat indefinitely in early December until it could assess the condition of the new crop. And Viet Nam, the number two rice exporter after Thailand, has banned rice exports for several months and will likely not lift this ban until the new crop comes to market.

Rising food prices are translating into social unrest. It began in early 2007 with tortilla demonstrations in Mexico. Then came pasta protests in Italy. More recently, rising bread prices in Pakistan have become a source of unrest. In Jakarta, 10,000 Indonesians gathered in front of the presidential palace on January 14th this year to protest the doubling of soybean prices that has raised the price of tempeh, the national soy-based protein staple. When a supermarket in Chongqing, China, where cooking oil prices have soared, offered this oil at a reduced price, the resulting stampede when doors opened killed three people and injured 31.

As economic stresses translate into political stresses, the number of failing states, such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti, which was already increasing before the rise in food prices began, could increase even faster.

There is much to be concerned about on the food front. We enter this new crop year with the lowest grain stocks on record, the highest grain prices ever, the prospect of a smaller U.S. grain harvest as several million acres of land that shifted from soybeans to corn last year go back to soybeans, the need to feed an additional 70 million people, and U.S. distillers wanting 33 million more tons of grain to supply the new ethanol distilleries coming online this year. Corn futures prices for December 2008 delivery are higher than those for March, suggesting that market analysts see even tighter supplies after the next harvest.

Whereas previous dramatic rises in world grain prices were weather-induced, this one is policy-induced and can be dealt with by policy adjustments. The crop fuels program that currently satisfies scarcely 3 percent of U.S. gasoline needs is simply not worth the human suffering and political chaos it is causing. If the entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into ethanol, it would satisfy scarcely 18 percent of our automotive fuel needs.

The irony is that U.S. taxpayers, by subsidizing the conversion of grain into ethanol, are in effect financing a rise in their own food prices. It is time to end the subsidy for converting food into fuel and to do it quickly before the deteriorating world food situation spirals out of control.

# # #

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

For a more detailed discussion of this issue, see Chapter 2 in Plan B 3.0, available for free downloading at

Data and additional resources at

For information contact:

Media Contact:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 12
E-mail: rjk (at)

Research Contact:
Janet Larsen
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 14
E-mail: jlarsen (at)

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403
Washington, DC 20036

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Greening Lewiston creates savings

By Scott Taylor , Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

LEWISTON - Efforts to green the city's school and government operations are focusing on budget savings instead of environmental theory, officials said Tuesday.

"The underlying goal of reducing and saving makes sense," city Councilor Tom Peters said. "Exactly why we do it, that's not as important. What matters is that we made the changes."

Both city councilors and school board members heard a status report on Cool Communities Maine, an effort to get Maine municipalities to reduce their overall carbon footprint to pre-1990 levels by 2012. Joan B. Saxe of the Maine Partners for Cool Communities said global warming is a driving force behind the effort.

"Global warming is pretty evident at this point," Saxe said. "You hear it all the time from a variety of experts that it really is happening."

The Cool Communities initiative urges communities to do business in more economical ways, cutting down on engine idling, using more durable and energy efficient appliances and encouraging recycling.

So far, 14 Maine municipalities have joined the effort - including Lewiston and Auburn. Saxe said Lewiston has done a good job promoting recycling and converting traffic signals from traditional bulbs to LEDs.

Last week, Lewiston councilors heard a report on replacing traditional street lights with LEDs in some parts of the city on a trial basis. LEDs require less energy and last longer than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. The city has already replaced many traffic signals with LED lights.

Councilor Nelson Peters said he supports the effort, but for different reasons.

"I like the idea of saving energy, but I don't buy the idea of global warming," he said. His brother, Ward 1's Tom Peters, said it's still worthwhile.

"I think we need to stay away on political questions and just focus on what this can do," Tom Peters said.

Garbage in, energy out

Bangor Daily News
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

HAMPDEN, Maine — Landfill gas will be responsible for lighting 2,000 to 3,000 homes within the New England power grid by the end of the week.

Crews at the Pine Tree Landfill on Monday started testing the first engine in the $6 million gas-to-energy project, and had moved on to the second one Tuesday, according to Dan Dutile, environmental technician for Casella Waste Systems Inc., the company that owns the landfill. After tweaking the first engine for hours Monday, the generator produced a half-megawatt of electricity for 10 minutes, he said.

Dutile said he hopes to start and make adjustments to the third and final engine either today or Thursday.

Once all the flaws are identified and repaired, the engines are expected to produce more than 2 megawatts of electricity by Friday, Dutile said. By next week, when operating at its highest efficiency, the facility should be able to produce 3 megawatts of power, lighting approximately 3,000 homes within the grid. Once the engines are fully operational, the facility will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Dutile said.

"No later than Friday we should have all three [engines] running and producing power," Dutile said.

The project will turn methane produced by the landfill into usable electricity. In 2002 Casella, a Vermont-based company, installed a gas-extraction system to reduce odor complaints around town. The system vacuums from the landfill gases created by waste decomposition and burns them at a flare that resembles a candle. The flare can be seen from around town, particularly at night along Cold Brook Road.

Once the engines are in full operation, instead of the methane being burned off, it will be used to fuel three 20-cylinder internal combustion engines to power generators capable of producing up to 3 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 3,000 homes in the New England power grid.

The landfill is scheduled to close by 2010, and it already has limited its waste stream to construction and demolition debris and appropriate cover material, such as contaminated soils and incinerator ash. Even though the landfill is nearing closure, Casella expects to produce electricity from the gases for 15 years. Although no financial details were released, company officials expect the project to be profitable.

There are 435 landfill gas-to-energy projects in the nation, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site, and 29 of those are in New England.

The project is the first of its kind in the state, and both Casella and the state have learned a lot from the process, said Cyndi Darling, environmental specialist with the division of solid waste management for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

"We were enthusiastic from the beginning," Darling said. "It was a challenge because we don’t have regulations in the solid waste division or air bureau for a gas-to-energy plant."

DEP officials worked closely with Casella during the construction phase, and Darling said the state is working to create regulations. Members of the air bureau and solid waste division often spoke with their counterparts in other New England states to provide guidelines for the Casella project in Hampden, she said.

Although it would not be cost-effective for most Maine landfills to build a gas-to-energy facility, the larger Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town and Norridgewock Landfill and Transfer Station could be future candidates, Darling said.

Casella has marketed the electricity as "green power," since it would not use fossil fuels that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. Burning methane from landfills is generally viewed among environmentalists as cleaner than many other power-producing methods.

State, local and company officials broke ground for the project in May and at the time hoped to be producing electricity by late fall. Design changes and delayed equipment delivery slowed the startup date, Dutile said.

Most of the late-arriving equipment is used to treat the landfill gas before it enters the engines. Hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten egg, has to be removed because its byproduct, sulfuric acid, would damage the engines, Dutile said. Additionally, the DEP limits the amount of sulfur dioxide the facility can emit in one year. Dutile said crews would continue to closely monitor emissions.

"It was a disappointment that we weren’t able to bring it on line in time" for the new year, he said.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oil Demand, the Climate and the Energy Ladder

NY Times

January 19, 2008
Saturday Interview


Energy demand is expected to grow in coming decades. Jeroen van der Veer, 60, Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, recently offered his views on the energy challenge facing the world and the challenge posed by global warming. He spoke of the need for governments to set limits on carbon emissions. He also lifted the veil on Shell’s latest long-term energy scenarios, titled Scramble and Blueprints, which he will make public next week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. What are the main findings of Shell’s two scenarios?

A. Scramble is where key actors, like governments, make it their primary focus to do a good job for their own country. So they look after their self-interest and try to optimize within their own boundaries what they try to do. Blueprints is basically all the international initiatives, like Kyoto, like Bali, or like a future Copenhagen. They start very slowly but before not too long they become relatively successful. This is a model of international cooperation.

Q. Your first scenario looks very similar to today’s world, with energy nationalism, competition for resources and little attention to consumption.

A. It depends where you live. I realize there are different opinions about Kyoto in the world. But if you think about Bali, Bali is a good outcome if people can agree how to have useful discussion in the coming two years and the United States, China and India are on board. The Blueprints world is maybe a world that starts slowly and is not that easily feasible, but you see some early indicators that it is a realistic possibility.

Q. The world seems to be at some form of inflection point with a big shift in demand.

A. The basic drivers are pretty easy and they are twofold. You go from six billion people to nine billion people basically in 2050. This combination of many more people climbing the energy ladder, which is basically welfare for a lot of people who live in poverty, creates that enormous demand for energy.

Q. How will the demand be fulfilled?

A. Many politicians think we have to make a choice between fossil fuels and renewables. We have to grow both fossil fuels and renewables. And that will be a huge effort for both.

Q. More energy means more carbon emissions. How do you deal with that?

A. That is absolutely the crux of the matter. The principal way we see is that in the very short term, man-made carbon emissions will increase. But over time people will figure out ways — and we work very hard on that — that while using fossil fuels you try to find carbon dioxide solutions. For instance, carbon sequestration. The problem is that many of the renewables, if you take the subsidies out, are still too expensive. That is the dilemma we face now.

Q. Fossil fuels are still going to represent the lion’s share of the energy mix in the next century?

A. First, there is no lack in itself of oil or gas, or coal for that matter. But the problem is that the easy-to-produce oil or easy-to-produce gas will be depleted or with difficult access. But if you look at difficult oil or difficult gas, which we in the industry call the unconventionals, such as oil sands or shales, they may be exploitable. But per barrel, you need a lot more technology and a lot more investments, and per barrel you need a lot more brain to produce it. It’s much more expensive.

Q. What kind of alternatives can compete?

A. The competition is partly true competition — markets, inventions — and part of it is governments. I think if you can price carbon dioxide, probably you can stimulate carbon capture and sequestration. If you tax a certain form of energy, over time it gets more expensive and you may use less of it.

Q. It still seems there is a gap that is hard to bridge.

A. If carbon is the real bottleneck, as a world it makes sense that we use our money where we get the biggest reduction for the lowest cost. You get more carbon reduction for less money by tackling the power sector and maybe the building sector.

Q. It is still hard to see that people are willing to pay more for greener energy.

A. I am a strong believer and strong advocate of free enterprise. If you would like to solve the carbon problem in the world, free enterprise has to work in close cooperation with governments to form the right framework. How you tackled the sulfur dioxide problem in the United States was the basic inspiration for the European trading system of carbon. So there are examples from the past we can apply to overcome that problem. But we can’t do it on our own as an industry. We need cooperation from governments.

Q. How close are we to an understanding globally that climate policy and energy policy are all interrelated issues?

A. Thanks to Al Gore, and many others, the awareness is there. There is a kind of sense of urgency. Secondly, there is a preparedness to do things. Thirdly, do we agree who has to take what action? I think that is still a huge problem.

Q. There was a lot of disagreement at the Bali climate conference.

A. That is correct. I realize that Bali is still very difficult. I am not a pessimist. I see it as a very difficult start-up. The crux of the matter is, if the people say, “Hang on, we are really concerned about the climate and we’d better do something on carbon emissions,” that is in the end the powerful force which politicians and companies cannot ignore. And I think we are past that point.

Multinationals Fight Climate Change

NY Times

January 21, 2008


LONDON (Reuters) — Eleven companies are teaming up to see how they can work with thousands of their suppliers to curb greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental consultancy said on Sunday.

The companies in the program, called the Supply Chain Leadership Collaboration, include giants in their sectors like Cadbury Schweppes, Dell, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Tesco.

The venture is being coordinated by the Carbon Disclosure Project, a British nonprofit organization that helps companies and investors to cooperate in the battle against climate change.

“Multinationals are seeking to understand where the emissions are lying in their supply chain and what risks and opportunities from climate change will be presented,” Paul Simpson, chief operating officer for CDP, said.

In the pilot phase, until the end of March 2008, each company participating in the program has selected 50 suppliers to work with, the group said.

The Carbon Disclosure Project will publish a report after the first phase, recommending a standardized approach to emissions cuts. A second phase, starting in May, will include up to 2,000 suppliers associated with each participating company.

Stricter System to Trim Carbon Emissions Is Considered in Europe

NY Times

January 22, 2008


BRUSSELS — European Union officials this week will propose an overhaul of the bloc’s sometimes dysfunctional carbon emissions trading system, aiming to reduce corporate influence and make polluting more expensive.

The system would force more factories in Europe to pay for pollution and would seek to reduce the oversupply of permits. That, in turn, could push up their costs.

It would also be governed centrally in Brussels, rather than partly by member countries, as is now done, with the aim of reducing the ability of companies to profit by lobbying nations for more pollution permits than they need.

The draft proposal, not yet public but seen by The International Herald Tribune, is to be presented to the European Parliament on Wednesday by the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

“This is certainly an example of what many developed countries need to do to stabilize greenhouse gases using stringent national policies and effective market mechanisms,” said John Hay, a spokesman for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, which oversaw the negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol.

Lobbying from energy-intensive industries, particularly in Western Europe, means that the legislation could still face obstacles, and a review by Parliament and European governments could take more than a year.

In one concession, the countries would be allowed to keep money raised by selling permits that could amount to 30 billion to 50 billion euros a year, or $44 billion to $73 billion, by the end of the next decade, according to European officials who asked not to be identified because of the delicate nature of the plans.

Governments still could be urged — and may even be required — to put part of the revenue toward programs like research and development for reducing emissions and encouraging renewable sources of power, the officials said.

Henrik Hasselknippe, the director for European emissions trading analysis for Point Carbon, a research and consulting company in Oslo, said one aspect of the announcement this week would be a commitment to make polluters buy many more — and in some cases all — of their permits, starting in 2013.

Industries currently in the system, including steel factories, are allocated most of their permits by national governments and use the trading system to buy more or sell surplus.

Europeans took an early lead in efforts to curb global warming by championing the Kyoto climate treaty and by establishing the largest carbon-management system in the world. The three-year-old system involves complicated quotas that cap emissions from thousands of factories across the trade bloc. Companies buy or sell permits based on whether they overshoot or come in beneath their pollution targets.

Supporters of the system say limiting supply by stopping government handouts of permits would eventually drive up the cost of polluting and force companies to reduce emissions and adopt environmentally sound innovations.

In one of the most significant steps toward reducing corporate influence over pollution permits, the new system would take aim at electric utilities specifically, requiring them to buy all of their permits to offset greenhouse gases, instead of being allocated most at no cost.

Under the proposal, the regulators would limit the number of allowances in Europe — ending the scope for a government to allocate more than necessary — and steadily decrease the amount of allowances available after 2012 for manufacturing industries besides the power sector.

In a concession to sectors like steel, and to ease opposition from industries and political leaders in countries like France, the officials are expected to allow some free distribution of permits until 2020.

But the steel industry failed to obtain another measure it wanted to help its competitive position.

The European Union will delay a decision until at least 2010 on whether to impose a carbon tax or similar mechanisms on imports from countries where industries do not face added costs from climate legislation.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Left-Hand-Turn Elimination

NY Times
December 9, 2007


It seems that sitting in the left lane, engine idling, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear so you can make a left-hand turn, is minutely wasteful — of time and peace of mind, for sure, but also of gas and therefore money. Not a ton of gas and money if we’re talking about just you and your Windstar, say, but immensely wasteful if we’re talking about more than 95,000 big square brown trucks delivering packages every day. And this realization — that when you operate a gigantic fleet of vehicles, tiny improvements in the efficiency of each one will translate to huge savings overall — is what led U.P.S. to limit further the number of left-hand turns its drivers make.

The company employs what it calls a “package flow” software program, which among other hyperefficient practices involving the packing and sorting of its cargo, maps out routes for every one of its drivers, drastically reducing the number of left-hand turns they make (taking into consideration, of course, those instances where not to make the left-hand turn would result in a ridiculously circuitous route).

Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons. So what can Brown do for you? We can’t speak to how good or bad they are in the parcel-delivery world, but they won’t be clogging up the left-hand lane while they do their business.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Truckers may back bill to limit idling time

State House: The measure would hold diesel trucks and some gas trucks to five minutes per hour.

By PAUL CARRIER Staff Writer
January 18, 2008

AUGUSTA -- A trade group for the trucking industry may
join environmentalists in backing a bill to limit idling by
commercial trucks and buses, as supporters try to make Maine
the 14th state to penalize drivers who leave their engines
running while they are parked.

The bill "is something we very well may support as long as it
stays in its current format," said Dale Hannington of the Maine
Motor Transport Association.

That would align truckers with the Natural Resources Council of
Maine, which backs Rep. Jon Hinck's effort to restrict idling of
non-passenger vehicles.

The bill filed by Hinck, a Portland Democrat, essentially would
limit idling to five minutes per hour for diesel-powered
commercial trucks and some vehicles that run on gasoline.
"Private passenger vehicles," such as cars, pickup trucks and
minivans, would not be covered.

The bill says companies that are served by diesel trucks "may
not cause a vehicle to idle for a period longer than 30 minutes
while waiting to load or unload at that location."

Environmentalists and the American Lung Association of Maine
see the bill as a way to reduce pollution and save energy.
Hannington said his association is inclined to support it because
it includes exemptions that should make it work for truckers.

The bill would allow an occupied commercial truck to idle for
longer than five minutes to heat or cool while the driver waits to
load or unload. It also includes exemptions for certain
circumstances, such as traffic jams, when an engine must run to
operate mixing or other equipment, or when a driver cools or
heats a sleeper berth in a truck.

Buses could be idled for as long as 15 minutes per hour to
"maintain passenger comfort while non-driver passengers are on
board," the bill says. Emergency vehicles could run as long as
necessary "while in an emergency or training mode," but not
simply for the convenience of the driver.

"I don't believe in government protecting people against
themselves," Hinck said, but in this case, the government has a
legitimate role to play because reducing engine idling is "good
for all of us."

Hinck said the limits would help to protect public health in a
state with high asthma rates, reduce greenhouse gases, and
conserve fuel in an era of high prices and heavy reliance on
foreign suppliers.

He said some people probably would prefer that the limits apply
to passenger cars and trucks as well, but "we may not have
reached the point" where an all-inclusive law would get public

At least one Maine community, Bar Harbor, already has an
ordinance to restrict idling. Some municipalities, including
Portland, as well as various school districts, have idling policies
for their fleets. Oakhurst Dairy's trucks are programmed to shut
off after idling for five minutes, according to the fleet manager,
David Green.

The state Department of Transportation installed signs at ferry
terminals last year encouraging drivers to shut off their engines.
Similar signs are being installed at park-and-ride facilities
operated by the Department of Transportation and the Maine
Turnpike Authority. Portland has signs outside Merrill
Auditorium and the Portland Expo asking motorists not to idle
their vehicles.

Unlike those efforts, the restrictions under review by the
Legislature would be mandatory, and would apply statewide.

A driver would get a warning for the first violation of the five-
minute rule, followed by $150 fines for subsequent violations. A
business would get a warning for the first violation of the 30-
minute rule, followed by $500 fines for subsequent offenses.

Two leading business groups, the Maine State Chamber of
Commerce and the Portland Regional Chamber, have taken no
position on the bill. Neither has the Maine Chiefs of Police
Association, although the executive director of that group said
he has personal reservations.

"It would be difficult to enforce" such a law because police have
plenty to do and it is impractical for them to time idling vehicles,
said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the police chiefs'

Dana Reed, the town manager in Bar Harbor, said he may
propose that the town replace its five-minute limit with a flat
prohibition because it is impractical for police officers to time
idling vehicles.

Hinck said his bill, which is based on model legislation drafted
by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, uses a five-minute
limit because some vehicles may need to be warmed up that

Thirteen states have laws banning or limiting idling, according
to the American Transportation Research Institute, including
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Dozens of municipalities and counties across the country have
local or regional laws.

The Legislature's Natural Resources Committee will hold a
hearing on the bill at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 214 of the Cross
State Office Building in Augusta.

Staff Writer Paul Carrier can be contacted at 622-7511 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Burned by high oil prices, Mainers warm to wood

Wood stoves carry an air-pollution risk, but if properly operated they compare favorably to oil burners, experts say.

January 18, 2008

The warm glow of a wood fire has rarely felt so good.

With heating oil prices at near-record highs and fossil fuels
taking most of the blame for global warming, more Mainers are
breaking their addiction to oil heat and rediscovering the
warmth of wood.

Burning wood carries its own environmental risks, including
indoor and outdoor air pollution. But experts say it can be a
clean alternative, and a less expensive one, if people have the
right equipment and use it properly.

Christine Studdiford said she and her husband installed the
wood stove in their farmhouse in Pownal last spring after
watching "dollar signs go out the windows" whenever the oil
furnace went on.

"We have a big old drafty house and we couldn't afford to keep
turning the heat up," Studdiford said.

Now, the oil furnace rarely comes on and the wood stove keeps
the house warm all the time.

"It keeps it very cozy," she said. "It just feels good."

Dealers in southern Maine say the demand has been steady this
winter for wood stoves and fireplace inserts. It's the strongest
January for stove sales in several years, said Sebastian Milazzo,
sales associate at Finest Hearth and Home in Yarmouth.

The biggest reason for an apparent shift to wood is the cost of
oil. The average statewide cash price for heating oil in Maine is
$3.34 a gallon, over $1 more than a year ago.

Even Gov. John Baldacci, in his State of the State address last
week, embraced wood as a way to stop sending billions of
dollars out of the state to pay for oil.

"We must move forward aggressively to heat our homes with
resources we have or can make right here," he said.

Baldacci announced a wood-to-energy initiative that "will use
our forests and natural resources to relieve consumption of
nonrenewable oil."

About 80 percent of the state relies on oil heat, while wood
heats an estimated 10 percent of the state's homes, said John
Kerry, director of Maine's Office of Energy Independence and

That's only about half the percentage of homes that were heated
by wood 20 to 30 years ago, the last time high oil prices fueled
a shift to wood.

But, Kerry said, the number is clearly rising again. "People are
saying they're backing up their oil systems with wood stoves to
the degree they can."

Kerry said he expects that to continue, because of oil prices and
the new technologies � such as wood pellet-burning stoves �
that make wood heat more convenient and efficient.

And that's a good thing, he said. "I think it's a very positive thing
to have a diversity of sources of energy."

But wood has its downsides.

In November, the state began regulating outdoor wood boilers,
free-standing furnaces that have been blamed for smoking
neighbors right out of their homes under certain conditions. The
new rules set standards that are intended to prevent future
problems and encourage the development of cleaner, more
efficient outdoor boilers.

Wood smoke contains fine particulates � soot � as well as
smaller amounts of mercury, dioxin and other pollutants. The
particulates can pollute indoor air and contribute to localized
outdoor air pollution, when smoke is trapped in river valleys and
low-lying areas.

Wood burning was cited as a factor in an air pollution alert in
Maine last week, although the problem was caused primarily by
pollution drifting into the state from urban and industrial areas
to the south and west.

Despite the risks, environmental and public health advocates are
supportive of the shift.

One reason is that wood does not contribute to global warming
the way oil and coal do.

Burning wood does release carbon dioxide � a gas that traps
heat in the atmosphere. But the carbon in trees is part of the
natural cycle and is, in theory, taken up by new trees. Burning
fossil fuels, on the other hand, releases carbon that has been
buried deep in the earth.

The potential effect on indoor air quality is one reason wood
may not be for everybody.

"For some people that have lung disease, it is generally better
for them not to use wood heat," said Ed Miller, executive director
of the American Lung Association of Maine.

But the association is not anti-wood, especially given the
choices, Miller said.

"It's not good for your health to be cold, and it's not good for
your health to have to spend so much on fuel oil you can't afford
your medicine," he said.

How a stove is used has a big effect on how much it pollutes,
indoors or out.

As long as modern, efficient stoves are used correctly � with
seasoned, dry wood and small, hot fires � wood heat shouldn't
create problems for healthy people, Miller said.

"If you are going to burn wood, you need to educate yourself
and burn it responsibly," he said.

Jim Brooks, head of the air bureau of the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection, said Maine's air won't necessarily get
dirtier as more people turn to wood heat.

"The good news on the wood stove front is that they're much
cleaner, and as the older stoves get replaced, they're replaced
with very efficient wood heaters," Brooks said.

Maine's air meets federal standards for particle pollution, Brooks
said. "I don't predict any major changes in that."

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

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Earth Policy Institute
News Release
January 16, 2008

Lester R. Brown

“In late summer 2007, reports of ice melting were coming at a frenetic pace. Experts were ‘stunned’ when an area of Arctic sea ice almost twice the size of Britain disappeared in a single week,” writes Lester R. Brown in his new book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (W.W. Norton & Company).

“Nearby, the Greenland ice sheet was melting so fast that huge chunks of ice weighing several billion tons were breaking off and sliding into the sea, triggering minor earthquakes,” notes Brown, President and Founder of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based independent environmental research organization.

These recent developments are alarming scientists. If we cannot stop this melting of the Greenland ice sheet, sea level will eventually rise 23 feet, inundating many of the world’s coastal cities and the rice-growing river deltas of Asia. It will force several hundred million people from their homes, generating an unimaginable flood of rising-sea refugees.

“We need not go beyond ice melting to see that civilization is in trouble. Business-as-usual is no longer a viable option. It is time for Plan B,” Brown says in Plan B 3.0, which was produced with major funding from the Farview, Lannan, Summit, and Wallace Genetic foundations, the U.N. Population Fund, Fred and Alice Stanback, and Andrew Stevenson.

“Plan B 3.0 is a comprehensive plan for reversing the trends that are fast undermining our future. Its four overriding goals are to stabilize climate, stabilize population, eradicate poverty, and restore the earth’s damaged ecosystems,” says Brown. “Failure to reach any one of these goals will likely mean failure to reach the others as well.”

Continuing rapid population growth is weakening governments in scores of countries. The annual addition of 70 million people to world population is concentrated in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and grasslands are turning into desert. As this backlog of unresolved problems grows, stresses mount and weaker governments begin to break down.

The defining characteristic of a failing state is the inability of a government to provide security for its people. Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and Pakistan are among the better known examples. Each year the number of failing states increases. “Failing states,” notes Brown, “are an early sign of a failing civilization.”

“Even as the accumulating backlog of unresolved problems is leading to a breakdown of governments in weaker states, new stresses are emerging. Among these are rising oil prices as the world approaches peak oil, rising food prices as an ever larger share of the U.S. grain harvest is converted into fuel for cars, and the spreading fallout from climate change.”

“At the heart of the climate-stabilizing initiative cited above is a detailed plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020 in order to hold the future temperature rise to a minimum. This initiative has three major components -- raising energy efficiency, developing renewable sources of energy, and expanding the earth’s tree cover. Reaching these goals,” says Brown, “will mean the world can phase out all coal-fired power plants.”

In setting the carbon reduction goals for Plan B, we did not ask “What do politicians think is politically feasible?” but rather “What do we think is needed to prevent irreversible climate change?” This is not Plan A: business-as-usual. This is Plan B: an all-out response at wartime speed proportionate to the magnitude of the threats facing civilization.

“We are in a race between tipping points in natural and political systems,” says Brown. “Which will come first? Can we mobilize the political will to phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we halt deforestation in the Amazon basin before it so weakens the forest that it becomes vulnerable to fire and is destroyed? Can we cut carbon emissions fast enough to save the Himalayan glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia?”

Although efforts have been made in recent decades to raise the efficiency of energy use, the potential is still largely untapped. For example, one easy and profitable way to cut carbon emissions worldwide is simply to replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs that use only a fourth as much electricity. Turning to more efficient lighting can reduce world electricity use by 12 percent -- enough to close 705 of the world’s 2,370 coal-fired power plants.

In the United States, buildings -- commercial and residential -- account for close to 40 percent of carbon emissions. Retrofitting an existing building typically can cut energy use by 20­50 percent. The next step, shifting to carbon-free electricity to heat, cool, and light the building completes the transformation to a zero-carbon emissions building.

We can also reduce carbon emissions by moving down the food chain. The energy used to provide the typical American diet and that used for personal transportation are roughly equal. A plant-based diet requires about one fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat. The reduction in carbon emissions in shifting from a red meat­rich diet to a plant-based diet is about the same as that in shifting from a Chevrolet Suburban SUV to a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

In the Plan B energy economy, wind is the centerpiece. It is abundant, low cost, and widely distributed; it scales easily and can be developed quickly. The goal is to develop at wartime speed 3 million megawatts of wind-generating capacity by 2020, enough to meet 40 percent of the world’s electricity needs. This would require 1.5 million wind turbines of 2 megawatts each. These turbines could be produced on assembly lines by reopening closed automobile plants, much as bombers were assembled in auto plants during World War II.

In the development of renewable energy resources, Brown notes, we are seeing the emergence of some big-time thinking -- thinking that recognizes the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels. Nowhere is this more evident than in Texas, where the state government is coordinating an effort to build 23,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity (the equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants). This will supply enough electricity to satisfy the residential needs of over 11 million Texans -- half the state’s population. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but the earth’s wind resources cannot be depleted.

Solar technologies also provide exciting opportunities for getting us off the carbon treadmill. Sales of solar-electric panels are doubling every two years. Rooftop solar water heaters are spreading fast in Europe and China. In China, some 40 million homes now get their hot water from rooftop solar heaters. The plan is to nearly triple this to 110 million homes by 2020, supplying hot water to 380 million Chinese.

Large-scale solar thermal power plants are under construction or planned in California, Florida, Spain, and Algeria. Algeria, a leading world oil exporter, is planning to develop 6,000 megawatts of solar-thermal electric-generating capacity, which it will feed into the European grid via an undersea cable. The electricity generated from this single project is enough to supply the residential needs of a country the size of Switzerland.

Investment in geothermal energy for both heating and power generation is also growing fast, notes Brown. Iceland now heats nearly 90 percent of its homes with geothermal energy, virtually eliminating the use of coal for home heating. The Philippines gets 25 percent of its electricity from geothermal power plants. The United States has 61 geothermal projects under way in the geothermally rich western states.

The combination of gas-electric hybrid cars and advanced-design wind turbines has set the stage for the evolution of an entirely new automotive fuel economy. If the battery storage of the typical hybrid car is doubled and a plug-in capacity is added so that batteries can be recharged at night, then we could do our short-distance driving -- commuting to work, grocery shopping, and so on -- almost entirely with cheap, wind-generated electricity.

This would permit us to run our cars largely on renewable electricity -- and at the gasoline-equivalent cost of less than $1 per gallon. Several major automakers are coming to market with plug-in hybrids or electric cars.

With business as usual (Plan A), the environmental trends that are undermining our future will continue. More and more states will fail until civilization itself begins to unravel. “Time is our scarcest resource. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize,” says Brown. “These deadlines are set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock.”

The key to restructuring the world energy economy is to get the market to tell the environmental truth by incorporating into prices the indirect costs of burning fossil fuels, such as climate disruption and air pollution. To do this, we propose adopting a carbon tax that will reflect these indirect costs and offsetting it by lowering income taxes. We propose a worldwide carbon tax to be phased in at $20 per ton each year between 2008 and 2020, stabilizing at $240 per ton. This initiative, which would be offset at every step with a reduction in income taxes, would simultaneously discourage fossil fuel use and encourage investment in renewable sources of energy.

“Saving civilization is not a spectator sport,” says Brown. “We have reached a point in the deteriorating relationship between us and the earth’s natural systems where we all have to become political activists. Every day counts. We all have a stake in civilization’s survival.”

“We can all make lifestyle changes, but unless we restructure the economy and do it quickly we will almost certainly fail. We need to persuade our elected representatives and national leaders to support the environmental tax restructuring and other changes outlined in Plan B. Beyond this, each of us can pick an issue that is important to us at the local level, such as phasing out coal-fired power plants, shifting to more-efficient light bulbs, or developing a comprehensive local recycling program, and get to work on it.”

We all need to educate ourselves on environmental issues. For its part, the Earth Policy Institute is making Plan B 3.0 available for downloading free of charge from its Web site,

“It is decision time,” says Brown. “Like earlier civilizations that got into environmental trouble, we have to make a choice. We can stay with business as usual and watch our economy decline and our civilization unravel, or we can adopt Plan B and be the generation that mobilizes to save civilization. Our generation will make the decision, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.”

- end -

Contact for additional information:
Lester R. Brown, Author & President (202) 496.9290 x 11
Janet Larsen, Director of Research (202) 496.9290 x 14
Media Contact: Reah Janise Kauffman (202) 496.9290 x 12

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization is now available online for free downloading at

Wind farm developers set sights on summer

TransCanada hopes to have all permits approved in time to start construction in western Maine this year.

By GLENN ADAMS, The Associated Press
January 16, 2008

AUGUSTA — Prospective developers of a wind farm near the Canadian border in western Maine said Tuesday that they hope to begin construction this summer and have all 44 turbines running by 2010.

TransCanada Maine Wind Development hopes that all permits will be approved in time for it to start construction in northern Franklin County this summer, said Nick Di Domenico, the project manager. If that happens, TransCanada hopes to have some of the windmills running in 2009 and all of them turning a year later.

TransCanada's project cleared a major regulatory hurdle on Monday when the state's Land Use Regulation Commission unanimously approved the Canadian company's application to rezone 2,367 acres for the project.

Before construction begins, TransCanada must submit a final development plan to LURC, which regulates projects in Maine's unorganized territories. The final development plan will be a more detailed version of the rezoning application, which covered effects on land and wildlife.

Di Domenico said much of the detail was covered in the application that was approved Monday.

Before their vote on Monday ordering the LURC staff to prepare a report recommending approval, board members said the rezoning application was complete and thorough.

Di Domenico said Tuesday that TransCanada was gratified by that reaction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Can 'green' twist sell more homes?

The developer of a Topsham adult community is giving away hybrid
cars to attract purchasers in a distressed market.

By TUX TURKEL, Staff Writer
January 15, 2008

TOPSHAM — In full view of traffic on Route 196, a new Toyota
Prius is parked on a steep bank at the entrance to the Highland
Green adult community. A sign in front of the popular hybrid car
reads: "Buy a 'green' house, get a 'green' car."

The owner of Highland Green is using this promotion to
generate interest during a distressed housing market. He hopes
to sell six home sites, which average $25,000 each, by Feb. 1
and give each of the buyers a $20,000 vehicle.

As of last week, two buyers were negotiating purchase
agreements. None had yet signed a contract, but the highly
visible Prius is attracting plenty of attention and laying the
groundwork for future sales.

"It is distinguishing us in the marketplace," said John Wasileski,
who developed Highland Green, the neighboring Highlands of
Topsham and Ocean View at Falmouth.

Green marketing in its many forms is a common business tool
these days. But Wasileski is taking it to a new level, at least in
Maine's real estate world. His company has made a broad
commitment to sustainable practices in its three communities
and is using that platform to help attract residents.

Underlying this strategy are the changing desires of retirees.
Beyond golf courses and tennis courts, experts say, active adults
want to live in responsible communities that are working to
lessen their impacts on the environment.

Wasileski, who makes most of his profit from construction of the
houses and fees, estimates that more than 30 of the 140 or so
homeowners at Highland Green drive hybrids. So when potential
buyers who share these values visit and see gasoline-saving cars
in the driveways, they can picture themselves living at Highland
Green, Wasileski said.

This view has led Wasileski and his company, Sea Coast
Management Co., to carry out and consider several other

-- The developer is offering solar hot water systems to existing
homeowners, installed at cost. At least 16 residents are
interested so far.

-- Each community has recycling programs, energy-efficient
lighting, natural gas heat and biodiesel-fueled equipment.

-- The communities participate in the Governor's Carbon
Challenge, a program to track and cut emissions associated with
global climate change.

-- Common buildings have large-scale solar hot water systems
to supply apartments and food service. More systems are being

-- The company is working with buyers who want solar electric
systems on new homes and is planning to upgrade efficiency
standards for all new construction. That's where the "green"
home promotion comes in.

-- The company also is considering a wind turbine at Highland


These energy initiatives are a logical evolution for Wasileski.

His 650-acre Highland Green community and golf course
includes a 230-acre nature preserve along the Cathance River.
He helped fund a new ecology center on the property, powered
by solar electric panels and heated with wood pellets, that
provides a teaching base for the Cathance River Education

More recently, Wasileski's conservation interests have expanded
to energy matters. His awareness and changing views mirror
those of many buyers.

Take solar panels, for example.

Homes here can cost more than $500,000, and they're subject
to strict architectural guidelines. Roof-mounted solar panels had
been considered visually offensive to some owners and were not
allowed in any locations.

"Even two years ago," Wasileski said, "I'd estimate that 80
percent of residents would say they don't want to look at solar
panels. Now it's maybe 15 percent."


The systems being offered at all three communities come from
Energyworks, a renewable energy contractor based in Portland
and Liberty. They will supply an average home with more than
70 percent of its hot water needs, on an annual basis. The
system costs $7,840 installed, but federal and state tax credits
cut the cost to $4,613.

This equation looks good to Walter and Ruth Ann Specht, who
are among the 16 owners considering solar hot water. They
figure the system will pay for itself in less than seven years. They
were waiting last week for Energyworks to evaluate their home's
southern exposure and roof line.

Highland Green's overall sustainablity campaign is a positive
development for residents, Walter Specht said.

"I like it," he said. "It makes it cheaper to live here, and it ups my
resale value."

That premise is being tested by Nancy Brown, who had a solar
hot water system installed on her home when it was built in

Brown also doubled the amount of insulation in the roof,
upgraded the windows and oriented them to take advantage of
the southern exposure. Her heating bill is $100 a month less
than her neighbor's, she estimates.

Brown recently moved to a nearby town and is selling the three-
bedroom 2,000-square-foot house. Listed for $559,000, it has
been on the market since July.

"The folks I hope will buy this house will be interested in a home
that's on its way to being a green home," she said.

Energy concerns are becoming more common among buyers in
retirement communities, according to the AARP. In a recent
article, the interest group that represents Americans over 50
years old said baby boomers, especially, see their home as their
legacy. The article quoted Peter Pollak, developer of the Ford
Plantation near Savannah, Ga., and the Greenbrier Sporting Club
in West Virginia.

"We are seeing a generational purchase of a family heirloom," he
said. "Our members are people who have a strong family
connection and a committed sense of stewardship of the land."


At Highland Green, those values and the encouragement of
green building practices were important to Jack and Barb

The couple recently bought a home site and are designing a
3,000-square-foot house that will include both solar electric
and hot water systems. The Newsoms now live in Florida but had
heated with wood at a previous home in New Hampshire. They
compost vegetable waste and enjoy hiking and say an energy-
efficient home is just a logical decision for them.

"We believe all the stuff Al Gore and others are talking about,"
Jack Newsom said.

Wasileski's green marketing effort has been tempered by the
housing market; many potential buyers need to sell homes out
of state before they can move to Highland Green.

That said, Wasileski hopes to sell 20 homes this year and figures
the Prius promotion could put six under contract. The promotion
would then cost $120,000, equal to taking $20,000 off the
asking price of a home site -- but with a more powerful
marketing impact.

"To some extent," he said, "we're just piggybacking on what our
residents are telling us."

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Spanish utility closer to buying CMP owner

There are no opponents to the sale of Energy East, a deal under review by Maine's utility regulators.

The Associated Press January 13, 2008

BANGOR — Spanish utility Iberdrola SA is closer to
acquiring Energy East, whose subsidiaries have 3 million
customers from New York to Maine.

Iberdrola, of Bilbao, Spain, submitted terms of the sale to the
Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday. The sale is
worth 3.4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in cash and 3 billion euros
($4 billion) in debt.

If approved, the deal would be Iberdrola's first direct purchase of
an American utility. Energy East, based in New Gloucester, is the
parent company of Central Maine Power Co., which serves 80
percent of Maine's electricity customers.

Energy East also owns utilities in New York, Connecticut and
Massachusetts, which employ 5,800 people.

At the PUC's request, the sale agreement includes CMP's
willingness to reconsider its membership in the ISO-New
England regional power grid. Gov. John Baldacci opposes Maine's
membership in ISO-New England. Critics say Maine consumers
pay more than their fair share of regional power rates.

The agreement says the parties involved "agree that the existing
transmission cost allocation methodology employed in ISO-NE is
inequitable as applied to Maine ratepayers and must be modified
to ensure that the interests of Maine ratepayers are protected."

State Public Advocate Richard Davies, who helped to draft the
agreement, said the acquisition of Energy East is unlikely to
affect customer rates. Davies believes rates are more likely to be
affected by Maine's membership in ISO-New England.

There are no opponents to the sale, but Bangor Hydro-Electric
Co. had a "limited intervention" status in the case and then
recently asked to withdraw.

Karen Redford, Bangor Hydro's attorney, said Friday that the
company had concerns about the portions of the agreement
addressing ISO-New England, but decided not to stand in the
way of the sale.

A draft report by Maine's PUC to the Legislature says ISO-New
England rules inequitably allocate costs among the region's
consumers so those in smaller states have to shoulder the costs
of larger states.

The report to the committee that oversees utilities recommends
that Maine utilities consider establishing an independent Maine
transmission company or connect to the grid in New Brunswick.

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Closing the circle

Recycling rechargeable batteries and gadgets is getting a lot easier, and that means a lot less lead, mercury and cadmium polluting the environment.

By JUSTIN ELLIS, Staff Writer J
anuary 14, 2008

With so many gadgets taking up a part of people's lives these
days -- cell phones, digital cameras, portable media devices --
your fortunes can be won or lost by the blinking battery power

Rechargeable batteries make up the backbone of much of the
personal technology people use in everyday life from home to
the office. But once these devices and their batteries have
outlived their usefulness or been replaced, most people face a
conundrum -- tuck the gadget somewhere or throw it away.

While holding on to an old cell phone or camera battery just
increases household clutter, electronics and batteries thrown in
the trash can pose risks to the environment.

States have made strides to find proper ways to dispose of larger
electronics like computers, VCRs and TVs.

Now, a push from within the electronics industry and several
states, including Maine, has made it easier for consumers to
recycle their rechargeable batteries.

This month Maine became the third state in the nation to enact a
law creating free cell phone and cell phone battery recycling.
The law also makes it illegal to throw out old phones and

The new law requires cell phone retailers to accept old phones
and batteries for free, regardless of where they were purchased.
The batteries are handled through an organization called the
Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. The nonprofit company
also accepts rechargeable batteries from other devices and
appliances, which in many cases can be accepted at retailers
such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot, or through municipalities.

Alan Hillman, who owns several Wireless Zone cell phone stores
in southern Maine, said most people don't know what to do with
their old phones and other gadgets, so they just keep them.

Hillman says he created a donation program for old phones prior
to the state law for that reason.

"There's really a lot of people who have a ton of these phones,"
he said. "It's an electronics item, so it feels kind of funny
throwing them out."

But Hillman suspects that consumers are also becoming more
conscious of their individual impact on the environment.

Maine has been slightly ahead of the curve in its efforts to deal
with the disposal of electronics.

In 2004, a state law made manufacturers share the cost and
responsibility for the disposal of items like TVs and computer

Rechargeable batteries can contain some of the same hazardous
ingredients, including lead, mercury or cadmium, that while not
dangerous when in use, can cause harm to the environment if
thrown away.

Through June of 2007, the state had recycled almost 6 million
pounds of TVs and computer monitors, according to Carole
Cifrino, who oversees electronic waste for the Maine Department
of Environmental Protection.

Some businesses already offer battery recycling programs, but
the new law mandates that businesses offer the service free to
customers and partner with an organization that can collect the
cell phone batteries.

"It's a first step," she said. "I think people in Maine are generally
thinking about recycling now."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a similar "e--
cycling" program that partners with national companies such as
Best Buy, LG Electronics, AT&T, Wal-Mart and Dell Computers to
recycle computers, cell phones, TVs and other electronics.

According to the EPA, in 2007 more than 47 million pounds of
electronics were reused or recycled.

The EPA estimates the amount of greenhouse gas not released
into the air would be equivalent to keeping roughly 32,000 cars
off the roads annually.

Cell phone retailers, electronics chains and other businesses use
organizations such as the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.
to reuse old batteries.

The organization sends retailers customized boxes for batteries
and cell phones, which are then shipped to service centers to be
processed, said Norm England, CEO of the Rechargeable Battery
Recycling Corp.

The company accepts lithium ion, nickel cadmium and nickel
metal hydride batteries among others used in various products,
including laptops, power tools, cameras and cell phones.

Though some batteries are disassembled and disposed of, some
cell phones are refurbished and sent for use in Third World
countries or to help victims of domestic violence, England said.

England said the reason the program can be offered free of
charge to consumers and retailers is because it's funded by
manufacturers of batteries and devices that use batteries.

The organization has been in business since the mid-1990s, but
England said they've never been more busy than now.

"In the last 18 months, I've never seen such a rush for corporate
America to become 'green,'" he said.

Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director for
JupiterResearch, said technology companies are adopting more
environmentally friendly practices in response to changes in the
market and a need to be responsible for their aging devices.

"Smart companies are going to be ahead of it," he said, by
creating technology that is "functional, but also environmentally

At the same time Gartenberg said there has been a proliferation
in personal technology in recent years, from portable media
players to laptops, Blackberries, cameras, handheld games and
cell phones.

Gartenberg said the standard power source now for most
devices is a rechargeable battery.

Gartenberg said most people would be shocked when they start
to think of the scope and number of devices that rely on
rechargeable batteries in their home.

"It starts to add up and you say 'Wow, I've got lots of these
rechargeable batteries in my household,'" Gartenberg said. "But
they only have a finite lifespan."

Staff Writer Justin Ellis can be contacted at 791-6380 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers