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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gas from Coal? Even Dirtier!

The NRDC posted an excellent cartoon bit on the ridiculousness of the subsidies being paid to big coal companies for liquid coal to fuel technology. From the NRDC's website:

The coal industry is touting a plan to transform millions of tons of coal into diesel and other liquid fuels - an expensive, inefficient process that releases large quantities of carbon dioxide, the worst global warming pollutant, into the air. Instead of offering viable answers to the critical problem of global warming, this senseless industry "solution" would exacerbate the problem: Relying on coal-derived liquid as an alternative to oil-based fuels could nearly double global warming pollution for every gallon of transportation fuel that is produced and used.

"Coal can do anything! It's no longer just another sooty rock to burn..."

"Why, I even drink a delicious glass of Coala every morning for an extra boost of some good old fashioned coal fired energy."

"Burn it. Drink it. Dump it. We don't care what you do - just buy our coal!"

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

It's time to level massive penalties upon First Energy's Bruce Mansfield power plant

Beaver County residents who live in the area around First Energy's power plant in Shippingport, PA are coming forward with health problems that they believe are related to the black soot that has been raining down upon them for some time now. Last week KDKA news ran a story about a young girl who lost her hair after the power plant's "black rain" landed on her and the surrounding area. First Energy is typically only fined $25,000 for such infractions. Talk about injustice!

Despite spending millions of dollars on "scrubbers", the Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport is still among the dirtiest polluting power plants in the United States. Newsflash to the energy companies, their investors, and the politicians and regulators who continue to make excuses for harmful polluters like First Energy: COAL IS KILLING US! Burning coal has long been known to release toxic emissions such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), various oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and it is responsible for the water in our region having one of highest concentrations of mercury.

The results of coal fired power plant pollution on our health have been conclusive for a long time now, so where is the justice? The first place we need to start is a stricter regulations on power plant emissions in the Federal Clean Air Act. We need to start seeing stiffer penalties for violations of the act, but if First Energy's continuous violations only result in $25,000 fines, it is clear that the Clean Air Act needs an overhaul. The recent $5 billion settlement between the nation's biggest utility, AEP, and the EPA, 8 states, and 13 environmental groups, was monumental and it gives us some hope for sweeping changes to regulation written for the people rather than the energy industry. Let's hope this set's the stage for bigger fines and stronger regulations for power plant pollution.

It's hard to believe that we are still struggling with this issue, since the detrimental effects of coal pollution has been known for years now, but alas, thats what we get when we elect congressmen who prioritize the interests of the coal and electric utilities over the interests and health of their constituents. Please remember that we can change things by voting for and electing public servants who truly believe in their duty to perform public service. Good people who care about the environment and the need for renewable energy are running for offices statewide - let's make sure they win in 2008.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Green Day in Pittsburgh

Today we learned of more good green news for Pittsburgh. Earlier today Councilman Bill Peduto's green building incentive proposal passed with unanimous support from city council. This is a great start for Pittsburgh to regain it's status as the #1 city for Green Building. In addition to the passing of the city's first green building legislation, Peduto proposed new legislation that would require all new or newly renovated city facilities, and all development that uses tax-incremental-financing to achieve LEED Sliver certification, at a minimum.

This is huge news. Over the last two to three years a number of cities have leapfrogged Pittsburgh in the green building rankings because they have implemented the incentives and mandates that our local government has, until now, failed to provide. We have always had the leadership in the form of the councilman and the Green Building Alliance, and now with this new legislation, Pittsburgh will level the playing field. From the councilman's blog:

Green Day

Today is a historic day in the City of Pittsburgh. At 10:00 AM, I introduced legislation in City Council that requires all new construction and renovations of City owned property to receive at least LEED Silver certification. The legislation also requires any new construction or renovation project that receives Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to receive LEED Silver certification. At the same meeting, City Council took a final vote on legislation I sponsored that provides a 20% density and/or height bonus for developments in non-residential areas that receive LEED certification. Due to the fact that the City Planning Commission had given the legislation a negative recommendation, a supermajority was required, and it passed with all eight Council Members voting in favor.

Pittsburgh has been a historic leader in the environmental movement, and especially in the development of green buildings. Pittsburgh currently has the third most LEED certified buildings of any city in the United States. However, until today, local government has never taken action to support the growth of green building development. Today, City Council is putting itself at the forefront of this critical issue. Pittsburgh will be joining over a hundred other federal, state, and local governments in providing similar types of incentives.

Below is the full text of Councilman Peduto's proposal:

915.06 Sustainable Development for Publicly Financed Buildings

915.06.A Purpose
The City of Pittsburgh is committed to building and supporting sustainable developments, to yield cost savings to the city taxpayers through reduced operating costs, to provide healthy and productive work environments for all residents and employees, and to contribute to the city's goals of protecting, conserving, and enhancing the region's environmental resources. Additionally, the city shall help to set a community standard of sustainable building.

915.06.B Applicability
  1. The following development requirements apply to all new construction and renovations of City owned property in which the total project square footage includes 5,000 gross square feet of occupied space or the total project cost exceeds two million dollars.
  2. Any new construction or renovation project that receives Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

915.06.C Definitions
  • LEED Certified Building: shall mean a building certified, under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the United States Green Building Council, that meets LEED standards for either New Construction and Major Renovation Projects or Core and Shell Projects.
  • LEED Silver: shall mean a building certified, under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the United States Green Building Council, that meets LEED standards for either New Construction and Major Renovation Projects or Core and Shell Projects that receives a total of 33-38 points in the certification process.
915.06.D Sustainable Development Requirements
Prior to issuance of an occupancy permit, all projects receiving Tax Increment Financing and all new construction and renovations of City owned property in which the total project square footage includes 5,000 gross square feet of occupied space or the total project cost exceeds two million dollars, must receive a LEED Silver rating level.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book review: Supercapitalism by Robert Reich

I just finished reading Robert Reich's new book, Supercapitalism , and I highly recommend the book to anyone who wants to learn how our roles as consumers and investors have created a Democracy that is run by corporate interests and the lawyers and lobbyists that work on their behalf to shape our domestic and foreign policy.

Basically, Mr. Reich, a professor of public policy at Cal Berkley who was President Clinton's Secretary of Labor, says that we "are of two minds." On the one hand, as consumers and investors, we want the best deals. We want to purchase cheap goods we want the companies that we invest in to give us the highest returns by generating higher margins and profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This creates a conflict with the citizen in many of us. Our "wants" as consumers and investors lead to social consequences that do not support, such as jobs moving overseas, small businesses being closed down by the likes of Wal Mart, and millions of Americans who work 40+ hours a week going without health insurance.

The problem, is that our politics in Washington is run by Supercapitalism, which does not give you or me, as citizens, much of say in public policy, because we are drowned out by the money and power of corporate interests. Supercapitalism has rewarded the consumer and investor in us by creating a frenzied competition among companies to win and retain customers. This leads to better and cheaper products for consumers and higher returns for investors. Because of this intensified competition for customers and higher returns, corporations are also in competition for the influence over members of Congress, and they achieve this through their PACs and corporate lobbying offices in Washington, which spend millions of dollars on campaign donations, lunches, and consultants.

Mr. Reich goes on to provide some solutions to Supercapitalism, and believes that the key to returning power back to the people is aggressive and comprehensive campaign finance reform in addition to enforcing rules that permit only people the ability to participate in the democratic decision making process. The power must be taken away from the corporations - since corporations are not citizens.

Finally, it wouldn't be right if I didn't comment on how Supercapitalism has impacted our environment. If you have read any of op-ed pieces from scientists who claimed that Global Warming is a scam or a farce I have news for you: those "experts" were most likely paid consultants to the big energy companies.

From the book, and Exxon's own internal documents:

  • "In 1998, Exxon embarked on a campaign to give 'logistical and moral support' to any dissenter from scientific findings documenting global climate change, 'thereby raising questions about and undercutting the prevailing scientific wisdom,'"

  • In 2002 Stanford University signed a ten year deal with Exxon and other energy companies in return for $225 million for a "Global Climate and Energy Project." Following the agreement Exxon ran ads on the op-ed page of the New York Times announcing that the "best minds" at Stanford agreed with Exxon's position on climate change. One add even featured the signature of a well known Stanford professor.

  • In 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9 million to thirty-nine groups that would raise doubts about climate change.

Wow, I am shocked that Stanford "sold out" for $225 million. Haven't they made enough money off of Google and the numours alumni who have become millionaires and billionaires many times over? Shame on you Stanford. Maybe this means that the "S" in your logo should stand for "Satan"?

Then again, maybe this example is typical of how universities will operate under Supercapitalism? It is frightening to think how easily the integrity of some of our highest of higher education institutions may be "sold down the river" to the energy industry.

To read Mr. Reich's take on this subject, check out his blog entry at Why Democracy?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good green legislation in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh city council unanimously approved councilman Bill Peduto's proposal for loosening building code restrictions for green certified buildings. Council Peduto has long been the green champion of the city of Pittsburgh government. The approval his green building proposal has been long over due, as Peduto proposed this legislation back in June of 2006.

From the post-gazette's June 26th 2006 article on Peduto's proposal:

Still, Pittsburgh isn't among the scores of cities with legislated incentives for environmentally friendly construction.

"It's almost embarrassing that we haven't had more leadership from local government," said Ms. Flora. Instead foundations, especially the Heinz Endowments, have led the charge.

Yes, it is about time. Just a few years back the city of Pittsburgh was ranked #1 for the number of LEED certified buildings. A number of cities have leapfrogged Pittsburgh as they have provided more incentives for green builders. I believe we are now 4th or 5th and wouldn't be surprised if we slipped even further in the ranks due to the lack of support from city government. I like this proposal because it uses a carrot besides tax abatements to spur development in the city.

From Peduto's Reform Pittsburgh Now website:

Green Building Incentive

An Ordinance sponsored by Peduto that will provide height and/or density incentives to promote green building in Pittsburgh. Although Pittsburgh is presently third in the nation in the number of green buildings, other cities, states and countries have begun to incentivize this policy. By providing over the counter variances of up to 20% for building height and/or density (the number of units), Pittsburgh could help to spur green development without using tax dollars. This Ordinance would not be permitted in residential or local neighborhood commercial districts where height is a great concern. It has been endorsed by the Green Building Alliance of Pittsburgh that was instrumental in the drafting of the legislation.

Note to Bill Peduto - I am available to work on drafting additional green legislation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Green Building Tour this Saturday November 17th

Join me and other green activists on a tour of several green buildings here in Pittsburgh. The event is sponsored by the Sierra Club and will be followed by a reception at 4:30pm at the CCI Center (pictured) on the South Side. You must RSVP to attend the tour, the details are below.

Green Building Tour
Saturday, November 17

Learn about green building design at an area high school and convent, a residential development, and a non-profit center. Find out how you can use these principles in your own home, and how you can help stop global warming. Then, join us for a reception featuring speakers, refreshments, and an opportunity to take action!

Meet at the CCI Center, 64 S. 14th St., South Side

Tour the Felician Sisters Convent and High School, the Riverside Mews housing development, and the CCI Center.

This event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP by November 12.

CCI Center, 64 S. 14th St., South Side

Speakers, music, and refreshments
Note: You may attend the reception and not the tour.

For more information or to RSVP, contact Randy at 412-802-6161 or randy.francisco@sierraclub.org