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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pittsburgh's big dig begins: Video of the North Shore Connector "boring"

In what could become the biggest government boondoggle in our region's history, the Pittsburgh North Shore Connector will extend the Port Authority's Light Rail line less than one mile from downtown, under the Allegheny River, and to the city's North Shore. The North Shore is not a neighborhood - besides a section of apartments there really aren't many residents on the North Shore. The North Shore is a section of city that includes several businesses, restaurants, and, most importantly, the stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers and the soon to be built Majestic Star Casino.

As argued fervently by the blogs, media pundits, and local policy wonks, the half billion dollar extension, which could run up to around $1 billion, has very little benefit for to the region. Basically - the only use for the tunnel shuttle those who live either in downtown or south of the city to the stadiums for sporting events or to the casino where they can flush their hard earned money down the drain.

The argument that commuters will use the tunnel is without merit. I currently commute from the South Hills to my office on the North Shore and I am able to take the light rail (the "T") from a station that is one mile from my house to a station in downtown Pittsburgh that is a half mile from my office. I enjoy the brisk half mile walk each morning and afternoon and I'll probably boycott riding the "T" to the north shore since I like to get some exercise in before I sit down at a desk for most of the day.

Another argument - that the extension will serve as the first leg of a light rail line to the airport- is also bogus. The light rail line would have to go either over or under the Ohio River if it were to go out to Pittsburgh International Airport. Does that mean they dig another tunnel or would they build an addition to an existing bridge, like they should have done for this project?

Below is a clip of the "boring" process that started recently. I can't wait until the day they finally extend the light rail to the eastern part of town - so I no longer have to drive into that part of the city.

Video of the boring "boring" process

Monday, January 14, 2008

LVC's 2008 Presidential Primaries Voter Guide

The League of Conservation Voters has a breakdown of the candidates on environmental and energy issues. This LCV website lists the individual scores of each Republican and Democratic candidate based on their lifetime voting records. Below are some tables that show how each candidate compares with the others on their responses to an LCV questionnaire.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey to speak in Pittsburgh

Event: The Need for Energy Independence, with James Woolsey, former CIA director and guest star of the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car."
Date: Wednesday
Time: 7:30am Registration, 8:00am - 9:30am Program
Venue: Embassy Suites, Coraopolis, PA
Cost: $35 for members, $55 for non-members
More Info: Events@pghtech.org

See you there!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Local Conservative Talk Radio hosts go off on the Energy Bill's "eliminiation" of incandescent light bulbs

I couldn't believe my ears last week, when I, for a change, tuned to 104.7 FM's Quinn and Rose morning talk show. Quinn and Rose are your typical polarizing talk show hosts who happen to think they're right 100% and the other side is always wrong 100% of the time.

It should be no surprise to my readers when I say that on environmental and climate change issues the Democratic Party candidates seem to get it more than the Republican candidates. So, being conservative talk show hosts, Quinn and his co-host, Rose, started going off on the Energy Bill, particularly on how it supposedly eliminate incandescent light bulbs from the marketplace. They, not surprisingly, during their rant slammed global warming, climate change, and Al Gore. Typical conservative talking points, right?

But then it got amusing, and sad, at the same time.

"How could Bush sign this bill?" whined Rose. "You know who is going to profit from this? The Phillips company. Is Bush in bed with the Phillips family or something. I don't understand how he could do such a thing. What was he thinking?!" Then she went on to talk about how women need the bright white light of incandescents when putting on make-up, and how she was going to stock up on hundreds of incandescent light bulbs because in the future she would have lamps with no compatible light bulbs, which means she would then have to turn to the black market.

I found her ignorance laughable, because, the Energy Bill is not eliminating incandescent light bulbs. The Energy Bill is mandating that all light bulbs starting with the 100 watt bulbs in 2012 must consume from 25 to 30% less electricity. The phased in mandate for more energy efficient light bulbs continues through 2014 when 40 watt bulbs must meet the new energy efficient ratings, and then finally, in 2020, all light bulbs must be 70% more efficient than today's light bulbs. So, I do not expect incandescents to go away entirely because companies are already improving the technology which has been around for roughly 100 years. Competing technologies, like Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) and LEDs are becoming cheaper, longer lasting, and more effective at offering light that competes with the best of the incandescents bulbs.

In Rose's defense, how was she supposed to know the truth about the Energy Bill? How do our citizens and concerned radio show hosts learn and then communicate the nuts and bolts of our federal legislation if they do not have access to the information in a way where they, in this age of text messaging and ADD, can consume, comprehend, and analyze the key points of legislation such as the latest Energy Bill. I do not know of such a system where that information is at my fingertips.

I am hoping that the next time legislation as important as the Energy Bill is up for vote, the average person who does not follow the issues as closely as your or I can simply go to a website and see what is going on, without the bias or construing of the facts that we see on talk shows or talk radio. Then, before their Representative in Congress votes on the Bill, the citizen could communicate with them to discuss their concerns and hopefully get their questions answered in a timely fashion.

If we do not know the issues and stakes at hand, then our Representatives do not know of our concerns. So how can we influence them to vote a certain way? Said another way, absent of this dialog with our Government - we will continue to see legislation that is influenced by the lobbies and corporate interests who have the time and money to get in front of the members of Congress.

We need a more democratic information system in place than what we have today. There are a number of websites that do a good job of tracking votes, campaign donations, and legislation but there needs to be more - a one stop shop that informs citizens and encourages their participation in the legislative process.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Not the most terrifying thing you will see, but still a very compelling arguement for taking action to prevent climate change

A high school science teacher named Greg Craven posted his theory on the possibilities of catastrophic climate change and the four scenarios that result based on whether or not we take action to prevent climate change and whether or not climate change is real. The photo below shows the four scenarios.

The biggest risk in taking action is a waste of billions and billions, maybe even trillions of dollars. Shown in Column A row 1, the result of us being wrong about climate change would be a Global Depression. The biggest risk in taking no action would be Column B row 2 which would be catastrophes that impact the economic, political, social, environmental, and health landscapes. Wow.

Mr. Craven, at about the 8 minute mark in the video, concludes that taking action is the only reasonable choice for us:

"When faced with uncertainty about our future, the only responsible choice, the only defensible choice, really the only choice is column A in order to eliminate this (column B row 2) is column A
because the risk of not acting far outweighs the risk of acting."

Mr. Craven then goes on to tell us to take the following action:

1. the only way to get into column A is changes in public policy
2. those only change when people demand it
3. do what we can to spread this argument and increase the demand for action (demand for column A).

So, send this video to your friends who are climate change skeptics. We need spread the word, because, as the author says, all it takes these days is a few mouse clicks to start an avalanche.

Pennsylvania joins Callifornia's lawsuit against the EPA

Yesterday, Governor Ed Rendell released a statement after it was announced that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would join California and a number of other states in challenging the EPA's denial of a waiver for individual states to set emission standards for automobiles that are stricter than those in the energy bill recently passed by the Federal Government.

Governor Rendell's statement:

“The EPA wrongfully and illegally blocked our efforts to do something about climate change – all they should have done was step aside and let the states take the lead, Pennsylvania and other states should be able to ensure cleaner air and water to protect the health of our residents.”

In addition to Pennsylvania and California, other states intervening in the suit are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My wish list for 2008

In no particular order, here are a few of the things I hope happen in 2008:

  • A candidate who "gets it" the wins the Presidency in November and takes the first big steps to making US energy independence our next Apollo Program.
  • The city of Pittsburgh makes significant strides to becoming one of the top green cities - this will require greener government, more green buildings, and more incentives for companies to go green
  • Governor Ed Rendell's Energy Independence Strategy for Pennsylvania is finally passed
  • A candidate who does not take campaign money from the coal and utility companies wins the race for my district's (the 18th) seat in the US House of Representatives
  • Tesla Motors launch of their electric vehicle this year is a huge success.
  • FutureGen proves to be commercially viable and clean coal becomes a reality, and hopefully the coal and electric companies will start coming clean and spending their money on reducing their emissions instead of spending their money on misleading public relations campaigns.
  • Comprehensive campaign finance reform is finally fulfilled - all campaigns must be publicly financed from 2009 onward
  • Some US States (hopefully Pennsylvania) introduce Feebates, a program where fees are charged or rebates are given to consumers who purchase new vehicles. The amount to the fees or rebates will depend on the vehicle's average fuel efficiency. Canada has already implemented feebates.
  • Hybrid vehicles become cheaper - and an option for most new vehicle models sold in the US
  • The introduction of clean diesel vehicles from BMW and other European manufacturers are a success here in the US