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Sunday, October 26, 2008

The city of Pittsburgh hires a Sustainability Coordinator

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette the city of Pittsburgh hired Lindsay Baxter to be its Sustainability coordinator. This has been a long time coming, as the mayor announced over one year ago that he was hiring someone to fill this post. Ms. Baxter's background includes a fellowship with the Clean Air Cool Planet organization, and she is currently pursuing a Masters degree in environmental studies at Duquesne University.

The first things Ms. Baxter plans on tackling are reducing energy use in the city's street lamps and vending machines. Her primary focus will be on getting the city to adopt single stream recycling and kick starting the city's participation in the Department of Energy's Solar America Initiative.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Now is the time for a national infrastructure investment initiative

The other day The New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote that infrastructure projects were a great way for the federal government to provide a boost to our struggling economy. Krugman said that the next President cannot afford to be weary of spending money on infrastructure as the well being of our economy should take precedent over concerns of our growing deficit.

I'm a big fan of a massive investment in new roads, bridges, and most importantly, and new rail lines, including high speed rail (I just read that Pittsburgh's maglev project is still alive!). The catch is that we cannot afford for our government to hastily spend this money on things like a bridge to nowhere, or Pittsburgh's very own tunnel to nowhere, and this is way I am in favor of a national infrastructure bank. Below is a excerpt of a post from my technology + politics blog on the proposed NIB.

Cutting taxes or sending out rebate checks does not create sustainable economic growth. Using that money to instead put people to work on building new and fixing existing bridges, roads, and rail would give us taxpayers the highest ROI, but we must spend taxpayer dollars responsibly, and that is why I favor the passing of legislation similar to the Dodd-Hagel National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007. The reason we need a National Infrastructure Bank to stimulate growth through infrastructure investment is that at this point we cannot afford taxpayer money to go towards mores roads, bridges, and tunnels to nowhere. We need a system in place where the best projects are funded based on both their need (like our crumbling bridges here in Western PA) and their potential to spur economic growth. Our very own half billion dollar tunnel to nowhere should be enough evidence in favor of creating a better system and process for approving and funding projects that will make a difference.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Drill baby Drill! vs. Alternatives now!

WNYC's Brian Lehrer show has an awesome series called "30 issues in 30 days," which is a daily segment that he started running late last month. The special segment runs through the end of October and has tackled important issues such as immigration, education, middle east policy, and infrastructure. Last Friday they aired the #1 issue as voted by listeners, and that was energy independence. Drill baby Drill vs. Alternative Energy contains some interesting interviews, such as the one with the guy who traveled across the US in a car that ran on veggie oil, but the interview I want to highlight is the one between David Kruetzer, an energy policy analyst from the Heritage Foundation, a right leaning think tank, and Antonia Juhasz, author of "The Tyranny of Oil."

The debate highlighted the contrasts between the two sides of the energy independence debate - which is the one side's belief that we have enough oil offshore and in places like ANWR so there shouldn't be an urgency to displace oil, or the other side, which says we need start working on replacing oil completely right now. I think I'm in the latter category, although I agree with Senator Obama that it is okay to compromise on additional offshore drilling as long as incentives for renewables are part of the package.

I learn something new every time I listen to a lecture or read a book on energy issues, and listening to their debate was no different. It is well known that the US is #1 in worldwide energy consumption, but did you know that we are #3 oil producing nation in the world? Hard to believe but it is true! (Although Mr. Kruetzer seemed surprised by it!) The full show is at this page or you can listen using the embedded player below.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Highmark is one of Pittsburgh's greenest companies

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield unveiled downtown Pittsburgh's first green roof earlier today. The 22,000 square foot green roof sits on top of the 3rd floor of downtown Pittsburgh's 5th Avenue Place tower. Highmark now has the green roof to go along with its LEED certified data center which is located on the other side of the state. Highmark has a full time Sustainability coordinator and from what insiders tell me they are serious about their commitment to making a difference through sustainability.

This is one small step towards greening downtown Pittsburgh. Over a year ago I called for the city to implement a plan to get all of its buildings downtown to install green roofs. Last August I posted this list of the benefits of green roofs and my vision for Pittsburgh's "Green Triangle." Hopefully other downtown businesses follow Highmark's lead.

below: the view from downtown's Highmark building

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heinz Talks: Climate Change and Energy Policy—Advice to Our Next President

The next president of the United States, whomever he may be, will be faced with crucial decisions regarding America’s federal policies toward climate change and energy strategy.

To address the importance of these issues, The Heinz Awards, Teresa Heinz and the Heinz School for Public Policy invite the public to a free program, Heinz Talks: Climate Change and Energy Policy—Advice to Our Next President at the Mellon Institute Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 20th at 5 p.m.

This marks a pivotal time in our nation's history as a new president takes office, says Lee Branstetter, associate professor of Economics and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and a panelist. "The direction and emphasis of the U.S. government will change and these issues will be treated more seriously than in previous administrations.

"The Heinz Foundation and family have demonstrated incredible leadership in the realm of environmental policy. Our whole region bears witness to this rich legacy of concerned engagement and scholarship in this area."

Teresa Heinz, chairman of The Heinz Endowments, will open the evening and the panel will be moderated by Moira Gunnm, host of NPR’s Tech Nation. The panel includes several esteemed national and local leaders including John Holdren, recipient of the 7th annual Heinz Award for Public Policy and Lee Branstetter, and Granger Morgan, both of Carnegie Mellon University.

A blog called Heinz Talks!
has been created for the event.

Details on the event and how you can RSVP can be found here at PopCity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Debate Question: Manhattan Project or 100,000 entrepreneurs working out of their garages?

Tonight's debate featured a great question on the candidates approach to energy independence. Tom Brokaw asked John McCain if the strategy for achieving energy independence should be the government launching an Apollo/Manhattan Project or having 100,000 entrepreneurs working on energy solutions in their garages. McCain didn't really answer the question, saying that he favored the government getting involved and then handing it over to the private sector. It was not a good answer. I was interested in hearing Obama's answer but for some reason Brokaw didn't let him answer. I have heard most candidates say they favor an Apollo or Manhattan style project. I don't think this is the right approach, and so I dug up a few websites from Obama's positions on energy policy. Here is an excerpt from a speech he made back in February of 2006.

The federal government can help in two ways here. First, we can reduce the risk of investing. We already do this in a number of ways by funding projects critical to our national security. Energy independence should be no different. By developing an Energy Technology Program at the Defense Department, we can provide loan guarantees and venture capital to those with the best plans to develop and sell biofuels on a commercial market. The Defense Department will also hold a competition where private corporations get funding to see who can build the best new alternative-fuel plant. The Department can then use these new technologies to improve the energy security of our own military.

Since he began running for President Senator Obama has proposed having the Federal Government spend $150 billion over 10 years on strategic investments in clean energy projects. While $150 billion is not enough, I believe we need closer to $1 Trillion if we are to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil within 10 years, I do think his plan is a step in the right direction. Here is the link to their short, mid range, and long term energy plans followed by the paragraph on their $150 billion investment plan.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden will strategically invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug‐in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. The plan will also invest in America's highly‐skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers to ensure that American workers have the skills and tools they need to pioneer the green technologies that will be in high demand throughout the world. All together these investments will help the private sector create 5 million new green jobs, good jobs that cannot be outsourced.