Sunday, January 31, 2010

China & renewables

This article in today's New York Times is about China making progress in developing its renewable energy industry. The author is worried about US competitiveness, but personally I'm more worried about the huge amount of coal that China currently uses to fuel its amazing growth. I'm happy to see China making investments in this kind of technology, and I'm happy to see technology being transferred from countries like Denmark so that it can be more widely used. Coal is still the cheapest to produce and use if you don't think about the externalities it creates, and I doubt that will change any time soon, so kudos to the Chinese government for diversifying their energy portfolio, even if it means paying more up front!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chicken waste and the Chesapeake

I talked about this a little bit in class on Friday, but please take a look at this 2008 article from the New York Times on chicken farming and the health of the Bay. A few interesting statistics:

  • 570 million chickens are raised per year in the state of Maryland
  • They create 650 million pounds per year of chicken waste
  • We spend about $100 million per year to protect the Bay
  • The chicken industry contributes about $700 million per year to the MD economy
  • Many farmers already do a lot to minimize their impact, including leaving buffer strips and recycling some waste at the world’s largest chicken manure recycling plant, which produces organic fertilizer pellets
  • Agriculture contributes over 40% of the nitrogen and phosphorus that pollute the bay, and 70% of the sediment
  • As of 2008 farms don't need permits and don't get regularly inspected: they just have to file "nutrient management plans" which are not public. Failure to file results in a $350 fine.


Rutgers Professor H. Bruce Franklin calls a small, oily, bony fish called the menhaden "The Most Important Fish in the Sea." To most people it's not of much interest except maybe as bait, but one company called Omega Protein depends on it for 230 million pounds of menhaden per year, the source of their $175 million + of annual revenue. According to this Time magazine article, 13 of 15 Atlantic states have banned harvesting of the fish because of its role as a keystone in the food chain. It scarfs algae, basically filtering 7 gallons per minute, and in doing so builds up lots of omega-3 fatty acids in its tiny body. Omega Protein uses these oils in a variety of products, including pet food and fish oil pills.

It turns out that Omega Protein, a Houston-based company, has managed to keep regulation of the Virginia menhaden fishery out of the hands of the governmental body we'd expect to have oversight: the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. This week, a couple of Virginia legislators introduced bills to allow the fishery to be regulated, but their efforts were stomped.

If someone's getting $175 million out of the little fish, that's a good thing- jobs are created in Virginia and Houston. On the other hand, fish from stripers to crabs depend on the fish both as food and for its filtering capabilities. If we want a clean bay, we'll need the menhaden's help in cleaning it up. Question is, how much is that clean bay worth?

**If anyone's looking for a paper topic, I think this is a good one. Start by reading this article and come talk to me.**

Monday, January 25, 2010

People or beetles?

It sounds too crazy to be real, but here it is, right in Calvert County: people may lose their homes to protect an endangered beetle. An interesting quote: "'I would equate the loss of the Puritan tiger beetle with the loss of the polar bear,' said Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland in College Park. 'If it had fur and a cute smile and were the size of a cat, people would be more concerned about the loss of this thing.'" What do you think?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


It's the start of the new semester and this is the boundary of what this semester's students are responsible for. You can take a look at posts from the last year to see what previous students did, of course, but you're responsible for the material from this post forward, including this one.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is proposing a new set of regulations that will set aside a fair amount of the Chesapeake as a sanctuary, meaning that people won't be allowed to dredge for oysters there. Naturally, the workers aren't too excited about this: they protested in Annapolis last week against the proposed legislation. A counter-proposal was issued a few days later to put control of the fishery in the hands of the legislature rather than the DNR.

Last year we had a speaker from the DNR who described the difficulty of regulating the fishery. He said that the problems are caused by all of us- note that one commenter on the first article proposes that no one fertilize their lawns this year- but the solutions mostly end up on the backs of the harvesters. No one wants to see harvesters put out of business, but unless something is done to regulate the streams of effluent that are messing up the habitat, DNR thinks that the best thing is for us to put up with some hopefully short-term restrictions. It's a complicated problem with no easy solution!