Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oil slick "worst in decades"

Wow, now they're saying it's "the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades," even surpassing the Exxon Valdez!

Oil spill bigger than previously thought

It always sounded too good to be true that the whole rig could go down in the Gulf and there not be much of a negative impact on the environment, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that a "previously unknown" new leak is discovered as soon as someone besides BP is on the scene, raising the estimates of oil in the Gulf by a factor of 5. Anyway, watch out Louisiana!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New York Trash options

Couple of nice articles in the NYT today on New York City's waste disposal system and on producing power from sewage. The authors of the first, former high-level workers in the city's sanitation department, suggest investments in waste-to-energy plants, which can reduce costs as well as energy consumption. They also suggest a tax on (non-recyclable) waste, which I used to pay back in Japan. The garbage-men would only haul off trash set outside in special bags, and the bags cost something like $2 each for a standard large trash-bag size. The second article is on using human waste to produce energy, a process that rarely happens now but could potentially provide hundreds of thousands of homes with power. Is it just our short-term budgeting cycle (and electoral cycle) that keeps us from investing in projects that pay off a few years down the road?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hazards of Offshore Drilling

This probably isn't news to most of you, but the wreck of the offshore drilling platform that was destroyed by an oil or gas surge in the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago is now exuding thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf every day. Efforts are being made to contain the damage, but it sounds like a near-term solution is unlikely.

In 2008, the US was the world's third largest oil producer, generating almost half of what we used. I see lots of energy development happening, changing our nation's energy portfolio over the next few decades, but for now we really need this stuff. This episode should remind us again of the costs of our addiction, and hopefully spur increased investment in alternative sources. We can't get to the right place without recognizing the full set of costs associated with our behavior! Too bad we have to learn this way.

Monday, April 26, 2010

California worms in Panama

In Panama, the industry leader in coffee production, Rogers Family Company, has found a new technique for removing waste produced by their coffee plants. Coffee pulp is a byproduct of the coffee plants, and is extremely bad for the environment. It is well known that coffee plants use many pesticides to aid the growing of their plants. This is then turned into the pulp, which rots over time. Once it rains it gets washed away into local waterways. Rogers Family Company has found out that worms from California actually convert this pulp into an organic fertilizer which puts nutrients back into the depleted soil. In a test at a local model farm in Panama, they saw that these worms eliminated over 5000 tons of rotted coffee pulp, and prevented it from polluting the Caldera River, a local waterway. In my opinion this is a very economically feasible idea, because these worms are converting essentially pollution into organic fertilizer. This seems like a great way to get rid of waste without spending too much money.
--Sid Ganesan

Cleaning the Harbor

I saw this article a few weeks ago when it came out and the contrast between the excited tone at the start and the realities described at the end were so stark that I decided not to post it, but other people are referring to it now as well so I guess it should be up regardless. A Baltimore group called the "Waterfront Partnership" is leading a movement to clean up the Inner Harbor, first investing $50,000 to produce some artificial islands containing wetland plants that will hopefully improve water quality. However, other estimates say that reaching the "swimmable and fishable" goals of the Partnership will be extremely expensive since it would involve dealing with the toxic materials that line the harbor, the algae that feeds on the nutrients that enter the harbor via runoff, the other pollutants that run off the streets when it rains, some leaking sewage problems.... Maybe I'm just being Mr. Negative, but it sounds like spitting in the wind to me. Still, I suppose that a little bit cleaner is a step in the right direction, whether it's a meaningful step or not!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

South Carolina considers offshore drilling

Last month, President Obama proposed a bill opening up a large portion of the East Coast and other protected areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to offshore drilling. The Senate also passed a resolution last month allowing South Carolina to receive a percentage of government revenues from natural gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf equal to that of the current percentage of revenue that four Gulf Coast states receive for drilling for oil and gas off their coastlines. As environmentalists are beginning to panic for the health and safety of our local waters, the worst has yet to come. Last Wednesday, a bill allowing South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to speedily review offshore drilling applications and award permits for offshore exploration, drilling or oil and gas production after federal restrictions are removed was advanced by a South Carolina Senate panel to seek approval from the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The chairman of the Senate panel, Senator Paul Campbell, led a study last year that finds that it is highly unlikely that a viable amount of oil exists off the coast of South Carolina, but it is very likely that natural gas deposits are located at a reasonable distance from the shore.The first lease sale for drilling and area 50 miles off of the coast of Virginia could happen as early as 2012. Republican Senator Jake Knotts opposed the proposal of speeding up the review and approval of applications for drilling permits because of the threat to US coastal waters.
I agree with Senator Knotts and the environmentalists who worry about the safety of our American coastal waters, beaches, and marine life. Though the permits would stimulate the economies of coastal states involved in offshore drilling, the risk of damages crippling our coastal shores is very high. I think that rather than drilling for natural nonrenewable resources, we should instead be investing in renewable technologies such as offshore wind energy.
--Maggie Chan

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reduced runoff from DC buildings? New EPA rules

One way that urban areas affect the environment is by having lots of "impervious areas" which send storm water rushing into drains and out into bodies of water carrying whatever chemicals or trash are in their path. This is one reason the harbor area in Baltimore is so dirty, and high speed flows hitting tributaries of the Chesapeake disrupt local ecosystems. The EPA is proposing to require green roofs in the District, which will slow the water and see much of it captured in barrels for use watering plants later. This could be pretty expensive, but it will definitely leave us with cleaner rivers and hopefully a cleaner Bay. Hopefully it's worth it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Whaling: Help or Hurt Iceland?

In the article "Whaling Profitable but Bad for Iceland's Image", Greenpeace exposed illegal trading of fin whale meet from Iceland to Japan. In recent weeks, Greenpeace has managed to stop the illegal transport of 140 kilograms of whale meat from Iceland. In an attempt to advocate for the protection of whales and save this endangered species, Greenpeace has been taking extensive efforts to intercede the trading of whale meat. The article, however, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of whaling for Iceland's economy. Those in favor of legalizing whaling claim that the hunting and processing of whale meat could provide 80-90 jobs in Iceland. In an opposing argument, whaling would take away from tourists attractions such as whale tours that currently provide 120 jobs already. Another argument in favor of whaling legalization is the overwhelming supply of fish that would result from depleting the number of whales in the water. The depletion of whales would result in larger quantities of cod, capelin, and haddock for Iceland's fisherman. But this argument has also been disputed by scientists who claim that this debate is simply bias towards the legalization.
After reviewing the Greenpeace website and learning their stance on the subject of whaling, I am in accordance that the ban on international trading of whale meat should remain. Despite the economic profits of trading whale meat, the fact still stands that whales are becoming an endangered species; over hunting of them could affect the balance in the food chain. Aside from this, it seems that every argument made for the legalization of international whale meat trading has been disputable. Although arguments claim commercial whaling could provide jobs and more revenue, it seems there is not enough evidence to back these statements. Whales are a key component to marine life in the Netherlands and their existence should be protected.
--Samantha Easter

Monday, April 19, 2010

Potential Chesapeake Effects of Offshore Drilling in VA

This article discusses the problems with off shore drilling. The offshore drilling would take place off the shores of Maryland and Virginia. This could be a potential problem because it could harm the Bay. The article says that the Bay is an “economic engine” and any spill could significantly impact the economy. It would have a negative effect on the fisherman’s lives, recreational fishing, and tourism. A single spill could ruin an entire year of crabs. Once the article has made its point about the harm this could do to the Bay it offers alternatives such as off shore wind energy. The off shore wind energy would be more sustainable and more environmentally sensitive.
I agree and I think that alternate clean energies should be explored. The Bay is already suffering and people are already trying to restore it. If we are trying to restore the Bay wouldn’t doing something else that could potentially harm the Bay seem contradictory? With the Bay already suffering I think it is stupid to put the Bay at even more risk. Off shore wind energy could be a plausible substitute. There is no reason to say that these alternate clean energies should not be explored; so why not explore them and not put out Bay in even more trouble than it is already in.
--Ashlea Carl

Trade in Endangered Species

This article is about the illegal trading of endangered species and their parts across the internet. The products are the actual animal or a product associated with the animal. Examples of these two products are live baby lions and wine made from tiger bones. Some of the other endangered species caught up in this mess are: Kaiser's spotted newt, capuchin monkeys, lion cubs, polar bears and leopards. There is a convention, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES for short, held every year to discuss the problems with the endangered species. 175 nations gather at the meeting to come up with new and different regulations to help stop the illegal actions. One of the species that is disappearing quickly is the Kaiser spotted newt. This animal is being sold as a pet at a rate of 200 per year. There are only 1,000 of them in the mountains of Iran. The total population has decreased 80%. The CITES committee has put a ban on the trade of this newt and enforcement groups are helping to implement this ban.
I believe that these bans are a great idea and they need to be enforced harder. The problem is that the third world countries have little to none enforcement groups to regulate what comes in and out of the country. Also, people are trying to keep transactions off the internet so that neither party can be tract easily. All these endangered species need to be protected and not brought out of their wildlife habitat. These poor animals are being treated like drugs; both are being traded illegally and under the radar. I’m not a crazy animal lover but if we, the United States, have the resources to stop drug trafficking, then we can certainly try to stop this trading.
--Nick Kurtz

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chesapeake crabs on the rise

Great news reported today: the population of Chesapeake crabs is doing really well, thanks to restrictions on crabbing imposed over the past few years. Limitations on the take of female crabs over the past two years has led to increases in the viable population this year. Be nice if the population were sustaining itself without these restrictions, and maybe that will come soon, but not yet. Anyway, I'll take this news as it stands! Good news for the Bay.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Incinerators are the devil"- but they produce energy

In Europe, 400 plants turn non-recyclable waste into energy, but the US has few and has hardly built any such plants in the past 15 years. Problems include NIMBY-ism and environmental groups pushing for zero waste, but the lack of incinerators means that trash ends up in landfills. This NYT article sure makes it sound like we're overlooking an environmental source of power.

A legacy of Katrina: Green Homes

This USA Today article gives much optimism talking about nonprofit groups and personal contributions donating money to help rebuild some of the less poorer areas of New Orleans with green homes. Over 500 homes have been and are being build, mostly in the lower 9th Ward and Pontchartrain Park areas of New Orleans – both of which have lower income families. These homes are those with the average value of $120,000-$160,000, but have been given the additions of eco-friendly materials, these mostly include installation, rain barrels, and solar panels. This effort is the first major effort to help build single family homes. Seattle, Washington and Boston, Massachusetts, have both built apartment buildings for poorer individuals and families with green materials and technologies. Building the homes is all thanks to contributions from nonprofit groups, Global Green USA, based in California, Make it Right, a nonprofit started by Brad Pitt, Riggio Foundation, a New York based nonprofit which has given $20 million, and personal contributions from Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native and on the HBO show The Wire. The finished houses have shown decreases of 75% on energy bills, and one family, with 5 children, has claimed decreases of $300 on their monthly energy bills.
To me this is a great idea not only to help rebuild New Orleans and help those who didn’t have insurance and can’t easily afford a new house themselves. But, it is also rebuilds the city sustainably as well as giving the families decreased monthly bills, increased wealth in their home, and hopefully some increased pride in their homes. One concern I had was over the upkeep of solar panels and if it would be expensive for the poorer families, but other than needing to be rinsed with a hose if there is no rain and they become dirty, there is very little, if any upkeep needed over long periods of time. So, it gives a great gift to those families, neighborhoods, and the city of New Orleans, as well as it will hopefully be an example for cities which will rebuild poorer areas in the future.
--Jason Mathias

Monday, April 12, 2010

BP solar leaves Maryland

BP’s solar power division is planning to completely move its solar business out of the U.S. to China, India, and other countries. Due to higher prices and other costs associated with producing energy in the U.S., BP hopes they will be able to make solar panels much more effectively elsewhere.

Originally they had a 70 million dollar strategy, hoping to double their output at a solar-panel manufacturing plant in Frederick, MD. High costs in America led BP to move it’s solar operations to “where we can manufacture cheaply.”

The problem is that silicon is very expensive and producing solar power here in the U.S. just isn’t cost effective. According to the article, “BP Solar Chief Executive, Reyard Fezzani, said the U.S. market for solar was almost flat in 2009, with solar module prices dropping about 50 percent.” The plant was making 125 millimeter multi-crystalline solar cells, whereas the rest of the industry had already moved on to 156 millimeter cells. Rather than spending even more money to change the production lines, Bp figures it would be more beneficial to ship out to foreign countries where production is cheaper. They figure they will cut their costs by more than 45%.

On the other hand, 320 workers will be laid off as a result. 100 others will keep their jobs for research, sales, and project development.

Bp has already been working with companies from India and China so this is not unfamiliar to them. They also plan on building a 32 megawatt solar generation plant on Long Island, NY.

It’s hard to trust these oil companies due to all of the hype about fossil fuels. Is the company really trying to move forward with alternative energy or do they just want to control it in order to hinder its success? So far it seems like they are actually trying to make solar cells more popular by lowering production costs, in turn making solar cells cheaper. The cheaper they become, the better. On the other hand, it would really be nice to see the U.S. take off with solar power but that just isn’t happening at this point. Gas prices will continue to rise, which will hopefully force a stronger affinity to solar and wind power.

--Sam Lippincott

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strawberry boom: a bust for farmers

If you have been to your grocery stores produce section in the last week you might have noticed the low price of strawberries. Florida farmers faced one of the worst winters in recent decades; faced with losing a large portion of their crop farmers were forced to continually water the strawberries to keep the damage of frost to a minimum. As a result the Florida harvest was delayed and just happened to coincide with California harvest. Because of market oversaturation farmers are only getting 25 cents per pound of strawberries when in normal years they would be fetching about a dollar a pound. This has forced farmers to destroy their own harvest to artificially inflate the price of strawberries. Farmers are not subsidized by the government nor insured for the loss of their crop.
To make matters worse farmers are being accused of greed and a general insensitivity to those without or in need of food. Concerned citizens believe that the farmers should at the very least allow individuals to pick the extra crop for free or donate it to shelters where the food can be of use. On top of that local residents are citing the farmers for creating sinkholes that they believe to be caused by the excess watering of crops in the winter. These sinkholes have left residents without water for weeks or dried their wells up all together while some have even lost their homes because of them.
From the farmers perspective it is not economically feasible to ship out the strawberries to shelters after harvesting when you include all the costs of growing and picking the fruit. While many others are afraid if they let their farms become a free-for-all they could be liable for injuries that occur on their land and possible damage to new crops that have already been planted.
When considering all the problems of the farmers and residents it is hard to take any one side. I believe that when it comes to the farmers destroying their crop so they can make a profit that it is reasonable and I understand they cannot take any more cost associated with donating the excess. I would like to see and effort made by the farmers to find a charity organization that might be able to come and pick the excess at no cost to the farmer. I am sure there are many out there that would be willing to do this. To me the most serious problem is the one faced by residents that have damaged homes or have dried up wells. This is where I believe that the farmers should be responsible for the damages. Although I am not quite sure how you would enforce the farmers to pay for the damages as they collectively caused the problem. When precious natural resources such as water are being used farmers should be conscious about consumption, especially when their actions have caused the ground water supply to dry up. While it might be devastating for farmers to lose a whole harvest it is just as devastating, maybe even more for someone to lose their home.
--Ben Summers

Nuclear energy a costly alternative

This article in the Washington Post looks at potential nuclear power plants and what comes along with them. With all the talk of global warming and reducing the use of fossil fuels, nuclear power seems like the way to go, but it is extremely expensive. This article examines a proposal to build a pair of nuclear power plants in Georgia. On the positive side it is a cleaner, renewable energy that is proven, but the drawback is that the two plants will cost an estimated 14 billion and it is stated in the article that nuclear plants often run over budget. The Obama administration has okayed 8.3 billion in low interest federal loans for the plants. The controversial part is how the rest of the money will be raised. Power companies want to charge their customers prior to breaking ground, in order to help cut costs.
This is an extremely difficult subject to pick a side on, unless one is extremely knowledgeable. On the one hand it looks like nuclear power is a great replacement to the coal burning plants that cover the states, as it's clean and in the long run can be potentially cheaper then coal. On the other hand the upfront costs have made it difficult for the switch to take place in more then a few areas. The electric company’s difficulty finding financing adds to the mystery of this topic. Its good for the future and the environment, but past nuclear endeavors' driving some companies into bankruptcy have made investors weary. Hopefully as we work with nuclear technology longer, we can find cheaper methods that lead to the same result.

--Chris Rankin

Friday, April 2, 2010

Obama administration gets aggressive on energy

As long as I can remember, environmental activists have been pushing for tougher fuel standards, and the auto industry has been saying that tougher standards would be impossible to meet and would bankrupt them. Maybe now that they're already bankrupt, they won't be able to complain about the new EPA standards set this week.

While that's big news for a major US industry, another industry got some big news from Obama on Wednesday. Acquiescing to demands from Virginians, among others, when he announced that a large portion of the East Coast would be opened up to oil drilling. It's true that in the same stroke he protected the West Coast as well as parts of Alaska from drilling, but this is still good news for business and a disappointing move for environmentalists. One good response is from Eric Smith, who argues that offshore drilling is good for the environment, sort of like local food has less of an impact than the imported stuff.

I'm curious to see how this will shake out over the next decade or two. Ethanol requirements continue to rise, natural gas drilling looks to be poised to take off, and the new gas standards will slowly begin to cut into petroleum consumption. Decreased demand for oil some years from now will limit drilling- we'll see if the world can get there.

Another pricey liquid starting wars in the Middle East

Over the last six years there has been a drought in the Middle East that has been affecting the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians. The drought, along with excessive use and pollution is greatly damaging the Jordan River which all three counties get use of and essentially fight over as there major watershed. This is not the only example of this specific case of fighting over waterways. This has been an issue for many years. The Indus River has brewed controversy between India and Pakistan. The Nile River has stemmed fighting between Ethiopia and the Egyptians. Furthermore, the Eufraties River has seen its share of controversy between Turkey and Syria. These conflicts are not just remedial disputes. These countries go to war over these waterways because that is there means of survival. Oregon State has conducted research that concludes that over the 37 military disputes that have erupted over waterways since the 1950s, almost all of these disputes take place in the Middle East between Israelis and Arabs.
It is amazing to me to see how such a small issue as a river can cause decades of war. It’s very eye opening to see how these Middle Eastern countries utilize these rivers and waterways for everything from bathing, drinking, and farming. I would think that after all of these years of military fighting and disputes that these countries would have thought that it was in their best interest to find a permanent solution. Especially, with all of the military resources and expenses they are using up without making any progress. Neither side is going to back down because the rivers are such a huge resource for their survival so a peace place should be developed to possible stop the military fighting and help sanitize and regulate the rivers water for a better quality of live.
--Brian Connor