May 28, 2009

Cap and Trade Cost inflation

Republicans puff up the impact of a cap-and-trade program on the average family's energy costs.

This just came to me from, a trustworthy source of the FACTS from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. Sign up for their emails if you want the truth. BOTH sides of the political arena frequenbtly misstate or just downright exaggerate the truth.

Leading Republicans are claiming that President Obama's proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions would cost households as much as $3,100 per year. The Republican National Committee calls it a "massive national energy tax." But the $3,100 figure is a misrepresentation of both Obama's proposal and the study from which the number is derived.

Republicans say they base their figure on a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But one of the authors says that the GOP's use of the study is "simplistic and misleading" and that it ignores key provisions designed to cushion the impact on consumers. The author puts the true added cost of a cap-and-trade system at closer to $800 a year. Obama himself once said energy costs would "skyrocket" under his plan, but the GOP's partisan claim of a $3,100 per household cost increase is far higher than figures produced by other studies.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average cost per household to be between $98 and $140 per year, based on the Democratic cap-and-trade bill working its way through the House. Even the conservative, pro-Republican Heritage Foundation figures the average family would see its energy bill increase by $1,500 a year, less than half what the GOP claims. [That would cost the average U.S. household 27 cents to 38 cents a day.]

A Congressional Budget Office expert recently estimated the cost per household at an average of $1,600 a year, but that figure doesn't account for energy rebates Obama has proposed giving to consumers. If the government did use revenue from cap and trade "to pay an equal lump-sum rebate to every household," the CBO expert said, "lower-income households could be better off."

May 17, 2009

Do you want a coal-burning plant 15 miles away?

updated September 17, 2009

I figure that most of you have already heard about this proposed Cypress Creek power plant across the James River in Surry County, and my two cents is long overdue. The Williamsburg Climate Action Network has been on top of it for quite some time.

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) is proposing possibly the largest coal-burning power plant in Virginia--in the small town of Dendron (about 300 residents). This future coal-burning power plant would produce 1500 megawatts by 2017. That's very generous of the Dendron residents to provide power to possibly the most heavily populated areas in Virginia, as in Northern Virginia!

America is not ready to quit coal, even though approximately 600 coal-fired power plants in the US produce about one-third of our country's toal carbon emissions. But there is good news for those of us who worry about respiratory problems. In the last few years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators. Unfortunately, Virginia is not yet on that list.

The Williamsburg area is only 15 miles downwind. Yes, downwind. What do you know about coal plant emissions?

For starters, "clean coal" is definitely an oxymoron and does NOT YET EXIST. It's still in the research and development stage, as scientists try to figure out a way to safely sequester (that's "put in timeout") the 14.6 million TONS of carbon dioxide per year that this proposed plant will emit. ODEC says Surry's soil and bedrock are inadequate for holding the carbon. Archer Daniel Midlands Co. is injecting liquid carbon dioxide (from a corn mill) into the ground in Illinois in an $84 million test project as I write. This project will stop in 2013 when they'll monitor for potential leaks. See why this sequestration is not just around the corner?

Even climate change skeptics must see that carbon dioxide emissions are not a good thing--whether you think that's it's contributing to a warmer planet or not. $6 billion for this plant could go a long way toward renewable wind or solar energy too.

Then there's the madhatter stuff of mercury. Most emissions of mercury from power plants fall within 75 miles (yes, Old Dominion website states that there will be 118 pounds of mercury per year from this plant). Only 1/70 of a teaspoon (I can't measure that in my teaspoon) in a 25-acre lake makes the fish unsafe to eat.

The prevailing winds from this plant will drop the mercury, lead, and soot in our area. As a boatowner who used to keep our sailboat in Sarah's Creek off the York River, I can attest to the fact that "particulate matter" (some sort of soot) quite regularly decorated our cockpit. Was it from the coal-burning plant in York county or from the oil refinery? I'll never know for sure.

We already have 3 of the 4 largest coal plants in Virginia in our area. The emissions from the Yorktown plant waft (such a gentle term!) into Williamsburg's air when the prevailing winds reverse. So we get it from both directions!

Some opponents, including the Coalition to Keep Surry Clean and Sierra Club, also worry that digging coal for the Cypress Creek plant could involve mountaintop-removal mining (MTR), which is just what the name describes, then leaving the rocks and earth in nearby streams. Now comes word that EPA is set to approve 42 out of 48 MTR permits--more than were approved during the entire Bush administration. That' a lot of flattened Appalachian peaks and muddy creeks.

I'll deal with the byproduct of fly ash another time. That's a topic unto itself!

WHAT CAN YOU DO? (updated 9-17-09) Dendron city council members just voted 4 to3 to hand over review of this proposal to their county planning commission. Perhaps the Surry County Planning Commission members should hear from downwind folks, in addition to their own residents. Commission Director is Rhonda Russell Mack, P. O. Box 357Surry, Virginia 23883; Phone: (757) 294-5210; E-mail:

Surry County will get a huge amount of money if this plant is built, and they need all the support they can get to make the hard decision of saying "Thanks, but no thanks." The promised jobs usually don't go the local folks either. Many are automated. If only the plant could be approved based on a "clean coal" MANDATE. That is the only kind of incentive that might motivate the researchers trying to develop clean coal technology.

Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes C. David Hudgins, ODEC's director of external relations, saying that a lot of the opposition boils down to "global warming, killing polar bears, the earth is dying. . . I'm kind of worried about the retired guy being able to afford his oxygen machine."

WOW! I'm worried about the retired guy's grand-daughter and her daughter.

If you seek more information, visit the Wise Energy for Virginia website at or :

All you wanted to know about coal in Virginia:

The major coal fields in western Virginia were not developed until the railroads arrived in the 1880s. The value of Virginia coal depends upon its quality, measured in British Thermal Units; cost of extraction; and distance from final market. Today, the coal in Virginia that is economical to mine is concentrated in the mountainous southwestern region.

Virginia's bituminous coal is "steam coal," used primarily for generating energy. Even low-quality coal, with a high sulfur content and buried deep underground, might be worth the high cost of underground mining if transportation costs were low - and that would be possible if there was a power plant located near the mouth of the mine. However, there are few power plants located next to Virginia mines, in part because there is little water for cooling the boilers in such plants.

Construction has already begun on the most-recently approved coal-burning power plant (#10) in Virginia--in Wise County in southwest Virginia. That one will also burn plant matter and "gob," a kind of mine waste made of rock and coal that is piled around the mining districts of southwest Virginia.

An insert in our Dominion power bill proudly announced this Wise plant as a "585-megawatt clean-coal power station" that will take 4 years to build. Closer reading of that promotional brochure included a sentence that stretched the truth: "The new station also would allow for the underground capture of carbon dioxide when the technology is available." Do they really expect folks to believe that? It's kinda like stating, "My new car will get 100 miles per gallon when that new magic fuel is available."

Background info from EPA website:

Nitrogen Oxide causes a variety of health and environmental impacts, such as ground-level ozone, acid rain, particulate matter (PM), global warming, water quality deterioration, and visual impairment. NOx plays a major role, with VOCs, in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone. NOx forms when fuel is burned at high temperatures. The two major emissions sources are transportation and stationary fuel combustion sources such as electric utility and industrial boilers.

High concentrations of sulfur dioxide affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children and the elderly. SO2 is also a primary contributor to acid deposition, or acid rain.

May 14, 2009

Things looking up for Chesapeake Bay?

An Obama executive order just declared the Chesapeake a "national treasure."

What does that mean? It should mean that the federal government (EPA, Departments of Transportation and Agriculture, etc.) will take a new leadership role in cleaning up the Chesapeake. We now await a draft statement within 120 days on what regulatory changes AND ENFORCEMENT POLICIES are needed to restore water quality in the bay.

Simply enforcing 1972's Clean Water Act would be a good start. It could be a big stick--if they actually enforced it. Can anyone say "penalty"? The Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued the EPA in January, 2009 for this sort of inaction.

All five states surrounding the bay (plus D.C.) just released new two-year goals for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution--as from sewage discharge and run-off from poultry farms AND LAWNS. Yes, I'm talking about that excess fertilizer that's devoted to your green lawn.

By 2011, these states pledged to reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 6.9 million pounds, and phosphorus pollution by another 463,948 pounds. However, at that rate, it might not happen in my lifetime. That reduction in nitrogen is actually only a 6 percent reduction. . . and the EPA and Chesapeake Bay area states had promised in 2000 to have the amount down to 175 million pounds by 2010. Can anyone say "back-tracking"?

And now they want to push back bay cleanup by setting a new deadline of 2025? Yikes. Back in 1987, these same states set a deadline of 2000! Then they extended it to 2010.

At least some dollars are coming our way to reach this goal. The Daily Press reports, "Thanks to the federal stimulus bill, $77 million will go to upgrading sewage treatment plants and sewer systems and to other projects in the state. None is in our area, but we will benefit from projects that cut pollution coming downriver. For instance, big dollars will help Richmond and Lynchburg fix sewer systems that spill raw sewage into the James. The second piece of good news is more than twice as big: $186 million in bonds to fund a loan program for more projects statewide. Some will come to us to clean up two Hampton Roads Sanitation District plants and upgrade area sewer systems to cut sewage spills."

Recent improvements in the bay--such as an increase in blue crab populations and underwater grasses--give us some hope. But the 17 million folks who live in the Chesapeake watershed should demand bigger signs of improvement. Our grandchildren might never regard the Chesapeake as a "national treasure" unless more is done soon.

May 5, 2009

Calling All Locavores!

Virginia-Grown Is More than a Marketing Gimmick

Are you a locavore? That was the 2007 new word of the year in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Cougar (non-fang variety) was a runnerup word! Locavore refers to those who support their area farmers by eating more locally grown foods. Food should not have frequent flyer miles! Many of them travel 1500 miles to your kitchen.

“Think global; eat local” is a slogan that makes you think about where your food was grown. Locavores prefer farm-to-plate versus farm-to-airplane, and actually knowing the farmer's name.

If you've read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you might have been inspired to try to adopt a small part of her family's lifestyle commitment to eat only local foods. They went "whole hog"--quite literally. No pineapples for them for one whole year. One startling statement in her book was that the U.S. exports 1.1 million tons of potatoes, and imports 1.4 million tons!

The easiest places to find locally grown foods, most of them organic or near-organic, are your local farmers markets. However, if you make a special trip to the farmers’ market in your SUV, you’re adding to “food miles.” Instead, organize a carpool to the market with some neighbors and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

The weekly Williamsburg Farmers' Market in Merchants Square will take place from now through October. Up to forty local farmers, watermen, and vendors market their wares every Saturday from 8 a.m. to Noon. The Hampton Farmers' Market and Newport News Farmers' Market are also up and running this spring. Many more around Tidewater Virginia are on this comprehensive listing.

Farms in our part of tidewater Virginia are disappearing quickly. Local Fresh Market store manager, Rick Fariss, told me that “we used to buy produce from three area farmers and they’re now either retired or have given up farming.” Ukrop’s produce manager, James Pullen, says that no local farmers provide their produce either, but that “we do have a relationship with Richmond and Eastern shore farmers for seasonal produce.”

Another win-win solution to finding locally grown foods is to join a Community Supported Agriculture program or a CSA, which are usually small farms. After you buy a "share" in a CSA, you'll pick up weekly fresh produce. You also share in the risk if there's a drought or insect problem.

Local Harvest is the organization that keeps tabs on who is running a CSA and you can easily find some in their database that are close to you. If you want to try one out, see if a friend wants to split both the cost and the produce. Half-shares are usually quite welcome. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services lists about 60 Virginia CSAs. Some of the local ones are Dayspring Farm near West Point, Hidden Brook Farm and Kelrae Farm, both in Toano, and Zina's Produce on Route 5.

Virginia Dept. of Agriculture and consumer Services also provides a thorough Virginia Grown Guide online.

Williamsburg Yorktown Daily's Desiree Parker's Eco-Freak blog headed me to this cool local website for homegrown pickins:

Some terms on food labels mean virtually nothing -- or at least nothing verifiable. Consumer Union's very useful Eco-labels center (at guides for meat and dairy) show that "antibiotic free," "free range," "no chemicals," "no additives," "natural" or even "fresh" are not meaningful. "USDA Organic," however, is the real thing!
June 2009 Update: Check out Paul McCarney's Meat-Free Monday's campaign at

May 4, 2009

Big Green Lies??? Green-washing???

There's a green war taking place on your local store shelves.

Companies launched more than 458 eco-friendly products so far this year. If that trend continues there will be 1,570 new green products on our stores’ shelf space this year, triple the amount introduced in 2008.

Yet terms such as natural, nontoxic, eco-safe, and environmentally friendly are largely unregulated. How can consumers make sense out of the bewildering array of "eco-labels"?

Seventh Generation (producing green products for 20 years) says to follow the Great Law of the Iroquois,

"In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."
That's a rather daunting task, so some online sleuthing is needed. Begin your "green homework" here.

Want to clean with non-toxic and eco-safe green products?
Check out Good Housekeeping's Best Green Cleaners

or's testing of 8 green bathroom cleaning products

Want to use eco-friendly laundry detergents that won't cause algae blooms?
Check out's testing of six green laundry detergents

Want to buy the best green paper products with recycled content?
The Natural Resources Defense Council's website has a special Green Living section that rates toilet paper, paper towels, etc. based on recycled content and being chlorine-free. Click on "Buying Tissue Paper" link there.

or here's Grist's "bottom" line on toilet paper for the wipe stuff. Aren't these guys clever?

Want to buy environmentally-friendly shampoo & other health care products?
While you're in the bathroom, consider all the personal care products in that room. Do you think about toxic chemicals as you wash your hair? The Environmental Working Group's blog follows the latest research. Click on "Chemical Index" or "Health/Toxics" for some facts that will make your hair stand up.

Want to know which foods have the most pesticides?
Check out the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides BEFORE you go shopping.

Still want more info?
The "Green Seal" of Approval indicates that a product or service has been tested according to science-based procedures, that it works as well or better than others in its class, and that it has been evaluated without bias or conflict of interest. Green Seal certifies more than 3,100 products and services, using a life-cycle assessment system.

And . . . for a Green PhD in eco-label mastery:
Consumer Reports translates what other eco-labels, such as "Fair Trade Certified" and "Certified Biodegradable" really mean at You can check out all 149 eco-labels if you're really ambitious.

The BOTTOM LINE? Phosphates are the worst culprits in detergents since they cause algae blooms, but they still show up on many labels, especially on dishwasher products. Other non-green ingredients to avoid are bleach, ammonia, triclosan, petroleum, and the surfactant nonylphenol ethoxylate or NPE (an endocrine disruptor).

If a strong perfume odor lingers after you clean, it’s a good sign that your home’s air could be irritating your lungs. Look for detergents that are "free and clear" of dyes and perfumes.

Baking soda/sodium bicarbonate, vinegar, lemon juice, and good ole 20 Mule Team Borax are usually sufficient to get the job done—especially when mixed with water and a little elbow grease. Much cheaper too.

Trivia for the day: Did you know that the largest deposit of the naturally occurring stuff that baking soda comes from is underground near Green River, Wyoming? Its alkaline crystals are great at neutralizing the greasy fatty acids that neatnik homeowners detest.

May 3, 2009

Green Power Grows . . . but . . .

Things are lookin' up for green power, generated from renewable resources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydropower). Whether the climate bill now being debated arrives at a mandate for renewable energy at 6 percent by 2012 or not, we're heading in the right direction. Of course, I'd like to see 25 percent by 2025, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Even our Department of Energy secretary, Steven Chu, has said that we need Nobel-caliber breakthroughs!

The EPA's recent news release identifies the nation’s top green power users as Intel Corporation, PepsiCo, Kohl’s Department Stores, Dell Inc., Whole Foods Market, The Pepsi Bottling Group, Inc., Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Air Force, Cisco Systems, Inc. and the City of Houston.

The nation’s top 50 purchasers are buying more than 11 billion kilowatt-hours(kWh) of green power annually, equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) that would be produced from the electricity use of more than 1.1 million average American homes. . . EPA’s Green Power Partnership works with more than 1,000 partner organizations to voluntarily purchase green power to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use.

As the House debates this climate bill, one big concern is be how much the climate bill will cost us. The EPA estimates that the cap-and-trade part would cost the average U.S. household $98 to $140 a year, or 27 cents to 38 cents a day. Breaking it down to a daily cost makes it more palatable, I suppose.

Even the CEO of Duke Energy (on a recent 60 Minutes episode) agrees that his industry must address the pollution they produce in their coal-burning power plants. So 38 cents per day seems like an expense we can support!

An unusual coalition (with the likes of General Electric & the Natural Resources Defence Council) is also working together (yegads!) to fashion a climate bill that these 30 differing groups can swallow.

The ominous figures that I've seen, however, make the transition to clean renewable energy seem unsurmountable. The world supposedly uses more than 14 trillion watts (or 14 terawatts!) of power right now, and they predict that we'll need at least28 terawatts by 2050.

Nate Lewis of the California Institute of Technology says that we'd need 10 to 15 terawatts from wind energy and that would require one million state-of-the-art wind turbines. Also, we'd need 10 terrawatts from solar power, and that translates into covering one million roofs with solar panels every day until 2050. Then, to get 10 terrawatts from nuclear power, we'd need to build 10,000 new reactors--one every other day until 2050.

Then there's the problem of our old transmission lines that leak up to 80 percent of the current they carry.