|Issue of the Day Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category|
General Motors has kicked up its campaign for the new Chevy Volt, which is part of their strategy to address increasing fuel efficiency standards facing car makers and demand from buyers today. The Volt, which is expected to be available late next year, can be plugged into a normal household outlet and travel exclusively on electricity for 40 miles. After that, a small gasoline motor kicks in. The headline making the rounds is that the Volt will get 230 mpg for city driving only and assumes that the driver is operating mainly on electricity. A freeway number has not been released so far and GM states that it will be “fairly significantly lower…yet greater than 100 mpg.” The US Environmental Agency has yet to verify GM’s 230 mpg claim.
Plug-in electric cars may, at some point in the future, add significant demand to the grid. The time gap will allow for an improvements to the grid; today the net generation of electricity depends upon coal and natural gas generation. Without adding more renewable energy in electricity generation, plug-in electrics will simply shift carbon emissions from source to another, one that may or may not be more efficient, in particular when energy loss during transmission is taken into consideration.
USDA Announces Initiative to Increase Organic Farmland, Reduce Pesticides
Published Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
The Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced in May a $50 million initiative from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 — a part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — to encourage more organic agriculture production. The aim is to make organic producers eligible to compete for EQIP financial assistance. Under the organic initiative, the required minimum core conservation practices including conservation crop rotation, cover crop, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing, and forage harvest management. Applications will be accepted from producers and those in transition from non-organic production. To help with eligibility, there are two separate national screening tools for applicants — one for certified and one for newcomers. The 2009 organic initiative will be administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Organic farmland has grown very quickly to acquire a market of $46 billion, encompassing 30 million hectares, which is 0.8% of the world’s farmland. The agriculture methods employed by organic farmers include minimizing pesticides, nutrient runoff, excessive water usage, and assorted other problems. A major concern is the use of pesticides; the US uses over one billion tons of pesticide products each year. EPA, in its efforts to make agriculture safer, is promoting safer pesticides and reducing risks through the re-registration process. Plus, EPA is expediting approval of safer pesticides with special protections for infants and children.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) keeps taps on our trash and has reported its findings on the generation and disposal of trash in the U.S. for 30 years. The data is used to map the success of waste reduction and recycling programs across the country. In 2007, the most recent data, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash and recycled/composted 85 million tons of that trash, an equivalent of a 33.4% recycling rate. On average, the normal American recycled and composted 1.5 pounds of 4.6 pounds of personal waste generated per person per day.
Over the years of data collection, the EPA has mapped a current recycling rate that is 3 times that of 1980. Recycling programs have fallen to 8,660 curbside recycling programs nationwide, down from 8,875 in 2002. Community composting programs, the decomposition of biodegradable material (e.g., yard trimmings, food scraps), have grown by 283 programs to 3,510 programs nationwide. In 2007, nearly 31.9 million tons of materials or 12.6% of all refuse was combusted for energy. Waste combustion for energy has remained fairly flat since 1990. The Obama Administration has included energy recovery from refuse as a part of its energy and environment initiative, which strives to increase the use of refuse and other renewable sources for alternative energy.
Despite the increasing trend of organic and green living, the growth of organic food consumption has slowed after years of explosive annual growth, especially for dairy organic farms. Many farms are seeing a 50% drop in organic milk sales this year from 12.7% in 2008 to about 6% this year according to the Organic Trade Association. According to the US Department of Agriculture, sales of organic whole milk were down 2.5% in February from last February; organic reduced-fat milk is worse at 15% below last year. This makes it more difficult for farmers to recoup the investment from the conversion cost of going organic from conventional farming, which can run into the $500,000 range per farm. State governments responding to the drop in sales have passed bills to increase the amount of raw milk a farmer can sell to the public versus the conventional processors in an effort to ease the financial loses. This comes just after the USDA awarded $50 million in funding for organic food production.
Overall farmland use has been reducing from 9 to 20% annually since 2000. Organic foods have experienced a remarkable upswing in sales over the last decade from near 60 million pounds of organic milk to 150 million pounds at the end of last year. This fed the growing number of organic farmland, especially after 2003 where in 2 years the number of organic pastureland and rangeland tripled from 745,000 acres to 2,331,000 acres in 2005.
President Requests Funding for Transit Construction Projects
Published Monday, May 18th, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
According to the Department of Transportation, last week President Obama sent to Congress a request for $1.83 billion in funding for major transit projects, which promises to create jobs and increase both bus and light transit rail options for commuters and travelers. More than $600 million of the funds are for new projects in places such as New Jersey and Colorado, adding up to 39 projects. The announcement detailed 29 projects of which have received federal commitments for funding in previous years; the last 10 are split between new major transit capital construction and the expansion of smaller transit projects.
The emergence of new construction projects for mass transit has come from the presidential initiative to increase the construction and use of alternative transportation to cut emissions and create jobs. Currently, emissions from cars contribute 88.4% of the US share of carbon dioxide, 56% of all carbon monoxide, and 55% of our share of oxides of nitrogen. Currently, the total highway system mileage (distance measured in miles) has increased steadily since 1975 to 4.016 million miles of roads, which handle a steady increase in national miles driven year after year. However, transit rail miles, which includes commuter rail, has surged and ebbed to settle at 6,972 miles of track in 2006.
New Study to Improve Early Tornado Warning Systems
Published Friday, May 15th, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
With Tornado season in full swing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has initiated a joint project that explores the origins, structure and evolution of tornados. The project, Verification of the Origin of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2) involves more than 50 scientists, 40 vehicles and 10 mobile radars. Its objective is to collect data in order understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado function. The principle area of interest is the Great Plains including South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle, and western Oklahoma. Preliminary results from V2 are scheduled for presentation at Penn State during the 2009 fall semester. Funding for the study — amounting to $11.9 million — will come from NOAA and the National Science Foundation, 10 universities, and 3 non-profit organizations.
The initial VORTEX study operated during 1994 and 1995; its findings led to a greater understanding of the entire life cycle of tornadoes. The results of the study may, in part, be responsible for the improved National Weather Service severe weather warning statistics. Given the spike in the number of tornadoes in recent years, the improvements to the NWS have managed to significantly reduce the nationwide number of fatalities due to severe weather and tornadoes.
Governor Schwarzenegger’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which calls for a 10% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, has been adopted by California’s Air Resources Board. According to the Board, the regulation aims to increase the market for alternative-fuel vehicles and achieve 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2020. This is a regulation under California’s Global Warming Solutions Act. The regulation means that fuel providers must prove that their California fuels meet an average declining standard of “Carbon Intensity.” Intensity is a figure related to the sum of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, transportation and consumption of a specific fuel. California’s regulation efforts have come under fire from those who claim the new regulation will indirectly affect land use changes that further inflate grain prices and reduce forests. This move comes ahead of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, to which President Obama has invited the 16 states with the highest emissions of greenhouse gases.
The total summary of on-road alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles has Ethanol (E85) far surpassing all other fuels, which have remained flat (Compressed Natural Gas, Liquefied Natural Gas, and Hydrogen) or have reduced (Liquefied Petroleum Gas). The price of a bushel of wheat, a growing Alternative Fuel ingredient, has skyrocketed from $3.42 in 2005 to $6.65 in 2007. A bushel of corn, the main ingredient in ethanol, has also doubled from $2.00 in 2005 to $4.00 in 2007.
EPA Calls Greenhouse Gases Hazard to the Public’s Health
Published Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded a scientific review ordered by the US Supreme Court in 2007. Findings stated that Greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution and thus threaten public health or welfare. Concentrations of six gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) are at an all time high due to human activities. The second finding stated that combined emissions from motor vehicles contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of the six greenhouse gases. This would mean the most complex assertion of authority over the US economy and individuals’ lifestyles. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and President Barack Obama have previously said they prefer comprehensive legislation on climate change over federal regulation. Congress is now considering such bills.
Impacts of such climate change include increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more intense wildfires and heat waves, greater sea level rise, more intense storms and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems. The findings also suggested that the climate change has a disproportionate impact on the life expectancy of the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, the disabled, those living alone and indigenous populations. Currently, the US stands at 50th in the world at a life expectancy of 78.11 years in 2009, with White women surviving at all ages better than all other sexes and races.
In an ongoing investigation by the Associated Press, pharmaceuticals were found in fish caught near wastewater treatment plants serving 5 major US cities. Medicines found include treatments for high cholesterol, allergies, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and depression. These findings have prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to expand similar research to more than 150 different locations. Much of the contamination comes from unmetabolized residues of pharmaceuticals and unused drugs flushed down the drain. According to researchers on the project, a person would have to eat hundreds of thousands of fish fillets to get even a single therapeutic dose. Yet, researchers have found that constant exposure to the diluted doses is harming fish, frogs, and other aquatic animals.
These reports come as every age group takes more and more pharmaceuticals each year with the older generations experiencing the greatest increase of all age groups. Of the waters tested, well over 34% contained pathogens—an agent that causes disease such as bacterium and fungus—including 7% pesticides, 5.4% chlorides, 3.7% mercury, 2.5% phosphorus, 2.0% copper. Of the endangered and threatened aquatic species, the United States holds 325 of the 430 species. US funding for the Superfund to clean-up environmental problem areas has remained very flat at $1.2 billion.
In the news, the Sierra Club, an environmentalist group, has opposed the plan to import hydroelectric power from Quebec. In a statement released by the group, “New York Power Authority is in preliminary discussions and considering the liability of a new contract with Hydro Quebec,” a Canadian supplier of hydroelectricity. The Contract would call for the installation of four new dams, which the Club said would destroy the Romaine River of Eastern Quebec.
Water is the leading renewable energy source used by electric utilities to generate electric power; it accounts for nearly 6% of all electricity produced in the United States. Hydroelectric power facilities can generate enough power to supply 28 million households with electricity, the equivalent of nearly 500 million barrels of oil. Many of the best locations to set up hydroelectric facilities have already been developed. Currently, researchers are working on advancing turbine technologies that will not only help maximize the use of hydroelectric power, but also minimize adverse environmental effects. Environmental effects include damming rivers and streams, which affects the habitats of the local plant, fish, and animal life.