Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on A Cold War Over Resources in Central Asia
Earlier this year, a U.S. intelligence report predicted that as water shortages become more acute, “water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage” over the next 10 years and beyond. This prediction is already being borne out in places such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (map), where long-standing distrust between the two nations has been heightened by new disputes over natural gas and water supplies.
Tajikistan gets nearly 95 percent of its natural gas from Uzbekistan. It also controls upstream access to Uzbekistan’s water supply, a lot of which goes to irrigate the latter’s cotton fields. Citing new contractual commitments of natural gas supplies to China, Uzbekistan interrupted gas deliveries to Tajikistan for half of April 2012, which nearly paralyzed the Tajik economy.
While disruption of Uzbek gas supplies to Tajikistan has been a recurring story, Uzbekistan has a new gripe with its neighbor: Tajikistan’s Roghun hydroelectric dam project on the Vaksh River. One of the nation’s most ambitious projects since 1976, the Roghun will replace Tajikistan’s Nurek hydroelectric station as the world’s tallest dam and meet more than enough of its electricity demand, with a capacity to generate 3.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Uzbekistan has been against Roghun, fearing the dam will disrupt its supply of irrigation water for its cotton fields. Given that Roghun poses no real benefit to Uzbekistan, the Uzbek authorities are concerned that Tajikistan may use it as leverage in future disputes.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has been pushing for more investment to complete the Roghun dam in recent years, and Uzbekistan’s pressure on its neighbor has steadily risen in response. Tashkent increased tariffs on its neighbor for railway transit, suspended railway movement linking the two countries in November 2011, and reportedly began dismantling the railway connection in March of this year, basically cutting Tajikistan off from the rest of the world. Over 130 wagons with essential goods destined for Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan continue to stand idle along the Amuzang-Galaba stretch. Reportedly, Uzbekistan refused Tajikistan’s request to allow fuel transports from Turkmenistan via its territory on the grounds that Turkmen and Uzbek pipeline systems functioned separately. Worsening the relations further, borders of both countries remain strewn with land mines since Tajikistan’s civil war in the 1990s, and visa requirements complicate cross-border travel.
Disputes over water in Central Asia are nothing new. But they appear to be getting worse as demand for water grows in the region and upstream countries, such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, fail to come to agreements with downstream Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Water use is deeply politicized, and upstream countries are inclined to exploit it as leverage to obtain certain economic concessions. Many Tajiks consider Roghun important for their country’s energy supply security, particularly after Uzbekistan’s repeated interruptions of gas deliveries. Whereas Tajikistan validates the Roghun project by pointing to its growing demand for electricity, Uzbekistan’s concerns about this venture go beyond a potential shortage of irrigation water.
The dam’s location in a seismically active area is not a minor factor. Situated at an elevation of 335 meters, Roghun could face damage from an earthquake or structural fault that would cause flooding of nearby towns and even settlements in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The World Bank, which essentially has been serving as a mediator of the Tajik-Uzbek dispute over Roghun, recommended in 2011 that the country should postpone its construction because of substantial amounts of sediment brought on by the Vakhsh River. Some Tajik observers have pointed out that a layer of salt under the future dam makes it susceptible to landslides if the salt melts. Security at the facility is another concern, given that Tajikistan faces ongoing problems with extremist elements and porous borders with neighboring Afghanistan. According to Muhiddin Kabiri, chairman of Tajikistan’s Islamic Renaissance Party, his country is not prepared to counter terrorist attacks.
The World Bank will release an independent environmental assessment of the Roghun dam by the end of 2012. But Uzbekistan will stay opposed to the dam regardless of the assessment’s outcome. Given the longtime influence of Uzbekistan on Tajikistan’s internal affairs, including its help in ushering the current government in the capital Dushanbe to power after the Tajik civil war in 1997, the Uzbek leadership might bring an end to Rahmon’s rule through more economic and political pressure, which could provoke domestic discontent over worsening living standards. With presidential elections looming in 2013, the best that the Rahmon’s government could do to prevent that scenario would be to delay the construction of Roghun.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on Energy Efficiency: Gaining Traction or Spinning Its Wheels?
Congress, businesses, and consumers show an appetite for the proverbial low-hanging fruit.
Remember the Brouhaha Over the Light Bulb Efficiency Standard?
On December 19, 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act [pdf] became law with bipartisan Congressional support and a stroke of President George W. Bush’s pen. The bill attempts to reduce energy consumption and enhance national security in the United States through a number of provisions including increasing fuel-economy standards, improving building codes, and increasing biofuel production.
The law also mandates greater efficiency in household light bulbs, a measure already adopted by most other developed economies, including countries in the European Union [pdf], Australia and China (whose phase-out of inefficient lights is set to begin in October 2012).
The battle over light bulb standards may end up being just a skirmish in an all-out war against energy efficiency standards. Tea Party activists and like-minded conservatives see a sinister agenda in efforts to make America more energy efficient. (See here and here.) According to a New York Timesarticle, moves toward energy efficiency have been seen as a plot to advance the United Nations’ Agenda 21 resolution, deemed by activists tied to the Tea Party to be a UN-led conspiracy to subject Americans to a “one world order.”
The results of a survey released last Monday by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions and Harrison Group suggest that the Tea Party may be whistling the wrong tune on this one. The two-part survey included “one-on-one interviews with senior executives across all industries, as well as over 600 online interviews with business decision makers” and “2,200 demographically balanced online interviews of consumers.”
The findings? Both business leaders and consumers were bullish on energy efficiency. Why? Because it saves money. Perhaps most fascinating was the silver lining the responding consumers saw in the recession: “61% believe that ‘going through the recession has ultimately been good because it makes us more efficient and reminds us what is important.’”
Most of the companies surveyed said [pdf] they planned on maintaining the energy savings they achieved during the downturn and many said they planned on finding additional savings. Why is energy efficiency becoming more of a business favorite? Economics, not the environment. The survey found that “85% of businesses view reducing electricity costs as essential to staying competitive from a financial perspective.”
With thriftiness looking like it will stick for most consumers and businesses, and Congress threatening to get into the bipartisan energy-efficiency act, one has to wonder how the states are doing on their own.
Easy question to answer thanks to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s new state energy-efficiency scorecard. Like most scorecards, there are those on the top and those at the bottom. And there aren’t any great surprises there.
The top ten: Massachusetts, California, New York, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Maryland.
At the bottom: South Dakota, Alabama, Missouri, West Virginia, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, Wyoming, and North Dakota.
So what’s keeping the bottom 10 from getting into the act? According to survey results also published in the ACEEE report, the most common barriers are:
A belief that energy efficiency is prohibitively expensive;
A misalignment of utility business model, where utilities see energy efficiency as in opposition to their profits instead of a pathway to avoid costly investments in new power plants; and
Ideological aversion to mandates.
Of course some of the states at the bottom of the list are big producers of fossil fuels and might just see energy efficiency as something that would put a damper on their profits by lowering the demand for and therefore the price of those fossil fuels. Interestingly, according to the Deloitte survey, most corporations and consumers, who have to pay the high prices, don’t see it that way. Unless Congress gets its act together and passes a nationwide bill, we could end up at a stalemate — a nation divided over energy efficiency. Instead of red and blue states, we could have fossil fuel-brown and energy-efficient green states. Which type of state would you choose?
* Lights currently referred to as “100 watts” will need to use a maximum of 72 watts under the new standards. Lumens, which refer to the amount of light produced, will appear on light-bulb packages along with the new wattage. Putting it all together, today’s “100 watt” bulbs that produce about 1600 lumens will need to use 72 watts or less once the new standards go into effect.
Friday, May 25, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | Comments Off on Memorial Day and outdoor escapes – why we love LWCF
Memorial Day weekend is here! Summer vacation starts now, and for many Americans (and certainly people reading this) that means getting outdoors and into nature. So it’s a good thing that Americans have so many places to get outside – more than 600 million acres of public land, and more 110 million acres protected as Wilderness. Many of those protected acres are because of a program called the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
We’re highlighting a few of the places that the Land and Water Conservation Fund has protected. Places like the Appalachian Trail, where the Land and Water Conservation Fund helped connect the full length of the trail.
In Mt. Rainier National Park, Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars are expanding the park. This expansion will improve access for people, and improve habitat for spotted owls and Chinook salmon.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is responsible for some of the great places to get outside across the country. Don’t take our word for it – check out what it’s done for your state.
All this weekend on Twitter we’ll be talking about why we love the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Join the discussion with the #WhyWeLoveLWCF hashtag, and get outside and enjoy some of the places that are protected because of the Land and Water Conservation Fund!
And if you’ve already been out to a place protected by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, take a minute and sign our petition. We want to make sure that Congress protects the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so that it can keep protecting wild places!
Thursday, May 24, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | Comments Off on Diving into Español, rivers and outreach: The 411 on our first Public Lands Fellow
Fabiola Lao is the first Public Lands Fellow at The Wilderness Society. Since June 2011 she has been based in the Los Angeles office working on the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign.
As her year comes to an end, and before she heads to the Sierra Club to continue working on San Gabriel Mountains Forever, Fabiola dished about her fellowship.
Q: You were born in Perú, but raised in Los Angeles. And you have both Chinese and Peruvian heritage. Did that help your work on the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign?
A: Los Angeles is a very multicultural city, and the campaign is reaching out to all potential users of the mountains – and that includes many Asian and Latino communities. I use my Spanish language skills very often, particularly when reaching out to the Latino community. I don’t speak Chinese, but so many of the visitors we see in the mountains are Asian. It’s pretty common to hear Korean or Chinese on the trails.
Q: Did The Wilderness Society jump on your translator skills?
A: Almost immediately! I have translated web pages and press releases into Spanish, and suggested we use ‘Sociedad para la Naturaleza Silvestre’ as the translation for The Wilderness Society’s name. And I have also been an interpreter at our San Gabriel Mountains leadership academy classes when some students spoke mostly Spanish.
Q: Speaking of Spanish skills, you did one of the first Spanish-only radio interviews for us?
A: Yes, it was for a public radio talk show in San Francisco back in the fall, and I talked about the congressional bill known as the “Great Outdoors Giveaway” bill.
Q: To date, what are you most proud of during your fellowship?
A: Probably two things. The first one was going to Washington D.C. and being able to tell several Congress members how important it is to create a San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area. The second is organizing a community art show near La Crescenta, the town where I grew up, which is next to the San Gabriel Mountains.
Q: We also hear you really got your feet wet on a TWS river outing?
A: It’s true. I’m still learning how to paddle in white water, but I had a blast even if I flipped into the river during that Utah rafting trip…twice!
Prior to The Wilderness Society, Fabiola worked at environmental health and environmental justice non-profit organizations including Program Coordinator at the Breast Cancer Fund and Policy Analyst at the Latino Issues Forum. She has dual Bachelor in Arts degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies (Public Health concentration) and Spanish Language and Literature from UC Berkeley. She also has a Master in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Caption Photo 2: Fabiola Lao with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano in Washington, DC
The Mahoosuc region in New Hampshire and Maine is an ideal spot for hiking, paddling, horseback riding and other outdoor recreation. Just over 3 hours from downtown Boston, it’s a great way to get outside without the crowds.
“Visitors to the Bethel area have loved the Mahoosuc Touring Map as a printed piece – and we are excited that it is now available in a mobile application, and the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce has been happy to help with the development. We will absolutely be utilizing this into the future,” shared Robin Zinchuk, its Executive Director.
The map features interactive links to popular local destinations, including YouTube videos, audio downloads. There are also easy identifiers for popular features like fishing holes and scenic vistas.
“The Mahoosuc Touring Map is a great resource for families looking for new places to explore,” said Ann Ingerson of The Wilderness Society, one of the partners of the Mahoosuc Initiative. “Streamlining the map for smartphones and mobile devices makes it even easier for folks to get outside and enjoy nature.”
Local businesses will also benefit from the map, which includes outfitters and rental shops.
“People have just been grabbing these right up, they love ‘em. Most of our guests here at the Mahoosuc Inn are here for outdoor adventure activities and this map has it all!” said Mark Peabody, owner of the Mahoosuc Inn in Milan, NH. “Now that it’s on smartphones you can access this information anywhere. People can plan their stay while on their way.”
The map was developed by the Mahoosuc Initiative, in collaboration with Umbagog area, Androscoggin Valley and Bethel Chambers of Commerce.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | By The Wilderness Society | Comments Off on BLM can balance conservation, oil/gas development in NPR-A
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (May 23, 2012) – As the federal Bureau of Land Management works to create the first land-use plan for the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the agency has a historic opportunity to protect some of the world’s most significant wildlife resources that sustain many communities in the western Arctic, according to The Wilderness Society.
“When Congress transferred these western Arctic lands from the Navy to the BLM, they recognized the need to balance protection of special ecological values while at the same time providing opportunity for oil and gas development,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “Many administrations from both sides of the political aisle have since recognized this need, and the Obama Administration should take this historic opportunity to do all it can to safeguard important wildlife and subsistence resources while providing opportunity for responsible energy development.”
In its recently released Draft Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, the BLM is considering a range of options that include making some percentage of special areas with high ecological value unavailable for oil and gas leasing and opening the entire reserve to oil and gas development.
The Wilderness Society supports the draft plan’s “Alternative B” option because it protects ecologically important areas with exceptional wildlife and subsistence resources, such as Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok Uplands and Kasegaluk Lagoon, among others, while allowing responsible oil and gas development in much of the reserve. The plan also allows for the possibility of a future pipeline to carry offshore oil across the NPR-A, known to many as the Western Arctic Reserve.
“Alternative B is the only option that provides reliable protection of Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd habitat,” said Whittington-Evans, basing her position on The Wilderness Society’s extensive modeling of development impacts in the reserve. The results of this modeling effort will be provided to BLM before the close of the public comment period on June 1.
The BLM will be holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in Anchorage’s Campbell Creek Science Center to allow the public to comment on the draft management plan. An open house will begin at 6 p.m.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on Amsterdam: Hydrogen-Powered Efficiency
Laurens van Mulukom, a mechanical engineering student at Hogeschool van Amsterdam, talked about why hydrogen is “one of the most innovative fuels to work with,” at Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2012 in Rotterdam. With this year’s competition that ended Saturday taking place on its home country’s soil, <a href=”http://www.h2a.nu/h2a-news/”>Team H2A</a> was proud to achieve a new Dutch efficiency record for a hydrogen vehicle. The team’s fuel cell system with supercapacitors propelled the vehicle 261 kilometers (162.1 miles) per kilowatt-hour. That is the equivalent of more than 2,300 kilometers per liter (5,460 miles per gallon.)
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | By EarthShare | Comments Off on Saving America’s Endangered Rivers
Saving America's Endangered Rivers
Patrick DiGiulian of EarthShare member organization American Rivers talks about his organization's recent Most Endangered Rivers list along with his personal reasons for wanting to protect the nation's majestic rivers.
We all need clean water. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Fresh water is crucial to every living thing on our planet. Most of our drinking water comes from rivers. And rivers and streams also give us places to fish, boat and swim – not to mention homes for wildlife.
On May 15th American Rivers was proud to announce the 2012 America’s Most Endangered Rivers®report. The report highlights ten rivers whose fate will be decided in the coming year, and encourages decision-makers to do the right thing for the rivers and the communities they support.
We chose the Potomac as America’s #1 Most Endangered River for 2012 because of the threat from urban and agricultural pollution. While the Potomac River is cleaner than it used to be, pollution is still a serious problem – and it could get much worse if Congress rolls back critical clean water safeguards.
As a DC resident, the Potomac is especially important to me. I get my drinking water from it, on the weekends I enjoy running along the Billy Goat trail at Great Falls National Park, and when I have the opportunity I kayak and sail by the DC monuments. It is amazing how much of my life revolves around one single source.
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, the Potomac – known as “the nation’s river” as it flows by the capital — is emblematic of what’s at stake for rivers nationwide.
Our president, Bob Irvin, said, “This year’s Most Endangered Rivers list underscores how important clean water is to our drinking water, health, and economy. If Congress slashes clean water protections, more Americans will get sick and communities and businesses will suffer. We simply cannot afford to go back to a time when the Potomac and rivers nationwide were too polluted to use.”
The America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is one of the best-known and longest-lived annual reports in the environmental movement. Each year since 1986, grassroots river conservationists have teamed up with American Rivers to use the report to save their local rivers, consistently scoring policy successes that benefit these rivers and the communities through which they flow.
American Rivers reviews nominations for the report from river groups and concerned citizens across the country. We look at the significance of the river to human and natural communities and the magnitude of the threat to the river and associated communities. The report is not a list of the nation’s “worst” or most polluted rivers, but rather it highlights rivers confronted by critical decisions that will determine their future. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
You won’t be taking action to only protect the places I love and depend on, but you will be protecting the safety and well-being of millions of Americans.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on Stirling Engine: External Combustion Efficiency
One of the most unusual looking cars at this year’s Shell Eco-marathon Europe was testing out one of the oldest concepts for harnessing energy for motion: the Stirling heat engine.
Team Schluckspecht from the University of Applied Sciences, of Offenburg, Germany, designed a vehicle that relied on external heating and cooling to drive pistons. The Stirling engine concept, named after Scottish inventor Robert Stirling who introduced his model in 1816, is sometimes called an external combustion engine because heat is applied from outside the engine.
Unfortunately, the team’s vehicle did not pass the qualifying tests for the competition that ended Saturday in Rotterdam. The car was too heavy and too high, due to the system coils on its roof. But the vehicle did complete some test runs to try out a concept that the students think has promise for future energy systems.
Michael Dold, who is earning his master’s degree in energy conversion at the school, explains one of the Stirling engine’s great advantages is that it can be used with any fuel source. (Team Schluckspecht powered its vehicle on ethanol.)
U.S. government researchers who studied the Stirling engine note that its development was hampered in part because materials that could withstand the high temperatures were not available in the early years of experimentation. Also, the engines were slow to heat up, and couldn’t compete with the spark-ignition engine. Still, automakers in Detroit tested Stirling engines during the oil crises of the 1970s, and a few years ago, Segway inventor Dean Kamen also experimented with the concept. Because of its extreme efficiency, quiet, and fuel versatility, many innovators–including the Offenburg students–think the Stirling engine may have a future in providing energy.
Team Schluckspecht and their Stirling engine vehicle. Photo courtesy Shell Eco-marathon.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | Comments Off on Top U.S. Nuclear Regulator’s Parting Message: Fukushima Was “A Wake-Up Call”
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, announced his resignation this week, but he is still making pointed comments about the need to strengthen regulations to ensure nuclear power plants are safer.
“I think the Fukushima event was a wake-up call, hopefully for everyone,” Jaczko said in a news conference today, referring to the earthquake- and tsunami-triggered nuclear plant accident in Japan on March 11, 2011.
“I think there were people throughout this industry who had come to the belief that an accident of that magnitude simply was never going to happen, that we had really come to the point at which we’d eliminated that,” Jaczko said. “I’ve always tried to do my job without making that assumption.”
There are hopeful signs for improvement, Jaczko said. After the disaster in Japan, he said, there has been a shift in the industry and within the NRC to “put more focus on safety.”
However improvements have been too slow, he argued. “I think we don’t do a good enough job identifying issues [and] bringing them to resolution in a timely way,” since they sometimes take 10 to 15 years to improve, Jaczko said. “It’s not getting the issues resolved so the public can feel comfortable, it’s not freeing up resources to tackle the next round of issues that will come in front of us. So that’s an area where we need to continue to make progress.”
In one of his most contentious moves, Jaczko canceled the review of a plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, a federal site in Nevada. Under the plan, highly radioactive waste would be transported from across the country to the site, then buried underground to protect people and the environment while the radioactivity died down over many thousands of years. But this waste repository has been bedeviled by controversy, and gained many opponents.
When asked about these conflicts, Jaczko said little in the news conference, but explained his outlook this way: “We want debate, we want discussion, we want to have engaging conversation…. I’m a passionate person [and] I care passionately about nuclear safety, so I enjoy the opportunity to engage my colleagues in debates and discussions.”
George W. Bush nominated Jaczko to be one of the NRC’s five commissioners, and he has served on the commission since 2005, and as chairman since 2009.
Jaczko’s resignation is contingent on a new chairman being named and confirmed by Congress, he said at the news conference.
The White House said on May 21 that it would nominate his replacement “soon.” Jackzo’s term is due to end in June 2013, but if a new chairman is not confirmed by Congress by then, “I’ll deal with those issues at that time,” Jackzo said today.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and longtime staunch opponent of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository, said that he would be fine with Jaczko—one of his own former aides—remaining in his position indefinitely. “We hope to have a replacement before” the end of Jaczko’s term, Reid said. But he added, “if something doesn’t work out, he can always be re-nominated.”