Consumers demand may be restoring an endangered species

Customers crowd around to inspect a display of fresh produce at a farm market
The 2011 Census of Agriculture by Statistics Canada reveals the past five years have seen a 10 percent reduction in the number of farms in our northern neighbor’s inventory.
But the average farm size has increased by about seven percent. In one province, the number of farms is down 17 percent, while the average farm size is up 15 percent.
A similar phenomenon has been taking place in U.S. agricultural areas. What’s up with that?

Continue reading …

While we continue to subsidize fossil fuels, at least one American industrial giant invests in green technology in, of all places …

Masdar, a city in the middle of a desert with zero carbon emissions
While some of our politicians and fossil fuel barons try, with varying success, to convince us we’re not digging up enough coal, oil or natural gas, the folks who we are told are selling us our oil are busy building a city that doesn’t need it.

For the first time in more than a half-century, the U.S. exports more fuel than it imports. We still are the world’s largest importer of crude oil, but a huge portion of the imported crude becomes exported product, including fuels. Continue reading While we continue to subsidize fossil fuels, at least one American industrial giant invests in green technology in, of all places …

Sometimes it takes us all

A row of 300-foot tall wind turbines visible from the Pennsylvania turnpikeWind power, a Pennsylvania state politician recently said, is accomplishing one thing: spending taxpayer money.

But there is growing evidence it is doing other, more positive things, such as creating jobs and supplying the electrical grid – with considerably less risk than the Keystone State’s other burgeoning energy source.

Continue reading …

Late may not be better than never

50-foot wide pipeline path cuts through Loyalsock forestLast month, the EPA announced new regulations that will require natural gas drillers to capture the methane they ordinarily allow to escape before they cap their well. The new rules take effect in 2015.

Last week, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, announced proposed regulations that would require drillers to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground – and sometimes spilling onto the ground and into our waters – to release natural gas by fracturing shale thousands of feet underground.

Continue reading …

Speaking of bullies – a case in point

A field of plowed furrows awaits planting the new year's cropVermont residents would like to know what the heck is in their food. So they went to their legislature to ask for a law, and it looked for a time that their request would be honored. Unfortunately, Monsanto – the poster child for Genetically Modified groceries – informed the state that should it have the effrontery to pass such a law, the agricultural mega-corp would sue.

  Continue reading …

Hydroelectric power – an alternative to burning dead carbon lifeforms

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation’s dams not currently being used to generate electricity could, if equipped, supply more than 12 gigawatts of power to run coffee pots, computers and cars.

One gigawatt is enough to electrify about 300,000 homes. That’s more than seven counties the size of the 100,000-person one in which I live in southcentral Pennsylvania.

And some of the dams probably would be cost effective to upgrade and equip. … Continue reading …

EPA regs not to blame for refinery shutdowns

One of the real reasons East Coast refineries are shutting downAccording to several sources, including the refinery owners, the U.S. EPA is not the source of their woes – unless we count a planned 25 percent increase in U.S. vehicle gas mileage scheduled by 2015. … Continue reading …

Just how much does a gallon of gas cost, anyway

We may pay $3.95 at the pump, but the actual cost is much higher.The U.S. Senate this week decisively shot down a proposal to eliminate subsidies to Big Oil & Gas.

The tally was 51 senators, including two Republicans – from Maine – voting to end the subsidies, and 47, including four Democrats – from Alaska, Lousiana, Nebraska and Virginia – voting to keep them. The 100-seat senate has a nifty rule in place designed to increase the power of the minority party: 60 votes are required to pass a bill.

It’s probably coincidental that the four states whose Democrat senators opposed the repeal are heavily involved in oil production or transportation.

Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey voted to repeal the subsidies, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey voted to keep them.

A report published last year said Pennsylvanians provide nearly $3 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers. It’s a subject that draws little media attention. … Continue reading …

Wind off the Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) and the other Great Lakes could power U.S. homes

Wind from the Great Lakes could supply the U.S. with more electricity than 700 nuclear power plants, according to a statement Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The DOE made the claim while announcing a Memorandum of Understanding between the department and five states – Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania – that could lead to creation of the requisite generating facilities. The agreement, DOE said, is part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” approach to U.S. energy independence.

“President Obama is focused on leveraging American energy sources, including increased oil and gas production, the safe development of nuclear power, as well as renewable energy from sources like wind and solar, which is on track to double in the President’s first term,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, during a telephone conference call with reporters Friday. … Continue reading …

Clean the air, subsidize a business or two, and all with free money

Look, Ma. No fumes, no spills.California has a suggestion for Pennsylvania: use some money won from companies which have harmed Pennsylvanians’ health – tobacco money comes quickest to mind – to improve the health of the aforementioned residents.

Help support electric cars, for instance, in a public-private partnership that offers something more than tax breaks to petroleum fuel producers.

The Golden State has won $120 million from resolution of a power crisis a decade ago, in which companies such as Enron shut down power plants to create electricity pseudo-shortages and drive up consumer prices.

Now California intends to use $100 million of the money to help a company build electric car charging networks in densely populated areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Joaquin Valley – areas that could benefit from a reduction in gasoline-powered vehicles that daily are stuck in barely rolling traffic jams, replenishing any smog the sea winds might have blown away.

The remaining $20 million reportedly will benefit programs to lower consumer electricity costs.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to place money from the state’s tobacco settlement into the General Fund, where it can be spent on … lots of things his constituents want, or think they want, especially if what they want involves burning fossil fuels. … Continue reading …

Renewable energy has jobs for the future, now

An array of wind turbines near the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset service areaAmid the political posturing about the nation’s unemployment rate, two encouraging tidbits surfaced in the news flow this week.
The first item was that rising unemployment numbers might well indicate increasing numbers of jobs. Counter-intuitive, but true.

The second item to grab my ear was there are plenty of new jobs in the renewable energy industry, particularly for anyone interested in climbing 300-foot high wind-power towers to maintain the turbines.

And interested also, possibly, in moving from where they live to where the jobs are. (There was a time in this nation’s history when it was normal to move one’s residency for promise of income.)

For instance, Oklahoma has been beneficiary of a boom in wind-power generation, with small, jobless towns gaining treasure in much the way northern tier Pennsylvania towns have benefited from the Marcellus Shale … Read it all …

Telling any company to discourage sales of its product is … silly

A player takes aim at the pool table, observers behind him barely visible in the smoky hazeI lost two games of pool Sunday evening – the first games I’d lost in about 30 years. Maybe longer.

Of course, I hadn’t played pool in about 30 years. Maybe longer.

I had accompanied my son to the pool hall, where he is a regular competitor. I don’t know whether he’s ready for Las Vegas, but he’s pretty good. I am a good photographer, so I got several nice shots of him – through a low haze. There were a few guys and gals in the place who didn’t smoke. At least not directly.

I was raised with a father who smoked, mostly Phillip Morris, and a grandfather who smoked two packs of Tareytons a day. I swiped a pack from Dad’s stock … Continue reading …

Riding the Metro – a lesson in efficient cooling

Commuters wait to board the arriving light rail in the Washington Metro stationI don’t know whether it’s global warming, climate change or as my spouse chooses to believe, the snow thrower we bought last year, when we thought more snowy winters to be in the offing.

I pulled the machine out of the shed in October, when we had a pretty serious snow – for South-Central Pennsylvania. About eight inches of the white stuff blanketed the ground. I cleared the driveway and the extra parking space – and have not used the machine since.

I suggested maybe we spent the money unnecessarily. Wife suggested it was money well spent.

On the other hand, Continue reading …

Techno advances and capitalists’ profits – what’s not to like?

Wind turbines line a ridge overlooking Mahanoy City, Pa.Spaced out along 10 miles of mountain ridge about 100 miles north of my home are a line of humongous propellers mounted on poles. There are about 60 of the propellers, twirling, almost constantly, above Mahanoy City – a town in the center of Pennsylvania’s once-thriving anthracite coal industry. The slowly spinning blades drive turbines said to generate enough electricity to power more than 60,000 homes.

Phase II of the project – addition of 51 turbines to the original 13 – was accomplished in 2009 with the assistance of a $295 million federal grant. The money from us taxpayers, according to published reports, enticed investors such as Morgan Stanley and Citigroup to kick in more money – money they were loath to invest without Iberdrola, a Spanish wind energy firm currently involved in four other wind-power projects in the U.S., coming up with a significant investment.

The grant was part of more than $500 million we taxpayers kicked in during 2009, Continue reading …

Fines, remediation & campaign contributions: all “a cost of doing business”

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced last week it had fined Chesapeake Appalachia LLC “$565,000 for multiple violations” in its Marcellus operations. Chesapeake Appalachia is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based company which claims to be the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas.

In Potter County, the company was found to have insufficient erosion and sedimentation controls. The deficiency was discovered when heavy rains washed dirt off a road and a nearby well pad, into the Right Branch of Wetmore Run, am environmentally high-quality stream.

“High-quality streams receive some of the highest levels of protection in the state,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in a prepared statement, “and (natural gas drilling) operators are expected to ensure their work does not negatively affect them.

The sediment carried by the stream also “impacted” Galeton Borough Authority’s water treatment filters, which, to be fair, Chesapeake paid to repair. Continue reading Fines, remediation & campaign contributions: all “a cost of doing business”

Pa. residents pay the taxes, should share the profit

A swath cuts through Loyalsock State Forest for a natural gas pipeline

As I begin to write this offering, we await Gov. Tom Corbett’s second State of the State address, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m. There is some expectation he will remove a moratorium on releasing additional state forest land for Marcellus shale natural gas exploration. Currently, about 700,000 of the state’s more than two million publicly owned acres has been leased to Marcellus shale developers.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives has received a Senate report on House Bill 1950 – a bill that has been batted back and forth, in one form or another, for two years and which may, eventually, begin to levy a tax on the billions of dollars in profits gas and oil companies plan to extract from beneath our feet.

Several years ago, my mother owned 50 acres of woodland in Maine. One day, while I was on leave from the Navy, she came home to report seeing a van parked on the road that ran around the property. Would I go check on it, she asked. Continue reading …

Organic and independent farmers feel under assault

An independent organic farmer tends cropsOn a trip to New England last week, my niece treated me to some really good salsa. It was made in Maine, we were in New Hampshire, and I’m now home in Pennsylvania, way south of where I can buy some.

On the other hand, there are several Mexican stores almost within walking distance of home where maybe …

Meanwhile, I was in the local discount grocery store the other night and picked up a container of Marketside Chipotle salsa. It actually has a nice flavor, and adds a pleasant bite to my favorite chips which, the way I eat the stuff, are simply devices for scooping large dollops of salsa the way someone might otherwise use a soup spoon to scoop the favored ice cream.

If fresh salsa is what you seek, though, you probably won’t find it in a container marked “Manufactured for Marketside, a division of Walmart Stores Inc.” Continue reading Organic and independent farmers feel under assault

Leaves a-Fall-ing

A lone oak leaf at the very end of the branch

There was ice in the bird bath this morning. a blanket of frost coated the lawn, and the thermometer in back of the house showed about 28 degrees. A lone oak leaf clung to the farthest end of the skinniest branch on the tree in our front yard.

I guess it’s time to stock up on ice melt and windshield de-icer, and maybe buy that snow thrower we’ve been thinking about. Or we could wait. Continue reading Leaves a-Fall-ing

Recycling can be a bother, but …

Two people's reusable recycleable plastic and glass trash in Gettysburg Adams County South Central Pennsylvania
We had a compost pile when I was young. Newspapers had a variety of uses, from wrapping other waste to starting fires to rolling tightly and burning as logs.

We had a town dump where I was raised. It was a great place for weekly social gathering. It’s amazing how much business is decided — personal, commercial and governmental — at such meet-ups. Continue reading Recycling can be a bother, but …