Archive for November, 2007

On Carbon Dioxide, a Better Alternative

Friday, November 30th, 2007

By Keith Crane and James Bartis
Special to’s Think Tank Town
Thursday, November 29, 2007; 12:00 AM

Fossil fuel combustion and the consequent release of carbon dioxide continues as the dominant cause of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Each year the United States releases into the atmosphere over 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, roughly a quarter of global emissions. After years of inaction on this problem, Congress now appears poised to seriously debate legislation designed to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The only effective way to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slow global climate change is to make it more expensive to emit carbon dioxide. Unless businesses and consumers pay a price for carbon dioxide, neither will make the investments in technology and changes in energy use needed to dramatically reduce emissions.

Most of the climate change legislation currently before Congress proposes a complicated “cap-and-trade” system. This would set a limit on emissions below current levels and then allocate permits to pollute that could be bought and sold. The alternative would be to impose a direct tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

In either case — tax or trade — electricity and gasoline prices would rise. A tax of $30 per ton — a level MIT suggests would make clean coal technologies an attractive investment to power companies — would raise gasoline prices by 35 cents per gallon and household electricity bills by 20 to 30 percent. Under cap and trade, prices would have to rise by the same amount to get the same result.

The attraction of cap and trade for its supporters is that the cap sets a limit on emissions of carbon dioxide. But it’s difficult to get the limit right. The cap may be set too high to induce firms to make the large investments needed to reduce emissions. Or it may be set so low that costs skyrocket and political support to combat climate change falters.

The major disadvantage to cap and trade is that the price tag for reaching the target is highly uncertain. In contrast, a tax on emissions provides businesses and consumers with certainty about costs, while leaving the size of the reduction less certain.

After the failed attempt to pass the Clinton administration’s 1993 proposal to tax energy, energy taxes have become a highly partisan issue, and congress has shunned the mere mention of a carbon dioxide tax ever since. But times have changed. For compelling environmental and economic reasons, it’s high time to put a tax back on the table.

Putting a price on carbon dioxide creates winners and losers. All of the cap and trade bills before Congress would award permits to energy companies. But any cap on energy use will cause fuel prices to rise. So consumers will pay for this through higher prices for electricity and gasoline.

Instead, we suggest a tax on carbon dioxide in which all the proceeds collected by the government would be returned to Americans each year when they file income taxes. In contrast to current congressional proposals for cap and trade, a tax on carbon dioxide refunded directly to individuals would cut emissions while cushioning the impact on the pocketbooks of American families. For example, a $30 tax that reduces emissions by 20 percent would provide a refund of about $500 for every American: a family of four would get back $2,000.

A carbon dioxide tax with refund is fair because the people responsible for the most emissions would pay the most. The tax would also be progressive. Many Americans with lower incomes would find the refund would more than defray the higher costs of gasoline and electric power.

A tax is simple and can be phased in quickly. It encourages individuals and businesses to make long-term decisions with confidence, rather than trying to guess what the future price of permits will be. With a tax and refund, consumers would only pay the extra costs associated with carbon abatement measures.

A carbon dioxide tax with refund can be implemented easily. It can be collected at a few key links in the supply chain: refineries, power plants or pipelines. As shown by last year’s refund of excess telephone taxes, the Internal Revenue Service can efficiently refund payments to all taxpayers. If passed by this Congress, taxpayers could see their first refunds in the Spring of 2009.

A carbon dioxide tax can be easily adjusted as lower-cost means of reducing emissions are tapped and new technologies become available to tackle more difficult sources. The tax could be started low, but with a clear schedule of increases so that individuals, local governments and businesses will begin now to make the changes and investments required to dramatically reduce emissions within 15 years.

Partial refunds could be targeted to U.S. producers in industries like petrochemicals, steel and aluminum so that they remain competitive with imports, while pushing them to invest in reducing emissions. These targeted refunds would prevent highly polluting foreign plants from destroying efficient energy-intensive industries in the United States.

U.S. consumers and industry need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. A refunded carbon dioxide tax is the best way to achieve reductions. It is simple, good for the planet, and imposes the least additional costs on the American economy as compared to any other policy alternative. Most importantly it can be crafted to ease the burden on families and protect industries from unfair competition in the global marketplace.

Keith Crane is a senior economist and James Bartis is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.

Biodiesel Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Friday, November 30th, 2007

ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2007) — A CSIRO report released November 27 confirms that using pure biodiesel or blending biodiesel with standard fuel could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector.

Biodiesel can be manufactured from any product containing fatty acids, such as vegetable oil or animal fats.

The report, “The greenhouse and air quality emissions of biodiesel blends in Australia” assesses the emission levels and environmental impacts of biodiesel produced from sources including used cooking oil, tallow (rendered animal fat), imported palm oil and canola.

CSIRO Energy Transformed National Research Flagship researcher and report author Dr Tom Beer believes the wider introduction of biodiesel in Australia could help address the high greenhouse gas intensity of our nation’s transport sector.

“The results of this study show biodiesel has the potential to reduce emissions from the transport industry, which is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in Australia, behind stationary energy generation and agriculture,” Dr Beer said.

“The greenhouse gas savings do however depend on the feedstock used to produce the biodiesel. The highest savings are obtained by replacing base diesel with biodiesel from used cooking oil, resulting in an 87 per cent emission reduction.”

“The results of this study show biodiesel has the potential to reduce emissions from the transport industry, which is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in Australia, behind stationary energy generation and agriculture,” Dr Beer said.

“Palm oil can produce up to an 80 per cent saving in emissions provided it is sourced from pre-1990 plantations. The palm oil source is critical as product from plantations established on recently dried peat swamps or cleared tropical forest will in fact have higher greenhouse gas emissions than regular diesel due to factors such as land clearing.”

The use of biodiesel also reduces the particulate matter released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fuels, providing potential benefits to human health.

While the results are encouraging, further research is required to establish the viability of the biofuels industry in Australia and address some of the associated issues such as sustainability, technological improvements and economic feasibility.

CSIRO, as part of the Energy Transformed National Research Flagship, is undertaking an extensive research program into alternative fuels such as biodiesel to assess possible biophysical, social and economic impacts of their production and adoption.

National Research Flagships

CSIRO initiated the National Research Flagships to provide science-based solutions in response to Australia’s major research challenges and opportunities. The nine Flagships form multidisciplinary teams with industry and the research community to deliver impact and benefits for Australia.

The greenhouse and air quality emissions of biodiesel blends in Australia report can be downloaded at

Original Link: 

Transportation needs finally get attention

Monday, November 26th, 2007


The Times, Nov 21, 2007, Updated Nov 21, 2007

Since it was launched in 2002, the Oregon Business Plan has done a good job of putting a statewide spotlight on the need for high-quality jobs, well-funded schools, stable state finances, health care reform and sustainability.

Along the way, community, government and business leaders have collectively made these issues their priorities.

The result has been a more successful Oregon. The state’s economy is far better than during the depressing days of 2001 and 2002.

When the Oregon Leadership Summit convenes Dec. 3 in Portland to unveil the 2008 Oregon Business Plan, we hope that after a bit of celebration for past achievements, Oregon’s leaders will quickly expand their attention — and commitment — to an issue or two more.

One such priority is Oregon’s decaying transportation system, which is becoming an onerous economic liability and increasingly threatens local residents’ quality of life and the environment.

It’s not that business leaders haven’t called attention to Oregon’s transportation troubles before.

A report released in March, prepared by a Boston economist and funded by partners in the Oregon Business Plan and some public agencies, stated that without significant and strategic investments in the state’s transportation system, statewide travel delays would grow by another 150,000 hours each day through 2025.

Overall, the report estimated statewide travel delays would increase to 1 million hours per day and would cost Oregon’s economy and citizens $1.7 billion per year and 16,000 jobs.

While transportation matters weren’t a major priority before, times have changed.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has said that transportation will be his second-highest priority for the 2009 Oregon Legislature — just behind education. Legislative leaders also are calling for an expanded focus on transportation.

The attention is well warranted — and not just because Oregon’s economy is nationally and internationally trade-dependent. The state’s economy and its pride are fueled by Oregon’s quality of life, by its tourism and by vibrant, unique communities. And each is threatened by mounting transportation troubles.

The state’s environment suffers as well, due to the fumes of idling vehicles stuck in congestion — and because some transportation improvements that could help the environment languish without funding.

Oregon’s leaders should act with urgency, knowing that surveys indicate that the public’s concern about transportation trails only its interest in education and health care.

Yet without immediate attention, other transportation breakdowns are in store. More local governments say they can’t wait on Salem to act and instead hope to persuade voters to fund local transportation solutions.

While these community-based efforts address important needs, a hodgepodge of localized funding solutions is problematic. They do not link Oregon and instead pose the threat of a balkanized state where some communities enjoy better, safer transportation systems than others.

The Dec. 3 leadership summit itself won’t solve Oregon’s transportation woes.

But it should serve to mobilize leaders from throughout the state to work together now to provide for a well-connected, stably funded Oregon transportation system — one that reliably serves the state’s economy, along with its citizens, communities and the environment well into the 21st century.

Legislators want state to plan for oil shortage

Monday, November 26th, 2007

By Brian Lockhart
Staff Writer

Published November 26 2007

A coalition of state lawmakers has issued a report that concludes Connecticut is “completely unprepared” for what experts are forecasting as a sharply constrained supply of oil in the world.

“However, early intervention can and will mitigate the severity of impacts on the state and our people,” says the report from the Peak Oil Caucus of the General Assembly.

The group, which includes state Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, calls on colleagues and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to consider two dozen proposals to promote conservation and alternative energy.

Recommendations include creating a state Department of Energy, banning incandescent light bulbs, and forcing businesses to turn off illuminated signs when they are closed.

The caucus has the support of the co-chairmen of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee – state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, and state Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven.

Fonfara said some believe it is up to the federal government to deal with an energy crisis.

“I know a lot of people look at petroleum issues as beyond our realm,” he said. “I don’t share that. You have to be creative.”

The report specifies that not all of the ideas are endorsed by every caucus member.

For example, Rell unsuccessfully pitched the recommendation of creating an energy department to the legislature for two years.

“We haven’t been sold on the idea of creating a new bureaucracy,” Fontana said. “Other than that, I think the report is dead on.”

The Peak Oil Caucus was established by Duff, a vice chairman of the energy committee, and state Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, to raise the alarm about dwindling oil supplies.

Leone is a member with a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Bill Finch, the newly elected mayor of Bridgeport.

“I know there are some who still don’t believe in (peak oil), but considering the price of oil and how high energy costs are across the spectrum, it suggests we’re heading in that direction,” Leone said. “And once you pass a peak, the downslide is much faster than we’d like. The more we get in front of this, the better prepared we’ll be to at least cushion the blow.”

Earlier this month, the caucus organized a forum in Hartford at which energy experts testified that the world either reached maximum oil production in 2005 or will in 2012.

Some think the peak will hit from 2020 to 2030, according to the caucus report.

“In any of these events except the most optimistic, the prospective time horizon is closer than any one of us would like,” says the report. “Given the long lead time it takes to institute systemic change through planning and implementation, these time frames are extremely short.”

The first recommendation is to create a Peak Oil Task Force to develop laws that would provide incentives to begin planning. Portland, Ore., has such a task force.

“We can expect municipalities will be affected seriously,” the report says. “The cost of heating municipal public buildings . . . will strain budgets. Likewise, the cost of maintaining other energy-intensive municipal operations such as sewage treatment plants and vehicle fleets will become more difficult. Municipal and state government will be pressed to afford their normal schedule of repaving and maintaining black-top roads. The cost of asphalt for paving closely follows the rising price of oil.”

State government can expect escalating energy bills for vehicles, offices, prisons, colleges and universities.

Connecticut would generate less revenue from sales and service taxes as families cut back on discretionary spending to pay their energy bills and to foot higher prices for food and other essentials caused by the spike in energy costs, the report says.

At the same time, demand for state social services would increase, according to the report.

“Low-income families and fixed-income seniors are already at risk,” it says. “The prospects for this population at any higher prices are disconcerting.”

During the forum, guest speaker Charley Maxwell, a senior energy analyst for Weeden and Co. traders in Greenwich, said it would not be easy to replace oil with coal, natural gas and nuclear energy.

Clean-burning coal technologies are 15 years to 20 years away, Maxwell said. Liquefied natural gas supplies are undependable because they originate with some of the same oil suppliers that are hostile to U.S. interests, he said. It takes at least a decade to build a nuclear plant.

Much of the caucus’ report focuses on efforts to conserve energy by promoting hybrid vehicles and upgrading the state fleet to run on bio-fuels; forcing buyers of gas guzzlers to pay an additional fee to be used for mass transit; updating building codes to require more energy efficiencies; having more state employees telecommute; increasing state work days to shorten the work week and commuting time; banning sales of certain incandescent light bulbs; requiring that businesses turn off illuminated signs after hours; and revisiting the placement of street lights.

“The government needs to be a leader in a lot of this,” Duff said.

In an energy bill passed this year, the state took steps to improve conservation, but they are mainly voluntary, Fontana said.

“And the steps we took . . . I don’t think adequately prepare us for where we need to be,” he said.

Copyright © 2007, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

Readers have ideas to pay for road work

Monday, November 19th, 2007

By Lukas Velush, Herald Writer

Readers of The Herald have lots of opinions about why the overly ambitious roads and transit tax package flamed out at the ballot earlier this month.

Suggestions ranged far and wide, including living closer to work, tolls that target when traffic is at its worst and not fixing roads and transit so that new people stay away.

None of those who wrote me about the failure of Prop. 1 defended it, which I found surprising.

It would seem someone would rise up to support a package that would have done so much to fix Snohomish County’s transportation problems.

The worst I-5 interchanges would have been rebuilt. Highway 9 would be widened all the way to Lake Stevens. U.S. 2 trestle congestion would be eased by building new ramps on both ends. Light rail would be extended all the way to Lynnwood.

Instead, voters decided that nothing should be done.

OK, they also decided that asking for billions of dollars to pay for it and waiting as long as 20 years to see the results was too much.

None of those who responded to my query about what’s next now that Prop. 1 failed called for a new tax package. They had other ideas.

Mike Gorman of Camano Island would like to see the electronic cameras that nail for people running red lights used for a better purpose.

“If an automated system of cameras (with computerized billing to the license plate) was put in place when and where the worst congestion areas are, and the money used only to fund the collection system and buy and build bypass highways like the one around Vancouver and Portland, the public would accept it as needed,” Gorman said. “This would be sort of a pay as you go system.”

He also suggests extending the carpool lane from Everett to Marysville, keeping big trucks in the far right two lanes and using onramp meters in a way that actually keeps traffic moving.

Joellyn Clark of Marysville rejected claims by politicians that there is no “Plan B,” arguing that the failed roads and transit tax package was not the only option.

“There is a Plan B,” Clark said. “It’s called moving closer to work or finding work closer to home. It’s what thousands of people go out of their way to do.”

Along similar lines, Stan Knoblich of Everett believes better roads and transit opportunities will bring more people to the area.

“You know the imaginary million people that are suppose to come here in the next 20 years or so — all the natives are wishing that they all go away,” Knoblich said. “My mantra is, ‘don’t build it and they won’t come.’ The only ones that want to see (all the growth) are the politicians and developers so they can fill their coffers and support their houses on their 20 acre lots in their gated communities.”

Howard Lucus of Arlington said Prop. 1 was too confusing and too big for voters to get behind. He wasn’t convinced that new riders would flock to a light-rail train that will follow the same route buses now take.

“For public transportation to have any effect on congestion, people are going to have to get out of their cars and use it,” Lucus added. “Who are these people? To convince me, the proponents need to identify the customers they are going to serve and I haven’t seen that information anywhere.”

Oh yeah, before I forget

I’ve started a Street Smarts blog on our Web site, where I aim to pollute your mind with more noise about commuting on our region’s clogged roads. My goal is to expand on what I do in this column. Find the blog at

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or

POVA Mini-Trade Show featuring Wineries & Tour Companies

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

EcoShuttle will be attending this great event in preparation of the upcoming popular Thanksgiving weekend wine tours! Come prepared to taste samples from other wineries, obtaining information for our wine and other tours booking your group for those tours over that weekend and beyond!

Buy Local Week

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Celebrate the Season 2007: Buy Local Week (Dec 1-9)!
Help bring cheer to our local economy by visiting your favorite neighborhood businesses, restaurants and service providers, the week of Dec 1 thru Dec 9th.

Forget about traffic and parking for a stress-free Holiday shopping spree on our 100% biodiesel EcoShuttle. We can tailor any request for travel to any local store for up to 9 passengers.

Vote with your dollars to make the season about a celebration of connection and relationships within your community. Look for a special Buy Local Coupon Book at a variety of SBNP member businesses, including all New Seasons stores. Call 877-ECO4PDX for reservations for your Buy Local Shopping Green Spree!

Check out the website for Sustainable Business Network of Portland’s local week participants:lf_logo.jpg

Earth Friendly Wine Tour-Open to Groups/Individuals

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Looking for a way to take the edge off that Thanksgiving dinner party? EcoShuttle has your answer.

Explore the glorious landscapes of Washington County’s wine country! Please check out the tentative itinerary for the three days after Thanksgiving. $30 per person. Groups of 6 or more get a $5 off per person holiday discount!

Our vans run on 100% biodiesel for a carbon-negative, piece of mind trip!

Call 1-877-ECO4PDX or email to book your seats today!

Earth Friendly Wine Tours-Open to Groups or Individuals!

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Looking for a way to take the edge off that Thanksgiving dinner party? EcoShuttle has your answer.

Explore the glorious landscapes of Washington County’s wine country! Please check out the tentative itinerary for the three days after Thanksgiving. $30 per person. Groups of 6 or more get a $5 off holiday discount!

Our vans run on 100% biodiesel for a carbon-negative, piece of mind trip!

Call 1-877-ECO4PDX or email to book your seats today!

ORTNS Event: Film, A Passion for Sustainability

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Where:  Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy

Description:  $5.00 for a must see documentary

According to SustainLane. US City Rankings, Portland, Oregon is The Most Sustainable City in the United States. But what makes Portland more sustainable than other US cities? Part of the answer may be found in Landfall Productions’ new documentary, “A Passion for Sustainability,” which will premiere at The Hollywood Theater on Wednesday, November 14th at 7 pm.

“A Passion for Sustainability” gets up close and personal with a host of Portland’s business leaders who all subscribe to the principles of “The Natural Step.” What is The Natural Step? It’s a scientific framework businesses are using to become more sustainable. Founded nearly twenty years ago by Swedish hematologist, Dr. Karl-Henrik Robert, The Natural Step has gained acceptance world-wide. Portland, Oregon is currently home to the only Natural Step organization in the U.S.

Dr. Robert was in Portland recently to attend the 10th Anniversary of the Oregon Natural Step Network, which is headed by former Portland attorney, Regina Hauser. Jane Turville, the documentary’s co-producer is Director of Development for the Northwest Earth Institute. A year ago, Eric Stacey volunteered to make a short 10-minute video for the Oregon Natural Step?s Anniversary dinner. With Turville’s assistance, they set to work researching and producing the short video stories which would become both the 10 minute celebration video and the longer documentary version which has become “A Passion for Sustainability,” (with music by Portland jazz piano legend Tom Grant).

Most Portlanders will recognize Hot Lips Pizza owner Dave Yudkin in the film, but there are twelve other Portland business leaders who may not be as familiar. From Patricia Uber, who fuels her TerraClean cleaning trucks with vegetable oil to Dennis Wilde, who heads the South Waterfront development project of Gerding Edlen Development, the program explores the application of The Natural Step principles by a variety of businesses. The Collins Companies, for instance, continue a 150 year legacy of sustainable forest management which resulted in their forests being among the first to receive a Forest Stewardship Council certification. And Portland builder Tom Kelly, second generation owner of Neil Kelly Company, has recently completed the first “net zero energy” home in the US to receive a LEED Certification. Other companies profiled in the film include NIKE, Sokol-Blosser Winery, OMSI, sustainable fashion designer Anna Cohen, Hawthorne Auto, PAE Engineering, The Joinery, Carleton-Hart Architecture and The Tualatin Valley Water District. These companies and more than 300 other Portland area businesses are members of the Oregon Natural Step Network.

With the recent emphasis on the threats of global warming from films like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Stacey and Turville believe “A Passion for Sustainability” provides sorely needed models for others across the country who are interested in making their lives, their businesses and their communities more sustainable.

If you’d like to purchase copies of A Passion for Sustainability, please contact
Landfall Productions at

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