The Dernogalizer

March 31, 2010

Washington Post: Cuts to Metro Would be Economically Dangerous

Filed under: MD Politics,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 1:33 pm
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Below is an editorial by the Washington Post on the need for Maryland, DC, and Virginia to adequately fund Metro, or risk severe economic ramifications in the region.  I wrote a column last summer about a way these states could raise funding and allocate more money to mass transit.

“HERE’S A QUESTION for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty: Will you join Virginia in protecting Metro from crippling service cuts that could represent a downward tipping point for the economy of the entire Washington area?”

“That may sound like an overstatement, but it’s not. Metro is facing the threat of service cuts — shorter trains, much longer daytime and weekend waits, and other drastic curtailments, including to bus service — whose effect would be to further sap an anemic transit system already losing ridership and facing the prospect of a long-term death spiral. If Metro has any hope of pulling out of its nosedive, it will be badly undermined by the $44 million in service cuts proposed for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Officials in Northern Virginia, which ponies up almost a quarter of the region’s $574 million contribution for Metro, seem to understand this. Although no formal commitments have been made, there are signs they’re prepared to find some extra cash that would avert some cuts. Those cuts, particularly to the Yellow Line, would turn quick and convenient trips to and from National Airport, Alexandria, Verizon Center and other popular destinations into slogs involving endless waits and multiple changes.

But officials in the District and Maryland, which together chip in the other three quarters of Metro’s regional subsidy, are balking at coming up with funds. This is dangerous, because there is no formal mechanism to coordinate higher contributions from all three localities. If one jurisdiction stiffs the system, the funding formula dictates that the other two follow suit. The result: Metro’s hole gets deeper, and the most vulnerable residents — the poor, the sick, the aged — get hurt most of all.

Metro’s ridership contributes about 55 percent of the system’s $1.4 billion operating budget, more than the ridership of virtually any other major transit system in the nation. That contribution is set to rise as a result of stiff fare increases. But fare hikes alone will not cover even half of the $190 million deficit that Metro faces in the coming fiscal year, which is largely the result of falling ridership and rising costs for health care, pensions, contract workers and service for people with disabilities. And if Metro’s riders are bearing the burden by paying higher fares, it’s unfair for the District and Maryland to freeze their contributions.

It’s also dangerous. State and local governments nationwide have been forced to make painful cuts to services in recent years, but Metro is a service of a different sort: It’s the region’s vital strategic linchpin. If people can’t get where they want to go with relative ease and affordability, the basic functioning of the region itself will falter, along with its prospects for prosperity. Metro is the priority on which other priorities depend. Given that basic truth, it shouldn’t be so hard for the District, Maryland and Virginia to find an extra $50 million or so among them, which is what it would take to maintain an essential regional resource.”

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‘Climategate’ Prof. Didn’t Distort Data, Report Says

Filed under: Climate Change — Matt Dernoga @ 1:17 pm
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Yes, as I wrote last winter, there is no climate gate controversy or global warming scandal in the hacked CRU e-mails.  Just desperate global warming deniers tripped up on caffeine.

The British House of Commons launched an investigation, and the scientists in question are cleared.  You can read the report clearing scientist Phil Jones, whose actions were in question.  Here are three central conclusions of the report.

“Conclusion 1:  The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, we consider that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community. We have suggested that the community consider becoming more transparent by publishing raw data and detailed methodologies. On accusations relating to Freedom of Information, we consider that much of the responsibility should lie with UEA, not CRU.

Conclusion 2:  In addition, insofar as we have been able to consider accusations of dishonesty—for example, Professor Jones’s alleged attempt to “hide the decline”—we consider that there is no case to answer. Within our limited inquiry and the evidence we took, the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact. We have found no reason in this unfortunate episode to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity” It was not our purpose to examine, nor did we seek evidence on, the science produced by CRU. It will be for the Scientific Appraisal Panel to look in detail into all the evidence to determine whether or not the consensus view remains valid.

Conclusion 3:  A great responsibility rests on the shoulders of climate science: to provide the planet’s decision makers with the knowledge they need to secure our future. The challenge that this poses is extensive and some of these decisions risk our standard of living. When the prices to pay are so large, the knowledge on which these kinds of decisions are taken had better be right. The science must be irreproachable.”

Youth Voters Unhappy over Obama’s Offshore Drilling Announcement

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:59 pm
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This is a cross-post from Morgan Goodwin at Itsgettinghotinhere, the main blog for the youth climate movement.  I’ll just let candidate Obama do my talking on this one.

“Its like a kick in the face” says Jonathan Ruiz of Florida International University.  Jonathan campaigned for Obama for fourteen months, and now he’s livid about today’s announcement by the administration to open half the east coast to offshore drilling.

“I was born near Florida’s Emerald Gulf Coast.” says Graham Penniman of University of Central Florida.  “The memories that I have on those beaches brings me so much joy, that every night I fall asleep thinking about the moons reflection across the water. To imagine my beach any other way destroys my heart.”

Why are these Florida university students mad?  They are being sold out by the Obama administration in a misguided attempt to curry political favor.  From the NYTimes:

“The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.”

Youth, the millennial generation so inspired by Obama to vote in record numbers, have the most to lose from the expansion of drilling.  Even some coastal governors and senators will be angry about the announcement because of the small amount of oil and huge environmental risks.  If white-haired governors and senators are worried, what about young people who are thinking about protecting this coastline for us and our children, long after the tiny amounts of energy have been extracted?

Obama inspired our generation to turn out to the polls, and he can do it again if he moves to actually inspire us.  But youth across the South East have longer memories than this short-sighted political thinking.  Under this proposal the first lease sales for drilling would be held in 2012, a year that Obama will be hoping to connect with us and convince us he stands for our interests.  If young people don’t believe him, they aren’t going to be inspired to vote.  That’s not change we can believe in.

We aren’t going to take this.  A protest is planned for an event in Florida today where Newt Gingrich will be promoting drilling.  Nevermind that he needs to entice people to come with free “Drill Here Drill Now Pay Less” bumper stickers to the first 1000 rsvps, this event shows how dangerously aligned the Obama administration is getting to the industry-cheerleading GOP.

Lets really listen to Megan Maloney at the University of Central Florida when she says “As a young America citizen I am fearful for my future because of Obama’s decision of pursuing more offshore drilling off our coasts.”  And Keziyah Lewis of Florida State University points to the DOE report on the cost of actually extracting that energy to say “obviously offshore oil drilling just doesn’t make sense when you compare the cost of infrastructure, research, etc, to the amount of fuel that is attainable, it’s like throwing money down the toilet.”

President Obama, Ken Salaz and the rest of your teams, hear us loud and clear: young people oppose offshore drilling.

“I understand that they want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but why not reduce our dependence on oil all together. Our tax dollars are being used to drill for something that will just disappear. It is a triple negative; we use oil to run the machines that drill for that oil that we then use to fuel our lives. What kind of generation will we be viewed as if we destroy our oceans just because we want a year or two of independence from other countries? We need to stop worrying about only ourselves and think about our children and grandchildren, how is this going to effect them, what are they going to do when all our oil is gone? Why are we investing in something that can just disappear when we can put our money towards something that can last a lifetime.”  Amanda Glaze, University of West Florida

March 30, 2010

ACTION ALERT: ASK YOUR ANACOSTIA SENATORS TO STAND STRONG FOR CLEAN WATER

Filed under: environment,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:22 pm
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This is a cross-post from the Anacostia Watershed Society’s website about the stormwater showdown happening right now in Annapolis.  I blogged about the lousy compromise the Maryland House passed.  It’s up to the Senate to say no and ensure Maryland Dept of Environment enforces the existing law.

This past Friday, March 26, 127 Maryland state delegates took a vote that is bad for the Anacostia and bad for the Bay when they passed the Holmes bill, HB1125. In the rush to get the bill to pass the House of Delegates, the potential impact on clean water was greatly understated. AWS is working with a number of partners to counter the misinformation so that the Senate does not make the same mistake as the House. The bottom line is that the bill undermines key protections for our waterways and therefore should not be passed.

Please, if you live in Maryland the time to speak out for the Anacostia is now. Please take a moment to send an email to your Senator, and copy the chair of the Senate environment committee, Joan Carter Conway, and the Senate President Mike Miller.

There are four Senators on the Senate environment committee that represent Anacostia districts. Each of them have been strong advocates for clean water, but the pressure to let the bill will be intense. If someone else is your Senator, write these four and tell them that you stand with them as a citizen of the Anacostia and an advocate for clean water. We need to make it clear that there is a large constituency for clean water in Maryland! If someone else is your Senator, write these four as a citizen of the Anacostia and ask them to stand up for our river.

Senator Mike Lenett, District 19 (mike.lenett@senate.state.md.us)
Senator James Rosapepe, District 21 (jim.rosapepe@senate.state.md.us)
Senator Paul Pinsky, District 22 (paul.pinsky@senate.state.md.us)
Senator David Harrington, District 47 (david.harrington@senate.state.md.us)

Also CC: these Senate leaders to make clear to them that there is widespread opposition to HB1125.
Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore city, Senate Environment chair (joan.carter.conway@senate.state.md.us)
Senate President Mike Miller (thomas.v.mike.miller@senate.state.md.us)

Key points to make in your letter:
The standards proposed under the 2007 Act are fair and the existing regulations provide developers with adequate guidance. There is no need to make concessions.

We have asked many sectors of the economy to pitch in for clean water – industry, agriculture, and wastewater treatment. It is the developers’ turn to do their part. If they continue building without adequate controls taxpayers will continue to bear the burden of damaged infrastructure, polluted waterways, and reduced fishing and tourism.

The 2007 Stormwater Management Act was passed with broad support in the General Assembly and among the development community. For three years the developers have known what is coming, so crying that the sky is falling at the eleventh hour is disingenuous at best. What has changed in the past three years that the House of Delegates would reverse itself so completely? The development community is facing hard times because of the larger economic conditions, not because of stormwater standards.

The best time to get a handle on polluted runoff was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. If not now, when?

Bob Ehrlich Announces Run for Governor

Filed under: MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:58 pm
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Former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich just told media today he was going to run against Governor O’Malley.

This certainly makes a lot more at stake in the fall elections for the Democrats and the Republicans.  I wonder how it will impact the turnout for the other expected tight race in the 1st Congressional District between Frank Kratovil and Andy Harris?

Stay tuned!  Maryland politics just got a lot more interesting.

Showdown: Maryland Environmental Law vs Corporate Lawmakers

There’s a another controversy brewing in Annapolis.  A suit by the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic that accuses poultry giant Perdue Farms and a small Eastern Shore farmer of pollution has angered Annapolis lawmakers.  They are now threatening to hold up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the university’s budget.  I plan on penning an op-ed about this for next Tuesday, but first I wanted to re-post a great piece in the Baltimore Sun’s editorial page by Andy Green.

Make no mistake, the state Senate has done much more than express some idle curiosity about the University of Maryland’s law clinics. Budget language approved by the Senate this week includes a not-so-subtle message: Be careful who you let your law students represent.

The tactics have all the charm of what Sen. Jim Brochin calls “something straight out of communist China.” The University of Maryland School of Law is being ordered to produce a list of all the plaintiffs their students have represented over the past two years or lose $250,000 in funding.

And that’s the nicest version of the proposal. Delegates are considering a 5-year, $750,000 smack in the face.

What’s particularly galling is that the assault on the law school’s academic freedom and the independence of its fledgling lawyers is all because some students had the temerity to help some Eastern Shore residents and environmental groups go after polluters.

One might assume a lawsuit aimed at reducing pollution into a Pocomoke River tributary would be regarded as a good thing, but the one filed earlier this year on behalf of the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Waterkeeper Alliance names Perdue Farms as a defendant. Perdue is the nation’s third largest poultry company with $4.6 billion in sales — and a lot of political muscle in this state.

Chairman Jim Perdue has said publicly that he fears more such Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuits will be filed against Perdue growers and is making noises about moving some of his business out of state (as puzzling as that business strategy would seem as the federal Clean Water Act standards are national and lawyers to enforce them are known to exist beyond Maryland’s borders).

The proper response to such threats ought to be to tell Perdue that while the state is proud of what he and his family have accomplished, protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and creeks from the harmful effects of nutrient-rich farm run-off (whether from chicken manure or sewage sludge used to fertilize crops) is just as important to this state’s economy as chicken processing.

No doubt if the Maryland law students were filing frivolous actions that had little chance in court, Perdue with its deep pockets and out-of-town lawyers would simply shrug and stomp them out. But the worry is clearly that the facts and the law are not on their side.

If lawmakers were genuinely curious about the law school clinics, they might have made a phone call before they started taking the school’s budget hostage. If they had, they’d discover the clinical law program is ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and that it provides an invaluable service as the largest provider of free legal advice to the state’s disadvantaged. It should be regarded with pride rather than suspicion; all Maryland law students are required to do some pro bono work on behalf of the community, a rarity in academia.

What’s the harm in providing a list of clients? Not every person who has sought legal representation — from the AIDS clinic patient to the homeowner seeking expert help to avoid foreclosure — wants that fact publicized for the whole world to see. You can bet lawmakers know that.

It’s no surprise that some legislators resent students from a taxpayer-supported school “stirring up trouble” in their districts. Legal aid often draws similar feelings when the rights of criminal suspects are vigorously defended. But this attempt to intimidate is not only misguided but potentially harmful to the school and its reputation. If Maryland truly wants to be regarded as a state with a knowledge-based economy, it ought not be seen foolishly embracing such blatant stupidity.

UMD for Clean Energy: Make East Campus a Beast Campus

We’ve already been asked several times where that title came from.  Consider us poetic.  Here at the University of Maryland, UMD for Clean Energy is organizing a major event on green development practices next Monday, April 5th.  Check out the background from our website on why we’re organizing.  Below is one of two blog hits we just received thanks to Rachel Hare, one of our members.  There’s also an op-ed I have out in our campus newspaper today about why we need to go all out on greening the East Campus development.  If you have friends in Maryland, let them know about this event! (more…)

March 29, 2010

Push back from the Left on Federal Climate Bill

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 3:05 pm
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Although it’s still real murky what the negotiations on federal climate legislation will lead to in the form of legislation, a lot of the talk has been disconcerting as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham try and win over skeptics in the business community such as the US Chamber of Commerce.  We’ve heard nuclear, offshore drilling, clean coal, gutting of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and a federal preemption of existing state emissions reduction laws.   Not too encouraging.

There have been some signs over the last week that in the process of trying to court the right, the negotiators shouldn’t think the support of the left is a given if this bill goes too far south.

In early March, Joe Lieberman said Arctic Drilling was “a deal breaker”

Last week, coastal Democrats sent a letter to the bill’s architects warning that expanded offshore drilling could lead to them opposing the legislation.

The Sierra Club’s new Executive Director Michael Brune said that there were several trigger points would could cause the Sierra Club to oppose the bill.  Brune cited concerns with many of the provisions I listed above. “We will go to the mat for defending Clean Air Act authority. We are also concerned about offshore oil drilling, and we will not be able to accept the dramatic giveaway that offshore oil drilling represents,” Brune said.

Finally today, one of the most liberal members of the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wrote a letter to the architects expressing disappointment with the shortcomings in the legislation the Senators are drafting.  This should be seen as a warning shot that if the climate legislation favors fossil fuel interests too heavily, Sanders would not support it.  I think Sanders makes strong points, but I want to point specifically to his argument for not allowing state preemption:

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Massachusetts, Vermont, California, and other leading states for taking early action to address global warming.  States continue to innovate on clean energy policy, setting ever-more aggressive policies to reduce emissions, increase efficiency, and move to sustainable energy.  Federal environmental policy has often set a floor and allowed states to continue to innovate.  In my view, preempting leading states would be a huge mistake: we should definitely set  a floor, but not a ceiling

NY Times on Hydraulic Fracturing

Filed under: energy,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:03 am
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Check out the NY Time’s editorial on natural gas and hydraulic fracturing.  The EPA definitely needs to look into this.  For my opinions on natural gas, see here and here.

Finding Natural Gas, Safely

The Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin a much-needed study of the effects on water quality and public health of a method of extracting natural gas called hydraulic fracturing. An E.P.A. investigation in 2004 was rightly seen as superficial and skewed toward industry, which provided much of the underlying data. This one must be comprehensive and transparent.

It must also be swift. The search for natural gas has widened beyond the usual venues like Texas and the Rocky Mountain West to Pennsylvania and New York State, site of a vast deposit called the Marcellus Shale.

Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting water, sand and chemicals into underground formations to unlock the gas. The technique has been implicated in a growing number of water pollution cases. New York State has been forced to review plans to allow exploratory drilling upstate, including New York City’s watershed, because of fears that an accidental release of toxic chemicals could poison the water supply for millions of people.

Representative Maurice Hinchey, a Democrat from New York, had inserted a provision in a spending bill urging the E.P.A to undertake the study. Mr. Hinchey is also the co-author, with Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, of a bill that would force industry to disclose the chemicals it uses and require regulation of the process under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Industry has publicly endorsed the E.P.A. review and expressed confidence that it will show that hydraulic fracturing is, in the words of the American Petroleum Institute, a “safe and well-understood technology” that has allowed access to huge new supplies of natural gas.

At the same time, industry opposes the DeGette-Hinchey bill, claiming that the chemicals it uses are proprietary secrets and that new regulations would deter production. Mr. Hinchey and Ms. DeGette should stick to their guns. It’s important to enlarge the nation’s supply of natural gas, a relatively clean fuel. But where public health is an issue, federal oversight is plainly required.

March 28, 2010

Laser Guidance for Wind Turbines

Filed under: energy — Matt Dernoga @ 1:48 am
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This is a pretty interesting article in Wired by Alexis Madrigal about how laser guidance technology for wind turbines shows promise to increase their efficiency.  Notable excerpts are below.

“A new laser system that can be mounted on wind turbines allows them to prepare for the wind rushing toward their blades.

The lasers act like sonar for the wind, bouncing off microscopically small particulates and back to a fiber optic detector. That data is fed to an on-board processor that generates a three-dimensional view of the wind speed and direction. Subtle adjustments in the turbine blade’s angle to the window allows it to capture more energy and protect itself in case of strong gusts.

The startup company that developed the Vindicator system, Catch the Wind, recently deployed a wind unit on a Nebraska Public Power District turbine. It increased the production of the unit (.pdf) by more than 10 percent, according to the company’s white paper. If those numbers held across the nations’ 35 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors could add more than 3.5 gigawatts of wind capacity without adding a single additional turbine.”

Current wind turbines rely on wind-measuring instruments known as anemometers that are mounted to the back of the turbine’s gear-housing unit, called a nacelle. The data from the wind is fed to a computer that optimizes the blades’ configuration to capture the most energy from the wind.

In many cases, cup anemometers, which took their current form in the 1930s, are still used. They work well enough, but have to be positioned behind the blades, which subjects them to turbulence. And, importantly, they can only tell you how fast the wind was blowing after it passed. That doesn’t help you with a freak gust of wind or any of the odd behavior that renewable energy developers have caught the wind exhibiting.


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