The Dernogalizer

July 29, 2010

Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Maryland Sierra Club Endorse Judd Legum For Delegate

Filed under: environment,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 3:35 pm
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One of the key races I mentioned in my earlier post about the Maryland League of Conservation Voters endorsements is Judd Legum for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 30.  Although I don’t know Judd personally, I’ve been impressed both with his strong words on the need to stand up to special interests and protect the Chesapeake Bay, and his sincere believe that we need to do something about global warming.

I did a blog post about a climate denial resolution in the Maryland General Assembly, and Republican Delegate Ron George of the 30th District co-sponsored it.  Judd rightfully criticized George for this move, and started a petition for people to call out George’s foolishness.  Here is an excerpt from his petition.

“A few days ago, Delegate Ron George co-sponsored a resolution in Maryland’s General Assembly stating that climate change is a “conspiracy” and urging the Environmental Protection Agency to “immediately halt” all efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Besides ignoring the overwhelming consensus among the world’s climate scientists, George is advancing a position with disastrous consequences locally for the Chesapeake Bay:

– Increased carbon dioxide concentrations can increase algae blooms, which are the source of large “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay. [Source]

– Many of the most effective agricultural practices to sequester carbon — such as forest buffers, no-till farming and cover crops — are also essential to improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. [Source]

In a time of economic challenge, Maryland can’t afford to allow the Chesapeake Bay to continue to degrade. The Bay is Maryland’s most valuable economic resource: driving commerce, buttressing property values and attracting tourists.

We need to dispense with far-right ideology and focus on our shared goals in Maryland.

It’s clear to me Judd gets global warming, he understands the solutions, and he knows the stakes.  That’s why you should vote for him, or visit his campaign website and look for other ways to help out.  Below is the press release on the endorsements.

Annapolis, Md. – Today, two of the state’s leading environmental organizations, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, endorsed Judd Legum for the House of Delegates in District 30.

Legum is the only challenger not running for an open House seat to be endorsed by both organizations.

“Judd Legum is an exciting new leader who will bring fresh energy and perspective to the General Assembly and the fight to restore the Chesapeake Bay and protect our natural resources,” said Cindy Schwartz, Executive Director of the Maryland League of Conservation voters, “We are impressed with his understanding of and commitment to environmental issues. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters enthusiastically endorses his candidacy.”

David Prosten, chair of the Anne Arundel Sierra Club, said, “Judd Legum has a thoughtful and well-articulated understanding of environmental issues and clearly views the health of the Bay and its tributaries as a top priority. He understands the nexus of land use, transportation and other concerns that have an impact on our quality of life. He deserves the support of every voter.”

“I’m running because the next four years represent the best – and possibly last – chance to make real progress in restoring the Chesapeake Bay to health,” said Legum, “I’m proud to have the support of two organizations who care so deeply and work so hard to protect the Bay and our environment.”

Legum is currently an Annapolis Representative to the Severn River Commission, a joint body of the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, charged with providing advice to protect the Severn River Watershed.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters and the Maryland Sierra Club represent tens of thousands of members throughout Maryland.

May 11, 2010

The Gravity of Writing

Filed under: Dernoga,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:53 pm
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I had my last op-ed of the year out today, and possibly my last with the Diamondback.  I have to decide soon whether or not to try and keep doing this while in graduate school.  I thought it would be good to reminisce about how I started writing columns, and what the experience has done for me.  Enjoy!

Dernoga: The gravity of writing

By Matt Dernoga

Back in March 2008, I wrote a joke guest column titled “Gravity is a Hoax!” that imitated a stereotypical global warming denier by arguing against the existence of gravity with ludicrous assertions. This prompted The Diamondback’s opinion editor at the time to offer me a columnist position with the stipulation I would write about environmental issues.

I was going to turn down the offer because I was afraid I wouldn’t consistently have good material to write about. Then, I got an e-mail from a man in Denmark who had stumbled across my column on “gravity” and seriously thought I was denying the existence of gravity. He apparently agreed and presented me with a host of links he had found proving gravity was, in fact, a hoax.

I had to politely tell him that I was actually referring to global warming in the column (which should have been obvious). In his response, he said global warming hadn’t crossed his mind while reading since it wasn’t a debate in Europe. He was flabbergasted that a sizable percentage of Americans actually thought it was an elaborate hoax (but apparently gravity was fair game). Though I’m probably not going to go to this guy for my physics homework, it struck me at the time that my column wasn’t the joke — we were.

Most people, including activists, just don’t know a lot about environmental issues, and in many ways, it’s the media’s fault. There isn’t much written in newspapers about those issues, and when they do get attention, they’re reduced to sound bites and straw man arguments. Usually, it’s “protecting the environment will hurt the economy” in a thousand different forms.

So I took the columnist position. I’ve found it to be one of the best uses of my time here as an undergraduate. By researching the intricacies of environmental issues I often knew little about, I learned how to frame them in ways both the reader and I could understand. As an environmental activist, writing these columns challenged me to actually investigate hot topics beyond the surface. I found this made me a more capable advocate for my issues because I could weave different aspects and angles of an argument together to make a strong case.

I’m grateful for the number of people who have e-mailed me with kind words about my columns and even suggested topics to write about. Sure, it’s The Diamondback, and we tend to think the appeal of content in this paper is limited to our university bubble, but there aren’t many reporters or columnists in this state who competently write about green issues on a regular basis. As a result, I received outstanding support and column ideas from people around the state. Almost half of my column topics were actually ideas or issues brought to my attention by others. Instead of struggling to write original material, I struggled with deciding which topic to go with each week.

My time as an undergraduate is drawing to a close. Depending on what I decide to do in graduate school, this may be my last column. Either way, getting my message across to you every week has been a fun and rewarding part of my college experience. I hope you learned as much as I did. More importantly, I hope you use it. Thank you.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

April 13, 2010

Maryland Legislative is Over, What Happened?

Filed under: environment,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 6:23 pm
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I want to post an e-mail I just got from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which alludes to some of the struggles and silver linings for the environment that came out of the Maryland legislative session in Annapolis.  They also have a link on their webpage which gives a useful wrap-up of the session.  Earlier today, I received an e-mail from Environment Maryland with similar sentiments.  That one is posted below the MDLCV one.

2010 Legislative Session — What Happened?

Dear Matt,

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned last night. A few days ago, Maryland LCV was ready to declare this session a washout. But as the final bells rang, closing out the session last night, there were some losses and a few things to celebrate.

The General Assembly was strong on the budget, including $22.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Costal Bays Trust Fund and preserving most of the funding for Program Open Space (with the help of a strong last minute push by Governor O’Malley and Speaker Busch.)  With the help of Senate President Miller, legislators passed a bill ensuring that Maryland’s transportation decisions improve our quality of life.
Unfortunately, neither chamber passed bills to create a funding stream for much needed stormwater management projects or tried to stop the diversion of energy efficiency funds, both issues that we will be addressing in 2011.

Read our full 2010 Environmental Legislative Wrap-up online now.

Want to hear the inside story? We are holding two conference calls this Wednesday at noon and 7 pm to summarize what happened behind the scenes in Annapolis during the 2010 session. RSVP to receive the call in number.

Thank you for all your work this session, your emails, phone calls, visits, and attendance at the environmental summit helped us pass laws to protect our air land and water. We couldn’t have done it without you! Stay tuned for our 2010 General Assembly Scorecard in June.

And remember, 2010 is an important election year and Maryland LCV will be there working to elect pro-conservation candidates—we look forward to it and hope you will join us!

Donate today and help us protect Maryland’s future.

Thank you for making your voice heard,

Cindy Schwartz
Executive Director
Maryland LCV Education Fund

————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Hi Matt,

I breathed a sigh of relief last night, when this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly came to a close at midnight. It was a whirlwind year, and the budget was clearly our biggest fight.

Halfway through the session, it looked like the environment was going to suffer losses across the board. But in the end, the House and Senate came through on many of our priorities. In particular, we were pleased that legislators chose not to divert funds from Program Open Space — this would not have happened without the strong support of Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Please thank the governor for maintaining funds for land preservation:

http://www.environmentmaryland.org/action/protect-our-natural-heritage/thank-you-gov-omalley?id4=ES

Outside the budget, our top legislative priorities were bills regarding transportation and solar power.

The transportation bill, which passed yesterday, steers state money into projects that will reduce our global warming pollution and are consistent with Maryland’s smart growth goals.

And, of the numerous solar power bills we supported, two passed through the Legislature. One of these bills increases the percentage of electricity that utility companies must draw from solar resources. Another requires utilities to pay customers for the surplus power they generate from solar panels.

You can see the complete rundown of our 2010 legislative priorities, and how they fared. [1]

And again, please remember to thank our governor!

http://www.environmentmaryland.org/action/protect-our-natural-heritage/thank-you-gov-omalley?id4=ES

Thanks again for making it all possible.

Sincerely,

Brad Heavner
Environment Maryland State Director
http://www.environmentmaryland.org

P.S. Thanks again for your support. Please feel free to share this e-mail with your family and friends.

[1] http://www.environmentmaryland.org/issues/at-the-capitol/legislative-roundups?id4=ES

January 27, 2010

Picking up America: Part 2

Filed under: environment — Matt Dernoga @ 6:11 pm
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This is the second in an extensive series of upcoming cross-posts as my friend and UMD for Clean Energy alum Davey Rogner walks across America to reduce waste in our society.  If you would like to contact Davey, please e-mail pickupamerica@gmail.com

My First Official Pick Up America Blog!!!!

By Davey Rogner

On March 20th, I am going to begin walking for a really long time. The journey will take about a year and a half of my life. I will stop to rest only for winter and to be the best man at my brother’s wedding. My friends and I will travel clear across the Unites States — visiting small towns, endless corn fields, dying estuaries, big cities, purple mountain majesties, decapitated mountain pastures, drying deserts, amber waves of grain, and smiling people — to understand the breadth of these United States. Along the way I am going to clean the litter that has become an omnipresent addition to the American landscape.

Tom Hanks’ bearded face. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

My soon-to-be bearded face. Courtesy of Colm Jenkins

Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. The initial reaction is usually a combination of these four themes:

  1. You can’t be serious.
  2. That’s a lot of work.
  3. How’s this really going to change anything?
  4. …Something about Forrest Gump.

So I’ll make this clear right now:

  1. Yes, I am very serious.
  2. A life worth living takes a lot of effort
  3. We will be educating/distributing tool kits that describe how to support our efforts
  4. …and Yes, I did cry at the end of Forrest Gump.

Now that we’ve cleared things up, I’ll explain Pick Up America and my motives.

Pick Up America is a local, regional and nationwide initiative committed to reducing plastic waste in our communities and waterways. The Pick Up America team (also known as the Pick Up Artists) will coordinate community trash clean-ups while walking across the country to encourage alternatives to our nation’s throwaway mentality. We’ll document our encounters and experiences through our multimedia website and online social networks. The year-and-a-half-long trek will begin from Assateague Island, Md., on March 20, 2010, and span 13 states to the San Francisco Bay, Calif., sometime in August 2011.

My Motives

  1. I walk so that I can be an ambassador of tolerance, unity and compassion. I have spent the entirety of my 24 years — with the exception of vacations — in Silver Spring or College Park, Md. The smorgasbord of culture that is Silver Spring has nurtured my unyielding tolerance and acceptance without presumptions.
  2. I walk to eliminate the concept of a waste stream. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Is it just a bumper sticker? A Jack Johnson song? What’s it even mean? Here’s what I mean: Buying bottled water and recycling it when you’re done drinking isn’t a real solution. Water bottles labeled with “green” or “eco” are a misnomer; it’s greeenwashing. The phrase has three parts: reduce, reuse, recycle. And we must act in that order. For example, we can eliminate bottled water (almost entirely) from the waste stream by reducing and reusing. An easy alternative to disposable water bottles is to have a reusable bottle (sans BPA) that you fill with filtered tap water. This immediately reduces the amount of plastic consumed, the amount of energy spent on recycling, and/or the amount of space it takes up in a landfill. We do not need to send so much of what we consider waste to land fills if we think about how our own actions can make a difference. As for recycling, it should be an option, but the last one. Time and time again, our economy has proven that one man’s waste is another man’s input. Our “waste” generation can be reduced through individual decisions on how we consume. Pick Up America will highlight alternative inputs for what some consider “waste” within industry. I walk with the belief that human economies can maximize resources by eliminating the concept of waste in the human paradigm. I walk with the belief that our economies can mimic ecology to use every organism’s output as a source of nourishment for another.
  3. I walk because I know that the future of our country depends most on our ability to dis-entrench our belief systems and find common ground with one another. I believe the common ground that all cultures, all political parties, and all people can unite under is the banner of efficiency. That is efficiency in government, efficiency in resource use, efficiency in how we spend our time and money, efficiency in how we distribute our goods, and most importantly for this initiative, it is efficiency in how we dispose of our goods. At no other time in human history has a movement for efficient use of resources been so commonly heralded in speech, but so forgotten in action. If we were to spend less time on resource transaction/extraction and more time celebrating our resources by using them efficiently, I know the world would be much more hospitable. I walk for the belief that conserving resources will ensure a happier, more prosperous future for all people.
  4. I walk because talk is no longer enough. I must walk the walk to talk the talk. I walk as an example of active participation in the reform of the American community and economy.
  5. I walk because I know the heart rests easy when spent helping others. I expect nothing in return. To make our souls strong and the heart patient, we must all commit to one million acts of kindness in a lifetime. I hope that people will understandPick Up America’s motives, but personally, I’m in it for soul stabilization.
  6. I walk to see life in first-hand account. A digitized society views LCD screens as a means. I want to feel streams and rivers, not read about how they used to flow. I want to feel you smile, not see a picture of it. I want to laugh hard with you and not stop because we are with each other. I want to sleep in the forest and not dream about it.
  7. I walk to endure some sort of physical hardship. I know privilege, but I walk in solidarity with the less fortunate. I walk to separate myself from commodities that exploit others. I can no longer participate in economic actions that harm other people as a means of their continuation. I walk with the hope that individual compassion enacted through conscientious action will alleviate others sorrow.

The reason for any reform stems from a change in circumstance. Thus, we must step back from our belief systems to understand our changes in circumstance to achieve any state of reform. Our new circumstance is a dying world and declining human happiness. What path shall we all decide to walk? I smile when I think of mine — an action that should precede all endeavors.

August 11, 2009

Rethinking GDP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt Dernoga @ 11:43 am
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I was forwarded a very good column in the NY Times written by Eric Zencey, so I’m re-posting it below.  I’ve often made the case that too many of the decisions we make today don’t account for the costs and externalities of losing our natural environment(natural capital).  This flawed cost-benefit analysis leads to market failures.

G.D.P. R.I.P.

By ERIC ZENCEY

IF there’s a silver lining to our current economic downturn, it’s this: With it comes what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” the failure of outmoded economic structures and their replacement by new, more suitable structures. Downturns have often given a last, fatality-inducing nudge to dying industries and technologies. Very few buggy manufacturers made it through the Great Depression.

Creative destruction can apply to economic concepts as well. And this downturn offers an excellent opportunity to get rid of one that has long outlived its usefulness: gross domestic product. G.D.P. is one measure of national income, of how much wealth Americans make, and it’s a deeply foolish indicator of how the economy is doing. It ought to join buggy whips and VCRs on the dust-heap of history.

The first official attempt to determine our national income was made in 1934; the goal was to measure all economic production involving Americans whether they were at home or abroad. In 1991, the Bureau of Economic Analysis switched from gross national product to gross domestic product to reflect a changed economic reality — as trade increased, and as foreign companies built factories here, it became apparent that we ought to measure what gets made in the United States, no matter who makes it or where it goes after it’s made.

Since then it has become probably our most commonly cited economic indicator, the basic number that we take as a measure of how well we’re doing economically from year to year and quarter to quarter. But it is a miserable failure at representing our economic reality.

To begin with, gross domestic product excludes a great deal of production that has economic value. Neither volunteer work nor unpaid domestic services (housework, child rearing, do-it-yourself home improvement) make it into the accounts, and our standard of living, our general level of economic well-being, benefits mightily from both. Nor does it include the huge economic benefit that we get directly, outside of any market, from nature. A mundane example: If you let the sun dry your clothes, the service is free and doesn’t show up in our domestic product; if you throw your laundry in the dryer, you burn fossil fuel, increase your carbon footprint, make the economy more unsustainable — and give G.D.P. a bit of a bump.

In general, the replacement of natural-capital services (like sun-drying clothes, or the propagation of fish, or flood control and water purification) with built-capital services (like those from a clothes dryer, or an industrial fish farm, or from levees, dams and treatment plants) is a bad trade — built capital is costly, doesn’t maintain itself, and in many cases provides an inferior, less-certain service. But in gross domestic product, every instance of replacement of a natural-capital service with a built-capital service shows up as a good thing, an increase in national economic activity. Is it any wonder that we now face a global crisis in the form of a pressing scarcity of natural-capital services of all kinds?

This points to the larger, deeper flaw in using a measurement of national income as an indicator of economic well-being. In summing all economic activity in the economy, gross domestic product makes no distinction between items that are costs and items that are benefits. If you get into a fender-bender and have your car fixed, G.D.P. goes up.

A similarly counterintuitive result comes from other kinds of defensive and remedial spending, like health care, pollution abatement, flood control and costs associated with population growth and increasing urbanization — including crime prevention, highway construction, water treatment and school expansion. Expenditures on all of these increase gross domestic product, although mostly what we aim to buy isn’t an improved standard of living but the restoration or protection of the quality of life we already had.

The amounts involved are not nickel-and-dime stuff. Hurricane Katrina produced something like $82 billion in damages in New Orleans, and as the destruction there is remedied, G.D.P. goes up. Some of the remedial spending on the Gulf Coast does represent a positive change to economic well-being, as old appliances and carpets and cars are replaced by new, presumably improved, ones. But much of the expense leaves the community no better off (indeed, sometimes worse off) than before.

Consider the 50 miles of sponge-like wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that once protected the city from storm surges. When those bayous were lost to development — sliced to death by channels to move oil rigs, mostly — gross domestic product went up, even as these “improvements” destroyed the city’s natural defenses and wiped out crucial spawning ground for the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery. The bayous were a form of natural capital, and their loss was a cost that never entered into any account — not G.D.P. or anything else.

Wise decisions depend on accurate assessments of the costs and benefits of different courses of action. If we don’t count ecosystem services as a benefit in our basic measure of well-being, their loss can’t be counted as a cost — and then economic decision-making can’t help but lead us to undesirable and perversely un-economic outcomes.

The basic problem is that gross domestic product measures activity, not benefit. If you kept your checkbook the way G.D.P. measures the national accounts, you’d record all the money deposited into your account, make entries for every check you write, and then add all the numbers together. The resulting bottom line might tell you something useful about the total cash flow of your household, but it’s not going to tell you whether you’re better off this month than last or, indeed, whether you’re solvent or going broke.

BECAUSE we use such a flawed measure of economic well-being, it’s foolish to pursue policies whose primary purpose is to raise it. Doing so is an instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness — mistaking the map for the terrain, or treating an instrument reading as though it were the reality rather than a representation. When you’re feeling a little chilly in your living room, you don’t hold a match to a thermometer and then claim that the room has gotten warmer. But that’s what we do when we seek to improve economic well-being by prodding G.D.P.

Several alternatives to gross domestic product have been proposed, and each tackles the central problem of placing a value on goods and services that never had a dollar price. The alternatives are controversial, because that kind of valuation creates room for subjectivity — for the expression of personal values, of ideology and political belief.

How, after all, do we judge what exactly was the value of the services provided by those bayous in Louisiana? Was it $82 billion? But what about the value of the shrimp fishery that was already lost before the hurricane? What about the insurance value of the protection the bayous offered against another $82 billion loss? What about the security and sense of continuity of life enjoyed by the thousands of people who lived and made their livelihoods in relation to those bayous before they disappeared? It’s admittedly difficult to set a dollar price on such things — but this is no reason to set that price at zero, as gross domestic product currently does.

Common sense tells us that if we want an accurate accounting of change in our level of economic well-being we need to subtract costs from benefits and count all costs, including those of ecosystem services when they are lost to development. These include storm and flood protection, water purification and delivery, maintenance of soil fertility, pollination of plants and regulation of our climate on a global and local scale. (One recent estimate puts the minimum market value of all such natural-capital services at $33 trillion per year.)

Nature has aesthetic and moral value as well; some of us experience awe, wonder and humility in our encounters with it. But we don’t have to go so far as to include such subjective intangibles in order to fix the national income accounts. As stressed ecosystems worldwide disappear, it will get easier and easier to assign a nonsubjective valuation to them; and value them we must if we are to keep them at all. No civilization can survive their loss.

Given the fundamental problems with G.D.P. as a leading economic indicator, and our habit of taking it as a measurement of economic welfare, we should drop it altogether. We could keep the actual number, but rename it to make clearer what it represents; let’s call it gross domestic transactions. Few people would mistake a measurement of gross transactions for a measurement of general welfare. And the renaming would create room for acceptance of a new measurement, one that more accurately signals changes in the level of economic well-being we enjoy.

Our use of total productivity as our main economic indicator isn’t mandated by law, which is why it would be fairly easy for President Obama to convene a panel of economists and other experts to join the Bureau of Economic Analysis in creating a new, more accurate measure. Call it net economic welfare. On the benefit side would go such nonmarket goods as unpaid domestic work and ecosystem services; on the debit side would go defensive and remedial expenditures that don’t improve our standard of living, along with the loss of ecosystem services, and the money we spend to try to replace them.

In 1934, the economist Simon Kuznets, in his very first report of national income to Congress, warned that “the welfare of a nation can … scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” Just as this crisis gives us the opportunity to end the nature-be-damned, more-is-always-better economy that flourished when oil was cheap and plentiful, we can finally act on Kuznets’s wise warning. We’re in an economic hole, and as we climb out, what we need is not simply a measurement of how much money passes through our hands each quarter, but an indicator that will tell us if we are really and truly gaining ground in the perennial struggle to improve the material conditions of our lives.

Eric Zencey, a professor of historical and political studies at Empire State College, is the author of “Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology and Culture” and a novel, “Panama.”

June 17, 2009

MDLCV 2009 Scorecard

Filed under: environment,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 8:58 pm
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The League of Conservation Voters is kind enough to put out environmental scorecards for our national legislators and our legislators in every state government.  The scorecard for my state of Maryland just came out.  Basically legislators get up or down marks for each piece of legislation they vote on in committee or on the floor.  They are then given a percentage score based on how many times they voted the right way out of the total number of opportunities to vote.  I already listed the report of all environmental legislation this past session, and how it fared.

If you live in Maryland I’d encourage you to check out how your representatives voted.  If you live elsewhere, just look up the league of conservation voters scorecard for your state.  The only part of this scorecard I would like to draw attention to is my representatives from District 21.  Delegates Barbara Frush, Ben Barnes, and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, along with State Senator Jim Rosapepe all got 100% scores.  My congratulations and thanks to them.  Although these scorecards can’t measure everything since some bills never come to a vote because of behind the scenes maneuvering and lack of effort, it’s always a good sign when there are 100% scores across the board for your district.

April 30, 2009

100 days

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:51 am
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I thought it would be a good idea to give my brief impression of President Obama’s first 100 days in office in respect to energy and environmental issues, and what still needs work.

I actually think the best part of Obams’s first 100 says has been the staff he has selected to deal with these issues. Carol Browner is special advisor on climate and energy, and she was the former head of Clinton’s environmental protection agency, and is known as a very tough regulator. I actually heard from Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA at Powershift and she was very impressive in insisting the EPA return back to considering science in it’s methods for protection. I’ve also thought and still maintain that Nobel Prize Winner and Energy Secretary Steven Chu is Obama’s finest appointment. I’ve heard very smart and intelligent rhetoric coming out of Chu so far, and I have high confidence he will run the Department of Energy very successfully. On the great jobs front Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has voiced a strong commitment to green jobs, and recently green jobs adviser Van Jones, a terrific and vocal leader in the environmental and African American community. I think we will see very good things from this green team during this term.

The next positive development I would point to is the green part of the economic stimulus. This stimulus had 62.2 billion dollars in specific spending on green initiatives, and there was an additional 20 billion in green tax initiatives. This will lead to notable improvements in renewable energy, energy efficiency, improved energy transmission, the smart grid, low income housing retrofits, green jobs training, and rail transit. On top of all this, 15 billion is going to be committed to these initiatives in the upcoming budget.

One other tentatively positive development has been the EPA officially declaring carbon dioxide pollution a major health hazard. Other noteworthy trends in the right direction were calling on the EPA to revisit requests by 13 states to regulate their car emissions, directing the EPA to raise fuel economy standards, cutting off funding nuclear waste disposal for Yucca Mountain, announcing plans to finally regulate coal ash, and create a Clean Energy Service Corps as an expansion of the current Americorp Program.

There have been some letdowns, and some things I want to see more of. For one, while the EPA is moving to regulate coal ash, there has not been a move to stop permits for the destructive mountaintop removal, too much talk of clean coal technology, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is talking too positively of offshore drilling, and last I have not seen Obama push the climate bill through Congress as hard as he should to this point. I wrote about this recently, and I think he needs to be more aggressive.

All in all though, the last 100 days have been a LOT better than the last 8 years for green issues. I’m optimistic we’re moving in the right direction, I just think we need to move faster.

April 18, 2009

2009 MD Legislative Wrap-Up

Filed under: environment,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:07 pm
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because Annapolis is hip

because Annapolis is hip

The 2009 legislative session of Maryland came to a close later in the week.  So how did environmentalists fare in the state during these tough economic times?  I want to provide you with a couple of media articles here and here.  Additionally, I’m going to copy and paste below a comprehensive overview of the environmental bills and how they faired.  This was done by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.  Additionally, Environment Maryland has one additional bill they tracked, which you can view here: search HB 1057

 

 

 

thumb_up.jpgProgram Open Space has long been a top priority for the Governor and the environmental community.  After the Senate proposed drastic cuts to the program, the Governor, buoyed by a strong last-minute grassroots outpouring of support, lobbied hard to keep the funding.  As a result, most of the funds were converted into bonds with approximately $5-7 million of future real estate transfer revenue needed to service them. Ultimately, this is a good result for the Governor, the environmental community, and land preservation efforts.

 
thumb_up.jpgSeptics 
(SB 554/HB 176
Failed septic systems cause about 7% of the nutrient pollution in the Bay and 20-30% in parts of the Critical Areas, a contributing cause to dead zones.  SB 554/ HB 176 requires that nitrogen removing technology be installed on new septic systems within the Critical Areas. Maryland, by approving this measure with the narrowest of margins (24-23) in the Senate, will now be a national leader in this endeavor.  The Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund will be used to help finance these important upgrades.

thumb_down.jpgToxics
The House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed two bills on toxics.  The first banned the use of DECA, a toxic flame retardant found in the plastic casings of televisions; the other banned BPA, a toxic chemical found in baby bottles.  Unfortunately, both bills died in their respective Senate committees.

Other Important Bills:

 

thumb_up.jpgGlobal Warming Solutions Act (SB 278HB 315)  
priority_button_-_green.pngThis bill is a huge win for the environment. This critical bill cements Maryland’s role as a national leader and will produce tangible benefits for our state – creating new industries in the emerging clean energy economy, reducing long-term costs to consumers and businesses through energy efficiency upgrades, and by creating the programs we need to reduce global warming pollution. 

HB 315/ SB 278 will reduce global warming pollution by 25% below 2006 levels by the year 2020. To pass this bill, Maryland LCV and others from the environmental community spent the latter part of 2008 working with stakeholders from labor and industry to craft a solution that will save Maryland jobs and address global warming.  Continue reading about our work on this bill here.

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Smart Growth
The O’Malley Administration introduced several bills that addressed Smart Growth.
Three of them, the reauthorization of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, the authorization of a priority_button_-_green.pngspecial financing mechanism for Transit-Oriented Development, and the statutory fix to the adverse “Terrapin Run” court decision all passed and deserve praise. However, the Governor and the Senate missed an opportunity to truly strengthen our growth laws and to finally hold our officials accountable for poor growth decisions by failing to support strengthening amendments.

If we are serious about these problems, we have to attach consequences to poorly planned development. Most Marylanders say they want stronger state oversight on growth issues, the Governor’s growth bills don’t get us there. Instead, they simply measure how bad the problem has become.  We look forward to working with the Administration to craft a way to retain local control of planning decisions while ensuring that scarce state resources go where good growth should occur.
 
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thumb_up.jpgStanding (HB 1569/SB 1065) Maryland is one of only a handful of states that severely restricts a citizens’ rights in court to challenge bad environmental decisions.  HB 1569/ SB 1065 addresses this problem by granting citizens and nonprofit associations the right to proceed in court where flagrant violations of our basic environmental protections occur.
  
This idea has for years percolated in and around the committee rooms in Annapolis, never coming even close to the Governor’s desk.  This year, Maryland LCV chose to make this issue a priority and pushed for its passage. Like the global warming bill, this piece of legislation was carefully negotiated with a series of diverse stakeholders who arrived at a win-win solution that grants us our right to a day in court.

priority_button_-_green.pngThe Budget  The severe fiscal downturn has affected every sector of the economy and cast a pall on the legislative session in Annapolis.  The Governor’s initial budget preserved a great deal of the funding for environmental programs with one notable exception – the diversion of $35 million in energy efficiency program funds from the Strategic Energy Investment Fund.  But at the end of the day the environment remained a high priority and the cuts were less severe than they could have been.
  
Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund – $10 million    Cover crops – $12 million 
Energy Efficiency – two year diversion of $70 million   Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit 
Program Open Space
 – some of the funds were converted to Revenue Bonds which if exercised could cost the program millions of dollars in principle and interest, into the foreseeable future.

 

 

thumb_down.jpgDe-Fund the InterCounty Connector (SB 753/HB 27
priority_button_-_green.pngThe Intercounty Connector is the most environmentally damaging and fiscally irresponsible transportation project in Maryland history.  The Maryland LCV has repeatedly supported attempts to defund this $4 billion road.  While we successfully raised the profile of the economic impact of this project, this year’s bill, HB 27, to defund this terrible project died in committee.  
thumb_up.jpgPhosphorous ReductionSB 553HB 609 requires labeling of fertilizer containing phosphorous and prohibits the sale of phosphorous fertilizer in 2010.

 

thumb_up.jpgEnergy Efficient BuildingsSB 625 requires a strengthening of building codes to make them more energy efficient.

thumb_up.jpgMaryland Organic Farming Pilot ProgramSB 516/HB 449 creates a pilot program using federal funds to encourage farmers to transition toward organic farming practices.

thumb_up.jpgState RecyclingHB 595 and SB 473/HB 1290 require that all public schools and state facilities recycle paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic.

thumb_down.jpgStormwater Management SurchargeSB 672HB 1457 would have required counties to assess their own fee to pay for retrofits. This bill died on the Senate floor.

thumb_up.jpgMercury Switch RemovalHB 1263 compensates and trains automobile recyclers to remove and recycle the mercury switches from cars.

thumb_down.jpgLead PaintHB 1156 would have allowed Baltimore residents who suffered from the effects of lead poisoning to hold the manufacturers accountable. This bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.

thumb_up.jpgNo Net Loss of ForestsSB 666/HB 1291 attempts to maintain the amount of forest cover in Maryland.
thumb_up.jpgPrivate Wastewater Treatment Act of 2009SB 721/HB 1105 prohibits the installation of an individual sewage system for residential use. 
thumb_up.jpgGreen Jobs/ Welfare to WorkSB 992HB 268 creates a pathway for people on welfare to get a job in the emerging clean energy economy.

thumb_down.jpgPesticidesSB 917HB 929 would have required reporting of some pesticides uses to MDA. This bill died in the House committee.

thumb_up.jpgEnvironmental JusticeSB 4SB 47/HB 1057HB 1078 requires industry provide notice to affected communities before receiving a permit. The notice bills passed but the companion bills, which would have required an MDE review before issuing a permit in certain blighted communities, died in the House and Senate committees.

February 13, 2009

New Biofuels Policy Needed

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 11:02 pm
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A bunch of environmental groups have proposed a platform for how the country’s biofuels policy should be structured and changed. Biofuels have always been an interesting topic since our current experiences with them(ethanol anyone?) have been quite unfavorable. However, they possess enormous potential depending on their source and how they are created. Link is below, and I’m cross-posting the platform below as well.

http://action.foe.org/t/3869/content.jsp?content_KEY=5299

CLEAN AIR TASK FORCE * ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP * FRIENDS OF THE EARTH * NETWORK FOR NEW ENERGY CHOICES

Finding ways to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions while producing enough energy to support economic development worldwide is this century’s preeminent challenge. We must meet this challenge while simultaneously reducing environmental degradation, poverty and hunger. The United States must make a sustained commitment to invest in and develop renewable energy sources that contribute to meeting these challenges.

Support for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and other biofuel subsidies has been based on the premise that biofuels will: decrease greenhouse gas emissions and thus the devastating effects of global warming; decrease our reliance on foreign oil; decrease the price of gasoline; and bolster US agriculture. US biofuels policy is not achieving these goals, nor is it rationally designed to so do. Instead, we are spending billions of dollars in tax credits and infrastructure development for biofuels that: increase greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate other serious environmental and public health challenges; contribute to the global food crisis; insignificantly impact oil consumption and do little or nothing to lower transportation costs; and favor some parts of the farm sector at the direct expense of others.

New scientific evidence indicates that biofuel production and use results in a net increase of greenhouse gas emissions when compared to petroleum-based fuels. When full life-cycle effects are taken into account, such as the nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer used to grow corn and the massive amounts of carbon released as forest and grassland are directly or indirectly converted for biofuel feedstock production, biofuels (including corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, and soy biodiesel) have been found to exacerbate global warming.

In addition, global stocks of food grains and edible oils are at historic lows, threatening the world’s most vulnerable people, including the poor and hungry in the United States. Conventional biofuel production also exacerbates soil degradation, water and air pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Also, conventional biofuels have a miniscule effect on fossil fuel use and practically no effect on the cost of driving. Meanwhile, US taxpayers pay billions of dollars annually in tax credits for biofuels, and our imports of foreign crude oil have remained nearly level at approximately 3.7 billion barrels annually. Although existing law requires biofuels comprise a rising percentage of the nation’s gasoline supply, there is little research demonstrating that some of these fuel mixes will not cause an unacceptable increase in operational problems, safety hazards and air pollution emissions from many on-road and non-road engines in use today.

Biofuel proponents claim that the next generation of “advanced biofuels” will eliminate the problems associated with conventional biofuels and create an economically feasible and environmentally sound solution to reducing dependence on fossil fuels for transportation. Realizing these aspirations will require solving intractable technical and infrastructure challenges, as these “advanced biofuels” can cause the same adverse environmental impacts as conventional ones while also presenting new dangers, such as those associated with synthetic biology. Mandating the use and production of these fuels without fully understanding their effect on the environment and food systems — as current US biofuel policy does — is irresponsible and dangerous.

In order to develop truly renewable fuels that accomplish our goals and do not have unintended adverse impacts, concrete steps must be taken.

1. Ensure that all policy incentives for renewable fuels, including mandates and subsidies, require attainment of minimum environmental performance standards for production and use, to ensure that publicly supported “renewable fuels” do not degrade our natural resources. Such standards would: certify net life-cycle greenhouse gas emission reductions through 2050, taking into account direct and indirect land use change; and do not cause or contribute to increased damage to soil quality, air quality, water quality, habitat protection, and biodiversity loss. Compliance with these standards must be verified regularly.

2. Restrict the RFS to fuel options that do not cause environmental harm, adverse human health impacts or economic disruption.

a. Cap the RFS at current levels and gradually phase out the mandate for biofuels, unless it is clearly demonstrated that such fuels can meet minimum environment, health, and consumer protection standards.
b. Establish feedstock- and technology-neutral fuel and environmental performance standards for all biofuels and let the market devise ways of reaching them.
c. Periodically reevaluate the sustainability and performance of renewable fuels.
d. Provide a mechanism and requirement to mitigate unintended adverse effects, including authority to adjust any mandate downward.

3. Tie the biofuels tax credits to the performance standards.

a. Phase out the biofuels tax credit to blenders while phasing in tax credits or subsidies for renewable fuels that are scaled in accordance to the fuels’ relative environmental, health, and consumer protection merits.

4. Rebalance the U.S. renewable energy and energy conservation portfolio to reflect the relative contribution these options can make to reducing fossil fuel use, enhancing the environment, spurring economic development, and increasing energy security.

a. Subsidies to renewable energy and conservation should be distributed more evenly between alternative energy sources, and should be allocated in a manner that is fuel – and feedstock -neutral; biofuels, particularly corn ethanol, must no longer receive the lion’s share of federal renewable energy subsidies.
b. New policy must:
i. Emphasize energy conservation; we cannot drill or grow our way out of the energy crisis.
ii. Create a level playing field among renewable energy options; set fuel-, feedstock- and technology-neutral standards, so as to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental quality and biodiversity, and reduce pressure on agricultural markets.

5. Support research to improve the analysis of net climate impacts, net non-climate environmental impacts, commodity price impacts, and other social factors that are substantially affected by policies that promote biofuels. All of the previous policy asks must be based on better research on the impacts from biofuels; understanding these impacts are crucial to developing sound policies.

December 18, 2008

Bush Gutting Endangered Species Act

Filed under: National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 6:00 pm
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I had brief post about this a few days ago, but I wanted to bring light to it again.  What the Bush Administration is basically doing is changing a rule that mandates that federal wildlife scientists review federal projects in order to provide an accurate report of what kinds of damage will be done to the ecosystem and the species in it.  So basically, whenever we want to build something like a road or a mall, or we want to drill in Colorado, there’s no scientific review of what the environmental impact will be.  Anyone who gives half a damn what happens to wildlife, our natural environment, and our ecosystem should find this unacceptable.  There is a very good overview by an environmental organization “Earth Justice” who is leading the legal charge to stop the rule change: Here

Also, I have not followed the legal actions of Earth Justice very closely until recently, but this is an organization that represents local environmental groups and people on legal cases involving preservation and protection of the planet.  I think this is a very important organization since there are always battles to be fought, and as much as activism and letter writing are useful, a lot of decisions come down to who has a good lawyer.  If you’re looking for an organization to donate a little money to for the holidays, I would recommend to donate to them Here

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