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[1THING] Blog: Archive for April, 2014

[ Oil Train Derails in Lynchburg, Virginia ]

The derailment of a CSX train carrying crude in Lynchburg, Virginia, is the latest in a series of accidents involving oil transport.


[ EPA Awards Funding to Scranton to Reduce Water Pollution, Build Resilience to Climate Change ]

Scranton Gets EPA Support for Green Infrastructure in Iron Arts District

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the City of Scranton is one of 14 communities nationwide to receive EPA support to expand the use of green infrastructure to reduce water pollution and boost resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Scranton Sewer Authority will receive technical support of $25,000 to help incorporate green infrastructure into a comprehensive master plan for the newly-developing Scranton Iron Arts District. The green features are included in the city’s long term plan to control combined sewer overflows.

The EPA funding is in support of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which directs federal agencies to identify climate-resilient investments such as agency grants and technical assistance for communities across the country.

“The EPA assistance will help the Scranton Sewer Authority realize its goals of reducing sewer overflows and increasing economic revitalization in the Iron Arts District,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “Green infrastructure benefits cities like Scranton by reducing water pollution and energy consumption, improving economic activity, and building resilience to the impacts of climate change.” 

According to the sewer authority’s application, the project merges master plan goals for the low-income Iron Arts District with the city’s strategies to reduce and treat combined sewer overflows and upgrade municipal stormwater compliance. The EPA assistance will support the first large-scale development project in the Greater Scranton Area that incorporates green infrastructure in the design. The demonstration project will help the Sewer Authority measure and assess impacts of green infrastructure on a neighborhood-wide scale.

The project is expected to leverage additional funding to continue revitalization initiatives in the neighborhood that will improve aesthetics, direct runoff away from the combined sewer system and improve water quality, according to the application.

In the last three years, EPA has provided $2.2 million to 37 communities for green infrastructure. This new funding continues the agency’s support for communities using green infrastructure to reduce water pollution and protect human health while increasing economic activity, job creation, energy savings and open space. Green infrastructure builds resilience to the impacts of climate change, particularly by reducing the burden on local water infrastructure.

Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems.

For more information on the green infrastructure assistance, progress reports and strategy: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/gi_support.cfm



[ DEP’s Live Webcast of Peregrine Falcon Banding Set for May 13 ]

The Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Game Commission invites students, teachers and non-formal educators to tune in for the annual Peregrine falcon banding event during a live webcast on Tuesday, May 13.

The banding will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Rachel Carson State Office Building auditorium in Harrisburg, Dauphin County.

Teachers, non-formal educators and students are invited to attend the banding event in-person. Space is limited; registration is required and will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis with priority given to educators and students who have not previously attended the event or have attended a Peregrine Falcon Educator’s Workshop.

Anyone can view the live stream of the banding on DEP’s website.

During the one-hour session, biologists will retrieve the newly-hatched nestlings, called eyases, from their nest, weigh them and place a metal band with a falcon-specific code around each bird’s left leg. Wildlife officials and bird enthusiasts will use the band code to monitor the birds after they leave the nest. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band will be placed on the eyases’ right leg, registering each on a federal banding database.

Viewers and guests will learn how biologists use alphanumeric bands to study Peregrine falcons as they migrate, pair with other Peregrines and set up breeding territories. They also will hear details about the wildlife-management techniques used to reintroduce and monitor endangered species.

Since 1997, countless Peregrine falcons have been born on a ledge off the 15th floor of the Rachel Carson State Office Building in Harrisburg. Peregrine falcons, which remain an endangered species in Pennsylvania, were extremely rare in the state for many years. Through reintroduction programs, they have adapted to life in urban environments like Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Williamsport. Each year, DEP and the Game Commission track the birds’ activities and share educational information through, among other things, the popular online Falcon Cam.

The Rachel Carson State Office Building nest site has been active and reproducing Peregrine falcons for the past 14 years. This year, there is a new female in the nest who arrived last summer and has laid a clutch of four eggs.

To view the live banding event, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click on the Falcon Cam button.

To register for Peregrine Falcon banding event, mid-state educators should contact DEP’s Environmental Education and Information Center at 717-772-1644 or adevine@pa.gov by May 6.

Fans can also follow the falcons through Twitter at www.twitter.com/FalconChatter.


[ Bike to School Day 2014 ]


The date for National Bike to School Day 2014 is Wednesday, May 7, 2014.  Mark your calendars and start gearing up to ride again.

The first-ever National Bike to School Day took place on May 9, 2012, in coordination with the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Month. Almost 1,000 local events in 49 states and the District of Columbia joined together to encourage children to safely bicycle to school.

The event builds on the popularity of Walk to School Day, which is celebrated across the country – and the world – each October. Many communities and schools have been holding spring walk and bicycle to school events for years. National Bike to School Day provides an opportunity for schools across the country to join together to celebrate and to build off of the energy of National Bike Month.

To find out if your school is participating or to plan your own event visit http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/


[ Sustainable Wood? ]

Are you thinking of adding a deck to your home or maybe replacing your current one?  If you are, you should definitely think about using sustainable wood products, but where can you find them?  That question was recently posed to the Sierra Club’s Mr. Green.  Click here to find out his answer.


[ U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard Should Be Informed by Environmental Impact ]

Estimated GHG

EPA’s change to the RFS will generate increased greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel use over the next several years.

For the first time in the short history of the U.S. government’s Renewable Fuel Standard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to decrease the total amount of renewable fuel required as part of the national supply, with a 41 percent cut to the advanced biofuel category.

But a study recently published by our organization found that EPA’s proposed reductions in biofuel use in 2014 would automatically increase use of petroleum and increase the associated emissions of greenhouse gases. In order to achieve lower emissions in 2014, compared to 2013, EPA must ensure an increase in biofuel use.

Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?
Vote and comment at the Big Energy Question.

Our study, published in the Industrial Biotechnology Journal, examines the EPA’s proposed rules. It is available online and we invite responses.

If the EPA’s proposal undermines development of advanced biofuels—as we expect it will—the United States will forgo measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions over many years. Advanced biofuels must demonstrate a reduction in greenhouse gases of at least 50 percent compared to a baseline of petroleum gasoline or diesel produced in 2007. But if EPA continues to use the proposed methodology for setting the annual RFS obligations in future years, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels will remain above the 2013 level for many years. (See related coverage: “Biofuels at a Crossroads.”)

The model we developed begins with Energy Information Administration projections of fuel use from 2013 through 2022. EIA predicts that diesel use will steadily increase over the time period and gasoline use will increase in the short term before continuing its long range decline. Gasoline use in the United States peaked in 2007, but has declined in recent years due to the economic downturn. Its use is expected to continue to decline as fuel economy standards that favor diesel use come into effect.

We next calculated the percentages of petroleum blendstock for gasoline and diesel, ethanol, biodiesel, advanced and cellulosic biofuels that would be used each year under various scenarios—the EPA’s newly proposed methodology, the statutory RFS rules, and a continuation of the past practice of setting the advanced biofuel volume obligation at the highest achievable level. The volumes of each portion of the fuel supply were then assigned GHG emission scores—measured in metric tons of CO2 equivalent—and an annual total was tallied for each scenario.

The greenhouse gas emission scores are drawn from a model that includes land-use change calculations for biofuels. This model also includes an updated emissions profile for petroleum fuels, since the United States now relies more on marginal sources of petroleum—such as Canadian oil sands—than it did in 2007. (Take the quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.”)

However, our model allows for EPA’s estimates of emissions to be assigned to the volumes. Substitution of EPA estimates would not change the primary and secondary findings of our study. If we increase petroleum in our fuel mix over the next few years by decreasing biofuel use, that petroleum will most likely come from Canadian oil sands and include more lifecycle carbon emissions.

The study also demonstrates that increased fuel efficiency standards may not by themselves achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In the short term, economic recovery could unleash pent-up demand for transportation fuel. And over the next decade, fuel economy standards will continue to boost use of diesel fuel even while lowering gasoline use. Diesel fuel emits more carbon during its lifecycle. And, if the petroleum used also emits more carbon over its lifecycle, the impact of decreased use could be offset significantly. A combination of fuel efficiency and use of lower carbon fuels is needed to achieve year-over-year reductions in carbon emissions.

When making changes to the renewable fuel standard, EPA must evaluate the impact of its rules on the environment, including climate change; energy security; future commercialization of advanced biofuels; sufficiency of infrastructure to deliver and use biofuel; costs to consumers; and job creation, rural economic development, and food prices. We published this study as a contribution to the EPA’s evaluation of its rule and its impact on climate change. Our hope is that EPA incorporates it into its analysis of the final rule, due in June. (See my earlier post: “Why New Biofuel Feedstocks Deserve Investment, Incentives.”)


[ Will Newer Wind Turbines Mean Fewer Bird Deaths? ]

As wind areas such as California’s Altamont Pass replace old turbines, research suggests that newer ones may not be any better at preventing bird deaths.


[ Prescribing parks: physicians recommend wild lands for health ]

Doctors in Washington, D.C. are beginning to write prescriptions for their patients to spend time in parks to improve their health.



[ Canadian College Teams, Midwest High Schools Win Big in Race for Fuel Efficiency ]

A winning vehicle designed by students in a race for fuel efficiency can travel from New York to Los Angeles on one gallon of gas.

After a last-minute scramble for qualifying runs by many of the 126 student teams, Shell* Eco-marathon Americas ended Sunday with nearly a dozen first-place winners in different vehicle and fuel categories.

Canadian college teams and Midwest high schools picked up many of the trophies that night after dominating all weekend on a downtown Houston track.

Overcoming friction problems in their gas-powered Alérion Supermileage vehicle, Quebec’s Université Laval secured the top spot with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon.

But the University of Toronto team gave the longtime winners a run for their money with second-place success in the same category.

“We’re the only team from Americas to build their own engine,” said team leader and fourth-year mechanical engineering student Jonathan Hamway.

It’s a huge advantage but also a lot of work, Hamway said.  The team logged in 5,000 man-hours over the past eight months on the project. The work paid off with two off-track awards for technical innovation and tribology.

Bow-tied science and engineering students perform the Cuban Shuffle dance Sunday night in Houston after concluding a nail-biting race for fuel efficiency. Photo courtesy of Shell Eco-marathon.

Bow-tied science and engineering students perform the Cuban Shuffle dance Sunday night in Houston after concluding a nail-biting race for fuel efficiency. Photo courtesy of Shell Eco-marathon.

Canadian counterparts Université de Sherbrooke won an off-track ward for their spirit and perseverance. Sporting cowboy hats and green bandanas, the students also danced and celebrated their way to the stage to accept a first-place award in the UrbanConcept battery electric category.

Shell* Eco-marathon Technical Director Norman Koch said the category was much tougher this year, with students having to make their own motor controllers, or the heart of an electric motor.

But the Sherbrooke students captured the spirit of collaboration when helping teams who struggled with the technical requirement.

“You’re doing the things we really love to see: applying engineering to innovation and collaborating,” said Hugh Mitchell, Shell Corp.’s chief human resources and corporate officer. “Science and engineering depends on collaboration, and you’re all bringing it.”

A move next year to the Motor City put the spotlight on several Michigan teams this weekend.

With two prototype vehicles in the gas- and battery-powered categories, The University of Detroit Jesuit High School didn’t pick up any on-track awards, but team leader Jacob Byrd said the students didn’t walk away empty-handed.

“It’s less about competing against other teams,” he said. “We’re trying to beat our personal goals and make personal strides.”

Anything is possible next year as the race for fuel efficiency moves to their backyard. While taking a break Sunday from nail-biting safety and technical inspections, Koch said to expect more challenges.

The Detroit course will have uphill and downhill portions and left and right turns, which will test all parts of the student-built vehicles, Koch said.

“That’s why I’m excited about Detroit,” he said. “From a mobility point of view, it is much more of a realistic track that you and I drive every day in our cars, and that’s what the students should get used to.”


Gasoline fuel: Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Alérion Supermileage.

Diesel fuel: Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Indiana, with a run of 1,889.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Easy on Gas.

Battery electric: Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Indiana, with a run of 537.2 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Mater Dei Supermileage 3.

Hydrogen: The University of Colorado Denver with a run of 37.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Archetype.

Ethanol: The University of Colorado Boulder with a run of 1,771.4 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Ralphie 2250.

Mater Dei High School won gas-powered UrbanConcept category with  a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy, last weekend at the Eco-marathon. Photo courtesy of Eco-marathon.

Mater Dei High School won gas-powered UrbanConcept category with a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy, last weekend at the Eco-marathon. Photo courtesy Shell Eco-marathon.


Gasoline fuel: Mater Dei High School with a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy.

Diesel fuel: Alden-Conger High School in Alden, Minnesota, with a run of 458.7 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Superbird.

Battery electric: Université de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Canada, with a run of 202 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, E-Volve.

Hydrogen: The University of Alberta in Alberta, Canada, with a run of 18.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Steve.

Ethanol: Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California, with a run of 102.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Green Grizzly Machine.


*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.




[ Students Reflect on Shipping, Travel Costs During Last Leg of Race ]

Tucked tightly into their self-built prototype vehicles, drivers slid on sunglasses, adjusted helmets took deep breaths Sunday morning before their last chance for a qualifying run.

With only had only three hours left to compete in the prototype category of Shell* Eco-marathon’s race for extreme energy efficiency, students had to make this time around the downtown Houston track count.

Inside a bustling paddock area, a college team from Guatemala struggled to fix a sticky clutch on its green ethanol-powered streamliner after a long weekend of fits and starts.

The Universidad del Valle de Guatemala students traveled more than 1,000 miles – the distance some Eco-marathon prototypes traveled on the equivalent on one gallon of gas — to take part in the annual competition.

A logistics company offered to send their vehicle for free this year, but engineering teacher Andres Hernandez said the school spent more than $4,000 on shipping costs last year and couldn’t afford to send it home.

“We had to leave it here,” Hernandez said.

Some student teams used crates to drive or ship their vehicles to Houston for the annual Shell Eco-marathon race for fuel efficiency. Photo courtesy of Eco-marathon.

Some student teams used crates to drive or ship their vehicles to Houston for the annual Shell Eco-marathon race for fuel efficiency. Photo courtesy Shell Eco-marathon.

Shipping is an extra expense for a team that regularly spends $10,000 to build a prototype from scratch, he said. That’s because of pricier parts in the Latin American country, he said.

“Manufacturing and materials are more expensive because we have to import everything,” Hernandez said.

Shell officials and student teams only reported a handful of shipping snafus—an engine stuck in customs and missing boxes of tools here and there. A team from Alaska in the past designed their vehicle to fit in airplane carry-on luggage, according to Eco-marathon Technical Director Norman Koch.

But many teams in the continental United States and neighboring countries found it easier and cheaper to drive team members, vehicles and tools to Houston. For one Canadian student team, it took nearly two days of non-stop pavement time to arrive at the competition.

While wheeling out their shiny white and green battery-powered UrbanConcept vehicle to the track Sunday afternoon, the Université de Sherbrook engineering seniors threw out a ballpark figure for entire project: $100,000.

That’s why the cowboy hat-wearing students were nervous about making the roughly 1,700-mile trek from Québec—even with a traveling stipend, said Sherbrooke senior Patrick Dubois. The team spent a day packing to make sure nothing would move.

“We had get down anyway, so having a trailer behind us wasn’t that much different as an expense,” Dubois said. “Every fuel stop—every, like, three hours—we would open the trailer and make sure everything was in its place.”


*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.