Thursday, June 14, 2007

No Hasty and Hidden Energy Decisions

Before anyone should praise the dynamic changes at Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) on developing our area’s energy future, we should know the facts and the objectives. Americans, better than anyone in the 9/11 post-media hullabaloo, should know the dangers of launching headlong idealistically and naively into a major undertaking. Rhetoric should not precede careful scrutiny of the facts and possible repercussions of enormous developments. Acceptance of a new direction (such as, how we get our energy) by the public should follow a full and honest airing of the case.

Presently, we get 25% of our energy in Rochester from the Russell Station, which means that those who are fighting against wind power in their area are probably doing so while living with energies supplied by a very polluting energy source. Buffalo (actually at the old Bethlehem Steel plant site in Lackawanna) turns towards the future with clean, renewable energy by wind power, but Rochester languishes in an attempt to resuscitate an old, dirty form of energy. Russell Station has been sited in “Lethal Legacy – A comprehensive Look at America’s Dirtiest Power Plants” (Oct. 2003, by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group) as the “the 12th least efficient plant nationwide in terms of SO2 (sulfur dioxide0 rate.”

The changes at Russell Station as described by RG&E News (RG&E PROPOSES REDEVELOPMENT OF RUSSELL STATION POWER PLANT SITE -Major Investment Essential to Meeting Region’s Future Power Needs ) include this paragraph: “The submittal to the NYISO includes conceptual design information and licensing and construction schedules for a 300-mw fluidized bed combustion plant (a clean coal technology) and a 300-mw natural gas combined cycle plant. Both technologies are suitable for the Russell Station site”. This is the extent to which the Rochester-area public has been informed about the changes at the plant. What does it mean? Has anything else been offered as a possible energy source for our area?
Our present Governor Spitzer and former Attorney General planed to sue, a lawsuit under the clean air initiative in 1999, the station for longstanding violations. And, major environmental groups like Environmental Advocates of New York and 14 other environmental organizations across the state have called on the governor “to declare a moratorium on siting new conventional coal plants in New York.” So, it is with extreme skepticism that we simply accept that the major new 500 million “repowering” of Russell Station, using ‘clean coal technologies” is the best way to solve our future energy needs.

Except for an article last month—“RG&E to pump $500 million into Greece plant” - April 20,—there has not been much play in our local media about a major development in our area’s energy supply—coal. The sad thing is that for all that we personally do to curb Global Warming, what goes on quietly in the background and out of public attention will probably have a far more significant affect in our area’s release of green house gases than anything we do. In a recent New York Times article, in the May 29th business section no less, “Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process”, it looks like the coal lobbyists are winning. Without much fanfare and a hubristic disregard for the newly charge sentiments of environmentalists around the county during Earth Day, we will continue to heat up our atmosphere.

So, I heartily endorse this editorial by the Democrat and Chronicle on June 3rd, that there should be a full airing of RG&E’s updating of the Russell Station coal-burning facility that is one of the most polluting in the state: “Be sure on outreach - RG&E upgrade should get good airing before the public”.

And, what better venue than the Democrat and Chronicle under the auspices of a good environmental reporter, to fully investigate and present to the Rochester-area public a full disclosure of what the upgrade at Russell Station will mean for our future energy needs? Without a major investigation of this issue by the major media, it is going to be very difficult for environmental groups and the public to have any kind of opinion of what is going on. According to the RG&E news release “the next step in the process of approving the 500 million-dollar-new plant on the Russell Station site will be a determination by the NYISO Comprehensive Reliability Plan that the project will, if completed, satisfy the reliability needs. Due by August, 2007” But, the next step should be a public debate on this issue and whether we should be burning coal at all.

Here are questions that must be asked and the public should decide on:

1. What is ‘clean-coal’ technology and what evidence is there that this technology works on a large scale?

2. Do the anticipated changes at Russell Station mean that it will continue to pollute at the rate it has until the ‘repowering’ has gone into effect in 2014?

3. What will be the levels of SO2 [sulfur dioxide], mercury, and carbon dioxide when the new systems is installed? What agency will monitor these levels and how much pollutions could be avoided if we used renewable energy sources like wind and solar?

4. Has there been any attempt by our city or county governments to research and present renewable energy sources, so the public can compare costs and pollution levels?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rochester Media Doing Their Job on our Enviornment?

Coming up with a policy or an evaluation on the state of one's environment is impossible without data. This truism is so obvious that it need not be expressed if it were not a fact that so many engage in both without enough information to support either.

The government at the local, state, and federal levels does not have enough money (for whatever reasons) to pay for all the independent, objective and thorough studies needed to fully understand all an area’s flora and fauna and their interrelations, their ecology. Neither do universities; neither do environmental organizations--though all cover various pieces of the puzzle that is our complex environment.

There's one group left who can and should help the public evaluate the state of our environment - the media. Besides making a profit, the media's job historically and manifestly is to inform the public on all critical matters, which, I submit, includes the state of our environment. We need a healthy environment to survive and to do so we need a timely and complete picture of it. We, the public, need information to be able to form evaluations and policies on our environment, so we can anticipate dangers, decide on solutions, and choose responsible leaders.

Without a media with trained environmental reporters, a vital ingredient in the equation of a sustainable environment goes missing. Scientists cannot see all that occurs in the environment despite their expertise. The government won't notice danger signals, except those they are predisposed to see. Environmentalists would have little to evaluate the health of our environment and the roles of those responsible. And the public, without a media fully tuned to the environment, will think everything is going fine until a disaster indicates a tipping point and the aftermath splashes across the headlines.

This is all to say that in recent years it is becoming increasingly obvious that because of financial and other extraneous considerations, our local media is experiencing a dearth of trained dedicated environmental reporters. Only these professionals, who have the time and training to gather all the information from all the participants in our environment, can fill this critical role in our society. Without them, what we get is a disparate snapshot of events going on in our environment that may or may not spell disaster. A dedicated environmental reporter in each of our print and visual media would have the necessary, continual contacts to provide us with the depth and perspective that environmental stories need. If our local media were doing their job, we could be anticipating environmental problems, instead of trying to catch up to long-standing realities.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How is your beach?

Besides the environmental implications of a polluted beach, anyone swimming at a public beach should be aware of possible health problems. Here’s the question: Are our public beaches safe? According to this article, they not be so. EPA lacking updated study on nation's beaches, GAO finds Area beaches part of monitoring program "A federal program intended to maintain the health of the nation's beaches, and the people who use them, has fallen short on several fronts, according to a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office." --from The Daily Press - Ashland, WI Also, check out the EPA’s beach site and find out more. Beach Monitoring & Notification US EPA From this site check out the EPA's reports on Monroe County's beaches: Environmental Protection Agency

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Highlights of the May 2007 RENewsletter:

* Hottest issue this month of May 2007: The hottest environmental story in our area has to be the preservation of the Hemlock, Canadice watersheds. There are several stories this month on that topic and one hopes that after all our public officials make their decisions there remains somewhere in New York State some lakes that are not completely sounded by development. It may come to pass that in time we may need a pristine watershed to see how they actually function in our area without manmade interference. And the toxic vapors issue in Victor comes up in a couple of articles. Certainly, there are other contaminated sites around our area. However, we don’t usually hear about them until a story like the Victor Vapors hit the media, even though many industries over the years have left brownfields that need to be cleaned up before they too hit the headlines.

* Other Hot Environmental issues this month: The deadly (to many game fish) disease viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus VHSV continues to raise concerns about fish life, the billion-dollar fishing industry, and the bait businesses. The sudden outbreak of this fish disease last year in our area has, over the winter, alerted many communities around the Great Lakes about the need to control this invasive disease and invasive species altogether. One may ask, “If I’m not a fisherman, why should I care about this fish disease?” It’s because VHSV quickly kills (within about six days of contact) 23 species of fish in the Great Lakes that could dramatically alter the ecology of these lakes and seriously disrupt the 4 billion-dollar tourist/fishing industry. Getting this story out to the public could help make sure that sufficient studies are funded to learn about the potentially devastating consequences of this fish disease. For a clear and concise description of this disease check out an interview with James Casey, Associate Professor of Virology, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine on NPR’s “Science Friday” at May 25, 2007, Hour Two: Shark Birth / Fish Virus / Predicting Music Hits

* The silent stories [important stories we didn't hear much about]: Except for an article last month—“RG&E to pump $500 million into Greece plant” - April 20,—there has not been much play in our local media about a major development in our area’s energy supply—coal. For all that we personally do to curb Global Warming, what goes on quietly in the background and out of public attention will probably have a far more significant affect in our area’s release of green house gases than anything we do. In a recent New York Times article, in the business section no less, “Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process”, it looks like the coal lobbyists are winning. Without much fanfare and a hubristic disregard for the newly charge sentiments of environmentalists around the county in Earth Day, we will continue to heat up our atmosphere. I’ve posted a couple of news links on this issue this month, but there’s little real explanation of ‘clean coal technology’. I don’t think many experts think ‘clean coal technology’ is even possible, given that much has not been actually tested on a grand scale. I’m also concerned about the depth of recycling in our area. After a casual observance (just as I walk around my area) of things being thrown out, there should be more public awareness about what is appropriate for disposal. I’m seeing computer monitors, a long fluorescent light, and other electronic things that could be recycled or disposed as hazardous waste. Paper goods, which our county is very good at recycling, should be set aside from other recyclable goods, but I see no attempt at that. I would advocate more stories by our local media to get people to observe good recycling habits.

* On-Going Concerns: I guess you could say the reopening of Duran Beach is an on-going concern. It seems to me that this issue needs a major study to find out what’s causing the beach problems and how to alleviate it. Energy is always a concern and there are several stories this month, including talk at the state level about a bill to halt the sale of incandescent bulbs. That would require some changes in public attitudes about adopting fluorescent bulbs to replace most existing bulbs, as there are several concerns that should be addressed before the public will accept this wholesale change—like how to alleviate the mercury problem, the initial cost and long-term energy savings. And finally, the idea of a spray park at Charlotte Beach is in the media again--a bad idea that won’t go away. We shouldn’t be trying to solve environmental problems, like the algae problem at Charlotte Beach, by giving up and creating a spray park so people can swim. That would be like searching for another planet to live on because we don’t want to address Global Warming. Ok, that’s a reach, but you get my drift.

* Environmental Actions you can take for our area: I have not come across any specific online environmental actions for our area, but here’s are three personal ideas: Contact your public representatives to make sure there are sufficient funds for studies on the VHSV, as according to the Science Friday interview, these studies presently depend on grants. But in a situation so grave (this present outbreak is the largest of its kind in North American’s history) to our area’s economic and environmental health there should be no cost spared to understand and prevent it. We should also contact our public officials about the Collapse Colony Syndrome, a condition I have explained in previous newsletters where pollinating honey bees leave their hives and do not return. Situations like these two concerns are not isolated environmental hot topics, but potential long-term environmental indications of collapse. They are not other people problems, they are ours. And, I would ask that all pester our local media to do in-depth stories of the changes being made to upgrade the coal-burning plant at Russell Station. There are environmental news stories every month about moratoriums and local attempts to block the construction of wind turbine farms and yet, as the public rages about the ravages of these turbines on birds, bats, and our aesthetic sensibilities, all do so under the invisible and significant release of green house gases.

* Environmental events going on this month: With the coming of summer, there are not a lot of environmental events going on—but some, including several environmental classes and activities for children. If you know of a group having an environmental event this summer, please let me know.

* Rochester-area Environmental Site of the Month: The Rochester Environment Meetup Group (Rochester, NY) - "We are working on a plan for the process by which problems (see our list --I'll send it) may be addressed. We're also concerned with global warming and Rochester environment. We seek alliances with other groups and new members."