Saturday, September 29, 2012

Water Costs Rising Nationwide

Click on Map to Enlarge

Water rates have surged in the past dozen years, according to a USA TODAY study of 100 municipalities. Prices at least doubled in more than a quarter of the locations and even tripled in a few. USA TODAY's study of residential water rates over the past 12 years for large and small water agencies nationwide found that monthly costs doubled for more in 29 localities. The unique look at costs for a diverse mix of water suppliers representing every state and Washington, D.C. found that a resource long taken for granted will continue to become more costly for millions of Americans. Rates haven't crested yet because huge costs to upgrade or repair pipes, reservoirs and treatment plants loom nationwide.

In three municipalities — Atlanta, San Francisco and Wilmington, Del. — water costs tripled or more. Monthly costs topped $50 for consumers in Atlanta, Seattle and San Diego who used 1,000 cubic feet of water, a typical residential consumption level in many areas. Officials in the three municipalities and elsewhere, however, say actual consumption is often lower. But conservation efforts counter-intuitively may raise water rates in some localities.

The trend toward higher bills is being driven by:

-- The cost of paying off the debt on bonds municipalities issue to fund expensive repairs or upgrades on aging water systems.
-- Increases in the cost of electricity, chemicals and fuel used to supply and treat water. -- Compliance with federal government clean-water mandates.
-- Rising pension and health care costs for water agency workers.
-- Increased security safeguards for water systems since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Higher rates still ahead The costs continue to rise even though residential water usage dropped sharply nationwide in the past three decades amid conservation efforts. U.S. water systems will need as much as $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements by 2035 to keep up with drinking water needs, according to a survey of industry experts released in June. The bond debt needed to fund those projects' work will be passed on to consumers, including the many Americans struggling with the economic fallout of the great recession.

Efforts to compare water costs of any given area with another produce misleading or even false results, because of differences in population, geography, geology, bonding debt for infrastructure work and other variables. However, what most water agencies across the nation share is increasing costs that make higher bills all but inevitable.

The monthly cost of 1,000 cubic feet of water in Philadelphia have jumped 164%, to $39.22, since 2001. In Baltimore, where water costs are up 140% since 2001, the public works agency in the last decade completed a $65 million upgrade of the water system's Ashburton Filtration Plant. After a series of major water main breaks in 2009, the city made plans to speed the pace of pipe cleaning, relining and rehabilitation work to 40 miles per year, a five-fold increase. The cost? About $300 million over five years. At the same time, Baltimore, like water systems nationwide, was forced to implement costly security upgrades at its facilities. "It's not the world of 1990. It's the post-9/11 security world we have to deal with. In San Francisco, the monthly cost of 1,000 cubic feet of water jumped nearly 211% since 2001 as the city's regional water system ended a seven-year rate freeze and began a massive, five-year infrastructure improvement program.

U.S. homeowners who reduce their water consumption in an effort to save money can cut their costs. But they may end up raising the rates they're charged. Why? Because water suppliers collect less income as consumption drops, but ongoing costs -- such as bonding debt, salaries and chemicals -- either increase or, at best, remain stable. (USA TODAY, 9/29/2012)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Obama Revokes Chinese Purchase of 4 Oregon Wind Farms

President Barack Obama is revoking a Chinese company's purchase of four wind farm projects in Oregon in the vicinity of a U.S. naval facility's restricted airspace. In an order today, Obama directs Ralls Corporation, a company owned by Chinese nationals, to divest its interest in the wind farms it purchased earlier this year, which are all in the vicinity of air space near the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman. (AP)

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 28, 2012
- - - - - - -
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 721 of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended (section 721), 50 U.S.C. App. 2170,
Section 1. Findings. I hereby make the following findings:
(a) There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that Ralls Corporation (Ralls), a corporation organized under the laws of Delaware, and its subsidiaries, and the Sany Group (which includes Sany Electric and Sany Heavy Industries), a Chinese company affiliated with Ralls (together, the Companies); and, Mr. Dawei Duan (Mr. Duan) and Mr. Jialing Wu (Mr. Wu), citizens of the People's Republic of China and senior executives of the Sany Group, who together own Ralls; through exercising control of Lower Ridge Windfarm, LLC, High Plateau Windfarm, LLC, Mule Hollow Windfarm, LLC, and Pine City Windfarm, LLC (collectively, the Project Companies), all limited liability companies organized under the laws of Oregon, might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States; and
(b) Provisions of law, other than section 721 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.), do not, in my judgment, provide adequate and appropriate authority for me to protect the national security in this matter.
Sec. 2. Actions Ordered and Authorized. On the basis of the findings set forth in section 1 of this order, considering the factors described in subsection 721(f), as appropriate, and pursuant to my authority under applicable law, including section 721, I hereby order that:
(a) The transaction resulting in the acquisition of the Project Companies and their assets by the Companies or Mr. Wu or Mr. Duan is hereby prohibited, and ownership by the Companies or Mr. Wu or Mr. Duan of any interest in the Project Companies and their assets, whether directly or indirectly through owners, subsidiaries, or affiliates, is prohibited.
(b) In order to effectuate this order, Ralls shall divest all interests in:
(i) the Project Companies;
(ii) the Project Companies' assets, intellectual property, technology, personnel, and customer contracts; and
(iii) any operations developed, held, or controlled, whether directly or indirectly, by the Project Companies at the time of, or since, their acquisition
not later than 90 days after the date of this order, unless such date is extended for a period not to exceed three (3) months, on such written conditions as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) may require. Immediately upon divestment, Ralls shall certify in writing to CFIUS that such divestment has been effected in accordance with this order.
(c) No later than 14 calendar days from the date of this order, the Companies shall:
(i) remove from the properties on which the Companies have proposed to construct wind farms (including alternate sites) that are identified in the notice filed with CFIUS (Properties) all items, structures, or other physical objects or installations of any kind (including concrete foundations) that the Companies or persons on behalf of the Companies have stockpiled, stored, deposited, installed, or affixed thereon; and
(ii) provide CFIUS with a statement signed by Mr. Duan and Mr. Wu certifying that the Companies have completed such removal.
(d) The Companies, and any persons acting for or on behalf of the Companies, including officers, employees, and owners, shall cease all access, and will not have any access, to the Properties. Notwithstanding the foregoing, individuals that are U.S. citizens contracted by the Companies and approved by CFIUS may access the Properties solely for purposes of fulfilling the requirements of subsection (c) of this section.
(e) The Companies, Mr. Duan, and Mr. Wu shall not sell or otherwise transfer, or propose to sell or otherwise transfer, or otherwise facilitate the sale or transfer of, any items made or otherwise produced by the Sany Group to any third party for use or installation at the Properties.
(f) Ralls shall not complete a sale or transfer of the Project Companies or their assets to any third party until:
(i) all items, structures, or other physical objects or installations of any kind (including concrete foundations) that the Companies or persons on behalf of the Companies have stockpiled, stored, deposited, installed, or affixed on the Properties have been removed from the Properties and the Department of Defense has notified the Companies that it has verified the Companies' certification of such removal provided pursuant to subsection (c) of this section;
(ii) Ralls notifies CFIUS in writing of the intended recipient or buyer; and
(iii) Ralls has not received a provisional or final objection from CFIUS to the intended recipient or buyer within 10 business days of the notification in subsection f(ii) of this section. Among the factors CFIUS may consider in reviewing the proposed sale or transfer are whether the buyer or transferee: is a U.S. citizen or is owned by U.S. citizens; has or has had a direct or indirect contractual, financial, familial, employment, or other close and continuous relationship with the Companies or Project Companies, or their officers, employees, or owners; and can demonstrate a willingness and ability to support compliance with this order.
(g) From the date of this order until Ralls provides a certification of divestment to CFIUS pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the Companies shall certify to CFIUS on a monthly basis that they are in compliance with this order.
(h) Without limitation on the exercise of authority by any agency under other provisions of law, and until such time as the divestment is completed and verified to the satisfaction of CFIUS, CFIUS is authorized to implement measures it deems necessary and appropriate to verify that operations of the Project Companies are carried out in such a manner as to ensure protection of the national security interests of the United States. Such measures may include but are not limited to the following: on reasonable notice to the Project Companies and the Companies, employees of the United States Government, as designated by CFIUS, shall be permitted access, for purposes of verifying compliance with this order, to all premises and facilities of the Project Companies and the Companies located in the United States:
(i) to inspect and copy any books, ledgers, accounts, correspondence, memoranda, and other records and documents in the possession or under the control of the Companies or the Project Companies that concern any matter relating to this order;
(ii) to inspect any equipment and technical data (including software) in the possession or under the control of the Companies or the Project Companies; and
(iii) to interview officers, employees, or agents of the Companies or the Project Companies concerning any matter relating to this order.
CFIUS shall conclude its verification procedures within 90 days after the divestment is completed.
(i) The Attorney General is authorized to take any steps necessary to enforce this order.
Sec. 3. Revocation of Prior Orders. CFIUS's Order Establishing Interim Mitigation Measures of July 25, 2012, and Amended Order Establishing Interim Mitigation Measures of August 2, 2012, are hereby revoked.
Sec. 4. Reservation. I hereby reserve my authority to issue further orders with respect to the Companies or the Project Companies as shall in my judgment be necessary to protect the national security.
Sec. 5. Publication and Transmittal.
(a) This order shall be published in the Federal Register.
(b) I hereby direct the Secretary of the Treasury to transmit a copy of this order to the appropriate parties named in section 1 of this order.
September 28, 2012.

DOE Invests In University-Led Nuclear Energy Innovation

As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to deploy every available source of American energy and ensure the U.S. remains competitive globally, the Energy Department announced today more than $13 million in new investments for university-led nuclear innovation projects. The three awards announced today under the Department’s Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) will support nuclear energy R&D and student investment at U.S. colleges and universities across the country, ensuring that secure, safe and efficient nuclear energy is part of the U.S. energy portfolio.

The NEUP awards announced today support complex projects that will develop cross-cutting breakthroughs for the U.S. nuclear energy industry. Led by universities working in collaboration with the nuclear industry, national laboratories and industrial partners, these three-year research projects seek to bolster the performance of nuclear systems and develop next generation light water reactor concepts and new fuel forms.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, researchers will develop a high-power light water reactor with inherent safety features that go beyond the capabilities of advanced passive systems. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will use computational and experimental models to test the performance of new, corrosion-resistant cladding, providing a holistic evaluation of how these technologies will function in a working light water reactor. Additionally, a team from Knoxville, Tennessee-based University of Tennessee will develop an advanced ceramic coating for fuel cladding technologies that aims to improve the performance of traditional cladding by decreasing oxidation and corrosion. More detail on each of the R&D projects, including a list of project collaborators is available HERE.

The awards announced today build upon the Obama Administration’s broader efforts to promote a sustainable nuclear industry in the U.S. and cultivate the next generation of scientists and engineers. Through NEUP, the Energy Department has invested over $233 million in the last four years for 224 R&D projects, in addition to infrastructure and student investments at 81 schools in 34 states and the District of Columbia.  (DOE)

For more information on the Nuclear Energy University Programs visit

China's Using Less Metallurgical Coal Hurting USA Coal Jobs

Slowing growth in China is taking a toll on Appalachian coal mines and coal towns, which have one of the world's richest deposits of high-grade coal used to make steel (metallurgical coal).  China's metallurgical coal imports dropped to 2.6 million metric tons in August, from an average of 4.5 million metric tons per month through July.

Chinese demand metallurgical coal, whose low-ash and low-sulfur content makes it ideal for steelmaking, sent the price to a record $330 a metric ton in early 2011.  But the Chinese economy is slowing and so is its steel industry, which has sent the price of coal used for steelmaking down nearly 50% to $170 a metric ton.

The Chinese steel industry, which consumes half of all metallurgical coal mined each year, faces the possibility it could operate at a loss in 2012 for the first time as a result of overcapacity and weak steel prices. That would mean tougher times in West Virginia, where rail, barge, trucking and other jobs depend on coal.

While many have blamed the downturn in the U.S. coal industry on cheap natural gas supplanting coal and tougher environmental regulations, the slide in metallurgical coal demand has been equally devastating. Coal companies were caught flat-footed after ramping up production last year with the expectation that steep prices would cover their rising costs, despite coal's past cyclicality. Instead, demand in China began to falter just as Australian metallurgical coal production—interrupted by floods last year—surged back into the market.

Now coal mines are closing throughout Appalachia.

In July, Patriot Coal of St. Louis filed for bankruptcy protection, shortly after it lost a contract for coal bound for an Asian steelmaker. Patriot said it would temporarily idle metallurgical coal operations at three mining complexes in southern West Virginia and lay off 250 miners, in addition to 1,000 layoffs earlier this year. On top of that, Patriot has said it will need to reduce "unsustainable" pension and health benefits to 2,000 miners and some 20,000 retirees and surviving spouses.

Earlier this month, Alpha Natural Resources Inc., of Bristol, Va., which derives a large share of its profits from metallurgical coal, said it was cutting 1,200 jobs, or 9.2% of its workforce. Earlier this year, Alpha laid off more than 700 miners and trimmed production at more than 20 mines.  Consol Energy Inc. of Pittsburgh, which sells more coal into China than any other U.S. producer, earlier this month idled the nation's biggest metallurgical coal mine, which employs 620 miners. Arch Coal Inc.   trimmed its metallurgical coal production estimate by 21% this year.

Appalachian coal industry executives had been counting on metallurgical coal sales to steelmakers to offset the dwindling market for lower-grade thermal coal used by power plants. The thermal coal market has been weakening because utilities are buying cleaner-burning natural gas instead. Natural-gas prices have plummeted as energy companies used hydraulic fracturing to extract gas from vast shale formations.

In April, natural gas and coal each fueled 32% of the nation's electricity, achieving parity for the first time in the decades that the Energy Information Administration has tracked the data. For decades, coal powered about 50% of the electricity to the nation's businesses and homes. (WSJ, 9/27/2012)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acid Rain Program Adjusts To Court Ruling

When we went to update our password on EPA's Clean Air Market Programs CAMD Business System, the message below was posted:
On August 21, 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its ruling on CSAPR.
On December 30, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Consistent with this decision, EPA will not be taking action to implement the rule pending further order of the court. If market participants wish to use the CAMD Business System to record transfers of the CSAPR allowances or to record other CSAPR related information, they may do so although they are not required to at this time. EPA will not take any further action to implement the rule, such as allocating allowances or conducting annual reconciliation, while the stay is in effect.
The Center is registered in EPA's Acid Rain credits trading program.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Novel Arguments Used To Fight Hydraulic Fracturing

Project Opponents Maintain Hydraulic Fracturing Cumulative Impacts Must Be Considered in NEPA

Novel arguments are being made in a closely followed NEPA case in the Northeast. Opponents of a natural gas pipeline proposal known as the “Northeast Upgrade Project” argue that FERC – the agency in charge of reviewing the project’s environmental effects – was required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to consider the environmental effects of increased natural gas development in the Marcellus shale, including the effects of hydraulic fracturing, as reasonably foreseeable cumulative impacts of constructing the pipeline.

Responding to increased production and resulting pipeline congestion, Tennessee Gas Pipeline, L.L.C. (Tennessee), a Kinder Morgan subsidiary, proposes to construct what is called the Northeast Upgrade Project, a five-part expansion of its “300 Line” natural gas pipeline between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. If completed on schedule in November 2013, the Northeast Upgrade will provide a significant additional amount of natural gas transmission capacity between the Marcellus shale region and the East Coast. It will be enough gas to feed roughly 2,650 megawatts of continuous electrical generation to the electrical grid.

The Northeast Upgrade Project is an interstate gas pipeline project meeting the jurisdictional criteria of the Natural Gas Act and subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC must review the environmental impacts of the project under Section 102 of NEPA. NEPA § 102 requires federal agencies to prepare a “detailed statement” of environmental impacts (an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS) for all “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” This, in turn, requires an agency to decide whether the impacts of the action under consideration will be “significant” enough to warrant a full environmental review. Under regulations developed by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the determination of significance is accomplished through an Environmental Assessment (an EA), and an EIS must be prepared only if significance criteria thresholds are exceeded.

In November 2011, FERC published a 272 page long EA for the Northeast Upgrade Project, concluding that the proposal, as mitigated, would not entail significant environmental effects. As relevant here, the EA did not discuss increased natural gas development as a direct or indirect impact of the proposed project. Rather, it included a discussion of recent and forecast natural gas development in the Marcellus shale as part of its cumulative impacts analysis.

On May 29, 2012, relying on its EA, FERC issued a certificate for public convenience and necessity (CPCN) for the Northeast Upgrade Project. The CPCN Order included a lengthy response to demands from project opponents that FERC should have conducted an EIS on broader Marcellus shale impacts. On June 28, 2012, project opponents Delaware Riverkeeper, New Jersey Highlands Coalition, and the Sierra Club filed a request for rehearing outlining the contours of their disagreement with FERC. In sum, the fight is over whether the EA should have dug deeper into the impacts of increased natural gas development, and, having done so, concluded that those impacts were significant, warranting an EIS.

FERC disagrees, arguing that the data lacks specificity and certainty for purposes of cumulative impact review. For example, FERC states, it cannot determine which wells will actually be developed, and the location of associated infrastructure such as roads. Thus, “the factors necessary for meaningful analysis of when, where, and how Marcellus Shale development will occur are ultimately unknowable and not reasonably foreseeable at this time.” Conclusion

On July 9, 2012, FERC took the unusual step of “granting” the Request for Rehearing, but only to afford additional time for consideration of the request. A successful challenge could have a significant impact on the scope and depth of environmental review of natural gas infrastructure, particularly where hydraulic fracturing is involved. If no challenge is brought or the challengers are not successful, more such projects are likely to follow: Tennessee has already sold out the capacity created by the Northeast Upgrade. (Marten Law, 9/25/2012)

Recycling Aluminum Cans

Approximate 93 billion aluminum beverage cans are made in America every year.  Alcoa and Atlanta-based Novelis, a unit of India's Hindalco Industries Ltd., had been jointly collecting and recycling cans since 2009, when they created a joint venture to centralize collection. Last year, it collected 40 billion cans.

But the two aluminum makers have parted ways and are bent on trying to outcollect each other.
Novelis withdrew from the venture Aug. 31—leaving it entirely to Alcoa—and is setting up a new organization with a goal of collecting 60 billion cans a year by 2015.

Used beverage cans usually trade at around 20% less—currently at about 81.5 cents a pound versus $1.04 a pound—than the value of primary aluminum. The costs of cleaning and processing make cans only marginally cheaper.

Novelis says it believes using more cans will allow it to increase sales in places where lower carbon footprints have a marketing value, and to set itself up to minimize carbon taxes if they are implemented.

Making cans from recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy than manufacturing them from raw materials, such as bauxite, says the Aluminum Association, a Washington-based industry group.


Alcoa, which has been recycling aluminum since it was founded in 1888 when aluminum tea pots were melted down, says it is far ahead. It says it will be able to increase can collection rates with new technologies such as reverse vending machines that offer cash or credit for used cans, and more recycling bins to directly collect cans at places like large apartment buildings.

Aluminum is one of the easiest metals to recycle. In 60 days, a can of beer can be sold, trashed, collected, melted, turned into sheet, cast into a new can, and filled again with fermented barley. Cans make up 2% of the volume of recycled trash, but 40% of the value, according to the industry.

It takes about 25 cans to make a pound, which can trade at 55 cents per pound. By comparison, recovered paper is currently trading for between five and 20 cents a pound, and the plastic used in beverage containers for between 15 and 30 cents a pound, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. (WSJ, 9/25/2012)

General Electric Significantly Expands Mining, Oil & Gas

GE Acquisitions Point Way To Resources Oriented Future

General Electric Company wants to more than double the size of its new mining business to $5 billion in revenue by 2016. GE is building new revenue streams to offset its sluggish power-plant business and reduce its reliance on its big lending arm. Expansion into the mining sector would be part of a larger bet by GE on energy and resource-rich countries. The conglomerate expects them to spend heavily on its drilling and mining equipment, as well as on the medical machines and power generators it sells.

Five years ago, GE's oil and gas presence was inconsequential. But after spending $11 billion over the last five years acquiring companies, oil and gas is now a stand-alone business on track to make $14 billion of revenue this year.

In May, GE paid $700 million for an Australia-based maker of mining gear and an undisclosed sum for a U.S. mining supplier. In the energy area, it bought John Wood Group PLC's well-support business last year for $2.85 billion. In 2010, it announced two energy deals on the same day—Wellstream Holdings PLC for $1.25 billion and Dresser Inc. for $3 billion.

GE is more able to do deals now that cash from its finance arm is available again. GE Capital had stopped payments after the financial crisis to shore up its balance sheet, but the Federal Reserve approved restarting them. GE Capital will pay GE a $475 million quarterly dividend, as well as a special $4.5 billion payout this year. Much of that is earmarked for stock dividends and buybacks, but it does boost GE's capacity to do deals.

So far this year, GE has spent $1.6 billion on 14 deals. That compares with $7 billion in 2011 and $5.8 billion in 2010, according to data-provider Dealogic Inc.

Early in his tenure as CEO, Mr. Immelt spent about $15 billion on deals a year, with a high in 2003 of $36.4 billion when GE agreed to buy Vivendi Universal's film and TV assets to form NBCUniversal (sold to Comcast) and U.K. medical diagnostic firm Amersham PLC. (WSJ, 9/24/2012)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Anti Nuclear Activists Meet With NRC

NRC Headquarters
Two members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission spent part of Saturday afternoon meeting with leaders of groups opposed to nuclear power who also have complaints about the NRC.  Chairman Allison Macfarlane and Commissioner William Magwood met with the half-dozen individuals in the room at NRC headquarters.

“I’m really glad to get the opportunity to meet and I look forward to hearing from all of you,” Macfarlane said at the outset of the 75-minute session.” She added after a cordial session that as a former academic she likes to hear all sides of an issue and “the public has legitimate concerns and technical knowledge.”

Magwood, who noted he has met with a number of interest groups on his visits to plants regulated by the NRC and helped set in motion improvements in the way the agency communicates with Tribal governments, said he too valued the meeting. “We like these dialogues because they give us a different perspective,” he said. He also noted, as did Macfarlane, that NRC employees “really do care about the health and safety of the American people.”

Gene Stone, of the San Clemente, Calif.-based group Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, who worked with the chairman’s office to arrange the meeting, said, “We are hoping that you will tighten the ship and through your collegial interactions work together for safety and not just the licensee.”

Topics raised by the vistors ranged from reactor-specific issues to the length of time it takes to get safety issues resolved, real time radiation monitoring, Agreement State issues, the National Environmental Protection Act, disposal of uranium mining products, and on-site waste storage. Plants mentioned in the discussion included San Onofre in California, Davis-Besse in Ohio, Palisades in Michigan, Zion in Illinois, Millstone in Connecticut, Fort Calhoun in Nebraska, and a nuclear fuel plant in Tennesse. Macfarlane was presented with two petitions that the groups said had in excess of 68,000 signatures — 24,000-plus from California — seeking the closure of the San Onofre plant near San Clemente.

Others at the meeting included David Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago; Linda Cataldo Modica of the Sierra Club in Jonesboro, Tenn.; Josh Nelson of Credo in Washington, D.C.; Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information Resource Service in Takoma Park, Md.; and Nancy Burton of the Connecticut Coalition against Millstone of Redding Ridge, Conn. (NRC Blog, 9/22/2012)

Internet Energy Use

Servers In Data Centers Use Lots Of Electricity, Produce Heat, Need to Be Cooled

Data Centers Need Redundant Backup Power, Usually Batteries and Diesel Fuel Generators

Data Center
Most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner, interviews and documents show. Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand. As a result, data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the grid.  Data centers contain hundreds or thousands of servers.  A server is a sort of bulked-up desktop computer, minus a screen and keyboard, that contains chips to process data.

Data storage is measured in bytes. The letter N, for example, takes 1 byte to store. A gigabyte is a billion bytes of information.  Roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie.   The New York Stock Exchange produces up to 2,000 gigabytes of data per day that must be stored for years.

To guard against a power failure, they further rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. The pollution from data centers has increasingly been cited by the authorities for violating clean air regulations, documents show. In Silicon Valley, many data centers appear on the state government’s Toxic Air Contaminant Inventory, a roster of the area’s top stationary diesel polluters.

Data Center
Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts. Nationwide, data centers used about 76 billion kilowatt-hours in 2010, or roughly 2 percent of all electricity used in the country that year, based on an analysis by Jonathan G. Koomey, a research fellow at Stanford University who has been studying data center energy use for more than a decade. DatacenterDynamics, a London-based firm, derived similar figures.
The inefficient use of power is largely driven by a symbiotic relationship between users who demand an instantaneous response to the click of a mouse and companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet that expectation. Each year, chips in servers get faster, and storage media get denser and cheaper, but the furious rate of data production goes a notch higher.  With no sense that data is physical or that storing it uses up space and energy, those consumers have developed the habit of sending huge data files back and forth, like videos and mass e-mails with photo attachments.
Even running electricity at full throttle has not been enough to satisfy the industry. In addition to generators, most large data centers contain banks of huge, spinning flywheels or thousands of lead-acid batteries — many of them similar to automobile batteries — to power the computers in case of a grid failure as brief as a few hundredths of a second, an interruption that could crash the servers.
Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s about 60 million watts.
For security reasons, companies typically do not even reveal the locations of their data centers, which are housed in anonymous buildings and vigilantly protected.
EMC and the International Data Corporation are companies focused on the management and storage of data. They estimate that more than 1.8 trillion gigabytes of digital information were created globally last year.
State environmental agencies have begun to fine companies for installing and repeatedly running diesel generators without obtaining standard required environmental operating permits. Even if there are no blackouts, backup generators still emit exhaust because they must be regularly tested.
Penalties have been as high as $260,000. No national figures on environmental violations by data centers are available, but a check of several environmental districts suggests that the centers are beginning to catch the attention of regulators across the country.  (NYTimes, 9/22/2012)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Droughts Making It Harder To Produce Electricity

Electricity generation is the biggest single user of water in the U.S., according to an analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey, which found that power plants account for nearly half of all water withdrawn from American rivers, lakes and seashores each day—more than 200 million gallons worth. The drought that parched more than 30 states this summer is forcing the power industry to rethink its heavy use of water and adopt technology to use less of it.
The water, which surpasses by far the amount used for irrigation, is converted to steam to turn turbines, and is used to cool equipment at many kinds of plants, including nuclear, coal and gas units. Much of it later is put back, though in heated form.

This summer, however, some power plants had to cut electricity production because of low water levels or because water was too warm to cool nuclear reactors. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the period from August 2011 through July 2012 was the hottest 12-month period on record in the U.S. since 1895.

Low water levels remain a concern for both power companies and the agencies that operate electric grids across the country, the federal Energy Information Administration said earlier this month. (WSJ, 9/21/2012, graphic courtesy WSJ)

Worldwide Fracking Protests Planned

More than 100 protests against the natural gas drilling process known as fracking are scheduled to take place around the world on Saturday.

The GlobalFrackdown website and campaign was developed by Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that was once part of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen group. The campaign claims that fracking “has already damaged communities and ruined lives. It pollutes water and makes people sick.”
Scientists disagree on the risks of fracking, a process that injects large volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to break rock apart and free the gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many state regulators, however, say that fracking can be done safely. The American Lung Association says natural gas has helped reduce air pollution as many dirtier coal-fired power plants shift to natural gas.

The immense volumes of natural gas found in formations of shale rock around the country has spurred a boom in natural gas production that has been credited with creating jobs and lowering prices for industry and consumers.

The Frackdown campaign doesn’t mention the differing opinions over risks or any benefits of fracking.

Shale is a rock formation thousands of feet underground. Among its largest U.S. deposits are the Marcellus Shale, under parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, and the Barnett Shale is in north Texas. Geologists knew shale contained gas, but for more than 100 years the industry focused on shallower reserves. Fracking — also called hydraulic fracturing — allows drillers to profitably extract the deep shale gas.

Contaminated wastewater from the process can leak from faulty well casings into aquifers, but it’s often difficult to prove a connection. Some studies also have shown air quality problems around gas wells, while others have indicated no problems. (Wash Post, 9/21/2012)

Coalition Against Nukes Occupies, Rallies & Briefs

CAN Organizes Biggest AntiNuclear Activities In Years

The Coalition Against Nuclear Power (CAN) wants to immediately decommission the nation’s 23 Mark 1 reactors, which are the same variety that melted down at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011. It wants to then work on a complete phaseout of nuclear energy. CAN sponsored a series of events in the Washington, D.C., area, September 20-22, including the Capitol Hill rally, the Congressional briefing, a fundraiser at Busboys and Poets, a ceremony at the Museum of the American Indian, a rally at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a film screening, and a strategy session.

Group members met with legislators on Thursday and held a rally at the Capitol.  Congressman Dennis Kucinich hosted a Congressional briefing, Thursday, September 20, 2012, on medical effects of radiation exposure, and health threats presented by United States nuclear power plants, nuclear fleet, and the on-going tragedy in Fukushima, Japan. The briefing is part of a series of anti-nuclear events including an Occupy the Nuclear Regulatory Commission demonstration and Fukushima evacuees' presentations.

Mutliple activities were held on Friday: An "Occupy the NRC" rally was held outside the NRC headquarters; a sacred Native American ceremony in front of the Museum of the American Indian for the desecration of Native lands by radiation contamination; C.A.N. fundraiser with music and speakers at Busboys and Poets; and a night of films and discussion at the Letelier Theatre in Georgetown.

On Saturday, there was a meeting of concerned citizens with the new NRC Chair, Allison Macfarlane and NRC Commissioner Bill Magwood.

Speakers slated for the three-day event include: Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, Arnie Gundersen of, Friends of the Earth President Emeritus Brent Blackwelder, Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear, Dr. Margaret Flowers - Congressional Fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, Greenpeace’s Nuclear Policy Analyst Jim Riccio, Harvey Wasserman of, Fukushima natives and evacuees from Japan.

The event this weekend is endorsed by over 70 anti-nuclear, environmental and citizen’s organizations, including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Occupy Wall Street, Rally for a Nuclear-Free Future and the Congressional briefing by experts on nuclear energy sponsored by Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office. (The Hill, 9/21/2012, The Examiner, 9/17/2012)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wind Sector Hurting From Cloud Over Tax Credits

Current U.S. law gives wind-power producers a tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, a subsidy that keeps wind energy competitive with other methods of generating electricity. The tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year.  Wind turbine manufacturers are laying off employees and downsizing because of questions about the extension of the tax credit.  Low natural gas prices are also leading electricity producers to turn to that fuel for generation.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is pushing to extend the credit, while many Republicans say the cost—an estimated $12 billion through 2022—is too high. In the past, the credit has been renewed for one- or two-year periods. Congress isn't expected to act on the tax credit until after the November elections, and it is unclear if the House and Senate will be able to reach a deal during the lame-duck session.

President Barack Obama supports renewing the tax credit and Mitt Romney opposes extending the credit.

An additional challenge for some U.S. manufacturers is foreign competition from low-cost producers. (WSJ, 9/19/2012)

EPA & Manufacturers Agree On Management of Used Electronics

Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched its Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge, an initiative to make protective electronics refurbishing and recycling practices the industry standard. EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response Lisa Feldt, joined by leaders from Best Buy, LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sprint, and Staples, made the announcement at Vintage Tech Recyclers, a certified electronics recycling facility in Romeoville, Ill.

Already, the United States generates almost 2.5 million tons of electronic waste per year – and that number will only grow. Used electronics have materials in them that can be recovered and recycled, reducing the economic costs and environmental impacts of securing and processing new materials for new products. As the volume of used electronics continues to grow in the U.S. and the world, so has the importance of safely managing and recycling used electronics. Electronics are made of valuable resources such as precious metals, copper, plastic and glass – all of which require energy to mine and manufacture. Recycling or reusing these electronics conserves these materials and prevents greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

By participating in the SMM Electronics Challenge, leaders in the electronics industry are committing to send 100 percent of the used electronics that they collect to third-party certified refurbishers and recyclers and to increase the amount of used electronics they collect. Through this challenge, EPA is providing a transparent and measurable way for electronic companies to commit to safe and environmentally protective practices for the refurbishment and recycling of used electronics, and publically show progress toward recycling goals.

In order to be certified, recyclers must demonstrate to an accredited, independent auditor that they meet specific standards to safely recycle and manage used electronics. Third-party recyclers, including Vintage Tech Recyclers, are expanding to meet growing demand for this accreditation. Vintage Tech Recyclers attributes 80 percent of new jobs added in the last two years to their third-party certification.

The Electronics Challenge supports President Obama’s “National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship” – a strategy for the responsible design, purchasing, management and recycling of electronics to promote the growing electronics recycling market and jobs of the future. In conjunction with the release of the National Strategy in July of 2011, Dell, Sony and Sprint committed to EPA to follow a set of responsible management practices with their used electronics. The commitments of these three companies formed the foundation from which the Electronics Challenge was developed. (EPA)

More information on the EPA and industry collaboration

More information on the National Strategy

More information on certified recycling

Hollande Administration Will Not Permit Fracking

Francois Hollande
French President Francois Hollande says he will not permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. France imports 98% of the natural gas it uses each year. Yet according to U.S. Department of Energy data, the country's technically recoverable shale gas is second only to Poland's in Europe, and equal to more than a century's worth of French gas consumption. Those numbers are still tentative, but the short history of shale-gas exploration suggests preliminary estimates often prove low.

The Hollande government has also been tussling with utilities over the prices consumers pay for gas. The retail price of natural gas is controlled by the state in France, and the utilities have complained that the price increases the government has allowed aren't sufficient to cover their rising costs. In July, France's energy regulator agreed. Yet the Hollande government has limited the price rise to 2% anyway. It also promises to expand energy subsidies for consumers. (WSJ, 9/19/2012)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2nd EPA Administrator Russell E. Train Dies at 92

Russell E. Train
Conservationist Russell E. Train, the second head of EPA (1973 and 1977), Monday at 92.  He served as the first chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 1970 to 1973, a role that followed a 1969-70 job as under secretary at the Interior Department after President Nixon's election.  EPA was formally established in late 1970. Train passed away at his farm in Bozman, Maryland.

After leaving government Train served as president of the U.S. branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a post he held from 1978-1985, and after that served as chairman of the group from 1985-1994.

The New York Times notes that Train, a Republican, was widely considered the father of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, a benchmark law that requires federal agencies to gauge the environmental impact of major actions before allowing them.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Train, a Rhode Island native and attorney, had several roles on Capitol Hill and the federal government before becoming a top environmental official under former Presidents Nixon and Ford. They included service as chief counsel and then minority adviser to the House Ways and Means Committee, and head of legal advisory staff at the Treasury Department, in the 1950s. He then became a judge on the U.S. Tax Court from 1957 until 1965. He later became president of the Conservation Foundation from 1965 through 1969. Train was Chairman Emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund at the time of his passing.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991. (EPA, The Hill, 9/18/2012)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Charging Rates For Electric Vehicles

Electric car charging providers are wrestling with what, if anything, to charge for charging. As charging companies begin collecting fees, it looks like the most common approach will be to bill customers by length of time spent charging or by a monthly subscription fee, not the amount of electricity dispensed. There are currently about 50,000 electric vehicles on the road in the USA.

Coulomb Technologies Inc, a Campbell, Calif., company that has built 8,600 charging points runs the billing network for ChargePoint-branded chargers, but it doesn't own the equipment or set prices. 80% of ChargePoint locations currently are free to use, and the rest collect fees set by location owners.

ECOtality Inc., another big installer of charging stations is dispensing free electricity at about 3,000 Blink-branded public charging points. But it expects to begin charging fees this fall.

Drivers often use public chargers to top off their electric car batteries while shopping, at a movie or at work.

ECOtality plans to offer a three-tiered payment structure. Drivers not registered with ECOtality will pay $2 an hour. Drivers who have registered with its Blink network will pay $1.50 an hour. And so-called Blink Plus members who also pay an annual membership fee of up to $30 will pay $1 an hour and will be allowed to reserve chargers.
For a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf, the top-selling plug-in vehicles, paying $1 an hour for electricity works out to about 7.5 cents for each pure-electric mile driven, less than half of what it costs to fuel a car that gets 25 miles per gallon. Anything above $2 an hour is more expensive than gasoline.

One New Jersey company is sidestepping the issue of how to price individual charges. NRG Energy is using a subscription model for the 28 fast-charging stations that it's built in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, with dozens more on the way. The price is $39 a month for unlimited access to the public chargers that can fully charge most cars in half an hour or less, and $89 a month for unlimited use of fast public chargers and a slower 240-volt home charger. (WSJ, 9/17/202)

Gas Tax Not Keeping Up With Highway Construction Needs

The federal tax, at 18.4 cents for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel, hasn't changed since 1993. As a result, the tax buys about half the concrete, steel and other materials it did 20 years ago.  Congress could just raise the gas tax. But the tax is already unpopular, and lawmakers have resisted repeated efforts to increase it. In fact, amid high gasoline prices, many politicians have called for cutting the tax to give drivers some relief at the pump.

The problem is twofold: First, the tax has failed to keep up with the rising cost of highway construction and repair. And second, improved fuel economy means that more driving won't be matched by higher gasoline sales, and that how much people pay for the roads won't necessarily reflect how much they use them.


Some of the options:

Tax the Miles

Tax motorists on the miles they drive. Many economists argue that such a tax—known as a vehicle-miles-traveled tax or mileage-based user fee—is the fairest, most sustainable replacement for the gasoline tax. The problem is how to track the miles. States could simply check a vehicle's odometer when drivers come in for annual registration renewals or pollution tests and give the driver a tax bill based on miles driven in the past year. But some skeptics say this is an invitation to odometer tampering. Drivers also would be hit with a large tax bill once a year instead of paying out the tax every time they fill their tanks.

So some states are looking to technology. With in-car Global Positioning Systems or GPS-enabled smartphones, the government could keep track of how many miles people travel in their cars, the roads they drive on and the time of day they make the trips.
Another problem is the cost of collection. The gas tax, whatever its drawbacks, is cheap to administer—taxes are collected at the refinery and passed on to consumers at the pump. Tracking miles and assessing taxes on individual drivers is more expensive. One solution would be to have third parties collect the tax. A wireless provider could add the tax as part of a data plan, for instance.

Tax the Roads

Many support a more limited form of mileage-based user fees: toll roads. Relying more on tolls is already helping states make up for lost gas tax revenues; over the past decade, about a third of all new limited-access road miles have been paid for with tolls.
Some favor changing the gas tax so that it at least keeps up with the rising cost of construction without requiring lawmakers to cast a series of politically unpopular votes to raise the tax rate.
A simple approach would be to replace the per-gallon tax with a percentage-based sales tax.

Tax Oil, Not Gasoline

Another way to fill the gap in transportation revenue and needs is to broaden the tax base, replacing the current federal tax on gasoline and diesel fuel with a levy on every barrel of oil consumed in the U.S.

Tax Cars

Washington could also fill part of the gap in gas-tax revenue by taking a page from the states and assessing a charge on vehicle registrations. (WSJ, 9/17/2012)

Friday, September 14, 2012

D.C. Housing Authority Energy & Water Improvements

The DC Housing Authority is celebrating the completion of a $26 million Energy Capital Improvement (ECI) Program and the start of two new initiatives. With the ECI Program, DCHA has leveraged the energy and water savings generated from the replacement, upgrade and modernization of aging equipment and infrastructure to improve more than 5,400 public housing units at 34 DCHA properties. DCHA has already seen a savings of almost $2.5 million per year from this program, and the savings will continue to grow.

DCHA Green Roof
Some of the items included in the improvements to the properties are new boilers, chillers, refrigerators, toilets, faucets, showers, baths and lighting systems. DCHA is the biggest landlord in the nation’s capital. Its carbon footprint leaves an indelible impression in the District, and its energy efficiency policy is making a critical difference in the greening of Washington, DC.  DCHA currently has three buildings in its portfolio with special green roof features ranging from solar panels to rainwater collection systems and resident seating and recreation areas.

The first new initiative ensures that both savings and sustainability will continue to grow at the agency’s 45 housing communities. DCHA has produced “A Guide to Building Product Standards,” a reference guide for contractors regarding the construction and rehabilitation of its affordable housing units.
The second new initiative is a partnership with the University of the District of Columbia Cooperative Extension Program to provide recycling education for DCHA resident leaders The recycling program is being initiated authority-wide, and it will complement numerous other resident-driven environmental activities at public housing properties such as community gardens and composting programs. (DCHA)

Shared Savings Program

EPA Adds 12 Sites To Superfund National Priorities List

Eight Other Sites Proposed To Be Added

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding 12 new hazardous waste sites hat pose public health and environmental risks to the National Priorities List (NPL) for cleanup under the Superfund program. EPA is also proposing to add another eight sites to the list.

Superfund is the federal program (Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response) that investigates and cleans up the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country. For each of the 20 sites announced today, EPA has received letters of concurrence from state officials supporting the NPL listing.

Since 1983, 1,676 sites have been listed on the NPL. Of these sites, 360 sites have been cleaned up resulting in 1,316 sites currently on the NPL (including the 12 sites added today). There are 54 proposed sites (including the eight announced today) awaiting final agency action.

Contaminants found at the sites include acetone, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, chromium, copper, dichloroethene (DCE), hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), pentachlorophenol (PCP), trichloroethane (TCA), trichloroethylene (TCE), xylene and zinc.

With all NPL sites, EPA works to identify companies or people responsible for the contamination at a site, and requires them to conduct or pay for the cleanup. For the newly listed sites without viable potentially responsible parties, EPA will investigate the full extent of the contamination before starting significant cleanup at the site. Therefore, it may be several years before significant EPA clean up funding is required for these sites. (EPA)

The following 12 sites have been added to the National Priorities List:

• Alabama Plating Company, Inc. (former electroplater) in Vincent, Ala.
• Cedar Chemical Corporation (former chemical manufacturer) in West Helena, Ark.
• Fairfax St. Wood Treaters (former wood treating operation) in Jacksonville, Fla.
• Bautsch-Gray Mine (former lead and zinc mine) in Galena, Ill.
• EVR-Wood Treating/Evangeline Refining Company (former wood treating operation) in Jennings, La.
• Leeds Metal (abandoned scrap metal facility) in Leeds, Maine
• Holcomb Creosote Co (former wood treating operation) in Yadkinville, N.C.
• Orange Valley Regional Ground Water Contamination (contaminated ground water plume) in Orange/West Orange, N.J.
• Peters Cartridge Factory (former ammunition manufacturer) in Kings Mills, Ohio
• West Troy Contaminated Aquifer (contaminated ground water plume) in Troy, Ohio
• Circle Court Ground Water Plume (contaminated ground water plume) in Willow Park, Texas
• U.S. Oil Recovery (former used oil recovery operation) in Pasadena, Texas

The following eight sites have been proposed for addition to the National Priorities List:

• Pike and Mulberry Streets PCE Plume (former dry cleaner) in Martinsville, Ind.
• Former United Zinc & Associated Smelters (former zinc smelter) in Iola, Kan.
• Creese & Cook Tannery (former tannery and finishing facility) in Danvers, Mass.
• Walton & Lonsbury Inc. (former chrome plating operation) in Attelboro, Mass.
• Matlack, Inc. (former chemical transportation business) in Woolwich Township, N.J.
• Riverside Industrial Park (former paint manufacturer) in Newark, N.J.
• Clinch River Corporation (former pulp and paper mill) in Harriman, Tenn.
• 700 South 1600 East PCE Plume (ground water plume) in Salt Lake City, Utah

Federal Register notices and supporting documents for the final and proposed sites.

Information about how a site is listed on the NPL.

Superfund sites in local communities

Anti Nuclear Activists Are On The Move

The Coalition Against Nukes is planning a series of events in Washington, D.C., Sept 20-22, as part of the Rally for a Nuclear Free Future. The rally is billed by these opponents of nuclear energy as a peaceful demonstration at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with petitions presented at the embassies of Japan and India and a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol.

The coalition will be occupying the NRC on September 21 from 2-5 pm. This will include a peaceful protest outside the building and a public meeting inside the building if possible.

The rally will have a NO NUKES/NO WAR theme and is taking place on what the United Nations has designated as the International Day of Peace or “Peace Day.”

Speakers will address radiation and public health, the NRC’s reclassifying of depleted uranium to be used for weapons making, uranium mining and enrichment, nuclear weapons and war, and the relationship between the nuclear energy industry and the war machine.

Confirmed speakers for this historic demonstration include Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, Sierra Club environmental justice organizer and native Rights Activist Robert Tohe, Congressional Fellow for the Physicians for a National Health Program Dr. Margaret Flowers, War is a peace activist David Swanson, executive director of Voters for Peace Kevin Zeese and grassroots voices from across the country. (CAN)

The Fed Buying $40 Billion in Mortgage Backed Securities A Month

The Fed
The Fed said it would buy $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities every month and would keep buying them until the job market improves, an unusually strong commitment by the central bank.
The Federal Reserve, frustrated by persistently high U.S. unemployment and the torpid recovery, launched an aggressive program to spur the economy through open-ended commitments to buy mortgage-backed securities and a promise to keep interest rates low for years.

The Fed's bond buying, also known as quantitative easing, is meant to drive down long-term interest rates and push investors into other assets, like stocks. It also is expected to weaken the value of the dollar, in part because the Fed is effectively printing more money to fund its purchases.

If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Fed will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability.

The Fed has a dual mandate imposed by Congress to maximize employment and keep inflation stable. Officials believe inflation will remain around 2% in the years ahead, giving them leeway for more aggressive moves to stimulate the economy.

The central bank said it would continue through December a program known as Operation Twist: buying $45 billion a month in long-term Treasury bonds, and funding the purchases with proceeds from sales of short-term Treasurys. The Fed is funding the mortgage purchases with money it effectively creates itself when it credits the accounts of bond dealers with funds in exchange for the securities. The Fed's statement suggested that additional Treasury bond purchases through money printing could be launched next year along with mortgage-bond purchases if the economy doesn't pick up.

In addition to trying to drive down long-term interest rates, the Fed said it expected to keep short-term interest rates near zero through at least mid-2015. It had previously said it expected to keep rates that low through 2014. The Fed first pushed the federal funds rate—an overnight bank lending rate that is the central bank's primary lever in normal times—to zero in December 2008. Because it can't push that rate any lower, it has been experimenting with other tools for stimulating the financial system and economy.

The Fed is hoping its biggest impact will be in the mortgage market. Many homeowners have been unable to benefit from low rates because banks have been reluctant to write new loans. Millions have been unable to refinance their mortgages because they owe more than their homes are worth or they have tarnished credit, too much debt or too little income.

Critics point to the sluggish economy and 8.1% unemployment, and say the Fed's policies aren't working and that doing more would prove no better. (WSJ, 9/14/2012)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Israel and U.S. Sign Environmental Cooperation Pact

Erdan and Jackson sign environmental agreement
 as U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro looks on.
Twenty-one years after Israel and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding Concerning Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Lisa Jackson, and Israeli Environmental Minister Gilad Erdan signed an agreement to broaden environmental cooperation between the two countries.

Erdan began the meeting with Jackson by expressing condolences over the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. Following that, he and Jackson discussed the expansion of cooperation between the ministry and the EPA, such that it will include, among other topics: research and development, management of water resources, handling of radioactive materials, rehabilitation of lands and soil, environmental economics and air quality.

The collaboration will enable Israel to benefit from the vast knowledge and experience accumulated by Americans on various issues. For example, the ministry can learn from their experience with land-rehabilitation laws, which can help the ministry in its efforts to promote an Israeli land-rehabilitation law.
 Jackson is currently visiting Israel as a guest of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (as well as the Shafdan wastewater treatment plant, the Kinneret water technology incubator, Better Place).

She noted that she was impressed by Israel's capabilities in innovation and environmental technology and said that the United States has a great interest in learning from Israeli policies to encourage environmental technologies, such as start-ups to prevent water pipeline leaks, wastewater treatment, air quality monitoring, etc.
 Jackson also noted that Israel's natural gas discoveries have the potential to significantly reduce Israel's dependence on oil for transportation and improve the air quality in its cities.

Jackson added that the U.S. is also working to increase its natural gas use in transportation as a means of reduce dependence on oil imports.
 In addition, she said that in the U.S., the issue of the procurement of green products in government offices has progressed substantially as a result of President Obama's policies. All government agencies, for example, are obligated to purchase only green products. According to Jackson, this policy has led to substantial savings of public funds, as government offices spend some $500 billion on office equipment annually.

Project Green Government initiative, which the Environmental Protection Ministry is leading and expressed interest in adopting the U.S. policy. (EPA)