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Archive for September 2009

EPA hits mountaintop coal projects

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coal_mountaintopHere’s a refreshing change from the coal-business-friendly approach taken by the previous administration: the Environmental Protection Agency is actually taking major steps to protect the environment and might even smackdown the powerful coal industry and its well-financed lobby.

The startling case in point: The EPA is withholding action on 79 pending mountaintop coal-mining projects in four Appalachian states while it takes a detailed review of the permit applications.

Or to put it even more strongly, the agency determined that all 79 of the proposed projects under review would violate the Clean Water Act.

In an initial review of the applications, the EPA found that all of the proposed projects likely would cause water quality impacts that trigger additional reviews under the Clean Water Act.

Those initial findings however do not automatically mean that some or all of the 79 permits won’t eventually be authorized or that the agency is placing a moratorium on surface coal mining.

But it does mean that the regulatory process will continue in a somewhat less trusting environment for the coal industry and that that the industry will have to do much more to show why the applications are needed and, by the way, legal.

“The fact that every single one of these pending permits would violate the Clean Water Act shows how irresponsibly callous and sloppy these mining companies really are,” says Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. The EPA announcement “is also a testament to the Obama Administration’s commitment to science, transparency and enforcing environmental safeguards,” he adds.

And it’s not just the EPA doing this: The extended reviews will be carried out under an “enhanced coordination process” between EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed under an interagency Memorandum of Understanding on surface coal mining that was facilitated by the Council on Environmental Quality and signed by the EPA, the Corps, and the Department of Interior.

The collaboration process, announced in June, was created to strengthen the environmental review of the pending mining applications and to address the backlog of permit decisions that has occurred as a result of environmental challenges. In a nutshell, the idea is to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws.

The EPA decision “affirms that no one is above the laws designed to protect clean water in places like Appalachia,” Pope said. “For eight long years mountaintop removal coal mining permits were allowed to move forward, no matter the cost to the nearby communities, mountaintops and valleys.”

“The administration pledged earlier this year to improve review of mining projects that risked harming water quality,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “Release of this preliminary list is the first step in a process to assure that the environmental concerns raised by the 79 permit applications are addressed and that permits issued are protective of water quality and affected ecosystems.”

There’s more. The EPA plans to revise the existing standards for water discharges from coal-fired plants to reduce pollution “and protect America’s surface water.”

Wastewater discharged from coal ash ponds, air pollution control equipment, and other equipment at power plants can contaminate drinking water sources, cause fish and other wildlife to die and create other detrimental environmental effects, the EPA says in an interim report.

The EPA completed a multi-year study of power plant wastewater discharges earlier this year. The final study is scheduled for publication later this year.

The decision to revise the current effluent guidelines is “driven by the high level of toxic-weighted pollutant discharges from coal-fired power plants and the expectation that these discharges will increase significantly in the next few years as new air pollution controls are installed,” the agency says.

Protecting the environment: A nifty concept translating into action post-Bush. Yes!

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Written by William DiBenedetto

29 September, 2009 at 9:46 am

Posted in regulation

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Hep cat: Puma’s sustainable paw print

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PUMA.COM.aiThe German “sportlifestyle” company Puma is an old hand at a relatively new corporate exercise, the sustainability report.

The footwear, apparel and accessories designer published its fifth sustainability report last week. The 121-page opus covering the 2007/2008 reporting period was released exclusively online “for environmental reasons.”

In the latest sustainability report Puma sets a goal to reduce energy and water consumption and “waste creation” 25 percent by 2010 based on its results during its 2005/2006 reporting period.

It’s “only” five sustainability reports but the company issued its first such report in 2001, virtually the dark ages for the term “corporate social responsibility.”  So Puma is in its tenth year of CSR reporting. Most other companies are on their first or second, or have yet to start. Puma’s experience shows in the organization and depth of its CSR programs.

The report details the company’s progress to enhance working and social standards in its supply chain, build capacity at its suppliers’ factories, broaden its range of sustainable products and reduce the company’s environmental footprint through the PUMAVision category puma.safe.

It also outlines PUMA’s activities in supporting artists and creative organizations through the puma.creative category and initiatives to support global peace through puma.peace.

Puma says the Puma SAFE concept “creates a symbiotic relationship between our environment, employees, business partners and other stakeholders.

“Our aim is not only to make the production of our products transparent and environmentally friendly to our partners and target groups, but also to continually improve our standards,” the report says.

Full integration of environmental policy remains “a big challenge…our long-term economic prospects depend on embedding environmental protection and sustainable development in our business strategy” by eliminating harmful substances in products and controlling air, water and land emissions.

Puma says it was the first sporting goods company to ban PVC (polyvinyl chloride) from its product range because production and disposal of PVC can damage the environment. Puma instead works with alternative products such as polyurethane, silicon, ethylene vinyl acetate or rubber.

It has a strict restricted substances list that can be found in the 109-page puma.safe Handbook, Environmental Standards.

The company chairs the Federation of European Sporting Goods Environmental Committee and has established Environmental Key Performance Indicators to track its environmental performance.

More recently it has extended this monitoring to its logistics and supply partners “whom we invite and support to develop their own environmental management systems.”

Puma says it adhered to strict environmental and energy-saving standards when it built its new company headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany. It features a 1,000 square meter (10,764 square foot) photovoltaic power system coupled with another 140 square meters (1,507 square feet) of solar modules built into window facades. The company says this will save 35 tons of CO2 a year.

For the first time Puma tracked the CO2 emissions of its logistics operations worldwide, “taking onto consideration the transport from the country of production to the main warehouses worldwide, where the final distribution to retail stores occurs.

Puma found that across all transport modes it hauled more than 119 tons of freight in 2008, producing 64.1 tons of CO2 emissions. The biggest emissions came from sea and airfreight transportation providers.

Puma says that in cooperation with its main logistics provider, Maersk Line, “we continue to explore possibilities to reduce the environmental ‘paw print’ of our logistics operation. Options include the use of combined sea-air shipments to avoid longer air transport segments, consolidation of shipments to ensure the greatest efficiency and as far as possible direct deliveries to avoid “unnecessary transport gaps.”

Because it is still early in this process Puma has not yet developed CO2 emission reduction targets for its logistics operations. It voluntarily reports its CO2 strategy and emissions, including logistics and direct suppliers, each year to the Carbon Disclosure Project.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

22 September, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Sunday feeling: Scotland’s whiskey-byproduct biomass

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Helius_small@bodyIt feels like a natural for the Scots to come up with a way to get energy out of whiskey.

If you like your whiskey neat or on the rocks or even if you don’t drink this is pretty neat:  Helius Energy Plc and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) formed a joint venture known as Helius CoRDe, that will build and operate a biomass energy plant using whiskey distillery by-products.

The proposed £50 million ($82.7 million) project would reduce the carbon footprint of the whiskey industry on the Scottish island of Speyside.

The plant will use whiskey distillery byproducts to fuel a 7.2-megawatt GreenSwitch biomass combined heat and power plant and a GreenFields plant that will turn the liquid co-product of whisky production, known as Pot Ale, into a concentrated organic fertilizer and an animal feed for use by local farmers.

Helius CoRDe will be responsible for the financing, construction and operation of the new plant. The project could save more than 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year when compared to CoRD’s current energy use, the distillers say.

“This agreement formalizes the work we have undertaken so far and sets out the structure for us to take this project forward to completion,” says Frank Burns, CoRD general manager. “ The ability to generate renewable heat and power and secure additional markets for our distillery co-products is a very exciting development for the malt whisky industry on Speyside.”

Officials said they anticipate that engineering procurement and construction contract awards likely will come soon, allowing plant construction to begin in early 2010. It will take about two years to complete project construction.

And there’s more recent action on the Scottish biomass front with word late last month that Forth Energy, a joint venture created last year between Forth Ports Plc and Scottish and Southern Energy is preparing to go ahead with the development of four dedicated biomass power stations at Forth Ports’ site in Scotland.

Plants are proposed for Dundee, Leith, Rosyth and Grangemouth. Installed capacity would total around 400 megawatts. Softwood sourced from forests in the UK and overseas would provide the main source of fuel.

Pot Ale is a high-protein co-product removed prior to final distillation of the spirit. The solid grain product removed from the mash tun, prior to fermentation of the liquor, is known as draff.

The GreenFields process takes the co-products from distillery operations (including process water, pot ale and draff) and turns them into “value inputs” such as biomass fuel, soil conditioner, animal feed and water for cooling and cleaning purposes.

The combined heat and power unit will use a combination of distillery co-products and wood chips from sustainable sources to generate the 7.2 megawatts of electricity, enough for 9,000 homes, which can be used onsite or exported to the National Grid.

CoRD was founded in 1904 to process the Pot Ale produced by the whisky distilleries in the Rothes area. It is owned by a combination of distilling companies – comprising The Edrington Group, Chivas Brothers, Glen Grant Distillery Ltd, Inver House Distillers, Diageo and Benriach Distillery Co.

“Biomass will play a major role in meeting the UK’s targets for emissions reductions, and [the Helius CoRde venture] is a model that has the potential to be rolled-out elsewhere. Drinking green whisky may give you a warm glow but it’ll also help to avoid warming the planet,” says John Seed, managing director of Helius Energy.

So drink responsibly and don’t drive but if you do overdo it on occasion the morning-after guilt might not be so bad, if you can remember the biomass angle. Or not.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

20 September, 2009 at 8:58 am

Big bucks this month for renewable energy

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cleantech1More than $1.5 billion from two sources, one private and the other public, is going for renewable energy and clean technology projects.

The private venture capital firm Khosla Ventures said earlier this month that it closed on more than $1 billion in funding under two new venture funds with at least two-thirds of the money allocated for clean-tech investments, according to Samir Kaul, a general partner at the Menlo Park, CA firm.

On the same day the Department of Energy and the U.S. Treasury Department announced $503 million in government cash grants to 12 companies that are developing renewable energy projects.

Kholsa Ventures was founded in 2004 by Vinod Khosla, the founder and first CEO of Sun Microsystems. The firm offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital for entrepreneurs working mainly in clean-tech areas such solar, battery, high efficiency engines, lighting, greener materials like cement, glass and bio-refineries for energy abd bioplastics, and other eco-friendly technologies.

In the two new venture funds announced early this month Khosla closed on a roughly $250 million Seed Fund designed to make investments of around $2 million each, Kaul says.

The firm also closed Khosla Ventures III at about $800 million, which will back companies with initial investments of $5 to $10 million.

This was Khosla’s first foray into raising funds from outside investors and the largest clean-tech funding by a single venture capital firm since 2007.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) was an investor along with other unidentified pension funds, university endowments and foundations.

Kaul estimated both funds will be invested over the next three to five years, adding that Khosla is looking into various sub-sectors of clean-tech with a special focus on building materials and bioplastics.

Those “are very big markets and they are growing and there’s a lot of consumer demand,” he said.

Current bioplastics investments by Khosla include Draths Corp. of Okemos, MI and Segetis Inc. of Golden Valley, MN. Its building materials portfolio includes two California companies, Soladigm of Santa Rosa and the cement company Calera Corp., of Los Gatos.

So far this year Khosla has added seven new portfolio companies in the clean technology sector. These include Skywatch Energy in solar, HCL CleanTech Ltd. in cellulosic sugars, Hybra-Drive Systems LLC in efficiency, and Rayspan Corp. and SeaMicro Inc. in information technology.

Stimulus grants awarded by DOE and Treasury are in the first round of about $3 billion in direct payments to companies in lieu of tax credits that will eventually support an estimated 5,000 biomass, solar, wind and other renewable energy production facilities.line “These grants will help America’s businesses launch clean energy projects, putting Americans back to work in good construction and manufacturing jobs,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Companies receiving the most money involved wid farm projects, including the Penascal wind farm ($114.1 million) in Sarita, TX; the Locust Ridge II, LLC wind project ($59.2 million) in Shenandoah, PA; the Canandaigua Power Partners, LLC wind project ($52.4 million) in Cohocton, NY; and the Wheat Field wind farm ($47.7 million) in Arlington, OR.\line Iberdrola Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola SA was awarded $294.9 million for five wind projects, bringing the company’s investment so far in U.S. wind power to about $1 billion. The 12 winning projects could produce 840 megawatts of electricity, representing a 3 percent increase in total U.S. renewable electricity generation capacity, the Energy Department said.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

15 September, 2009 at 9:12 am

Jack Daniel’s parent: Mixed results CSR report

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jackdanielsbottleBrown-Forman – the parent of Jack Daniel’s and many other alcohol beverage brands – says in its second corporate responsibility report that after implementing a greenhouse gas reduction strategy last year it reduced total energy use by 2.3 percent from its 2007 use.

Very good, but over the same 2007-208 period the company reported that its GHG emissions actually jumped 9.3 percent to 189,233 metric tons. Water consumption meanwhile increased by 4.5 percent. The total GHG spike includes increases in both direct and indirect emissions mixed with a slight decline in “optional” emissions.

It’s not until page 25 of the 28-page report, On Being Responsible, Our Thinking about Drinking, that environmental issues and results are addressed in some detail and mainly in the fine print below several charts.

The company gets its energy from coal, waste wood, natural gas, fuel and electricity. Last year’s reduction in energy use came about from reduced production at some facilities and energy-efficiency moves such as lighting, heating and cooling optimization and the installation of a waste-to-energy process that will fuel a boiler at its tequila plant in Mexico with bio-gas generated as an energy byproduct at a new wastewater treatment facility there.

Brown-Forman says its largest energy use comes in the production of spirits, and the fuel used to distribute its products. The 9 percent bump in GHG emissions last year was attributed to increased capacity and the “introduction of new processes at one facility,” the report says.

In addition to its most recognizable and popular brand, Jack Daniel’s, B-F also produces and markets Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Canadian Mist, Fetzer, Korbel, Gentleman Jack, el Jimador, Tequila Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer, Chambord, Tuaca, Woodford Reserve, and Bonterra.

“Our environmental performance policy emphasizes compliance to regulation and stewardship,” the report says, and “going beyond compliance.”

However, Brown-Forman has not as yet established a GHG reduction target.

“Our reporting is maturing, but we believe we still have some way to go,” says Chairman and CEO Paul C. Varga.

Realization is a good step for this 140-year-old-company old company. B-F is taking corporate responsibility seriously on a host of levels, but it’s early in the game for them and there’s still a lot of ground to cover.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

9 September, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Labor daze item – Shanghai Corporate Pavilion

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Shanghai-corporate-pavilion2-thumb-450x232If you’re wondering what to do with all of those old CD cases stacked around the ranch now that you either store and listen to your music online and/or have your faves stored on MP3s, how about building a new house or office with them? It can be done.

The China architecture firm Atelier Feichang Jianzhu (check out its amazing website) designed the stunning Shanghai Corporate Pavilion using thousands of plastic tubes made entirely from CD cases.Shanghai-corporate-pavilion4-thumb-450x337

Even better, the polycarbonate tubes can be recycled again entirely at the end of the building’s life.

And it’s solar! Energy is collected by way of a 5,249-foot solar thermal energy system of heat conducting tubes on the roof. They heat water up to 95 F and will be used to generate electricity.

The Shanghai Pavilion also features a misting system that can be sprayed in various patterns under the entrance ceiling, but it’s not merely a cosmetic nicety. The mist also will lower the temperature, purify the air and help create a comfortable climate in the pavilion.


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Written by William DiBenedetto

7 September, 2009 at 11:54 am

Time for a deal on climate change?

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earthThe answer is in several parts: Yes it’s time for a binding and comprehensive international agreement on climate change; actually it’s way past time. Maybe there’s time to get it done before things become irreversible. Maybe it’s already too late. In any case the clock is ticking and that is where TckTckTck enters the picture.

TckTckTck is a recently formed umbrella group of individuals and organizations that’s pushing hard for results from what is likely to be a seminal event in achieving, at some point sooner rather than later in our lifetimes, a binding global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

It could be that it’s too soon or already too late to expect a anything binding on the world stage; the record of achievement is not exactly stellar as the Oil Age morphs in to the Age of Stupid. Maybe there too many naysayers and “yes, butters” poised for action out there; maybe there are too many well-heeled political and corporate special-interests hard at work to expect anything really meaningful to come from the United Nations Climate Change Conference that starts Dec. 7 in Copenhagen.

This is one meeting that can’t be allowed to come and go without a major effort to stem the climate change tide. The forces on the side of getting real and getting something real done have banded together under the TckTckTck banner.

The group officially kicked-off its 100 days countdown to Copenhagen campaign last weekend.

“The time is now,” says the diverse TckTckTck alliance of about 22 partners (along with nearly 1 million individuals) comprising faith groups, trade unions, environmental and humanitarian organizations, including Greenpeace, Oxfam, Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Amnesty International, Brazil’s Vitae Civilis, the International Institute for Environment and Development and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

TckTckTck Chair Kumi Naidoo says the campaign is an “unprecedented alliance…we believe that only by working together in a broad alliance will we have the size, power and influence to ensure a good deal in Copenhagen.”

The idea is to build momentum to achieve a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement in Copenhagen.

“Today, millions of people are already suffering because of climate change,” Annan, a campaign co-founder and President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, says. “Although developing countries did not cause the climate crisis, poor nations are suffering the most as unpredictable weather patterns and the increase in natural disasters affects access to food, water and shelter. We must end the deathly silence around this crisis because it is a major impediment for international action. Those helping raise awareness of the crisis through journalism should be praised for doing so, especially as December’s international climate talks in Copenhagen approach.”

A  practice run will occur later this month during Climate Week in New York City, when the TckTckTck campaign will join the United Nations, the UN Foundation, the City of New York, The Climate Group and Carbon Disclosure Project in organizing Climate Week NYC, Sept 18-25. Climate Week NYC events “will demonstrate massive support for an ambitious, fair and binding international climate change treaty in Copenhagen in December,” says TckTckTck.

However Copenhagen ultimately unfolds the TckTckTck campaign could tip the balance to success. It’s more than worth the try. The impacts of climate change are mounting and the estimates of the economic costs of climate change are rapidly escalating.

Late last month scientists led by a former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that United Nations climate change negotiations are based on “substantial” underestimates of what it will cost to adapt to global warming.

The real costs of adaptation are likely to be two to three times greater than estimates for the year 2030 made by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2007, say Professor Martin Parry and colleagues in a recent report published by the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.

The report, “Assessing the costs of adaptation to climate change: A review of the UNFCCC and other recent estimates,” finds that costs will be even greater when the full range of climate impacts on human activities is considered. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

3 September, 2009 at 4:19 pm

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