Category Archives: Clean Energy

Live long, and prosper

While God, guns, coal, and fracking remain our salient political issues in the U.S. and we debate whether or not health care is a human right, I hope that young people are hearing about these new technologies and getting as excited about them as I am. I am revising my intent to not live much past 100, just so I can see a lot of this stuff happen:


Assigning the blame where it belongs

Greenpeace is inaccurate in saying Corporate polluters don’t have to worry about dismantling the Clean Air Act because President Obama is doing it for them.

Corporate polluters don’t have to worry about regulation because their lobbyists and their money convinced voters to elect obstructionist Tea Party GOP candidates to office in 2010 and tied the president’s hands.

We elected a President who made promises based on our needs and our participation in government, and he has provided more opportunity to participate than any president in history. For this we have called him weak, because he asks us to support him and then is still unable to turn the Tea Party GOP obstructionists that we the voters sent to congress.

Don’t elect any more small government no taxes keep your hands off my money and give me all of yours Tea Party GOP obstructionists. If you voted for one of these people last time — that would be Morgan Griffith in Virginia ninth where I live — the mess we are in is your fault.

It ultimately comes to the voter. Vote for someone who wants to continue the programs and practices that have helped common people live well. Vote for Social Security, Medicare for all, good roads, good postal service, good worker protections, collective bargaining, good public schools and universities, and good government in general. Quit believing the corporate lies, and vote for people who will help and not obstruct the programs that President Obama has proposed.

Arcimoto electric car — you can pre-order!

Koch Brothers rule GOP

I don’t intend to pick on Congressman Griffith, I am just scouting around to see what the “message” is that he needs to send by voting against his own judgment and the interests of the nation. It seems that his messages are, like those of many of his fellows, thank-you notes.

The Los Angeles Times, in a Feb. 6, 2011 article titled “Koch brothers now at heart of GOP power” by Tom Hamburger, Kathleen Hennessey and Neela Banerjee, point out that “The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington’s political establishment…they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” Some of the 2010 candidates elected on Koch money signed a pledge put forward by Americans for Prosperity promising to oppose President Obama’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.

Specifically in relation to Congressman Griffith here in Virginia’s Ninth District, the article says:

Another [committee member] Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia, won a long-shot bid to unseat a 14-term moderate Democrat with help from Americans for Prosperity, which marshaled conservative activists in his district. By some estimates, the advocacy group spent more than a quarter-million dollars on negative ads in the campaign. “I’m just thankful that you all helped in so many ways,” Griffith told an Americans for Prosperity rally not long after his election.

This article is a must-read for Democrats who are looking back at 2010 and for all Americans looking forward to 2012. It reports that Americans for Prosperity spent $40 million in the 2010 election cycle, most of it focused directly on disabling environmental protection powers of government. It converted Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, now the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from a moderate who supported environmental protections to the leader of the effort to strip the EPA of the power to regulate greenhouse gases.

John Kerry on gridlock

On issue after issue, enduring consensus has been frayed or shredded by lust for power cloaked in partisan games. Health care’s individual mandate? Guess what — it started as a Republican idea– a pro-business idea– because rising insurance costs leave big holes in profits. Cap and trade? Guess again — another Republican idea based on market principles and, with bipartisanship, successfully implemented by President George Herbert Walker Bush, now denounced as ideological heresy. And energy independence? For forty years, every President since Richard Nixon has recognized that foreign oil imports are America’s Achilles heel. But whenever we’ve had a chance to act, we’ve been blocked by entrenched influence and the siren call of short-term interest instead of achieving long-term success.

Read the whole speech here

Moving forward

I campaigned for Congressman Boucher, so people ask me how we lost a long-standing congressman who was and still is beloved in this region. Democrats and Republicans alike trusted Congressman Boucher to find resources and make good decisions, to do the impossible things we needed done.

Congressman Boucher has held the Ninth for so long because he is indeed a person with a broad understanding of the needs of the region and an ability to negotiate on the real issues. The chances that we will find someone else like him are slim. Many residents think of Boucher every time they turn on their tap and watch clean water flow into the kitchen sink. I think of him when I click onto the Internet. Few of us believe that he betrayed coal, and no informed person can possibly think that. Those of us upset with his vote on health care appreciated his willingness to work with HCR versus his opponent’s desire to repeal it.

People who are advocates for coal in the Ninth District will soon feel the loss of a strong voice in Washington. The road is now clear for big oil in the legislature. Natural gas — despite concerns about fracking — is going to be big. Coal is hard to get and burning it produces dangerous fly ash. Oil is hazardous when accidents and spills occur, but coal has continuous local environmental impact associated with ordinary daily mining and washing. There may be a way to burn coal cleaner, but Virginia has refused to invest in research on this front, and has even denied research on carbon sequestration as justification for small rate hikes.

How did we lose? The election went Red in the Virginia Ninth for three reasons, listed here in order of importance in my opinion:

  • many Democrats failed to vote;
  • Democratic incumbents, including Rick Boucher, Jim Webb, and Mark Warner in Virginia, failed and are still failing to distinguish themselves from Republicans and are also failing to educate their electorate on the accomplishments and plans of their own office, their party, and President Obama; and
  • at the last minute we were flooded by robo-calls from Sarah Palin, James Dobson, Newt Gingrich, and Pat Boone pushing the family values/protection of marriage/anti-abortion social agenda, along with the same messages coming through the mail.

My ordering of the reasons is based on these considerations:

  • Voter turnout was low. Many voters believed that Boucher could not lose. It is never a good idea to deprive your candidate of your vote because you think there will be enough other people to cover your share. Voting is a civic duty, and keeping yourself informed on the issues so that you vote smart is also a civic duty.
  • Of the three legislators who represent the Ninth, Jim Webb most distinguishes himself from Republicans, and he is a leader who finds things that need to be done and does them. I admire Senator Webb. He is distinguishable from a Republican if you follow his op ed pieces and keep up with him, but he does not get that message to the electorate. He is what a senator should be, and it is not fair that his good work is drowned out by the shouting. Mark Warner and Rick Boucher are less distinguishable from Republicans on the issues. Both were against the public option in health care when their voices would have carried the day for this important provision, and Boucher actually voted against HCR in the last critical moments. The one distinguishing factor that could be used by Republicans against Boucher in the campaign was his support for a woman’s right to choose. Republicans did use this issue against him, but Boucher did not respond or defend his rationale on reproductive rights to the voters.
  • Regarding failing to educate the electorate, I spoke to many voters, and many did not know much about the issues. Congressman Boucher addressed the issues with his usual precision and insight in the debates and in the newspapers, but he did not go stumping for them. More to the point, all along the way our representatives should bring good clear information home to the voters so that when election time comes they will be able to make reasoned judgments. Ignorance is a bad thing, and the ability of the voter to distinguish the truth from a lie rests in their having some contextual information already in place.
  • The flood of negative calls and mailings was designed to get out the vote on psychologically and religiously charged issues. Calls and “picture postcard” mailings cited abortion, protection of marriage, socialism, and immigration, and they said they would get rid of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and stop President Obama’s agenda. Still, if voters had been informed and had made it to the polls, we would have won. So as bad as it was, I place this misinformation attack third of three in the reasons listed.

Clean energy: tracking the money that holds it hostage

(Previously Published August 11, 2010, in The Bristol Democrat)
Here in the United States we should have already moved to clean energy. Locally in Bristol Virginia, the renovation of the old train station added geothermal, and Bristol Tennessee is building a trash-to-energy plant. Wind energy is sufficient in many places to take a significant load and reduce burning of oil and coal, particularly in coastal areas and the plains states. Ethanol is easy to produce from many products that are renewable, including corn and various grasses. Alive and well in Japan is the plasma converter technology that would let us clean up trash dumps, hazardous waste sites, and even maybe clean out some of those valleys and slag heaps where we have dumped the refuse from mountaintop removal.

Why are we still pumping carbon into our atmosphere? Because our senators and congressmen and the leaders of government and industry receive unbelievable amounts of money from dirty energy producers, and these leaders manage to turn legislation to maintain our dependence on fossil fuels, oil and coal. This is happening in spite of the lives that have been lost in wars that are directly related to our foreign oil dependency, and in spite of the damage done to our coastlines by oil spills. It continues in spite of the documented effect of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and the documented leaching of poisons and heavy metals from the washing of coal into the ground water in Appalachia. A new website introduced by Oil Change is tracking the money that is keeping a stranglehold on clean energy, and making these associations visible is a major step forward to clean energy. The website is Dirty Energy Money, located at Dirty Energy Money a user-friendly site with great graphics and easy-to-understand presentation. It lets you track where your individual senators and representatives stand in the energy equation.

Governments of large nations are large governments

Many will be basing their choice tomorrow on whether or not they want “big government.” It turns out that when you stop to list the differences between Republicans and Democrats, both of them seem to want big government. Then you flip a coin, and both of them want small government.

The Republicans disparage big government more frequently, but over the past decade of their control they have made government much larger. They expanded government intrusion into people’s lives by the Patriot Act, stacked the Supreme Court with corporate servants, broke unions and pushed back civil rights, and raised the prison population. They have enlarged government debt by useless foreign wars and and impoverished it by tax cuts for people who don’t need them. While doing these expansions, they have continuously cried that they want government to be smaller, and because of the volume of the shouting, some people still believe this. So the tag of “big government” won’t adhere to them in the press. This is because the press is essentially recording the shouting and transmitting it to the public. Republican expansion of government and the willingness of GOP leaders and legislators, corporate lobbyists, cronies, and campaign sponsors to grow wealthy at the expense of small investors and working people brought us to an economic brink that we never should have faced. They literally expanded government and enriched themselves economically using the tax dollars, the home equities, and the livelihoods of citizens.

The candidates they have in the arena now want to continue this expansion by taking away the successful programs that serve citizens — minimum wage, student aid, Social Security, workers’ rights, civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid — and anything else that can be turned into money for corporations by bleeding services and opportunity from ordinary citizens. A prime example is the gun lobby. They shout “freedom” and make you believe freedom is served when you can carry a firearm, open or hidden, anywhere you want it. What they actually do is sell a boatload of guns to you to protect your own freedom, which they are supposed to be doing for you with your tax money. Then you have to live with the knowledge that when your child goes to the Mall, every second person there is carrying a gun. So you imprison your children, but that is okay because you buy them more video games and televisions. This is not freedom. A society that goes armed is free to bear arms, but every other freedom is curtailed by fear of everyone bearing arms.

Democrats here at the start of their decade have reduced the deficit and stopped the hemorrhaging of jobs, prevented a depression, passed health care reform that is budget neutral if implemented as written, and included young adults between 18 and 26 in provisions already in place. They have curtailed military activities in Iraq, and given us a more realistic set of possibilities and goals in Afghanistan. They have passed regulatory reform to stop abuses in student loans and make that area of the economy self-sustaining and economical. Wall Street reform is serious, and they have a good start there. They have passed a consumer protection law that regulates credit cards. They have distributed tax cuts and stimulus money where it does the most good, into the workforce for doing work that needs to be done and helping people recover from the recession. None of these things are bad. But admittedly, they are big. So the accusation that they are “big government” sticks. They have done big things.

The candidates that they have in the field now are by and large supportive of continuing the recovery. Even Virginia’s Rick Boucher, who famously voted against his own party on HCR, but is now being attacked for working on and supporting the Cap and Trade bill, is supportive of moving forward instead of backward. He still doesn’t like HCR because it will probably raise rates on Medicare Advantage plans, which are held by most of the folks in his district. He still doesn’t like Cap and Trade, because it gives the EPA control of carbon emissions. However, on both issues, he sees ways of improving the current position and moving forward. He vows to support Social Security and Medicaid, student aid, and the minimum wage. He is able to support the coal industry and still work for clean energy, so neither of these camps is completely happy with him. They want him to choose up a side and start yelling. I want him to keep working, because he is doing a good job for his district. In another district, Tom Perriello is fighting for his political life because he voted with his party for HCR.

In Virginia, where I live, the state government has no problem with appearing regressive or oppressive, which they interpret as “being for small government.” They want to become smaller by privatizing roads — creating toll roads– and selling off state resources that bring in tax money to the highest private bidder, presumably the largest of which would be Walmart. They have been actively opposing anyone who supported any initiative of the Obama administration or the current Democratic legislature, and are in fact using our tax money to sue the federal government to prevent implementation of HCR. They are attacking Democratic candidates by pursuing state university professors whose research supports global warming, shouting about Cap and Trade, shouting about HCR, and pointing out that they are the same party as President Obama and Nancy Pelosi. No Republican candidate in Virginia has produced any alternative plan for doing the work of the government in serving and protecting citizens.

So it is a matter of where government should be big and where it should be small. Democrats have a history of making government large where it takes care of citizens and small where it infringes on individual choice and freedoms. Republicans have a history of making government small where it wrings out citizen support, protections, and resources and large where it enriches corporate interests.

All governments are “tax and spend,” and governments of large nations are large. The distinction between the political parties is to be found in what they do with the taxes and how they express their largeness. I am voting for Democrats because I believe a government should be large enough to bring home the bacon for the ordinary citizen in infrastructure, services, and opportunity. I know my government is large enough to insure either 1) that every one of my neighbors is fed and educated and has health care or 2) that a few people get extremely wealthy and the rest of us have plenty of prisons.

I stand with Democrats for Option One.

Renewable Energy Seminar Monday, Oct. 25th

Everyone is invited to come to this seminar at 5:30 to 7:00 p.m., in ISC-130 on the Virginia Highlands Community College campus. Claudia J. Banner, a principal engineer for American Electric Power’s New Generation Development division, will address the topic of renewable energy. Community members are invited to join students of VHCC’s Energy Technology, Electricity, and HVAC programs for this informative discussion. Ms. Banner holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from Capital University.

What a kilowatt-hour costs

At last night’s Town Hall in Bristol, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell expressed support for off-shore wind energy, and I want to respond to his statement that we cannot afford the move to clean energy because the price per kilowatt-hour is higher for clean energy.

I believe in general that there is common ground between factions in our state and in our nation even at this most contentious time, and the common ground is the common good. I am by commitment holding fast to the idea that people all want to be happy, and nobody wants to see anybody else suffer. For the most part, disagreements arise among us because some people see the world as simple and compartmentalized, and others see the world as incredibly complex and interrelated.

With regard to the clean energy question, the objection of cost per kilowatt-hour appears reasonable if we compartmentalize energy production. We look at a power plant, calculate its costs, and arrive at a selling price that we call the cost per kilowatt-hour. We balance this cost against the effect of carbon emissions, which some of us still question. This distraction keeps us from seeing other immediately quantifiable and visible costs of dirty energy production that are distributed over the ecological and economic community.

If we can see past the simple formula we now use for cost per kilowatt-hour, we can see that a more accurate reflection of the cost of coal and oil energy production would have to include these costs as well:

  • land use lost to pollution from run-off and residue
  • health effects of fly ash that dusts heavy metals and radiation across our landscape and in our children’s schools and play areas
  • loss to sea and maritime industries including food production related to oil spills at sea
  • cleanup from oil spills at sea
  • losses to insurers and investors when coal and oil production damages occur
  • loss of income to families of dead or disabled workers
  • medical care and loss of income associated with black lung and similar rock and coal dust effects to miners
  • costs of oil-related conflicts like the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

I am sure that I have left out something in this formula, but you can see the point. To compartmentalize the calculation of costs we pay for carbon-based energy to the amount that a power plant has to charge for a kilowatt-hour is neither honest nor accurate. We are paying more for dirty energy than we think we are, because in the interest of dirty energy, our economy must absorb all of these costs.