Europe: decouple pollution from economic growth

In a year-end message the European Environment Agency Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. “We need to break this link between environmental damage and economic growth if we are to achieve continued prosperity, without destroying the natural systems that sustain us.”

The EEA predicts that “the shift to a ‘green economy’ which does not damage the environment looks set to dominate environmental discussions next year.” The big environmental event of the year will be the June conference in Rio de Janeiro marking the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit. This United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held 20 – 22 June and is expected to focus on green economy issues.

Details of the Rio+20 Conference are at http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/

The European Environment Agency year-end review is at http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/economic-growth-must-be-decoupled

Virginia Uranium Mining report has some broader application

Mining for uranium is currently prohibited in the State of Virginia but with a commercially viable stock the State regulator asked the National Research Council to convene an independent committee of experts to write a report that described the scientific, environmental, human health and safety, and regulatory aspects of mining and processing Virginia’s uranium resource. The report, now in a published draft with a finalized non-technical summary, discusses some issues that are relevant not only to uranium mining in Virginia but also to many broader resource exploitation projects in other jurisdictions.

Among many topics the report discusses uncertainties of long-term management of tailings, risks from extreme rainfalls and earthquakes, risks to the health of miners, and risks of off-site exposure to radiation and radionuclides. The report recommends:

  • planning at the outset of a project for the complete life cycle of mining, processing, and reclamation;
  • retaining qualified experts familiar with internationally accepted best practices for all aspects of a project; and
  • encouraging meaningful and timely public participation throughout the life cycle of a project, beginning at the earliest stages.

One of the more interesting findings of the report is that “The United States’ federal government has only limited experience regulating conventional uranium mining, processing, and reclamation over the past two decades”.

The report, a press release, and a brief summary are available at http://dels.nas.edu/Report/Uranium-Mining-Virginia-Scientific-Technical/13266

Household appliances with recycled content

Early next year Panasonic is launching a line of household appliances with parts made from recycled plastic and glass. The products includes a refrigerator, a rice cooker, a washer/dryer, and a vacuum cleaner. In addition to recycled resin the appliances will use insulation made from recycled glass from used television cathode ray tubes.

The appliances will also have intelligent control systems that, according to Panasonic,  will cause the appliances to adapt themselves to each person’s lifestyle and usage, greatly reducing wasted electricity and water consumption.

Initially the appliances will be available only in Japan. Details at http://panasonic.co.jp/corp/news/official.data/data.dir/en111214-6/en111214-6.html

 

Hydrocarbon refrigerants

The US Environmental Protection Agency has finally lifted its restriction on the use of certain hydrocarbons as refrigerants in household and small commercial refrigerators and freezers. In GallonDaily’s opinion this approval for use of hydrocarbon refrigerants is long overdue. Hydrocarbon refrigerants for use in domestic refrigerators were popularized by Greenpeace in the former East Germany in the early 1990′s and have been available in Europe ever since. Hydrocarbon refrigerants can achieve similar energy efficiency to hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants without the huge impact on climate change that is characteristic of HFCs. HFC-134a, the most common HFC refrigerant in use today, has a global warming potential of 3,830 times that of carbon dioxide and an atmospheric lifetime of 14 years; HFC-23 has a global warming potential of 12,000 times that of carbon dioxide and an atmospheric lifetime of 270 years. They do not deplete the ozone layer, which is why they have been widely adopted as alternatives to ozone depleting CFCs and HCFCs.

In Canada there is no restriction on sale and use of equipment with hydrocarbon refrigerants but both the Canadian Standards Association and The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) offer little encouragement for their use. HRAI states that “The use of a flammable refrigerant in a home or building could create a serious fire and explosion risk” while CSA has special rules for systems containing hydrocarbon refrigerants.

No major manufacturers of North American household appliances have yet announced their intention to bring hydrocarbon-based refrigerators to the domestic market. Given the very high greenhouse gas potential from existing HFC refrigerants, one can only hope that the EPA announcement encourages some in the industry to wake up.

The EPA announcement is at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/eed8a9f289e19d3f85257966005dbf51!OpenDocument

The Greenpeace take on ‘Greenfreeze” hydrocarbon technology is at http://archive.greenpeace.org/ozone/greenfreeze/

Smart vehicle routing yields dramatic reduction in emissions

Research from the State University of New York at Buffalo shows that smart routing can reduce air pollution from vehicles by a significant amount without major increases in travel time.

A university news release states that green routing could reduce overall emissions of carbon monoxide by 27 percent for area drivers, while increasing the length of trips by an average of just 11 percent. Rerouting just one fifth of drivers — those who would benefit most from a new path — can reduce regional emissions by about 20 percent.

Though the article focuses on carbon monoxide, not carbon dioxide as stated by some US media, it does state that green rerouting of drivers can also reduce fuel consumption. None of this is surprising – GallonDaily’s owners were promoting intelligent routing as a way to reduce fuel consumption of truck fleets in the early 1990′s – but the fact that GPS systems can be applied to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicles by such a significant amount is well worth some serious attention. As the SUNY at Buffalo study suggests, it appears to make sense to apply as much effort to implementing tools to ‘green reroute’ our existing vehicles as we are currently applying to hybrid and electric vehicle development.

The detailed paper is apparently not yet published but the University press release can be found at http://www.buffalo.edu/news/13070

Euro industries call for tighter cap and trade

A group of major European companies, part of the Prince of Wales’s EU Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, are calling for tighter rules for the EU cap and trade system and higher prices for carbon.  The group states:

Cap and Trade schemes, such as the ETS, are the best market mechanisms to deliver cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. However, the economic crisis has significantly impacted the effectiveness of the EU ETS as seen by today’s low level of trading and carbon price. This impact, coupled with potentially distorting effects from other policy measures at national or EU level, threatens the ETS’s ability to deliver Europe’s low-carbon future at lowest cost.

We firmly believe that the simplest and most deliverable route to avoid such impacts is through an urgent recalibration of Phase III of the ETS by withholding allowances and designing a robust Phase IV that will send the right long term price and investment signal and will immediately strengthen the carbon price.

Companies signing the letter include Alstom, T-Mobile, Philips, Shell, Tesco Unilever, and Vestas. The letter and a press release are available at http://www.cpsl.cam.ac.uk/Leaders-Groups/The-Prince-of-Wales-Corporate-Leaders-Group-on-Climate-Change/EU-CLG.aspx

US lightbulb phaseout hits Republican wall

It appears that the US ban on inefficient incandescent lightbulbs that was due to come into effect on January 1st may become a casualty of Congressional wrangling over the budget. Congress has added a rider to the final budget bill preventing the US Department of Energy from going ahead with the ban at least until next September.

The rider is not so good for the US economy. US manufacturers have spent millions on research and development and geared up domestic production to meet the new efficiency standard. If inefficient lightbulbs are to remain on store shelves they will likely have to be imported from Asia.

Even China has adopted a program to phase out inefficient light bulbs starting in September. In the end the Congressional action may be little more than tokenism as most lightbulb manufacturers switch production to the more efficient models.

News of the Congressional action is fairly easy to find in US media. A particularly comprehensive article is at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1211/70534.html

News of the China phaseout of inefficient incandescent manufacturing is at  http://www.residentiallighting.com/china-phase-out-inefficient-bulbs

USDA tightens fertilizer application requirements

This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a revised National Conservation Practice Standard for nutrient management. This is a directive to agricultural advisors and those providing advice to farmers with the objective of helping producers better manage the application of nitrogen and phosphorus on agricultural land, improve crop results and reduce environmental impacts of nutrients and fertilizers. It applies to land application of natural and synthetic fertilizers as well as nutrients from such sources as sewage sludge.

The Standard includes numerous requirements, including:

  • comprehensive nutrient budgets and risk assessments for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium;
  • mandatory soil tests;
  • limits on application rates for these nutrients;
  • specified measures to reduce air pollution;
  • modification of animal feed diets to reduce the nutrient content of manure; and
  • mandatory aerial site photograph(s)/imagery or site map(s) in nutrient management plans.

The new Standard, along with other associated documents, can be found at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/landuse/crops/npm

Arsenic etc in groundwater near US coal ash dumps

The US environmental group Environmental Integrity Project has just issued an updated report on groundwater contamination in the vicinity of coal ash dumps. These dumps are commonly found close to coal-fired power plants but may also be found close to industries that burn large quantities of coal.

According to EIP there are 157 sites across the US where coal ash has contaminated the environment. At many of these, coal ash appears to have contaminated groundwater with arsenic or other pollutants at levels above Maximum Contaminant Levels. Many have shown groundwater concentrations of pollutants such as boron, molybdenum, and manganese, above EPA-recommended Health Advisories for children or adults. In a few cases, groundwater around coal ash dumps is more toxic than hazardous waste leachate.

A summary, a press release, the latest EIP report, and links to prior reports can be found at http://environmentalintegrity.org/12_13_2011.php

To GallonDaily’s knowledge there has been no similar systematic study of groundwater contamination in the vicinity of coal ash dumps in Canada. Readers aware of any such study are invited to submit information for possible publication.

It Saves Energy dot mx

It continues to puzzle GallonDaily that Canadian governments are stalling on mandating energy efficient lightbulbs. Even our neighbour to the south, under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, is moving more aggressively than Canada to phase out use of energy inefficient incandescent lightbulbs. No company makes cheap tungsten lightbulbs in Canada so there is nothing to lose for our economy by following the US lead.

One of the most aggressive lightbulb energy conservation programs is coming from our neighbour to the South once removed. Mexico is handing out 44 million free compact fluorescent lightbulbs, four at a time. The program is expected to save US$3.39 million to Mexico during the ten years of the program, will reduce consumption of electricity by 4.17 Gigawatt hours annually and will save fuel equivalent to 7.44 million barrels of oil per year. It will avoid 28 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate the construction of 2 new power plants.

The program is a partnership of the Government of Mexico and CoolNRG International and was announced in October of this year. The GHG emission credits to be generated are already sold to the Netherlands.

If anyone understands why Canada is not participating in such a program, we welcome your comments and will publish the most plausible in the monthly Gallon Environment Letter.

Details of the Mexico initiative are at http://ahorraenergia.mx/2011/10/luz-verde-mexico-focos-ahorradores/ and click on the Translate button then the rollout for English if you are not fluent in Spanish.