Friday, August 31, 2007

AFL-CIO Parade and Rally on Labor Day

As you enjoy your long weekend, consider spending some time with the folks who brought you the five day work week.
The Delaware State AFL-CIO is holding its Labor Day parade on Monday, September 3 in Wilmington. The parade starts at 10:00 a.m. at 12th & King Streets, and proceeds down to Tubman-Garrett Park on the riverfront (behind the Amtrak station), the site of a rally from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m.
For those who think that labor unions (or parades for that matter) are anachronistic, I would point out that we live in an era when wealth is being concentrated on a scale not seen in a century. I don't think it's too much to ask that working folks be given the opportunity to organize on their own behalf.
Besides, it might even be fun. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

TommyWonk On the Air On WDSL Today at Noon

I've been invited to join a panel discussion on blogging and public issues today at noon on the program Delmarva Today on WSDL (FM 90.7) in Salisbury. I will be joining the program host, Don Rush; Juliet Dee, Associate Professor of Communications at the University of Delaware; Greg Bassett, executive editor of the Daily Times; and G. A. Harrison, publisher of Delmarva Dealings.
I think I was asked to join as an example of a polite, well behaved blogger. It should be interesting.

UPDATE: I just got off the line after talking for a half hour with the host, Don Rush, Greg Bassett and G. A. Harrison. I'm happy I was invited on; it was a great discussion.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Poverty: Now With All the Modern Conveniences

Dave at First State Politics posted this he found about how the poor don't have it so rough because they enjoy many modern conveniences like color television and air conditioning. He picked it up from another blogger, who in turn picked it up from Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation. Dave admonished his readers, "And don’t anyone go all nutsy on me." I'm sure he'll let me know if my response crosses the line into nutsy or not.
The point that life in modern America is made easier by electronic gadgets like color TVs, air conditioners, microwave ovens and DVD players seems to me unremarkable. After citing all the household gadgets poor people enjoy, Rector concludes:
While it is appropriate to be con­cerned about the difficulties faced by some poor families, it is important to keep these problems in per­spective. Many poor families have intermittent difficulty paying rent or utility bills but remain very well housed by historic or inter­national standards. Even poor families, who are overcrowded by U.S. standards or face temporary food shortages, are still likely to have living con­ditions that are far above the world average.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median net worth of the the bottom quintile (20%) of U.S. household income in 2000 was $7,396, the value of a used car. For some, a broken engine block can effectively wipe out a household's net worth.
Rector chooses to measure poverty by world standards, and concludes that most Americans have physical comforts unkown in many parts of the world. I choose to measure wealth and poverty in our society in terms of full access to the American dream. Here, I see unfinished work to be done.
Health care is increasingly hard to come by for middle income Americans, let alone those working minimum wage jobs. As for higher education, the cost of college is so far out of proportion to the assets of poor families that meaningful comparison is difficult. Even with financial aid, the cost of college can be daunting; the price of an intro biology text can be as high as that color television.
The United States is wealthy on an unprecedented scale. Even so, some of us, less sanguine about the lives of the poor, believe that it's not too much to hope that all of our fellow Americans ought to have access to the full benefits of living in midst of this prosperity.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fixing the DSWA's Inefficient Recycling Program

Back in June, when the General Assembly was considering statewide recycling, Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) director Pasquale Canzano admitted that the agency was losing $6 million on recycling, a sum he said the agency couldn't afford. In response to his comment, "We need to do something," I suggested that the DSWA should rethink its business model.
Today's News Journal reports that the DSWA is being forced by growing losses (now reaching $9 million) to revisit its inefficient recycling program:
DSWA commissioners are likely to consider cost-cutting moves early next month, during a scheduled series of briefings on budget and operating issues.
Options could include shifting weekly curbside pickups to every other week. Also under consideration is a switch to "single stream" mixed-good containers at Recycle Delaware drop-off centers, which would eliminate the need to sort and distribute materials among several large bins.
"That's certainly an option," said Rich von Stetten, Recycle Delaware manager. "We want to be able to put all kinds of options out there. The more we look into single-stream, the more it looks like it might make sense at the drop-offs."
DSWA already plans to eliminate sorting bags and bins from all its curbside recycling programs, allowing all subscribers to put cans, plastic bottles, paper, cardboard and glass in a single container.
Cutting costs should not mean cutting services. The current requirement that materials be sorted before being placed on the curb forces the DSWA to separately handle materials every step of the way, resulting in much higher processing costs. The DSWA should find support for changing the way it collects and processes recyclables:
Patricia H. Todd, a member of the Recycling Public Advisory Council and the League of Women Voters, said she opposes any cuts in services but supports moves that make household recycling easier for residents.
"They should go to single-stream, definitely," Todd said.
The DSWA's losses should not be taken to mean that recycling can't work. Consider the relative costs of Wilmington’s city-wide program versus the DSWA’s voluntary program. Right now the DWSA's recycling program, which requires residents to sort their material, for $3 a month.
The city now collects recyclables from 28,000 households, at a maximum cost to the city of $150,000 (which is not charged to residents) for the coming fiscal year. If the city achieves 50 percent diversion, the net cost drops to zero. The city's maximum cost comes to roughly $6 per household per year, one sixth of the DSWA's cost.
We can do more that hope the DSWA understands the need to fundamentally change its recycling program; we can speak out and remind the agency that others are finding cost effective ways to improve recycling and divert waste from landfills.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Take a Stand Day Tuesday in Rodney Square

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is staging the final event of the summer with a rally in Rodney Square this Tuesday:
Final Rally!
Rally to Bring our troops home from Iraq and Demand that Castle Take A Stand to End the War
Rodney Square in Wilmington, DE.
All Day Music, Food, Community Organizations, and Free Giveaways!
7 am to 7 pm, with the main event from 5 pm to 7 pm.
In Case of Rain:
We will be holding the 5 pm to 7 pm portion of the event at
Ursuline Performing Arts Academy,
1021 N. Van Buren Street, Wilmington, DE.
For more information about the national campaign to end the surge in Iraq and start bringng the troops home, go to

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bluewater Wind's Peter Mandelstam on WILM Sunday at 11:00

My friend Paul Hughes puts on a show called the Great Green Home Show on Sundays from 11:00 AM to Noon on WILM, 1450 AM.
This Sunday, Paul's guest will be Peter Mandelstam, founder and president of Bluewater Wind.
With three weeks to go before the PSC deadline for negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware, it will be interesting to hear what Mandelstam can tell us about how the talks are progressing.

Analysis of the DNREC/NRG Agreement

Through writing on wind power and clean air issues, I have become acquainted with John Austin, a former EPA staffer, and Patricia Gearity, a lawyer, two of the leaders of Citizens for Clean Power. They have reviewed the DNREC agreement with NRG and published their conclusions in the News Journal:
Is pact with NRG best deal for state?
Citizens for Clean Power has reviewed the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Aug. 9 memorandum to NRG power company. The memo outlines a settlement to reduce pollution from the Indian River Power Plant in Millsboro. NRG's agreement to meet Phase I requirements for mercury reduction by Dec. 1, 2008, is good news. Only weeks ago, NRG asserted this could not be done. (See NRG's "Compliance Plan" for Regulation 1146, posted on DNREC's Web site.)
The announcement is here and the letters detailing the consent decree are here.
However, it appears the rest of the settlement was driven not by NRG's technical inability to meet Regulation 1146 requirements, but by corporate financial considerations. NRG made no secret of its refusal to comply with Regulation 1146 for Units 1 and 2 (now 50 years old with no pollution controls and no capital expenses). Compliance would require retrofitting the old units at great expense, or shutting them down. Since Units 1 and 2 provide NRG with massive profits, it makes business sense to keep them operating as long as possible.
John and Pat have it exactly right. With the capital costs long since paid for, NRG can operate these units as cash cows, throwing off profits without the need for further investment in them.
However, the deal to delay reduction of toxic sulfur dioxide, or SO2, and nitrogen oxide, or NOx, comes with a big price tag for Delaware. According to the Office of Management & Budget, each reduction of one ton of SO2 saves approximately $7,300 in health care costs and mortality-based benefits. Reduction in NOx emissions saves $1,300 per ton in mortality-based benefits alone.
"Mortality-based benefits" is a term used by economists to quantify the cost of people dying prematurely.
The settlement allows NRG to emit 23,000 tons more sulfur dioxide from 2009-2011 than is allowed under Regulation 1146. Based on OMB's calculation for SO2, delaying full compliance with Regulation 1146 will cost $167.9 million in extra health care costs and mortality-based benefits. Instead of reducing NOx emissions below 4238 tons starting in 2009, NRG will be able to emit an additional 5000 tons over three years. The cost of that provision will be at least $6.5 million in health costs and mortality-based benefits.
In sum, because compliance with SO2 and NOx regulations has been delayed, the deal will cost at least $174.4 million in additional health costs and mortality-based benefits. How much expense could be offset by the larger reductions in emissions after 2011? The actual reduction in NOx will be from 0.125 lbs./million BTU to 0.100 lbs./million BTU. The reduction in SO2 will be from 0.26 lbs./million BTU to 0.20 lbs./million BTU. In tons per year, these are not large changes. Health-related savings will be about $17.95 million/yr. At that rate, it will take at least 10 years to recover the cost of the deal with NRG.
Here we see the cold economic calculus on the part of NRG: The free cash flow generated by operating Units 1 & 2 is accompanied by measurable health costs that don't show up on the company's financial statements.
The full cost of this settlement must include the suffering, stress, disease and premature loss of loved ones which will be experienced by many in the coming years. How much did NRG save by settling? We don't know. NRG will continue to pump large amounts of toxic SO2, NOx, carbon monoxide, arsenic, lead compounds, nickel compounds and chromium compounds into the air every day for the next three years. In that respect, little has changed.
CCP calls on DNREC to install several gas analyzers and fine particulate, or PM2.5, monitors near the NRG coal plant. We need reliable data on current and future amounts of pollutants at ground level. Currently, the only PM2.5 monitor in Sussex County is at Seaford, well outside the downwind swath of polluted air from the coal plant. Put monitors and gas analyzers in CCP's suspected non-attainment areas of Dagsboro, Millsboro and Lewes. There is no excuse for failing to monitor arsenic, SO2, NOx, carbon monoxide, and fine particulates in locations with high rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer.
People have a right to know if substances from the coal plant are making them sick. If the state says it can't afford monitoring equipment, have NRG write a check from their multimillion-dollar revenue stream at Indian River. Make it the price for doing business in Delaware.
It seems to me a modest proposal: Ask NRG to at least pay for the equipment that would measure the quality of the air surrounding its plant.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mountaintop Removal

The Bush administration has promulgated new regulations to make it easier to destroy the landscape in the pursuit of coal. The new rules would relax restrictions on the horrific practice known as mountaintop removal, in which entire mountains are blasted out of existence and the refuse dumped into what used to be creeks and rivers.
The New York Times
has the story:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration wants to quit requiring coal operators to prove that their surface mining will not damage streams, fish and wildlife.
Under proposed new regulations that it will put out Friday for public comment, strip mine operators would have to show only that they intend ''to prevent, to the extent possible using the best technology currently available,'' such damage.
This language is nothing short of Orwellian. Mountaintop removal, by definition, does more than damage streams for instance; it causes them to cease to exist.
This aerial photo taken near Kayford Mountain, West Virginia shows what mountaintop removal looks like. To give a sense of the scale of the operation, the small object in the right hand side of the photo is a dragline, the largest earth moving machine ever built. The scars inflicted on the landscape are visible from earth orbit.
The language used to describe this practice is no less tortuous than the practice itself:
''With this proposal, we can establish a consistent, nationwide means to reduce the impacts of surface coal mining and provide clear rules specifying what mining activities can and cannot be conducted near bodies of water,'' said C. Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary of Interior for Land and Minerals Management.
Current policy from the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining says land within 100 feet of a stream cannot be disturbed by mining unless a company can prove it will not affect the water's quality and quantity.
Interior officials have said that complying with that buffer zone requirement is impossible in ''mountaintop removal mining,'' which involves shearing off the tops of ridges to expose a coal seam. Dirt and rock are pushed below, often into stream beds, a practice known as valley fill.
In other words the practice cannot meet current regulatory requirements, so the federal government is proposing to make it easier to destroy the landscape on an even larger scale.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition has much more on this practice. The proposed rules can be found here.
Photo: Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Blessed are the peacemakers"

I missed the anti-war rally Monday night at Canaan Baptist Church, but I've been hearing that Dr. Christopher Bullock's sermon rocked the house.
I asked him if I could post the text, and he readily agreed. Even though the printed word is no substitute for hearing a preacher like Dr. Bullock, I can almost hear his sonorous tones as I read the prepared text.
Sermon: “Blessed Are the Peacemakers”
August 20, 2007
Dr. Christopher Alan Bullock

Our world, indeed our nation, aches with the need for a spirit of hope, peace and truthfulness. Our national condition is extremely serious. We are living in perilous times. We must make sense out of nonsense. We must bring order to disorder. We have pitiful poverty in a land of plenty. The poor are oppressed. The rich are filled with greed. Our priorities must be food to feed the hungry, shelter for the homeless, jobs for the unemployed, a livable wage for the employed, comfort for the aged, affordable housing, quality education for our children, judicial reform, peace among nations and power for the powerless.
Thus, the need for America is not the raging of war in Iraq or the threat of more war in Iran and North Korea. The war in Iraq is wrong and it can’t get right. America must stop talking peace while raging war. We need to wind down this war and bring our brave troops home. We have lost too much and suffered too much as a country. We cannot continue, as Bill Clinton said, to jail, kill, bomb or occupy countries because we do not
like their leaders or their particular form of government.
I say we need to build bridges – bridges of hope – bridges of diplomacy and bridges of dialogue. This war is costing us $12 billion dollars a month now. We ought to be outraged at the misplaced priorities of the Bush Administration. We must embrace a new moral assignment of peace. America’s economic priorities must shift from wars and rumors of more war to a comprehensive and bold domestic agenda at home. As we sit here tonight, our infrastructure is crumbling. Dilapidated roads, dams and bridges are collapsing. Let’s shift our economic priorities. Our airports, highways and pipelines are beyond problematic. The awful devastation of hurricane Katrina revealed to the world that America’s infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and restoration. Think of what could be done with $12 billion dollars. We could increase security on this soil. We could fix the health care crisis…49 million Americans don’t have health insurance. We could start new economic initiatives in underserved urban markets. The American people deserve better and the world deserves better…and we can do better.
At this point in his notes, Dr. Bullock refers to some sad statistics relating to the surge, citing the Brookings Institute Iraq Index and
U.S. Troops Added As A Result Of the Escalation: 25,000
Coalition Troops Withdrawn (non-U.S.): 3,142
U.S. Fatalities: 680
U.S. Wounded: 5,055
Dr. Bullock continued:
America’s greatest need is to engage in concrete moral actions that lead to peace. We need peaceful and just actions that speak to humanity’s prevailing need for more unity, community and opportunity. How do we get to where we need to be? Mohandas Gandhi warned mankind to avoid what he called the seven social sins:
Politics without principle
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Pleasure without conscience
Education without character
Science without humanity (and)
Worship without sacrifice.
How do we respond to the reality of so much violence in our midst? Rev. Martin Luther King said …“We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.” William McKinley said…God will keep no nation in supreme peace that will not do supreme duty. And, that duty, as the prophet Micah said is…“to do justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
The Gospel is the most revolutionary manifesto in human history. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God.” An eye for an eye won’t work. One can always find a cause for vengeful actions. But, bold vision and imagination opens up new priorities, new perspectives and new possibilities. Lets get beyond “either/or" thinking with two options; your position verses mine. Instead, let’s open up new
avenues. Look at our needs. Look at our common ground. Raise more noble ambitions. Bold vision provides the roadmap for action to change the world.
Without a vision, the people perish. I see a new vision of global goodness. One that is based on values, human rights and economic justice. One that uses non-violent means to resolve differences. Talk it out, not fight it out!
I see a new vision. One where the wicked will cease from troubling and the weary will be at rest. So let us lay aside every weight and sin that so easily besets us. The harvest is
plenteous, but the laborers are few. So let us not get weary in well doing, for we shall reap if we faint not. Walk together children and don’t get weary. Pray together children and don’t get weary. Sing together children and don’t get weary. Vote together children and don’t get weary. March together children and don’t get weary. Join hand to hand. Heart to heart, and don’t get weary. We shall reap if we faint not. Blessed are the peacemakers. Go in peace ye messengers of peace.
God bless you and keep the faith.

Power Failure in Baghdad

The New York Times today reports that the power grid in Iraq is crumbling and increasingly at the mercy of armed militants:
BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 — Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.
That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.
This alarming admission was elicited from the electricity minister at a briefing on how the U.S. presence is bringing modern conveniences to Iraq.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.
But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.
Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials
have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.
But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.
This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair.

It has been 1,575 days since President Bush announced the end of major combat operations under a banner that read “Mission Accomplished.,” and Iraq’s government cannot deliver electricity to the country’s capital.
The proponents of the war and the surge like to style themselves as hard-headed realists, but what can they offer in terms of realistic expectations that the presence of an additional U.S. troops will improve conditions on the ground?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Philly Folk Fest, Part 3

Coming home from the an event like Fest involves conflicting emotions. No matter how much fun I'm having, I can't wait to return to indoor plumbing and a comfortable bed.
Returning to work, I find my attention forced from musical styles, rhythms and melodies to spreadsheets, policies and procedures. But I can still rest my mind on those unexpected, luminous moments of musical or visual experience.
Moments before I captured this image of the parasols in Dulcimer Grove, I watched a woman dance to a Doc Watson song in a glow in the dark hula hoop. I'm not making this up. I couldn't make this up. The best I can do is to marvel at the unexpected grace of the moment.
The Philadelphia Folk Festival doesn't happen by accident; it happens because many hundreds of volunteers work to make these experiences possible. These volunteers cook the meals, patrol the grounds, pick up the trash, set up the stages, and govern this small city for this one week each year, just for the hope that they and others may find that graceful moment that in some small way makes life worth living.
If you think you'd like to be a part of the Folk Fest tradition, mark the dates August 15 to 17, 2008 on your calender, and go to the Philadelphia Folk Song Society website for alerts on how you can volunteer. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Philly Folk Fest, Part 2

At the Philly Folk Fest, the stage lights were lit on Thursday night, when Wilmington's own Angel Band with David Bromberg presented a two hour show at the Camp Stage.
Nancy Josephson, who is married to Bromberg, has assembled the most compelling version of the vocal trio yet with Jen Schonwald and Kathleen Weber joining last year. All three are capable of taking a turn as lead, especially Josephson, who is singing with power and presence I hadn't seen before. Folk fans may have heard their previous versions of the old song "Angel of the Morning," but this time out they burned the song to the ground and left its embers smoldering in my chest.
I've long been a fan of Jonathon Edwards.
His high clear voice has taken on added warmth over the years without losing its clarity, and his harmonica playing is a sharp as ever.
Doc Watson's singing and playing is as straightforward and familiar as the footpath to your
neighbor's house, and as warm as the kitchen fire that awaits you when you get there.
Jess Klein is a singer and player of considerable power, who conveys the range of human emotions with her shifting dynamics and expressive voice.
She firmly embedded her enigmatic song "Soda Water" in the center of my brain on Friday night. It doesn't seem to be leaving anytime soon.
Son Volt lead singer Jay Farrar's voice sounds as comfortable and lived in as the band's plaid shirts.The band stretched out on a couple of songs with jams in which their instruments exuded a warm, tube amp contentment.
Bettye LaVette rocked the crowd with a smoking version of Lucinda Williams' "Joy." LaVette evidently found her joy, with enough left over for everyone on hand.
And at the end of each evening, the parasols illuminated the way from the main stage to the campsite, where thousands picked up their instruments and lifted their voices in song.

Philly Folk Fest, Part 1

I'm back from the Philly Folk Fest, trying to recover from several days of sleep deprivation. I'll have more to report soon, but for now, I'll offer this photo of a graceful array of parasols in Dulcimer Grove.
When illuminated, the parasols float like an apparition in the breeze.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Off to Folk Fest

I'm off to the Philly Folk Fest, which again is offering a wide array of great music. I will finally get to see Doc Watson play, an experience my friend Scott Birney once likened to gazing into the face of God. Jonathon Edwards, whose voice hasn't lost any of its clarity, will be there. The exquisite Greencards, shown here in Arden last month, will be there.
Wilmington's own David Bromberg and Angel Band will play the special Thursday night concert at the Camp Stage. Other performers include Jess Klein and Son Volt. As is often the case, my favorite music will likely come from an act I've never heard before. Maybe this year it will be Baka Beyond, described as an African Celtic crossover band.
And when the stages go dark, the music starts up on the hill, where thousands of musicians will pick up their instruments and jam all night.

DNREC Keeps Quiet about the Deal with NRG

I'm trying to get out of town, but I couldn't leave before commenting on some recent developments in the fight to improve Delaware's air.
Environmental activists would like to know more about the agreement DNREC made with NRG to allow the company to miss some of the deadlines imposed by new air emission standards, known as Regulation 1146, established last year. But as the News Journal reports, DNREC secretary John Hughes isn't saying:
"A settlement of a lawsuit is conducted by private negotiations. That's standard across the world, as far as I'm concerned. It's not a public process," said John Hughes, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
A deal with NRG cannot be considered in isolation:

But Mark Martell, president of Delaware Audubon, a conservation group, said the agreement sets a precedent that industry doesn't have to comply with state regulations. He said the state's citizens deserve a chance to look at the deal before it is executed. "This deal starts other deals," Martell said, noting that Conectiv, which has a plant in Edgemoor, is also challenging the new regulations. Of NRG's older units, he said, "That plant should have been shut down years ago. If that's what they need to do to comply, sorry about that, but they knew this was coming."
NRG and Conectiv Delmarva Generation have both appealed the new regulations, offering similar arguments. NRG has actually argued that the new standards would worsen the air because it would shift more electrical generation to power plants in the Midwest, upwind of Delaware. Conectiv argues that federal regulations allowing the trading of emission allowances should trump the state's attempt to regulate its Edge Moor plant. In its response to Conectiv's filing, DNREC countered that using the federal emissions trading program alone could worsen air pollution in Delaware:
Conectiv argues that the Department should have simply participated in EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule instead of promulgating Regulation 1146. The Clean Air Interstate Rule (also called “CAIR”) is another emissions trading rule, where a source can purchase emissions credits from other sources, including out-of-state sources, to allow it to continue to emit at its current levels without installing pollution controls.21 DNREC does not believe, mainly because of this trading aspect, that CAIR alone is sufficiently protective of Delaware citizens, who should not suffer the health effects of continued emissions levels of SO2 and NOx and continued nonattainment with the NAAQS. In fact, EPA’s CAIR modeling showed that should Delaware not promulgate Regulation 1146 and only participate in the CAIR program, pollution emissions inside the State may actually increase.
In effect, it's an argument that Delaware shouldn't impose standards any stricter than the lowest standards found anywhere in the Midwestern United States. And just as Conectiv and NRG don't want to be forced to be cleaner than the dirtiest plants within a thousand miles of Delaware, if one of the companies can cut a deal, the other will want to do the same.
As clean air activist John Austin pointed out to me last night, DNREC's response to Conectiv's filing is clear about the company's intentions:
In reality, Conectiv has demonstrated that it will do little without a regulatory driver and will litigate against any regulatory driver that does come out. However, once forced to make reductions, Conectiv then touts itself as a good environmental steward.
Conectiv and NRG are fighting every attempt to clean Delaware's air, whether it be Regulation 1146 or the decision to bring wind power to Delaware. Regulation 1146 and the legal filings it has prompted can be found here. We may not be allowed to know the full story of the agreement with NRG or any possible agreement with Conectiv, but we can understand how DNREC's actions will affect our air quality.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NRG and the Sussex County Cancer Cluster

I attended yesterday's meeting of the Environment Committee of the Delaware Cancer Consortium to learn more about the cancer cluster identified in the six zip codes surrounding NRG's Indian River power plant. I didn't stick around for the announcement of an agreement for eventual implementation of emission controls at the plant. The News Journal has the story:

The handshake agreement between NRG and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control would allow NRG to miss deadlines for limiting emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide by 2009. But it would require NRG to surpass state requirements before 2012, when more stringent rules go into effect.
The agreement also states NRG will meet caps on mercury emissions by 2009, and improve on more stringent rules by 2012, one year ahead of schedule.

Even though the agreement allows NRG to put off implementing controls to meet the state's new, stricter standards, state officials seemed pleased:

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. said the agreement "sounds like a very positive thing to me" because the company will spend time limiting emissions instead of fighting in court.

Environmental activists aren't so pleased:

But Citizens for Clean Power said in a statement its members were concerned NRG was getting "a pass" to cut pollutants that cause respiratory conditions like asthma and possibly lung cancer.
"We request that DNREC explain to the public why NRG is incapable of meeting the regulations as written," the group wrote.

For my part, I can't help but wondering whether NRG set aside plans to put new controls in place while it pushed its proposed coal gasification plant as the way to meet new standards. This is pure speculation on my part; I'd be happy to learn more and be proven wrong.
The session included presentations on the statistics of the cancer cluster. Identifying the cause or causes of a cancer cluster is difficult. It's hard to establish a clear causal connection between a source of pollution and the onset of cancer in a population. It's much easier for instance to establish a causal connection between inhaling cigarette smoke and lung cancer, which is why it is possible to state with a high degree of certainty that most lung cancer is caused by tobacco use.
Which is why the committee decided that the next step in studying the cancer cluster is to try to isolate tobacco use as the possible primary cause of the elevated incidence of lung cancer.
Ali Mirzakhalili, who manages DNREC's Air Quality Management Section, offered an interesting presentation on the atmospheric pathways of the small particles referred to as PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less). PM2.5 has been identified as a significant cause of asthma, bronchitis and other chronic respiratory ailments.
Using air sampling data and detailed wind patterns from the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), he made a plausible case that the majority of PM2.5 particles in Delaware's air come from neighboring states and as far away as the Ohio Valley. Mirzakhalili described Delaware as sitting in the middle of a "transport crossroads" where pollutants from hundreds of miles away converge.
I was pleased to finally meet some downstate environmental activists, Kim Furtado and Kit Zak (having met Bill Zak last week). These dedicated and knowledgeable activists have played a significant role in turning Delaware in the direction of wind power and away from burning more coal in Delaware.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Laffer Curve Comment Rescue

I wanted to return to this comment to my most recent post on the bogus Laffer curve that miraculously appeared in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal:
OK, the WSJ graph was incompetent, but isn't the "quadratic regression" line laffer-like? Doesn't it show the US on the wrong side of the maximum?
Now, ignoring the lines altogether, the data points show the US with comparatively high corporate tax rates and comparatively low tax collections relative to GDP. It appears the US should cut its corporate tax rate!
So Norway is an outlier in part because of its energy production? Maybe that's why Iceland looks so good in this data too. It appears the US should start drilling ANWR and offshore where oil production is now banned.
Isn't it true that corporate tax collections went up dramatically after the recent tax rate cut in the US?
-Jerry B.
In response, I wrote:
Good questions, Jerry.
First, exploiting the oil reserves in ANWR would not bring the U.S. close to matching Norway's oil production when compared to relative GDP.
The curve is not pronounced, and becomes even flatter as outliers like Norway and the U.A.E. are removed from the data.
It is true that U.S. corporate tax revenues have increased over the last three years. However, U.S. corporate tax rates were last cut in 1994.
By the way, the data in the graph are from 2004, before the recent increase in corporate tax revenue.
The recent increase in U.S. corporate tax revenues would not dramatically shift the data point on the chart for the U.S. on the chart. But the fact that corporate tax revenues have sharply increased in the last three years, a decade after the last cut in the corporate tax rate, should at the least demonstrate that tax revenues are driven by factors other than the tax rate itself. That is, unless you want to argue that the Laffer curve includes a time delay effect on the order of ten years.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Recycling "Myths" Refuted

As I have noted, one way to get my attention is to post something inane about a subject that requires some modest measure of critical thought, which is just what Paul Smith, Jr. did with this post on recycling myths. It turns out that Paul's post simply repeated, without comment, something he read at Instapundit, which was picked up from an organization called the Property and Environment Research Center, or PERC, located in Bozeman, Montana.
PERC seems to be dedicated to property rights and opposed to government intervention in environmental matters. In doing so, PERC had Daniel K. Benjamin, an economics professor and senior associate, compile this list of pernicious myths supposedly brought to us by the muddled minds of dangerously soft-headed environmentalists:
Starting with the first one, Professor Benjamin and the good people of PERC seem to think that we need to be protected from the environmentalists' dire warnings that "our garbage will bury us," as though recycling advocates are telling people that the Cherry Island landfill, for instance, is about to burst its boundaries and rise to cover Wilmington in trash.
Presumably the wide open spaces of Montana are safer from the scourge of trash accumulation, and we needn't worry about Glacier National Park being buried anytime soon. It's a time honored and transparent tactic; make your opponents' argument sound as ridiculous as possible so that you can come across as reasonable and rational.
Of course the trash from Cherry Island is not about to well up and bury the streets of Wilmington.
But that doesn't mean that we don't have a landfill capacity problem; we do, and it's an expensive one. The Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) is spending $86 million on improvements to raise the maximum level of Cherry Island landfill by all of 23 feet, a cost that makes the DSWA's estimated cost of a new landfill, $106 million, look rather low.
At the heart of PERC's pronouncements on these so-called recycling myths is the belief that markets capture all relevant costs and can solve all our environmental problems. According to PERC, if recycling made sense, it would already be economically advantageous. The problem with this argument is that the economics of landfilling reflect current costs, not future costs.
It may be that the land for a new landfill will be more easily bought in Montana than in Delaware. Even so, analysis I published last year demonstrated that a modest investment in a single stream recycling facility would more than pay for itself by postponing the large cost of siting and building a new landfill to serve New Castle County.
Some of Professor Benjamin's misconceptions are simply misinformed or based on outdated understanding of how efficient recycling works:
Curbside recycling, for example, requires that more trucks be used to collect the same amount of waste materials.
Not so. In Wilmington, curbside recycling is working because the city is using the same trucks to picked up recyclables that it uses to collect trash bound for the landfill. Two days before Paul ran his post on recycling myths, the News Journal reported that Kent County is following suit:
Kent County will scrap one of its weekly trash pickups but offer every-other-week curbside recycling across its 117 refuse collection districts in January, according to the county and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority.
Perhaps we should allow Professor Benjamin the benefit of the doubt on this score. Of the eight sources listed, seven are more than ten years old. In the 1990s, the debate on the efficiency of recycling revolved around commodity prices, not on the methods used to collect and process materials, which have advanced since then.
Mark Twain famously said that "A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." We see how this list of recycling "myths" travelled from Montana to Delaware and who knows where else via a conservative blogger. It may have taken me a couple of weeks to put on my shoes, but I could not let this collection of outdated nonsense go unchallenged.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans

Time has got the jump on the rest of the pack with its two years after Katrina story. Here's the cover: The story makes a compelling case that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made New Orleans more vulnerable to hurricanes:
The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn't a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics. Katrina was not the Category 5 killer the Big Easy had always feared; it was a Category 3 storm that missed New Orleans, where it was at worst a weak 2. The city's defenses should have withstood its surges, and if
they had we never would have seen the squalor in the Superdome, the desperation on the rooftops, the shocking tableau of the Mardi Gras city underwater for weeks. We never would have heard the comment "Heckuva job, Brownie." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) was the scapegoat, but the real culprit was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which bungled the levees that formed the city's man-made defenses and ravaged the wetlands that once formed its natural defenses. Americans were outraged by the government's response, but they still haven't come to grips with the government's responsibility for the catastrophe.
They should. Two years after Katrina, the effort to protect coastal Louisiana from storms and restore its vanishing wetlands has become one of the biggest government extravaganzas since the moon mission—and the Army Corps is running the show, with more money and power than ever. Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakes—and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you'll love what's coming next.

It's worth remembering that New Orleans wasn't surrounded by levees when it was founded in 1718:
"They didn't need hurricane levees," says Kerry St. Pe, a marine biologist whose ancestors arrived in 1760. "They had wetlands to protect them." New Orleans wasn't on the coast, and hurricanes wilt over land.
That was before the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in:
Now the Gulf has advanced some 20 miles (32 km) inland, thanks in large part to the Army Corps. The Corps started as a Revolutionary War regiment, fortifying Bunker Hill, but it evolved into an all-purpose engineering unit, eventually overseeing local flood control on the Mississippi. The Corps ordered communities to imprison the river in a narrow channel with a strict "levees only" policy, rejecting calls to give the river room to spread out. So levees rose, and the Corps repeatedly declared the river floodproof. But the constrained river also rose, and its jailbreaks repeatedly proved the Corps wrong.
And the result?
But by walling off the river, trapping its sediments behind giant dams and armoring its erosive banks with concrete, the Corps inadvertently choked off the land-building process. The straitjacketed river now carries less than half its original sediment load down to Louisiana. So there's little new land-building material to offset the natural erosion of the coast, much less the unnatural rising of the sea fueled by global
The result is that New Orleans is sinking, and about 30% of the coast's wetlands have slipped into the Gulf, jutting Louisiana's chin even further into the path of Mother Nature's fist, endangering the U.S.'s largest offshore oil and gas fields, a lucrative seafood industry, a busy network of ports and about 2 million people.

The entire piece is saddening and maddening.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eat Your Vegetables

Echidne of the Snakes has grown weary of serving up her typically wholesome fare:
I'm tired of writing nutritionally balanced posts which taste like bran and untreated tofu; where the particles dangle like iron pills mixed into the food in the dog's bowl. I want to write deliriously delicious posts, silver spoonfuls of angel-food cake but with wicked drops of dark chocolate hidden in the fluffy cloud. I want to write a post which makes you fat and happy and post-orgasmically satiated.
Alas, it's not to be, right now.
Have a celery stick.
This set me to thinking: Is TommyWonk the blogging equivalent of broccoli? Do my recurring admonishments to do your (policy) homework come across as nagging my long suffering readers to eat your vegetables?
If you tire of the healthy sips of green tea you find here, you could head over to the bottomless cup of coffee that is the Mike Protack saga at First State Politics.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

TommyWonk to Talk Energy on WDEL Today

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM around 12:35 for another update on wind power. As I reported last night, the parties in the energy negotiations have agreed on September 14 as a deadline for coming to terms.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Negotiators Report Progress on Wind Power in Delaware

The parties in the negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware told the Public Service Commission (PSC) this afternoon that they are making progress and hope to have agreement on the terms by September 14. While the parties did not meet the PSC's original target of reaching agreement in sixty days, Hamermesh and representatives of the parties did report progress, and all agreed to the deadline of September 14.
Mediator Lawrence Hamermesh presented the first detailed report on the negotiations since the PSC ordered the parties to the table in May. He reported that Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind have resolved some issues, including the term of the proposed contract, the use of renewable energy credits and remedies in case of contract default, for instance if permits are not obtained. The biggest issues such as plant capacity and pricing have not yet been resolved.
Delmarva Power (DPL) is simultaneously negotiating with NRG and Conectiv Energy for a natural gas backup facility near the wind farm. The negotiations are expected to produce term sheets — detailed descriptions of the proposed contracts — for presentation to the PSC by September 14. While Delmarva Power is negotiating with all three bidders, the substantive terms for the backup power plant will depend on the terms for the wind farm. The term sheets are expected to be as long as twenty pages each. Todd Whitman, speaking for DPL, emphasized the magnitude of the potential deal, which he said could total as much as $10 billion over 25 years.
All of the parties spoke of the complexity of the negotiations, the operative metaphor being a Rubik's Cube (a metaphor reported here last month). DPL is negotiating with Bluewater Wind, and with two companies to provide backup power. Bluewater Wind already has a long term agreement with the Delaware Municipal Energy Corporation (DEMEC). The terms of these agreements must comport with rules for producing and moving electricity set forth by PJM Interconnection, which manages the regional power grid. The federal review of the wind farm site itself is somewhat fluid, since the Mineral Management Service, which oversees the leasing of offshore oil and gas fields, has never actually been presented with a proposed offshore wind farm. Other federal agencies will have to review the proposal as well.
Assuming the parties agree, three separate term sheets will be presented to the PSC on September 14 for staff review. The PSC would then review the staff report by October 29. Public comment would be accepted up to November 12, and the PSC and other agencies involved in the RFP would consider the proposed terms, including which of the two backup proposals to accept, on November 20. In the meanwhile, the parties will have been working on turning the terms sheets into complete Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which could run as many as 200 pages.
What of the threats of legal action by Delmarva Power and Conectiv Energy (both part of Pepco Holdings)? The PSC adopted Order No. 7246 which denied Conectiv's appeal of the PSC's May decision in no uncertain terms. Conectiv argued that it should be allowed to submit its own wind power proposal. As for DPL's appeal to Superior Court, that has been set aside for the time being, pending the outcome of the negotiations. It doesn't require high levels of paranoia to imagine that DPL and Conectiv have their legal staffs working on further legal actions if the negotiations fizzle.
This is more progress than I expected. To have all parties agree on a deadline is encouraging. But the most significant issues have yet to be resolved. PSC chair Arnetta McRae several times alluded to the intense public interest in the outcome of this process. Just as this public attention affected the decision to opt for wind power, it can only help to keep the process on track. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wind Power Is On the PSC's Agenda Tomorrow

The Public Service Commission (PSC) meets tomorrow at 1:00 PM in Dover. The PSC's deliberations on agenda item 7 (concerning the negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware) will include the following:
(1) The PSC will hear a report from mediator Lawrence Hamermesh on the negotiations. This will be the real news.
(2) The PSC will act on draft Order 7247 which, as written, would deny Jeremy Firestone's motion to require more detailed reports on the negotiations. Even though I have thought that this motion makes sense, I am not greatly concerned about the PSC's decision on this. Given that the PSC has directed Delmarva Power to negotiate an agreement to bring wind power to Delaware, I am inclined to give the Commission the benefit of the doubt as to how its mandate is carried out.
(3) The PSC, along with DNREC, the Controller General and the Office of Management and Budget, will act on draft Order No. 7246 to deny the appeal by Conectiv Energy (CESI) asking to allow the company to submit its own wind power proposal. The draft Order on this point is not kind to Conectiv:
[PSC] Staff asserted that both NRG and CESI had the opportunity to submit a wind proposal in December 2006 pursuant to the terms of the RFP but did not do so. Staff characterized CESI’s recent interest in submitting a wind proposal as a desperate last-minute attempt to stall the current negotiations. Staff warned that delaying the negotiations could hinder Delaware’s attempt to diversify its energy supply, prevent an informed decision on the generation bids, and waste millions of dollars already spent in the process.
It's no secret that the PSC and its sister agencies have taken a dim view of Conectiv's attempt to reopen the RFP process and drag out the negotiations. (Delmarva Power's appeal to Superior Court
of the PSC's decision has been put on hold pending at least a cursory attempt at negotiating a deal to bring wind power to Delaware.)
The sharp language found in the draft Order underscores the degree to which the state agencies have lost patience with the machinations of Delmarva Power, Conectiv Energy and their parent company, Pepco Holdings.
I will have more to report tomorrow.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Coal Power and Cancer in Delaware

The News Journal reports that state public health officials have found a higher than average incidence of cancer in Sussex County:
Years after citizen activists first asked the state for data to establish a pattern, the Division of Public Health has finally confirmed what they suspected: There's a cluster of cancer cases near the coal burning plant -- the state's worst polluter.
According to the state's own study, the rate of cancer cases in the area is 17 percent higher than the national average:
It shows an incidence of 553.9 cancer cases per 100,000 residents of a six ZIP code area around Indian River between 2000 and 2004. That's higher than the Delaware rate of 501.3 cases per 100,000, and the U.S. rate of 473.6.
This area is centered on NRG's Indian River coal plant a few miles east of Millsboro. The study didn't identify NRG's plant as the cause of the higher cancer rate. It's much harder to establish such a link for cancer than it is for infectious diseases which can be attributed to specific pathogens. Would a more detailed study tell us more? Environmental activists in Sussex County think the state should find out:
"We are saying, you need to spend the money and do it right," said Pat Gearity, spokeswoman for Citizens for Clean Power. Her group has worked to document higher-than-normal health problems in the area.
Gearity said the responsibility for investigating whether there is a link between the plants and the high rate of cancer lies with the state, not private citizens.
Lt. Gov. John Carney isn't sure whether further study would yield better data:
Carney, a member of the [Delaware Cancer Consortium's] advisory council, said he didn't have an opinion on whether the consortium should proceed with a more in-depth study. He said it might suffice to take actions "that would address whatever potential problems might exist," like reducing emissions at the plant and funding smoking cessation programs.
Unfortunately promised emission reductions at the plant are already behind schedule, and won't be implemented until 2009.
The debate over the environmental costs and benefits of coal and wind power focused largely on greenhouse gas emissions. But coal plants emit more than carbon; they spew forth toxic metals like mercury and lead.
Back in May, University of Delaware Professor Willett Kempton circulated a letter he wrote to the Public Service Commission with Jonathon Levy of the Harvard School of Public Health, in which they estimate the net public health costs of forgoing wind power in favor of continuing to burn fossil fuels:
With the inclusion of other health outcomes and given the factors described above that might imply greater benefits per unit emissions reduction in Delaware, the discounted present value of the health benefits of the proposed wind park likely greatly exceeds $1 billion.
The methodology of their study, which estimates the costs of a variety of pollution-caused illnesses, makes it hard to directly connect their findings with the state's findings of elevated cancer rates. But it does serve to remind us that the health effects of pollution are real and have consequences.
The Public Service Commission will hear a report on the negotiations from mediator Lawrence Hamermesh on Tuesday, August 7. Today's news of elevated cancer rates surrounding NRG's coal plant should underscore the importance of bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Laffer Curve: Where'd It Go?

Three weeks ago, I highlighted this fanciful drawing of the Laffer curve found in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Having somehow survived graduate level statistics, I expressed my skepticism:
Imposing the Laffer curve on the data isn't as delusional as pointing to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin in a grilled cheese sandwich, but it is intellectually dishonest.
Brendan Nyhan, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke, summed up the reaction to the miraculous appearance of the curve:
But as numerous bloggers pointed out at the time, the alleged "Laffer curve" drawn in the graph is absurd. It's fitted directly through the data point for Norway, an obvious outlier with significant oil revenue (and an omitted excise tax), and then plunges straight down toward zero (who knew that increasing your corporate tax rate from 28% to 32% was so destructive?).
Nyhan reconstructed the data presented in the offending graph and ran linear and quadratic regressions on the data. The results weren't even close to the WSJ fantasy. So is this a case of intellectual dishonesty or just editorial hyperbole? An educated reader who looks at such a graph has a right to assume that the curve is actually related to the data presented. This was clearly not the case with the WSJ graph.
Reasonable people can disagree about macroeconomics and tax policy. But you can't claim that data support a particular position, without doing the math. The WSJ didn't do its homework and instead presented a curve that was clearly not based on the data, and thus intellectually dishonest.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Road Design and Cycling Hazards, Part 2

As I recover from my unscheduled encounter with the pavement, I want to turn the focus from my experience on my bicycle to the larger questions of road design and transportation policy. In doing so, I will offer the blindingly obvious, and hardly original, observation that roads are not intended for those in cars only.
Everyone who gets in a car eventually arrives at a destination. And whether the destination is on a city street, along a country road, in a suburban development, in an underground garage or in the parking lot of a shopping center, provision must be made for ensuring the safe interaction of people in cars and people on foot.
This insight found its way into the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) in the early 1990s. ISTEA shifted the focus of federal transportation dollars to meeting the needs of people on foot as well as those in motor vehicles, who after all are the same people.
This shift in thinking led to the inclusion of pedestrian friendly features in road design such as median strips and curb bump-outs that serve the dual purposes of slowing or calming traffic and making it easier and safer to cross the street.
Next up: I offer my unified theory of speed bumps, which describes why suburban neighborhoods are so hazardous for the children who live there.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Road Design and Cycling Hazards, Part 1

I got back on my bike this evening, for the first time since I was suddenly placed in sudden and close contact with the pavement last Saturday on Kennett Pike (Route 52) where it meets Route 141.
Kennett Pike is a nice wide road. It feature four lanes through Greenville, and has consistently wide shoulders from Wilmington out to the state line and on up to Route 1. I ride my bicycle on Kennett Pike from Wilmington to Centerville or into Pennsylvania, where I like to turn aside onto the country roads I love so much.

When I think back on the moments when I've been put in danger on my bike, I realize that the lion's share of the incidents have occured on Kennett Pike. I'm forced to the surprising conclusion that narrow country roads, if they're not too heavily travelled, are safer than wide roads with their comfortable shoulders. And when considering wide roads, I'm not thinking about roads like Concord Pike, which I have never ridden on my bike. I am using Kennett Pike, the only heavily trafficked road I will ride, as my baseline.
In a typical ride, I will spend as much time, and as many miles, on narrow county roads as I do on the supposedly safe shoulders of Kennett Pike. And yet, in reviewing the incidents that have forced me to the pavement, or otherwise placed me in physical risk, I conclude, in my unscientific personal experience that, mile for mile, lightly travelled narrow country road are safer than Kennett Pike with its wide shoulders.
Why would that be? I don't propose to elevate my personal experience to extra-scientific importance. Instead I recount these incidents to make a point that traffic speed and volume are the two most significant factors in determining the safety of anyone travelling on a bike. When I review these incidents in detail, I conclude that the speed of the motor vehicles involved, and the relative ability of the drivers to otherwise ignore the presence of a cyclist on the road, are the most important factors in determining the danger posed to someone legally riding his or her bike along the road.
Next up, I will recount these incidents in my personal experience to illustrate the factors that create hazards for those not driving motor vehicles.