Friday, June 29, 2007

The DSWA: "We need to do something."

After yesterday’s defeat of S1 to HB 146, will the alternative recycling bill, HB 159, even be brought to the floor for a vote? According to the News Journal, the answer is no:
House Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown, said it was unlikely that the House would schedule immediate action on the other bill.
One problem cited yesterday is that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) is already losing money with its incremental approach to recycling:
Delaware Solid Waste Authority chief executive Pasquale S. Canzano cautioned during the debate that DSWA expects to lose more than $6 million on services to support voluntary recycling programs this year, and was examining options for the service.
"I have to be frank with you, I can't afford to continue to do that, whether or not this bill passes," Canzano said. "We need to do something."
Perhaps that something should be rethinking the agency’s business model. As I wrote earlier this week, recycling, like many industrial processes, is most cost effective when taking advantage of economies of scale.
As more material goes through a recycling facility, the facility become more cost effective; increasing the throughput of a fixed cost facility improves its operating efficiency. As for collecting,
consider the relative costs of Wilmington’s city-wide program versus the DSWA’s voluntary program. 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 maximum cost comes to roughly $6 per household per year. Right now the DWSA offers curbside recycling, requiring residents to sort their material, for $3 a month.
The difference in convenience is as striking as the difference in cost. The DSWA requires households to sort their materials before putting them in the little blue bins. This means the collection crews have to handle each category (newspaper, office paper, glass, metal and plastic) separately when picking them up and when delivering them the DWSA recycling facility. Additionally, the DSWA’s crews pick up materials from a small fraction of Delaware households, which increases transportation time and costs per ton of material collected.
The city, which uses a Philadelphia company called RecycleBank, does not require such labor intensive handling. Residents put all materials in one bin, which is weighed and dropped into the city’s regular trash trucks and delivered to the a facility which sorts the material mechanically. In contrast to the DSWA’s cumbersome process, materials collected by the city are untouched by human hands from the time they are placed on the curb to the time they are delivered to the sorting facility.
The city’s single stream approach is easier for residents to use, easier for collectors to handle, and easier for the sorting facility to process.
The results are starkly different: The DSWA recently boasted that it had signed up 15,000 households. The state’s diversion rate for household waste is just 14 percent. In contrast, the city has already achieved a 37 percent diversion rate for its 28,000 households. If the DSWA is concerned about the cost of its recycling program, there are models that clearly demonstrate that single stream systems greatly enhance participation and reduce unit costs.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Which Recycling Bill Will Move Forward?

Two bills before the General Assembly, House Substitute 1 to House Bill 146 and House Bill 159, would go a long way to making statewide curbside recycling available throughout the state.
Both bills would create a local government recycling grants program and competitive grants for private sector initiatives.
Both bills would fund these grants by establishing a Delaware Recycling Fund funded by a tipping fee surcharge of $3 per ton. (The tipping fee is charged to waste collectors at the landfill, and not to households.)
Both bills establish a timetable for achieving minimum recovery rates of 30 percent of household waste by January 1, 2010.
HS 1 to HB 146 goes further by directing the DSWA to establish a statewide mandatory curbside recycling that would require trash collectors to accept recycled materials. The DSWA would be required to “take all recyclable materials from licensed municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris collection and disposal service providers for no fee.” Users of “licensed municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris collection and disposal service providers” (for instance households and construction sites) would be required to separate recyclable materials. The DSWA would be charged with enforcing this provision.
I’m guessing that HB 159 is more likely to be adopted, given this comment from Pam Maier, one of the primary sponsors of HS 1 to HB 146, in today’s News Journal:
“At one point, I thought I had all my votes. I’m a bit concerned,” Maier said.
HS 1 to HB 146 has been passed out of committee in the House, but not yet placed on an agenda for consideration. HB 159 has also made it out of committee and is “laid on the table” which means it could be brought up at any time.
Update: HS 1 to HB 146 was defeated in the House this afternoon.

Drinking Liberally Tonight In Wilmington

This month's installment of Drinking Liberally is tonight, Thursday, June 28th at 8:00 pm at Kid Shelleen's, 14th & Scott Streets in Wilmington. I will see you there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Time Has Come for Comprehensive Recycling in Delaware

Yesterday I mentioned that the General Assembly could act on a recycling bill, House Substitute 1 to House Bill 146, that would create a meaningful statewide recycling program in Delaware. There is a competing bill, HB 159, that is less far reaching, but would still go a long way to creating the infrastructure for statewide recycling. While either would be good for Delaware, the more comprehensive bill would create the greater environmental and economic benefits.
Here’s why:
First, landfills are expensive. As I pointed out in this analysis last year, the modest capital cost of a single stream recycling facility creates savings by postponing the need for siting and building an expensive new landfill down the road.
In my analysis, I cited estimates of the capital costs of a single stream recycling facility as being between $4.7 million and $8 million. I compared those to a published estimated cost of $106 million for a new landfill. That estimate is almost certainly low, considering that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) put the cost of raising the Cherry Island landfill by 23 feet at $86 million. For those keeping score, that’s $3.7 million for each additional foot of capacity. Now do I have your attention?
Even with these conservative cost estimates, I calculated that each dollar invested in a single stream recycling facility would create three to four dollars in present value savings.
Second, recycling depends on economies of scale in terms of capital investment and in collecting. As more material goes through a recycling facility, the facility become more cost effective; increasing the throughput of a fixed cost facility improves its operating efficiency.
As for collecting, consider the relative costs of Wilmington’s city-wide program versus the DSWA’s voluntary program. 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 maximum cost comes to roughly $6 per household per year.
Right now the DWSA offers curbside recycling, requiring residents to sort their material, for $3 a month. Why such a difference? Economies of scale.
The DWSA collectors might pick up one or two small bins on any given block in a neighborhood. Each time they do, the workers have to handle several different kinds of materials. They perform more work and collect less material than the city’s trash crews do.
The DSWA has tried incremental recycling, with incremental benefits at best. Wilmington has tried single stream recycling, and achieved a 37 percent diversion rate in less than a year.
The way to create greatest statewide benefits from recycling is to mandate the most comprehensive practicable program, which the General Assembly can do, not next year, but this week. But if you agree, you need to say so and now.
The General Assembly provides phone numbers and e-mail addresses for all senators and representatives. If you don't know who represents you, you can call to find out. Your call or e-mail doesn’t have to be complicated; all you have to say is that you want the General Assembly to adopt comprehensive statewide recycling in Delaware this week, and not next year.
Next up, I compare the two alternatives and look at how the mechanics of the legislative process could play out this week.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"This Act mandates a statewide recycling program."

House Substitute 1 to House Bill 146, which would create a meaningful statewide recycling program for Delaware, has a good chance of making it through the House and Senate this week. Here's the synopsis:
This Act mandates a statewide recycling program. The Act is effective immediately upon enactment; however, there are some timelines and other provisions in place to assure timely implementation with the involvement of DNREC and RPAC.
This Act also establishes a Recycling Fund to help pay for various aspects of the recycling system. The source of funding will be a $3 per ton assessment on all solid waste (excluding recyclables) collected and/or disposed of in Delaware. Thus, those who collect solid waste in Delaware and dispose of it out of state will also pay the assessment to support the Delaware recycling initiatives. The fund will be administered by DNREC, with input form the Recycling Public Advisory Council, and used to help municipalities with start-up costs, fund private sector initiatives, support an education and outreach program and fund an assessment of the potential for increased commercial waste recycling. DSWA is not eligible to receive any monies from the Recycling Fund.
The Act provides for the development of yard waste management facilities to handle such materials. Development of private facilities will be encouraged; however, if these do not materialize, DSWA will manage the yard waste on its property or other public property. DSWA is entitled to charge a tipping fee at these facilities sufficient to cover the costs of operation.
The Act establishes recycling goals for both residential and commercial solid waste and involves the Recycling Public Advisory Council, whose role will be to advise DNREC and DSWA on various aspects of recycling and to report annually on the state of recycling and progress made toward the established goals.
This bill represents enormous progress on recycling, particularly when you consider, as State Rep. Gerald Brady reminded me, that House Bill 1, introduced in January, would have taken us backwards by forcing the DSWA to landfill yard waste.
Even though the bill has support from the majority leadership of both houses, it still could get lost in the rush of the last few days of the session. I'm told the DSWA opposes the bill, which could mean that the agency's supporters could be looking for ways to keep it from coming to the floor of the House and Senate.
I will have more on the significance of this bill tomorrow, including a reprise of my economic analysis in support of recycling and reasons why the state needs to go all in for recycling to work. In the meanwhile, I urge you to contact your legislators to urge that they pass HS1 to HB 146 this week.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Dumbo Octopus Gets Its Own T-Shirt

Geeks rejoice! You've seen the intriquing photograph of the newly discoverd dumbo octopus, which I highlighted here last month.
Now you can buy your very own Grimpoteuthis t-shirt, courtesy of McSweeney's.
Grimpoteuthis was introduced to the world in the book, The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss by Claire Nouvian, which features more examples of previously unknown, and even stranger, ocean life.

Friday, June 22, 2007

TommyWonk to Talk Energy on WDEL Today

I’ve been invited to talk about the latest developments in the energy saga with Allan Loudell on WDEL, 1150 AM, at 12:14. As noted yesterday, Delmarva Power filed an appeal of the Public Service Commission’s decision directing the company to open negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware.
Update: I just got off the line with Allan. He's great at covering a lot of ground in a hurry.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Energy Negotiations Unlikely to Show Progress in Sixty Days

It has been nearly a month since the Public Service Commission (PSC) and three other state agencies directed Delmarva Power to begin negotiations with Bluewater Wind to supply wind generated electric power for Delaware.
The PSC, in Order No. 7199, expressed its intent that negotiations proceed on a relatively fast track:
We suggest conclusion of negotiations within a 30 to 60 day time frame maximum; however, to the extent that there is continuing progress we can accept some extension in that process.
I don’t see much hope for finding success in the sixty days. Conectiv Energy and Delmarva Power are separately challenging the decision as contrary to the language and intent of the Electric Utility Retail customer Supply Act of 2006 (EURCSA).
As noted here last week, Conectiv Energy filed this petition with the PSC to reconsider its decision, maintaining the agencies “drastically departed from EURSCA’s mandate to select the power generation proposal that results in the greatest long-term system benefits in the most cost-effective manner.
Yesterday, it was Delmarva Power’s turn to challenge the PSC’s decision, by filing an appeal in Superior Court. (The News Journal has the story.) In the appeal, Delmarva Power asserts that Order 7199 “violates the plain language and legislative intent of EURCSA.” Delmarva argues that the PSC is “requiring Delmarva Power to negotiate for power contracts…that may not result in the provision of stable, reliable and cost-effective power to Delmarva Power’s customers, as required by EURCSA…”
Earlier this week, I asked some of the parties involved in the negotiations how things were proceeding, understanding that talks are closed to the public. I received perfunctory replies from some of the participants, including this brief email from Matt Likovich at Delmarva Power:
Negotiations are confidential. Delmarva Power continues to negotiate in good faith and the discussions are moving forward at this time.
Bruce Burcat, executive director of the PSC, while understandibly reticent to say too much, was more forthcoming:
I can say that pursuant to the order of the four state agencies the Commission Staff retained a mediator to monitor and mediate when necessary the negotiations between Delmarva and the three bidders. My understanding is that the negotiations are proceeding on three separate tracks at this time. The PSC is not involved in the negotiations, because it will be a decision-maker after negotiations have ended. The PSC Staff has been providing the mediator with some technical assistance when necessary, but it has not been directly involved in the negotiations. The Staff will insert itself in the process on a very limited basis, if necessary. I can not say whether the parties are expecting to reach agreement within 60 days, but I can say that the mediator has been retained to move the negotiations to agreement as quickly as possible. There is always a possibility that the parties will be unable to reach agreement. The four state agencies will reconvene around the 60 day point to determine the status of the negotiations and what steps may be needed at that point.
Given that Conectiv Energy and Delmarva Power are both fighting the decision, I see almost no hope that we will see any progress in the negotiations, which means that the state will have soon be facing the decision of how to proceed with in the face of these legal challenges.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Do People Take Satisfaction in Being Taxed?

I can almost hear the brains of supply-siders grinding to a halt. This story in the New York Times must have driven them crazy:
The University of Oregon announced a new piece of research last week with a startling headline: “Paying taxes, according to the brain, can bring satisfaction.”
Researchers monitored brain activity of subjects as they handed over a portion of money given them as taxes to support a food bank. They found that pleasure centers were activated when they handed over their money to benefit others, even when the money was taxed and not donated.
The experiment has more to do with the psychology of altruism than with tax policy, but it is instructive. It goes to the heart of the notion of the rational actor in classical economics who invariably maximizes utility.
Utility in economics is the measure of personal satisfaction or gratification. The idea that a person might cheerfully hand over money that could make create personal gratification to the government might seem counterintuitive. But humans are not utility maximizing automatons; instead we are emotionally complex creatures who sometimes take satisfaction in actions that benefit others.
I can attest to this effect; I actually derive a small bit of satisfaction from completing my tax return and knowing I’ve done my civic duty for the year. For that matter, I feel better when I’ve taken out the trash (not that it's fun), or better, when I’ve put half of my household waste in the recycling bin.
As a citizen I can take satisfaction or pleasure in public goods created through taxation: necessities such as streets and sewers and amenities such as parks, museums and public concerts. Hardcore believers in maximizing personal utility might object to taxes going to an event like the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, going on this week in Rodney Square, saying that I would be better off keeping the pocket change in taxes that represents my contribution to the event and using it buy a ticket to a musical event of my choosing. You could say the same thing about the Smithsonian Institution or Yellowstone National Park.
But as a citizen, I take pride in these amenities as representing the city and nation to which I belong. It may not be rational in the strictest sense, but it seems I’m wired that way.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rudolph Giuliani and Why It's Important to Do Your Homework

I'd hate to let a compliment pass unremarked upon, and was gratified by this comment kavips posted yesterday:

Tommywonk does not yet endorse any candidate. Dave Burris does.

Although there is nothing wrong with either option, it does carry relevance to how their blogs are perceived.

The one that has not yet endorsed or predicted a future winner, can still be perceived as an open source of information. The other, which has firmly committed to a certain candidate, has, even if it is unfairly so, been perceived as a tool of spin.

To be called "an open source of information" is kind praise indeed.

But he raises a point. I have not endorsed any candidates at this early stage of the campaign, though I wouldn't deny Dave the right to do so. I endorsed candidates in the last election, but before doing so I wanted to present my rationale for my opinions. Some readers have occasionally expressed their impatience with my style, but I like to do my homework before reaching a conclusion.

To me, how you think is as important as what you think. I have often noticed that people who talk nonsense have often failed to think things through.

Today's case in point: Rudolph Giuliani. Last week I criticized Giuliani for putting forward his twelve top priorities without mentioning Iraq, noting this remarkable comment from a man who would presume to lead this country:

"Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don't know the answer to that. That's in the hands of other people."

How is that Giuliani could fail to have an opinion on how to deal with the number one issue in this election? As Newsday reports, he simply didn't do his homework:

WASHINGTON -- Rudolph Giuliani's membership on an elite Iraq study panel came to an abrupt end last spring after he failed to show up for a single official meeting of the group, causing the panel's top Republican to give him a stark choice: either attend the meetings or quit, several sources said.
Giuliani left the Iraq Study Group last May after just two months, walking away from a chance to make up for his lack of foreign policy credentials on the top issue in the 2008 race, the Iraq war.

He cited "previous time commitments" in a letter explaining his decision to quit, and a look at his schedule suggests why -- the sessions at times conflicted with Giuliani's lucrative speaking tour that garnered him $11.4 million in 14 months.

So when Giuliani said that Iraq is "in the hands of other people," he didn't mention that he was asked to serve with those people in tackling this enormously important task, and couldn't be bothered to show up.

Had he done his homework (or his duty to his country), Rudy Giuliani might have actually arrived at a useful opinion on what to do about Iraq. Once again, we see that inane utterances spring forth from those who can be bothered to think things through.

Another Appalling Apologist for Scooter Libby

Joining the parade of Washington insiders pleading for mercy for convicted liar Scooter Libby is Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:
This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.
Neither should they be called to account? It is often best to keep the lights off?
I don’t know about Mr. Cohen, but when it comes to sex or real estate, I’d rather not be lied to. And while an unfortunate decision in the realm of sex or real estate can have lasting consequences, the cost of the Iraq debacle is measured in the loss of thousands of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, U.S. prestige in the world and spreading chaos in the region.
The conduct of U.S. foreign policy, as bad as it has been, is not subject to criminal prosecution. Misleading the country to win support for a war of choice, as reprehensible as we may find it, is not a crime. But lying to federal law enforcement officials and a grand jury is a crime, for which Scooter Libby has been convicted and sentenced.
Glenn Greenwald neatly dispenses with the notion that Scooter Libby has been victimized by nefarious political forces:
He [Cohen] tells his readers, for instance, that a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the Plame leak "at the urging of the liberal press," and later on in the column he pins the blame for Libby's terrible plight on "Antiwar sanctimony."
Greenwald goes on to describe the mechanisms by which the liberal press and antiwar activists railroaded Libby:
The Libby prosecution clearly was the dirty work of the leftist anti-war movement in this country, just as Cohen describes. After all, the reason Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate this matter was because a left-wing government agency (known as the "Central Intelligence Agency") filed a criminal referral with the Justice Department, as the MoveOn-sympathizer CIA officials were apparently unhappy about the public unmasking of one of their covert agents.
In response, Bush's left-wing anti-war Attorney General, John Ashcroft, judged the matter serious enough to recuse himself, leading Bush's left-wing anti-war Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, to conclude that a Special Prosecutor was needed. In turn, Comey appointed Fitzgerald, the left-wing anti-war Republican Prosecutor and Bush appointee, who secured a conviction of Libby, in response to which left-wing anti-war Bush appointee Judge Reggie Walton imposed Libby's sentence.
Richard Cohen notwithstanding, public officials should be called to account for lying under oath. I’d rather our national media not adopt the motto, “Keep the lights off.”

Monday, June 18, 2007

New Energy Bill a Step In the Right Direction

Given the many environmental and energy challenges facing the country, where would one start in writing a new energy bill? The New York Times reports that Congress plans to reverse the subsidies for extracting fossil fuels enacted under BushCo:
The tax increases would reverse incentives passed as recently as three years ago to increase domestic exploration and production of oil and gas. The change reflects a shift from the Republican focus on expanding oil production to the Democratic concern about reducing global warming.
On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will take up a bill that would raise about $14 billion from oil companies over 10 years and would give about the same amount of money on new incentives for solar power, wind power, cellulosic ethanol and numerous other renewable energy sources. The bill is one of the signature issues this year for Democrats, along with immigration and the war in Iraq, and one in which they hope to clearly distinguish themselves from the Republicans.
But Senate Democrats are expected to go beyond the $14 billion in tax changes in the draft bill. Democratic officials said the committee is all but certain to adopt a proposal by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico that would raise $10 billion from companies that drill for oil and gas in federal waters but do not currently pay royalties to the government.
Exxon et al hardly need government subsidies to convince them to extract oil and natural gas, which they are already doing, and very profitably, thank you very much. On the other hand, we know we are going to need to develop renewable energy sources to prepare for the day when the world's fossil fuel reserves are depleted.
As for global warming, the solutions are likely to be complex. But the first thing to do is stop spending public resources subsidizing the problem. Whatever else the energy bill accomplishes, this would be a significant step in the right direction.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

High Water Line In Brooklyn

The New York Times has a profile of artist Eve S. Mosher, who is marking chalk lines on the streets and sidewalks of the Spring Creek and Canarsie neighborhoods of Brooklyn:
New York has seen its share of temporary, site specific artworks over the last several decades. This work is intended to make a point:
The chalk demarcates a point 10 feet above sea level, a boundary now used by federal and state agencies and insurance companies to show where waters could rise after a major storm. Relying partly on research conducted by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, Ms. Mosher is trying to draw attention to projections that the chance of flooding up to or beyond her line could increase significantly as a result of global warming.
In a worst-case scenario, according to the research, the line could mark the zone for flooding that would occur every eight years, on average, by the year 2050, meaning that dozens of neighborhoods would soon come to resemble Venice, or maybe ancient Alexandria.
Over the next several months, Ms. Mosher, 38, will extend her line through the coastal neighborhoods of southernmost Brooklyn and then move on to Manhattan to draw a line that begins at East 14th Street and loops around the bottom of the island, back up to West 14th Street.
Next she will return to Brooklyn and work her way from the Verrazano Bridge to the Battery Tunnel to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, whose sludgy industrial topography could serve as a wanted poster for the kind of environmental damage that her project, called “High Water Line,” is warning against.
In New York, the damage from rising sea levels would not just be seen on the streets. The city relies on underground infrastructure such as water, sewer, power, communications and of course subways. If conceptual art is intended to provoke thought, Ms. Mosher is succeeding.
Photo: Kitra Cahana/The New York Times

Friday, June 15, 2007

Giuliani Talks Tough While Hoping Iraq Will Just Go Away

As I noted Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani is trying to get elected by playing down the significance of the war in Iraq, which didn't make the list of his top twelve priorities. The New York Times published this remarkable comment from a man who wants us to see him as a decisive leader:
“Iraq may get better; Iraq may get worse. We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s in the hands of other people."
No, actually Rudy, if you're elected, the mess in Iraq will be in your hands. While he seems reluctant to speak to the issue of what should be done about Iraq, the Times reports that he endorsed the decision to go to war there while here in Wilmington yesterday:
In the past, Mr. Giuliani has been critical of what he referred to as the administration’s failure to explain the importance of the war in Iraq, but not the decision to go to war.
“I think President Bush made the single biggest decision of his presidency correctly,” he said. “He put us on offense against terrorism. I will always admire him for that.”
So the only problem with Iraq is that Bush didn't explain it well enough? Is the problem that we need someone who talks even tougher? Talking tougher without getting around to what he would do hardly strikes me as decisive leadership.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Iraq Not Among Rudy's Top Twelve Priorities

Harry Truman:
"The buck stops here."
George W. Bush:
"I’m the decider."
Rudy Giuliani on Iraq:
"We may be successful in Iraq; we may not be. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s in the hands of other people."
The New York Times reports that Giuliani presented his top twelve priorities yesterday, but dealing with the Iraq isn’t among them:
Not surprisingly, fighting terrorism was at the top of the list that Mr. Giuliani offered Tuesday. But noticeably absent from the speech was any mention of the war in Iraq, likely to be the central challenge for any new president.
Asked afterward about the omission, the candidate said Iraq must be viewed in the context of a broader fight against terrorism. It was not dealt with singly in the speech, he said.
In other words, if you don’t want to deal with the issue, simply redefine it. Of course, by defining the mess in Iraq as part of “a broader fight against terrorism,” Giuliani slides right past the problem that al Qaeda was not in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Conectiv Wants the PSC to Reconsider

The News Journal reports that an attorney for Conectiv Energy thinks the Public Service Commission (PSC) made a terrible mistake in directing Delmarva Power to negotiate with Bluewater Wind to build an offshore wind farm. Conectiv attorney Elizabeth Wilburn contends that the PSC caved to public opinion, and wants the PSC to reverse itself and pick Conectiv’s proposal to build a new natural gas facility on Hay Road near Wilmington:
"It is easy for the state agencies to capitulate to public opinion and to conclude that wind generation is more environmentally friendly than generation from fossil fuels," Wilburn wrote. But she said lawmakers instead "directed the state agencies to conduct a well-reasoned evaluation of all factors that results in the greatest long-term system benefits in the most cost-effective manner."
Which is what the PSC, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and Controller General did.
But Wilburn maintains that if the PSC insists on making such a terrible mistake, it should allow Conectiv and NRG (which proposed a coal gasification plant) should be allowed to submit competing proposals for a wind farm. Neither company has any experience with wind power.
Nick Di Pasquale, former DNREC secretary and conservation chairman for the Delaware Audubon Society, says Conectiv’s argument, too little too late:
"This is more than the 11th hour. This is past midnight," Di Pasquale said. "It's just another way to disrupt the process."
The PSC, in Order No. 7199, expressed its intent that negotiations proceed on a relatively fast track:
We suggest conclusion of negotiations within a 30 to 60 day time frame maximum; however, to the extent that there is continuing progress we can accept some extension in that process.
Given Conectiv’s posturing, I suspect that the negotiations have yet to show much progress.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Economically Efficient Recycling Requires Comprehensive Programs

When I saw the article in The Economist headlined, “The truth about recycling,” I half expected a dry discussion of commodity prices. I was wrong. While higher commodity prices make recycled materials more valuable, the most interesting point in the article is that collection methods have a strong effect on the economic efficiency of recycling programs:
Originally kerbside programmes asked people to put paper, glass and cans into separate bins. But now the trend is toward co-mingled or “single stream” collection. About 700 of America's 10,000 kerbside programmes now use this approach, says Kate Krebs, executive director of America's National Recycling Coalition.
San Francisco switched to single stream and now diverts 69 percent of solid waste.
Single stream recycling has two key advantages. The first is the ease of use. As a participant in Wilmington’s pilot recycling program, I put all of my recyclables (paper, cardboard, cans, glass and plastic) in one bin and place it on the curb once a week. The ease of participation has resulted in a diversion rate of 35 percent in Wilmington’s pilot program in just a few months. Wilmington is now rolling out curbside recycling in all city neighborhoods.
The second advantage is the savings in collection and handling. In order to institute curbside recycling, Wilmington is simply converting one of its two weekly pickups to recycling. The city uses the same trash crews and trucks it uses for regular pickup and delivers the material to a Philadelphia company called RecycleBank that sorts it for reuse. The company provides the only specialized equipment the city needs: a device mounted on trash trucks that reads a barcode and weighs the contents of each bin. The city pays RecycleBank for accepting the material, which is partly offset by reduced tipping fees. Wilmington set aside $150,000 in the upcoming budget to cover the difference, which comes to about six dollars a household per year.
The key to making single stream recycling work is diverting enough material to reduce the unit cost of the sorting facility. The labor intensive process of sorting and handling by hand (by consumers and collectors) is out of the picture, which greatly enhances the economies of scale of the process.
Taken together, these two advantages lead to proportionally greater benefits as waste diversion increases. A year ago, I calculated the value of reducing landfill accumulation, and concluded that the more waste diverted from Cherry Island Landfill, the longer we can go without having to site and build a new landfill in New Castle County. In this analysis, every ton diverted is calculated to create a fixed amount of long term savings.
When collection is included in the economic picture, a dynamic effect can be seen. As waste diversion reaches a tipping point, as it were, the economic value of recycling becomes more pronounced. As an example, the budgeted cost of single stream recycling in Wilmington is about six dollars a year per household, while the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) charges three dollars a month ($36 annually) to pick up presorted material.
There is a lesson to be found in this dramatic difference in cost: Half measures are not as effective or efficient as comprehensive recycling programs. In order to reap the economic and environmental benefits of recycling, Delaware’s decision makers should adopt bold measures instead of taking tentative steps.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Opening Up the Debate on Farm Policy

It's called the farm bill, but it might be appropriate to call it the food bill. After all, fewer than 1 percent of Americans work in agriculture, while all Americans eat.
As I previously noted, the farm bill is largely written by and for farm interests, and there has been little interest in changing federal food policy, until now. Those concerned about the effects of U.S. farm policy on the environment and nutrition are taking an interest in the farm bill, now being drafted. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) has decided that food policy should reflect the interests of all Americans, not just those who work in agriculture, and is promoting what he calls The Food & Farm Bill of Rights:
1. Americans have a right to a policy free of special interest giveaways.
2. American taxpayers have a right to a fiscally responsible policy.
3. Americans have a right to a policy that serves all farmers.
4. Americans have a right to a safe and healthful food supply.
5. American children have a right to good nutrition.
6. Americans have a right to local supplies of fresh food.
7. Americans have a right to a policy that promotes energy independence.
8. Americans have a right to a policy that protects the environment.
9. Americans have a right to preserve farmland from sprawl.
10. Americans have a right to a policy that fosters sustainable farming practices.
Another group, called the Farm and Food Policy Project, is pushing for food policy reform to improve the availability of healthy, fresh and local food. You can learn how farm policy has affects the way we deplete environment resources, waste energy and subsidize obesity and its related health problems. You can also join them in sending a message to Congress.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Wind Power Catches a Break in Congress

The AP reports that Nick Rahall (D-WV), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has backed away from legislative language that would have effectively halted the development of wind power in the U.S. The requirement that the Interior Department regulate wind turbines to protect birds and bats has been removed from H.R.2337, the Energy Policy Reform and Revitalization Act of 2007.
Rahall was criticized for putting an unnecessary roadblock in the energy bill to protect coal interests from his home state. Overall, Rahall’s voting record on energy and the environment has been sound; he voted against the Bush energy monstrosity and against opening up ANWAR to more drilling. He wisely backed off the pointless wind regulation in the face of protests from environmentalists, wind energy industry and the lack of evidence that wind poses a serious threat to birds:
"We turned around what was a very bad provision," said Jaime Steve, legislative affairs director for the American Wind Energy Association, referring to getting Rahall to back away from his original proposal. It would have required the Interior Department to develop regulations affecting surveys, siting, operation and monitoring standards for wind energy projects to determine their impact on migratory birds, bats and other wildlife.
The industry cited a National Academy of Sciences study that said wind turbines accounted for only three of every 100,000 bird deaths. Domestic cats kill 1,000 times as many birds as wind turbines, Steve said, citing another study.
The proposed wind farm off the coast of Delaware faces enough hurdles as it is. If the Bluewater Wind project becomes the first of its kind to face federal regulators, it could be delayed simply because regulators don’t know what to do with a project that lacks precedent.
The energy bill, which is being marked up in committee today, contains some sound energy policy and some provisions that make little environmental or economic sense.
For instance the bill would tighten procedures for collecting royalties for the extraction of fossil fuels on public property. In recent years, oil and gas companies have managed to evade as much as $5 billion in royalties while Bush administration officials looked the other way.
On the other hand the bill would provide incentives for converting coal to diesel fuel, an expensive process that produces more carbon emissions than conventional diesel fuel.
At the heart of this confusion is the failure to distinguish between the often incompatible goals of energy independence and renewable energy. The U.S. could indeed burn more coal and reduce the demand for foreign oil, but the cost would be higher carbon emissions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jack Markell Lets Us Know

Jack Markell told us he'd let us know. At this hour, the News Journal, Delaware Grapevine and Alan Loudell of WDEL all have the story: Jack Markell today called Democratic Party leaders to let them know he plans to run for governor. The News Journal quotes Tom Carper as trying to put the best face on an outcome he worked hard to avoid:
“Neither party welcomes primaries for major statewide offices between two very talented people,” Carper said. “But having said that, at the very least the conversations John and Jack had over the period of a month or two — I think those conversations may have changed the tone of the campaign and enabled them to reconnect as friends in a way that maybe they had not been connecting for the last year or two.”
Loudell doesn't think a primary is necessarily bad for the Democratic Party:
According to the conventional wisdom, primaries are bad for political parties.
But what if the primary contest encourages intelligent debate, and energizes people to get involved in politics?
Celia Cohen may have stumbled on a clue as to why Markell decided to come out at this point:
Even though Markell's interest was well-known, his reticence preserved the fiction that a primary would not occur.
Delaware Grapevine had previously quoted Markell as saying, "I have no intention of running for lieutenant governor." For those who somehow didn't find this definitive enough, Jack Markell has clarified his intentions.
Update: Jack Markell has his announcement on his campaign website, including a video version:
I’m not satisfied that more than one hundred thousand people in Delaware, including 20,000 children, have no health insurance, and many more families are struggling to keep up with rising insurance costs. I’m not satisfied that our high school graduation rate ranks about 40th in the country, and half of our black and Hispanic students end up dropping out. I’m not satisfied that Delaware ranks last in the entire country in new business creation. With the challenges we face as a state, we have no choice...we must do better.

Tough Guy Dreams Die Hard

It's their recurring fantasy, and our recurring nightmare.

The leading GOP candidates for president seem to yearn for the days when men were men and talking tough was just the medication we sought to help us feel safer in a dangerous world. The leading GOP candidates seem determined to help us relive the entire episode. All it takes is a properly clenched jaw, the right glint in the eye and a dogged determination to ignore the facts just as Bush, Cheney and the entire neocon gang did four years ago. Rudy Guliani has done everything but carry his bullhorn with him to recapture that swagger.Last night it was Mitt Romney who carelessly crossed the line between dreamy longing and sheer fantasy:

What I mean by that […] that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock and Saddam Hussein had [been] opening up his country to IAEA inspectors and they'd come in and they'd found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein therefore not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in.

What Romney seems to forget is that the inspectors were in Iraq in 2002, and they found no nukes, and that that was one of the specific points on which Bush bamboozled the country. As Atrios points out, we're seeing the same casual interest in the facts of the matter that got us into trouble in the first place:

The inspectors did go in, as we all know. Still, some say the inspectors went in, some say they didn't, who is to say who is right?
However detached from reality, this is the kind of rhetoric that will win the nomination of the party that still thinks the war in Iraq was a good idea.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jack Markell Will Let Us Know Soon

In case you’ve been wondering, Jack Markell is interested in being Delaware’s next governor.
I was invited to a party for Jack down in Milton on Saturday, which featured country singer/songwriter Deborah Allen and twenty minutes of the obligatory speechmaking. Celia Cohen seemed almost disappointed by the lack of a big announcement:
All that Markell would tell them was that he would tell them. "I know people are expecting a big announcement today, but you're not going to be getting a big announcement today," he said. "You'll be hearing something from me in the next few days."
Celia, of course, would have liked to be the first to give us the news that Jack Markell wants to be governor. The speakers had fun teasing the crowd, without quite getting to the point. UD coaching legend Raymond made a show of not knowing why he was there, but told the crowd, “I’d vote for him for anything.”
Before her set, Deborah Allen shouted, “Jack Markell, Delaware’s next gov…umph,” her mouth theatrically covered by Markell staffer Corey Marshall-Steele.
From there, politics was put aside, and the party began in earnest. Deborah Allen, who has written a boatload of hits, is old school Nashville. She covers all the bases including heartbreak ballads, sultry delta and gospel call and response, and knows how to engage her audience. At one point she picked out the shortest guy with the tallest cowboy hat for a dance that drew whoops and hollers from the crowd.
As for an official announcement, I don’t see that it matters much whether it comes next week, next month or next fall. The point is, it’s coming. But then, you knew that already.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Peggy Noonan: "At this point in history we don't need hacks."

Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, voices her discontent with the younger Bush:
What President Bush is doing, and has been doing for some time, is sundering a great political coalition. This is sad, and it holds implications not only for one political party but for the American future.
The White House doesn't need its traditional supporters anymore, because its problems are way beyond being solved by the base.
Noonan recounts her own alienation from Bush:
The beginning of my own sense of separation from the Bush administration came in January 2005, when the president declared that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation. This was at once so utopian and so aggressive that it shocked me. For others the beginning of distance might have been Katrina and the incompetence it revealed, or the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq.
What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom--a sense that they did not invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him, that maturity is not the same thing as cowardice, that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don't need hacks.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Chancery Court Blocks Christina from Closing City Schools

The News Journal reports that the suit challenging the Christina School District’s plan to close three schools in Wilmington while building a new one south of Newark was successful. Vice Chancellor Leo Strine ruled that the district violated the Neighborhood Schools Act:
The city and five parents whose children attend targeted schools contended in a lawsuit filed in March that the closings were illegal because the district never got a Neighborhood Schools Plan approved by the state Board of Education. The Neighborhood Schools Act, approved in 2000, requires school districts in northern New Castle County to submit "fair and equitable" plans that would allow students to attend grade-appropriate schools closest to their homes. Christina submitted two plans to the state, in 2001 and 2002, but both were rejected.
Strine agreed that the district is in violation of the law, saying the district "by early 2005, was content to muddle along, here and there making changes to feeder patterns and closing a school, but not undertaking any effort to come up with a formal Neighborhood School Plan, as required by the Act."
Strine also agreed with the city, and parents Annette Harden, Rose Thomas, Nickea Rowe, Dawn Rowe and Aline Black that city students wouldn't get a fair shot at attending schools near their homes if the three schools closed before a Neighborhood Schools Plan was approved.
"The plaintiffs' argument is an intensely pragmatic one," he said.
Which may have something to do with the success of the plaintiffs' suit. Historically, Chancery Court has been less concerned with grand legal principles and more with pragamtic, rational results. My radio partner, Hube, found it ironic that city parents used the Neighborhood Schools Act, championed by Wayne Smith, as a tool to keep city schools open. I remember when Smith came to Wilmington to try to convince a room full of skeptical parents that his bill would benefit city kids as well as suburban kids. He did not meet with much success. But the law is the law and Strine ruled that it should be applied fairly:
In his 73-page ruling, Strine blasted the district's strategic plan, saying it allowed suburban kids to avoid being bused to Wilmington, while most city kids would be forced to travel approximately 15 miles down I-95 for the last seven of their 13-year public school careers.
"As I understand it, the plaintiffs view Christina's approach to neighborhood schools in terms that bring to mind Chef Emeril Lagasse's term, 'one-sided-tasting food,' " Strine wrote. "Suburban kids get to eat from the tasty, seasoned side of the roast; city kids from the side without flavor."
He also raised the question of why the Christina School District is even in the business of teaching city kids:
Strine also repeatedly noted the nonsensical makeup of the school district. The Wilmington portion is an island, while most of the district is in the Newark area.
New Castle County Councilman Jea Street said he hopes Strine's decision will force the state Legislature to get Christina out of the business of educating Wilmington's children.
City leaders have long lamented that having four districts serve Wilmington Balkanizes and dilutes the city’s ability to influence the governance of education in their neighborhoods. Cutting Christina loose from the unwanted burden of educating city students strikes me as a rational step that would likely please parents throughout the bifurcated district.
You can read the decision here.