Wednesday, October 1, 2008

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

So remember how just one short blog ago, I was writing about how great it was that both the House and the Senate had passed bills that extended tax breaks for alternative energy?

Scratch that.

Apparently, should I ever again write a sentence that includes the words "House," "Senate" and "great" together, I should be strapped to a solar reflector until my skin crisps off.

For while it is true that they both passed bills ostensibly aimed at accomplishing the same thing, those bills are incompatible with each other and are unlikely to be signed into law before our fearless leaders come home to ask for you to send them back to Washington to continue to provide this most excellent leadership on crucial issues facing the nation.
According to this blog posting from The Wall Street Journal, even The White House hates the House version of the bill.

Maybe that's because the House bill insists "on actually paying for the tax credits with tax hikes elsewhere" the Journal reported in the blog, appropriately headlined "From the Dept. of Futile Gestures."

Or maybe it's because, as Kate Shepherd reported here in Grist Magazine's Muckraker, "the House version strips out tax incentives for oil shale and tar sands development, as well as provisions to support coal-to-liquid fuels."

Regardless, the end results is the same. Politics as usual kills something this country desperately needs. Sound familiar?

Is there any common sense left in Washington? Or is "drill baby drill" the nearest we can come to reasoned discourse in Washington?

The House vote marked the sixth time the House has passed these extensions. "The bill stalled repeatedly in the Senate, until a compromised version of the package passed earlier this week," Grist reported.

"At the time of passage, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urged House members not to change the legislation, worrying that any changes to the package would bring about its demise. 'If the House doesn't pass this, the full responsibility of it not passing is theirs,' said Reid. 'It's not ours,.'" Grist reported.

Apparently, the Senate's previous five failures to pass a bill shouldn't count. Geez, how many strikes do they get?

Don't you just love a leadership more worried about blame then credit; political liability than energy sustainability?

"House Democrats are holding firm that theirs is the superior version," according to Grist. "'This legislation also holds true to our commitment to fiscal responsibility,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement today. 'By closing loopholes that allow corporations and executives to avoid U.S. taxes by shipping jobs and investment overseas and curtailing unnecessary tax subsidies for big, multinational oil and gas companies, we are ensuring that future generations don't foot the bill for the progress we can make today.'"
Sounds reasonable to me, but hey, what do I know? Maybe continuing tax breaks for fossil fuels is a good way to prevent global warming.
In a quick Thin Green Line update on that issue by the way, we bring you this report from The New York Times' most excellent environmental reporter Andrew Revkin.
In this brief, he writes: "Worldwide emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from fuel burning and cement production increased by 3.5 percent per year from 2000 to 2007, nearly four times the growth rate in the 1990s, according to a new report. The rapid rise is being driven primarily by economic growth in developing countries, which now produce more greenhouse gas than industrialized countries. The report was produced by the Global Carbon Project and is available online at"
On the positive side of this issue (who says we're all gloom and doom here at The Thin Green Line?), Reuters reported here last week that: "Rich nations' greenhouse gas emissions dipped for the first time in five years in 2006, easing 0.1 percent despite robust economic growth, a Reuters survey of the latest available information showed Friday.
For the record, we're one of those "rich nations."

The fact that we can lower emissions while increasing economic growth puts a stake in the heart of the old fossil axiom that reducing emissions will hurt the economy.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
According to this Reuters report, alternative energy has revived a moribund economy in, of all places, rural Texas.
A wind power boom there has generated millions of dollars in additional tax revenue which is being used to build schools and has fueled an economic revival there, Reuters reported.
Two years ago, the Blackwell School District there had a property tax roll totaled $324 million. "Now the total value has mushroomed to $1.2 billion due to the build-out of four nearby wind farms," according to the report.
Tell me Pottstown or Pottsgrove school districts wouldn't love to be able to take that much of a burden off local taxpayers here. But closed-minded, old-school (dare I say say "bitter") readers of The Mercury continue to call the paper's "Sound-Off" column poo-pooing the potential benefit of a solar park being championed for the former OxyChem site off Armand Hammer Boulevard.
"The hotels are full, the restaurants are full," said Karan Bergstrom of Sweetwater, ground-zero for the wind boom which now rivals the city's famous rattlesnake roundup. "There's not an empty house," Bergstrom said.
When is the last time we said that about Pottstown?
But the entrepreneurs who want to do similar things in other parts of the country (maybe even here?!) won't get any help from our representatives in Washington apparently.
"The legislative stalemate will just prolong the agony for America’s clean-energy sector," the Journal reports in its blog titled "Environmental Capital."

It seems even the Journal realizes that the economy of the next century will have to be based on something other than fossil fuels.

There was even some hope held out for the "little guy" in those bills with federal tax breaks upped from $2,000 to $12,000 for those installing solar arrays on their homes, an outlay that can reach $40,000, according to The Journal.

But now, the only hope for a bill this year seems to be a "lame-duck" session after the November elections.

As far as the country's energy policy is concerned, it doesn't seem we will have to wait until November to apply the word "lame."

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Act Locally


I know I told you I'm going away, and I have.

But, through the magic of technology, I have set this posting to wait until today.

They say the credo of the environmental movement is to "think globally, act locally.

Well for those of you who don't know him, Jim Crater of Recycling Services Inc., not only acts locally, but he thinks WWWAAAYYYYYY outside the box.

Well tomorrow, Aug. 14, he will host the second of his forums on alternative energy and if its anything like his first last month, which I covered for the paper, it's worth going.

It will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Norco Fire Hall on Route 724 in South Pottstown.

According to their handy release, "The speakers will cover a range of topics from solar water heating for space and domestic hot water, wind power, and ground temperature to community building through co-op buying. The event will also highlight the points of interest from the last workshop called "How to do what you do but better."

Their release also provides the following information about the forum:
Thursday’s speakers include Robert Ihlein from Sunergy Systems, Matt Lillard from Greensavers LLC, Brian Creswell from Creswell & Company, Jon Costanza from Sunpower Builders, John Malm from Radiant Comfort Systems, and Crater himself.

Robert Ihlein was trained in Solar Engineering Technology at Colorado Technical College in the early 1980s. During that time he has been working on a number of different types of solar heating systems. He also has experience working on superinsulated and passive solar homes. Currently he is the owner of a local business called Sunergy Systems, and offers sales, service and installation of solar water heating systems. He also offers other energy related services such as installing solar attic fans. Robert and his wife Alice installed a small solar water heating system on their home in Pottstown two years ago, and have been saving money on fuel oil every since.

Matthew Lillard lives in New Garden Township near Avondale. Matt is a LEED accredited professional certified by the US Green Building Council, as well as a certified Home Energy Auditor in the HERS system, and a Certified Project Management Professional by the Project Management Institute.

Mr. Lillard is a former executive with extensive background in organizational leadership and the management. Most recently, Matthew was a Senior Vice President for Bank of America, the world’s largest credit card company and largest deposit bank in the United States.

Like many of you Mr. Lillard has felt a growing sense of concern over global warming, the visible changes occurring in the world and the risks that these changes bring. He is also concerned about the United States' dependence on foreign sources of energy and the conflict that can result.

These are among the factors that led Mr. Lillard to seek to educate himself on sustainability and which actions he could take to have the biggest positive impact. Mr. Lillard formed Green Savers LLC a company developed to help people learn, prioritize, and provide convenient assistance to make progress toward your priorities saving money, reducing your environmental impact, and living a more healthy and productive life. Visit them at

Brian Creswell was born and raised in the Pottstown area, is an honors graduate of Owen J. Roberts H.S., and attended Lehigh University with a major in architecture. For the past 20 years Mr. Creswell has been involved with various aspects of the building trades from historic restorations to commercial and new residential construction and spoke about his projects at the last event.

Currently he owns and operates Creswell & Company, an award-winning design-build construction company that specializes in green building. Creswell & Company is completing work on the first potential LEED platinum rated residence in Pennsylvania. His topic will be: "Managing your green: Life-cycle costs and paybacks for green building and technology."

Jon Costanza was constructing one of the first solar houses built on the East Coast 33 years ago, when the oil embargo was forcing Americans to re-think their energy usage. He started SunPower Builders in 1972 at the age of 18, built his first solar house in 1974 and, as he confidently states, "never looked back."

John is dedicated to the profound common thread between the art of historic restoration and energy conservation. Today, SunPower occupies this unique niche in the solar market, integrating PV and SHW installations into farmhouse restorations. In the past year, Jon has been excited to see SunPower’s solar division expanding and expects this trend to continue.

An active member and advocate for the solar community, Jon is on the Board of the Philadelphia Solar Energy Association (PSEA) and the Northeast Solar Energy Association (NESEA). He will never stop promoting in his vision of "Massive Change", in which humans can learn to consume and renew, responsibly and simply. Jon lives in Collegeville, with his family, his solar array and a plethora of pets.

John Malm founded Radiant Comfort Systems to fill the need for well engineered radiant heat systems in the MidAtlantic market. As an engineer (John has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Penn), he appreciates the capabilities of these advanced systems. John lives with his wife, two sons, and many horses and assorted animals in Elverson. He will be speaking about ground temperature.

Crater is the President and General Manager of Recycling Services, Inc., in Pottstown. For about 40 years he has been tinkering with many projects and environmental ideas.

He has focused his attention mostly on wind and solar-power projects. He started with water heating in dark hoses and solar air heating units with recycled cans, and then he moved to wind spinners and rebuilding several wind generators. After that his focus went to Solar PVs, electric vehicles, and alcohol and vegetable oil fuels.

Now Crater is experimenting with ground-temperature heating and cooling. He has also worked on energy-saving programs and held a number of alternative energy events.

His most recent endeavor was to power approximately 30 music events using his mobile solar electric unit. His motto is: "Have sun, will travel." Other recent projects include using a passive solar design for heating and heat displacement, a small floating undershot waterwheel, and a 100 MPG project car. His project list goes on and on. Mr. Crater considers himself an energy worker. His question to the community is: "What will we call alternative energy when everybody uses it? Common sense I suppose."

In addition to the scheduled speakers, environmental organizations will be available to answer questions and provide information.
For information on the event, contact Jim Crater, General Manager for Recycling Services, at or 610-323-8545, or simply visit the website: Attendees should BYOM (bring your own mug) for water!

No longer a matter of interest, the ideas proposed here will also be a matter of financial and, eventually, planetary survival.

Make the time to go.

You'll be glad you did.

Labels: , , , , , ,