New York City Street

Garbage – recycle, incinerate, synthesize

Many of us remember the saga of the garbage barge named the Mobro 4000. In 1987 it was loaded with garbage from the Islip landfill in New York City and set sail to deposit its load out of state. This was a common occurrence, as land was at a premium in the city. However, the owner of the Mobro 4000 failed to finalize the contract before embarking and was soon stuck at sea with nowhere to go. For six months, major news networks led their broadcast with images of this lonely garbage barge wandering up and down the coast, becoming the poster child for wasteful lifestyles and what activists claimed was a crisis of overflowing landfills. Transferring a city’s garbage out of state was a common practice, but the Mobro 4000’s sloppy paperwork problem led to a rallying cry for recycling.

Today, municipal recycling programs are fairly ubiquitous. Cities provide not only garbage pickup but also a separate garbage can for recyclables. Feeling like a responsible environmental steward has never been so easy – just throw all your paper, plastic and aluminum into a special garbage bin and roll it out to the curb each week where other good stewards collect, sort and recycle it.

But much has happened in the world of garbage since the Mobro 4000 was stranded at sea three decades ago. Recycling has always been predicated on our ability to efficiently reuse recycled material. Much of our recycled plastic goes to China, where it is used to make toothbrushes and carpet, and our shredded paper goes to Mexico, where it used to make things like toilet paper. The greatest deciding factor in what is recycled and what goes to the landfill is profitability. And profits from recycling can change – and are changing – based on various global factors. This means not everything you put in the special bin on your curb will actually be recycled. If the price isn’t right, it’ll end up in the landfill anyway.

Which maybe isn’t such a bad thing. For some time now landfills have been used to generate power.

On New York’s Staten Island sits a 2,000-acre landfill known as Fresh Kills. It operated for 50 years and was New York City’s largest landfill. Some of its largest mounds of garbage soared to 200 feet tall. Fresh Kills closed in 2001, but it’s still serving the city. All that garbage is decaying and producing gas, much of it methane, which can be processed and put into the natural gas pipeline. Methane gas recovery from the old Fresh Kills landfill produces enough energy every day to heat 30,000 homes and makes up to $5 million a year for the city.

Garbage is producing energy another way – landfill incinerators. The world’s best recyclers – Sweden and Norway – incinerate so much trash they are actually importing it from other countries. While bans on plastic bags are gathering momentum in many municipalities, including in Utah, Sweden has no such ban, incinerating many of the bags instead. Norway’s capital, Oslo, heats half the city and most of its schools by burning garbage. In fact, northern European trash-burning countries have their sights set on the U.S. garbage market to fuel its 700-million-ton incineration capacity. Today, rather than capturing the world’s attention as a symbol of environmental despair, the Mobro 4000 might be welcomed with open arms.

This article was originally posted on Utah Citizen Network. UCN is an interactive site meant to encourage, teach and empower citizens to become active participants. Join in and maybe you can become governor of Freedomville!

Whether by fire or blade, ‘green’ energy is killing birds – Sutherland Perspective, 8/26/14

Flying_birds_at_Sacramento_National_Wildlife_RefugeThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

My grandpa had an old saying: “Nothing’s free, and nothing’s priceless.” That sounds a little cynical, but it’s true. Everything has a cost, even if that cost can’t always be measured in dollars and cents.

That old saw came to mind as I read a recent article about birds being incinerated at a solar power plant in California. The article said that as many as 28,000 of our fine feathered friends, from hummingbirds to pelicans, may go down in flames each year as they navigate sunbeams concentrated by a field of mirrors. Turns out the sun’s power isn’t free if you’re a bird caught in man’s efforts to harness the sun.

“Free” wind power isn’t free to birds, either. A quick search finds estimates of 888,000 to at least a million birds being hacked to the ground each year by windmills generating less than 5 percent of our nation’s energy, and creating huge eyesores on some otherwise beautiful vistas in the process.

Here’s a simple mathematical fact: Wind and solar energy are not going to replace coal, gas and nuclear power in the foreseeable future. Together, wind and solar make up less than 5 percent of U.S. electricity output today, and even rosy scenarios have them making up barely 13 percent of the grid over the next 20 years. There are technological reasons for this which may be overcome through, well, technology. But the real reason is real estate. Fossil and nuclear power require less than 5 square kilometers per gigawatt while wind and solar require 20 to 150 square kilometers to produce the same amount of power, and that only happens when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Read more

A reminder of Utah’s lost energy opportunities

UtahTarSandsThis just in! There’s energy in the ground, and there’s money and jobs to be had in energy. OK, maybe that’s old news.

Not that it matters that much in Utah anyway, where the ground is mostly owned by the federal government, and it’s not letting the energy, the jobs or the money out.

North Dakota, which is about 3 percent federally owned, just passed the million-barrel-a-day mark for crude production, making it one of the top producers in the nation. Meanwhile Utah, which is over 60 percent federally owned, produces about a tenth that amount but is sitting on the potential for $7 billion annually in economic value, a billion or so in tax revenues, and over 50,000 jobs, according to an analysis by Sutherland’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West. But, while oil production on private lands has increased by about a million barrels a day since 2009, production on federal lands has been flat. That’s bad news for Western states that are mostly controlled by D.C. bureaucrats.

And it’s a lot of lost opportunity.

Keeping petrodollars at home – and out of tyrants’ hands


By Carl Graham

Imagine a world freed from the extortive effects of energy dependence. Advanced democracies wouldn’t be obliged to prop up petty tyrants who abuse their subjects and scoff at civil society. Hate-filled despots intent upon exporting violence and imposing their twisted values would be deprived of the petrodollar fuel that feeds their narcissistic passions. And cheap, abundant energy would continue to raise living standards across the globe, erasing poverty in its wake and allowing people everywhere to reach for their goals and earn success using their talents and ambitions rather than being predestined to a life of destitution based solely on their birthplace in life’s lottery.

That day when we can tell the petty tyrants to take a hike is getting closer. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the U.S. has already overtaken Russia in natural gas production and is about to overtake in in oil production as well. That will put us second in energy production only behind Saudi Arabia, and well on our way to energy independence. In fact, according to the article, U.S. imports of natural gas and crude oil have already fallen 32 percent and 15 percent respectively in the past five years.

That’s good for us and good for the world. It helps our balance of payments, keeps energy costs low, and since fuel is a worldwide commodity, it lessens the influence – and capacity for troublemaking – of tyrants and provocateurs everywhere.

The only remaining question is whether we’ll embrace this opportunity or let it slip from our grasp. As shown in our recent Center for Self-Government study detailing energy resources on federal lands, we have billions of dollars’ worth of energy resources right here in the Western states, most of which can be responsibly developed and turned into jobs and prosperity. Increasing opportunity in our own backyard while denying the world’s troublemakers the resources to ruin the lives of others seems like a win-win.

New report: Energy development on federal lands could add $6.7B to Utah's economy

Sutherland-Self-Govt-LogoA report released today by the Sutherland Institute Center for Self-Government in the West finds that, based on high-, medium-, and low-usage scenarios, the state’s economy could add between about $1.2 billion and $6.7 billion and 9,400 to 58,000 jobs annually by developing oil, gas and renewable energy on federal lands within the state. Developing these resources could also contribute as much as $1.2 billion in annual taxes.

The report is based on a newly released study by University of Wyoming Professor Timothy Considine that models the economic values of energy resources on federal lands in seven Western states. The full report is available at

Based on past trends, current plans, and energy holdings on lands slated for development, the report estimates the full economic impact of developing oil, gas and renewable energy on federal lands within the state. It also compares the benefits of developing different energy resources, and finds a significant difference in the economic benefits of developing renewable versus nonrenewable energy on these lands.

While the most aggressive renewable development scenario could add as much as $123 million in economic value, $31 million in taxes, and about 1,800 jobs to Utah’s economy annually, aggressive oil and gas development could add $6.6 billion in economic value, $1.2 billion in taxes, and 56,000 jobs. The report notes that these types of energy are not mutually exclusive, but the differences between them may represent opportunity costs to be considered in a limited development environment.

With this report, Sutherland announces the creation of The Center for Self-Government in the West. The new center is headed by public policy veteran Carl Graham, who headed the Montana Policy Institute before coming to Sutherland to lead the new center. Carl will work with groups across the political spectrum and throughout the West on common issues facing Western states such as federal lands, fiscal readiness and regulation.

Fracking is good for Utah

Despite alarmist tactics such as this flier, In 60-plus years of fracking, there has been no peer-reviewed academic (i.e., not sponsored by industry or interest groups) study demonstrating harmful impacts of fracking on water supplies.

Despite various alarmist tactics, In 60-plus years of fracking, there has been no peer-reviewed academic study showing harmful impacts of fracking on water supplies.

By Carl Graham

So what’s all the fuss about fracking? Its most vocal opponents charge that fracking will burn your water, pollute your air, and cause the very ground to shift beneath you. The oil and gas industry, and many of those who benefit by the thousands of jobs it creates, obviously disagree. So who’s right?

Well, not being a scientist, I have to base my opinions on information I get from trusted sources, as do most of fracking’s detractors. And based on that information, my conclusion is this: Just as the Keystone pipeline opposition isn’t about pipelines, coal terminal alarmism isn’t about coal terminals, and tar sands obstructionism isn’t about tar sands; most of the fuss about fracking has little to do with the actual process and more to do with getting rid of fossil fuels.

Let’s start with a simple, verifiable fact: In its 60-plus-year history, there has been no peer-reviewed academic (i.e., not sponsored by industry or interest groups) study demonstrating harmful impacts of fracking on water supplies. That’s zero, zip, nada. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson – hardly a fossil fuel advocate – told Congress that there have been “no proven cases where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

Sure, there are plenty of “studies” with lots of anecdotes purporting to prove that fracking is either the savior of mankind or, alternatively, its inevitable downfall. Most of these tend to be a tad self-serving. As the old proverb says, a lie will go ’round the world while the truth is pulling its boots on.

But what have those who are actually responsible for public safety said about fracking? Dimock, Penn., and Pavillion, Wyo., have been under the fracking microscope for years and are good indicators.

Read more

Interim Day at the Legislature: Utah's energy economy

Energy production and development (especially fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas) are valuable parts of Utah’s economy, according to a report that the governor’s energy adviser gave to the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee. The energy industry produces thousands of high-paying jobs that are critical economic opportunities for the communities where they exist. Particularly in the case of fossil fuel production – the source of the vast majority of Utah’s energy, including electricity and heating for homes, and gasoline for cars – these jobs tend to be concentrated in rural areas, where job opportunities are limited.

The governor’s energy adviser reported that Utah had just over 10,800 oil and natural gas wells – 37 percent oil and 63 percent natural gas. Almost 75 percent of these wells are located on federal lands, meaning that Utah’s energy policy does not control these resources.

A fact shared in the committee meeting illustrates the magnitude of this problem: You could fit the land area of the entire state of Florida (roughly 34 million acres) on federal lands within Utah’s borders (about 37 million acres). Read more

Utah's fuel act: Helping gas stations at your expense?


Many people – citizens and lawmakers – would think it ridiculous for government to prohibit R.C. Willey from giving away hot dogs and soda Saturday mornings as an enticement for passers-by to look at furniture. They might also object to a prohibition on pedicure discounts designed to get women into salons to buy top-grade nail polish.

For some reason, though, many of these same people do not object to a law that forbids gas stations from giving similar direct discounts to Utahns on gasoline. When it comes to cheap gas, they are fine with telling business owners what they can and cannot do – directly impacting the wallets of Utah drivers.

Since the Utah Legislature is considering whether to reauthorize a law that attempts to control gas prices (the Motor Fuel Marketing Act), we interviewed several people who voiced their opinion on whether the Legislature should renew the law or repeal it. Watch the video report below to find out what they said …


Read more

Will the economics of nuclear energy work for Utah?


This morning, during part three of Sutherland’s series of policy forums called “Is Utah Ready for Nuclear Energy?” a panel of experts discussed the economics of nuclear power generation.

A Utah company is currently working to build a nuclear plant near Green River, Utah – an endeavor called Blue Castle Project. The panel at today’s forum made many interesting observations in regard to the economics of nuclear power which relate to this project. You can watch the entire forum here:


For those who can’t watch the forum, I’ll review some of the most interesting points here. Read more

Does Utah have enough water to support a nuclear power plant?

Yesterday, Sutherland hosted the second of three forums on nuclear energy in Utah. In this session, we discussed water requirements and water resources needed in the proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah.

Sutherland President Paul Mero interviewed three water experts, Dr. Thom Hardy, Jerry D. Olds, P.E. and Nicholas G. Zervos. If you missed the live webcast, you can view the video below: httpv://

To see more Sutherland videos go here.