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!

Turn off the lights … why?

Led_LightingThis weekend, many environmental activists are urging people worldwide to participate in Earth Hour by turning off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday night. The purpose of this effort is to “use your power to change climate change.” According to the organizers, “Earth Hour aims to encourage an interconnected global community to share the opportunities and challenges of creating a sustainable world.”

If sitting at home in the dark for an hour to show support for theories of radical environmentalists isn’t your idea of fun, then you might choose instead to participate in Human Achievement Hour, an event organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Participants in Human Achievement Hour will leave their lights on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. to celebrate “the human innovations that have allowed people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people.”

With the lights on, the possibilities are endless. You might create a work of art, read a good book or get to know a neighbor. What will you do Saturday night?

Reusable bags are great, but don’t ban plastic

Blue_reusable_shopping_bagI’m a conservative who loves reusable bags.

When I lived in Austria 20+ years ago, I learned quickly that if you didn’t bring your own bag to the corner grocery store, you’d have to carry your purchases home in your pockets or purse. It was odd for an American who was used to free plastic bags at every store, but really, it was not that hard to adjust.

(What was strange was seeing people use their bags like a shopping basket: putting their items in the bag while shopping, then taking them out at the cash register to have them rung up. To an American, that seemed like a good way to get accused of shoplifting.)

Anyway, when reusable bags started making their way into American culture, it seemed perfectly logical to me. Reusing items that you already own and avoiding waste is certainly conservative.

A ban on plastic bags is not.

Why should government mandate that stores cannot provide free plastic bags? It’s another nanny state law.

In fact, enough petition-signers in California have objected to the statewide plastic-bag ban, which was passed last year, that a referendum will likely be forced on the issue in 2016.

I don’t like seeing plastic bags caught in trees or blowing across the street more than anyone else does, but let’s blame litterbugs, not the bags themselves. Also, plenty of people reuse those “single-use” plastic bags as trash can liners.

Stores can set their own rules: no bags, one free bag, 5-cent rebate for bringing your own bag … let the retailer decide. And people can make their own decisions about their shopping bags. This is not the government’s job.

There’s also been some press about bacterial contamination of reusable bags. That’s a legitimate concern – but germs are on EVERYTHING. Wash your hands, and wash your cloth bags as needed. We should worry less about our (possibly contaminated!) cloth bags and worry more about the basic hygiene we learned as children.

EPA's proposed carbon rule hits most vulnerable hardest

epa-logo_edited-1The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon rule is the latest in a series of regulations that will increase the cost of electricity and natural gas at a time when wages are stagnant and a lot of people are struggling to get by.

According to a recently released study, if this new carbon rule is imposed, the average Utah family’s electric bill will go up by $124 and their gas bill will increase by $266 annually, for a total of $32.50 per month. If you don’t think that’s a meaningful amount, then you’re out of touch with a lot of Utah families that are living paycheck to paycheck and are all too often faced with a choice between heating their houses or buying groceries for their children.

These regulations are a backdoor tax plain and simple, and the most regressive and punishing kind possible. It may not hurt you or me to pay an extra few bucks a month to satisfy an environmental feel-good agenda, the results of which will have absolutely no measurable impact on the global climate. But it does hurt the most vulnerable among us. It forces them to pay a larger percentage of their paycheck for everyday needs like heat and electricity, cutting into what disposable income they may have and harming not just their quality of life but also their ability to live. It’s despicable and the height of hypocrisy for ivory tower do-gooders to inflict real pain and suffering on others so that they can enjoy a clear global warming conscience in the comfort of their beautiful homes and SUVs. Read more

Trouble in the West

Montana's Rocky Mountain Front is seen at the right in this aerial photo. (Photo credit: Bobak Ha'Eri)

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is seen at the right in this aerial photo. (Photo credit: Bobak Ha’Eri)

The “green-über-alles” crowd has Utah and our neighbors in its sights. For instance, take this editorial from a Montana newspaper (republished by Utah.Politico.Hub), “Big Trouble in Big Sky Country.”

This “big trouble” – referring to tactics used by radical environmentalists who demonize multiple use of our beautiful Western lands – doesn’t just apply to Montana, but to all the states in the West. From the editorial:

When public support for the [1964] Wilderness Act tanked, enter the manipulation by environmentalists. Greens both inside and outside government have turned to an onslaught of other means to control and/or remove land uses they dislike — through appeals, litigation, administrative fiat, bureaucratic delay, endangered species, conservation easements, even national monument designation under the Antiquities Act.

The strategy is to block land uses in hopes the land users go away.

Click here to read the rest of the editorial at Utah.Politico.Hub.

Listing sage grouse as endangered would be 'the worst thing for it'

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

By Carl Graham and Brian Seasholes

Add one more potential victim to the catalog of high-profile species likely to be harmed by the Endangered Species Act.

The sage grouse, a large ground-dwelling bird that inhabits 165 million acres in nine Western states, appears headed for listing under the Act, much to the detriment of both the grouse and those with the greatest stake in preserving it.

Over its 40-year history, the Endangered Species Act has often caused significant harm to the very species it is supposed to protect by unnecessarily creating adversaries of landowners harboring these species and pre-empting state conservation efforts.

The Endangered Species Act’s massive penalties — $100,000 and/or one year in jail for harming a bird, egg, or even habitat — turns species into economic liabilities. Understandably, landowners often respond by ridding their land of potentially regulated species and their habitats; but the tragedy is that most do so very reluctantly. They cherish their land and take pride in being good conservationists.

States, meanwhile, realize what is at stake. Listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act “would be the worst thing for it,” said Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “It would all but do away with any of the conservation that is in place.” States have taken the lead in conserving the grouse but are concerned their efforts will be snuffed out by Endangered Species Act mandates if listing occurs. “We can probably do a better job with our local programs and partnerships than Fish and Wildlife can trying to regulate from afar,” according to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Read more

Thanks to Utah leaders for careful approach on climate politics

Click the graphic to watch a live stream of the International Conference on Climate Change.

Click the above graphic to watch a live stream of climate scientists and policy experts at the conference.

In “Herbert Catching Heat for Climate Change Stance,” (July 7, 2014, Utah Policy Daily), Bryan Schott shares the observation that “half of the nation’s Republican governors are climate change deniers, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.”

To which an appropriate response would be “Thank you, Gov. Herbert” – with similar expressions of gratitude to the majority of Utah legislators that prudently have not embraced group-think-based proposed responses to purported anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming/change/disruption/etc.

The perspective underlying Mr. Schott’s July 7 post is similar that of his June 9 “Krugman: Anti-Intellectualism Biggest Hurdle to Addressing Climate Change,” wherein he notes,

Economist Paul Krugman says it’s not vested interests that pose the biggest obstacle to addressing climate change, it’s those who don’t trust scientists. Krugman argues that economic ideology and hostility to science is the biggest problem in the climate debate, because it directly challenges the world view of those who deny climate change.

Quoting Krugman, Schott includes,

And the natural reaction is denial – angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

We should be pleased to hear any debate, even a brief one, between anthropogenic global warming (AGW) proponents and those skeptical of that view. Several years ago, while I was collaborating with the governor’s environmental advisor in efforts to plan and organize a public forum/debate that would address the topic of anthropogenic global warming, he and I were frustrated that our efforts came to the disappointing conclusion that no debate would be held. Why? In large measure because, despite earnest and persistent attempts, we could find no AGW advocates of national stature that would be willing to accept our invitation to engage in a public contest of ideas and data on the subject.

*       *       *

Take advantage of the opportunity today and tomorrow (July 8-9) to watch via live streaming as climate scientists and policy experts meet this week to provide updates on current climate research at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change. Sponsored and hosted by the Heartland Institute, the full conference schedule, including all keynote addresses and 21 break-out panel discussions, can be viewed live and at no cost as the proceedings unfold, and will be available online after the conference. Note that as all times listed are PDT (Pacific Daylight Time), Utah viewers will be watching one hour later than the listed time.

Podcast: the states vs. the feds on public lands

Sutherland-Coalition-Self-Govt-Logo-200Listen to Carl Graham, director of Sutherland’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West, in a podcast about control and use of public lands. Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, Donald J. Kochan of Chapman University School of Law, and David Garbett of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance also participated in the teleforum, sponsored by The Federalist Society, earlier this week.

Here’s a description of what they tackled during the teleforum:

The state of Utah now has statutory authority to sue the federal government for return of its lands in January, 2015. How sound is the legal case, and what are the economic implications for the Western states – as well as the country in general? What are the environmental policy issues and is state stewardship of these lands best?

Click here for the podcast at The Federalist Society website.

Am I the only one skeptical of projections for 36 years from now?

SuburbanStreetYou may have seen recent news coverage about a report projecting that Utah’s population will double by the year 2050.

On the heels of this reporting, some voices have been calling for “smart growth” policies to preserve quality of life in Utah. Utah’s quality of life is not in any actual danger today from population growth, but presumably that inconvenient fact is not important to the “smart growth” paradigm. Instead, what seems important are things like “embrac[ing] a more urban lifestyle” and funneling population growth into areas near public transit, in order to encourage this preferred lifestyle.

But does the basis for this approach to public policy make any sense?

Try this thought exercise: Can you predict with confidence where you will be in 36 years? Unless you expect to be dead by that time, the rational answer is “no.” Now let’s go a bit larger: Can you predict with confidence where your family members will be in 36 years? In this case, the rational answer is an even more emphatic “no.” One more: Can you predict with confidence where everyone in your neighborhood will be in 36 years? Perhaps the relevant response is: “If I can’t predict where my close loved ones will be by then, how in the world am I supposed to predict where relative strangers will be?” Good question.

Now think about this: The “smart growth” policies being advocated in Utah are founded on the idea that a relatively small group of experts (researchers, government planners, and elected officials) can predict with confidence not just where you, your family, and your neighbors will be in 36 years, but where every person in the state of Utah will be in 36 years. And based on these guesses, they want to plan out how most people should be living their lives and doing business in Utah. And, yes, they do this with a straight face.

Look at it this way. Would you have wanted researchers and government leaders in 1978 – 36 years ago, before smartphones and the Internet even existed – to plan out the lifestyle and standard of living you would enjoy today? I shudder to think where quality of life would be in Utah today if it were dictated by the understanding and knowledge of the late 1970s. Read more

What's the deal with Utah's air quality?

A 2013 survey found that 78 percent of Utahns think our air is worse today than it was 20 years ago. While we certainly do seem to have a lot more bad air days lately, the number of official red air days isn’t because we have worse air, it’s because the government changed its definition of bad air. In 2009 the EPA became much stricter on how much pollution it says is too much. Consequently, we have more red air days even as actual pollution levels are falling. That’s right, Utah’s air quality has drastically improved over the last couple decades. It just doesn’t seem like it because of changing regulations and aggressive public awareness campaigns.

So why do we care what the EPA’s changing regulations say? First, because pollution is harmful and public awareness of its levels and its sources is a good thing. Second, and this may explain the recent rush of government and business proclamations about air quality, if Utah continues to run afoul of federal regulations then we face the prospect of losing all federal transportation funding. There will be no federal money for new freeways or light rail trains, or any other new transportation project we currently rely upon the federal government to fund.

But regardless of funding or artificially inflated red air days, there are real health risks associated with poor air quality. There are numerous studies linking certain particulates in the air to a multitude of breathing and other health problems. So as responsible citizens it behooves us to identify these pollutants and reduce them where possible. However as in most things, identifying problems is fairly simple, while the policy prescriptions are much less so.

First, what’s causing the pollution? Again, surveys show that what many of us believe to be the culprit has less of an impact than we think. When we see pollution we often envision big industry with their huge smokestacks. While the Wasatch Front does have some industry (Kennecott Utah Copper mine, refineries, etc.), these sources only make up about 10 percent of the air pollution.

Read more