~Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences
How long has Penn State waited? What are people doing there? And how is the institution building sustainability into everything it does? How quickly will it proceed?
Today we are revisiting the Penn State Sustainability Strategic Plan with two men who have been pushing sustainability-related issues for years. David Riley is the director of Penn State's Center for Sustainability, the piece of Penn State charged with fomenting an educational culture for sustainability. Steve Maruszewski is the Assistant Vice President of Penn State's Office of Physical Plant. He oversees or is involved with many of the physical operations of the university from energy to waste.
These videos give a sense of the vision, the scope of Penn State's influence, education, and research initiatives, energy and waste issue, and what staff can do to change things.
Yes. That is co-host Peter Buckland on the Green Team video talking about bottled water.
We will talk about the strategic plan. Where will it take this university and how will that influence the rest of the world? There is a sense in some circles that it might be greenwashing. We'll get at that too. If Penn State really has a vision, what is it?
Listen in today at 4 pm on The Lion 90.7 and feel free to call in with a question or brief comment: (814) 865-9577. You can find us on Facebook too and request to join our group. Feel free to leave questions here or there!
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Below, we include a piece from Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth.
"Money and debt require natural resources...It's a pyramid scheme." But will it continue? How will we experience the limits Heinberg discusses?
Tune in to today's show at 4 pm when we talk to Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute where Heinberg is a fellow. We'll be discussing this topic and many others PCI covers. As always, feel free to call in: (814) 865-9577.
Detrow writes that Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary director Richard Allan has overseen "significant changes" to state scientific research projects examining natural gas drilling and climate change impacts. "Last month, Allan slashed the budget of the agency’s wildlife research program by nearly 70 percent...without consulting the four-person staff responsible for vetting submitted proposals and recommending them for funding." According to the article, DCNR attributes the cuts were caused by declining revenue in the conservation program’s fund. However, DCNR's statement released no criteria for why one program was cut over another.
Under the Rendell administration in 2010, four studies on gas drilling impacts and climate change impacts were funded. This coming year: only one. Despite the endorsement of the Wild Resource Conservation Board to fund two studies on gas, two on climate, and eight others in October. Then the rules abruptly changed, the budget was gutted, seventeen studies were slashed. Only one natural gas study remained.
It appears that political maneuvering played a key role. Detrow reports,
In 2010, nine of the recommended research projects examined the impact of climate change, and four looked at natural gas drilling’s implications. Before the board voted, a staffer representing Hutchinson at the meeting read a statement expressing “deep concern and reservation” about the recommended projects. “In the past the [conservation program] has supported projects that sought to restore a variety of plant and non-game species to their habitats. It seems to me that this theme is not being carried forward,” Hutchinson had written. “Instead, it appears to me, that the committee is being asked to recommend projects for funding that…[are] based upon advancing specific public policy agendas rather than one that is more neutral and scientific based.” Hutchinson said he was referring to the climate change projects.Why does any of this matter? Detrow writes about the threat to scarlet tanager (pictured at right). These migratory songbirds require deep woods to thrive. As more well pads go in, there is less habitat for the birds. The 8-acre-per-well impact that's often quoted for Marcellus wells has a much larger impact in the forests. Including roads and all of the encroachment factors involved, the total impact can be 31 acres, roughly 1/3 of a kilometer per well. When you multiply that by the hundreds of wells in forests now and the thousands to come, the impacts become enormous. Wildlife is and will suffer.
Patrick Henderson represented Republican Senator Mary Jo White at the meeting. He had a problem with the projects, too. The official minutes, approved by the board during its 2011 meeting, read, “Mr. Henderson expressed concern about natural gas extraction being identified as an environmental impact.” He said, “these projects may not warrant this grant money,” referencing souring budget conditions.
Henderson, of course, went on to become Governor Corbett’s point man on energy and drilling policies. As Energy Executive, Henderson sat on Corbett’s 2011 Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, and wrote the bulk of its final report.
The Sierra Club of Pennsylvania's Jeff Schmidt has come out swinging. In a press release today, he is quoted as saying, "Governor Corbett and DEP Secretary Mike Krancer repeatedly say they want sound science to dictate environmental policy in Pennsylvania. However, we have now learned that they are willing to slash funding for necessary scientific research to determine potential environmental harm for which their policies could be responsible. It is clear that the Corbett administration's political goals to promote gas drilling trump their claim to support sound science. In fact, the inconvenient reality is that while gas drilling is ruining drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat, the Corbett administration engages in a cover up of the true impacts."
The press release goes on to cite instances where DEP covered up a Cabot Oil and Gas spill in Lenox, Pennsylvania and ruled the company could cease supplying fresh water to the town of Dimock despite having been found to have polluted the town's water. To compound issues with the directorship of DCNR, earlier this week the Executive Director of the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Committee (CNRAC), who provides oversight of DCNR's oil and gas drilling activities on Pennsylvania's public forests and parks, was fired.
"The pattern of the Corbett administration's environmental policies is becoming more apparent every day," Schmidt continued. "We call on the General Assembly to halt the rush to drill in Pennsylvania, and to scrap legislation such as HB 1950, which was written by the Corbett administration. It is time our elected officials represented the people of Pennsylvania, not the out-of-state drillers."
We suspect that in the next 24 hours, the blogosphere will light up with this news as will other environmental organizations like PennFuture, PennEnvironment, and others.
This Friday we'll be hosting Asher Miller, Executive Director of the Post Carbon Institute. Post Carbon brings together the people working on issues like climate change, energy, agriculture, education, economics, and more to foment creative action toward sustainable, resilient, and healthy societies and economies within a healthy environment. Their fellows include well-known leaders like David Orr, Richard Heinberg, and Bill McKibben, champions of sustainability themselves for at least three decades and emerging sustainability wizards like Majora Carter who has been fostering resilience in New York City with incredible results.
But it is Post Carbon which means the end of fossil fuel use. To get a sense of their take on the end of the carbon age, watch this video.
We'll talk about these issues and people this Friday at 4 pm on The Lion 90.7 fm. Feel free to call in (814) 865-9577.
Before going on, it’s important to note that all of our guests respond to the same question at the show’s start: “What does sustainability mean to you?” Every guest answers it in their own way. Dave Yoxtheimer from the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research talked about the wise use of resources, the Heinz brothers talked about developing intelligent technologies, and while Rosa Eberly talked about what isn’t sustainable in a democracy. Many people focus on notions of responsibility to people and nature though weighing those responsibilities differently. Some brought up the rights of people and even other organisms not yet born to whom we owe dignity and respect. Others, like Dr. Anrew Kleit think sustainability is basically nonsense and nobody really knows what it means. His near polar opposite, Dr. Donald Brown, said that in some sense it doesn’t matter exactly how we define it because it is “an orienting concept” like “justice or freedom” that gets us pointed in the right direction. With two exceptions, all of our guests work on projects they believe move us in better – i.e. more sustainable – directions.
What themes did we find? Localists. Shale gas. Energy, economy, and the environment. Global action. Higher education.
We have the real localists in our communities and in a few others working on community-level projects. These included Krystn Madrine from the Sustainable Kitchen who talked about local, organic, and sustainable food systems and the mutual service we get from knowing our farmers and caterers. That thinking is right in line with our talk with people from the local Slow Money and Transition Towns movements, both of whom work to create local resilience. But we’ve also talked about the role of media and outreach so that people can learn about these initiatives whether that’s through touring the state on a motorcycle with Going Local author Ken Hull, former Voices editor Suzan Erem, or Janaia Donaldson from Peak Moment TV out of northern California.
Probably the biggest political splash for the localists came from Braden Crooks and Groundswell PA. The group successfully petitioned to have an environmental and community bill of rights and a ban on hydraulic fracturing and new natural gas development up for popular vote on the November ballot. It won with a landslide 72% of the vote. People in State College deeply distrust gas development.
Marcellus Shale issues were, of course, big news. On March 9th, co-host Peter Buckland rode his bike to Harrisburg to meet with Governor Tom Corbett. It was a protest and consciousness-raising ride to draw attention to the environmental impacts of natural gas development in the state and a way to push for better controls on the industry. The spirit of the ride was shared by guest Barb Jarmoska of the Responsible Drilling Alliance who, ironically enough, thinks that drilling isn’t being done responsibly. That sentiment was shared by attendees of the Marcellus Protest 2011 at Penn State in November and Dr. Tony Ingraffea of Cornell University who gave a talk at Penn State on the truths and myths of natural gas development.
But some don’t agree. Dave Yoxtheimer, a certified geologist working at Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research thinks we can do this right. He walked us through the challenges shale gas development brings, but believes that ultimately natural gas is the best bridge fuel available and that, by and large, it’s being done pretty responsibly with smaller negative environmental and human health impacts than other fuels like coal. But people are still worried.
Former Pennsylvania legislator Carol Rubley co-chaired the Citizen’s Marcellus Shale Commission. She found that people across the state were very concerned about their air, their health, their water, their community integrity, and their economic futures. Though quite a few saw opportunities, most believed that natural gas development as it was being done was unacceptable and therefore needed to be regulated more strictly and that its economic windfalls be used to ensure economic, community, and environmental well-being for the long haul.
This brings us to the intersection of energy, economy, and the environment. Our shows on this included how we get electricity, why it’s priced the way it is, how we could use it better, what generating all of that electricity does to the environment and human health, and how it should be regulated. Clayton Barrows walked us through the production and distribution part of the issue. How does burning coal provide electricity that powers your light? Could it be “smarter”?
That physical infrastructure is one thing, but the price of electricity is another. Last year, Pennsylvania began de-regulating its electricity market, something many thought would cause our electricity prices to spike. But they didn’t. Well, how does the electricity market work? Dr. Andrew Kleit and Dr. Anastasia V. Shcherbakova walked us through some of those issues. But the market and the producer aren’t it. Maybe you can work on how much you rely on that producer and reduce the market’s uptake of your money by using software to control your electricity use at home or work. Chris Heinz from Energy Cap does just that.
But the effects of generating all of that electricity are very costly. They generate what economists call “negative externalities.” Burning coal creates CO2. The scale of our coal, gas, and oil consumption generates incredible environmental and health effects that we pay for in other sectors of the economy like medical bills and environmental protection, but that other creatures pay for with their lives.
For Don Brown of Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, the ethical models that underlie the energy sector, engineering, and much of scientific and technological progress are dubious. Monetizing the death or illness of children or other species is profoundly immoral. And the costs are mounting as glaciers and ice caps melt, people are displaced, oceans acidify, boreal forests tip or sink, and islands are steadily being covered by rising seas. But it isn’t just CO2 and greenhouse gases. Burning coal releases other toxins into the environment.
Ed Perry of the National Wildlife Federation came on the show and we asked him, “What’s with the attacks on clean air and clean water by the current Republican congress?” His answer was like Brown’s. The current deregulated version of capitalism foisted by the Republicans right now is contrary to 40 years of environmental regulation created by bi-partisan support starting with the creation of the EPA and the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. The “profit-at-all costs” mentality has taken over our politics. “It’s an ideology,” he said. It’s the same one that denies climate change, tobacco’s role in causing cancer, and the denial of the degradation of the ozone layer by CFCs. There are indeed merchants of doubt out there maintaining a divided status quo. But there are merchants of hope too.
Think of this past year’s incredible global political changes and moves by people for self-determination, for happiness, and for restoring or fomenting well-being where there has been so little. Eric Sauder and Spud Marshall of New Leaf Initiative came in to talk about so many of the initiatives they’ve become involved with. One of them is in Haiti where they work with people to foment sustainable solutions for human well-being. In a nation as impoverished and resource depleted as Haiti, this is an invaluable service. And those solutions run from creating better and more responsible building materials to getting money to songwriters. People need art and joy.
On two shows last spring, we hosted students from Iran and Oman to talk about the “Arab spring.” Democracy and self-determination are often seen as pillars in sustainability. Here we had people whose families and friends were in the streets working to change their destinies on an unheard of scale. The hope the Arab spring engendered was amazing.
Luis Caza came and talked to us on the air about Occupy Wall Street. Having gone to the motor of the machine of income inequality, he came back to Penn State and collaborated with other students and community members to bring the message home. In effect, the gross injustice of the financial system had rippled out and ripped apart the economic security of people across the globe and right here at home. They want to change the world by changing the university.
And universities are changing. We talked to people from Penn State and Bucknell on what higher education is doing in light of sustainability. On the operational side, we talked to Lydia Vandenberg and a few staff people from the university about Green Teams, staff and faculty groups changing their daily work to conserve energy and materials, reduce waste, and even have good times doing it. On research, we spoke to Tom Richard, Director of Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment about the dizzying amount of research being done here. Whether it’s developing new technology, working out industrial scale composting, or understanding the effects of intense gas development on Pennsylvania schools, there is a lot to learn here. Is that playing out educationally?
Dr. Denise Wardrop of Riparia and member of the Penn State Sustainability Strategic Plan team walked us through the strategic plan. The goals are to make Penn State a living laboratory for sustainability, develop sustainability leadership, and disseminate sustainability into the culture at large. With a new president at the university’s helm, there is a lot of hope it will get some traction.
At Bucknell, a plan has been in effect for a few years now. Dina El-Mogazi of Bucknell University's Environmental Center walked us through their work. A few years ago, their president Brian Mitchell signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. Doing so committed Bucknell to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and developing educational programs for sustainability and climate neutrality. They are one of the few universities in the country with a general education requirement for sustainability. Every student at Bucknell has to take a class on the intersection of humans and the environment. Sounds good to us.
All of these people are working for a more sustainable world…Almost all of them anyway. So are we. We hope that by bringing these people, their experiences, and their actions to you, that we can work together for more sustainable beliefs, ideas, actions, and technologies. It’s a small thing, but we believe in it.
Now we are in a new year and we look forward to building on these topics. You can look forward to more on community, energy, and environment. Most of all, you can look forward to some really interesting people doing great work.
Hear Mike and Peter run down their favorite parts of the last year from 4-5 pm EST on 90.7 fm, streaming at http://thelion.fm/listen. Feel free to call in (814) 865-9577.
The Inside Story
Pennsylvania SIP Fight Escalates
Posted: January 6, 2012
Pennsylvania's top environmental official is asking EPA to dismiss activists' petition that claims the state is violating its own air quality plan for meeting agency air standards by offering streamlined permits for hydraulic fracturing operations in the state -- claims the state strongly rejects.
The fight over Pennsylvania's state implementation plan (SIP) highlights long-running concerns from environmentalists about emissions from fracking operations in states on the Marcellus Shale. The activist group Clean Air Council's (CAC) challenge to the SIP, which outlines how the state intends to comply with EPA air standards, includes claims that Pennsylvania failed to provide adequate notice and access to information on “minor” source Clean Air Act permits for drilling operations in the state -- permits that activists say are inadequate to control emissions.
Michael Krancer, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sent a Jan. 5 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson saying the petition “lacks merit. . . . EPA should promptly dismiss this without any further action.” It adds that the state and EPA “should not be unnecessarily distracted by this contrived and irrational petition from the important and serious work our agencies perform.”
The letter adds that DEP “has expanded the public participation process in appropriate instances to include public meetings and public hearings,” and asserts that it is in full compliance with its latest SIP -- which the state submitted to EPA but which the agency has yet to approve. EPA-approved SIPs outline enforceable air pollution reduction policies and mandates. The 2008 SIP changes include a controversial “streamlined” minor source permit process that has resulted in inadequate permitting of Marcellus Shale drilling sources, CAC charged in its Nov. 28 petition asking EPA to find that Pennsylvania fails to comply with its SIP. The SIP fight comes in the midst of CAC and EPA opposition to a related Pennsylvania DEP drilling guidance that seeks to set a first-time distance threshold for when drilling emissions sources must be combined, or aggregated, for permit purposes, likely expanding the definition of minor sources.
Now CAC is quickly criticizing Krancer's letter to EPA, issuing a Jan. 6 statement that says, “It is clear from the public outcry that a 'streamlined' process is inappropriate for Marcellus Shale 'minor source' permits.” The statement adds that the minor source permit hearing Krancer announced was scheduled only after 60 citizens filed requests. “Citizens should not have to force a public hearing on every compressor station because the notice and access to information is insufficient.”
CAC also points out that because EPA has not approved the SIP changes, the streamlined permit provisions are unlawful. “Further, the revision frustrates the underlying purpose of public notice and comment periods and does not meet Clean Air Act requirements. The council expects that EPA will deny the revision and force Pennsylvania to revoke its 'streamlined' permitting program.”
Jay Duffy, Esq.
Clean Air Council
As this story carries on, we'll be sure to follow it.
A lot of people here worry. Politicians worry about business competitiveness and government "picking winners and losers" in the market. Fossil fuel companies argue solar PV and wind can't provide the service 24-7 that oil, gas, and coal can. Climate scientists, environmentalists, wildlife observers, and people in movements like Transition Towns worry we aren't ameliorating climate change and preparing for a post-carbon economy. In the northeast where we live, a lot of people think there just isn't enough sun to make it worthwhile, even though Pennsylvania receives about 70% of the sunlight New Mexico does annually. Can Germany provide a model that gets us over that worry?
According to Paul Gipe at Wind Works, "51% of the renewable energy generation is owned by its own citizens." [See chart below for breakdown. Image from Wind Works.] They will be holding a conference for people to learn about the German "Stromeinspeisungsgesetz, literally the "law on feeding in electricity" (to the grid) was introduced by conservative Bavarian farmers frustrated with their utility's intransigence to connecting their small hydro plants with the grid."
"The "feed-in" law was passed overwhelmingly by the conservative government of Helmut Kohl, and quickly ushered in a revolution in the way electricity was generated in Germany, spreading rapidly from Bavaria in the south all the way to the Danish border in the north.Could there be an opportunity in the United States for community solar or in individual states or communities? First, we are in an economic recession and people are looking for work and construction companies need work. Second, local governments need long-term cost-cutting measures and renewable energy sources can provide that after initial implementation costs. Third, Transition Towns and community organizations are on the rise domestically, many of whom focus on community energy resilience and community food security. Fourth, electricity companies are incentivizing efficiency and paying back homes that feed back to the grid. Maybe we need more collaborations like this.
Farmers, individuals and community groups could, for the first time, emulate their Danish neighbors by installing their own wind turbines and selling the resulting electricity at a hoped-for profit. These electricity rebels, Stromrebellen as they're called in German, began appearing all across the country, even in the former communist East Germany."
But there are things like it happening. There are parks in Seattle where pavilions are being outfitted with solar PV. The New Rules Project has created a guide for implementing a local community solar project. Northwest Community Energy works to increase access to solar energy, to reduce up-front costs for participants, improve economies of scale, increase public understanding of solar energy, and generate local jobs. Our former guest, Janaia Donaldson of PeakMomentTV has a 4-disc series called "The Renaissance of the Local" some of which details how to build energy resilience into your community.
Imagine this patchwork of initiatives getting more support. Imagine getting 20% of our energy from renewable community initiatives and half of that owned by you, me, our farmers, and indirectly through outfitting our parks with solar PV. We pool risk through insurance. I think it's time to pool burdens for energy sustainability and a clean environment. The Germans have done it at a large scale. Can we?
How would you contribute to pooling sustainable energy projects?
Stuchul says, "We are increasingly interested in doing more for ourselves and learning in the doing and stretching the boundaries of what's possible. Just our notions of a lawn looks like grass. Well really? If it's receiving lots of sun and you like to eat and if you have just the tiniest bit of experimentation urge, plant something and harvest it and eat and enjoy it. You'll notice that it's beautiful in the doing as well."
Seems that in the New Year, many of us could do with more fresh vegetables, bread, and eggs instead of what we've been eating over the winter holiday. Maybe I'm just speaking for myself...but I doubt it.
Later this spring we hope to have at least Stuchul back on the show to talk about work in the commons and the work of Ivan Illich.
*Dana Stuchul and Christopher Uhl are both on Peter Buckland's doctoral dissertation committee.
We can get into all of the economic bean counting that compares the total economic value of natural gas and its services. Then we can compare them to the total revenue brought in by people traveling to the land where gas drilling will take place, the revenue of farms, the dollars saved with clean air and water, and the economic value of active farms. Environmental economists can and will spar with each other, with energy economists, and supply chain economists, and so on about the best way to account for natural gas's economic value and the land's value. Doing all of that will require a lot of bean counting, future discounting, statistical modeling, and more to assess its utility or instrumental value. That is no doubt useful for economists and politicians seeking to make a case in a marketed world built on numbers rather than notions like beauty.
When I write value here, I don't just mean the cost in dollars and cents of a volume of natural gas and the taxable value of the land. By land here, I mean what people think of as "the environment" that is in some way productive in and for its own right and has not been mechanically developed...at least not overtly. What's its value? By value I mean something more than revenue. By value I mean its intrinsic worth to itself, its subjective worth in experience or reverence, and its worth as a common thing outside of dollars and cents.
Think of Aldo Leopold, one of the fathers of American conservation, who wrote about this better than anyone. In A Sand County Almanac he wrote:
Ethics and morality are a question of value. So I ask you now a third question in light of Leopold and that video: Can we value natural gas and the land in a way that balances our demand for gas with the notion that we ought to cooperate with the land?
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have
already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species.
A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources,' but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.
I posted a version of this question over on Facebook page. It prompted my friend Aaron to say, "What an absolutely ghastly video!!! Sickening. We belong to the land, its value is us."
What about you?