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While not related to the recent nobel prize, the upbeat note out of PA DEP seemed in contrast to some not-so-great trends in that state right now (see article below). So, since the DEP director did request others to share their thoughts...
PA's action to include waste coal in the state's renewable portfolio standards (which give purchase requirements to particular clean forms of power), in combination with the inclusion of tax subsidies for "refined" coal in federal HR 4520 that just passed Congress, is likely open the floodgates to other dirty, non-renewable fuels to these valuable market incentives. As a result, their benefit to real renewable and sustainable technologies will be greatly diminished. In fact, as the article below notes, the clean power sources may well be displaced.
Whenever a solvent party responsible for making environmental messes remains, the best approach is to make them clean it up on their own dime -- be it a leaking landfill, high emissions from a WTE plant, or coal interests in PA. Only in that way can proper price signals encourage development and dissemination of cleaner technologies.
If none of the creators of PA's mess remain solvent, the state would still be better off grouping this subsidy under their brownfields program. Furthermore, if the problem is really cleaning up the waste coal piles, shouldn't they open the subsidy to any technology -- not just burning -- than can achieve that end? Other approaches may well be cheaper. While lumping a coal subsidy with the existing RPS may be convenient from a legislative perspective, it will set a very poor precedant that will be exploite by all kinds of waste producers in years to come.
Pennsylvania to Become First State to Include Fossil Fuel in RPS:
Clean Air Report via InsideEPA.com, October 21, 2004
The Pennsylvania legislature is poised to pass the nation's first
renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that would include electricity generated by fossil fuels including coal waste. Gov. Edward Rendell (D)
heartily supports using coal waste as a fuel and is unlikely to sign
such a measure unless the fuel is included, sources say.
Despite the controversy over the move, the only outstanding question
appears to be whether coal waste would be considered a "renewable" energy source or if it would be defined as an "advanced" energy source.
The plan to promote the use of coal waste-fueled electricity has
attracted the opposition of some environmental groups in the state who say there is no data to show that burning coal waste helps the state's environment, adding it could actually make things worse.
But the governor and other supporters of the plan say the 8,500 acres
of coal waste is the state's biggest environmental problem, because the
waste leaches acid and metals into surface and groundwater, contaminating some 2,400 miles of streams and rivers. Additionally, the piles can catch fire and burn for decades, emitting uncontrolled tons of pollutants into the air.
Rendell and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Secretary Kathleen McGinty just last week announced that they have
doubled the state's "green" electricity purchases from 5 percent to 10 percent,and that those purchases include electricity from waste coal. At a Sept. 8 Senate panel hearing on the RPS, McGinty testified that "the re-use of this material is a prime example of one of the main environmental themes of the Rendell administration, namely viewing environmentally harmful material as a potential resource that can be re-used rather than remain as a liability."
A source with the coal waste industry group ARIPPA says there is not
enough money available to clean up the estimated 258 million tons of coal
waste. At the current rate, the cleanup would cost $15 billion and take 600 years, the source says.
The waste piles are comprised of mining residue that traditional
utilities cannot burn because of a high rock content, known as garbage of
The state already has 14 small coal waste-fueled plants that generate
electricity, and another went online this year that is much larger than
the others. Three other large, 500-megawatt coal waste plants are in early permitting stages. This has prompted environmentalists to raise
concerns about toxic emissions including mercury caused by burning the waste. They also raise the possibility that mercury residue is concentrated in the coal ash that is put back into piles that once held the GOB.
However, the ARIPPA source says that because the coal waste is treated
with limestone before being burned, the process neutralizes the acid and
binds the metals so that they do not leach. The source adds that EPA has
already tested existing plants for mercury air emissions and found they
remove 99 percent of the toxin.
"It doesn't go up the stack," the source says. "It stays in the ash and
does not leach into groundwater."
But an environmentalist, who calls the idea of including coal waste in
an RPS "shocking," says there is little data to back up that claim. The
source also complains that the ash -- which will eventually replace the GOB
once it is burned -- is not significantly lower in volume than the coal waste
it will be replacing, again leaving unsightly piles of waste with unknown
Environmentalists say in addition to fighting the inclusion of coal
waste in the state's RPS, they also hope to spark opposition to the planned coal waste-fired plants. Pending facilities include a
Wellington Group plant in Green County which would be the largest
waste-fueled electricity generator in the country at 525 megawatts; the
Beech Hollow Plant by Robinson Power Co., LLC, near the nation's
largest GOB pile; and a plant in Clearfield County by the River Hill Power Co.
The plant that just came on line is in Seward, PA, and is 521
megawatts.In addition to these plants being reviewed by state regulators, federal land managers are also studying their potential impact on national parks and forests. A National Park Service source says the review will focus solely on clean air impacts to these areas and that the land managers will not address the type of fuel being burned, or whether it is classified as renewable.
The Pennsylvania environmentalist expects the state legislature to
approve the RPS sometime between the Nov. 2 elections and Thanksgiving. Several different bills are pending, along with a proposal by the governor.
Sources say state House lawmakers are working on an amendment to
reconcile differences between their approach and the governor's approach, which is likely to be adopted.
Despite the opposition, the environmentalist expects waste coal to be
included. "It will not be passed without waste coal, that is what we're
hearing," the source notes. "We're lobbying for the bill to be cleaner
but I would be surprised if it goes in that direction."
A source with the Pennsylvania Coal Association agrees with that
assessment, and says environmentalists will likely have to compromise by pressing for a higher percent RPS, which the governor proposed to be 10 percent. "What will happen is if the environmentalists want an RPS they will have to accept coal waste but the RPS will be at 15 percent. I think there will be a compromise and you will have it. The governor and the legislature are excited about this," the source says.
The source adds an RPS that includes coal waste will help bring the
three planned waste coal plants online, and give incentives for even more
Environmentalists also complain that by adding waste coal, the vast
majority of the RPS will be met by a dirty fuel. They note that 3 to 5 percent of the state's electricity today comes from coal waste, while conventional renewables comprise only 1 percent. If coal waste is included in the RPS, there is no guarantee that any more energy will come from renewable fuel.
But a source with the DEP notes the governor's proposal is not an RPS
but an "advanced energy portfolio standard," touted as an innovative way to address the state's historic environmental problem with GOB piles. The source acknowledges that coal waste is not a traditional renewable
but does offer some environmental benefits.
However, the environmentalist also complains about air emissions from
these plants, noting they are not as clean as supporters claim when compared to new pulverized coal plants coming online now. Additionally, two of the three proposed plants would be in areas out of attainment with EPA's ozone standard, the source says.
But the ARIPPA source says that the circulating fluidized bed technology
these plants use is highly efficient.
The source adds there are several legislative proposals that would
disadvantage waste coal under the RPS. One is a plan that would limit
waste coal's eligibility to plants that came online after 2000 -- and would
apply only to the Seward plant and any of the yet-to-be-built facilities. A
second plan would impose what the source calls "unreasonable'" emissions
limits and a third would put waste coal in a lower renewable tier.
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>>> David Biddle <Dbiddle@no.address> 10/22/04 11:48AM >>>
The essay below was circulated to us here in PA by our Secretary of the
Department of Environmental Protection, Katie McGinty. I¹m sending it in
light of the discussion a few weeks back about Wangari Maathai¹s Nobel Peace
Prize. It is well worth reading.
In the words of David Byrne (in another context), I think it¹s important for
all of us to remember as we work on whatever environmental issues that
matter to us, ³...this ain¹t no foolin¹ around.²
I wanted to share the following beautifully and compellingly written piece
by David Sandalow for three reasons: first, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai
is a friend of mine and I know firsthand that she literally has put her own
life on the line many times in order to defend the life and dignity of
others; second, because the piece helps us see the importance of smart
resource stewardship and environmental protection; and third, because David
worked for me in the White House and I am enormously moved by and proud of
his continued exemplary leadership. Share with me your thoughts.
A Green Peace Prize
By David B. Sandalow
Her musical name hides a fierce spirit. For more than three decades she's
faced down dictators and detractors, building a Green Belt Movement in her
native Kenya and helping plant millions of trees around Africa. Now Wangari
Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, is suddenly a global symbol
of the often overlooked connection between protecting the environment and
Like so much in her career, the award has sparked controversy.
Why, critics ask, should the Nobel Peace Prize go to an environmental
activist? Under Alfred Nobel's will, the prize belongs to "the person who
shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations,
for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and
promotion of peace congresses." For more than 50 years after the
industrialist's death in 1896, the Nobel Committee (appointed by the
Norwegian parliament) awarded the Peace Prize to politicians, diplomats and
But after World War II, the Nobel Committee began taking a more expansive
view of its charter. In 1952 the committee awarded the Peace Prize to Albert
Schweitzer, a physician and missionary whose legendary contributions to
humanity did not include -- except perhaps indirectly -- conflict avoidance
of the type narrowly described by Nobel's testament. Since then winners have
included Norman Borlaug, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel --
extraordinary individuals whose selection reflects growing interest by the
committee both in inspirational leaders and the forces behind strife.
In this tradition, selecting an environmental activist for the Nobel Peace
Prize is not only proper but inspired. Doing so when much of the world's
attention is focused on daily casualties in a controversial war is
especially farsighted. By shining a spotlight on a topic that would
otherwise receive little attention -- the role of the natural environment in
human conflict -- the Nobel Committee may help prevent tragedies.
But what does protecting the environment have to do with preventing
conflict? First, environmental degradation is often a precursor of violence.
Nowhere is this demonstrated more vividly than in Darfur. The immediate
cause of the tragedy in Sudan is the ruthless behavior of government forces
and militias toward unarmed civilians. But lying behind today's disaster is
the desertification of northern Darfur during the past two decades. Extended
drought and poor land management have pushed the desert southward year after
year, forcing Arab nomads from the north deeper into southern farmlands
while breeding resentment and conflict.
Could the tragedy in Darfur have been averted if a charismatic leader such
as Wangari Maathai had helped the people of Sudan protect their soils and
prevent desertification? Perhaps. Similar questions could be asked in many
places around the globe.
In the Philippines, a long-standing insurgency finds a ready source of
recruits from those trapped in poverty by reckless deforestation. In Mexico,
soil erosion and deforestation fueled a rebellion in Chiapas in the
mid-1990s that shook the national government and contributed to a peso
crisis that rattled financial markets around the world.
In Pakistan, where the world community has a vital interest in preventing
deterioration of the social order, degraded croplands are forcing many poor
farmers to migrate to Karachi and other urban centers, where shortages of
clean water and electric power have sparked violence.
Scholarly studies suggest that ecological stress is often a cause of
conflict within nations (and even, occasionally, between nation-states).
Ecological stress frequently exacerbates more obvious social problems, such
as ethnic rivalries, that are more likely to be identified as the immediate
causes of strife.
There are other connections between the environment and conflict. A common
affinity for the natural world can help bring rivals together and overcome
bitterness. It's no accident that in the 1970s, as doors between China and
the United States opened for the first time in decades, the Chinese
government sent a panda to the United States as a symbol of rapprochement.
In addition, environmental activism has played an important role in the
struggle for democracy. In Central and Eastern Europe, environmental groups
such as the Danube Circle provided vehicles for popular dissatisfaction with
communist regimes in the late 1980s. In China, protests over the Three
Gorges Dam helped spark the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.
The compelling immediacy of car bombs, kidnappings and beheadings will
always capture headlines. Wise leaders will pay attention not just to
today's battles but also to the forces that can help reduce conflict in
years to come.
The Nobel Committee spoke wisely last week in recognizing that "[p]eace on
earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment." Wangari
Maathai's example can help peace take root in many places around the world.
The writer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, was senior director for
environmental affairs on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton
David Biddle, Executive Director
P.O. Box 4037
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Go to <http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/jgpress/> and choose the ³All dates²
option for articles by ³David Biddle²
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