Thursday, July 29, 2010

Questions Remain About Chevy Volt

I am still personally mixed on the Chevy Volt. I want to like it because it is a big leap for GM going green and boosting the American auto industry. And the fact that it goes 40 miles to a charge and that most commuters don't go above that mileage in a day is encouraging.

But what I'm concerned about -- and the EPA as well -- is those drivers who commute long distances and switch from electric to the gas generator frequently. The EPA has yet to figure out a way to test the fuel efficiency of the Volt, but some people put the estimate at around 33 mpg once the gas generator kicks in.

If Volt owners commute a hundred miles a day and don't bother to charge the vehicle overnight, well then that isn't a very fuel-efficient vehicle.

I hope that most drivers will only use EV mode in the 40 mile range. But my preference at this point is for the 100% electric Nissan Leaf, Toyota's Plug-in Prius and CODA Automotive. Those car companies are hedging their bets that people will overcome "range anxiety" and that the charging infrastructure will be more available across America.

Plus the Leaf is $33,000 before tax breaks while GM just announced the Volt will sell for $41,000 before tax breaks. That $8,000 could make a big difference with consumers who want to go electric.

Also, the Leaf has a 100-mile charging range which is more appealing than the Volt's 40 miles for eco-minded consumers who don't want to ever pump gas into their vehicle.

Here are some videos of the Volt. Again, I hope it succeeds for all the jobs and optimism it is creating. But I fear it won't be competitive with the Leaf and other EVs on the market and that it won't be as green and fuel efficient as initially advertised. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

DC and NYC Ramp Up Recycling Efforts

For decades New York City was famous for its trash. Gotham was associated with garbage for good reason as the city's streets, sidewalks and subways were literally littered with every object imaginable.

Well, a lot has changed in The Big Apple besides the reputation New Yorkers have earned since 9/11 as being genuinely nicer and respectful to each other.

New York is making a concerted effort to go green by promoting recycling as an option in subway stations, street corners and businesses. Here are a couple of pictures I snapped of recycling in NYC:

Recycling bin in Battery Park.

Recycling bin in Cortlandt St. subway station in downtown NYC.
And down in D.C. while the Senate is stalled on comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislation, at least their office buildings provide a recycling option for our lawmakers as this one in Hart demonstrates.

And not to be outdone, the House of Representatives is going green as well with recycling bins in their office buildings like this one in Rayburn.

NYC: Bike City

After a string of highly publicized bicycle fatalities in New York City, there is a noticeable effort to make cycling safer with signage and an educational campaign. The website Look NYC aims to change the behavior of both cyclists and motorists to create a culture of respect and safety.

Of course that is easier said than done in a place like New York where some people will simply play by their own rules and put theirs and other lives at risk. Since arriving in NYC I've seen multiple bikers ripping right through red lights; as well as cab drivers, bus drivers and other motorists getting incredibly aggressive near bicyclists. But at least the city is trying to do something about it.

That said, overall NYC has become a great place for bicycling. There is a wonderful new bike path in Battery Park close to the WTC site that is well-marked and well lit at night with smooth pavement. It is just one example of the efforts New York City is making to become a bike-friendly metropolis.

And of course this being New York, even biking can turn into a political statement as the picture below demonstrates. For more information on biking New York visit NYC Bike Maps, Bike New York and Ride the City.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hope Rises At Ground Zero

President Obama is in NYC for a couple of Democratic fundraisers. Justin Timberlake and Woody Harrelson are filming "Friends With Benefits" in Battery Park. But the biggest buzz in the Big Apple is at the World Trade Center site.

Since 9/11 the WTC site has been a national eyesore -- a symbol of our misplaced priorities, political paralysis and inability to move on after that tragic day in American history. The Mets, Yankees, Giants and Jets all received shiny new stadiums while Ground Zero sadly remained a graveyard. Many people wondered why we could build gleaming new sports stadiums but couldn't quickly rebuild Ground Zero.

Well, I am happy to report that excitement is building at Ground Zero. The place is a beehive of activity as the pace of construction speeds up and new structures such as the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Museum and Memorial arise from the ashes of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

Personally I wasn't prepared for the emotional impact of finally seeing the new WTC site taking shape -- especially after so many years of visiting the area and seeing little progress. While the sense of unimaginable suffering and loss is still palpable around Ground Zero, there is a new feeling of optimism and hope that we can and will rebuild not only the physical space but also the thousands of shattered lives that were forever altered on that fateful day in New York City.

Below are video and pictures I took yesterday of the amazing progress at Ground Zero.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Clean Energy Revolution At The Local Level

While the Senate is back to their usual paralysis when it comes to passing comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislation, local communities across America aren't sitting on their laurels waiting for Washington to act. Many localities are initiating renewable energy projects on their own and it is part of the quiet green revolution taking place across this great country.

For example, I'm vacationing in Eastern Long Island -- The Hamptons and Montauk -- about 90 miles east of New York City. Browsing the local newspapers revealed this headline in The East Hampton Press: "Town Board Backs Turbine in Split Vote."

They approved the installation of a 10-kilowatt wind turbine and three Republicans voted in favor of the project! The 120-foot tall turbine with 23-foot blades would be the first of its kind in East Hampton and won out over some residents' concerns over noise and aesthetics. It is estimated it will save the farm it will reside on $2,000 a year in energy costs.

These are exactly the types of projects that are being debated by town councils large and small all over America. It is comforting to know that communities aren't waiting for Washington to finally get their act together but are taking the initiative to join the global race for a clean energy future.

A Healthy Alternative to Smoking Cigarettes?

In the past few weeks I've seen electronic cigarettes for sale at The Grove in Los Angeles and Union Station in Washington, D.C. At first glance it seems this new technology satisfies the oral fixation and nicotine kick without the cancer-causing toxic tar and smoke from a traditional cigarette.

You are basically inhaling vapor instead of the lung-burning smoke. There are different flavors that can be used and everything is powered by a lithium-iron battery.

But is it a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes?

It depends who you ask.

Right now e-cigs can't be promoted as smoking cessation devices because the FDA has not approved them. During limited studies they have found diethylene glycol, one of the toxic compounds of antifreeze. But this was apparently found in a Chinese-made e-cig that isn't typical of most companies selling the product.

In my opinion caution should be applied until conclusive results are formed about this product by the FDA and other regulatory agencies. And there is still no better way to stop the nicotine habit then not using cigarettes at all. But for those people who are deeply addicted smokers, the risks of traditional cigarettes far outweigh any perceived risks associated with e-cigs.

This is an excerpt from the website

Brad Rodu, a tobacco researcher at the University of Kentucky in Louisville, considers e-cigarettes a better alternative for smokers who absolutely can't break their addiction.

"We can't say these are perfectly safe, but with everything we know about them we can certainly say they are vastly safer than continuing to light cigarette tobacco on fire and inhaling the 3,000 or 4,000 chemicals that cigarette smokers are doing right now," Rodu said.

Making Connecticut Avenue Safe For Pedestrians

In general D.C. is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the country. The Nation's Capital is almost always ranked as one of the most walkable destinations in America. And for the most part this is true. And having recently moved from Los Angeles -- one of the hardest places to be a pedestrian -- I've found walking in the Washington area to be incredibly safe and easy.

But this is not the case in all of the District, as a trip along Connecticut Avenue near Chevy Chase revealed. The traffic races along the street at high speeds and the crosswalks not placed at traffic lights are dangerous because pedestrians aren't sure if motorists will stop for them. I saw this phenomenon in L.A. but didn't expect to see it in D.C. 

These crosswalks placed in-between intersections are dangerous for both pedestrians and drivers. Neither should have to play the guessing game.

Thankfully, a community group has formed called Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action, or CAPA. Their goal is to make the street safe for pedestrians by working with the District Department of Transportation to for example increase red light times so pedestrians aren't rushed to cross the street. 

In May 2009 they applied for and were awarded a grant from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center to perform a pedestrian safety audit. The preliminary results can be found at their website by clicking here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Washington, DC: Bike City

Moving from the bike-hostile environment of Los Angeles (just ask L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about his bike accident) to bike-friendly Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia has been pure pleasure.

While L.A. is set to start moving forward with its 2010 Bike Plan, the D.C. area has been working hard for years to put in place a bicycle infrastructure and a bike-friendly culture. After nine years in car-crazy Southern California I've been exploring D.C. on my bike and here are some initial observations.

As always Arlington -- the urban county across the Potomac River from the Nation's Capital -- is a paradise for bike riders. There are bicycle lanes, bike sharrows, bike shops and bicycle signage all over the county. The website BikeArlington provides a wealth of resources for Arlington bike commuters.

And Arlington will be participating in phase two of D.C.'s bike sharing program. Capital Bikeshare will be launched in September of this year with plans for more than 100 bikesharing stations and more than 1,000 bikes.

Across the Potomac River, D.C. has been holding its own in terms of being as bike-friendly as possible. The website Bike Washington provides information on topics such as bike trails and upcoming events.

Two new projects are helping put D.C. on the map when it comes to national bike-friendly communities. The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes officially opened on June 22 with much fanfare. D.C. Mayor Adrien Fenty and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were on hand to dedicate the new lanes.

According to the Washington Post story, the District has more than 50 miles of bike lanes with a goal of increasing that number to 80. Also, the Census Bureau reports that the number of Washington area bike commuters doubled from 2000-2008, exceeding 2 percent of all commuters.

The Bikestation at Union Station is one of the most striking architectural designs in the city. Shaped like a bicycle wheel, the facility provides indoor bicycle parking and rents out bikes through Bike and Roll. It is a potent and stunning visual reminder that D.C. is serious about transforming into one of the top bike-friendly places not only in the United States but indeed the entire world.

The 1,600 sq. ft. facility houses over 100 bicycles and is the first of its kind on the East Coast. The facility also provides a changing room, lockers, bike repairs and retail items for sale. Its location at Union Station offers a seamless connection from the Metro Red Line or Circulator Bus to your securely stored bicycle.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

East Coast Heat Wave Silences Climate Change Deniers

Remember how all the climate change deniers came out of the woodwork during last winter's Snowpocalypse? Well, in case you forgot here is a refresher on how they manipulated this weather-related event to turn it into an attack on the science of climate change.

Sean Hannity: "It’s the most severe winter storm in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore’s hysterical global warming theories."

Newt Gingrich: "Historic snow storm in Washington – third this year – where is Al Gore to explain it snows this heavily as a sign global warming is imminent."

Fast forward to this summer's record-breaking East Coast Heat Wave and where are the climate change deniers now? In their minds if the epic snow storm last winter disproves global warming, wouldn't this unprecedented heat prove it? Of course the real science says that these are mostly weather-related events, not climate events. But that climate change is producing more extreme weather events and that we should get used to more unusually hot summers and cold winters and weird weather in general.

For some perspective on how hot it is, I took these pictures at the bank by my mom's house in North Arlington. It was 92 degrees fahrenheit at 10 p.m.

And when I arrived in New York City yesterday they were in the middle of one of their worst heat waves on record. From the Associated Press:

"In New York City, temperatures in July have averaged 5.5 degrees above normal, according to the private weather service AccuWeather.

The stifling heat this summer seems to be part of a global trend. So far, 2010 is on track to overtake 2005 as the warmest year recorded for the planet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

And today I took the Long Island Railroad Express Train from Manhattan to the Hamptons and found out that there were reports of a waterspout, which is a tornado that develops over water. This is what scientists would call "global weirding" -- strange weather phenomena due to climate change. From the Long Island Press:

"Call it the summer of unusual weather. For Long Islanders on the East End, severe thunderstorms caused power outages and widespread damage Wednesday evening.

East Hampton took the brunt of the beating from the storm, according to National Weather Service forecasters in Upton, which reported that there was also a waterspout sighting. A waterspout is a tornado that occurs over the water. Downed power lines and uprooted trees were also reported."

But I'll let the climate change deniers speak for themselves. This is video of ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl confronting Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is a famous climate change denier.

In the interview Inhofe says the planet is going through a "cooling period" and that is what all the scientists say. Sorry Mr. Inhofe but you are wrong. From Wikipedia:

"In contrast to the global cooling conjecture, the current scientific opinion on climate change is that the Earth has not durably cooled, but undergone global warming throughout the twentieth century."

And this is an excerpt from a story by an AP Science Reporter on titled "Statistics rejects global cooling."

"An analysis of global temperatures by independent statisticians shows the Earth is still warming and not cooling as some global warming skeptics are claiming.

The analysis was conducted at the request of The Associated Press to investigate the legitimacy of talk of a cooling trend that has been spreading on the Internet, fueled by some news reports, a new book and temperatures that have been cooler in a few recent years.

In short, it is not true, according to the statisticians who contributed to the AP analysis.

The statisticians, reviewing two sets of temperature data, found no trend of falling temperatures over time."

But the climate change deniers seem to be unperturbed by actual facts. And when someone at the level of Mr. Inhofe spouts out these spurious claims it has real consequences for the planet as Senator Harry Reid found out recently when he didn't have enough votes to move forward with comprehensive climate change and clean energy legislation.

But thankfully there are sane Senators such as Bernie Sanders who are not afraid to stand up for the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and the need for urgent action.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

News Headlines: More Bike Sharing in D.C.

Ensuring the Efficient Workings of a Bike-Sharing System (The Transport Politic)
After the opening earlier this year of major bike-sharing systems in Denver and Minneapolis, Washington expects to relaunch its own program this fall.

As Metro congestion grows, so does anger at 'seat hogs' (Washington Post)
As Washington's public transit network grows more congested, with Metro projecting "unmanageable" levels of saturation on its rail system by 2020, the phenomenon of people taking up more than their share of space is becoming increasingly touchy.

How fast is your bus? WMATA maps bus speeds (Greater Greater Washington)
WMATA has created maps showing the average speeds of buses across the region.

Obama orders federal workplaces to cut emissions, improve safety (Washington Post)
President Obama wants federal workers to take a bike, bus or subway to work more often and is ordering agencies to make their offices a safer place to work.

Congress, Obama Put Climate Bill on Back Burner

In a potentially fatal blow to comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation, the Democratic leadership in the Senate has abandoned a major climate bill in favor of scaled back legislation because there are not enough votes.

This news is incredibly disappointing to those who believed President Obama and the Democrats in Congress would push a renewable energy and climate change bill with the same vigor and urgency that they did for the Recovery Act, Health Care Reform and Wall Street Reform.

If the Democrats wait until the next Congress to push a comprehensive climate bill, it will be much harder because the Republicans are expected to at least grab a few more seats if not more. Obama and the Senate leadership had their chance but chose to use all their energy on Health Care and Financial Reform. What a pity. A clean energy policy for America is urgent and necessary for a healthy economy and a healthy environment.

Why isn't Obama summoning the Republican and Democratic leadership to the White House like he did for the Health Care Reform bill? The fact that Obama is not championing clean energy legislation with the same sense of urgency that he did for Health Care Reform is a failure of leadership and is one of the most disappointing developments so far in Obama's presidency. He could have gotten the Republicans on board easier than he did with Health Care Reform because this is about America staying competitive with countries like China and Germany that have poured massive amounts of money into clean energy research and development and production.

A comprehensive climate and clean energy bill should have been on equal footing with Health Care Reform and Financial Reform. This bill would have been the number one job creator and perhaps within a few years we could have had wind farms and tidal power farms off the coast of Louisiana in addition to oil.

We are not only talking about keeping America competitive in the global marketplace by creating clean energy manufacturing jobs, but more importantly fighting rapid climate change so there is a future for our children and grandchildren. Americans consume more energy per capita than any other country and emit more carbon into the atmosphere than any other country so we have a special responsibility to protect the planet for future generations.

After today's devastating news, I'm not so sure this country has the ability anymore to do big things. While the Gulf Coast soaks in oil and we keep buying gas-guzzling SUVs and consuming like there is no tomorrow, we will continue to hemorrhage clean energy jobs to China and Europe.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Energy Message Wars Play Out In D.C.

Influence peddling in our Nation's Capital doesn't just happen behind closed doors in congressional offices. Perhaps the best way to capture the legislative zeitgeist in Washington is to read the full page ads in the local newspapers and the banner ads plastered on bus stops and Metro subway stops around town.

So inevitably with a national renewable energy and climate change policy on the agenda of lawmakers, the lobbyists are out in full force -- both defending the energy status quo and pressing for a clean energy future.

Oceans advocacy organization Oceana placed ads like this one all over Metro stations and trains. The campaign uses the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster as a call to build more offshore wind farms instead of oil rigs.

And this full-page ad in Monday's Politico newspaper from a group calling itself American Businesses For Clean Energy advocates for a clean energy and climate plan in the Senate.

But the fossil fuel industry is not going down without a fight. In Wednesday's The Hill newspaper, the American Petroleum Institute bought a full-page ad touting "A commitment to safety -- and American's energy future."

Another industry feeling the heat is America's agricultural sector. They want to write corn-based biofuels into the pending climate legislation. So the Corn Farmers Coalition plastered the Capitol South Metro Station -- the stop right next to the Capitol frequented by Representatives and Senators -- with banner ads talking up the importance of corn to the economy. Here is a sample.

Lastly, with a high speed rail network in the United States ramping up, Siemens wants in on the action. The German engineering giant wants those lucrative contracts to supply their Velaro train to run on America's new high-speed rail corridors. Here is an ad on the side of a bus stop on K Street.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Republicans to Salazar: Drill Baby Drill!

A visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday revealed how badly some Republicans want to start offshore oil drilling again immediately. I witnessed the last twenty minutes of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and saw a barrage of Republican attacks on the moratorium on offshore oil drilling after the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster.

Salazar admirably defended the Obama administration's response to the catastrophe and the decision to ban drilling until the safety issues are worked out in order to prevent another disaster.

In response to a question from Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma about why we are shutting down drilling for six months when we don't stop flying when there is a commercial airline tragedy, Salazar said that "in this kind of dynamic circumstance it seems prudent to have the pause button in place until we can get answers to some very fundamental, important questions relating to safety and relating to protection of the environment."

When grilled about the federal response to the disaster by Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California, who said she was a "warm and fuzzy Republican," Salazar stated that our national energy policy has not worked since the 1970s and "that's why we need to have a comprehensive energy program moving forward and that's why the president has been spending so much time on it."

When pressed further about the government's response to the disaster, Salazar stood up for their efforts.

"We do believe the Gulf Coast will be restored to a better place than it was before April 20th," said Salazar. "This is the most herculean response effort to an unprecedented disaster that the United States has ever seen and I'm on the front lines of it. When you look at the resources that have been amassed to respond to this ongoing problem that is now in its 90th day, it is something that when you realize what the numbers are and the efforts are it makes me proud that the U.S. government is acting in the way that it is."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Coal Country

Planet Green is currently airing the documentary "Coal Country." The film is a powerful exposé on the devastating environmental impacts and human health risks associated with mining for coal in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.

Perhaps the most poignant scene in the film involves a woman from eastern Ohio who has lived on the same plot of land since it was given to her family after an ancestor died in the Revolutionary War. For generations her family raised horses, chickens and cattle on their farm. But then a coal-fired power plant moved in to her hallow close to the coal fields of eastern Ohio. She immediately noticed the air, water and soil in her area became contaminated and cancer rates increased.

She pointed out the stark choice many coal country residents believe they have to face: coal mining jobs or not getting cancer by kicking out the coal companies.

Thankfully there is a powerful push by coul country residents to end mountaintop removal and fight against the false answer of carbon capture and sequestration, which many experts say is decades away from reality and even then there is no certainty that the carbon will actually stay underground.

But there are alternative energy solutions in places like West Virginia that can both create jobs and protect the environment and the health of the people who live there. There is a group of activists fighting for clean energy jobs in Coal River Mountain, West Virginia. They want to see wind farming instead of strip mining.

Maybe this success story from the former coal mining area of Lausitz in eastern Germany will provide inspiration to these wind power activists. Just like Coal Country U.S.A. this area was once a major energy provider but fell on hard times. Now, the region gets around 40% of their power from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and biofuel. And the renewable energy sector employs more than 5,000 people in Brandenburg. Click here for the full story.

Here is the trailer for "Coal Country":

Videos: New Dulles AeroTrain

Below are two videos I took of the new Washington Dulles International Airport people mover called AeroTrain. The futuristic, fast, frequent, clean and efficient trains and the tunnels they run through are marvels of engineering.

The first phase of the AeroTrain system zips people along 3.78 miles of track from the A, B and C concourses in the midfield terminal to the baggage claim area in the main terminal. There are plans to eventually extend the AeroTain system to the D concourse so it will make a full loop around the airport.

Here are the videos. Hopefully you get a sense of how fast these cars are. It is an example of what is possible when financing, imagination and technology meet to provide seamless transportation for commuters.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Green SoCal Lives...In D.C.!

Rather than hand it off or terminate it, I decided I'm going to continue blogging about Southern California's new green economy from the vantage point of living in our Nation's Capital.

So Green SoCal won't be going anywhere, but it will look a bit different.

California is at the forefront of the clean energy revolution and therefore has a special relationship with Washington as the Obama Administration, Congress and the Federal Government place the climate crisis and clean energy at the center of debate and policy.

From L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's frequent cross-country visits to lobby on behalf of federal funding for the 30/10 Initiative, to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (and whoever takes his office in November) visiting Washington often to meet with high-ranking officials and politicos about California's cutting edge clean-tech sector -- there is a mutually beneficial relationship between D.C. and California when it comes to the new green economy.

I hope to provide Southern Californians with the highest quality news and analysis with a first look at the issues coming out of Washington that no other SoCal-based blog is able to provide.

I look forward to continue growing Green SoCal from Washington, D.C. as the "next industrial revolution" ramps up like we've never seen before. If you have any questions or comments please email me at I'm always looking for new ideas on how to improve Green SoCal.

Thanks much.

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