Time Running Out on Energy Credits

  • Pete Sickman-Garner and his daughter Robin with their new high efficiency freezer. After getting rid of a 25-year old energy hogging fridge, insulating their house, and putting in new storm windows, their gas and electric bills are much lower. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

One thing is clear… energy prices are just going to keep going up. If you’ve been thinking about making your house more energy efficient, now’s the time. That’s because a federal tax credit will be running out in a few months. Rebecca Williams has more:

Transcript

One thing is clear… energy prices are just going to keep going up. If you’ve been thinking about making your house more energy efficient, now’s the time. That’s because a federal tax credit will be running out in a few months. Rebecca Williams has more:

Pete Sickman-Garner didn’t have any trouble finding the leaks in his house. It was built in the 1940’s… with pretty much zero insulation.

“It was cold! There were nights my daughter woke up because she was had rolled over and touched the wall and it was so cold it woke her up.”

And there were those huge gas and electric bills in the dead of winter. He says he and his wife knew they really needed to seal up the house. So they hired a guy to blow insulation into the walls. And they put up new storm windows.

“It was roughly a $4000 home improvement so not insignificant. But so far we’ve gotten back $900 on our gas bill… it should pay for itself easily within 5 years.”

And on top of that they got a tax credit.

There was a pretty huge tax incentive last year for making your home more energy efficient… and it’s happening again this year. But it’s winding down. You only have eight months left.

Here’s how it works: the government will essentially pay you to make your home more efficient. Little purchases like weather stripping count. Bigger things like insulation and storm windows do too. And so do the really big things like a new furnace or central air conditioner. You can get a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of these things… up to 15-hundred dollars total for all of your purchases. That’s money sliced right off your tax bill.

But like most things with the word “tax” in them… these home energy tax credits can get complicated.

Insulation and air conditioners and windows have to meet certain codes. You can’t go by the Energy Star label alone. On top of that… you can include the cost of installing heating and cooling equipment in your tax credit. But you can’t include those installation costs for anything else. So here’s where it’s good to call in a tax credit pro to help you wade through the details.

Ronnie Kweller is with the Alliance to Save Energy.

“When you go shopping, definitely ask the retailer: do these items qualify for the federal tax credits?”

Kweller says the best place to start is to make sure you have enough insulation for your climate. And then, seal up the little leaks in your house. You could pay three to five hundred dollars for an energy audit. Or… you can try this trick: close all the windows and doors… turn on your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. And then:

“Light, say, a stick of incense and just walk around the perimeter of your house on the inside, holding incense around the edges of windows and doors and if you see smoke blowing in towards you whether or not you can feel air coming in, you’ll know there is some air leak.”

She says sealing up those leaks can save you as much as 20 percent on your energy bills.

And a lot of the little – and big – things you do can count toward your 15-hundred dollar credit.

The thing is, most people tend to think about their taxes at the end of the year. Unfortunately for some businesses… that means they’re slammed when the weather’s the worst.

Donna Napolitano runs Mechanical Energy Systems. They sell all kinds of high efficiency heating and cooling equipment. She says people were squeaking in their big purchases right up until December last year.

“It was crazy here! We were installing every day and we had to combat against the weather, I mean hello, summer’s here it’s a great time to put systems in now!”

Unless this tax credit gets extended… you only have a few more months. Everything has to be paid for and installed by December 31st. So if you’re a procrastinator… you might want to start thinking about your projects sometime soon.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

“By the way… if you want to do extremely efficient installations like solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling systems, that 30-percent tax credit is not capped at 15-hundred dollars and does not run out this year.”

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Global Warming Law Under Attack

  • Opponents say the law should not be implemented until California’s unemployment rate is much lower. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

There’s a new ballot initiative
underway that is trying to repeal
the nation’s leading global warming
law. The law seeks to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by
close to a third by 2020. Mark
Brush reports the opponents of
the law say it will cost jobs:

Transcript

There’s a new ballot initiative
underway that is trying to repeal
the nation’s leading global warming
law. The law seeks to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by
close to a third by 2020. Mark
Brush reports the opponents of
the law say it will cost jobs:

Conservatives and some Republican lawmakers are behind the petition effort in California. If they’re successful, they’ll suspend the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. They say the law should not be implemented until California’s unemployment rate is much lower.

Supporters of the law say it’s the one thing that’s actually driving innovation and creating jobs in the state. Tom Soto is with Craton Equity Partners which invests in clean tech businesses. He says the backers of this ballot initiative are hanging onto the past.

“I think it is a shameless last ditch effort of the oil companies and industry who are clinging by their bloodied fingernails onto something that simply is no longer sustainable.”

Opponents of California’s global warming law are hoping to capitalize on growing skepticism about climate change science.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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Citizen Scientists Help Uncle Sam

  • Citizen scientist divers brave the chilly waters of Washington State to count the marine life below. (Photo by Ann Dornfeld)

As governments tighten their belts,
it’s getting harder for them to pay
scientists to monitor the health of
the nation’s ecosystems. So increasingly,
they’re turning to citizens who do
that kind of work for free. Ann Dornfeld
reports on the growing influence of these
“citizen scientists”:

Transcript

As governments tighten their belts,
it’s getting harder for them to pay
scientists to monitor the health of
the nation’s ecosystems. So increasingly,
they’re turning to citizens who do
that kind of work for free. Ann Dornfeld
reports on the growing influence of these
“citizen scientists”:

It’s the kind of cloudy, wet day that most people spend indoors. But the cold and wet doesn’t matter as much when you’re planning to spend your day at the bottom of a Puget Sound fjord.

(sound of divers splashing into water)

About 75 miles from Seattle, these scuba divers are conducting volunteer surveys for REEF, an organization that monitors fish populations around the world. The data help researchers understand where fish live, and in what kind of numbers. It’s the kind of information governments need to understand how fishing and pollution are affecting waterways.

Back on the boat, surveyor Janna Nichols has just emerged from the 48-degree water. She pulls out her survey and goes down the list marking off what she’s just seen.

“Sunflower stars, definitely, many of those – saw a lot of those around. No sand dollars, no sea urchins. Ah! Ooh! Ah! Here’s an exciting one! I saw a giant nudibranch! A very small giant nudibranch. But those are very cool to see – a treat!”

Identifying fish can be tricky, because the same species can have different coloration depending on its age, gender, or even time of the year.

“Black-eyed gobies were everywhere. I would say under a hundred of them. And – they were mating! Because I don’t know if you noticed, they had black pelvic fins. And they kind of hover around and say “Hey, baby baby, look at me!”

As much fun as these “citizen scientists” have, professional scientists take the data these divers collect seriously. Last summer volunteer surveyor David Jennings went diving in Washington’s Olympic National Park Marine Sanctuary. He was excited to see the colorful tiger and china rockfish he’d heard were abundant at the park. But when he got there, he only saw a couple. So he looked at the past six years of REEF survey data to see how the rockfish populations had changed.

“One of the best sources was someone that wrote up a diving experience he had in 2002 where he saw dozens of tigers and many chinas. Whereas I in a week of diving saw two tigers and just three chinas. so it was a very big contrast to what people saw in the past.”

Jennings took the data to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. That’s the agency that decides fishing limits. Greg Bargmann is a department fisheries biologist who’s working on next year’s catch limits for rockfish. He says even though the REEF divers aren’t as highly-trained as the state biologists, the data they collect are more current and cover a wider area.

“The REEF survey shows a very dramatic decrease in abundance over the last five years. Our state surveys don’t show that, but we have a lot of imprecision in our surveys so we’re relying on the REEF surveys to look for changes in population.”

That’s because the state can’t afford to send its biologists out as often or to as many sites as the volunteers dive.

“We really appreciate the interest of our citizens to spend time going out there and using their own transportation costs and their own equipment to go out and collect data, and to listen to us and collect things that are not easy to do sometimes.”

You don’t have to dive to be a citizen scientist. In Ohio, citizens track everything from salamanders to spiders. In California, tighter budgets mean more poaching – and not enough game wardens. So states are training volunteers to do more work. And across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency relies on citizens to monitor water quality in lakes and streams.

Bargmann says while governments rely on citizen scientists more during budget crunches, he sees programs like these becoming increasingly important for keeping track of the health of the environment.

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.

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National Parks Get a Little Green

  • Junior Rangers-to-be explore the beach at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

There was a time – not that long ago –
when a lot of the National Parks in the
country were strapped for cash. They
were cutting staff and cutting services.
But, Mark Brush reports, now Congress
is investing more in the parks:

Transcript

There was a time – not that long ago –
when a lot of the National Parks in the
country were strapped for cash. They
were cutting staff and cutting services.
But, Mark Brush reports, now Congress
is investing more in the parks:

It started changing in the last year or two of the Bush Administration. The Bush White House realized that the National Park System was coming up on its 100th Anniversary in 2016.

No one wanted the Centennial marred by crumbling roads or Parks that were understaffed. So Washington pledged to increase the overall budget for the National Park Service by 100 million each year until the Centennial.

And folks like Tom Ulrich say Congress has been making good on that pledge. He’s the deputy superintendent at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan.

“A few years ago our discussions weren’t, you know, ‘Well, we got a little bit of extra money how are we going to spend that?’ They were, ‘We have to cut from last year. What are we going to cut?’ And so it’s nice to have those discussions change.”

Ulrich says a lot of National Parks are also getting some money from the stimulus package passed earlier this year.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Sewage Funding Blocked Up

Officials from local governments are lobbying Congress to put more money into wastewater treatment projects this year. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

Officials from local governments are lobbying Congress to put more money into wastewater treatment projects this year. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

President Bush’s proposed budget would cut money for keeping up and building new sewage treatment plants. The White House wants to reduce funds for a loan program that provides money for wastewater infrastructure for municipalities and factories and stormwater management.

Gary Becker chairs the Great Lakes — Saint Lawrence Cities Initiative. He says there’s a huge need for full funding of the program.

“As population expands, as cities grow, as municipalities grow you have a constant need to expand the plants. .. in addition to being able to upgrade the ones that were put in 30 years ago when the Clean Water Act was put together.”


Becker says he hopes Congress will reverse what the President has in mind. The Bush Administration has generally said it’s trying to shrink spending on everything – except for the military – as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit.

For the Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

President’s Budget Cuts Great Lakes Programs

The President’s proposed budget calls for big boosts in military and homeland security spending. And deep cuts to many domestic programs. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports, the Great Lakes are getting their share of cuts too:

Transcript

The President’s proposed budget calls for big boosts in military and
homeland security spending. And deep cuts to many domestic programs.
As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams reports, the
Great Lakes are getting their share of cuts too:


Several groups are calling the President’s budget a net loss for the Great
Lakes.


A fund that helps states update their outdated sewage treatment plants is
slated to get one of the biggest cuts. Programs that protect fisheries from
the destructive sea lamprey would also get cut back.


Andy Buchsbaum directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife
Federation.


“We knew that it was going to be a tight budget year, but it really was pretty
shocking to see the level of cuts in key Great Lakes programs. Now
there were some programs that went up but by and large across the board
the programs were severely cut, in things that are just critical.”


One action Buchsbaum says is critical is stopping the Asian carp from
getting into the Great Lakes. Right now, there’s no federal funding for an
electric barrier designed to keep the invasive carp out.


It’s now up to Congress to decide whether to go through with these
proposed cuts.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Cash Strapped Biologists Lean on Volunteers

  • The lynx was recently considered extinct in Michigan until a trapper caught one. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

For years, federal and state governments have cut funding for wildlife protection. That’s led to complaints from biologists who say they don’t have enough money to adequately do their jobs, but it’s also led to a new movement. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports on how citizens are starting to take over duties once performed by trained scientists:

Transcript

For years, federal and state governments have cut funding for wildlife
protection. That’s led to complaints from biologists who say they don’t
have enough money to adequately do their jobs, but it’s also led to a new
movement. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee
reports on how citizens are starting to take over duties once performed by
trained scientists:


Ray Rustem says wildlife biologists these days are often chained to their
desks.


“Years ago, when I first started with the Department of Natural
Resources, wildlife habitat biologists spent quite a bit of time in the field
actually doing fieldwork. With the types of things that are going on now,
they’ve become much more in getting the planning done and we’ve had
to shift some of that fieldwork done to the technician level. Frankly,
yeah, we could always use additional people out there.”


Rustem is with the Wildlife Division of the Michigan Department of
Natural Resources. He says state funding has fallen steadily for years,
and one way he’s made up the difference is by involving Michigan
citizens. Rustem says the DNR uses dozens of volunteers for its frog and
toad survey in the early part of the summer.


“This is our tenth year and we’ve got at least 120 people who’ve been
doing this all ten years. That’s a tremendous amount of data that’s being
provided for us on information about species and where they’re located.”


Many groups are now using so-called citizen scientists to collect data.
Sally Petrella is a biologist who works with the non-profit organization
the Friends of the Detroit River.


“We’ve cut out so much of the funding for regular science that there’s a
real lack, and citizen scientists can cover far more areas than
professionals can, at a much lower cost.”


Petrella is standing beside the murky, reed-choked waters of the Rouge
River Watershed. It’s home to six species of frogs and toads. Every
summer, Friends of the Detroit River enlists the help of 700 people to
listen for the creatures as they call to each other from the marshy
grasses.


Petrella is standing beside one of her more loyal volunteers… Al Sadler.
Sadler admits that part of the appeal is the walk along the banks of the
river… but he also believes that public participation in wildlife
protection has become an absolute necessity.


“I think that it’s required if we plan on keeping any wildlife areas
around. I think that if citizens don’t get involved, I think that people
won’t know what they’re going to miss, and before we know it, there
won’t be much wild places left.”


Sadler is a fairly typical citizen scientist. He has a day job as an engineer
and volunteers in his spare time, but there are also people with advanced
degrees in biology and wildlife management who are called citizen
scientists simply because they don’t work for the government.


Dennis Fijakowski is one of those people. He’s the executive director of
the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.


“We can’t count on the government to do everything for us. We have to
be a part of the solution.”


Fijakowski says ordinary people have made important contributions to
wildlife conservation. He says the lynx was considered extinct in
Michigan until a trapper caught one, and a rare Great Gray Owl was
discovered on a national wildlife refuge last spring by a photographer.


“You look back at the conservation history of our state and it was citizen
led. All of the important, the milestone decisions, legislation… it was
citizen led.”


John Kostyack with the National Wildlife Federation says involving
citizen scientists is great, but…


“They’re not really a substitute for having staff in the wildlife agencies…
state and federal and tribal. Because they are the ones who are going to
take this initial data, which is going to be very rough from volunteers,
and then use it to decide upon where to take the research next.”


And there have been cases in which citizen scientists have clashed with
state and federal governments. They are consistently at odds with government
officials over issues related to global warming and the Michigan Wildlife
Conservancy is locked in a bitter battle with state biologists over whether
the state is home to a viable cougar population.


The Conservancy’s Dennis Fijakowski acknowledges that the union
between government biologists and citizen scientists may not always be
an easy one, but he says the involvement of residents in the protection of
their state’s wildlife can only be a good thing.


“Because all anyone of us wants is that we pass on a wild legacy to our
children and grandchildren… and we’re not going to if we don’t get our
acts together.”


Many organizations offer citizens the opportunity to get involved in data
collection, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


For the GLRC, I’m Celeste Headlee.

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