Mpg Window Stickers to Change in 2008

There’s going to be a change to the sticker that tells you the estimated gas mileage on a new vehicle. Dustin Dwyer reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out the change in an effort to make the estimates more accurate:

Transcript

There’s going to be a change to the sticker that tells you the estimated gas mileage on a new vehicle. Dustin Dwyer reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency is rolling out the change in an effort to make the estimates more accurate:


The US EPA has used the same standard to test for gas mileage since 1984.


Bill Warem is with the Agency. He says the tests were only done at room temperature, they didn’t include using the air conditioner, and they didn’t include fast accelerations.


Warem says that hardly reflects real world driving conditions.


“Our concern with the methods that were previously used is they were not as accurate as they could be in estimating typical mileage that a consumer would expect to get from a new car that you purchase.”


Warem says the new way of testing for mileage will show up on stickers for 2008 vehicles.


He says the estimated miles-per-gallon for the average car is expected to drop by about 12%.


For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.

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Regs to Force Cleaner Lawn Mower Engines

A leading maker of small engines says it can adjust to a clean-air decision regarding sales in California. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A leading maker of small engines says it can adjust to a clean-air decision regarding sales in California. Chuck Quirmbach reports:


The US EPA is letting California require highly polluting small engines to be sold with catalytic converters that cut smog emissions by roughly 40%.


Wisconsin-based engine maker Briggs and Stratton, and politicians who represent some communities with Briggs factories, had fought California’s regulation. They contended it would be hard to make one set of engines for California and another for the rest of the country.


But company vice-president Tom Savage says Briggs has been anticipating the regulation and can handle it through segregating the firm’s inventory.


“Most of our products are sold through the big boxes. There are systems set up so that we can get inventory to the right spot.”


Savage says they’d already been expecting the EPA to require tougher pollution controls on small engines nationwide over the next one to five years.


For The Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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Hair Tests Find State Reps Are Contaminated

An environmental group wants to convince lawmakers that tougher mercury rules are needed. They tested legislators for mercury contamination. Amanda Vinicky reports:

Transcript

An environmental group wants to convince lawmakers that tougher mercury rules are needed. They tested legislators for mercury contamination. Amanda Vinicky reports:


Usually the main area under the Illinois State House dome is filled with lobbyists and lawmakers. But earlier this year a haircutter set up shop to take hair samples from several willing legislators.


Their hair was tested for mercury. Turns out, 9 out of 28 have more mercury in their systems than the federal government considers safe.


Jean Flemma is with the Mercury Free Illinois coalition. She explains why they tested politicians:


“We thought it would be an interesting representation of the public as a whole, because our representatives represent us.”


Another reason is because of their control over environmental policy. Flemma says once lawmakers see they can be affected, they’ll want to act to reduce mercury emissions from coal burning power plants and other sources.


For the Environment Report, I’m Amanda Vinicky.

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New Mercury Regs Ignore Older Cement Makers

Critics say the US Environmental Protection Agency caved in to pressure from the White House and the cement industry in formulating a new mercury emissions rule. Tracy Samilton reports the rule will let old plants pollute as much as ever:

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Critics say the US Environmental Protection Agency caved in to pressure from the White House and the cement industry in formulating a new mercury emissions rule. Tracy Samilton reports the rule will let old plants pollute as much as ever:


Mercury is a deadly toxin that can cause birth defects and other health hazards. The new rule restricts mercury emissions on new or updated cement plants. But old plants don’t have to clean up their mercury emissions.


Bill Freese lives near an older cement plant that has been emitting ten times more mercury than it was disclosing to regulators. Freese says he’s disgusted by the EPA’s decision. He’s also none too happy that the plant, which advertises its friendliness to the environment, hasn’t voluntarily reduced the emissions.


“They just refuse to do it because they’d rather not spend the money. As long as they can continue doing what they’re doing, why spend money to clean things up? And they call themselves stewards of our environment.”


Cement industry officials say mercury scrubbing technologies would cost too much, but promise voluntary reforms of some kind in the future.


For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.

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Hydrogen Powers Family’s Car and Home

  • Mike Strizki demonstrates how a balloon filled with hydrogen can run a fuel cell and power an electric fan for about 45 minutes.

Many homeowners have reduced their fossil fuel consumption by placing solar panels on their rooftops. But one man has gone to a whole new level. He’s created a homemade power plant that runs on solar power and hydrogen fuel cells. Brad Linder reports:

Transcript

Many homeowners have reduced their fossil fuel consumption by placing solar panels on their rooftops. But one man has gone to a whole new level. He’s created a homemade power plant that runs on solar power and hydrogen fuel cells. Brad Linder reports:


Mike Strizki’s been tinkering with cars his whole life. Over time the 49-year old engineer became convinced that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were the future of the auto industry. But during his 16 years with the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Strizki saw there was a problem with fuel cell cars: nobody was really building them.


“You had the auto makers and you had government pointing fingers. Well, you know, you build the fuel cell cars first and then we’ll provide the infrastructure. And they said, well you provide the infrastructure, and we’ll build the fuel cell cars. And I got tired of hearing that argument. And I said well, one way to solve the problem is to make your infrastructure your home.”


Five years and half a million dollars later, Strizki’s achieved his dream.


Here’s how it works. Strizki’s garage is covered with solar panels. They provide electricity for his house, and when there’s extra power, it’s routed to a device called an electrolizer, which breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen.


During the summer, the hydrogen is stored in fuel tanks on Strizki’s property. And in the winter, he runs the hydrogen through a 6 kilowatt fuel cell to make energy. Strizki, his wife, and three children, are the first family in the country to live in a house powered entirely by hydrogen fuel cells and solar power.


And there’s another benefit: Strizki can fuel up his hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at a gas pump near his garage.


(Car accelerating sound on pavement)


“The fuel cells have enough to run the vehicle at about 50mph on fuel cells alone. If you’re going faster than that you’re sipping off the battery pack at a very low rate.”


Strizki helped design this car for Rutgers University 7 years ago. It’s been running ever since. Now that he has a fueling station at his home, he plans to convert his other car, a Toyota Prius, to run on hydrogen as well.


Strizki pulls up to the hydrogen fueling station – a series of converted propane tanks out by his garage. Opening his car’s trunk, Strizki connects a hose from those tanks to a smaller tank in the car.


“That’s how it refuels.”


Strizki’s system runs like a well oiled machine, only without the oil. But it wasn’t always so simple. When he first decided to build his home power plant, Strizki sought government approval from his home town of East Amwell New Jersey.


“I said all right, I’m doing this like anybody else who’s getting a building permit. I walked into the town and I said here, I want to build a solar hydrogen fuel cell home… and well, that… you know, the first place I went was the zoning officer, and he told me it’s an uncustomary use in a residential zone, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I allow this.”


East Amwell Mayor Kurt Hoffman says the zoning officer was known as a stickler. The township had accidentally removed a line in a local zoning law allowing homeowners to use alternative energy.


“So we did an addendum to the zoning ordinance to allow alternative energy usages. These kinds of things, they have to be publicly noticed, you have to have public hearings. That brought out some people’s concern about hydrogen technology and the safety issue.


Hoffman says Strizki brought in a series of experts to testify that his house wasn’t going to blow up. The hydrogen was being stored at a safe pressure in the same type of tank normally used for propane.


Strizki says he’ll probably never make back the half-million dollars it costs to build his system. But he hopes to cut the costs by 90%, by mass producing and selling solar-hydrogen fuel cell systems to other homeowners. He says the future of the planet depends on renewable energy and not fossil fuels that have to be transported halfway across the world.


“At least the fact that I’m using the energy in the same place that I’ve created it, the energy is still zero carbon, and it’s still free, once you’ve paid for the equipment.


The Strizki’s don’t skimp on electricity. They have a big screen TV, a hot tub, and all modern appliances. And Strizki takes great pride in the fact that he can power everything, including his car, using renewable hydrogen power.


“There’s no shelf life, and that’s what powers the sun. When the sun stops shining, we’re all dead. So this is a much better solution than digging big holes in the ground, throwing sulfur up into the air. This is something that’s definitely sustainable. We just have to have the will to do it.”


For the Environment Report, I’m Brad Linder.

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Worst Greenhouse Gas in High-Powered Hands

  • These SF6 circuit breakers are part of an electric grid. They are filled with compressed sulfur-hexafluoride gas which acts to open and close the switch contacts. The gas is a concern because it is 24,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. (Photo courtesy of OSHA).

The government is urging electric utilities to do more to stop leaks of the most potent greenhouse gas on the planet. Lester Graham reports the government program for the utilities is voluntary:

Transcript

The government is urging electric utilities to do more to stop leaks of the most potent greenhouse gas on the planet. Lester Graham reports the government program for the utilities is voluntary:


The gas sulfur hexafluoride is 24,000 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Electric utilities use 80% of the gas made as an insulator for high voltage switches.


Dina Kruger is with the US Environmental Protection Agency. She says the switches can leak.


“You know, the gas either leaks out slowly over time or can get vented in large quantities during maintenance of the equipment, and both of those provide an opportunity to reduce emissions. So, it’s not necessarily the case that you need to ban a chemical like this to avoid emissions to the atmosphere. You can also avoid those emissions through careful management.”


But, only a little more than half of the electric utilities in the nation have signed up for the EPA’s voluntary program to reduce emissions of the potent greenhouse gas.


For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

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Gm to Bring Back Electric Car?

The company accused of “killing the electric car” says it’s going to bring a new version of plug-in car back to the market. General Motors recently unveiled plans for a new hybrid SUV. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, the CEO of GM says he’s not sure when the vehicle will be on the roads:

Transcript

The company accused of “killing the electric car” says it’s going to bring a new version of plug-in car back to the market. General Motors recently unveiled plans for a new hybrid SUV. They claim the new technology will get double the gas mileage of any current SUV. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, the CEO of GM says he’s not sure when the vehicle will be on the roads:


GM CEO Rick Wagoner announced the hybrid project at the Los Angeles Auto Show. He said the vehicle would have the ability to be plugged into a wall, to use more electricity and less gas.


The announcement was part of a major speech on GM’s commitment to alternative technologies.


And, although Wagoner set no dates for when his company would have these technologies, Bradley Berman of hybridcars.com says the speech was a big first step.


“For so long, we didn’t even hear the right talk. How can you walk the right walk if you’re not even talking the right talk? At least now it’s the right message. It’s the right way of looking at it. And that sounds promising.”


Berman says GM still has a long way to go to catch up with rival Toyota on hybrid technology.


For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.

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Inner City Church to Turn Water Into Heat?

Underground mines that were abandoned long ago are coming back to haunt the people and places above them. The voids and toxic metals left behind are posing new kinds of environmental challenges. But one church that was almost destroyed by a mine is now trying to turn it into a new kind of green resource. Katherine Fink reports:

Transcript

Underground mines that were abandoned long ago are coming back to haunt the people and places above them. The voids and toxic metals left behind are posing new kinds of environmental challenges. But one church that was almost destroyed by a mine is now trying to turn it into a new kind of green resource. Katherine Fink reports:


John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church is on a street where cars don’t stop. Crime rates are high here. A faded sign with graffiti on it indicates where a convenience store used to be. Most of the church’s stained glass windows are either missing or covered with plywood. Pastor Calvin Cash says he remembers when things were different.


“This was once a thriving community. Stores, residential homes, businesses, the whole bit.”


Cash was first assigned to the church in 1996. It had been closed for a couple years. He found 18 inches of orange water in the basement. Moss was growing on the walls. Cash says church leaders had known about the water problem, but thought they had it under control.


“For years, they had sump pumps down in the basement. And when the water reaches a certain level, the sump pumps would come on, and carry it away.”


Meanwhile, state environmental workers were investigating another mysterious pool of water down the street. They suspected an old underground mine had filled with water and was starting to burst. One of those workers, Charles Johnson, noticed the church nearby.


“I left a card inside of the mailbox with my number on it and said if you are having any water problems in your basement, give me a call… so within two days, reverend Cash gave me a call and said, ‘you got to see this.'”


Mine-related issues are not new for the Pittsburgh area, which has one of the largest coal seams in the country. But water problems like these are becoming increasingly common as more and more mine voids fill to capacity. Johnson says in the church’s case, the need for a fix was urgent.


“The pressure on the building from the water; it was just a matter of time before the pressure would just collapse the whole building.”


Workers redirected the water into local storm sewers, relieving the pressure on the church.


Since then, Johnson says they’ve learned that mine water can actually be useful. Its constant 57-degree temperature makes it an attractive candidate for geothermal heating, which uses the earth’s natural warmth.


George Watzlaf with the National Energy Technology Laboratory has studied the idea.


“We could probably reduce their heating and cooling costs 60, 70, maybe 80 percent; the annual cost.”


Geothermal heat is becoming increasingly common as a lower-cost alternative to natural gas. Pipes filled with an antifreeze solution carry heat from deep in the earth up into buildings. Instead of using antifreeze, Watzlaf says he wants to build a system that draws in mine water:


“We’re trying to put together a small project where we price everything out to say, okay, all we need is $10,000 to go out and put in a small system somewhere, heat a shed or something like that. Just to, no pun intended, get our feet wet and just learn some things about some of the potential problems and how we can overcome those problems.”


Reverend Cash wants his church to be that demonstration project. Since learning about geothermal heat and its potential cost savings, Cash is convinced it could save his blighted neighborhood. He’s become a convert to all things green.


“We are responsible for this world, and God expects us to take care of it.”


On this night, Cash is holding a workshop at the church to help residents learn how to make their homes more energy efficient. Only one person came. Trays full of untouched sandwiches, fried chicken and cookies are being wrapped up for another day, but reverend Cash says he’s not discouraged. Sometimes, he says it takes something big to get people’s attention:


“One of the best proofs of it, when they were taking that water out of there, we had all that heavy equipment active out there, and if 10 cars went by, nine of then slowed down or stopped to see what was going on. And I think when we start building back this community, that curiosity will grow, and benefit us. So we’ll hold on and see.”


Cash is hoping to convince the state to have faith in geothermal heat. His church is applying for a grant this year.


For the Environment Report, I’m Katherine Fink.

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New Power Plant Makes Light Out of Leftovers

With ongoing concerns about over-reliance on fossil fuels, researchers and entrepreneurs are looking for alternate ways to generate energy. One university scientist has created a power plant fueled by organic waste, including table scraps from restaurants. Tamara Keith reports:

Transcript

With ongoing concerns about over-reliance on fossil fuels, researchers and entrepreneurs are looking for alternate ways to generate energy. One university scientist has created a power plant fueled by organic waste, including table scraps from restaurants. Tamara Keith reports:


At Boulevard, an upscale restaurant, diners lunch on seared sea scallops, paella and grilled escolar among other options.


Back in the kitchen cooks are careful to keep all food scraps out of the trash.


(Kitchen sounds, scraping sounds)


The food scraps from this restaurant and 2,000 others in the San Francisco Bay Area are already being collected to turn into compost.


But now some of that food, about 8 tons a week, is going to a new biogas power plant at the University of California Davis. Tim Quaintance is a chef at Boulevard. He says he’s pleased that his leftovers aren’t just going to a landfill.


“It’s nice that in the past things that have basically been thrown away are now actually being used, and with this technology really contributing to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”


(Generator runs in background)


In Davis, the table scraps are being converted into fuel at an experimental power plant known as the Biogas Energy Project. With its four large steel tanks and 22 kilowatt generator, this plant is the first real-world demonstration of a technique called anaerobic phased solids digestion.


Rayhong Jha is a professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California Davis. She first developed this technology on a smaller scale in her lab.


“What you see here is 20,000 times larger than the reactor system I use for laboratory testing.”


It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, leftovers into power, but Dave Konwinski says it’s real. He’s CEO of Onsite Power Systems Incorporated which licensed the technology and operates the plant.


“Every ton of collected food waste will provide enough either electrical or thermal energy to run an average of 10 California homes.”


Konwinski sees this test plant as the first step to commercializing biogas power plants. Here’s how it works: the food waste as well as grass clippings and other would-be-trash go into a sealed tank where bacteria break the mush down into water and organic acids… kind of like what happens if you leave lettuce in the fridge too long. When that’s done, the organic acids are pumped into another tank where different bacteria convert the soup into methane gas.


“Biogas can be used to run a generator, we have a generator we’ll be running here, or we can use it in the boiler to offset natural gas heat, and we’re looking at taking the gas and converting it into vehicle fuels.”


The trash and recycling company that serves San Francisco, NorCal Waste Systems, is providing the raw materials. Robert Reed is company’s director of corporate communications.


“This research and other research like this is very important because it could be a double or a triple. What I mean by that is it could produce new energy. It could reduce the amount of material going to landfills. And it could help reduce the creation of greenhouse gasses.”


And Reed says if this technology proves to be commercially viable, the results could be huge. In just California alone, 38 million tons of garbage is sent to landfills each year. He says half of that could be converted to power, and that’s enough energy to continuously power the entire city of San Francisco.


Suddenly leaving a little broccoli on your plate doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.


For the Environment Report, I’m Tamara Keith.

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Doe to Raise Appliance Efficiency Standards

Dozens of home appliances will have to meet higher energy efficiency standards sooner than expected. Rebecca Williams reports the Department of Energy agreed to speed up its rulemaking process to settle a federal lawsuit:

Transcript

Dozens of home appliances will have to meet higher energy efficiency standards sooner than expected. Rebecca Williams reports the Department of Energy agreed to speed up its rulemaking process to settle a federal lawsuit:


The energy department has to propose stricter energy standards for appliances within the next five years.


Attorneys general from 14 states and a few public interest groups sued the Department of Energy. The plaintiffs said the agency was dragging its feet on updating energy standards. In some cases, the agency has missed deadlines by as much as 14 years.


Chuck Samuels is with the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. He says it is time to update the standards for some products.


“But we need to make sure that we don’t require such radical redesigns in products that either they become cost prohibitive or burdensome for many consumers, or that they take away the basic functions and utilities that consumers expect.”


The groups who filed the suit say higher energy standards will save consumers money in the long run.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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