Flex-Fuel Economy Questioned

If you plan to buy a new car or truck this
year, you might find some showrooms filled with
vehicles that run largely on ethanol instead of
gasoline. Car companies are pushing these corn-fueled vehicles as environmentally friendly.
Julie Grant takes a look at those claims:

Transcript

If you plan to buy a new car or truck this
year, you might find some showrooms filled with
vehicles that run largely on ethanol instead of
gasoline. Car companies are pushing these corn-fueled vehicles as environmentally friendly.
Julie Grant takes a look at those claims:


More people are considering buying cleaner, more fuel-efficient
cars now that gas prices and global temperatures are on the rise. The gas-
electric hybrids made by Toyota and Honda are becoming popular. And
American car companies are also jumping on board and offering alternative-
powered vehicles.


General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner has put much of his company’s stock in
ethanol:


“At GM, we believe that the bio-fuel with the greatest potential to
displace petroleum-based fuels in the US is ethanol, and so we have
made a major commitment here to vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol.”


E85 is a blend that’s 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline. GM’s not the only company offering cars that run on them:


(Sound of vehicle introduction)


Angela Hines is from Green Bay, Wisconsin. She’s taking notes as she looks at one
flex fuel car. The E85 only matters to her if it’s going to save her a
few bucks:


“I drive anywhere from 80-200 miles
a day for work, so yeah, gas is important.”


Gui Derochers is looking at a Chevy Silverado pickup truck:


(Grant:) “Does it matter to you that it’s a flex fuel?”


“I think it’s a good thing… flex-fuel. Particularly, we know there are some ethanol plants in Michigan coming, right? Isn’t
that what flex fuel is? Ethanol?”


Derochers works on engines and transmissions:


“You have to remember, I work for Daimler-Chrysler. But we have flex fuel as well. It’s a good thing. It’s wonderful.”


But not everyone thinks the move toward ethanol-fueled cars is
wonderful. Tadeusz Patzek is a professor of civil and environmental
engineering at the University of California in Berkeley. He says
ethanol is not cheaper and it’s not any better for the environment than
regular gas.


Patzek says each gallon of ethanol burned might emit less greenhouse gas
into the air, but you have to burn more fuel to go the same distance:


“So, mile for mile, emissions of CO2 are exactly the same for gasoline as
they are for ethanol. Because they are proportional to the energy stored in
the fuel.”


When it comes to gas mileage, Patzek calls claims that ethanol is any
better then gasoline an imaginary economy… and he’s not alone. When
Consumer Reports magazine tested a Chevy Tahoe that runs on gas mixed
with only ten percent ethanol, the truck got 14 miles per gallon. But
it got less than 11 miles per gallon when the ethanol content was
raised to 85%, as in E85. That’s a 27% drop in fuel economy with E85.


Consumer Reports concluded that to go the same distance, you wind up paying more than a dollar
extra per gallon on E85 then on regular
gas.


Patzek says it’s not a good deal for consumers or for the environment:


“You emit less because you have oxygen but you burn more, so it comes as a wash.”


Patzek says ethanol has other environmental costs. To grow the corn needed to make it, farmers have to use more fossil fuel-based fertilizers, tractor fuel, and then more fuel to truck the fuel to gas stations.


Even so, many scientists say ethanol still provides an energy benefit over fossil fuels and some auto engineers say ethanol cars
are just a stop-gap measure until a better technology comes along, but Patzek disagrees with that logic:


“So, you’re saying the following: why don’t we have a terribly bad
solution and call it a stop-gap solution because it’s politically
convenient. I’m saying is, if I’m an engineer, I have to, essentially, if I’m honest with myself and others, do I want a
better technological solution or do I want to say, let’s do probably the worst possible solution
that delays other solutions 10-15 years into the future… while the
world is running out of time?”


Patzek says the real reason American car companies are moving toward
vehicles that run on E85 is that the federal government rewards them
for it.


GM and the others get extra credit for meeting fuel efficiency
standards just for making cars that can run on E85, even if those cars
aren’t more fuel efficient.


Patzek knows he’s become unpopular among many farmers, engineers,
scientists and politicians who want easy answers. He wants people to
start reducing their energy-use rather than waiting for technological
magic bullets.


For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Dead Zones in the Lakes

  • These fishermen at Port Clinton, Ohio, are a few miles away from the dead zone that develops in Lake Erie every summer... so far, most fish can swim away from the dead zone. But the dead zone is affecting the things that live at the bottom of the lake. (Photo by Lester Graham)

One of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is nonpoint source pollution. That’s pollution that
doesn’t come from the end of a pipe. It’s oil washed off parking lots by storms, or pesticides and
fertilizers washed from farm fields. Nonpoint source pollution might be part of the reason why
some shallow areas in the Great Lakes are afflicted by so-called dead zones every summer.

Transcript

In another report on the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes series, reporter Lester Graham looks at a
growing problem that has scientists baffled:


One of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is nonpoint source pollution. That’s pollution that
doesn’t come from the end of a pipe. It’s oil washed off parking lots by storms, or pesticides and
fertilizers washed from farm fields. Nonpoint source pollution might be part of the reason why
some shallow areas in the Great Lakes are afflicted by so-called dead zones every summer.


Dead zones are places where there’s little or no oxygen. A dead zone develops in Lake Erie
almost every summer. It was once thought that the problem was mostly solved. But, it’s become
worse in recent years.


(sound of moorings creaking)


The Environmental Protection Agency’s research ship, the Lake Guardian, is tied up at a dock at
the Port of Cleveland. Nathan Hawley and his crew are loading gear, getting ready for a five day
cruise to check some equipment that measures a dead zone along the central basin of Lake Erie.


“What I have out here is a series of bottom-resting moorings that are collecting time series data of
currents and water temperature and periodically we have to come out here and clean them off and
we take that opportunity to dump the data as well.”


Hawley is gathering the data for scientists at several universities and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. The information helps
them measure the behavior of the dead zone that occurs nearly every year in Lake Erie…


“What we’re trying to do this year is get a more comprehensive picture of how big this low-oxygen zone is and how it changes with time over the year.”


One of the scientists who’ll be pouring over the data is Brian Eadie. He’s a senior scientist with
NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. He says Lake Erie’s dead zone is a place
where most life can’t survive…


“We’re talking about near the bottom where all or most of the oxygen has been consumed so
there’s nothing for animals to breathe down there, fish or smaller animals.”


Lester Graham: “So, those things that can swim out of the way, do and those that can’t…”


Brian Eadie: “Die.”


The dead zone has been around since at least the 1930’s. It got really bad when there was a huge
increase in the amount of nutrients entering the lake. Some of the nutrients came from sewage,
some from farm fertilizers and some from detergents. The nutrients, chiefly phosphorous, fed an
explosion in algae growth. The algae died, dropped to the bottom of the lake and rotted. That
process robbed the bottom of oxygen. Meanwhile, as spring and summer warmed the surface of
Lake Erie, a thermal barrier was created that trapped the oxygen-depleted water on the bottom.


After clean water laws were passed, sewage treatment plants were built, phosphorous was banned
from most detergents, and better methods to remove phosphorous from industrial applications
were put in place.


Phosphorous was reduced to a third of what it had been. But Brian Eadie says since then
something has changed.


“The concentration of nutrients in the central basin the last few years has actually been going up.
We don’t understand why that’s happening.”


Eadie says there are some theories. Wastewater from sewage plants might be meeting pollution
restrictions, but as cities and suburbs grow, there’s just a lot more of it getting discharged. More
volume means more phosphorous.


It could be that tributaries that are watersheds for farmland are seeing increased phosphorous. Or
it could be that the invasive species, zebra mussel, has dramatically altered the ecology of the
lakes. More nutrients might be getting trapped at the bottom, feeding bacteria that use up oxygen
instead of the nutrients getting taken up into the food chain.


Whatever is happening, environmentalists are hopeful that the scientists figure it out soon.


Andy Buchsbaum heads up the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says
the dead zone in the bottom of the lake affects the entire lake’s productivity.


“If you’re removing the oxygen there, for whatever reason, for any period of time, you’ve
completely thrown that whole system out of balance. It’s all out of whack. It could mean
irreversible and devastating change to the entire ecosystem.”


And Buchsbaum says the central basin of Lake Erie is not the only place where we’re seeing this
low-oxygen problem…


“What makes the dead zone in Lake Erie even more alarming is that we’re seeing similar dead
zones appearing in Saginaw Bay which is on Lake Huron and Green Bay in Lake Michigan.
There, too, scientists don’t know what’s causing the problem. But, they’re already seeing
potentially catastrophic effects on aquatic life there.”


State and federal agencies and several universities are looking at the Lake Erie dead zone to try to
figure out what’s going on there. Once they do… then the battle likely will be getting
government to do what’s necessary to fix the problem.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Holy Grail of Great Lakes Shipwrecks Found?

  • For a long time, anything any diver salvaged could be claimed as his or her own. Since the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, anything divers find on public land remains public. But a new discovery may bend some rules. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

A shipwreck hunter believes he might have found what’s been described as the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks. His find has triggered a new debate over who can lay claim to historic shipwrecks and what should happen to them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:

Transcript

A shipwreck hunter believes he might have found what’s been described as the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks. His find has triggered a new debate over who can lay claim to historic shipwrecks and what should happen to them. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:


Of the thousands of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, the wreck of the Griffin is probably the most legendary. For a few reasons. She was built by somebody legendary – French explorer Rene-Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle, she was the first European ship to sail the Upper Great Lakes… and she was the first to sink. Actually, she sank on her maiden voyage in 1769, not exactly one of La Salle’s bigger success stories. But the mystery she left behind is pretty big – and it has pretty well flummoxed Great Lakes historians for hundreds of years. Shipwreck scholar Steven Herald is the director of the Manistee County Historical Museum.


“The Griffin loaded its first and only freight cargo downbound at Green Bay, and there has never been a reliable report of anyone who has seen the vessel since. It left Green Bay and disappeared totally.”


Did she run aground? Sink to the bottom of Lake Michigan? No one knows, But Steven Libert, a long-time shipwreck hunter, thinks he might have found a clue. What he’s excited about appears to be a long, wooden pole sticking out of the sand in about 80 feet of water in northwestern Lake Michigan. It doesn’t look like much. But Rick Robol, the attorney for Libert’s company Great Lakes Exploration, says tests indicate it could date back to the 17th century. And it could be part of a ship.


“Great Lakes Exploration does not know at this point what is there. And it does not know whether in fact it is the Griffin or not. Certainly if it were the Griffin, it would be a very substantial find.”


Great Lakes Exploration has filed suit in federal court seeking salvage rights to the site. But the site is in Michigan waters and the state has filed a motion to have the case dismissed. State archaeologist John Halsey says whatever there is should belong to the public, not a private company.


“They have the money to go out and look, they have the money to go out and find, but what they don’t have is the permission to bring stuff up. That’s where the rubber meets the road.”


The state argues the Federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 gives any state title to historic wrecks in its waters. Before its passage, pretty much anybody in a rubber suit could salvage shipwrecks. And they did – the evidence is rusting out in garages across the country. The federal law sought to protect these historic sites – which, in the cold fresh water of the Great Lakes, are often well-preserved time capsules. But Wisconsin shipwreck researcher, Brendon Baillod, says a number of cases have already shown the law is full of technical loopholes if you have the money and time to challenge it.


“We have a lot of wrecks that are open game legally. It really is up to the judge who gets the case before them.”


If Great Lakes Exploration does clear the legal hurdles, the next question will be academic. What should happen to their findings? Attorney Rick Robol says it all depends on what’s there.


“Really, shipwrecks have to be dealt with on a case by case basis. There are some shipwrecks that may best remain in situ, that is, on site, and there are other that should be recovered. It’s impossible to determine what’s best for a particular wreck without first scientifically studying it.”


At this stage, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether the site contains the remains of a ship or just a pile of very old scrapwood. But preservationists such as historian Steven Herald, argue anything of historical value should really just be left there.


“I’m a great one for leaving it where it is and studying it in as much detail as possible. The easiest way to preserve it is to keep it there.”


One thing is certain, any excavation would likely involve many years and millions of dollars. Oh, and there’s another possibility too, if in fact the Griffin is found. Technically, the vessel still belongs to France, which was in charge around here after all at the time of La Salle’s adventures.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

BIG CLEAN-UP OF RIVER PCBs

There’s a plan in place to clean up a PCB-contaminated river. It could be one of the most comprehensive, and most expensive, river cleanups ever done in North America. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Patty Murray has more:

Transcript

There’s a plan in place to clean up a PCB-contaminated river. It could be one of the most comprehensive, and most expensive, river cleanups ever done in North America. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Patty Murray has more:


The Fox River, which flows into Green
Bay, is the biggest source of PCBs
emptied into Lake Michigan.


Tom Skinner is with the EPA’s Great
Lakes National Program Office. He
says the Fox cleanup will be one of
the most ambitious ever.


“There’s a lot of talk about the
Hudson River project. This project has
the Hudson beat in a number of different ways.”


Such as: the cleanup may cost
400-million dollars, and Skinner says
the amount of contaminants to be
removed is also significant.


“The analogy we’ve used previously is that a
cubic yard is equivalent to a very
compact refrigerator. We’re
going to take probably over 7 million
of those out of the river.”


Seven paper companies that
dumped the PCBs in the river will
pay the cost of the project.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Patty Murray.

Related Links

Long Road to River Recovery

  • Aerial view of industry along the Fox River. Photo by Great Lakes United.

One of the rivers that flows into Lake Michigan is polluted so badly that it’s being treated much like a Super Fund site…an environmental disaster. It’ll be decades before it’s cleaned up, and some environmentalists think it might never be cleaned up properly. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

One of the rivers that flows into the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan) is
polluted so badly that it’s being treated much like a Super Fund site –an
environmental disaster. It’ll be decades before it’s cleaned up. And some
environmentalists think it might never be cleaned up properly. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


(Sound of fish splash)


It’s late at night. The moon’s out. And the fish are flopping on the Fox
River. In downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin, Robert Hageman and a few of his
friends have been fishing. A couple of the guys are bragging about the big
fish they caught. But they’re not taking any home with them tonight.


LG: “Had any luck?” RH: “Yeah, I caught 23 fish.”
LG: “And wwhat did you do with them? RH: “Let ’em right back.” LG: “why?” RH: “Because it’s dirty. Fox River’s dirty.”
LG: “What have you heard about the Fox River?” RH: “The fish ain’t good for you. They can’t hurt you, but they ain’t good for you.
(friends in background say “PCBs, man.”) “yeah.”
LG: “What do you know about PCBs?
RH: “I don’t know nothing about it. That’s why I ain’t eatin’ them.” (all laugh)


Hageman and his friends are right when they say there are PCBs in the Fox
River. But apparently they haven’t heard that eating fish from the river
probably can hurt you in the long run. There are 60-thousand pounds of
PCBs, or poly chlorinated byphenyls, in the 39 mile run of the Fox
River. Of that, 50-thousand pounds – that’s 25 tons – is in the sediment of
the last seven mile stretch just before the river flows into Green Bay and
on into the rest of Lake Michigan. It’s that final stretch where Hageman
and his friends have been fishing.


The Environmental Protection Agency says seven paper mills along the Fox
River are the likely polluters. The EPA says PCBs were produced as a
by-product of the paper manufacturing process, and from the 1950s to the 1970s
they were dumped into the river. Now, the agency intends to make those
mills pay for cleaning up the contaminants.


Dennis Hultgren works for Appleton Papers, and is a spokesperson for a group
that represents the seven companies. Hultgren says the paper mills want to
clean up the pollution. But they don’t want to pay more than they have to.


“What we want to do is make sure that the money that we do spend
is spent wisely and it does the most environmental good for the region. And
so, we have one chance to do it right and we want to do it right the first
time.”


The paper mills have been working closely with government agencies to try to
determine where the PCBs are concentrated and how best to clean up the
pollution. Some of the companies have spent millions of dollars on tests in
the river. Just recently, Hultgren’s firm offered 40-million dollars… ten-million dollars a year for four years… for data collection and preliminary clean-up tests. The government agencies praised the decision and some environmental groups voiced their approval. But a local grassroots group, the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, does not approve. Rebecca Katers is with the council and says it’s a delay tactic by the paper mill companies.


“It makes the company look generous. But, in fact, they should be doing this anyway. They should have done this ten years ago.”


Giving the money now, Katers says, only manages to delay legal action
against the company for four more years. Besides, she says, while
40-million dollars might seem like a lot of money, the estimated clean-up
could cost as much as 30 times that amount.


The Clean Water Action Council says this money and the government’s
willingness to accept it are representative of the cozy relationship the
companies seem to have with regulators. But Katers says the state and
federal agencies are forgetting about the people who live here. She
bristles when she hears the government agencies talk about how close they
are to the paper mills.


“They talked at the announcement about ongoing discussions they
have on a daily basis with the paper industries on this issue. But, they
haven’t met once face-to-face with the public. They haven’t held a public
discussion or debate on this issue.”


And it appears there won’t be many opportunities in the future. Although
the Fox River is not a Superfund site, the EPA is generally following the
process used for Superfund sites. The EPA says that means the public can
submit comments in writing. But there won’t be a lot of public discussion
until the EPA actually has a proposed plan. Katers thinks the people
should have a voice a lot earlier in the process.


But, the paper mills’ representative, Dennis Hultgren says it’s better to
let the experts work first.


“It’s complicated. For the normal citizen, it’s going to be very difficult to comment on it because they’re going to be looking at the technical merits
of their comments. And a general citizen, not having been involved, it’s going to be very difficult to have germane comments.”


The companies say they’ve been studying and testing and they’ve found
disturbing the sediment by trying to remove it proves that the PCBs should
be left in the sediment, allowed to slowly break down… a process called
natural recovery. And where there’s risk that sediment laden PCBs might
be disturbed by the river’s currents, engineered caps could be put in place.


The Clean Water Action Council says the paper mills tests were designed to
end up with that conclusion because that would be the cheaper way to deal
with the PCBs. The council wants the PCBs removed from the river and
disposed of safely… a much more expensive job.


The acting regional administrator for the USEPA, David Ullrich, says
there’ll likely be some combination of natural recovery, capping, and
removal. But, Ullrich says none of that will happen anytime soon. It’s a
big job, and it looks as though it will take up to ten years to deal with
the PCBs. And Ullrich says that’s just the beginning.


“The actual recovery of the resource, getting fish contaminant
levels down to acceptable levels and getting the PCB loadings to Green Bay
and out to Lake Michigan down, could take a longer period of time than that,
perhaps up to twenty years.”


And over that 20 year period, experts say that contamination will
naturally spread farther and farther into Green Bay and Lake Michigan.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

State Tries to Avoid Superfund Stigma

A polluted river in northeastern Wisconsin is due for a clean-up. But
who runs the massive project is a hot topic. The Environmental
Protection Agency may add the Fox River to its national priorities list,
more popularly known as Superfund. But state officials would rather
handle the project on their own…and have recently released preliminary
studies on how they envision the cleanup. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Patty Murray reports: