Bicyclists don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From an article by Bill Berry in The Capital Times:

STEVENS POINT – As long as various groups are seeking relief from onerous and burdensome taxes, why don’t we have a tax break for bicycle commuters?

Many of us in this category have commuted to and from work for decades. OK, let’s be honest. We feel sorry for the poor souls trapped in motor vehicles. They look so forlorn and detached from the world around them. Bicycle commuters, on the other hand, have no choice but to be attuned and aware, with 2,000-pound monsters all around us.

Frankly, biking to and from work is the best part of the job. In a city like this one, a brisk morning ride through residential neighborhoods is a gift not to be underrated. There are birds and gardens and tidy lawns along the way. The bustling rail yards that bisect the city are full of sights and sounds. . . .

On second thought, forget it. We get enough benefits anyway. We’re not a bunch of fat-cat beggars looking to skirt our civic responsibilities. We’re doing our part, and we already know we’re getting a better deal by hopping on a two-wheeler. We already save money by biking. We arrive at work fit, awake and ready for the day’s tasks.

We don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks. . . .

Did fracking cause the Virginia earthquake?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From an article by Dr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall on

Earthquakes in the nation's capitol are as rare as hen's teeth. The epicenter of Tuesday's quake was in Mineral, Virginia, which is located on three very quiet fault lines. The occurrence of yet another freak earthquake in an unusual location is leading many anti-fracking activists (including me -- they have just started fracking in Stratford, which is 40 minutes from New Plymouth) to wonder whether "fracking" in nearby West Virginia may be responsible.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.

How Fracking Causes Earthquakes
According to geologists, it isn't the fracking itself that is linked to earthquakes, but the re-injection of waste salt water (as much as 3 million gallons per well) deep into rock beds.

Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes (eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It's also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).

Industry scientists deny the link to earthquakes, arguing that energy companies have been fracking for nearly sixty years. However it's only a dozen years ago that "slick-water fracks" were introduced. This form of fracking uses huge amounts of water mixed with sand and dozens of toxic chemicals like benzene, all of which is injected under extreme pressure to shatter the underground rock reservoir and release gas trapped in the rock pores. Not only does the practice utilize millions of gallons of freshwater per frack (taken from lakes, rivers, or municipal water supplies), the toxic chemicals mixed in the water to make it "slick" endanger groundwater aquifers and threaten to pollute nearby water-wells.

Horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking (which extend fractures across several kilometres) were introduced in 2004.

The Research Evidence
I think it's really hard to deny there's a connection when the frequency of Arkansas earthquakes dropped by two-thirds when the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission banned fracking (see Note that they didn't stop entirely, which suggests that fault disruption may persist even after fracking stops.

Braxton County West Virginia also experienced a marked reduction in their quakes after the West Virginia Oil and Gas Commission forced fracking companies to cut back on the pressure and rate of salt water injection into the bedrock (see

According to a joint study by Southern Methodist University and University of Texas-Austin, earthquakes started in the Dallas/Fort Worth region after a fracking disposal well there began operating in 2008 and stopped when it was closed in 2009 (see

Blackpool, England banned fracking immediately, without waiting to see if more earthquakes would occur.

RENEW asks PSC to stop We Energies' termination of renewable program

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From the testimony of RENEW presented by Michael Vickerman, who draws attention to the fact that We Energies is trying to defund its $6 million/year renewable energy development program without any justification. In fact We Energies doesn't say anything about their actions. RENEW asks the PSC not to sanction this sleight of hand maneuver:

Q. What is the purpose of your testimony?
A. The purpose of my testimony is to discuss the May 2011 decision by We Energies to cancel a 10-year, $60 million commitment to support renewable energy development in its service territory. . . .

My testimony includes a recommendation to the Commission that it not allow We Energies to reallocate in 2012 the $6 million per year it had committed to spend on renewable energy development activities for other purposes. . . .

Q. What elements of We Energies’ Renewable Energy Development program do you consider to be particularly successful?
A. Several of We Energies’ customer incentives and tariffs were unique in the way they complemented Focus on Energy’s renewable energy program. For example, We Energies was the first utility to: (1) offer a solar energy-specific buyback rate; (2) increase the net energy billing capacity ceiling for small wind systems generators to 100 kW; and (3) support renewable energy-specific conferences and events such as Solar Decade held in Milwaukee. Perhaps the most innovative element in We Energies’ program, however, was its special incentive for nonprofit customers seeking to install renewable energy systems. Every three months, We Energies would solicit proposals from schools, religious institutions, local governments, nature centers and other nonprofit entities to co-fund new renewable energy systems on their premises. This We Energies incentive supplemented Focus on Energy grants and cash-back awards. It was designed to overcome the inability of these nonprofit entities to capture federal renewable energy tax credits to offset their own system acquisition costs. As a result of this unique incentive, there are more renewable energy systems serving nonprofit customers in We Energies territory than in any other utility territory. This initiative has an educational component to it as well; We Energies posts real-time production data from these systems on its web site.

MGE puts solar in schools

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Other Midwestern states get federal funds for trains

Friday, August 05, 2011

From an article by Candace Lombardi on Cnet News:

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday announced his office is dispersing an additional $336.2 million in funds toward the massive U.S. high-speed rail public works project underway.

This time, the money is going for the trains themselves.

Including this latest release, $782 million has been dispersed for purchasing 33 locomotives and 120 bi-level train cars for California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington.

The federal government has now allocated a total of $10.1 billion, set aside via the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, for the introduction of high-speed rail as well as updates and extensions for urban and commuter rail systems throughout the U.S.

To ensure that the money stays in the U.S. and directly produces jobs, LaHood has made contracts open to foreign as well as domestic companies, but only on the condition that they employ U.S. workers and locate or expand their manufacture facilities within the U.S. to carry out the contracts, according to the Department of Transportation.

The massive public works project has been met with enthusiasm from the majority of U.S. states, happy to get federal funding that could have an immediate impact on jobs during a very dismal economic downturn. More than 39 states and the District of Columbia have submitted requests for funding for various legs of the high-speed railway.

The Daily Show's investigative look into a wind project in the Sunshine State

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Dane County Clean Air Coalition lanunches residential wood stove changeout program

Monday, August 01, 2011

From a news release issued by the Clean Air Coalition:

Today, the Dane County Clean Air Coalition launched the second phase of the 2011 Dane County Wood Stove Changeout Program, a voluntary pollution prevention program designed to help residents reduce harmful fine particle pollution and airborne toxics. From August 1st through September 30th, the Coalition is encouraging residents to get a jump on autumn’s cooler temperatures by offering a $750.00 cash rebate to eligible residents who voluntarily replace their old, inefficient wood stoves or fireplace inserts with healthier, more efficient and cleaner burning EPA-certified devices.

This clean air initiative is funded by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5. Additional support has been provided by the Dane County Clean Air Coalition and the North Central Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.

“We’re happy the Dane County Clean Air Coalition is able to offer this great financial incentive to our residents who use wood stoves or fireplaces for heat,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “I urge Dane County residents to take advantage of the Wood Stove Changeout Program. They’ll be doing their part to protect their health and the air we all breathe, while reducing their wood heating costs and staying comfortable when cold temperatures return.”

Old wood stoves and fireplace inserts produce excessive wood smoke, which is made up of a mixture of gases and fine particle pollution that isn’t healthy to breathe indoors or out – especially for children, older adults and those with heart disease, asthma or other lung diseases. While fine particle pollution can occur year-round from vehicular, electric and industrial sources, activities such as wood burning that occur in the fall and winter months significantly increase fine particle levels and other pollutants in our air. EPA-certified stoves and inserts emit 70% less particle pollution and are approximately 50% more energy efficient than wood stoves manufactured before 1990.