Senate Takes On Climate Change
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In a series of votes this past week, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposal by Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman which would have capped greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, in what some see as a major turnaround, they passed a non-binding resolution saying that global warming is real, harmful, and largely caused by human activity. Host Steve Curwood talks with Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat from New Mexico who wrote the resolution. The Senate also approved a set of voluntary climate change programs proposed by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel. Hagel’s amendment does not cap emissions but, instead, focuses on tax breaks and other incentives to industry to come up with low emission forms of energy technology. Host Steve Curwood talks with Senator Hagel about his bill. Also, Washington correspondent Jeff Young gives us the highlights of debate on a massive energy bill making its way through Congress and some insight into changing attitudes about climate change. (12:00)
Coastal Communities Fight LNG Facility Plans/ Jeff Young/Rachel Gotbaum
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Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent, Jeff Young continues his conversation with host Steve Curwood about the Senate Energy Bill with the focus on the proposed citing of liquefied natural gas facilities. As the demand for natural gas rises, the U.S. government is planning to build facilities for the production of liquefied natural gas or LNG. Communities along the east and west coasts are concerned about these plans, citing the threat of terrorist attacks and risk of accident. Rachel Gotbaum visited two Massachusetts communities that are opposed to proposals to build LNG plants in their backyards. (14:00)
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Host Steve Curwood talks with Colin Dowes, owner of Sprayonmud, a new product used to give the impression that your 4X4 has been off-road. (02:25)
Emerging Science Note/Ear to the Ground/ Jennifer Chu
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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that cricket hairs could be an aid to the hearing-impaired. (01:20)
Devils Lake Dustup/ Paul Samyn
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The Canadian government is crying foul over plans to divert flood waters from Devil's Lake, North Dakota, into waters that eventually drain into Lake Winnipeg, home to one of Canada's largest freshwater fisheries. Paul Samyn, a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, tells host Steve Curwood that Canadians are concerned not only about possible pollution and invasive species problems, but also about the future of a 100-year-old treaty covering boundary water disputes. (06:00)
Caution on Cubicles
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Sitting in a cubicle all day might not be the most healthy of office environments, and Kellyn Betts, senior editor of Environmental Science and Technology, found that in the 1980s, these seemingly innocuous cubes posed a potential health risk. She talks with host Steve Curwood about the hazards of a typical cubicle. (04:30)
Fish Stories/ Kelly Jones
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The largest seafood market in the world, Tokyo’s Tsukiji, awakens early as fish are auctioned off to impatient buyers who inspect the soon-to-be sushi with flashlights and machetes. Reporter Kelly Jones has this audio postcard. (05:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Senator Jeff Bingaman, Senator Chuck Hagel, Colin Dowse, Paul Samyn, Kellen Betts
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Rachel Gotbaum, Kelly Jones
NOTE: Jennifer Chu
CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.
[THEME UP AND UNDER]
CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. The climate in the U.S. Senate is changing on climate change. For the first time. a majority of senators have voted in favor of putting mandatory caps on global warming gases. It is a non-binding resolution.
But its supporters say it sends a clear message to the White House.
BINGAMAN: A majority of senators now recognize that greenhouse gas emissions are a serious problem, that human activity is contributing to those, that we need to put a mandatory system in place to deal with this. This is a signal, I believe, of a very significant change in attitude within the U.S. Senate.
CURWOOD: Also, if you feel a bit embarrassed about hauling around tons of steel to pick up a loaf a bread, you can give your SUV that off-road look with a new product on the market: spray on mud. That and more this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.
[THEME ENDS COLD]
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. For the first time, the United States Senate has voted in favor of placing mandatory limits on the emission of global warming gases.
The 53 to 44 vote came as a compromise bipartisan resolution sponsored by New Mexican Democrat Jeff Bingaman and New Mexican Republican and Energy Committee chair Pete Domenici and others amid debate over the massive energy bill.
Senator Bingaman wrote the non-binding resolution when it became clear he didn’t have the votes for an amendment which would have immediately imposed compulsory caps.
He's the ranking minority member on the Senate’s Energy Committee and he joins me now.
Senator, this resolution to move forward with mandatory caps on climate change gases, how important is this?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think it’s important, particularly in light of the previous actions by the Senate, I think that this would be a statement, is a statement, that the majority of senators now recognize that greenhouse gas emissions are a serious problem, that human activity is contributing to those, that we need to put a mandatory system in place to deal with this. So I hope very much, this is a signal, I believe, of a very significant change in attitude within the U.S. Senate.
CURWOOD: Now, you and your staff spend a lot of time crafting a climate change proposal for the energy bill that would have put a modest cap on greenhouse gases. What happened to that?
BINGAMAN: Well, we have done all the due diligence that is possible about seeing where the votes are on that kind of a proposal and, at this point, I wasn’t confident that we could prevail with it. So, what we’ve agreed to is Senator Domenici, who’s chairman of the Energy Committee, has agreed to have hearings on the proposal and to bring in experts and try to resolve some questions that members, himself, and others have had about this proposal. We hope that that can happen in the next month or so and that we will be in a position to bring that bill back to the floor later in this session of the Congress.
CURWOOD: Now, what role did the White House play in your decision to pull your amendment from the present energy bill package? To what extent was there a sense that adding climate change to the energy bill would just simply not go over well with the president, that is any kind of mandatory limit?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think they’ve been very outspoken, the White House has, in opposition to adding anything to this bill that would deal with climate change issues. They’ve repeatedly opposed that and as to the particular proposal that I was trying to get support for, I think that they lobbied against Republican members of Congress supporting that.
CURWOOD: Now, why do you think it’s important that the energy bill address climate change?
BINGAMAN: Well, I think the impact that energy production and use has on the environment is sort of the flip side of the coin and I really think an energy bill that does not try to address the environmental impacts of energy production and use is inadequate in that regard
CURWOOD: Jeff Bingaman is a Democratic senator from New Mexico. Thank you for taking this time with me today.
BINGAMAN: My pleasure.
CURWOOD: The Senate also approved a set of voluntary climate change programs
proposed by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel. The Hagel amendment focuses on tax breaks and loan guarantees to industry to come up with new, low emission forms of energy technology. The U.S. would then share that technology with developing countries, especially China and India, which have vast reserves of coal and have already become major greenhouse gas sources as their economies grow.
Senator Hagel joins me now from his office at the Capitol. Senator, why do you think your voluntary approach to climate change is what we need to do right now?
HAGEL: I think we all recognize climate change has been with the world since we all got here. However you interpret the big bang or whatever you want to believe is the origin of the world and that’s not new, we’ve always had climate change. We’re involved now in trying to sort out some of these environmental issues. We do know that human behavior has contributed to severe pollution, not only in our country, but around the world, but now we are looking at carbon emissions, manmade greenhouse gas emissions as a possible source of climate change dynamic that could, in fact, affect the future of our environment. I think it’s wise to pursue that and base our actions on sound science and the response that I came up with, really I think for the first time, intersects not only environmental interests, but energy interests and economic interests, as well.
CURWOOD: It sounds to me like you’re not entirely convinced that people are affecting the climate, but you think that we should be hedging our bets.
HAGEL: Well, people do have an effect on the environment, how much of an effect on climate change, we don’t know, we’re working off computer models. Computer models don’t tell you a lot. We know that we’re just coming out of just recently the small ice age. We know that other centuries have been warmer than this century. We do know those things, but what I’m saying is to pay attention to this which we should, we also have to pay attention to the economic consequences and the energy consequences.
We have six and a half billion people on the face of the earth, they need to develop, they need jobs, they need a potential for a better world. So you can’t deal with environmental issues in a vacuum and what I’ve said, all the advances that we’ve made in the world have come as a result of technology. The market base of that technology will drive it.
CURWOOD: Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican from Nebraska. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
HAGEL: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: Now, neither the Hagel amendment nor the resolution from Senator Bingaman call for any reductions in greenhouse gases. The only proposal that would have done that came from Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman, and the Senate turned it down. Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Jeff Young has been tracking the climate debate and joins us now. Hi there, Jeff.
YOUNG: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: So Jeff, what happened to the McCain-Lieberman proposal? Last time it came up, it seemed to be building real momentum.
YOUNG: Yeah, two years ago that seemed the best bet for action on climate change. It proposed a modest cap on carbon emissions and coupled that with an emissions credit trading system to make it more market friendly.
Since that last vote two things happened: one, the 2004 election which changed the makeup of the Senate and, two, the senators added some fairly controversial new items to their bill.
CURWOOD: Ah, yes, those nuclear power provisions you reported on a few weeks ago.
YOUNG: Yeah, the proposal now includes money for some carbon-free energy technology including nuclear power. And that cost them support from the environmental groups and, by my count, it also cost them four votes. Four Democratic senators who voted for McCain-Lieberman in ‘03 voted against it this time. But McCain is still committed to this as a long-term effort and he’s still optimistic.
MCCAIN: We’re gonna win on this issue. And the reason why we’re gonna win is because every single month there is another manifestation of the terrible effects of what climate change is doing to our earth. The problem is how late will it be when we win?
YOUNG: And you know, Steve, part of what was interesting about this is how you could see in this debate that attitudes are slowly shifting in the Senate.
CURWOOD: Yeah, Jeff, what did you notice?
YOUNG: We still hear some Senators questioning the science. Most notably Senator Jim Inhofe the Republican from Oklahoma. He calls climate change a hoax. But he is increasingly isolated as more of the moderates and even some of the right-leaning Republicans come into agreement with the scientific consensus on this. I think the most dramatic example that we saw was Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico.
CURWOOD: Yeah, he’s a pretty important guy in these energy matters, as he’s in charge the Energy Committee, so that kind of makes it a big deal, huh?
YOUNG: Indeed, and you know at one point in this debate, Senator McCain, he tends to get kind of worked up, he lashed out at Domenici for opposing his climate amendment and here’s how Domenici responded:
DOMENICI: I don’t mind him getting red in the face and pointing at me and talking like I don’t know what I’m talking about. But he wasn’t listening. I didn’t say global warming isn’t a problem. Instead of saying what he said, he should have said, “glad Senator Domenici’s finally recognizing there is a problem.” To recognize there’s a problem doesn’t mean that his way of solving it’s the only problem. In fact, I’m telling the Senate what he’s suggesting won’t work!
CURWOOD: And so, what did Senator Domenici end up doing?
YOUNG: Senator Domenici is a very practical man, and he was very close to supporting Senator Bingaman’s binding cap on carbon emissions, but he was bothered by some of the details in there, just didn’t see how it could work out. So, instead, he has committed to using his position, powerful position, as chair of the Energy Committee to find something that he thinks will work that will be in agreement with the consensus of science on climate change and also work politically. In the meantime, of course, he cosponsored with Bingaman that non-binding resolution on climate change.
CURWOOD: And what’s the reaction to that resolution, since it doesn’t actually do anything right now to reduce emissions, how meaningful is it?
YOUNG: Yeah, I guess the cynical view is that it’s just political cover on this issue, right?, but it does put a majority of the Senate on record as saying yes climate change is real and yes, mandatory action is needed. And the second part of that about the mandatory action, that’s in direct opposition to the White House line here, which is that voluntary measures are enough. So the advocacy groups that are working this issue, they look at this, they think it’s pretty important. It could pave the way for more domestic action and, who knows, maybe some action on a treaty somewhere.
CURWOOD: Now Jeff, there’s a lot more to this energy bill other than climate change. So, can you give us some of the highlights?
YOUNG: Well, it’s a big ol’ bill, so there’s a lot in there. If the Senate has its way, we’re probably going to be using a lot more ethanol, from corn. We’ll probably use more renewable energies because it has this renewable portfolio standard that says electric utilities have to get 10 percent of their power from renewables like wind and solar. There’s also a lot in there for new nuclear power plants, new clean coal technology, what they call, and the big hole here that a lot of critics see though is it that it does almost nothing to improve fuel efficiency on the road.
Probably the most hotly disputed thing in here though is about offshore drilling. The Senate has this inventory of gas and oil on the outer continental shelf and most coastal states do not like this at all, especially Florida lawmakers like Democrat Senator Bill Nelson.
NELSON: What it is, it’s the first step to drilling. It’s the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.
YOUNG: Now, Nelson has already threatened a filibuster over drilling issues so this could spell trouble for the final bill.
CURWOOD: Now, that’s the Senate’s version. What about the House?
YOUNG: The House version is very different. It has very few of those renewable energy incentives. It does not include offshore drilling language, but it does call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and over all has a lot more emphasis on traditional fossil fuels so it’s going to be interesting to see how they work out those differences.
CURWOOD: Jeff, let’s take a break here but stay with us because there’s more I want to hear about, especially what Congress will do about the growing demand for natural gas.
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CURWOOD: Keep listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: “All Full up” Michael Shatz “Banjo” (Rounder 2001)]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. We’re talking energy and the energy bill with our Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Jeff, there was a lot about gas prices in this energy debate, but it’s not just the kind of gas we pump into our cars; the high price of natural gas kept coming up. What’s the concern there?
YOUNG: Well, we found a lot of uses for natural gas because it’s generally a cleaner fuel than the other fossil fuels. So we make electricity with it, we run some busses and cars, we heat homes. Well, when the price of natural gas shot up it, therefore, hit the economy from a lot of angles. Sort of a triple whammy. Heat and power got more expensive and manufacturing and farming are even worse off because for them natural gas is not just a fuel, it’s also an ingredient in a lot of chemicals and fertilizer.
So what to do? Well, the senators have a lot in here to conserve natural gas and expand production over the long haul but, in the short-term, the only real way to bring down prices is to import more and that’s going to mean creating more facilities to unload tanker ships that carry liquefied natural gas, called LNG. The trouble with that is a lot of coastal communities don’t think those LNG facilities will be safe and they don’t want them in their backyards.
CURWOOD: So, local governments don’t want them, the federal government does. Who gets to decide?
YOUNG: Well, basically, the energy bill will give the federal government the final say. This is largely a reaction to some legal challenges that might undermine federal authority and slow down LNG projects. So, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says the idea is to streamline the permitting process.
ALEXANDER: …to make it simpler, so there’s an orderly way to come to a decision by giving the one federal agency the exclusive signing authority, but state and local governments still have a major input.
YOUNG: Now, of course, one man’s streamlining, is another’s steamrolling.
CURWOOD: And are the state and local governments saying that they are getting cut out of these decisions?
YOUNG: Yes, indeed. And that has brought some big floor fights in both the Senate and the House. Over in the house Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey says there’s really no need for this kind of change because many of these LNG facilities have already been successfully permitted with local input in the decisions.
MARKEY: There is nothing which is broken right now. There is no crisis. But the energy industry has petitioned the Bush administration to remove any role by the state and local governments just because they know they can get away with it.
YOUNG: Marquis tried to give states some more power over LNG siting decisions. There was a similar effort in the Senate. Both of them failed narrowly, but Markey and others say they’re going to keep fighting. So this is another very hot issue and it’s going to be one to watch as this bill goes to the conference between the House and Senate and then comes back for final vote.
CURWOOD: Jeff Young is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent. Thanks ,Jeff.
YOUNG: You’re welcome, Steve.
CURWOOD: As Jeff just mentioned, many coastal communities are concerned about plans to build liquefied natural gas facilities in their neighborhoods. Rachel Gotbaum visited some towns in Massachusetts where the opposition to building new LNG plants is growing.
GOTBAUM: Liquefied natural gas is gas that has been cooled to very low temperatures so that it shrinks in size. The gas is then shipped to U.S. ports in large tankers that bring LNG in from all over the world including from Iran, Algeria, Trinidad and the west coast of Africa.
The Matthew carries liquefied natural gas to the LNG import terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. The facility is the oldest LNG plant in the country. At right, two white storage tanks. LNG fuels the power plant in the background. (Photo: courtesy of SUEZ LNG NA)
There are currently four liquefied natural gas terminals in this country. They were all built in the 1960s and 70s. The oldest one is in Everett, Massachusetts on the Mystic River, a few miles from downtown Boston.
[SOUND OF PUMPING GAS THROUGH LINE]
GOTBAUM: On a recent afternoon, Frank Katalak who runs the Everett facility gave a tour. He points to the pumps where the frigid gas is heated and then sent into pipelines.
[SOUND OF GAS FLOWING]
KATALAK: Right now, we’re hearing actually natural gas, vaporized LNG, leaving the facility. The gas will go into three different places. It goes into two separate interstate pipelines and also into the local gas distribution system which is operated by the local gas utility.
GOTBAUM: If you put your hand in this stuff how long ‘til you get like frostbite?
KATALAK: Well, the LNG inside the pipe is minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, so you would get frostbite immediately.
GOTBAUM: The facility in Everett has two large storage tanks and is located on 37 acres in an industrial area.
KATALAK: From the platform on top of tanker number one, you can see our neighbors. That’s the city of Everett up on the hill there. Looking in this direction we see the Mystic River. That’s the Tobin Bridge in the background and to our south is Boston, right downtown.
GOTBAUM: This LNG terminal supplies enough gas for power plants to heat more than one million homes each day in New England. The region is one of the most dependent on natural gas in the U.S., especially in winter. Katalak says he’s worried that there’s not enough of it to run businesses and heat homes.
KATALAK: I’m concerned that the demand continues to increase and we continue to build new power plants with this environmentally-friendly fuel and nobody’s ever considered where this stuff is gonna come from.
GOTBAUM: As it stands now, says Katalak, New England has no buffer supply of natural gas.
KATALAK: In January 2004, we had a very cold day here in Boston, and even with all the pipelines operating at capacity, even with this facility operating capacity, the local distribution company couldn’t get enough gas to one of the towns not far from Boston and had to shut it off. And people went without heat until the weather warmed up. The town of Hull was evacuated.
GOTBAUM: There are currently about 40 proposals by energy companies to build LNG terminals on the east coast and west. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, says at least two new LNG ports need to be placed in New England.
One proposed site is for Fall River, Massachusetts, a working class city south of Boston on the Rhode Island border. Not far from the downtown waterfront along the Taunton River is a former oil refinery where the new LNG plant would go.
MIYOZZA: Come on outside and I’ll show you where, you know, this is where my concern is.
[SOUND OF SCREEN DOOR OPENING]
GOTBAUM: Michael Miyozza lives up the hill near where the facility would be built.
MIYOZZA: If my grandchildren are playing outside here, as you can see on this side here, we have a dead end street and the terminal is just gonna be down a half mile here. And so if something were to happen, if we have to escape, we’re going to be heading into the flames, into the thermal radiation.
GOTBAUM: Miyozza is one of hundreds of city residents who are fighting the proposed facility. Fall River officials have also led a vocal opposition to the project. Ed Lambert is the city’s mayor.
LAMBERT: It seems to me there’s a rush to site these facilities while this administration is in office down in Washington without regard to public safety. They are making significant and serious mistakes that will not be corrected if there’s an accident or a tragedy.
GOTBAUM: Last year, the Sandia National Laboratories came out with a study evaluating the possible consequences of a terrorist attack or accident on one of the large LNG tankers. Although the report contends that safety measures could be put in place to mitigate the results of an incident, it found that a rupture in the tanker could cause a major fire and could also create a vapor cloud that might drift and ignite.
LAMBERT: There are 9,000 people that live within one mile of this proposed facility.
GOTBAUM: Fall River Mayor Ed Lambert.
LAMBERT: When you consider that the Sandia labs have said that within two thirds of a mile people would suffer severe pain within ten seconds, second degree burns within thirty seconds, and third degree burns within forty seconds of a vapor cloud ignition that could come from a hole in the tanker ship or something that would happen on site. That is not something that people should be subjected to.
GOTBAUM: Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission say they take all the scientific studies into account before they decide where to place new LNG terminals. Mark Robinson is with FERC.
ROBINSON: We believe from the analysis that we do that given the consequences that could occur with any type of energy infrastructure that if we can conclude that it can be done safely, then that is something that is in the public interest given their demand for energy.
GOTBAUM: The Sandia report contends that the probability of an intentional accident on an LNG tanker is low. Robinson and other federal officials agree and say that neither LNG tankers nor terminals make attractive terrorist targets.
ROBINSON: There has never been an accident in an LNG tanker, there has never been a lost cargo in forty-plus years of LNG tankers moving all over the world. So you’ve got that history that nothing has ever happened. On top of that, you have three agencies that are working together--the Coast Guard, the FERC, and the Department of Transportation--who review every possibility in terms of how somebody might be able to gain access to these facilities and do damage and develop safety and security measures to insure that we believe tankers can move through waters and be safe.
GOTBAUM: But that argument doesn’t satisfy everyone. Richard Clarke was anti-terrorism chief for the both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He says the government needs to change its strategy in a post-9/11 world because groups like Al Qaeda have already proven that LNG facilities are vulnerable to attack.
CLARKE: Do they have the intent of attacking such a facility? Yes. Do they have a history of going after ships? Yes. Do they have a history of using our own infrastructure against us as weapons? Yes. We believe that they have demonstrated repeatedly that they have the capability to conduct large-scale terrorist attacks. Moreover, they have demonstrated that they have the sophistication for the use of the kinds of weapons that would cause an LNG tanker to become a large-scale fire.
GOTBAUM: Clarke and others say new LNG terminals should not be placed in densely populated neighborhoods but in remote areas including locations offshore. There is currently one off-shore LNG port in the world, which was recently built off the coast of Louisiana. But at least a dozen more are being proposed up and down the east coast of the United States. For many residents who live in these coastal areas, offshore is not the answer to the country’s energy needs either.
GOTBAUM: On Gloucester Harbor, north of Boston, fishermen are unloading their daily catch of cod, flounder and monkfish.
[FISHERMEN UNLOADING CRATES IN THE BACKGROUND]
GOTBAUM: An offshore LNG facility is being proposed ten miles out from here. The platform where the tankers would unload the liquefied natural gas and pump it into an existing pipeline would include a five mile security exclusion zone. That would mean the fishermen who depend on the area for their livelihood would be prevented from fishing there.
BRYSON: My name is Roger. Roger Bryson. I got a hook boat called “The Blue Dagger.”
GOTBAUM: Roger Bryson has been catching fish in and around Gloucester for the last 25 years. He says he doesn’t want an offshore LNG facility placed in the middle of important fishing grounds.
BRYSON: Of course, it threatens the fishery or, you know, anything near where we’re fishing. We’re gonna be shut out from the area that they’re gonna put that thing in there, so we, a lot of us, don’t like the idea. If they gonna do it, they can do it some place else.
GOTBAUM: Many of the residents of Gloucester are fighting the LNG proposal, including local activist Niaz Dory.
DORY: If you allow the liquid natural gas facility to be sited ten miles off of here, the security zone alone will displace more fishing boats, not to mention if there is, God forbid, any accident whatsoever. What impact would that have on the marine environment?
GOTBAUM: Neither federal officials, nor the industry view offshore LNG facilities as a panacea either. They are untested, more expensive to build, and the gas cannot be stored at sea. And there’s also the weather to consider, especially in New England, says Mark Robinson of FERC.
ROBINSON: And if a storm comes up during the worst part of the winter and you’ re used to getting half a billion cubic feet per day out of a facility and it suddenly shuts down and there is no storage to support it, you’ve lost a big hunk of your gas during the worst time that you could lose it.
GOTBAUM: The federal government expects the country’s dependence on foreign exports of fuel to continue to grow, and it sees natural gas as eventually overtaking coal and rivaling oil as a leading source of energy. With this in mind, the Bush administration says it will give the okay to at least ten new LNG terminals both on and offshore. The first that is likely to be approved by FERC is the one proposed for Fall River, Massachusetts. If that happens, lifelong resident Michael Miyozza says he will have to leave his home.
MIYOZZA: I couldn’t stay here. I couldn’t bring up my grandkids here. No, we’d have to leave and I would do it at a loss in my house. I would lose the equity in my house but I don’t believe anybody would want to come to near where there is a potential bomb.
GOTBAUM: FERC has already given a preliminary thumbs up to placing a new LNG terminal in Fall River. Commission members plan to vote on June 30th. In the meantime, city officials and residents of Fall River have vowed to stop the project and even go to court if necessary. For Living on Earth, I’m Rachel Gotbaum in Boston.
[MUSIC: “A Little Ethnic Song” J. Mascis: Guitarrosists (No.6) 1991]
- Suez Energy North America
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
- Sandia National Laboratories Report
- Center for LNG
- Ratepayers for Affordable, Clean Energy (California)
- Conservation Law Foundation – Southern New England LNG
CURWOOD: Many things in life that used to be free seem to cost money these days. There’s a brisk business in bottled water, oxygen bars are springing up in cities, and now you can buy a can of mud to spray on your vehicle. Colin Dowse is the owner of Sprayonmud in Shrewsbury, England and he joins us. Hello there, sir.
DOWSE: Hi there.
CURWOOD: Now, why would folks want to buy mud to spray on their vehicles? I mean, they already have to pay at the car wash to get them clean?
DOWSE: Yeah, but we were down in the pub late on a Friday night with a few of the guys and we started thinking about ideas and someone said, “Well, what about all these people that drive four wheel drives and never go in the country? We ought to develop something for them." And so we came up with the idea of Sprayonmud.
CURWOOD: Well now, why develop Sprayonmud for these... you think they’re embarrassed to be driving these giant gas hogs?
DOWSE: They are and they only use them to go and collect the kids from school or go down to the shopping mall. Their neighbors think, well, they’ve got that gas guzzler and they don’t go off-road. Now they can fool them.
CURWOOD: Now, Colin, what exactly are the ingredients in Spraymud?
DOWSE: It’s pure Shropshire mud.
CURWOOD: I see…
DOWSE: It’s refined, of course. We take out all the stones and twigs, but it’s real Shropshire mud.
CURWOOD: And what color is it?
DOWSE: Well, it’s a reddish, sort of brownish color.
CURWOOD: So, how well is it selling?
DOWSE: It’s flying off the shelves.
DOWSE: I’m just shipping a load to Japan, we’re opening up distributorships in Canada and in the U.S. I’m talking to people in Germany and Holland. The interest is phenomenal. We’ve had a hundred thousand hits on our web site.
CURWOOD: What’s the art to this? How should I be painting my vehicle with this?
DOWSE: Well, art…I’ve never, I’ve not thought about that. It just, it feels good to spray mud all over a car, I tell ya.
CURWOOD: Colin, I’ve got to ask you, is your next business venture--a chain of carwashes?
DOWSE: (laughter) That’s a good idea. No, it’ll be something else that we think up on a Friday night, in the pub.
CURWOOD: Colin Dowse is the owner of Sprayonmud. He’s talking to me from his office in Shrewsbury, England. Thanks for taking the time, Colin.
DOWSE: Okay, thanks. Bye.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, borders and waters. Canada claims that North Dakota wants to use it as a dumping ground. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.
CHU: Crickets, mostly known for their summertime chirping, may now help the hard-of-hearing. These leaping insects posses one of nature’s most sensitive sound detectors-- tiny hairs found along their two abdominal appendages. These hairs can detect tiny changes in air currents caused by low frequency sounds; they can be as imperceptible as the beating of wasp wings or the pounce of a spider.
Since crickets spend most of their time on the ground, these super-sensitive hearing aids buy them valuable time in escaping flying predators. Human hearing works in much the same way, with microscopic hair cells located in the inner ear. Lack of these cells has been implicated in some forms of deafness. So, scientists in the Netherlands have created artificial cricket hairs that could eventually be used to fine-tune cochlear implants for humans.
A team of physicists attached a few hundred artificial hairs made of polymer, to a thin membrane. When exposed to subtle air currents, the hairs bend and shift, causing the membrane to rotate. It's this rotation that makes it possible for crickets to pinpoint the direction of any given sound. Scientists hope to one day design cochlear implants that mimic cricket hairs, to help people with severe hearing problems. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Jennifer Chu.
CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.
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[MUSIC: “Goya Night” Jocylyn Pook: FLOOD (Virgin) 1999]
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood and coming up: your health and your cubicle. But first, out on the plains where things are usually dry, you wouldn’t think there’d be a water glut. But that’s what folks in Devils Lake, North Dakota have on their hands. Devils Lake itself has no natural outlet and it’s risen roughly 25 feet since the early 90s, flooding surrounding farms and homesteads. North Dakota officials would like to pull the plug on the lake, with a diversion channel they’re making to the nearby Cheyenne River. And that has touched off a diplomatic row with Canada, because waters from the Cheyenne cross the border and end up in Lake Winnipeg. Paul Samyn is a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press. Paul, as you understand it, what’s wrong with the water in Devils Lake?
SAMYN: There’s a couple of things. First and foremost, there are concerns about what’s called an inter-basin transfer, water that normally wouldn’t be part of the Red River Valley potentially is going to come into that system. There’s a concern that it has high phosphorous levels that’s because of agricultural run-off. There’s different things that can get in the water and perhaps there’s different species of little things that you and I can’t see, but microscopes can, that once they’re introduced into, say, a different water basin, could cause problems.
CURWOOD: Diplomacy, in fact, seems to be more of a risk than the environment per se in this dispute. There’s been, what, a hundred years of international cooperation between the United States and Canada about boundary water disputes.
SAMYN: And that leads to Canada and Manitoba’s position that this matter should be reviewed by the International Joint Commission which is a panel that was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty in 1909. There’s three Americans sit on it, three Canadians. Have them look at it, have them do the environmental studies, have them do the assessments and then to make recommendations to Canada and the U.S. as to how this project could go ahead in a fashion which wouldn’t cause any environmental harm.
CURWOOD: What exactly is the Boundary Waters Treaty?
SAMYN: The Boundary Waters Treaty was something signed in 1909, came together Canada and the United States saying we have a long border, we’re good neighbors and we have waters that flow across that border. It’s in both our interests to try and find ways to ensure that what is done on one side of the border doesn’t negatively impact on the other side. From that treaty is the International Joint Commission and they will work on studies; they will work on implementing agreements; they’ll look at overseeing things and make recommendations. It’s not a binding body, but it’s one that I believe has resolved some 51 of 53 trans-boundary water disputes over the past century.
CURWOOD: How could this proposed flow of water from Devils Lake in North Dakota jeopardize the Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada?
SAMYN: It’s the concern about precedence and what it means for the treaty, a treaty that people on both sides of the border have said has worked. And so what you see is it’s not just Canada and Manitoba that are calling for the State Department and the Bush White House to allow this thing to go the International Joint Commission. It’s Governor Pelenti of Minnesota. It’s the governors of the Great Lake states and that includes New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio who are saying, we are concerned what happens if the Americans allow North Dakota to go ahead with this project, what it means for other trans-boundary water issues. What happens for example, if Ontario at some point wants to do something in the Great Lakes that could cause a concern for the city of Buffalo. They’re saying, we want this treaty which has worked for more than a century to continue working and the concern is that if North Dakota’s allowed to push ahead and do what they want without proper screening, the next time there’s a problem and there are issues along the border, there’s one emerging on the BC-Montana border where a governor of Montana has already written requesting an IGC reference of some actions that are happening in Canada. You know, his concerns won’t perhaps be properly dealt with because Canada’s going to say look, this treaty doesn’t appear to work any more, so we’re not going to respond to your concern.
CURWOOD: Describe for us the importance of Lake Winnipeg to Canada. What’s at stake here?
SAMYN: Lake Winnipeg is one of the largest commercial fisheries in North America. It’s one of the largest lakes in Canada. It lies about two, two and a half hours north of North Dakota and it’s also a lake that right now is stressed by all sorts of things going on. Agricultural run-off, there’s a build-up of algae. Water quality in the lake is not what it should be and so there are scientists here in Canada and government officials which are sort of saying, we need to do something to save the lake. If you people remember what was going on in Lake Eerie some ten, twenty years ago, there are concerns that the water quality in Lake Winnipeg is reaching that kind of dire situation. So, anything coming into what is already a problem is a concern which sort of exaggerates, accentuates Canadian and Manitoba concerns that water from Devils Lake would only add to the problems facing Lake Winnipeg.
CURWOOD: Now, I understand that this issue has, well, got people pretty excited there in your parliament. Can you give me a flavor of some of these reactions?
SAMYN: You know, it’s an issue that’s just recently been heating up. It was a big issue in Manitoba for some time, but it’s now, sort of, landed in parliament’s lap and is making headlines from coast to coast. Last week, a member from Manitoba, Winnipeg, in fact, said two things. One, in frustration that it’s been some 15 months since Canada made the request of the state department for the International Joint Commission to review this. Of course, we haven’t heard from Condoleeza Rice on this matter yet and he lashed out in frustration and suggested that perhaps if the Americans didn’t do what Canada thought they should on the Boundary Waters Treaty, that the American ambassador should freeze in the dark, i.e. we would use trade sanctions and perhaps not ship you our natural gas and oil. And so, we had a little bit of a diplomatic tiff ongoing.
CURWOOD: Paul Samyn is the national reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press. Thanks for taking this time with me today.
SAMYN: Thank you.
CURWOOD: Fans of Dilbert, the hapless office drone created by comic strip artist Scott Adams might identify with the environment in which the character is forced to work. Windowless grey cubicles, spaced end to end in a virtual cube farm. In the real world, this layout may not be far from the truth, and it’s easy to see how some worker bees might suffer from cubicle coma. In many cases, a cup of coffee will do the trick. But as Kellyn Betts, of "Environmental Science and Technology" magazine found, the materials in a typical cubicle have been known to have serious health effects. Kellyn Betts, hello.
CURWOOD: So now tell me, what’s the low down and dirty on the chemicals or components that are in typical cubes.
BETTS: Well, if you’re in an older cube, the people I interviewed for my article acknowledge that it could have been contributing to the problems that were associated with sick building syndrome because no one thought about cubicle emissions until the late ‘70s, or early 1980s after the energy crisis. And it was the energy crisis that inspired both businesses and homeowners to seal up their buildings so that they wouldn’t have to pay as much to heat them.
BETTS: And that also sealed in all the toxic emissions.
CURWOOD: Ew, so what was in those old things?
BETTS: Well, there was a lot of formaldehyde and, in fact, there still is a fair bit of formaldehyde. But there are also chlorinated volatile organic compounds such as trichloethylene and perchloethylene and there were other volatile organic compounds like 1-4-dioxane, naphthalene and benzene and all of these volatile organic compounds are regulated as hazardous air pollutants in outdoor air.
CURWOOD: So, where did all these things come from in cubicles?
BETTS: Well, they were coming from various components of the cubicles themselves, mainly from the particle board which, as you probably know, is like sawdust glued together.
BETTS: …and sandwiched between thin pieces of wood. But also from the coatings, the varnishes, the fiberglass, the textiles, the fabrics, adhesives, and the finishes on the cubicles.
CURWOOD: I understand that even EPA employees complained about working in sick cubicles?
BETTS: Yes, they’re in the Waterside Mall Headquarters in Washington DC. People complained that the building was making them sick and there was a law settlement that actually necessitated the official testing of the cubicles that were used in that building, as well as its carpeting and then I guess an analysis of the ventilation system. And that’s actually what some of the first cubicle tests resulted from. It was a very high profile lawsuit.
CURWOOD: And what kind of ailments would people get from these toxic cubes?
BETTS: That’s a good question. They were blamed for headaches, fatigue, coughs, scratchy throats, sinus infections, and cancers. I actually spoke with an employee who had worked in the building at the time who said that an extraordinary number of people died young. There was no way to prove that it was associated with the building, but it really seemed extraordinary, he said.
CURWOOD: So, how did their conditions improve?
BETTS: I think they moved out of the building. That’s my understanding, that they no longer occupy that building.
CURWOOD: So, how’s cubicle composition changed since the 1980s then?
BETTS: Well, actually, the main composition of cubicles hasn’t changed that much. But what has changed is the way that the various coatings, varnishes, fiberglasses, textiles, fabrics, adhesives, finishes, and particle board that go into the cubicles are constructed. So, for example, in the ‘80s they used to use hydrocarbon-based adhesives and those were associated with chlorinated volatile organic compounds which are considered some of the nastiest ones and now they use more water-based adhesives. The particle board still has these formaldehyde urea resins, but it’s much more well filled in and there are alternatives that are based upon wheat and these wheat board products that are, instead of the sawdust that’s glued together to make particle board, they use old straw and that is associated with near zero emissions. There is now really a marketing advantage to having green products and there are now companies that certify the emissions level of products of all kinds including office cubicles and that’s how we can say for certain that the levels of toxic compounds coming off cubicles have gone down.
CURWOOD: Now, some would say the healthiest kind of office, of course, would do away with the cube altogether.
CURWOOD: Any moves toward a cubeless office?
BETTS: Not that I’m aware of, but I’d support it.
CURWOOD: Kellyn Betts is senior editor of "Environmental Science and Technology" magazine in Washington D.C. Kellyn, thanks for taking this time with me.
BETTS: Thank you.
[BACKGROUND NOISE OF A BUSY MARKET]
Fresh tuna auction. (Photo: Kelly Jones)
CURWOOD: Tourists are no longer welcome at the fresh and frozen tuna auctions at the Tokyo central wholesale market known as Tsukiji. It seems all those camera-toting curiosity seekers were getting in the way of business. Fortunately for us, Kelly Jones and her microphone did get the chance to record and send us this audio postcard.
JONES: More than six and a half million pounds of seafood from the world’s seven oceans arrive here at Tsukiji nightly. One kind in particular, bluefin tuna, darling of sashimi platters and, some say, endangered because of it. I trade in my shoes for a pair of cream colored galoshes and make it just in time for the opening bell of the fresh tuna auction.
[RINGING OF A BELL]
JONES: Picture an airplane hangar filled row upon row with fat titanium- and black-skinned fish so huge a hefty 10-year old could crawl inside. There are 350, maybe 400 of the submarine-shaped bluefin lying on individual wooden platforms on the cement floor. In just over an hour, all of them will sell.
JONES: An auctioneer on a footstool bobs and sways like a minister in a Pentecostal church. He moves ecstatically, all hand gestures and nods, his shoulders scrunching in time with his singsong chant.
JONES: All around him, potential buyers don poker faces and wield long-handled hooks. They crouch with flashlights, peer into sliced open bellies and prod cleaned-out cavities for the magic combination of scarlet flesh and abundant fat.
CUSTOMER: How much are these tuna selling for?
MERCHANT Expensive tuna cost 30,000 per kilo. And the average is 2,500.
JONES: That’s 30,000 yen, or about 280 dollars a kilo for a typical whole fish so giant it takes two grown men with hooks a few swings and then one mighty heave to hoist the creature onto a flatbed wheelbarrow.
[BACKGROUND SOUNDS OF AUCTION, THEN DIESEL ENGINE STARTING]
JONES: Just a few steps away, men toss empty styrofoam boxes into a story-high heap and guys on tiny diesel trucks zigzag around them as another auction gets underway, this one for frozen tuna.