New York Mayor Unveils Environmental Plan on Earth Day 2015

The nation’s biggest city, under the direction of Mayor Bill de Blasio, marked Earth Day on Wednesday by linking a sweeping effort to limit its impact on the environment with its fight against income inequality by pledging to lift more than 800,000 people out of poverty.

WIH Resource Group Mayor of NYC Earth Day 2015

De Blasio unveiled his ambitious OneNYC plan as a comprehensive strategy to improve New Yorkers’ lives by providing affordable housing, shortening commute times and preserving the environment.

“The way forward is to create a vision for one city where there’s opportunity for all, sustainability for all and fairness for all,” de Blasio said. “So many people who have fought for economic justice have also fought for environmental justice because these challenges go hand in hand.”

The waste reduction proposal — first reported Tuesday by The Associated Press — is central to the plan. New York, home to about 8.5 million residents, aims to reduce its waste output by 90 percent by 2030 from its 2005 level. The plan, the biggest undertaken by a city in the Western Hemisphere, would eliminate more than 3 million tons of garbage by overhauling the city’s recycling program, offering incentives to reduce waste and embracing the City Council’s plan to dramatically reduce the use of plastic shopping bags.

The waste reduction plan is part of an update to the sustainability project created by de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. But even changing its name from PlaNYC to the loftier OneNYC: The Plan for a Strong and Just City, which invokes de Blasio’s campaign promise to combat the “tale of two cities” created by income inequality, makes clear that the updated plan would grow in scope.

The mayor pledged to lift 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty or near poverty in the next decade, one of the largest anti-poverty efforts in the nation’s history. De Blasio said it would “change the reality of this city.”

He also reiterated his lofty housing goals — he aims to create 500,000 units of affordable housing by 2040 — and said he wants to end racial and ethnic disparities in premature mortality. He pledged to explore new capital expenditures — including the feasibility of a new subway line to serve central Brooklyn — to improve the city’s aging infrastructure and to reduce the average New Yorker’s commuting time to 45 minutes.

But de Blasio declined to discuss the cost — or source of funding — for the projects, saying much of that would be revealed in next month’s budget presentation.

Some resiliency advocates applauded the lofty goals, but others, including Jordan Levine of the New York League of Conservation Voters, chided the plan for not providing specifics on funding and warned that “implementation is where rubber meets the road.”

For decades, the city’s trash has been exported to South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The amount of waste produced by the city has fallen 14 percent since 2005 because of an increase in recycling, and a key component of the plan is to bolster that output by simplifying the process and consolidating all recycling into one bin by 2020.

Organics — such as food scraps and yard waste — make up nearly a third of the city’s residential waste stream. A program to collect that material directly from residents’ homes is expanding to nearly 200,000 residents by year’s end, and city officials want to serve every home by the end of 2018. The city also will offer economic incentives to participate, including potentially a property tax rebate for homeowners.

The city also aims to reduce commercial waste by 90 percent by 2030 by adopting a program that could mean tax incentives for participating businesses and fines for nonparticipants.

The de Blasio administration stopped short of endorsing a City Council bill that proposes a 10-cent fee on plastic bags, but officials said that reducing their use is a priority and that they would coordinate efforts with the council.

SOURCE: WIH Resource Group & US News & World Report

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Tracking Trash – MIT Project Aims to Raise Awareness of How Garbage Impacts the Environment

What if we knew exactly where our trash was going and how much energy it took to make it disappear? Would it make us think twice about buying bottled water or “disposable” razors?

A team of MIT researchers today announced a major project called Trash Track, which aims to get people thinking about what they throw away. Trash Track relies on the development of special electronic tags that will track different types of waste on their journey through the disposal systems of New York and Seattle. The project will monitor the patterns and costs of urban disposal and create awareness of the impact of trash on our environment – revealing the last journey of our everyday objects.

“Trash is one of today’s most pressing issues – both directly and as a reflection of our attitudes and behaviors,” says Professor Carlo Ratti, head of the MIT SENSEable City lab. “Our project aims to reveal the disposal process of our everyday objects, as well as to highlight potential inefficiencies in today’s recycling and sanitation systems. The project could be considered the urban equivalent of nuclear medicine – when a tracer is injected and followed through the human body.

“The study of what we could call the ‘removal chain’ is becoming as important as that of the supply chain,” the lab’s associate director, Assaf Biderman, explains. “Trash Track aims to make the removal chain more transparent. We hope that the project will promote behavioral change and encourage people to make more sustainable decisions about what they consume and how it affects the world around them.”

Trash Track will enlist volunteers in two target cities – New York and Seattle – who will allow pieces of their trash to be electronically tagged with special wireless location markers, or “trash tags.” Thousands of these markers, attached to a waste sample representative of the city’s overall consumption, will calculate their location through triangulation and report it to a central server, where the data will be analyzed and processed in real time. The public will be able to view the migration patterns of the trash online, as well as in an exhibit at the Architectural League in New York City and in the Seattle Public Library, starting in September 2009.

Trash Track was initially inspired by the Green NYC Initiative, the goal of which is to increase the rate of waste recycling in New York to almost 100 percent by 2030. Currently, only about 30 percent of the city’s waste is diverted from landfills for recycling. “We hope that Trash Track will also point the way to a possible urban future: that of a system where, thanks to the pervasive usage of smart tags, 100 percent recycling could become a reality,” says project leader, Musstanser Tinauli.

“Carlo Ratti and his team have come up with a visionary project to help people take ownership of their pollution,” says Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist magazine, which will be helping to deploy a third batch of tags in London, U.K. “It’s all too easy to throw something in the garbage and wash your hands of it if you don’t know what effect you are directly having on the environment.”

With this project, the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory seeks to couple high-tech, rapidly evolving technology with an everyday human activity: trash disposal. Trash Track builds on some of the lab’s previous projects – including Real Time Rome and the New York Talk Exchange – gathering, assessing and analyzing real-time data to improve urban functionality.

The Trash Track team at the SENSEable City Lab is composed of Carlo Ratti, Assaf Biderman, Rex Britter, Stephen Miles, Musstanser Tinauli, E. Roon Kang, Alan Anderson, Avid Boustani, Natalia Duque Ciceri, Lorenzo Davolli, Jennifer Dunnam, Samantha Earl, Lewis Girod, Srabjit Kaur, Armin Linke, Eugenio Morello, Sarah Neilson, Giovanni de Niederhausern, Jill Passano, Renato Rinaldi, Francisca Rojas, Louis Sirota and Malima Wolf.

Source: MIT, The Trash Track team at the SENSEable City Lab and WIH Resource Group

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Waste Coalition Lawsuit Seeks to Overturn Unconstitutional Cap on Solano County Trash Imports

A coalition of more than twenty waste hauling and recycling companies filed a lawsuit in federal court today seeking to declare invalid a local Solano County ballot initiative believed to be unconstitutional by coalition members and Solano County leaders.

“More than twenty years ago Solano County leaders recognized that this ordinance restricting movement of waste across county lines is illegal under federal law, and the coalition is seeking to secure a court ruling to put this issue to rest,” said Ron Mittelstaedt, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Waste Connections, Inc. “Measure E threatens the future of safe, efficient and environmentally sound management of regional municipal solid waste. The consequences for Solano County taxpayers could include an annual loss of over $3,000,000 to fund vital local services such as public safety, local road maintenance and environmental compliance,” Mittelstaedt concluded.

The coalition`s complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, challenges as unconstitutional the 1984 measure that imposed an annual cap of 95,000 tons – a small fraction of current waste volumes – on the amount of solid waste that may enter Solano County from other jurisdictions for landfill disposal. The initiative, known as “Measure E,” was approved by Solano County voters nearly twenty-five years ago in the November 6, 1984 election.

Solano County has never enforced Measure E, and issued a memorandum concluding that the 1984 initiative is unconstitutional under United States Supreme Court precedent. Measure E discriminates against out-of-county waste, in violation of the United States Constitution`s protection of free movement of interstate commerce. Measure E does not impose limits on the disposal of in-county waste at Solano County landfills. The Legislative Counsel of California reached the same conclusion, writing in a 1992 Opinion that “Measure E, adopted by the voters of
Solano County, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”

The coalition points in particular to the potential impacts of Measure E on the Potrero Hills Landfill, which is vital to satisfying the Bay Area`s solid waste disposal needs. If Measure E is enforced, communities across Northern California will pay much higher prices for waste disposal as they search for alternative sites across California and in neighboring states, according to the coalition`s Complaint. Measure E also undercuts a federal court order that the U.S.

Department of Justice and California Attorney General Jerry Brown obtained earlier this year directing that the Potrero Hills Landfill be sold to maintain competition in the solid waste industry in Northern California.

The coalition is filing suit in Federal court to ratify the County`s longstanding belief in the unconstitutionality of Measure E in response to
special interest groups and local activists seeking to compel enforcement of Measure E in order to drastically limit the Landfill`s capacity.

Mittelstaedt added that “Northern California`s waste hauling companies stand united in taking legal action to protect our customers, who have long depended on the unfettered movement of waste across county and state lines. No county is an island and we must all work together to allow waste to move freely to efficient, state of the art, and environmentally sound landfills such as Potrero Hills.”

The coalition members bringing suit represent much of the waste hauling and recycling industry in Northern California, including Potrero Hills Landfill, BLT Enterprises of Sacramento, Brentwood Disposal Service, Concord Disposal Service, Contra Costa Waste Service, Discovery Bay Disposal, El Dorado Disposal Service, Novato Disposal Service, Oakley Disposal Service, Pacific Coast Disposal Corporation, Pittsburg Disposal and Debris Box Service, Redwood Empire Disposal, Rio Vista Sanitation Service, Rohnert Park Disposal, Santa Rosa Recycling and Collection, Sunrise Garbage Service, Timber Cove Recycling, Waste Connections, West Sonoma County Disposal Service, West Sonoma County Transfer and Windsor Refuse and Recycling.

Sources: Waste Connections, Solano County, California, and WIH Resource Group

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New York City – Town of Smithtown NY Chooses CNG to Cut Refuse Collection Costs

Faced with rising refuse collection costs, the Town of Smithtown, New York, decided to require its refuse collection contractors to use compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks. It was the first New York municipality to institute such a requirement. On January 1, 2007, the 30 contractor-owned diesel refuse trucks collecting solid waste and recyclables from the town’s 116,000 residents were replaced by 22 CNG models.

Smithtown selected four bidders for seven-year contracts: Brothers Carting, Dejana Industries, Jody Industries, and V. Garafalo Carting. The companies were responsible for buying the new CNG trucks. To offset the higher cost for these trucks versus diesel trucks, the companies had the option of claiming the Federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit for up to 80% of the incremental cost. An alliance of local organizations helped the contractors find financing options.

To establish CNG fueling infrastructure, Smithtown partnered with natural gas supplier Clean Energy. With no leasing agreements, access fees, or capital outlay for Smithtown, the contract required Clean Energy to provide the fueling infrastructure and commission local service providers. Because of Smithtown’s new contract with the refuse collectors, Clean Energy had to complete the fueling station in six months–two to four months faster than it usually takes to locate a station, obtain permits, and secure a compressor.

To accomplish this, Clean Energy received permission from the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT) and Office of General Services to allow expansion of a station in nearby Hauppauge, which Clean Energy already operated for New York State. The Hauppauge expansion supported NYDOT’s goal to increase natural gas use as a vehicle fuel and brought additional revenue to the state of $0.05 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Clean Energy expanded the Hauppauge volumetric gas flow rate from 15 to 2,000 scfm and opened the station within four months.Smithtown entered into an agreement on fuel pricing with Clean Energy through 2013. CNG costs for the refuse trucks started at $2.33 per diesel gallon equivalent (DGE) through 2008 and increase each year to conclude at $2.94 per DGE in 2013. The contracted CNG price could decrease if the price differential between diesel and CNG goes above a set threshold.

“Controlling refuse collection costs for town residents was the primary reason Smithtown chose CNG,” explained the coordinator of the Greater Long Island Clean Cities Coalition. “The commitment from Clean Energy to set a stable fuel price was very important.” Switching to CNG provides environmental and energy-security benefits for Smithtown.

The CNG refuse trucks are projected over the life of the contract to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 265 tons and particulate matter by 15 tons. Smithtown also expects to displace more than 1.5 million DGE of petroleum-based fuel.The benefits are amplified when other towns adopt a similar strategy. Smithtown’s success inspired nearby Brookhaven to plan the deployment of 67 CNG trucks in 2009 in a similar effort.

Clean Cities inspired Smithtown’s move to CNG. In May 2006, Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s Environmental Protection Director, saw a Clean Cities alternative fuel presentation at the Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations Solid Waste/Recycling Conference & Trade Show in Bolton Landing, New York. The presentation persuaded him that CNG was the best choice for Smithtown’s refuse fleet. For more information, contact Russell Barnett.

Source: United States Department of Energy (DOE)

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Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative

Hawaii faces intertwined threats from global warming and dependence upon imported oil supplies. The threat from climate change is summarized in the recently released report of the United States Global Change Research Program. Rising atmospheric temperatures portend more frequent, stronger tropical storms, threaten to erode beaches, submerge beachfront properties, and alter Hawaiian agriculture and tourism in a state where tourism, agriculture, and property development accompany the military as the main pillars of the economy. Fortunately, Hawaii possesses the clean energy resources to do its share to combat global warming and in the process, help ameliorate the threat it faces from reliance upon imported oil.

Utility rate decoupling is ready to go into effect and a proposal before the state Public Utilities Commission will institute time-of-day pricing. Increasing efficiency through conservation is expected to meet 30 percent of the initiative’s 70 percent clean energy goal.

Hawaii depends upon the burning of imported oil to generate over 80 percent of its electricity supply, orders of magnitude more than any other state in the nation. The islands are likewise wholly dependent upon oil imports for the gasoline that fuels their cars and trucks. The risk of this dependence is three-fold.

Much of Hawaii’s oil comes from Indonesia, and there is no easy way to supply the islands should geo-political events interrupt tanker shipments — via pipeline, rail or truck, as would be possible on the mainland. Second, tightening oil markets are raising household and business costs in a state that the Energy Information Administration pegs as having the highest electricity rates in the country, at almost twice the national average. Third, of course, current global oil consumption rates are unsustainable and supply is unlikely to be sufficient to satisfy global demand in 50 years time or sooner.

The Aloha state’s answer is the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, an agreement entered into by the state and U.S. Department of Energy in January 2008 and augmented by an October 2008 agreement between the state and the island’s investor owned Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO). The initiative calls for Hawaii to derive 70 percent of its power from energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2030. 

Headway is being made on the energy efficiency front. Utility rate decoupling is ready to go into effect and a proposal before the state Public Utilities Commission will institute time-of-day pricing. Increasing efficiency through conservation is expected to meet 30 percent of the initiative’s 70 percent clean energy goal.

Renewable energy will account for the other 40 percent — double what was called for under Hawaii’s previous renewable energy portfolio standard and twice what California has targeted. A huge step in this direction will occur in 2010, when all newly constructed homes in Hawaii will be required to have rooftop thermal solar panels installed. If the state were to take this to the next level, it would consider requiring existing homes to install thermal solar panels at time of resale, since preexisting homes will continue to account for the overwhelming majority of the islands’ building stock for many years to come.

Ormat currently generates 30 megawatts (MW) of geothermal electricity on the big island and is looking to expand this.  Additional renewable energy will soon arrive by sea, where Oceanlinx seeks to capitalize upon Hawaiian waves — among the most powerful in the world — and generate 2.7 MW of electricity with deployment of its proprietary OWC wave-driven compressed air turbine buoy technology (image, left). The $20 million project is projected to be operational in 2011.

The shear size of the footprints of most utility-scale solar projects make them unlikely to be developed in Hawaii, however the PUC is likely to approve an application from HECO under which the electric company would purchase up to 16 MW of energy from PV panels to be installed by merchant developers on the roofs of flat-topped industrial and government warehouse buildings in Honolulu.

Estimates place harvestable wind energy in Hawaii at 1000 MW, however the majority of this is on Maui. While wind turbines can easily be inter-spaced on agricultural land, getting this power to Honolulu, where most of the demand is, will require that view corridor concerns be overcome.  It will also require the installation of an expensive underwater 400-MW inter-island transmission line.

To bolster demand for these clean energy resources and further its transition from oil dependency, Hawaii is working with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric vehicle venture to install an array of battery swap stations on Oahu. This makes a lot of sense for Honolulu and Oahu, where travel distances are not long and can be manageably addressed by the mileage limits of current electric vehicle propulsion.

It has been estimated that buildings utilize one-third of electricity consumption in the U.S. and generate an equivalent amount of total green house gas emissions and, as is the case in most cities, downtown Honolulu is stacked with hi-rise commercial office, hotel and apartment buildings. LEED green building credits earned by increasing building energy efficiency, tapping alternative transportation and utilizing on- and off-site renewable energy can reduce buildings’ energy consumption by up to 50 percent and GHG emissions by up to 70 percent. Honolulu already requires new publicly owned buildings to be LEED certified.

Enacting a fee-bate system similar to that under consideration in Portland, Oregon could boost demand for clean energy among privately owned buildings.  In this plan new buildings and those undergoing upgrades that meet state energy standards would pay a building-permit fee while buildings that attain higher levels of LEED certification pay no fee or receive a fee rebate.

Hawaii is doing the right things, and should continue to broaden and deepen its clean energy efforts. Doing so can help ensure that as the tide of global warming washes ashore, Hawaii is positioned to have its boat lifted and become the most energy independent state in the nation.





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US EPA Issues Clean Energy Action Guide for States

The US EPA issued a report that outlines a strategy to deliver clean, low-cost, and reliable energy to state residents through the use of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean distributed generation.

The intent is to provide states with the information they need to determine what energy options would be the most beneficial, practical, and cost-effective. The potential energy savings achievable through state actions is significant. EPA estimates that if each state were to implement cost-effective clean energy-environment policies, the expected growth in demand for electricity could be cut in half by 2025, and more demand could be met through cleaner energy supply.

This would mean annual savings of more than 900 bil­lion kilowatt-hours (kWh) and $70 billion in energy costs by 2025, while preventing the need for more than 300 power plants and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to emissions from 80 million of today’s vehicles.

Opportunities for State Action State governments are increasingly developing poli­cies and programs that address their energy chal­lenges and spur greater investment in energy effi­ciency, renewable energy, and clean distributed resources. For example, states are: Leading by example by establishing programs that achieve substantial energy cost savings within their own state facilities, fleets, and operations and encouraging the broader adoption of clean energy by the public and private sectors.

State governments across the country are collaborating with state agencies, local governments, and schools to identify and capture energy savings within their facilities and operations, purchase or generate renewable energy, and use clean DG/CHP in their facilities. Establishing ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs (e.g., public benefits funds) to help over­ come a variety of first-cost, informational, split-incentive, and other market barriers that limit greater reliance on energy efficiency.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C. have adopted public benefits funds (PBFs) for energy efficiency, and 16 states have developed PBFs for clean energy sup­ply. Adopting state minimum appliance efficiency stan­dards for products not covered by the federal gov­ernment that yield net cost savings to businesses and consumers. Ten states have adopted appliance standards covering 36 types of appliances (Delaski 2005, Nadel et al. 2005).

Establishing renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that direct electric utilities and other retail electric providers to supply a specified minimum percent­ age (or absolute amount) of customer load with eligible sources of renewable electricity. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have adopted RPS requirements, which are expected to generate more than 26,000 MW of new renewable energy capacity by 2015 (Navigant 2005).

Reviewing utility incentives and planning processes and designing policies that accurately value ener­gy efficiency, renewables, and distributed resources in a way that “levels the playing field” so public utility commissions and consumers can make fair, economically based comparisons between clean energy and other resources. More than 12 states have developed approaches that remove disincentives for utilities to invest in demand-side resources.

For more information:

Source: EPA

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Mayor Newsom Announces San Francisco’s Highest in the Nation Recycling Rate Now at 72%

Mayor Newsom’s mandatory construction debris recycling ordinance accounts for lowest tonnage sent to landfills in over 30 years

San Franciscans are world class recyclers, and are closing in on the city’s goal of 75 percent landfill diversion by 2010. New statistics show that the city kept 72 percent of all recyclable material from going to the landfill, up from 70 percent the year before. The most significant gain was in the area of recycling material from building sites, thanks to Mayor Newsom’s 2006 Mandatory Construction and Demolition Debris Recovery Ordinance.

“By requiring builders to recycle debris from construction projects, we were able to divert tens of thousands of new tons of material away from the landfill,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom. “Clearly, mandatory recycling measures pay off; if we’re going to reach a recycling rate of 75 percent in 2010 and zero waste by 2020, we need to make sure that residents and businesses are taking full advantage of our composting and recycling programs.”

The figures compiled by the City’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment) show that San Francisco generated 2,100,943 tons of waste material in 2007. Of this, only 617,833 tons went to landfill, the lowest disposal rate since 1977.

The increased recovery of construction and demolition debris is a positive trend. However, SF Environment data shows that over two-thirds of the landfill-bound material was recyclable, with nearly 40 percent consisting of mixed compostables (mostly food scraps and soiled paper), 15 percent recyclable paper, and 15 percent other mixed recyclables.

“If we captured everything going to landfill that could have been recycled or composted, we’d have a 90 percent recycling rate” observed SF Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. “The Board of Supervisors will soon be considering an ordinance that will require residents and businesses to sign up and use the recycling and composting programs, which we need to make our goals.”

Mandatory recycling is an established best practice in the field of solid waste management, and many state and local governments have mandated recycling various materials, or conversely banned them from landfills. Major cities including Seattle, Pittsburgh, Honolulu and San Diego have successfully implemented mandatory recycling programs. Garbage collection has been mandatory in San Francisco since 1932.

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