The 51 States of America?

“We believe there’s an attack on oil and gas,” said Colorado’s Weld County commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer. “We believe there’s an attack on agriculture. I don’t think those down in Denver understand any of it.”

Environmental policy issues between northern and southern Colorado have dug a deep divide between its citizen. Maybe even deep enough to make an entirely new state.

Counties planning to secede from Colorado.

Counties planning to secede from Colorado.

About 50 people attended the first meeting this Thursday. Weld County commissioners held the meeting for the public to comment on seceding from Colorado and forming the 51st state, Northern Colorado. Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma, and Kit Carson county residence were also invited.

Nearly all of those attended voiced support. Weld County’s 5 commissioners hope to put the decision on November’s ballot for a vote.

“I think people, when they feel disenfranchised, when they feel that their voices are not being heard, I think that’s a problem in a representative form of government,” commissioner Sean Conway said.

Wheat field in Yuma County

Wheat field in Yuma County

The main reason for the divide is differing opinions on water, energy, and education between urban and rural residents. Elena Metro, a resident of Fort Lupton, said. “I have an issue with urbanites thinking it’s up to them to know what’s best. I don’t know what’s best for them, and I don’t think they know what’s best for me.” This division between urban and rural residents isn’t uncommon in America. City dwellers tend to be more liberal while rural and in most cases suburban residents are conservative.

Weld County’s commissioners have planned 3 more meetings to discuss forming a new state. Whether we’ll need to add 51st star to the flag is yet to be seen.




Pollution in Northern China.

A recent study conducted by an American, an Israeli, and two Chinese determined that extreme coal pollution in northern China has detrimental affects on health. The dense pollution is cutting off 5.5 years of life expectancy for residence.

The studied compared statistics for populations living north and south of the Huai River. The northern area has been allowed free coal to provided heating in winter months. This policy has led to a large gap in pollution compared to areas south of the Huai River. The north’s pollution is about 518 micrograms per cubic meter, 55% greater than that in the south.

Beijing before and after rain.

Beijing before and after rain.

“This adds to the growing mountain of evidence of the heavy cost of China’s pollution,” said Alex L. Wang. Wang is a law professor at the University of California and studies China’s environmental policies. “Other studies have shown significant near-term harms, in the form of illness, lost work days and even risks to children beginning in utero. This study suggests that the long-term harms of coal pollution might be worse than we thought.”

“The results are biologically plausible, and consistent with previous research,” said Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. Recent decline in northern China’s life expectancy has been attributed to cardiorespiratory diseases or similar health problems. According to the New York Times “2010 Global Burden of Disease Study revealed that such pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, or nearly 40 percent of the global total.” A 2007 report conducted by the World Bank and the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, “Cost of Pollution in China”, concluded that 340,000 to 400,000 premature deaths in China are due to air pollution.

The American member of the research team, Michale Greenstone who is also a professor at MIT, said “[the research] highlights that in developing countries there’s a trade-off in increasing incomes today and protecting public health and environmental quality.” It also shows the many trade-offs present in politics. How much regulation would be too much, causing more harm then help? How much is too little, putting the public health at risk?

As for the current regulations, Chinese are frustrated. Some residence even want to leave the country to escape the health risks. Many foreigners and middle- and upper-class Chinese with that option will.


Special thanks to my resources:


“Being green” is a popular topic right now. The proposed city Destiny, Florida promised to make “being green” an everyday aspect to its future residence. “Convenience, ease, conservation and a reduction in our carbon footprints… It’s easy to be green at Destiny.” That is, before it got shot down.

Screen shot of Destiny's home page.

Screen shot of Destiny’s home page.

Destiny’s promo website ( is still up and running. There you can find bios of Destiny’s founder Anthony V. Pugliese and partner and co-founder Fred DeLuca. It “boasts Destiny’s ‘commitment to change the world’ and speaks of the planned city as self-contained and focused on preservation and sustainability,” as the article on UBM Future Cities’ site puts it. But Florida’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) didn’t think the promises were so great.

“Urban sprawl may not be discouraged without clearer and more specific standards,” said the 23-page document from the DCA. “As written, this policy is vague regarding the actual size of the New City… the policy fails to provide adequate guidelines and standards for the location, suitability, contiguity, and compactness of the developable area, which could result in a scattered, energy inefficient, and sprawling pattern of development in areas which are environmentally unsuitable. “

After rejection from the state, a dispute among the sponsors was the final blow to shut down Destiny. “A series of finger-pointing lawsuits between Pugliese and investor Fred DeLuca concluded last October when Pugliese and his business manager Joseph Reamer were charged with money laundering and fraud  for using a portion of DeLuca’s investment to pay for personal and business projects unrelated to Destiny,” wrote Future Cities.

Grand ideas sound great, but they don’t get you very far in reality without careful planning and consideration. Whether a city planner or a law maker, people need to think through their plans to “help the environment” and make sure that their plans are realistic and beneficial.


Special thanks to my sources:

Water Regulations

640px-Irrigational_sprinklerUtah water managers have increased their supervision of water usage. They’ve increased their publications to spread the word and increased their efforts to enforce the “no water from 10 am to 6 pm” rule.

“The reality of it is when we get into short snow years, a couple in a row, we have to step up our enforcement,” said Tage Flint, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District General Manager.

If a resident uses water during restricted hours, they get a warning. “We track those violations on a database, so we’re sure to know when someone has been warned earlier.” On the third warning, their secondary water turned off. (Secondary water is untreated water that is strictly for outdoor purposes, mainly irrigation.)

Not everyone is okay with the watering rules. “Some places have a REQUIREMENT to have front lawns,” KSL commenter Sarah M. pointed out.

“Requirement to have a lawn, ticketed for having a brown lawn (remember the old lady in Orem a few years ago), new NSA datacenter meant to spy on us as citizens using 1,700,000 gallons daily to keep computers cool (see article titled “New Utah NSA center requires 1.7M gallons of water daily to operate” dated July 12, 2013) AND they say we have a water shortage. What next?” asked Lex Arx, LLC – another KSL commenter.

“Maybe KSL should do a story on how wasteful the government is with water?” said commenter Tampinha. “I see government buildings with water on at noon all the time!”

Such comments show the conflictual nature of politics.

Regardless of the opposing opinion, the current regulations are being enforced. Utah residence better watch out. Even neighbors have been reporting rule-breaking. “We have received many more calls from neighbors this year than we normally do,” Flint said.



Goats at the Airport

San Francisco International Airport needs brush removed from airport property each spring to prevent potential fires. However, they can’t use machine or humans to clear it because of two endangered species that live there — the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake. The solution? Goats.

Goats At San Francisco AirportFor the past 5 years, the airport has hired the brush removal company Goats R Us to remove the fire hazard. They charged $14,900 this year to have the goats eat away the dangerous brush.  “When passengers take off and fly over the goats, I’m sure that’s a thrill,” said Terri Oyarzun, owner of Goats R Us.

According to Fox News, “The goats travel 30 miles each spring from their home in Orinda, Calif. to the airport in a 16-wheel truck that Oyarzun calls her ‘livestock limo.’ With the help of a goat herder and a Border Collie named Toddy Lynn, the goats spend two weeks cutting away a 20-foot firebreak on the west side of the airport.” About 400 goats are used, among which are Mr. Fuzzy, Cookie, Mable, and Alice.

“We’re pleased with our organic process for weed abatement,” said airport spokesman Doug Yakel.

Another airport is planning to hire goats for brush clearing. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago has asked for bids to clear their 7,000-acre property and expect a final decision this summer.

Goat Eating BrushAirports aren’t the only place that use goats to prevent fire. The Californian city Santa Barbara uses goats to clear their foothills. Brush Goats 4 Hire uses two herding dogs and a low amperage electric fence to guide the goats to chomp away at high-risk patches of brush. A federal Fire Safe Council grant of $67,000 pays for the goat project.

As many people have discovered, goats are a great environmentally-friendly solution to excess dry brush. They replace energy-consuming chainsaws and dangerous herbicides. Both private companies and governments are paying for goat services. This is an industry that isn’t likely to go away any time soon.


Obama’s “War on Coal”

ablog1-temp“[The Obama Administration] publicly declared its intention to shut down coal-fired power plants – putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and sending electricity prices skyrocketing…. A Heritage Foundation analysis found that implementing Obama’s proposed regulation on existing coal plants would destroy more than 500,000 jobs, slash the income of a typical family of four more than $1,400 a year, and increase electricity prices at least 20 percent.” (Phil Kerpen, 2013) Such was conservative news site’s response to President Obama’s speech at Georgetown University this last Tuesday.

In his speech, Obama talked about the effects of global warming and called the country to action. He compared carbon dioxide, the main “greenhouse gas,” to the toxic gases that are regulated and argued that limits need to be put on carbon dioxide as well. He plans to set new energy regulation, especially targeting coal. “The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies… [and] discovery to make the old rules obsolete,” Obama said to counter critics.

“It’s clear now that the President has declared a war on coal,” Sen. Joe Machin  said.

But even in light of his speech, Obama’s administration still denies a “war on coal.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said that Obama “expects fossil fuels and coal specifically, to remain a significant contributor for some time… I don’t believe it is a ‘war on coal.’” Instead, Moniz said, they’re trying to figure out how “to make coal part of a low carbon future.”

ablog2-tempBut many are still unconvinced, including Democrats. “It’s just ridiculous. … I should not have to be sitting here as a U.S. senator, fighting my own president and fighting my own government,” West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin told Fox News. Coal-state democrats argue that instead of regulating coal emissions, the government should work with power plants to make coal more environmentally friendly. Such attempts have already shown success. “According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), 10 clean-coal technology plants have launched since 2011,” Fox News said. “Another five are under development or scheduled to come online.”

It will be difficult to fight against Obama’s plan, since he will implement the regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), effectively going around Congress. However, Congress could try to block the regulation through legislation. The EPA will also have to work with the states as it implements its regulations.


Reducing Utah’s Pollution

blogimage2Utah’s Wasatch Front is known to have some of the worst air quality, particularly during winter months, due to the inversion layer that develops. An inversion layer occurs when temperatures increase as altitude increases, thus trapping pollution near the ground. With the mountains in the way, the smog has nowhere to go and instead just builds up. Utah’s government is looking develop a plan to curb the pollution and keep it under the federal threshold of 2.5 particles per million (PM). Utah must submit its final plans to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by December.

A key part of Utah’s plan targets big industry emissions during winter months. Dave McNeill, a branch manager of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said says the division will ask large industries such as refineries what they can do to reduce emissions during winter. The University of Utah, Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper, and other organizations already make adjustments during the inversion-prone months.

The division is also considering adding more regulations on big industry, such as lowering the emission threshold from 100 tons to 70 tons or requiring the installation of new equipment. However, these options have the drawback of dissuading new industries from starting. As far as pollution control, newer industries are best because you can install pollution reducing equipment from the get-go. Preventing new competing industries from developing with extra regulations can actually be harmful to the air quality.

Besides large industries, the next big contributor to Utah’s pollution is citizen’s cars. “How do we get people using the right kind of vehicles?” Susan Hardy of the Mountainland Association of Governments asked. “We are not in a country where you can tell people what kind of car they can buy and what they can spend. As long as we don’t curb our happiness of running around on a mechanical horse, it is not going to change.” Governor Herbert is considering implementing employee transportation plans to reduce automobile emissions, but there’s still not much lawmakers can do about pollution from cars. Transportation choices are up to regular citizens to decide.

blogimage1Many in Utah’s government are concerned they can’t meet the EPA’s threshold, though they are still looking for solutions. But EPA mandate aside, Utah still needs to solve its pollution problem to reduce the public health risk, McNeill said. And Utah’s growing population will make the problem worse. “We’re supposed to add another million people by 2040, and those people are not going to come pollution-free.”



Invasion of the Quagga

quagga240px-Dreissena_bugensisLake Powell, and several other Utah lakes, are being invaded by quagga. No, they’re not space aliens (unfortunately). They’re mussels. Quagga mussels are named after the extinct subspecies of zebra, quaggas, because they both have stripes that fade towards the rear. Quagga mussel are an invasive species that disrupt the food chain by eating large quantities of phytoplankton. They are 0.8 inches (20 mm) wide and breed quickly.  They can breed several times a year, each time producing to 40,000 baby mussels. “They can build up densities of 300,000 in a square meter,” Mark Anderson, and aquatic biologist, said. “Just unbelievable numbers.”

quaggadiver1Tuesday, over 30 divers spent the day in the Wahweap Marina checking for quagga mussels on boats, docks, pipes, etc. They want to remove as many quagga as possible before they get a chance to multiply. “The idea is to sweep through these marinas with a big effort and remove any mussels we can find,” Andersen said. “Whatever somebody might value at Lake Powell, these mussels are a threat to it.”

Along with harming native species, quagga are also damaging to infrastructure. “We don’t want to get them in our water delivery systems. “They have a tendency to pile up on each other, colonize on each other, to the point where they can close off large pipes,” Jordan Nielson, one of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ (DWR) invasive species coordinators, said.

Officials aren’t sure how quagga mussels ended up in Lake Powell (as well as Sand Hollow Reservoir, Electric Lake and Red Fleet Reservoir), but they suspect it was by boat. Boaters who went in after hours or lied to the gate attendant about where their boat had been wouldn’t have got a proper inspection, thus allowing quagga mussels to be introduced to the lake.


For more information see:

Nicaraguan Canal

A Chinese company, HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd, is currently working with the Nicaraguan government to build a canal across the country to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is estimated to take 11 years, cost $40 billion dollars, and require 130 miles (200 kilometers) of digging.

Those supporting the bill say it will hugely improve Nicaragua’s economy by creating 40,000 construction jobs and doubling the per-capita gross domestic product. In a 2006 presentation, the canal promoters said the canal will attract 4.5% of the world’s sea traffic. They estimated the canal would create a 22% profit by 2025, though they estimated a lower cost at the time. In return, Nicaragua will grant China a concession for the next 100 years.

image001There are also many who oppose the project. Eduardo Lugo, a Panamanian consultant, said, “Forty billion dollars is an extremely high amount and based on my experience and the studies we have done on world trade flows, the amount of traffic that would be needed to pay for a project of this size doesn’t exist.” The proposed canal would have to compete with the Panama Canal as well as Panama’s “land bridge” made up of a system of railroads. Lugo also noted, “It’s very long, both to dredge it and maintain it. That is going to require high maintenance costs.”

Another major obstacle is the damage it could do Nicaragua’s environment. The locks will require 1.7 billion (6.6 million cubic meters) of water per day, which will be achieved by damming and altering native rivers. Earlier proposes had even planned to use a portion of the San Juan, the river bordering Costa Rica, as a canal waterway. The proposal was thrown out because it was too controversial.

The Chinese company will wait for the National Assembly to vote on the subject. The proposal will most likely be accepted because President Ortega and his allies, who support the project, hold the majority in the Nicaraguan government.

Congressman Luis Callejas shows the importance of public opinion with his statement, “I do not understand what the rush is. It’s such a sensitive topic that the population should be consulted.”



For more information and sources:

Illinois’ “Fracking” Regulations

Illinois has recently approved regulations on hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, with a high approval of 52-3 in the Senate. The regulations are being called the strictest in the nation, though some special interest groups are still not satisfied.

For those who don’t known (which included me until today), “[f]racking uses a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to crack and hold open thick rock formations, releasing trapped oil and gas. Combined with horizontal drilling, it allows access to formerly out-of-reach deposits” (Webber, Tammy 2013). Many people worry that it will lead to water contamination, air pollution, or in extreme cases earthquakes. I think hydraulic fracturing is a great innovation, as long as it is used responsibly.

The new Illinois bill does not provide exact rules, but instead gives a template. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) still needs to create the specific rules. The Illinois bill does provide that companies must “test water before, during and after drilling, and are held liable if contamination is found after drilling begins” (Webber, Tammy 2013). Companies are also responsible for controlling air pollution, reporting which chemicals they use to the DNR, and holding public hearings. Residents may sue “if they [believe] they [have] been harmed” in by the fracking (Webber, Tammy 2013).

The new bill will require Illinois’ government to hire dozens of specialists, including engineers, inspectors, and lawyers. The program is currently funded by the state government ($6.1 million worth of funds is promised from the next fiscal year) but requires a $11,000 fee for each company wanting a permit. The fee will hopefully make the program financially self-sufficient in the future.

As always, there is controversy over the new legislation. Those supporting it (both Republicans and Democrats) say the regulation will create jobs. Mike Frerichs adds that it will “increase home produced energy in [Illinois] in one of the most environmentally friendly ways possible.” However, Annette McMichael, who owns property in Jackson County,  argues, “This bill was written by industry and parties that have a vested interest. … We have no say in our own water. … We are totally helpless.”

Illinois new regulation is a great example of how federalism can act as the free market. Other states will no doubt be watching for the success or failure of this new bill. If regulation does well, it will more than likely spread.



For sources and more information see: