Archive for May, 2008


Diesel used to be cheaper than gas (petrol) in the U.S., but now it’s more expensive. Matthew L. Wald of the New York Times analyzes and explains why diesel’s price is rising in the article “So You Think Gas Costs A Lot?“. Basically, it comes down to demand, and the demand for diesel is rising fast, but there are many other complicating factors for diesel, and Wald reports several interesting aspects of this complexity, including

  • the increased production of ethanol was also pushing up diesel prices by offsetting some of the need for gasoline, because as refiners make less gasoline they produce less diesel
  • Terry Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization founded by Ralph Nader, said the problem was that the oil industry, despite record profits, had not invested enough in refining capacity for diesel fuel. “There’s really no excuse why we’ve got this shortage of capacity, which in turn is driving prices far higher than for gasoline,” he said.

So, we learn of yet another way that ethanol production harms the US and global consumer. However, if you factor in the better gas mileage of modern diesel engines vs. gasoline engines, diesel is still a better deal according to Jim Henry of BusinessWeek Online. Furthermore, according to Wald,

Shifting to diesel engines had been promoted as one way to save oil and meet coming fuel economy standards; because diesel engines operate at higher cylinder pressures, they deliver more power for each B.T.U. of energy they use (and each gallon has more B.T.U.’s than gasoline).

Unfortunately, the advantages of diesel are shrinking as the cost of diesel fuel increases, making recent advances in diesel efficiency even more important. It is also relatively recent that high mpg diesel cars have been able to meet emissions standards in all 50 US states, though more such cars are on the way (see here for 60 mpg). In order to provide sufficient power, many modern diesel cars use a turbo engine design. Some diesel cars are reported to reach over 100 mpg, though these tend not to be production models and may not meet the toughest U.S. emission standards.

A comparison of the design and convenience of diesel and gas car engines is given by Simon Byholm in “Diesel Or Gas – Loud Smoking Dinosaur Or Fuel Gulping Monster“. In spite of the impressive efficiency of diesel engines and their improved emissions, a few environmental concerns remain. Diesel is still a carbon-based fuel, for one, so CO2 emissions still occur when diesel fuel is burned. There is another emission to be concerned about with diesel fuel, however: small particulates. You’ll recognize the particulates, and how real an issue they are, from the black smoke that is a familiar sight in the wake of diesel-powered cars and trucks.

So, we can be excited about the advent of high mpg, relatively low-priced turbodiesel cars for the US market like the upcoming JettaBlue from VW, but I wonder about the severity of health problems from diesel smoke and the relative cost of diesel and gas in the future. Certainly, improved fuel efficiency is something to celebrate while we wait for even greener options, like plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, to show up in US dealerships.

read more of Jim Henry’s article | digg story

James K. Bashkin © 2008


As reported by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson favored giving California some authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks … before he consulted with the White House and reversed course, congressional investigators said yesterday.

As the article describes:

An extensive congressional investigation into Johnson’s conduct relied on more than 27,000 pages of EPA documents; interviews with top EPA officials served as other sources of information. The results of the investigation were just announced.

According to the agency’s documents and depositions by staff members, EPA officials unanimously endorsed granting California the waiver, and Johnson initially agreed. EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett testified under oath that Johnson “was very interested in a full grant of the waiver’ in August and September of 2007 and later thought a partial grant of the waiver ‘was the best course of action.”

The White House claims it did not influence Johnson’s decision but has ordered Johnson not to answer questions about White House involvement in the process. Seemingly at odds with his refusal to allow California a waiver of the Clean Air Act that would have imposed more stringent emissions standards on cars and trucks, Johnson did admit to reporters that he considers CO2 to be a pollutant.

Groups including the California Air Resources Board and the Natural Defense Resources Council (NRDC) are poised to show courts how tainted Johnson’s decision was, and how it ignored internal EPA science and external scientific advisers. The NRDC and other advocacy groups will submit a brief to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to overturn the EPA administrator’s decision.

read more | digg story

As reported in the related story here at OhMyGov.com,

A briefing prepared by the lead staff lawyer for EPA’s General Counsel stated: “After review of the docket and precedent, we don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All of the arguments … are likely to lose in court if we are sued.”

In fact, the EPA staff interviewed by the Committee were unable to identify any agency documents that argued in favor of denial prior to December 19, 2007, the day California’s petition was denied.

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Amnestry International and BlogCatalog are sponsoring today as a day to focus on human rights around the world.

I’ll add a few personal thoughts in support of this effort. First, I would like to emphasize the value of people’s lives, no matter what they believe and where they live. When the historical changeover occurred that made civilian casualties of war an everyday reality, and with the concept of collateral damage well entrenched in the soul of the times, I feel it is important to say that there is no acceptable death of innocents, of civilians, of bystanders. Furthermore, what has happened to the art of diplomacy? Brushed aside as outmoded by the Bush administration, there are now few open lines over which ostensible enemies can communicate. Surely this only helps situations escalate into war, which is a tragedy.

The damage done to women, children and men around the world is not, of course, limited to wartime. After the recent Cyclone, the response of the Myanmar Junta to offers of outside aid was and is simply inexcusable. How this Junta could participate in the decimation of its own country is unfathomable. As Daniel Schorr put it so eloquently on NPR yesterday, it is time for the international community to act, together and immediately, to prevent this tragedy from becoming far worse. This can be done through the United Nations “Responsibility to Protect” resolution of 2005. As Mr. Schorr made clear, this international action must be carried out in spite of the bad name given to “intervention” by President Bush.

It is not enough, however, to respect the right of people to live. As an international community, we must also respect and provide for the basic human rights that go beyond life itself. I join Amnesty International in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

As further elaborated on Amnesty’s website, and quoted vebatim here, the organization fights for these additional goals:

Women: 15 Steps to Protect Women’s Human Rights

Torture: 12-point Program for the Prevention of Torture

Disappearances: 14-Point Program for the Prevention of “Disappearances”

Extrajudicial Executions: 14-point Program for the Prevention of Extrajudicial Executions

Peacekeepers: 15-Point Program for Implementing Human Rights in International Peace-keeping Operations

Health Professionals: Amnesty International’s Declaration on the Role of Health Professionals in the Exposure of Torture and Ill-treatment

Medical Investigations: Amnesty International’s Principles for the Medical Investigation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

Internal Displacement: Amnesty International’s guiding principles for addressing the specific needs of internally displaced persons worldwide.”

I hope that everyone can take the time to personally contribute to the struggle, and it is a struggle, for universal human rights.

James K. Bashkin

Copyright © 2008

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In case the first title was too long for the amazing gas mileage to be obvious, I want to call further attention to this recent article on the new VW TurboDiesel Jetta, coming to the US in 2009, and capable of meeting all of the toughest state emissions tests. I’m not a great fan of carbon-based fuels these days, but 60 Miles per Gallon merits mentioning and praise in any context.

I’m delighted to report that, according the Edmunds.com car site:

“Volkswagen of America spokesman Keith Price is now able to ballpark U.S. volume allotments on the ’09 Jetta SportWagen. “We expect to sell 14,000-15,000 Jetta SportWagens in the U.S.,” he said. “About half will be diesel.” He said the gas-powered Jetta SportWagen will go on sale at the end of July, starting at approximately $19,000.

The clean diesel-powered Jetta SportWagen is slated to hit showrooms here at the end of August, starting at approximately $22,000. Price said formal pricing on the SportWagen will be announced later this summer.”

The bold emphasis is mine. So, you can have your car and a full tank, too!

James K. Bashkin © 2008

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Norway is known for producing oil from its many oil rigs in the sea, and for being a source of natural gas, but environmental concerns are changing things, and up to 150 wind power stations awaiting approval or already authorized. From a report by Nina Larson for AFP:

“As Norway prepares for a future after oil, the gale-force potential of harvesting wind power off its long coastline has become an increasingly attractive proposition… “Wind-mapping shows that … Norway is among the (world’s) most ideal locations for wind power, both on the coast and offshore,” said Norwegian Deputy Petroleum and Energy Minister Liv Monica Stubholdt.”

It is certainly noteworthy that a country known for exports of oil and gas is working on a switch to wind power and sustainable energy. This isn’t because of a dependence on foreign oil- Norwegian oil is “home grown.”

Find your own wind power solutions here, at GoGreenSolar.com

read more | digg story

Original text © James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy: “Two administrative law judges recommended today that power lines should not be built across west-central Minnesota from the proposed coal-fired plant on the South Dakota side of Big Stone Lake. The decision is a major victory in the fight to combat climate change.

The judges found that the applicant power companies failed to show that demand for electricity could not be better and more cost-effectively met through renewable energy and energy efficiency. The judges also found that the power companies had not adequately considered the costs of global warming pollution. Without the power lines, the proposed Big Stone II power plant could not be built.”

read more | digg story

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“VW’s ultra-low emission Jetta BlueTDI will be coming to the US mid-summer, according to an announcement made late last month at the Vienna Motor Symposium. This newer version of the Jetta will meet the strictest emissions standards in the world—BIN5/LEV2—which are enforced by 5 US states: California, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Vermont. BIN5/LEV2 standards severely cap nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions (0.05 g/mile), one of the two tailpipe pollutants that have given diesels a bad rap (that and particulate matter).”

I’m delighted to report that, according the Edmunds.com car site:

“Volkswagen of America spokesman Keith Price is now able to ballpark U.S. volume allotments on the ’09 Jetta SportWagen. “We expect to sell 14,000-15,000 Jetta SportWagens in the U.S.,” he said. “About half will be diesel.” He said the gas-powered Jetta SportWagen will go on sale at the end of July, starting at approximately $19,000.

The clean diesel-powered Jetta SportWagen is slated to hit showrooms here at the end of August, starting at approximately $22,000. Price said formal pricing on the SportWagen will be announced later this summer.”

The bold emphasis is mine. So, you can have your car and a full tank, too!

James K. Bashkin © 2008

read more | digg story

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Michelle Bennett of Cleantechnica.com with the latest on solar concentrators coupled to solar panels: “We already know that concentrated solar power (CSP) is shaking things up in the solar industry. A subset within the industry is turning up the heat. “Extreme” Concentrated solar magnifies intense sunlight onto a solar cell, at temperatures that could melt it, to boost efficiency for less money.” and “Sunrgi hopes to bring their product to market in about a year, so we’re not talking about pipe dreams. These guys are serious, and they’re out to make some money at 5 cents/kwh. But fortunately for us all, this technology is not new, and Sunrgi is not the first to point a magnifying glass at a solar panel. The Aussies beat us to it.”

read more | digg story

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The cost of solar and wind power installations keeps dropping, for the most part, with occasional, temporary price rises in the solar area if silicon supplies are an issue. The following links all point to a site that offers information on practical solutions and tax rebates in different regions.

Here are a few ways you can bring solar power to your own home with the help of expert installers:

1.1kW Grid-Tied Solar Electric System


1.9kW Grid-Tied Solar Electric System

Here are a few ways to bring wind power to your home:

Air Breeze Land Wind Turbine


Skystream 3.7 Grid Tie 1.8kW Wind Power System

Here is a battery to store the clean power you generate:

Xantrex XPower 1500 W/60 AH BATTERY

I hope that you find these resources useful.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Sponsored by Amnesty International and BlogCatalog. Please post about human rights on May 15!

Whether you belong to BlogCatalog (a free social network for bloggers) or not, see here for banners. My earlier statement, “It appears that you need to be a member of BlogCatalog to see the banners and badges,” has been corrected kindly by Tony in the comments.  Now,  with the corrected link, you should be able to access the badge of your choice and put it on your blog.

See here for Amnesty International. My banner won’t show up on WordPress.com but it shows up here.

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