On the changing of time: Air harmful, air helpful or air ineffectual?

This is a story about savings … and of waste. Or, maybe it is of waste only or only of savings or perhaps neither. My intent here is to hopefully make a definitive determination by story’s end. Really, what this story is about is time.

More specifically, the time I’m referring to, or should I say, “times,” are Daylight Savings and Standard, and what affect each of these may or may not have on the quality of air. Is this beginning to make more sense now?

Each spring and autumn, most states, California included, observe time changes (or adjustments to time). Good, bad or indifferent, they happen regardless. But, what if making said alterations do more harm than good? Then what might be in order is reconsideration of these changes.

Now, I know for a fact, the state of Arizona doesn’t observe these and the question that comes to mind is: Why not?

Good air/bad air time-change conundrum

So, in this regard, what does Arizona know that most other states may not?

If you live in the United States and are old enough to read and understand this, then you are fully aware that in autumn somewhere around the end of October, beginning of November and without fail, again in most states, we are reminded to turn our time pieces back. The same holds true for the end of March, beginning of April when, once more, we’re reminded to set our clocks, watches, etc. an hour ahead. The former: in observance of Standard Time – Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. The latter: in observation of Daylight Time (here again for the four regions affected). By doing such, is this harming, helping or has it no effect on air quality at all?

Take the living situation I’m in, for example. During these colder climes during the overnight hours, my thermostat is set at 64 degrees. Unless the temperature drops enough, the heater stays off. So, when the shift from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time takes effect an extra hour is gained. (Fall back, is how I remember which way to turn the clock). If the heater doesn’t come on at all during this time, then there is no additional electricity draw by my home even with the extra hour added in.

But, my living situation may not be representative of most. It might very well be that most people set thermostats higher and/or the outside temperature may be colder which could dictate that heating systems turn on and off more frequently during the nighttime. If this is the case, this could place more demand on the electric grid and supply and this being the situation, if generating this electricity is not done renewably, that is, sans fossil fuels, and factoring in the extra hour because of observance of the time change, the end result could be increased pollutant emissions entering the air.

Okay, given – and understanding – this, you may now be thinking that just the opposite occurs during the spring switch whereby an hour is subtracted during the overnight hours (spring forward, is how I remember that). Well, how about it? At any rate, should this be the case, then all would balance or equal out, right? Or, could it be there are additional other factors that also need to be considered?

Good, bad or indifferent, I am still curious as to why Arizona, for one, doesn’t make the double switch in time when most states do. There is obviously a reason for their not switching. Question is: What is it? It would be interesting to know if by not switching compared to observing the two time changes, there is any energy savings. Moreover, I believe it would also be helpful if any studies have been done in this area and what the findings of those (assuming some have been done) are.

If I am correct, in this regard California is contemplating abandoning the double switch.

Whatever works best

The way that benefits air is the one I support, my living situation notwithstanding.

Excursion train travels: Fuel for thought

The Baltimore & Ohio; the California & Western; the Cape Cod & Hyannis; the Filmore & Western; the Gettysburg; the Roaring Camp & Big Trees; the Sierra; the Yosemite Mountain-Sugar Pine; the Yolo Short Line; and the Yreka Western railroads. Yup, I’ve ridden these rails, all, behind steam and diesel alike. Never rode electric, but those tourist pikes exist, too, you know.

My first sighting ever of a living, breathing steam-powered train, was a purely chance happening. It was sometime during my childhood although I can’t exactly say when. Provided below are details of that one as well as a second encounter:

Steam locomotive boiler superheater
Steam locomotive boiler superheater

An excursion was being conducted on the Western Maryland Railway out of Baltimore and I and a friend witnessed this run at a location along the line known as Sudbrook. We were walking along a parallel road when all of a sudden what came into view was something that I had not seen before: An old-time steam locomotive pulling a string of vintage passenger cars. It is a sure bet that the two of us talked about what we just saw. I can’t speak for my friend, but I was in awe.

My second such steam excursion train encounter happened on a cold Feb. 5, 1972 day, again on the Western Maryland Rwy., in this instance at a town on the line farther west. That town: Glyndon, Maryland. The engine number was 2102, a former Reading (pronounced “red ing” like its namesake town in Pennsylvania – the Keystone State) Railroad model T1. The steam engine was something else and what a contrast it created with the snow-covered landscape.

Strictly from an air-quality point of view (or rather a lack thereof), the locomotive powering that excursion (when conducted on an active revenue-producing railroad, such an operation is typically classified a “special movement”) was sending smoke billowing skyward. Not having done the necessary research, I do not know whether the loco was an oil- or coal-burner. Why might this matter? Oil as a fuel, when burned, may in fact burn cleaner. I say this because, for a time, many if not all steam locomotives operating in California in mainline duty burned oil and not coal. This could have come about as per a California Public Utilities Commission directive or it may have been on account of an abundance of oil in state, or it could have had something to do with both. Again, I would need to do additional research on this in order to know for sure.

320px-LOADING_PLATFORM_AT_UNION_STATION_IN_KANSAS_CITY,_MISSOURI_THE_OLD_ENGINE_PULLED_A_TRAIN_FROM_NEW_YORK_WHICH_WILL..._-_NARA_-_556022[1]Now enter the diesel-pulled excursions. In this department, I remember well, the roundtrip rides. Regardless of run, engine exhaust just seemed to not be a top-of-mind concern – not even close; an out-of-sight, out-of-mind, premise, essentially, which speaks volumes for these type operations.

Meanwhile, in adding to the aura, atmosphere, ambiance, spectacular vistas abound on many a route where these operations are in existence.

In closing, being that I haven’t yet taken an electric-powered train excursion, I just might have to make time to do this. It should come as no surprise that this method of train-propulsion technology is undoubtedly the cleanest one of all, from an air-quality standpoint, that is.

Suffice it to say, I know of some really good – and scenic – pikes out there.


Middle image above: Charles ORear, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration collection

Department of corrections: The name: Yosemite Mountain & Sugar Pine (the way it originally appeared in the above post), is incorrect. The article has since been revised and now includes the correct nomenclature.

At work: Global Warming Solutions Act – coming up on 10 years

Nearly 10 years have passed since California’s landmark 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act was enacted. Question is: Was this the right environmental cause to back?

The reason for my asking is because in America’s most populous state with roughly 39 million residents, better than 1-in-2 live in areas where toxic air poses a serious threat. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – California Assembly Bill (AB) 32 – meanwhile, was intended to help address the problems associated with planet warming. And, now with the state mandated climate-related resolutions seemingly headed toward the proverbial brick wall, I am wondering if, after almost a decade, it is now not time for a major course correction. In other words, did the Global Warming Solutions Act, with its provisions and programs, provide the right tools for the right job at the right time?

So, let’s investigate further, shall we?

AB 32 – a landmark bill

“AB 32, known as the Global Warming Solutions Act (co-authored by then California Assemblywoman Fran Pavley and then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez), ‘…establishes a mandatory reporting system to track and monitor greenhouse gas emission levels and institutes a limit on greenhouse gas emissions,’ as Nunez explained in a weekly radio address he delivered to listeners on August 12, 2006, roughly three months prior to the bill passing that year in November. A target of AB 32 is to reduce GHG emissions in state to 1990 levels by 2020 or by about 25 percent, and by ‘an additional 80 percent by 2050,’ the PPIC noted.”1

The law, incidentally, became effective Jan. 1, 2007.

Souring economy, devastating drought

Part of the problem as I see it is, shortly after AB 32 becoming law, the economy took a serious turn for the worse. Therefore, it should be no surprise, I would say, that the main national preoccupation, particularly during President Obama’s first term in office, was to get the nation’s economy on sound footing. This preoccupation therefore was responsible for anything less important in the public perception to be relegated to back-burner status and that included the matter dealing with climate correction.

Channelislandsca[1]Then, making things worse, was the western drought. With the economy recovering post-2012, water then became the focus. Supplies in the Golden State were running dangerously low, the experts were telling us and, all of a sudden, the drought out west itself, as well as talk about it, overshadowed all other concerns.

State GHG-reduction success

It is coming up on 10 years since enactment of AB 32. Its success can be measured in the amount of GHG emissions reduction progress made since the initiative’s first days. Today, state GHG emissions are at a level of 441.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e). However, in order to meet AB 32 targets, state GHG emissions output needs to be by 2020, at a level of 431 MMTCO2e.

Importantly, despite all the so-called “distractions,” greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction work was, nevertheless, in state, making considerable headway.

Meanwhile, cap-and-trade auction activity initially was – and for some time remained – brisk. Most of all, GHG emissions output was trending negatively. And, just when all seemed to be going oh so smoothly, lo and behold, thrown into the inner workings, a wrench. It was as if the wheels of the GHG-emissions-suppressing machine came to a grinding halt.

As to the longevity of cap-and-trade, there is no telling at this point if the program will survive beyond 2020 when AB 32 is set to expire.

What to expect going forward?

Really quickly, never lose sight of the fact that while emissions from the non-transport sector are in decline, those from transportation are on the rise. That’s troubling. Reason being? Should additional sectors all of a sudden reverse course, the net effect resulting in either a leveling off in GHG or, worse, a GHG increase, then that would be the worst nightmare regarding emissions-reduction progress coming true.

That said, keep in mind this is an election year, and depending upon who wins the race for the presidency, this could very well be a barometer of how environmental protection will fare in the years ahead, i.e., whether there will be continued improvement or whether all or part of the positive work already done will be undone.

What will it be? Care to make any predictions?


  1. Alan Kandel, “A Matter of Life and Death: Not Meeting AB 32’s Objectives Is Insanity,” California Progress Report, Feb. 24, 2011


Both images above: NASA

Food-waste-disposal-series kickoff: Introduction, background

Americans have quite the appetite. And why wouldn’t we?! After all, we are 320 million strong and growing and in order to meet our own solid (and liquid) fuel consumption needs, our bodies require being nourished on a regular and sustained basis.

That’s but the half of it. The other 50 percent has to do with the portion we don’t eat that gets thrown away. And, believe me, it is not an insignificant amount.

LittleNeck_clams_USDA96c1862[1]So, how much food is thrown away? Of all municipal solid waste (MSW) discarded, food accounted for 37.084 million tons or 14.6 percent of a total 254.1 million tons in 20131, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its distribution Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet, Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015. This means that every American on average discards roughly 0.1158875 tons or 231.775 pounds of food yearly.

And, the amount of that that is recovered, what is that? Some 87 million out of a total 254.1 million tons of MSW.2 Of that which is recovered, food comprises only 2.1 percent which is 1.827 million tons or 3.654 billion pounds.3 Compare this with paper and paperboard, the lion’s share, which represents 49.8 percent of the total or 43.326 million tons (86.652 billion pounds).4 That’s a HUGE difference.

Keep in mind that of the MSW discarded in 2013, 167 million tons represents what wasn’t recovered.5 Food, meanwhile, accounted for 21.1 percent of that or 35.237 million tons or 70.474 billion pounds.6

The silver lining in this is that composting of food nationally went from 1.74 million tons in 2012 representing 4.8 percent to 5 percent or 1.84 million tons in 2013.7

163px-ARS_red_onion[1] Overall, in 2013, “… Americans recovered over 64.7 million tons of MSW through recycling, and over 22 million tons through composting. This is 1.12 pounds per person per day for recycling and 0.39 pounds per person per day for composting. Americans combusted about 32.7 million tons (about 13 percent) for energy recovery. Subtracting out what is recycled and composted, we combusted (with energy recovery) or discarded in landfills 2.89 pounds per person per day of MSW,” the EPA noted.8

Meanwhile, as to the amount of municipal solid waste converted to energy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that as of the end of last year, the generating capacity from 71 plants in 20 states totaled 2.3 gigawatts, the bulk of those plants located in Florida and the Northeast.

This is important because all of this affects the quality of the air.

More on composting and waste-to-energy operations and what this means to follow in upcoming FWDS (food waste disposal series) posts.


  1. Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet, Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015, “Analyzing MSW, Table 5. Total MSW Generation (by material), 2013: 254 Million Tons (before recycling),” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jun. 2015, p. 7
  2. Ibid. “Table 6. Total MSW Recovery (by material), 2013: 87 Million Tons,” p. 7
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid. “Table 7. Total MSW Discards (by material), 2013: 167 Million Tons (after recycling and composting),” p. 7
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid. “Introduction,” Food (highlighted section), p. 2
  8. Ibid. “Trends in Municipal Solid Waste in 2013,” p. 4


Top image above: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Middle image above: Stephen Ausmus, U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service

Bottom image above: Ashley Felton

On separating – the nitty-gritty of recyclables and refuse disposal; how done right can be air-helpful

Fresno, California, in my opinion, has an exemplary recycling endeavor.

I’m not just saying this because I’m a member of the greater Fresno citizenry or because I’m an active contributor and participant in the local waste management effort.

And, it has nothing to do with my becoming aware of the recycling goings-on in these here parts as far back as the 1980s as a matter of fact.

No, it’s more about a program that not only works but works well. Though, this is not to say that the program is not without problems that need fixing.

320px-Landfill_face[1]Via television broadcast public service announcement (PSA) format, the City of Fresno is currently reminding folks to take extra special care, in my opinion, to ensure that such items as dirty diapers and Styrofoam, for example, are placed in the gray bins designated for trash and not put in the blue collection bins which are used exclusively for the stowing of plastics, metal, glass and paper, the stuff that is to be set aside for recycling – in other words, that material which is recyclable. It is my guess that too much non-recyclable refuse is being tossed in the blue bins and ending up in recycling yards rather than arriving at trash disposal sites and therefore the need for the PSAs.

An educated guess also is that workers have to sift and sort through the non-recyclable matter to separate out the stuff that can’t be recycled from that which can be. And, regarding the then separated, non-recyclable rubbish, it is a good bet that this then has to be trucked over to the appropriate disposal site that receives and handles this particular type of waste, an extra step that could very well be eliminated had that waste been put into the gray trash bins at the outset, meaning at the mouth or source in the waste disposal chain.

All this extra and what I would deem unnecessary waste redistribution takes extra time and costs money. And, if the trucks transporting the non-recyclable materials from recycling facility to garbage dump, if not low- or no-emissions vehicles themselves, can cause additional and unnecessary area air-quality damage. Not a favorable situation by any measure.

The other side to this is that when citizens in their disposing of waste, if done the correct way with the non-recyclable material placed in the gray bins, the recyclable items put into the blue bins and the yard clippings and shrub and tree trimmings going into the green containers (why said containers are color-coded the way they are) then, bottom line, everything gets separated accordingly and when such are picked up and dumped into the appropriate waste-collection trucks (on a once-per-week basis), the entire system functions as originally intended to function and if this happens, it just makes for a better program and results in improved conditions all around. I would imagine that if a problem of this nature exists in Fresno (which I assume it does), other cities are likely experiencing the same sort of thing.

There is a reason I feel as strongly as I do about the city of Fresno’s recycling program. But, I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t a need for improvement. And, I’ll be the first to say that improvement starts with us at home and at work.

Waste disposal here in the “Big Raisin” can and will get better if all work together and a little harder and smarter at it. I do not believe that’s asking too terribly much. Do you?

Image above: Ashley Felton

While U.S. non-transport emissions decline, those from transport climb

The good news is that more and more Americans are utilizing transportation methods that 1) don’t pollute at all, or 2) pollute less than the so-called “standard internal-combustion-engine powered motor vehicles.” What’s the bad news? With American drivers having driven 3.148 trillion miles in 2015 – the highest in recorded history, carbon dioxide and other emissions from this one activity alone, are on the upswing.

20130828172057-0[1] (340x192)Meanwhile, pollutant emissions from the energy sector are and have been trending negatively.

In a United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) news release titled: “New Federal Data Show Transportation Sector Now the Largest Source of Carbon Pollution in the United States, First Time in Nearly 40 Years: Highlights Need for U.S. DOT to Move Forward with New Rules to Help Limit Transportation Emissions,” the organization had this to say:

“New federal data from the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) show that the U.S. transportation sector has produced more carbon pollution than any other sector of the economy over the last 12 months, including the electric power, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors. The results mark the first time that carbon emissions from the transportation sector have exceeded emissions from each of the other sectors since 1979.”

U.S. PIRG went on in the release to state: “Based on the moving 12-month total for April 2016 (latest available data), which sums monthly carbon pollution from May 2015 to April 2016, the transportation sector produced the greatest amount of carbon pollution when compared with each of the other sectors of the economy. This marks the third consecutive month where this has been the case, with the moving 12-month totals for March 2016 and February 2016 showing the same trend. Like the 12-month total for April 2016, the 12-month totals for March and February are similarly based on the sum total of monthly carbon pollution for the preceding 12 months (i.e. April 2015 – March 2016 and March 2015 – February 2016). This continuity suggests that the trend may be here to stay.”

Not an encouraging thought. How does this notion scan with the terms of the climate agreement made at the COP-21 (21st annual Conference of the Parties) gathering in Paris last December? Does it scan at all?

Domestically, agreed to, was a greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction goal of between 26 and 28 percent below those in 2005 by year 2025.

It should be noted, based on a recent study conducted at MIT1, that in the United States each year from road-based transportation alone, approximately 53,000 and approximately 5,300 premature deaths, respectively, are fine particulate matter- (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) and ozone pollution-related.

“Pursuant to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), U.S. DOT is required to issue a series of performance standards to provide greater accountability over our national transportation system and to ensure that local action is consistent with key national priorities. The last of these rules, those governing air pollution and congestion, are currently open for public comment and U.S. DOT is expected to release the final version of the rule by the end of the year,” the U.S. PIRG in the release further noted.

There are many approaches to reducing carbon pollution from the transportation sector, such as better and more public transportation options, increased reliance on zero- and near-zero emissions vehicles and mobility-sharing and congestion-pricing schemes and more.

For more information, see: “A New Way Forward: Envisioning a Transportation System without Carbon Pollution” from the Frontier Group.


  1. “Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005,” F. Caiazzo et al., “5. Conclusions,” Atmospheric Environment, Vol. 79, Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013, p. 207

Image above: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The dog days, smog days of summer: It’s that time of the year again

Right on schedule, smoggy days are here again (here, meaning in the San Joaquin Valley of California). And, such has come on with a vengeance. Around these parts and this time of the year especially smog is par for the course.

Today, in Fresno County, smack-dab in the center and thick of it all, the Air Quality Index is expected to reach 161 (the prediction as of this morning) – an unhealthy (for everyone) level. This is the worst it has been in quite some time. Tomorrow’s Index is forecast to reach 166!

Smog in this region forms because of a combination of factors.

NOx (oxides of nitrogen), VOC (volatile organic compounds) also known as ROG (reactive organic gases) such as ammonia, vapors from solvents and gasoline and petroleum products, in addition to HC (hydrocarbons), for example, from vehicle exhaust in the presence of both sunlight and heat, create the perfect smog-building-framework storm. Right here, right now all seem in ample supply.

The corrosive gas that ozone (O3) is in the Valley typically isn’t fleeting – it tends to hang in the air. The so-called “air-infiltrating” crud is, at the same time, lung-damaging. How lung damaging?

It can prompt coughing and wheezing and trigger in asthmatics, asthma attacks. The damage to the lung by ozone is likened to the lungs getting sunburned to delicate lung tissue getting a sanding via sandpaper.

Add in that the region has a bathtub-like geography/topography (hemmed in by mountains on three sides – the south, east and west), and it’s no wonder that oftentimes the smog in the Valley persists for days, weeks and sometimes for months on end. Literally and figuratively, it is not pretty.

In thinking about the factors, conditions that lead to the formation of smog in the region, certain elements can be adjusted to help reduce smog severity level while others cannot.

The single, biggest Valley smog-contributing aspect is driving – hands down. Upwards of 110 million miles are logged by motorists on Valley roads each weekday. That’s considerable. Removing a substantial amount of driving, or driving atmosphere-friendly vehicles or opting for greater dependence on public transit (though in the region options are somewhat limited) or active transportation modes such as walking and biking (not an easy proposition in high heat situations), can help. Implementing more sustainable, less air-polluting means on the farm, can go far and really make a difference in positively addressing VOC issues in agriculture. Employing the use of electric lawn implements when it comes to doing yardwork or maybe postponing yard chores for a while until air condition is improved, all can lead to lessening the negative impact on air. These are measures which the Valley’s inhabitants have direct control over.

The dog days, smog days of summer are here. The condition of the air need not be as severely polluted as it is at present. It is to everyone’s advantage to work toward improving air quality for those who live in California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the same time, there are some who will no doubt take a non-participatory tack and just leave it up to Mother Nature to provide relief, accomplished through the lowering of temperatures and a stirring of the air (at this time of the year it usually means winds) or leave it completely up to air regulatory concerns to implement the kinds of needed regulations that will result in positive change and improvement, the kind that can be directly observed.

I prefer to look at it thus: I don’t like when I look out my window and see that unmistakable brownish-grayish haze monopolizing the sky, my instinctively understanding that whether inside or outside my home, the air that I am breathing is robbing me of life. How much better the inside air is compared to that outdoors or if it’s any better at all, of this I’m not sure.

But this I know: I’m certainly not going to add to the mess and muck by driving around unnecessarily; set the thermostat to a lower temperature all in an effort to keep cool; keep lights on in my home when I know this isn’t needed; keep blinds covering windows in the open position; engage in daytime computer use when there is no rhyme or reason for doing so; and instead turn on ceiling fans, close window shades and blinds and compose articles such as this using pen and paper, that is, until I’m ready to upload and post digitally (in the latter part of the day or at night). For me, this works just fine.

Yes, these are the dog days, the smog days, the times when heat can be oppressive, smog in the air excessive and when that horrid-looking grayish-brownish hue to the sky is a sore sight for the eyes.

But, given a choice to do what I can to not make air worse by adding to the problem and instead lessening my impact on the air even if this means, in a manner of speaking, taking one for the team, you can bet your bottom dollar this will be my modus operandi because I know it is for the better of the whole.

Summer dog days, smog days. This time need not be bad – at all!


Coal for export rejected by Oakland City Council

We know that American railroads ship coal, coke, ore (taconite, iron, copper) and oil, both in its unrefined (natural) and refined states by railcar loads, literally, tons of it. But, what you probably don’t know is that Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Edward R. Hamberger boldly stated in 1998 in essence: The energy of this century, the 21st, is going to be fossil-fuel-based.1

In terms of shipping and income, coal is big business for American rail, the industry’s bread-and-butter commodity.

Coal_bituminous[1]Coal, a natural resource used in the production of energy, is mined, of course, and must be transported from origin to destination and this can involve truck, train and pipeline even (the coal in slurry form) on land and barge and sailing vessel on water. A certain percentage of that which is mined domestically is destined for overseas.

But what if a town that coal is to be moved through and exported from wants absolutely no part of and refuses to have any of it? What does it do?

If it’s Oakland California, many of its citizens opposed to the very idea, protest, voice their concerns about environmental damage coal traveling through town and then dumped and stockpiled on docks can potentially cause. It is this that a number of Oakland residents fear will occur. And, the worry isn’t unfounded, apparently.

In its July 20, 2016 press release: “Oakland City Council Takes Final Vote, Confirming Coal Ban: Victory: Community unites to ban what would have been the largest coal export facility in California,” Earthjustice shared, “Late last night, the Oakland City Council voted to confirm an ordinance that would ban coal from being handled and stored in the City of Oakland, including a resolution to apply the ordinance to the proposed Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal. With the second vote—following the first vote on June 27th—the ban is confirmed.”

A victory for one community for sure!

Providing background, Earthjustice related, “A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not [to] include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but then solicited a partnership with Utah counties that would have allowed the state to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year.

“A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal was conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. Additionally, the developer promised residents that the city-owned port would be coal free.

“For over a year, community members and advocacy groups have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s health, safety, and the environment. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal would have stifled California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.”

Legitimate concerns, all.

Not an isolated case

This isn’t the first time we’ve been made aware of something like this happening. In “Two state governors question Northwest’s role in the export of domestic coal,” written was: “A comprehensive examination of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions must be undertaken and completed prior to any decision being made on whether or not U.S. Northwest ports can be set up for coal export to China. This, in effect, is what Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee expressed in a letter directed to the Council of Environmental Quality, information in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, ‘Govs to feds: Clear the air before exporting coal,’ revealed.

“The Seattle PI article’s author, Joel Connelly, further pointed out that the governors also in the letter asked if the U.S. should encourage the use of a fossil fuel that when ignited can pose a risk to public health, lead to the acidification of oceans and sea-level rise, and result in the more rapid melting of snow packs, etc.”

And, then there is this. In “Permitting of South Valley oil operation prompts lawsuit,” expressed in no uncertain terms is, “… [O]n Jan. 29, 2015, ‘[c]ommunity and environmental groups filed suit … over the expansion—orchestrated mostly in secret—of a crude oil operation in Kern County that could lead to a 1,000 percent increase in the amount of crude imported by rail into California each year,’ reported Earthjustice in the ‘Groups Sue to Stop Daily 100-Car Train Deliveries of Toxic Crude Oil to Bakersfield Terminal: Coalition sues over illegal permitting of major crude-by-rail project in Central Valley,’ press release. ‘The newly opened Bakersfield Crude Terminal in Taft, Calif., has the capacity to receive two 100-car unit trains a day of volatile crude oil from the Bakken shale formation as well as heavier, highly toxic tar sands.’

Unit train of oil tank cars
Unit train of oil tank cars

“The reason for the aforementioned legal challenge, in no uncertain terms, is this: ‘Today’s lawsuit was filed against the San Joaquin [Valley] Air Pollution Control District for the piecemeal permitting process that allowed one of the largest crude oil operations in California to expand largely in secret, without environmental review of the risks posed by importing millions of gallons a day of toxic, explosive oil from North Dakota and Canada,’ declared Earthjustice in the release.”

Bakersfield Crude Terminal
Bakersfield Crude Terminal

And, from the same article, add to that, this: “Earthjustice in the press release further observed: ‘In addition to dramatically increasing the risk to communities along the rail route, facilities such as the Bakersfield Crude Terminal are major sources of volatile organic compound emissions—a precursor to ozone air pollution. Breathing ozone is hazardous to respiratory health, and the San Joaquin Valley is one of two air basins in the United States designated ‘extreme nonattainment’ for federal ozone standards. The degraded state of the San Joaquin Valley’s air results in more than a thousand premature deaths each year, and one in six Valley children is diagnosed with asthma.’”


  1. Wes Vernon, “Special Report – Edward R. Hamberger: Gearing up for Rail’s Big Fight in 1999,” Expediter, RailNews Magazine, Dec. 1998, p. 12

Bottom, second from bottom images above: Elizabeth Forsyth, Earthjustice

A changed climate: Can we at least agree on that?

Tell me. Are we any closer now to reaching consensus on the reason(s) behind our changing climate than what we were, say, prior to COP-21 – the climate conference held in Paris, France (from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11) last year?

I certainly hope so because with consensus missing, the climate change issue remains divisive.

Okay, so let’s analyze.

According to Webster

The dictionary definition of “climate” is this: “n. 1. the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years.”1

So far, so good.

ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11[1]From my own observations about where I live in the San Joaquin Valley, when it comes to climate, since I first landed in Fresno in 1977, I have noticed, and I know this to be a fact (funny though it may sound), the one constant is change. The so-witnessed change has to do with when plants, trees go dormant and the time they emerge from their dormancy state. The period between the former and the latter has grown shorter and shorter. To me, a tell-tale sign regional climate conditions are undergoing change.

So, that a change is evident, I ask myself: ‘Why the change?’ There is something happening in the world prompting this.

Cutting back on carbon

Undergoing change the way the regional climate has, are human-contributing or -inducing factors (the burning of fossil fuels, itself an air-polluting process) to blame? Or, have the alterations evidenced occurred on account of the forces of nature? It’s plausible even that the change is due to the combination and contribution of both.

Understand this too: About a decade prior to the Industrial Revolution’s (IR) beginning circa 1760 in England, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide occurring naturally was, according to David Archer, author of the recently published paper: “Near Miss: The importance of the natural atmospheric CO2 concentration to human historical evolution,” 278 parts per million of “dry” air. Now, here it is almost one-fifth of the way through the 21st century and atmospheric CO2 concentration is right around an average 400 ppm, an increase in CO2 in the air by 122 ppm.

The two areas – a changing climate and increased atmospheric CO2 concentration – are they related?

HFC, CO2 relief can’t come soon enough

Here on the Air Quality Matters blog this topic has received much attention. Be this as it may, I am still at a loss in terms of my knowing definitively whether consensus on this matter is even close at hand.

That said, I am encouraged that, when it comes to the changing climate, discussion is moving in a consensus-building direction. In this regard, events like COP-21 and the most recent gathering in Vienna, Austria, to reduce hydrofluorocarbon emissions (HFCs) – a greenhouse gas – in the air offer hope.


  1. Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, “climate” defined, 1991, p. 254

Image above: NASA

Southeasterners! Coming to a neighborhood near you: Higher-speed rail

Mainline passenger rail service in the American Southeast is on the move. A plan/proposal to increase passenger train speeds in Virginia to 90 miles per hour is afoot.

A start, this most assuredly is. The plan involves upgrade of an existing 123 miles of active, double-track railroad line tying together the nation’s capital and Richmond, Virginia. Important to note is 90 miles per hour here represents top and not average speed.

Now, according to one report, in order for this to be facilitated, required would be placement of a third main track along a line that currently plays host to both freight and Amtrak as well as Virginia Railway Express passenger trains.

What’s the projected cost of the project? As reported, in the billions and it is to be built as much as possible on existing freight-rail corridor rights-of-way the entire 123-mile distance. As of March 1 this year the endeavor had yet to be approved. From what I gather, this would serve as an interim measure until a true high-speed rail service is launched. Call it an incremental approach to high-speed rail building in the Southeast. And, such a service wouldn’t be operational until year 2025 at the earliest, or so it would appear.


An eventual extension as far south as Jacksonville, Florida and perhaps beyond, is the long-term plan, at least, with a northern connection to the current southern terminating point of Amtrak’s 456-mile Northeast Corridor (NEC) at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. The NEC bridges together by rail the major metropolitan areas of D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York, New Haven, Bridgeport, Providence and Boston among others. It is on this line that Acela Express trains travel as fast as 150 miles per hour, at least on the parts of the corridor located north of New York. Work is in progress to upgrade between 20 and 30 miles of track in the Garden State (New Jersey) to accommodate like Acela Express train speeds. Commuter and freight trains share this trackage.

Further, beginning soon on the Florida East Coast Railway, a private concern, between Miami and Orlando will be Brightline service. Brightline passenger train travelers can look forward to upper operating speeds ranging between 79 and 125 miles per hour.

High-speed eastern-seaboard-based service connecting the Sunshine, Peach, Palmetto, Tar Heel and Old Dominion states and the District of Columbia could be a big shot in the arm for tourism and if played out could prove to be a huge boon to the resort industry especially and for vacation travel in general, all provided in a most environmentally and air friendlier way.

Southeasterners prepare: Higher-speed rail’s a comin’ your way.

Image above: Federal Railroad Administration