An air cleaner: Amtrak’s ‘Capitol Corridor’ service celebrates 25 years

In six days, Amtrak California’s Auburn to San Jose Capitol Corridor service marks 25 years of operation

Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains hit the rails running, as it were, on Dec. 12, 1991. Such marked the first time since 1974 in California that a “new” regional Amtrak passenger-rail service was established – the regional San Joaquin trains getting their start that same year in March. When begun, the state-supported and Amtrak-operated Capitols provided a sorely needed service between Sacramento and San Jose and proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Today, trains operate daily between those two metropolises, a 168-mile distance. Just a handful of the roughly three-dozen daily runs extend to Roseville and Auburn to Sacramento’s northeast.

On Nov. 14, 2003 a distribution/document developed by the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (the governing body overseeing the Capitol Corridor service) was presented to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee during one of its meetings, that day in the Golden State in the city of Hanford. Included in that correspondence was information that, after five years under CCJPA oversight, revealed Capitol Corridor ridership had reached an impressive 1.14 million riders annually and revenue was a healthy $11.55 million, at that time with 24 daily trains running. This compares with 8 daily trips in 1998 prior to CCJPA control first going into effect, resulting in then yearly ridership and revenue figures of 463,000 riders and $6.25 million, respectively. To say that growth under CCJPA administration has been phenomenal would be to state the obvious. According to information on Wikipedia, annual ridership in 2015 was 1,474,873.

What this means is that as many as 1,474,873 motor vehicle trips weren’t made. Most likely the number is considerably less, but still.

engine1When Capitol’s operations commenced that Dec., a real hodgepodge of locomotive and rolling stock was pressed into service to perform the necessary duties. Beginning in 1995, new equipment and locomotives started to come online. The motive power and passenger car replacements were part of a bigger order for Amtrak’s “California” services (the San Joaquins, the Pacific Surfliners – known then as the San Diegans, along with the Capitol Corridor trains). Locomotives consisted of General Motors’ (GMLG) F59PHI models and the color- and height-matching rolling stock was marked with the arrival of the aptly named “California Car,” resplendent in an attractive, stylized livery.

Those were the ’90s. At the 21st century’s dawning, on the other hand, much advancement had occurred technology-wise under the locomotive hood, as it were. Locomotive editor Greg McDonnell in “The New Dawn” (Editor’s Notebook) wrote: “Locomotive emissions standards – smoke abatement laws by another name – are again a hot ticket.”1

“Contemporary locomotives are leaner, greener, and meaner,”2 affirmed McDonnell. For locomotives pulling/pushing Amtrak “California” trains, it was the same.

In the spirit of modernization, Amtrak California’s F59PHI locomotives underwent an upgrading program beginning in 2009 which would result in far fewer emissions of oxides of nitrogen and fine particulate matter emanating from the locomotive’s prime mover exhaust stacks.

In the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) news release “Amtrak California Repowers Toward a Greener Future: Introduction of New Locomotive Helps Reduce Caltrans’ Carbon Footprint,” on July 22, 2009, the ARB explained: “Locomotives have very large engines and are a major source of emissions of both Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), a leading precursor to the formation of Ozone and Diesel Particulate Matter (PM), a toxic air contaminant known to cause cancer and aggravate various respiratory diseases. Because the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin routes pass through both the SCAQMD [South Coast Air Quality Management District] and BAAQMD [San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District] air districts, both air districts felt that a program to reduce emissions from these engines would be very valuable.”

Moreover, the ARB in the release wrote: “The first Caltrans locomotive to be upgraded is a Model F59PHI originally built by Electro-Motive Diesel in October 2001. EMD has installed a 710ECO™ Repower upgrade package with the latest microprocessor controlled locomotive engine technology for lower emissions, increased fuel economy, greater reliability and predictable maintenance costs. The newly upgraded locomotive will now achieve EPA Tier 2 emissions performance – two levels cleaner than required for this model.”

And added: “Amtrak California is operating fifteen of the F59PHI locomotives and the goal is to convert the entire fleet to this new cleaner performance level, eventually reducing operating emissions by nearly 50 percent.” The locomotive that received the upgrade was due to have begun operating on the Capitol Corridor route between the Bay Area and Sacramento, according to the ARB in the release.

It isn’t just this. The switch by motorists from motor vehicles to these trains further contributes to cleaner air in the territory where Capitols service is offered.

What allowed the establishment of the Capitol Corridor service initially was passage in 1990 of two state propositions, namely Propositions 108 and 116, thus sparking a modern day rail renaissance in the Golden State, the likes of which had not been seen in decades.

The Capitol Corridor service has withstood the test of time, now a seasoned veteran marking up 25 years of dedicated service.

Though not without its difficult moments (call them growing pains if you so prefer) the Capitols soldier on, and quite proudly at that.

Notes

  1. Greg McDonnell, “The New Dawn” (Editor’s Notebook), Locomotive (Trains Special Edition No. 1-2007), p. 7
  2. Ibid

Image above: California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board

In 2017, do as California is: Make air cleanup, job one – Part 1

It is no secret that nations with substantial economies also emit large quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and California, though not a nation, does likewise.

Fact is, if an independent country the Golden State were, it would have the world’s sixth largest economic output. Added to that, many know California to be the world’s 12th or  15th or 20th largest greenhouse-gases emitter; what ranking they know to be true this, of course, based on either having firsthand knowledge of, or such being ascertained from whatever the resource used that provided what information. More importantly, to have economic activity on the scale that California does and to have achieved the kinds of emissions-reduction successes the state has chalked up, speaks volumes about a place, be it city, state or what-have-you. Which is why if not already doing so (and it almost goes without saying), a number of cities, states, provinces, whole countries even, should be taking note. For the record, California’s current annual GHG emissions output is approximately 441.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent units (MMTCO2e).

End of the story? Hardly.

320px-BurningOffFieldsInTheEveningInSouthGeorgia[1]Greenhouse-gas and air-pollutant emissions aren’t confined to America’s most populated state; it’s an issue that has become of considerable concern and importance in many places in the world, a problem affecting developed and developing nations alike and World Health Organization estimates has the number dying prematurely as a result of such reaching into the multi-millions per year. Coupled with population growth being what it is along with other factors, without constant monitoring and vigilant intervention and remediation, the impacts from polluted air doubtless would be worse than what they are right now.

Such vigilance is paying off, particularly as exemplified in California, a model for the world.

As a case in point, Executive Order B-30-15 (issued by California Governor Jerry Brown), establishes a mid-term (2030) target to reduce GHGs to 40 percent below what they were in 1990. Meanwhile, as it has to do with a scoping plan related to this, in an Apr. 29, 2015 press statement released by California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairperson Mary D. Nichols, it was expressed:

“‘With this bold action by the Governor California extends its leadership role and joins the community of states and nations that are committed to slash carbon pollution through 2030 and beyond. Building on our existing climate programs, the 40 percent reduction will drive and accelerate innovation, generate new jobs, improve air quality and hasten California’s transition to a clean energy economy,’” the ARB chairperson announced.

“The 2030 target represents reductions needed to ensure California can achieve its larger 2050 target of a reduction of greenhouse gases 80 percent below 1990 levels. The need for these reductions is supported by the latest science on climate change.”

The news release goes on to say that what causes planet warming is due mainly to anthropogenic influence. The impacts of the warming of the world can be seen in California in a number of ways, among them, a decreased Sierra snowpack, a rise in sea level and an increase in both drought and wildfire intensity, according to ARB.

Which is the reason exactly why eyes should be focused on and attention turned to California and what the state is doing as it relates to addressing emissions and its ability to maintain a strong, vibrant economy, all while engaged in the pollution-reduction crusade. Even though many doubtless are, there are probably many more collective bodies that are not and, by virtue of this, an opportunity is indeed being missed.

It is one thing to just talk the air-cleaning talk; it is entirely another to walk the air-cleanup walk, which the Golden State is doing.

In Part 2, it will be seen why California is a leader nonpareil among states in the approaches it is taking to cut emissions of greenhouse gases and in the cleanup of its air.

Settlement reached: In U.S. VW to pay $14.7B: A big deal for California

The controversial part of the Volkswagen diesel-engine-emissions-doctoring (read: “defeat device”) scandal, at least in the U.S. is now in the rear-view mirror. A settlement award, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) in a press statement, of $14.7 billion in restitution (compensatory relief) was approved on Oct. 25, 2016, some 13-plus months after news of the discovery of the emissions-altering scheme first went public on Sept. 18, 2015. Nearly 500,000 Volkswagen and Audi 2.0 liter diesel-engine-equipped motor vehicles are affected, namely, “‘the Jetta, Beetle and Golf, model years 2009-2015; the Audi A3, model years 2009-2015; and the Passat, model years 2014-2015,’” as reported in: “Months into VW-diesel recall and engine issue still unresolved” on Jan. 28th this year. (The preceding quote originally appeared in the earlier Air Quality Matters post: “What navigating the VW-diesel-vehicle-recall road ahead may look like”).

Meanwhile, in a Jan. 29, 2016 update in the “Months into VW-diesel recall and engine issue still unresolved” posting it was relayed from an Oct. 15, 2015 company-prepared statement that:

“‘The Volkswagen Group will recall a total of approximately 8.5 million vehicles in Europe (EU28 markets), including some 2.4 million vehicles in Germany, according to KBA.1 Outside the EU28, each individual country will clarify in detail which emissions classes of the EA 189 engine are in fact affected.’”

Settlement terms

In the Oct. 25, 2016 “Federal court approves $14.7 billion settlement in VW cheating case: Pollution mitigation and zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and outreach projects to be subject of public workshops, comment,” ARB news release, the California agency announced: “US District Judge Charles Breyer today approved a partial Consent Decree agreed upon by automaker Volkswagen (VW), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the US Department of Justice (US DOJ). The $14.7 billion agreement is the largest settlement in history involving an automaker.”

Explains the air regulatory agency, “In California, VW’s cheating was particularly harmful, because our air quality is worse than anywhere else in the nation. Twenty-three million people living within the nation’s only severe nonattainment areas for ozone pollution, of which NOx [oxides of nitrogen] is a primary component, and 12 million living in areas with nation-leading levels of fine particle pollution reside in California.”

The ARB further going on in the release emphasizing, “California will receive about $1.2 billion from the approved Consent Decree for mitigation of the environmental damage caused by VW’s deception. … Approximately $800 million dollars (sic) (ZEV Investment Commitment) will be invested to advance California’s groundbreaking Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) programs. VW will make these payments and investments in installments over several years, and the two sums together will provide funding to mitigate all past and future environmental harm, including harm to California’s clean vehicle market, that resulted from VW’s cheating.”

Moreover, “[t]o address all past and future excess emissions of NOx from the 2.0-liter cars sold in California, under the terms of the Consent Decree, VW must pay about $381 million over a three-year period into a trust for projects to replace older and dirtier heavy duty diesel vehicles and equipment with cleaner vehicles and equipment, including advanced zero- and near-zero technologies. This provides an opportunity to focus reductions of emissions in disadvantaged communities,” the ARB announced. “California’s share of the $2.7 billion mitigation fund is proportional to its share of the total number of affected diesel cars.”

“The state will undertake a public process to allow members of the Legislature and the public to provide input and comments on potential projects to be funded by the settlement,” the ARB stated. Statewide, roughly 71,000 vehicles are affected.

Essence of emissions-cheating scandal

“Under emissions-testing procedures, the vehicles’ engines apparently met specifications, that is, absent any further technical (mechanical and/or electrical/electronic) issues. However, when not undergoing emissions testing or under normal operating conditions, that is when in regular operation, the exhaust released contained anywhere from between 10 and 40 times the acceptable amounts of oxides of nitrogen or NOx emissions depending upon vehicle. On-board vehicle software is to blame in this particular circumstance; such referred to as a ‘defeat device’ as per Clean Air Act definition” (Source: “What navigating the VW-diesel-vehicle-recall road ahead may look like”).

Notes

  1. KBA refers to The Federal Motor Transport Authority in Europe

Potpourri: A valley ‘view’ on weather, temperature, air-quality reporting and one other thought

This is in no way a reflection on others’ ability to report on air-quality condition. But, if I want the latest on the status of local or regional or local and regional air quality, all bets are on that I will access one online resource in particular, thank you very much: the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s “Daily Air Quality Forecast.” I have never known, in my experience, for such to be off.

Now, when it comes to temperature reporting, on the other hand, at times I’ve noticed such to be just that – off. Not intentionally reported that way, but still.

ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11[1]As a case in point, on May 28, 1984, and I remember this like it happened yesterday, according to one local broadcast T.V. news weather-reporting personality, the predicted high that day in Fresno was 98 degrees, as so announced. Suffice to say what a relief that would have been from the previous day’s 100-degree-plus temps. But it was not to be. For the high temperature that May 28 day was a scorching 107.

And, why would I know this? For one, it was two days before I was to enroll in college in a post-graduate degree program, and on that 28th day in May, I headed for them thar Sierra hills to get some relief from the Valley’s at-the-time oppressive heat and, upon my return, it was then that I learned what the true high temp that afternoon turned out to really be. Just to be clear, no way do I blame the person whose job it was to report on meteorological matters on a local broadcast T.V. newscast; it is just one of those things that happen. By the way, rain forecasting is even more imprecise or so it would seem.

Now, if I had to choose between weather/temperature and air-quality reporting and which I believe to be the more reliable of the two, my vote goes to air-quality reporting any day of the week and twice on Sunday, as the expression goes.

Does this mean that reporting on matters dealing with air quality is never imprecise? I’d be lying if I said it was. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that on the day of the forecasted 98 degrees, but instead was 107, that what was predicted for air-quality condition or the Air Quality Index (if such existed back then) was off the mark that day as well, even if only slightly. I mean, you just never know.

All is not as it seems or what one would expect always. Here’s what I’m talking about.

The two main pollutants of concern in California’s San Joaquin Valley are ozone and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 – tiny bits of soot, debris and chemical droplets at times, less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, small enough to penetrate lungs and enter the bloodstream and, as it relates to such, could very well be a factor in the development of stroke, lung cancer and premature death). Fine particulate matter pollution is typically an issue during times when temperature/weather is cooler/colder while ozone typically is troublesome during warmer/hotter climes. Notice I said “typically.”

Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org
Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

It is not uncommon for PM 2.5 in the air to exceed standards during the Independence Day holiday – July 4th, at least here in the San Joaquin Valley. As a matter of fact, on this day in 2011 the concentration of fine particulates in the air in Turlock, located in the north valley, reached a high by 11 p.m. of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air which corresponds to a value on the Air Quality Index of at least 214 – a “very unhealthy” reading. The 24-hour standard for PM 2.5 is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. This is the national health standard.

I remember well the time in Fresno, meanwhile, as on the following morning, upon looking out my front window I discovered the air replete with the remnants of the previous night’s fireworks activity thereby producing the downright putrid-looking greyish-colored haze. It is conditions like this that you just don’t forget. The next year I made it a point to be on the central California coast during the July 4th celebration which I did.

‘What I like about the valley’

So, maybe I understand now why when people here are asked what they like about living in the San Joaquin Valley, often comes the response: “The reason I like the Valley is because it’s located an hour from the (Sierra Nevada) mountains (by car) and a couple hours from the coast.” Could it be that that kind of response is due to a loathing of air quality by people here and that the quality of air here leaves much to be desired so unlike the appeal of the coast and mountains?

While that may not be an entirely accurate assessment in that it may not reflect an overarching sentiment in these here parts there, nevertheless, has to be a reason people say such things. Then again, if this question were asked of residents in Carmel, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, etc., I might just hear a similar response, one like: “It’s close to the coast.”

Upper image above: NASA

In and around the home, hitting a ‘home run’ on air quality matters

We all know the old saw: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m not sure I would completely concur, because it all depends on what our definition is of “ain’t broke.” The same sort of reasoning behind the expression: If it isn’t broken or damaged, then don’t repair or replace it.

Hot water heater
Hot water heater

Exemplifying the latter is the pen I’m using to prepare the first draft of this post. It isn’t the smoothest when it comes to feel and writing. But, it does get the job done, so, therefore, no need to throw it into the container for materials destined to be recycled (i.e. paper, plastic, glass, metal); exchange it for a different one that perhaps might feel more comfortable in my hand; or try to modify it in some way so as to improve its performance. These are the very kinds of situations that most of us experience (and sometimes take for granted) each and every day.

Then there are those devices that emit fumes. Since the topic of the thread today is being in and around the home, the question is how best to deal with such.

Besides the car, the best “for instance” I can think of is the mower, edger, etc. The gasoline-powered lawn mower I bought years ago (and no longer possess) I thought did a respectable job, until the day came when it was figuratively on its last legs and time came to replace it. Why I waited as long as I did I’m not exactly sure. What I replaced the motorized lawn-care implement with was an electric version with (rechargeable) “battery included.”

You see, the local air district then was participating in this trade-in program that I had become aware of. All that was required was that I take my used gas-powered mower to a recycling (aka salvage) yard, turn it over to the company that owned and ran the operation.

With that step now completed, it was over to the office located in front, where, after exiting my vehicle and going inside, issued to me was a voucher which I could use to acquire a brand new battery electric mower. And that is what I did, that is, after mailing such to the representative business. Upon its receipt, it was then that the new mower in question was sent on its way and, lo and behold, a few days later, I received my brand new mower. Oh, almost forgot: There was this small matter of my paying said company $150.00, which, I did, gladly. That was several years ago that I did this and have been a completely satisfied customer (a happy camper, one might say) since.

Fireplace_Burning[1]Turning attention indoors, a while ago, I needed to replace the attic furnace. The device, before it sputtered and before finally going kaput, was notorious for drawing in air from outside along with what the air contains, smoke from neighborhood fireplaces; everything. Because of this, I would never turn the heater on when fireplace smoke was problematic – day or night.

When the furnace finally did go, the new furnace fortunately, didn’t have this characteristic problem. One caveat though: since it has on it a heat pump, after months of non-use when I first turn the heater on, oil that is used to coat the furnace’s heat pump, well, the oil on this part heats up and when it does, the smell of burnt oil wafts through the house. So, as a solution, and so as not to set off the home smoke detectors, on a day when the air is clear and skies are sunny, I open windows and doors to get good cross-ventilation and furthermore allow the air to circulate thoroughly until the smell completely disappears. Subsequent to taking these steps, the heater will operate all winter long sans any smells, that is, until the next year when the process will once again be repeated. This is far preferable to what happened when using the old furnace.

Now, as for the car, it requires continuously maintaining. This means regular oil and oil-filter and air-filter changes. Anytime something more extensive than this routine maintenance work needs to be done, the car goes into the repair shop. Not quite sure how much longer I’ll keep it, when the time comes for a replacement, I plan to go the hybrid or BEV (battery electric vehicle) route. Though, right now, I’m still conflicted on which of the two to choose. Either one will be an improvement over what I am currently driving.

Trains: No better mode than rail for providing air (pollution) relief

In less than a month the construction activity on the California high-speed railroad project will have been underway exactly one-and-a-half years on Dec. 16, 2016. Four days earlier, yet another milestone will be reached: Amtrak California’s Capitol Corridor service will celebrate 25 years in operation. Capitol Corridor trains began service on Dec. 12, 1991. Trains travel between San Jose in the southwest portion of the corridor to Roseville and Auburn situated to San Jose’s northeast.

320px-Acela_Express_and_Metro-North_railcar[1]There are many who, in this country, bemoan Amtrak as a national passenger rail entity; one policymaker located in California’s Central (San Joaquin) Valley during a local election campaign debate, when asked about the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak’s official title), went so far as to state that it was “a train to nowhere.” Moreover, this same person, when similarly queried on California high-speed rail, emphasized that if the line does not extend from Bakersfield over the Tehachapi Mountains and therefore reaches and serves the greater Los Angeles region then, as far as this policymaker was concerned, this version of rail does not qualify as high speed.

Now, regarding passenger train travel in general in the U.S., the first thing that should cross the minds of all those who disfavor this type of service, is that the more than 30 million people who yearly ride Amtrak trains, not to mention the tens of millions in America who commute daily (Mon.-Fri.) as train passengers, imagine the all-of-a-sudden impacts if the likes of those folks took to the roads. Added to, obviously, would be roadway traffic and, by association, air pollution if not more congested travel.

So, let’s consider the real and likely operating aspects of the service on America’s first high-speed rail endeavor once operations begin on approximately 120 miles of track between Bakersfield and Madera (north of Fresno), the launching slated for 2021 or 2022.

At the very minimum this trackage which will be fully double-tracked, grade separated (no intersecting roads at the same level or plane) will be available for Amtrak San Joaquin service use. This means that trains in this service territory will be faster – speeds, presumably, of up to 110 miles per hour (if not up to 125 mph depending on equipment in use at the time) will be permitted. Such will have an immediate positive effect on freight trains operating on parallel Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks between Bakersfield and Madera, not to mention that because there will be no intersecting roadways at grade this will mean that not a single motor vehicle will be forced to stop at railroad crossings in this section waiting for trains to pass. That’s because there won’t be any – yup, zip, zilch, zero.

What all this will mean is that for the very first time, passengers will be able to ride fully expecting there to not be any interference from other trains on the line whatsoever which points toward no waiting on either main track sections or on passing sidings stopped for opposing or overtaking trains (overtaking trains are trains of higher priority catching up to and passing trains of lesser priority traveling in the same direction) to go on past.

And, all of this translates to better quality of air because of the far fewer number of stopped vehicles and trains, held on account of their having to wait.

Plus, by virtue of the fact that passenger trains will, on this corridor be traveling from what would ordinarily be a maximum speed of 79 mph, will now be traveling at velocities in the 110 to 125 mph range, depending, allowing for faster transit times for travelers, absolutely. This could translate into the possibility of there being additional roundtrips between Madera and Bakersfield, at least between those two towns, anyway. (There are currently 7 roundtrips total between Bakersfield and Oakland and between the former and Sacramento, for a total of 14 daily trains, where once there were but two trains in 1974 until about the year 1979). More train availability means the likelihood that more travel will be made by train and less by motor vehicle and airplane, presumably. Here, again, all of which points to better quality of local air. If the locomotives powering said trains are even less polluting that what they are presently, then air quality will be made that much better.

This “train-to-nowhere” hyperbole, well, it is just that, hyperbole. Always was and unless and until something better comes along that renders such obsolete and impractical, it always will be.

train-2-kandelAlternatively speaking, these trains are all obviously going somewhere, for if they did not, the simple truth is that they would not be used by the millions that ride them annually. In fact, the San Joaquin trains alone see better than a million a year in ridership.

Trains pull their weight

The reality is California high-speed rail is being built. Disbelievers, detractors can deny that reality all they want. It will not change a thing. Further, Amtrak California San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains, the reason they are a success is because there are many more people who swear by and use them. Could these services be improved? Unquestionably. But, and here’s the rub; it takes financial support to do this.

While roads and aviation are subsidized, in case anyone is wondering, so too is rail. However, the difference is highways are getting subsidized to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year. For Amtrak, meanwhile, and this is for the entire national network, mind you, it receives just $1.3 billion or so per year. (Railway robbery in this case, obviously). And such is most definitely counterintuitive as train travel is the most air-friendly, most efficient (fuel efficient or otherwise), most comfortable, and by far the safest way to travel – hands down! Any questions?

Look for a profile covering 25 years of Capitol Corridor service coming soon.

Top image above: Connor Harris

Power shuffle: The ‘switch’ from fossil to renewable fuels made easy

Watts up

The world’s power requirement is enormous. Natural resources like oil, coal and natural gas, the chief fossil fuels relied upon as drivers to facilitate the generation of electricity and heat, is in finite supply; they won’t last forever. And, there are negative environmental effects from their use. Yet they are being relied upon such as they are without even the slightest hesitation, reservation.

Coal_bituminous[1]I watched the episode of NOVA on the PBS television network the other night called: “Treasures of the Earth: Power.” One of these treasures was coal. Explained in the program was what was responsible for the natural resource’s formation and how coal came to find its way into the energy generation picture.

Discussed also was what made this mineral of choice suitable as an agent of electricity and heat generation once ignited, that is, and how, over time, dependence on such has fallen. The reasons coal has been scaled back in its use – at first as a heat source and then as an electricity generating fuel – are several.

One is the market. The demand for coals has become less, in the United States in particular, as the exploitation, exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas has ramped up. In fact, it was pointed out in the “Treasures of the Earth: Power” installment that the burning of coal currently is used as a supply to generate 33 percent of power in all of America, markedly different from the time when coal was once king (the power-supply element of choice, in other words), the feature’s narrator citing Penn State University Geologist Liz Hajek. This being with population growth what it is today, even.

320px-Giant_photovoltaic_array[1]Meanwhile, in China, one of the mined substance’s biggest users, is slowly reducing reliance on it, the country engaging heavily in the exploitation of clean-energy generation with adoption of solar photovoltaic (solar cell) technology and employing on a massive scale, banks upon banks of lithium ion batteries to store energy to have available for use when the sun isn’t shining. Great news considering China’s horrendous air-pollution problem is mostly coal-burning prompted.

Winds of change

Renewable or fossil fuels: which has the decided advantage; which is the clear winner?

Amazingly, after the discovery of tapping electrons from the sun’s rays, breezes, ocean tides and other renewable sources of energy, there is lack of consensus. What it comes down to is what endeavor or approach in the eyes of those doing the looking, observing is apt or perceived to pay the greenest dividend. And the word “greenest” here has multiple interpretations. On principle, it’s become an economy versus ecology argument. But, I’m wondering if compromise or middle ground can ever be reached.

California, it seems, has found the solution. California has broken new ground in what had once been uncharted territory. To say the state’s economy is a green one, is indeed understating the obvious. Yet, even with the direction in which the Golden State is proceeding, most other states are loath to follow suit.

Okay, let’s look at specifics.

In 2020, a third of the state’s energy production must be derived from non-fossil-fuel-based sources. It is what is called for in what’s known as the Renewables Portfolio Standard. California is almost to that level now. By 2050, there will be an even higher target – 50 percent.

Because California has to come up with ways to cut back its greenhouse gas emissions, this has generated all kinds of products and programs to achieve that end – everything from smarter land use and transportation choices being made to a manufacturing sector that prides itself on turning out everything from zero-emissions cars, buses and trains to solar panels and systems for capturing emitted gases or vapors from fermenting grapes and keeping such from entering air. As a matter of fact, coming online in 2017 is a new biomass facility that will be receiving dead and decaying trees from Sierra Nevada forests which will convert that refuse into electricity for state consumer use. These processes and programs are keeping tons of carbon dioxide from entering our air. The state’s carbon emissions target for 2020 is 431 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent units (MMTCO2e). That’s down ten-and-a-half MMTCO2e from what exists today.

In pursuit of this, the state’s economy has not been hurt in the least. In fact, it has been helped with good green jobs created in the process.

And, this is not to say that unsustainable-type practices and employment have been abandoned and has been eliminated in the process, respectively. They haven’t been.

When we put our minds to it

California is at the forefront of and demonstrating that it does not need to be an economy versus the environment knock-down, drag-out altercation. The Golden State seems to have found the golden egg, a “best-of-both-worlds” scenario. Quite interesting and a turn-around from the days during which driving dominated, freeways were a dime a dozen, electric street railways fell victim to such falling by the wayside in major cities, leaving in its wake deplorable, damaging and deleterious air, I’d say. Other states could reap similar rewards and could likewise prosper as California is doing if differences could just be put aside, people keeping open their minds and agreeing to work together. The very constructs that have enabled America’s most populated state to move ahead the way it is, the air seeing some improvement at the same time. Though some areas, admittedly, are doing a much better job at this than others. Make no mistake.

California, the 31st state, is on track to advance its energy production portfolio and the direction the state is taking to make the switch from fossil to renewable fuels is a good one and the transition from the former to the latter smooth, no question. This didn’t happen by accident. The voters have spoken.

320px-Benton_County_wind_turbines[1]

Middle image above: United States Air Force

How ‘bout some serious air-care, for once – please?

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]Every year in the world as many as six-and-a-half-million people are losing their lives too soon from the effects of polluted air – 3 million related to outdoor air pollution and three-and-a-half million from polluted air which is indoors, according to World Health Organization estimates.

It was four years ago that I penned the “Cutting transportation emissions – Seriously? Action speaks louder than words” post on Nov. 21, 2012. In that post I wrote:

“According to the American Lung Association, more than 127 million Americans are affected: a full 40 percent of the U.S. population – a number that, ideally, should be zero.”

The reality is that there should not be one single premature passing tied to the miasma otherwise known as air pollution – period! But the other reality, a sad one: there are. In fact, within a year-and-a-half’s time, three people I know left this earth much too soon as each had cancer of the lung. One smoked; the other two did not.

Health issues associated with toxic air pollution:

From “Putting into context air-pollution-statistical ‘estimates’”:

“The WHO identifies specific linked diseases such as acute lower respiratory infections in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), ischaemic heart disease, lung cancer and stroke with the following breakdowns for both indoor and outdoor pollution:

“Indoor air pollution-caused deaths (in percent):

  • Acute lower respiratory infections in children – 12
  • COPD – 22
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 26
  • Lung cancer – 6
  • Stroke – 34

“Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths (in percent):

  • Acute lower respiratory infections in children – 3
  • COPD – 11
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 40
  • Lung cancer – 6
  • Stroke – 40

“(Source: “7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution,” news release, The World Health Organization, Mar. 25, 2014, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/air-pollution/en).”

Air pollution refugees

On Dec. 16, 2007, The Fresno Bee put out a special installment titled: “Fighting For Air.” Among the chock-full-of-related top-to-bottom-of-page content (no advertisements here), profiled are the lives of people and their families forced to relocate because their physical health had deteriorated so much that they could no longer live in the San Joaquin Valley of California – reportedly, the region of the country with the worst fine particulate matter problem. One of the people mentioned in the special report was former Fresno historian and book author and journalist, Catherine Rehart. According to information in the Bee, Rehart had what her doctor referred to as “non-infectious bronchitis,” which her doctor believed to be smog and soot-aggravated, the medical professional advising the Fresno resident to leave the Valley and its unhealthy air behind. If she didn’t leave, Rehart faced risking deteriorating health. The writer, journalist, book author, historian did, in fact, leave. But, several years ago I learned through a friend that Rehart had, most unfortunately, passed away. Meanwhile, there were at least 10 families so profiled.

Moreover, another lady, who moved to Pismo Beach on California’s central coast and where air is a far improvement over what it is in the Valley, must wear a mask in combination with a filtering system to screen out air toxins when returning to the Valley, according to information in the Bee. Doctors apparently were not able to come up with a definitive diagnosis at the time.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)Oh, and in another section of the special installment, based on a 2005 California Health Interview Survey, roughly 75,000 out of approximately 225,000 children in Fresno County have asthma. Not surprising then that, “Fresno is state’s asthma capital,” is the corresponding article’s title where the so-referenced information appears. Overall, about 1 in 5 in the Valley are asthma sufferers.

It more or less goes without saying that I would like to, someday soon, see a follow-up report to learn what if anything has changed; what’s improved and/or worsened and/or what hasn’t.

Now I’ve seen everything …

As an aside, the neighbor who lives across the street, who typically mows and cares for his own lawn yesterday, for whatever reason, turned that task over to a professional. The two doing the work employed no less than four yard-care implements for getting their task at hand done: an edger, a (leaf?) blower and two mowers, though I’m not sure both were working. It was impossible for me to determine this due to my being inside my home, incidentally, with all windows and doors closed for reasons not too difficult to imagine.

While not being able to see from my window what one of the yard-grooming workers was doing in the property owner’s back yard as it was hidden from my view, with both lawn mowers sitting in the front driveway, with at least one of them powered up, the other yard-work person was using the edger to edge the lawn in front. I have, up until now, not seen this. Once the edging was finished with the edger put away, it was then that this same yard-care professional went and grabbed the already running gasoline-powered lawn mower and proceeded to mow the lawn. It is fortunate that the air here yesterday was on the low side of the moderate range due to a storm blowing through.

If I hadn’t seen this with my own two eyes I probably would not have believed it. But to be honest and to use another familiar line, it couldn’t get much worse than this – actually it could, if it had been one of those days when there was unhealthful air.

So, how ’bout it – for once, some “serious” air care, please? Please?

640px-California's_Central_Valley

Top image above: NASA

Middle image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

ACCLAIM: Seven factors to help in improving air condition

Advocacy – One factor in the air-health-improvement equation is a strong backing of proponent support. But it goes beyond this, obviously. Air-pollution cleanup, for it to work, there first has to be the recognition that there is a dirty air problem. There also must be the understanding that there are both short- and long-term health impacts of the breathing in of toxic, poisonous air contaminants – it is what is known as the polluted-air/impacted health connection. Once this is understood, the key is to get people to get behind the cause and to advocate, maybe to go so far as to implore others – key officials, regulators, policymakers, those in innovation and technology circles, members of the community at large, etc., to back the cause to address and mitigate air pollution and to crusade for not just cleaner, but clean air. Advocacy is an important component in the arsenal to make this happen. And, advocacy comes in many forms including writing letters to newspaper editors, publishing newsletters, blogging, contacting local, state and federal political leaders and more.

Cooperation – This is an imperative in the air-pollution-mitigation effort. Without cooperation among and between the myriad support groups and individuals, it pretty much becomes a helter-skelter, every-person-for-him-/herself, fight. By cooperating and coordinating (discussed next) resources (remember: there is strength in numbers), pulling together, when there is agreement, consensus, this is exactly what facilitates progress; it helps the process along and solutions can be found, benchmarks are reached and objectives, missions and goals get accomplished.

Coordination – This element is all about pooling together. “Pooling,” means “combining,” in this instance. Think of this as a machine with many working parts. When all member parts are working together, the individual parts forming a team, then, when all goes smoothly, the team experiences success. It is the coordination or coordinated efforts of all team components, members, parts that make the outcome, whatever that may be, bear fruit.

Legislation – This is the legal aspect of the pie. Very often changing conditions is contingent on laws being enacted. Say, for example, a number of community members’ hands are tied in trying to encourage, persuade or convince others in the same community that an action such as wood-burning in a fireplace, woodstove, etc., is driving up levels of fine particulates in the air that everyone within said community must breathe, the fine particulate levels above established standards but still continue to burn wood regardless. Passing laws to regulate the burning of wood to help protect the health of all community members and deemed to be for the good of the people, in instances like these, laws are sometimes necessary. Those, meanwhile, who are in violation of said law or laws, can face arrest and/or having to pay fines for said violations. Other times rules are established for the purpose of dictating policy. In California’s Central Valley, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has, over time, instituted more than 500 rules, handily. Rule 4901 relates to the burning of wood.

Articulation – Sometimes the language of air-quality issues can be complex and/or confusing. This is where articulation comes into play. Such provides clarity of jargon, lexicon, vocabulary, you get the idea, related to relevant and air-quality centered ideas, discussion, etc. It is important to have a clear understanding of what is being communicated and that is where articulation applies.

Indoctrination – What this has to do with is teaching. It is through indoctrination that others can become versed on the issues at hand. It helps keep interested persons informed and current. Indoctrination and articulation are closely related and very often go hand in hand.

Mitigation – Mitigation is an associative construct in that this is what is sought to reduce, lessen or eliminate impurities, contaminants, toxins, poisons in the air in this case. Synonyms of mitigation are correction, remediation, fixing, doctoring, improving, even. To put mitigation in perspective as it relates to all of the above-mentioned factors, advocacy, cooperation, coordination, legislation, articulation and indoctrination, if an axle with attached wheels on both axle ends were to be represented properly, mitigation would be one wheel with the elements remaining being the other. Important to the factors, mitigation here is an associative construct. Mitigation includes in its context methods that can be employed to bring about corrective change, but really cannot come about without most if not all of the six other elements being included, representative or indicative of that “team” construct I alluded to earlier.

Air cleanup. It is an enormous undertaking to take on and be successful at achieving. If that particular outcome is to get anywhere near that of being realized, it will take the combination of part or all of the above to pull that job off, depending. It might do one well at this point to remember advocacy, cooperation, coordination, legislation, articulation, indoctrination and mitigation as a good jumping off point and remembering also the acronym ACCLAIM. Adding funding and will (as in political will), to the mix, rounds out the picture. Those two “extras” so to speak, the value-added side to the air-cleanup-success puzzle, is quite often the most difficult part to be had, when it does come and when success in cleaning up air occurs, that right there is the icing on the, ahem, ACCLAIM cake.

ACCLAIM: I do like the way that sounds.

An air quality pep-talk primer: Transportation – a rallying cry, really

‘When I’m mobile’ …

People are locomotive creatures. No, really. There is a sort of restlessness about us in that we are not one, generally, to be sedentary for too long a time. We are mobile beings, admittedly, and this not-always-wanting-to-be-in-one- (or the-same-) spot inclination, (our need or desire) to get out and about has obvious impacts, good and bad, locally, regionally as well as globally. We aren’t meant to be pent up – period.

Our inclination for translocation has us using our feet, legs, hands, fingers, arms (our appendages, basically) and bodies, wholly, on call, at the ready, if you will, to answer the call when the need is there to put such into gear which, bottom line, enables our success in terms of our moving, maneuvering and navigating about. It is a really polished system when you think about it. And, it may sound complicated but it really is not.

Over time, we have created and have at most of our disposals tools to make locomotion (place-to-place moving) easier, simpler, sometimes safer and/or speedier. In the area of innovation, when it comes to our getting from one location to another, there has been leaps-and-bounds growth and development. The sky, figuratively, of course, is the limit. No need to mention all that’s out there; just look around you if you have not already noticed.

360px-CBX_Parkchester_6_jeh[1]When one does, one will see a parallel – or should: the more modes making use of a plethora of mode types that have been deployed and are presently in use, the more it seems that the byproduct of released emissions coupled to that one facet of our lives is evident in air and the more pronounced, it appears, the contribution of such has become. I read about this quite frequently, in fact.

It has been only recently as a matter of fact, that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transportation has overtaken energy generation which, previously, was the largest pollutant-emissions contributing sector (41 percent by volume)1 total from all sources.

The Nov. 2011 International Union of Railways in its High Speed Rail and Sustainability report offered, “In addition, transport energy-related CO2 emissions are predicted to increase by 1.7% a year from 2004 to 2030.”2

You may like to know what the breakdown of emissions-release percentages (by mode) in 20053 were:

  • Aviation (domestic) – 5%
  • Aviation (int’l.) – 6%
  • Road – 73%
  • Rail – 2%
  • Shipping (domestic) – 2%
  • Shipping (int’l.) – 9%
  • Other – 3%

In some European nations and elsewhere, a hardline stance in addressing  transpo. pollution is being taken. Limits, for instance, are being imposed on the number of polluting vehicles that are allowed to enter cities’ proper and the ones that are allowed are likely to be charged a fee if it is not that way already. Such action in Paris immediately comes to mind.

Getting automobilists to switch to cleaner forms of transportation or adopting the use of cleaner-burning fuels or even embracing notions like non-polluting electric- and fuel-cell-powered vehicles, by doing such, this will have a positive effect on air especially if there is a heightened reliance on such.

In the heavy-goods-movement department, putting more of the cargo on trains certainly has an air benefit; even more so when said trains are powered by cleanly (renewably) produced electricity. It is little different for trains carrying people. Improvement with respect to aviation and shipping is absolute; these are most certainly not exempt.

With transportation on a global scale now the single largest source of CO2 emissions when it comes to output, it stands to reason that if we are to make the greatest impact in terms of air-quality improvement, transportation is the place to start. If success in this area can be realized then, the will being there, doing similarly regarding the remaining sectors is no way out of the realm of possibility either.

There is this saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Time to get serious, I mean, really serious, on cleaning up transportation-sourced toxic air emissions.

If this sounds a lot like a rallying cry, no secrets here. It is just this very thing, indeed!

An encouraging word’…

Meanwhile, in more encouraging news, according to the American Public Transportation Association, 69 percent of transit-related ballot measures across the United States on Election Day (Nov. 8, 2016) were voter approved.

For details, look here.

Notes

  1. Jehanno, A.; Palmer, D. and James, C. (2011): High Speed Rail and Sustainability, “4.1 HSR has a lower impact on climate and environment than all other compatible transport modes (4.1.1 Energy consumption and GHG emissions): Figure 6 Distribution of CO2 emissions in the world by activity sector – 2007,” International Union of Railways, URL: http://www-pp.uic.org/download.php/publication/531E.pdf (p. 15)
  2. Ibid. “4 High Speed Rail is a sustainable mode of transport,” URL: http://www-pp.uic.org/download.php/publication/531E.pdf (p. 13)
  3. Ibid. “4.1 HSR has a lower impact on climate and environment than all other compatible transport modes (4.1.1 Energy consumption and GHG emissions (High Speed Rail is part of the solution to fight climate change): Figure 7 Global transport CO2 emissions by mode share in 2005,” URL: http://www-pp.uic.org/download.php/publication/531E.pdf (p. 15)