How We Solve the Problem of Environmental Pollution

In my last post on environmental issues I discussed the problems with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) (here). Since then the Gainesvilles Times has published a piece about citizens touting the benefits of CFLs (here).

Change a light, change the world

Cathy Strittmater, a member of the Dominion Valley board of directors, said her community has formed a task force to look for ways to save energy through load management and energy-efficient light bulbs.

William Pierce, chairman of Heritage Hunt’s community relations committee, said his community is also “focusing on ways that we can go green,” including encouraging the use of the compact fluorescent light bulbs.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these low-energy bulbs use at least two-thirds less energy than standard bulbs, give off the same amount of light and last up to 10 times longer. They also generate less heat and, according to the department, each bulb will save homeowners $30 or more in energy costs. When shopping for low-energy bulbs, consumers should look for the Energy Department’s Energy Star label that indicates the bulb meets federal guidelines for efficiency.

As the purpose of this blog is to encourage citizen involvement, I am actually quite happy to see people getting involved. In particular I like to see people sharing ideas. What bothers me is when people try to force others to adopt a particular idea. Unfortunately, people sometimes do not know when to stop. This excess generally takes one or both of two tacks. The first is spend the government’s money (i.e., the taxpayer’s money) and the second is to force their fellow citizens to spend their money.

For example, we have been hearing much about Virginia spends too little on energy conservation (here).

A 2005 report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Virginia 50th among other states and the District of Columbia in annual per-capita spending – less than 1 cent per person – on energy-efficiency measures.

The Commonwealth also finished second to last in spending as a percentage of annual utility revenues – less than 0.01 percent.

Only Wyoming ranked lower in both categories.

“It’s a national embarrassment,” PEC’s Communications Director Robert Lazaro said. “Here we have a 21st century economy and a 19th century utility.”

Then here is example from Wisconsin (Fortunately, our local people have not gone so batty.) of the positive outcome that resulted from a rebuff of excess (here).

There’s a bright spot to the city of Madison’s dim and now defeated idea to force landlords to install compact fluorescent light bulbs.

A whole bunch of us — including some City Council members — have learned that those swirly-shaped bulbs need to be recycled.

That’s because they contain mercury. If you don’t recycle them, they eventually break in the trash and the mercury seeps out.

One environmental group estimates that improperly discarded fluorescent bulbs cause tons of mercury pollution each year.

People discovered mercury is a pollutant! Wow!

Everything has its pros and cons. When it comes to making a choice, each of us has the right weigh those pros and cons and make our own decision. The problems is the effects of our personal decisions do not necessarily stop with ourselves. That is why we need government. We have to have some agency to help us resolve the conflicts that result when the effect of one person’s decisions have bad effects on another person.

When you or I make a decision, we do not have the right to impose the costs of our decision on someone else. When we pollute, however, we do exactly that. We dump our waste on somebody else. Unfortunately, with over seven billion people on our little planet, even relatively small amounts of some pollutants can become a problem, and mercury is one such pollutant (see this web site).

Pollution is not a new problem. So we do have some experience dealing with it. Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of products we produce, we have an increasingly larger variety of pollutants. So controlling pollution has become increasingly complex. Thus we have a choice. We can increasingly regulate polluters and mangle our economic system or we can pay more attention to the incentives we give industry. I recommend the latter.

Pollution imposes costs on our society. When our industries make products that pollute they should be taxed for doing so — unless they recover and recycle those pollutants.

Somebody has to pay to recover the mercury in fluorescent light bulbs, and this is not a particularly simple process (see here). Neither CFLs producers nor any of the other producers of fluorescent lights have made significant provisions for recovering the mercury they use in their lights. This is also true of a number of other products that use mercury. That has to end.

Trash, particularly poisonous trash, costs us all. However, instead of all of us paying the bill, each of us should be individually bearing the cost for what we each produce and consume. That will give each of us an incentive to reduce the overall cost.

9 thoughts on “How We Solve the Problem of Environmental Pollution

  1. Dan – Sorry about the posting delay. Your comments got marked as spam. The WordPress spam filter sometimes could be better. I am afraid the spam filter does not like links.


  2. Tom said “…don’t work to make the government bigger than it already is.”

    How about smarter government? Big gov’t is dumb, ineffective and expensive. Smarter gov’t aims be effective, yet to save money, which will allow it to shrink.

    Check this out…PWC BOS looks like they are going to get Fairfax Co. BOS Chair Connelly (a democrat on board). Word is he has welcomed the initiative. Currently Fairfax’ “Cool County” and Arlington “ACE” are only geared towards “green” initiatives to fight strictly global warming.

    PWC’s resolution ask VACO (Va Assoc of Counties) to consider and adopt the encouragement of this action amongst all counties. Already we now hear ~10 other VA counties are moving forward w/ similiar action as PWC and VA EO 48. Makes you wonder how it is that the 2 eastern Dems on the BOS could have voted against it?

    The brand new Energy Efficiency Promotion Act just introduce in the senate yesterday, S.1115 by the both the Senate Committee chairman on Energy and the Ranking Member — bi-partisan sponsorship FINALLY.

    ““The Energy Efficiency Promotion Act will reduce consumers’ future energy bills by getting more from the energy we produce…” – Jeff Bingaman

    Sounds like the Senator has been reading your blog!

    The energy which our economy requires, can be met in the near-term by harnessing the energy which already exists but is wasted in the grid. This will buy the time technology needs to find the solution which has already been initiated and funded by EPA2005.

    More than 40% of all electricity produced, is wasted (DOE/EIA)

    Utilities have had no motive to do so, and apparently have never had a good ethical conscience about the matter, because they already charge and are already being compensated for the cost of all electricity produced, wasted or otherwise.

    Tom we already pay the electricity utility provider for the all electricity generate but wasted.

    CFL will result in “some” hg pollution. If all US lighting was switched, there would be substantially less overall hg pollution. Now with CFL, since the hg is isolated, preventing hg pollution from it is easier to overcome and manage.

    Clearly it is positive and in the accurate direction – man-made global warming nor not.


  3. Dan — Plain, ordinary, incandescent light bulbs do not have mercury in them. The possibility that using a CFL might result in less coal combustion does not relieve anyone of their responsibility properly dispose of their CFL mercury waste.

    The more you write, the more apparent it is that you have an agenda. I see nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, since I see little reason to think man is responsible for global warming. So I do not entirely share your concerns. Moreover, I have little faith in the wisdom of politicians. So I have little use for expansive government programs. I prefer other people spending their own money and letting me spend mine.

    Rather than operating utilities, I think government should regulate them. Dominion Virginia Power behaves badly as it is, but the idea that a bunch of lawyers in the General Assembly might operate the company is ludicrous. When lawyers do their job, they protect our rights. That is what they are trained to do, and they have hard time not making a mess of it. Do you really want to give them more to do?

    As I have suggested before, this problem can be best tackled by toxicologists and tax accountants. Toxicologists can figure out what constitutes safe levels of toxic substances. Accountants can figure out how much we have to tax each pollutant and give all of us a sufficient incentive to reduce wastes to save levels. Let economics and innovation, not government, drive solutions.

    If you want to get into the electric utility business or tell Dominion how to run its business, more power to you. But please find another way to do it. Start your own business. Become a stockholder or an employee. Please don’t work to make the government bigger than it already is.


  4. Doubting Tom said “the point?”

    Using CFL will reduce hg pollution compared to the status quo. If CFL along with other EEC measure, reduces overall energy consumption, the grid pecking order (ie load order) will first decrease output at fossil-fuel plants determined to be most harmful. CFL have a fraction of hg when compared to incandescent under the same lifespan. Furthermore, CFL have their hg within their product and if disposed of properly will not be harmful. Incandescent on the otherhand not only produce more hg, they cause hg to become airborne. Compared to incandescent, CFLs win hands down in terms of money saved and pollution avoided.

    Then Doubting Tom said “Why call a financial management program an energy management program?”

    Well being that the folks in the finance dept didn’t think of it, it has to be considered part of an energy plan. Furthermore the overall resolution’s intent wasn’t just to save money, although it is a good byproduct of the effort. This initiative and similar other efforts like VA EO 48, and there are many coming within the very near future, are spurred by one of two issues: (1) reduce overall carbon footprint, or more largely (2) reduce overall energy footprint. In case you have forgotten, not only is Va last in conservation in the nation, it has two NIETC requests, all while other NoVa counties haven’t done much to curtail their energy consumption. The status quo will lead to the further industrialization of PWC, and not in a positive fashion.

    The train on global warming policy is leaving the station and the “Inhofes” of the country either refuse to hop on board the discussion, or who have stubbornly arrived late and will not have a positive hand in the policy’s direction.

    Advancements in technologies with regards to biomass, nanotechnology & solar pv rays, electric storage and clean coal technologies, are the solutions in addition to safe nuclear which will solve our climate issues. However, the full scale marketability of these projects will not come online until some time b/n 2012 and 2025.

    Until that time, something has to happens in order to eliminate the future need of the 300+ coal-fired power plants proposed nationwide to meeting growing electricity demands over the next 8 years. In addition reducing existing fossil-fuel plants required to meet gov’t goals on GHG and C02 will further push policy, until the future technological solutions arrive.

    On one hand you have extreme environmentalist pushing for the shutdown of coal & gas plants and prevent nuclear from expanding. They want to line the ridges of mountaintops with windmills, and spread solar farms across the desert in a mass scale to hold us over until technology solves the problem. On the east coast, land-based wind requires 2 acres per turbine but is only appx 30-40% efficient in producing its annual nameplate capacity. The number of turbines to substitute one coal-fired plant would be damaging and condemn many acres of private property. Current technology for solar rays would require massive condemnation of land in order to meet capacity demands outside of the SW here in the eastern U.S. Neither wave or tidal generation is viable on in the east.

    On the other hand you have advocates who seek to find new sources of generation thru non-fossil fuel sources with no environmental impact. The source of electricity is already there in the grid – it is just being wasted and is loss. Initiatives to capture this wasted electricity, harness it and use it in the grid, will not only meet the goals environmentalist seek before new technologies come on-line, but it will do so with little impact to private property and not strip money from utilities nor from participating volunteers.

    I believe some of the motivation behind the environmentalists in pushing alternative generation, is for sheer investment profit and to produce the net reduction of the influence traditional energy companies currently have. This appears why they are not behind the EEC movements, because EEC doesn’t necessarily knock big energy out of the process. Many states such as VA are now treating DSM as a source of generation and compensate the utility provider similiarly as they would other sources of generation.

    If you still need convincing:

    FERC 4/23/2007 DSM meeting
    FERC live feed meeting starts at 9am


  5. I see no point providing a comprehensive list of electricity sources, however, we have at least two nuclear power plants in Virginia, North Anna and Surry. You can find out about them here. The point? Just because you are using CFLs does not mean you are reducing the amount of waste from a coal-fired powered plant. However, without recycling you are most certainly adding mercury to the environment.

    As far as the government programs you mentioned are concerned, if they do not save money, I see little reason to regard them as successes.

    Does not good financial management save energy? Why call a financial management program an energy management program? Is not a rose by any other name is still a rose? Perhaps the reason is that these programs will waste money. If not, then these are programs that should have been implemented in any event.


  6. The pile on continues

    “In contrast to the legislation’s weak provision asking utilities to volunteer 10% demand reductions, Governor Kaine more recently issued Executive Order 48 that directs the Commonwealth’s executive branch to reduce the annual cost of energy purchases from non-renewable sources by at least 20% by fiscal year 2010. Given that Virginia utilities have among the nation’s least developed demand reduction programs and funding, this directive could engender considerable business opportunities for independent vendors of demand-reduction programs and technologies.”

    Tom, as I have mentioned, your PWC BOS passed a similar resolution for county-owned facilities. Ironically the only members who voted against it were Democrats!

    An independant vendor who wins the contact, either for the state or the county, or for DVP own grid supply, receives a cut of the savings the load reduction program produces. State and county employees make the program work and the more they implement the strategy the more the savings will bring. If other large companies are presented an offer to participate (ie from DVP) then they will have the opportunity to do the same. The cost is nil and participation is voluntary. Case studies elsewhere demonstrate 10-30% financial savings. For a county where budgets are a great debate, these savings would be welcomed.

    The goal here is to reduce the need for additional generation (reduce climate impact) and transmission (reduce land condemnation). These initiatives reduce the spikes in peak demand which is the primary driver for expansion in infrastructure. Without it, new investments are not as financially efficient which lead to overlapping of existing resources or future expansion. The bottomline is, these initiatives reduce “required” investment which cost consumers the most. These savings will eventually be passed down via decreased delivery costs per kwh.

    Therefore, all consumers will save money by participating and by actively lowering their electricity bill, and by passively, in that the overall price per kwh will be lowered, (whereas the more participants, the greater the reduction.)

    The PWC public works manager also states they already use a recycling facility for CFL and other mercury containing products. Assuming that every mg of hg from every CFL will enter into the soil, is misguided. I’ll take the conservation EPA’s guidance I this one.


  7. Doubting Thomas said “While CFLs may reduce the amount of coal we burn, not all our electricity comes from coal.”

    Not all of our electricity comes from coal? Can you tell me how much of an electricity load there is in northern Va (or Va as a whole if you so choose); and from that amount, can you tell me how much of that supply is generated from non-coal sources, as well as from coal both in and out-of-state?

    As far as clean coal technologies/IGCC, the first full blown plant to fully “clean” the conversion process will not be on-line no sooner than 2011. That project is a combined effort largely b/n AEP & DOE and will not not serve Va.

    Until we bridge the future with the present the viable options outside of fossil-fuels are nuclear and EEC.


  8. Do the math? There is only a small amount of mercury in each CFL. There are over 25 lights in and around my home. My cubicle at work has five fluorescent lights serving it. Would you care to guess how many homes and offices and lights are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

    At one time, chopping down most of our world’s forests would have seemed impossible, yet where I live now, it is difficult to find a gigantic old tree.

    Fluorescent lights are not the source of most mercury pollution. Many products and ton after ton of burning coal (also contaminated with such a small amount) pollute our environment with mercury. While CFLs may reduce the amount of coal we burn, not all our electricity comes from coal. Moreover, if we clean up the coal, we will have mercury pollution from the CFLs. So we have to take care of both problems.


  9. “What bothers me is when people try to force others to adopt a particular idea. Unfortunately, people sometimes do not know when to stop. This excess generally takes one or both of two tacks. The first is spend the government’s money (i.e., the taxpayer’s money) and the second is to force their fellow citizens to spend their money.”

    Tom on the topic of Dominion’s powerline and energy efficiency, you have a history of making faulty assumptions. What the county is about to embark on is something every liberal or conservative, rich or poor, eastern or western county resident can be proud of. Surprisingly, the only two board members who voted against the resolution were Democrats! Both failed to understand the merit. Even our governor saw the light and out of the blue issued an executive order. It was a no-brainer even to him! Very soon, the feds will follow. I’m going to leave you hanging on this one – let’s see how well you do your homework.

    Pollution is not a new problem…Thus we have a choice… unless they recover and recycle those pollutants.

    If you or anyone else is uncomfortable with switching to CFL, then please don’t. No one is forcing you to make the switch, nor will anyone make you feel guilty for not doing so, despite your ellusion that those you speak about are supposedly trying to do.

    Or, you can simply do the math yourself, and see that a CFL start to finish beats out an incandescent bulb with regards to hg pollution and cost – easily.

    Energy Efficiency & Conservation (EEC) measures are voluntary but willsave money for not only volunteering participants, all electricity consumers will benefit financially in the long run.

    Too many folks out there still think of energy conservation as the inconvenient sacrifice they were called on to do during the 1970’s. I guess this is what plagued Barg and Jenkins. Doubting Tom, who by the way was the subject of today’s homily, you need to do more than read the local papers and googling a few url’s on this one.

    When it comes to new electricity, the cheapest, the cleanest, the most readily available, quickest to implement, all which has the least amount of impact on the climate and land, is none other than Energy Efficiency and Conservation measures. Nothing compares.


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