Drought evaporates in Legislature

11 02 2009

 

AP

A year ago, legislators couldn’t wait to show the public they were tackling Georgia’s epic drought. One of their first votes was to embrace a statewide water plan. And powerful lawmakers soon backed a quixotic bid to claim water from the Tennessee River. The drought still grips parts of north Georgia, and Lake Lanier — Atlanta’s main water supply — is still around 14 feet under normal level. But the environmental groups fear debate over drought has all but evaporated in the Georgia Legislature. “Water’s definitely not as high profile as it was last year,” said Jill Johnson of Georgia Conservation Voters, an environmental lobby. “But the drought hasn’t gone away, and Georgians are still concerned about their water supply.” It’s not for lack of trying. At least a half dozen proposals have been introduced by lawmakers from both parties that would spur conservation and crack down on pollution. But chamber leaders have not publicly made any of them a priority. Instead, they have said they will deliberate each proposal on an individual basis. And Carol Couch, the state’s top environmental official, said her office is focused on a statewide water management plan to help set Georgia’s water policy for decades to come. “While drought is not making news like it was a year ago, drought management remains an issue and we need to manage water use for the greatest conservation savings,” said Couch, the director of the state Environmental Protection Division. Meanwhile, there’s a growing number of lower-profile measures percolating in the Legislature. State Rep. Richard Smith proposed new rules that would make it more difficult for local governments to add septic systems, which don’t return water into the sewage system.

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Obama Bets Big on Biofuels in Georgia

3 02 2009

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”





EVENT: David Pope of non-profit environmental advocacy organization, Southern Environmental Law Center, to speak at Skidaway Rotary

3 02 2009

David Pope of the Southern Environmental Law Center will speak to the Skidaway Rotary Feb. 18 about “Protecting Coastal Treasures.” Pope will discuss the unique and important resources on the Georgia coast, the threats they face, and what SELC is doing to protect those resources. The Southern Environmental Law Center is a non-profit, donor-supported environmental advocacy organization using the power of the law to protect the environment and special places in the South. Working to defend the public’s interest and never for private gain, SELC provides its legal services without charge to other environmental organizations and partner groups.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(SAVANNAH, GA) David Pope of the non-profit environmental advocacy organization, the Southern Environmental Law Center, will speak to the Skidaway Rotary February 18 about “Protecting Coastal Treasures.” Pope will discuss the unique and important resources on the Georgia coast, the threats they face, and what SELC is doing to protect those resources. The Southern Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to protect the environment and special places in the South. Working to defend the public’s interest and never for private gain, SELC provides its legal services without charge to other environmental organizations and partner groups. SELC has a special initiative focused on protecting the Georgia coast with three lawyers working on this effort.

The Director of the Georgia/Alabama office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, Pope oversees the nonprofit environmental advocacy organization’s special initiative focused on protecting the Georgia coast. He also supervises all of SELC’s other work in Georgia and Alabama, including work to protect the public’s interest in our air, water and forests and work to improve our transportation issues and energy efficiency. In addition, he serves on the management committee for the organization and helps sets the priorities for work throughout the South.

He is a former partner at Carr, Tabb & Pope in Atlanta, with 29 years of environmental law practice. He graduated from University of Florida, Phi Beta Kappa, and University of North Carolina Law School.
About the Southern Environmental Law Center SELC is a nonprofit donor supported, environmental advocacy organization using the power of the law to protect the environment and health in the Southeast. Since 1986, SELC has informed, implemented and enforced environmental law and policy concerning clean air and water, mountain forests, the coast and wetlands, and rural lands and livable communities. Working to defend the public’s interest and never for private gain, SELC provides its legal services without charge to other environmental organizations and partner groups. SELC has 63 staff members and offices in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia; Chapel Hill and Asheville, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina, Washington, DC,; and Atlanta. Visit SELC online at www.southernenvironment.org





Lessons From Australia: Drought Can Help Georgia Economy

3 02 2009

 

David Beasley | Global Atlanta

Paul Dalby traveled to Atlanta from Australia with stories of a drought so severe that rivers stop flowing, lakes turn toxic and farmers abandon their land in frustration.

Dr. Dalby’s  message, delivered as metro Atlanta struggles to map strategies for coping with severe water shortages, focused on his country’s past and America’s future.

“Australia is where America could be in a few years,” said Dr. Dalby, a consultant with an Australian-funded institute, the International Center of  Excellence in Water Resource Management.

Yet he offered hope for Atlanta. Droughts might be drastic. However, Australia’s experience proves that less water can spark innovation, new companies and products and even more profit for some farmers, said Dr. Dalby.

In a recent interview at the Australian Consulate General in Atlanta, Dr. Dalby told the story of the Murray River and what happened when Australia drained too much water out of it for human consumption. It is a story that may resonate in metro Atlanta, where the waters of the Chattahoochee River are at the center of a long-ranging federal court fight between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, involving an array of competing business, government and environmental interests.  

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State close to proposing Plant Washington permits

3 02 2009

 

S. Heather Duncan | Macon.com

A year after Power4Georgians applied for permits to build and operate a new coal-fired power plant in Washington County, the state Environmental Protection Division is still deliberating.

Originally, EPD officials had said they might have permits ready for public comment by the end of 2008, but it has taken a bit longer. The agency plans to hold a public meeting in Sandersville, probably in March or April, said Thomas Smith, public affairs coordinator for the EPD’s air protection branch.

At the meeting, the EPD would share information with the public about the permit requirements that are being considered before issuing a draft. Once draft permits are created, a public hearing and public comment period would be held before a final decision about permitting the plant.

Power4Georgians, the company behind the project, is a consortium of 10 electric cooperatives that would divvy up the 850 megawatts of power to be produced daily at Plant Washington. The company says it will bring 130 jobs to a county that has lost much of its employment base in recent years as the kaolin industry eroded.

Dean Alford, whose company, Allied Energy Services, is developing Plant Washington, said Power4Georgians has tweaked the design to accommodate EPD comments but has made no major changes.

“EPD is being very thorough, and they’re asking all the right questions,” he said. “We hope the public meeting will be in the near future.”

POWER4Georgians needs at least six environmental permits for the plant: an air pollution permit, groundwater and surface water withdrawal permits, a water discharge permit for used water that goes back into the Oconee River, a permit for the storm water running off from the plant, and a permit for storing the solid waste such as gypsum and fly ash generated by the plant.

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DeKalb to Earth: Have we got a school for you!

2 02 2009

 

Kristina Torres | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It will be Georgia’s premier “green” school —- one of the first public schools in the state with a national certification for environmental construction and perhaps the only one with an environmentally themed curriculum.

DeKalb County’s Arabia Mountain High School opens Aug. 10, but officials are already working to get the sparkling new campus ready —- installation crews are putting on the final touches and a teachers job fair and parents’ meetings are scheduled this week.

Here’s a look at the school.

LOCATION

The campus sits in southeastern DeKalb near the Arabia Mountain national heritage area, which comprises thousands of acres of protected green space and is one of 37 federally designated heritage areas nationwide. On campus, easy access to miles of trails in and around the forested area is just past the practice football field behind the school building —- where deer are often spotted checking out their new neighbor.

CURRICULUM

All subjects will be infused with the standardized EIC curriculum —- which stands for using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning. Simply put, all teachers will use the environment as a backdrop for their lessons. The curriculum, developed jointly among 16 state education departments, can be seen at http://www.seer.org.

The school also will incorporate small learning communities. Students will be divided among different programs, with students going to class within these programs for all four years. The concept has been around in various forms for many years but has regained favor as schools try to increase graduation rates and student performance.

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EPD: Actually, About That PFOA Testing…

2 02 2009

John Sepulvado | GPB

For ten months, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division publicly said it was testing Northwest Georgia drinking water for a likely carcinogenic chemical. But now, the EPD says it never tested for PFOA in drinking water intakes.

The revelation comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a drinking water advisory for PFOA.

The chemical is found in high amounts in the Conasauga River, a source of drinking water for Northwest Georgia, including Rome. After a series of critical media stories were aired and published, the EPD announced it would test drinking water intakes for the compound. And for the past ten months, officials confirmed testing would take place.

Now, the project manager, Jeremy Smith, tells GPB there has been “a mix-up,” and that another EPD official misspoke. No further explanation was given. The EPD has no plans to test the drinking water.

The agency is still testing fish pulled from the river for PFOA, and those results are expected by spring.








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