Monthly Archives: September 2012

Visit EDF At The SXSW Eco Conference In Austin On Oct. 3-5

Next week, I am pleased to speak on a panel at the second annual SXSW Eco Conference. My panel will explore How "Big Data" Fits into the Smart Grid Evolution. Each day, people generate billions of data points and this “big data” is all around us. How we manage this highly valuable data will be of utmost importance and poses many challenges. I will engage in discussion with partners from Pecan Street Inc., to discuss how big data is key in evolving the smart grid. Specifically, my focus will be on the environmental benefits that can be realized from enabling consumers with this information.

Another panel I am excited to attend will feature EDF Health Scientist Elena Craft and attempt to answer the question: Can Natural Gas be Sustainable? Increased natural gas production has made a remarkable impact on electricity generation, but its use is not without controversy. Public concern is growing about the health and environmental impacts of drilling. Elena, along with representatives from industry, NGOs, and the community, will explore how stronger standards and best practices can minimize impacts.

Additionally, EDF Conservation Scientist David Wolfe will present a panel on how Habitat Credit Trading Markets Save Rare Species. Conservationists have known for decades that vast landscapes must be conserved in order to ensure the survival of many species, yet we struggle with how to transform this knowledge into action. The power of the market can be substantial in achieving landscape-scale conservation goals by transforming the way that developments mitigate their impacts on wildlife. David and his partners will describe how these regional habitat credit trading markets are being established throughout the country to create a win for wildlife recovery.

EDF will also be a sponsor of the Eco Connect event at SXSW Eco. This recruitment opportunity will allow us to showcase EDF Climate Corps, our innovative summer fellowship program that places specially-trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to build the business case for energy efficiency. Stop by Eco Connect next Wednesday from 1:30 to 3:30 pm to learn more about becoming a Climate Corps fellow or host organization.

Posted in Natural gas, Smart Grid / Read 1 Response

Railroad Sustainability Symposium Highlights Environmental Opportunities For Rail Sector

While most of EDF’s freight transportation clean air efforts address emissions from the trucking and ocean sector, use of our nation’s railroad system for intermodal goods movement has been growing. In fact, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports that intermodal traffic on U.S. rail has risen from 6 million units in 1990 to nearly 12 million in 2011.

As rail lines come to view intermodal as a growth sector and revenue generator, there are significant opportunities to ensure that freight transportation remains on a path toward sustainability. In that context, Norfolk Southern and GE Transportation hosted the 2nd Annual Railroad Sustainability Symposium last week to highlight current sustainability practices in the sector and to create a dialogue about how sustainability impacts railroads, freight transportation and supply chain logistics.

The symposium covered a wide range of topics including new locomotive technology, sustainability measurement, and land restoration efforts. Perhaps most relevant to clean air issues in environmental hotspots was an update on the NS 999, an electric switcher locomotive prototype first rolled out in 2009 by Norfolk Southern. This locomotive was designed with the express purpose of serving rail yards, an area with high traffic density and idling rates, as well as harmful emissions.

The NS 999 emits no pollutants from combustion and would be most impactful in reducing harmful criteria pollutants which threaten public health. Efforts to continue testing and developing the locomotive are ongoing, but the NS 999 represents a significant effort to address emissions at some of the most critical junctures of the supply chain.

Also of particular interest was the discussion on metrics and calculations for sustainability efforts. A number of companies represented at the symposium are a part of the Carbon Disclosure Project and/or the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Many spoke of the need for accountability of emissions estimations and third-party verification of data that feeds into sustainability and emissions modeling.

The AAR showcased their carbon calculator, a popular tool also used by other transportation stakeholders like the Port of Seattle. These calculators estimate the amount of carbon dioxide emissions avoided by using a particular route or mode. Companies, shareholders, regulators and other interest groups continue to push for transparency in sustainability to allow consumers and suppliers of transportation services to measure their impact and achievements in this area.

The symposium was informative and the dialogue collaborative as representatives from the rail industry, shippers, logistics partners and others met to advance the sustainability agenda for railroads. Rail is a growing player in the intermodal market and new infrastructure developments across the country promise to spur additional growth for this sector.

Houston is recognized as a major rail hub for the region and at the Port of Houston, locomotives represent approximately 13 percent of port nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 8 percent of port particulate matter (PM) emissions according to the 2007 Goods Movement Air Emissions Inventory. As we work towards improving air quality in environmental hotspots and reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain, we look forward to engaging with rail partners on freight sustainability.

Posted in Goods Movement, Houston, Ports, Transportation / Read 4 Responses

Texas Teen Tackles Air Pollution, Wins

This is a cross-post from Imatter, written by Eamon Umphress, a 16-year-old Texas resident.

Most 16-year-olds I know, including me, are interested in getting a job, a car, buying clothes and hanging out with friends, not saving the world. But I was given an opportunity to do just that.

In 2011, at age 15, I became part of a groundbreaking legal effort to protect the atmosphere for future generations, to ensure that we have a planet when we grow up. I became part of the iMatter/Our Children’s Trust legal action along with kids from 49 other states petitioning their state and federal government to protect the atmosphere from damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions.  We used an ancient legal concept called the “public trust doctrine.”  The doctrine is based on the idea that the government has an obligation to protect things that the community relies on, like water. But it has never been applied to the atmosphere before.

That’s because no one ever thought it needed protecting. Even in my short time on the planet, I’ve noticed a change in the climate. The hottest years in a century have happened in the last 10 years. Last summer was the hottest on record in Austin with over 90 days having temperatures above 100 degrees. And the projections for my beautiful green city are that by 2050, our climate will resemble the Sonoran desert.

But never could I have imagined that this lawsuit would have any real life impact. The idea even seemed a little far-fetched to me – suing the government to protect the atmosphere? I didn’t really give the effort much chance of success, but I thought it was important enough to give it a try, even if it seemed likely to fail. 

Part of what convinced me to do this was all the air alerts that warn old people and children to stay inside. It made me wonder if it was always like this. Did kids and grandparents always have to stay inside to protect their lungs? It was clear that something bad was happening to the air. . . you could even see the increasing amount of smog on the skyline. I was thinking someone had to do something about all the pollution going into the atmosphere, so I decided I would, because if I didn’t, who would? Someone had to do something. So I was really surprised when I learned that the judge said that the public trust doctrine must apply to all natural resources. The state had said it only applied to water, but the judge disagreed and broadened it.

The amazing thing is that the legal breakthrough happened in Texas, a state with a reputation for conservative judges and weak environmental laws. It really showed me that if you want something to happen, and you step up and make the effort, it just might.
A lot of kids my age feel like there isn't much they can do to make a difference on an individual scale. But I did. So you can too.

Imatter is a youth-led organization advocating for real solutions to climate change.

Posted in Air Pollution, GHGs / Read 1 Response