Ohioans might not give it much thought outside of paying the water bill, but better water infrastructure can make cities more efficient, healthier and cleaner. That’s why Green For All, a group that promotes clean energy initiatives, is now focusing on cleaner, greener water infrastructure.
A little-known green conference took place in Cincinnati Oct. 15-17. The Urban Water Sustainability Leadership Conference was in town on those three days, and it brought together leaders from around the U.S. to discuss sustainable water programs for cities. The conference mostly focused on policy ideas, success stories and challenges faced by modern water infrastructure.
For Green For All, attending the conference was about establishing one key element that isn’t often associated with water and sewer systems: jobs. Jeremy Hays, chief strategist for state and local initiatives at Green For All, says this was the focus for his organization.
Hays says it’s important for groups promoting better water infrastructure to include the jobs aspect of the equation. To Hays, while it’s certainly important for cities to establish cleaner and more efficient initiatives, it’s also important to get people back to work. He worries this side of water infrastructure policies are “often left out.”
He points to a report released by Green For All during last year’s conference. The report looked at how investing the $188.4 billion suggested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to manage rainwater and preserve water quality in the U.S. would translate into economic development and jobs: “We find that an investment of $188.4 billion spread equally over the next five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity and create close to 1.9 million jobs.”
To accomplish that robust growth and job development, the report claims infrastructure would have to mimic “natural solutions.” It would focus on green roofs, which are rooftop areas with planted vegetation; urban tree planting; rain gardens, which are areas that use vegetation to reduce storm water runoff; bioswales, which are shallow, vegetated depressions that catch rainwater and redirect it; constructed wetlands; permeable pavements, which are special pavements that allow water to pass through more easily; rainwater harvesting, which uses rain barrels and other storage devices to collect and recycle rainwater; and green alleys, which reduce paved or impervious surfaces with vegetation that reduces storm water runoff.
The report says constructing and maintaining these sorts of programs would produce massive growth, especially in comparison to other programs already supported by presidential candidates and the federal government: “Infrastructure investments create over 16 percent more jobs dollar-for-dollar than a payroll tax holiday, nearly 40 percent more jobs than an across-the-board tax cut, and over five times as many jobs as temporary business tax cuts.”
Hays says the jobs created also don’t have barriers that keep them inaccessible to what he calls “disadvantaged workers”: “A lot of these jobs that we’re focused on in infrastructure, especially green infrastructure, are much more accessible. They require some training and some skills, but not four years’ worth because it’s skills that you can get at a community college or even on the job.”
Beyond jobs, Green For All supports greener infrastructure due to its health benefits. Hays cited heat waves as one example. He says the extra plants and vegetation planted to support green infrastructure can help absorb heat that’s typically contained by cities.
Hays’ example has a lot of science to stand on. The extra heating effect in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, is caused because cities have more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. The EPA promotes green roofs in order to help combat the urban heat island effect.
Hays says green infrastructure also creates cleaner air because trees capture carbon dioxide and break it down to oxygen. The work of the extra trees can also help reduce global warming, although Hays cautions that the ultimate effect is probably “relatively small.”
But those are only some of the advantages Hays sees in green infrastructure. He says green infrastructure is more resilient against volatile weather events caused by global warming. With green infrastructure, storm water can be managed by systems that collect and actually utilize rainwater to harvest clean water. Even in a world without climate change, that storm water management also reduces water contamination by reducing sewer overflow caused by storm water floods, according to Hays.
However, green infrastructure is not without its problems. Hays acknowledges there are some problems with infrastructure systems that require more year-over-year maintenance: “The green and conventional approach is more cost effective over time, but the way you have to spend money is different. So we need to look at the way we finance infrastructure, and make sure we keep up with innovative technologies.”
Specifically, green infrastructure relies less on big capital investments and more on ongoing maintenance costs. Hays insists the green infrastructure saves money in the long term with efficiency and by making more use out of natural resources, and the Green For All report supports his claim. But it is more difficult to get a city or state legislator to support long-term funding than it is to get them to support big capital expenditures, Hays says.
Education is also a problem. To a lot of people, the green infrastructure on rooftops and other city areas might seem like “pocket parks,” says Hays. But these areas are nothing like parks; they are meant to absorb and collect rainwater. If the public isn’t educated properly, there could be some confusion as to why the supposed “pocket parks” are flooded so often. Providing that education is going to be another big challenge for public officials adopting green infrastructure, according to Hays.
So what, if anything, is Cincinnati doing to adopt these
technologies? In the past, city legislators have looked into rainwater
harvesting systems, but not much information is out there. On Thursday, CityBeat will talk to city officials to see how Cincinnati is moving forward.
As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.
Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.
During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.
Today’s question is, “What is your stance on the city's Environmental Justice Ordinance? Should it be retained or repealed?”
Sorry, Dr. Suess.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, continues comparing Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency law to Stalinism and other extreme Soviet-era policies.
Seitz’s latest comparison, according to Columbus’ Business First, claims Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t need “Stalinist” mandates to pursue their inventions.
“It was not some Stalinist government mandating, ‘You must buy my stuff,’” Seitz said.
It’s not the first time Seitz made the comparison. In March, he said Ohio’s Clean Energy Law reminds him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.”
Seitz, a director of the conservative, oil-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), remains unsuccessful in his years-long push to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. He says the law picks winners and losers in the energy market by favoring Ohio-based efficient, renewable sources.
Environmentalists and other supporters of the law claim it helps combat global warming and encourages economy-boosting innovations in the energy market, including the adoption of more solar power in Cincinnati.
Seitz’s references to Stalin continue the long-popular Republican tactic of comparing economic policies conservatives oppose with socialism, communism and other scary-sounding ideas.
While Seitz’s argument makes for catchy rhetoric, there are a few key differences between Stalinism and Ohio’s Clean Energy Law:
Stalinism is a framework of authoritarian, communist policies pursued in the 20th century by Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. It involves a state takeover of various aspects of private life and the economy.
The Clean Energy Law is a policy established in 2008 by the democratic state of Ohio. The law sets benchmarks requiring utility companies to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.
Stalinism pushes out private markets and replaces them with an authoritarian government’s total command.
The Clean Energy Law sets standards and regulations for existing private businesses.
Stalinism saves Ohioans no money.
The Clean Energy Law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills over the next 12 years, according to a 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.
To enforce his policies, Stalin killed millions of people — a number so high that historians have trouble calculating exactly how many died under the Soviet leader’s reign.
To enforce the Clean Energy Law, Ohio officials have killed zero people.
Stalinism and other communist policies are widely considered unsustainable by economists and historians and a primary reason for the Soviet Union’s downfall.
The differences are pretty clear. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law might require some refining, and there might be better solutions to global warming, such as the carbon tax. But comparisons to Stalinism go too far.
A Dec. 5 report is encouraging Cincinnati to become the solar energy capital of Ohio and the broader region. The report, titled “Building a Solar Cincinnati,” was put together by Environment Ohio to show the benefits and potential of Cincinnati regarding solar power.
Christian Adams, who wrote the report along with Julian Boggs, says Cincinnati is especially poised to take charge in this renewable energy front, in contrast to the rest of the state, which gets 82 percent of its electricity from coal. Adams points to the sustainability-minded city officials and public, a “budding solar business sector” and the great business environment as the city as reasons why Cincinnati could become a pivotal leader.
With 21 public solar installations to date, the city has already seen some of the benefits of solar power. The most obvious benefit is cleaner air, which leads to better overall health and helps combat global warming. But the report points out that local solar initiatives mean local jobs. “You can’t export these jobs,” Adams says. “It’s a great opportunity for economic revitalization.”
With solar energy comes an array of job opportunities for solar installers, solar designers, engineers, construction workers, project managers, sales associates and marketing consultants. That’s enough to create brisk job creation. The report points out “energy-related segments of the clean economy added jobs at a torrid pace over the last few years, bucking trends of the Great Recession.”
Still, there are hurdles.
Although solar energy saves money in the long term, installing solar
panels has a high upfront cost. The cost can make the short term too bleak for many potential customers.
To help overcome the short-term problem, the report suggests third-party financing. In these financing agreements, customers agree to give up roof space to have a solar power company install solar panels, and then customers agree to buy their power needs from the company. It’s a win for the solar power company because the panels eventually pay for themselves through new customers, and it’s a win for the customer because he sees more stable, lower energy costs and cleaner air. Adams points out that a few businesses and individuals in the area have already taken part in such agreements with great success.
There are also some incentives already in place to encourage solar energy. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which was passed in 2008, pushes utility companies into the renewable energy market with Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are credits utility companies must earn to meet annual benchmarks by installing solar panels or purchasing them from third parties. Duke Energy has followed the law’s requirements by establishing its own renewable energy credit program.
Ohioans also have access to some tax breaks — the Energy Conversion Facilities Sales Tax Exemption, Air-Quality Improvement Tax Incentives and Qualified Energy Property Tax Exemptions — and loan programs — the Energy Loan Fund and Advanced Energy Fund — that encourage solar and other renewable energy sources.
Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), says the report didn’t have much new information, but he’s glad it can be used to push solar energy to the broader public. He touted the benefits of job creation and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources by moving toward energy independence.
For now, the city is mostly taking the approach of leading by example. Falkin says the city is acting like a “model” for solar energy. Cincinnati added solar installations to two city facilities this year, and another will be added by the end of the month. Falkin’s office is also working together with different organizations to keep any momentum going.
Adams and Falkin both attended a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion
that engaged regional officials, including solar businesses,
environmental and sustainability groups, education leaders and the
Cincinnati Zoo. They both said the roundtable went well.
“I think all the right people are coming together and doing the right things to try to move us forward,” Falkin says.
Monsanto, a large corporation with a self-described focus of “producing more, conserving more and improving lives," focuses on innovation in agricultural production and
claims to have “an eye on the future.” Included in their Sustainable Yield
Initiative of 2008 are the benefits of biotechnology, or the genetic
modification of farmed products. The March Against Monsanto will be held to
combat this process, as well as other practices like Monsanto’s efforts to
overturn European Union regulation on obligatory labeling. The march’s primary
organizer, Tami Monroe Canal, says she started the movement because she
was concerned for her daughters’ lives.
“I feel Monsanto threatens their generation’s health, fertility and longevity,” she explains. “I couldn’t sit by idly, waiting for someone else to do something.”
A precursor meeting announcement for
the Cincinnati march emphasizes that this movement is not a “fist waving”
event. Says the Cincinnati organizer Dana Haan, “It is a peaceful yet assertive demonstration in which we evoke public
awareness of what is happening with Monsanto and our food and the future of
Organizers throughout the United States are calling on participants to bring handouts that explain GMO processes in fact form, with “no slandering, no opinions or paper — just facts.” March participants are striving to prove that the genetic modification of foods is more detrimental than beneficial to individual health, citing studies conducted on GMOs that suggest the presence of pesticides in some modified products, as well as evidence that consumption of GMOs leads to cancer, infertility and birth defects.
With more than 100,000 likes on Facebook and an event list ranging from Boulder, Colo., to Cairo, Egypt, support for the March Against Monsanto has skyrocketed since its inception in February of this year. Advocating not only an end to GMOs but also various solutions for achieving this goal, March leaders assert that they will continue to expose Monsanto’s secrets, “taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.”
Correction: This story originally gave the wrong location and time in the sub-headline.
A new report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has found that Ohio had the second worst toxic air pollution from power plants in the United States in 2010.
The report showed Ohio had more toxic air pollution from power plants than neighbors Pennsylvania and Indiana, but it had less toxic air pollution than Kentucky.
Linda Soros, spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says the results are reflective of Ohio being a "coal state" and a "highly industrialized state."
The report had some positive news. It found that all air toxics emitted from power plants had dropped by 19 percent in 2010 compared to 2009 levels. The report partly attributes this drop to natural gas, which is cleaner than coal and has become cheaper than coal thanks to the massive fracking boom in Ohio and other states. Power plants have also been installing "state-of-the-art pollution controls" in anticipation of new regulations from the national EPA, bringing down air toxics further, according to the report.
Some of the new regulations will come from the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics standards, which were finalized in 2011. The standards will cut mercury air pollution by 79 percent from 2010 levels starting in 2015, according to the report. Sulfur dioxide will also be reduced by 63 percent under the new rules, and hydrochloric acid will be reduced by 95 percent.
The report says these cuts in toxic pollution will help deal with the many health problems caused by air pollution, including asthma, heart disease and chronic bronchitis.
The report used the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory — a national database for toxic emissions that are self-reported by industrial sources — for its analysis. The full report can be read here.
The report comes at a time when coal is in the middle of the national political arena. President Barack Obama has been running a radio spot in Ohio
praising the state for its growing coal use. The ad said Obama has always
supported the fabled "clean coal," much to the dismay of
environmentalists that typically side with the president over his
opponents. The ad also criticized opponent and then-Gov. Mitt Romney for
claiming a Massachusetts coal power plant "kills people" in 2003.
(Activist Jeff Cobb, of Climate Change Advocates of Cincinnati, outlines why the climate change treaty meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, is important and how U.S. politicians are lagging in the effort.)
The parallels between Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the callous neglect by politicians like the U.S. Senate while the Earth burns due to global warming is sadly apt.
One could easily write an entire column containing only the names of the scientific reports that prove that climate change is happening, is caused by human activity and why action needs to be taken to reverse it. Scientific, political, religious, national security and economic thinkers who have looked at climate change understand our dire straits and beg for changes.
No matter what a politician says, coal has never been and can’t be “clean” or serve as an “alternative” fuel that’s good for the environment. On position held by many groups is that limiting the use of coal is necessary to create the incentive to come up with energy alternatives that truly don’t harm the environment. The League of Women Voters is one of those groups.