The Daily Grist: March 2

Seventh Heaven Can Wait
Eco-Friendly, Socially Conscious Company Faces Tough Choices

Seventh Generation, the biggest U.S. brand of eco-friendly household products -- toilet paper, diapers, soaps, etc. -- is a case study in the possibilities and perils facing companies with a social conscience. Founder and CEO Jeffrey Hollender recently struggled over his decision to continue supplying the company's products to Albertsons while the supermarket mega-chain battled with its unionized employees over benefits. In the longer term, especially as Seventh Generation grows at 20 to 40 percent annually, the company must address what Hollender calls the toughest problem facing responsible companies: scale. How can a small company built on the vision of a strong-willed founder (think Ben and Jerry's) succeed and expand while staying true to its principles? Hollender optimistically cites mounting evidence that social conscience is a business asset, with activist shareholders increasingly coming to see that good environmental behavior is indicative of good behavior across the board.

We Will Rocket You
EPA and DOD Square Off Over Rocket-Fuel Pollution

The U.S. EPA is squaring off against the Department of Defense and NASA over ammonium perchlorate, a chemical long used by DOD and NASA for munitions and rocket fuel, and typically disposed of by being diluted in water and dumped on the ground. Based on studies of rodents and children, the EPA contends that perchlorate is unsafe in groundwater at levels above one part per billion. The Pentagon contends, based on its own studies of adults, that the chemical is safe up to 200 parts per billion. Both sides claim the other is using junk science. Cleanup based on the EPA's standards would cost many billions more -- an estimated $40 billion over the next 10 years for the Colorado River alone. Alarmed by the EPA's recommendations, and the fact that many states are adopting standards closer to the EPA's, the Pentagon is considering appealing to Congress for legal exemptions. "They've retreated to the next trench, which is to fight a legal battle either in the courts or in Congress to wipe out their liability," said Erik Olson, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Playing De-fence
Prominent House Republican Calls for Completion of Border Fence

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, called on the Bush administration today to complete a major fence project along the westernmost portion of the U.S.-Mexico border despite concerns that such a project could harm habitat for threatened and endangered birds. The California Coastal Commission last month denied the Department of Homeland Security's request to fill in canyons and build fences along 3.5 miles of border that abut the Pacific Ocean. The commission ruled that the security benefits of the $58 million fence project were outweighed by the environmental harm, a ruling Hunter called "reckless and dangerous" in a letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge. If overruled, the commission will likely sue, but even if it wins in federal court, President Bush has the power to disregard the decision.

Wave Hello!
Wave Power Poised to Go Commercial Off Coast of Spain

Ocean Power Technologies, a leader in the fledgling wave-power industry, is set to launch a pilot project off the north shore of Spain. Ten power-generating buoys will be placed in the Bay of Biscay, where they will float just below the surface and transform wave energy into mechanical force, which drives a generator that transmits power to shore via underground cables. While this project will yield a relatively tiny 1.25 megawatts, the company plans to have a 100-MW wave farm in place by 2006, which would be the world's first commercial-scale wave-driven power station. Though the system won't produce power during strong storms or complete calm, the buoys will be up and running 80 to 90 percent of the time (compared to 20 to 30 for some solar systems), and they take up less space per kilowatt-hour than wind farms or conventional generators -- so boasts Ocean Power CEO and founder George Taylor. Says Robin Batchelor, head of Merrill Lynch's New Energy Technology Fund, "The technology is very immature, but there is some good progress being made."

For more environmental news and humor visit Grist Magazine

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