John Gartner

A Clean Win in Colorado

Colorado has joined the list of states requiring its utilities to tap into clean solar and wind energy. Voters in the Centennial State approved Amendment 37 on November 2, marking the first time that a ballot initiative was used to establish a renewable portfolio standard.

The measure, which was approved by 52 percent of voters, requires Colorado utilities servicing 40,000 or more customers to produce at least three percent of their electricity from renewable energy beginning in 2007, and 10 percent by 2015. It requires that four percent of the renewable energy come from solar power.

Colorado became the 17th state with a renewable portfolio standard, and the first to do so through direct citizen action. The Colorado legislature had tried to pass bills with renewable portfolio standard on three occasions, but each time concerns about increased consumer costs scuttled the legislation.

But the states that currently require the use of renewable energy have all seen costs stay the same or in many cases go down, according to Jon Wellinghoff, who helped to write the Colorado ballot language and Nevada's portfolio standard and is a partner at the law firm of Beckley Singleton.

Wellinghoff said utilities are fiscally conservative and are therefore hesitant to invest in solar and wind energy farms. "You have to create the renewable markets to get developers to risk money to build the plants," he said.

Utilities prefer the flexibility of being able to buy additional natural gas or coal to meet short term needs instead of making the long term investment in renewable projects that can take years to complete, according to Wellinghoff.

Power company Xcel Energy opposed the Colorado ballot measure because it requires a percentage of energy sales – which can substantially fluctuate – come from renewable resources, according spokesman Mark Stutz. He said the company would have preferred that the measure specify an amount of energy capacity, which would simplify investing and management.

Stutz said that the uncertainty of the continuation of the federal energy production tax credits makes it more difficult for utilities to plan for the future. In October, Congress voted to continue the 1.8 cent per kilowatt hour wind power tax credit through 2005. "You can't assume that they will always be in place," Stutz said.

Xcel currently has wind farms in Colorado with 250-megawatt production capacity, and the company had already planned on expanding its wind investment to 750 megawatts, according to Stutz. He said the company has not made any significant solar energy investments to date.

Ronald Binz, of Public Policy Consulting, studied the potential economic impact of Amendment 37 and found that it would not likely effect consumer rates much in either direction. "The bottom line is I don't think it will matter financially," said Binz. He said the measure affects seven power providers.

The report states, "The wind resources available in Colorado make it one of the better states in the country for wind power prospects." The cost of wind power in Colorado is expected to drop from five cents per kilowatt hour in 2004 to three and a half cents in 2023, according to the report.

Binz said that renewable energy is already becoming cost competitive with natural gas and coal power, which continue to become more expensive. In November, Xcel raised the price of natural gas charged to consumers by 24 percent. Binz said the company was moving from an annual Gas Cost Adjustment to a Monthly Gas Coast Adjustment to more accurately reflect the actual cost of the natural gas. Consumer and business prices will rise by 18-20 percent, Binz said, because the company includes changes in the cost of delivery and maintenance in its billing.

Wellinghoff said that tax credits for renewable energy help to put it on equal footing with other energy sources. "Fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, as well as nuclear energy have enjoyed subsidies for years." He said many of the recent natural gas power plants were built with the aid of defense department subsidies.

While state officials across the country and utilities have quarreled about the financial impact of using renewable energy, Wellinghoff said they have failed to consider its environmental benefits. He said that reduction of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions did not factor into Nevada's portfolio program, and the state has not studied the environmental impact of the program since it went into effect in 2001.

"The federal Environmental Protection Agency is looking into emission reduction credits, but it has not been part of any of these state laws," said Wellinghoff. He said that Idaho and Utah are also considering enacting renewable portfolio standards.

Music with a Message

They came from far and wide to support a man whom they believe could right the course of the nation and lead them to the Promised Land.

And Bruce Springsteen's fans think John Kerry might be alright too.

Before a sold-out crowd of more than 18,000 at Philadelphia's Wachovia Center, Springsteen, R.E.M., John Fogerty and relative newcomer Bright Eyes wowed the predominantly Democratic audience with a four-and-a-half-hour show that emphasized performing over proselytizing.

The concert was one of 37 Vote for Change shows that will raise money for America Coming Together, a non-profit group supporting John Kerry that is seeking to increase voter turnout in swing states.

The bands pleased fans by performing sets that intermingled their politically-themed songs with fan favorites. Springsteen and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe kept the political statements to a minimum while passionately performing their hits and sharing the stage for several songs.

And that was just fine with the fans, most of whom came to the show for the entertainment, not the politics. Bryan Litman, a 27-year-old from New York City, was one of many out-of-state Springsteen fans who came primarily to see The Boss. Litman, who supports Kerry, said he is comfortable with the Vote for Change format of mixing politics with music. "People who come here should know what they are going to get (on stage) because they have been so up front about the concert," Litman says. He prefers this direct approach to the purportedly unbiased "propaganda you get on Fox News."

R.E.M. played hits including "The One I Love," "Joyful Noise" and "Losing My Religion" during which the lanky Stipe, dressed head to toe in white, flailed about the stage looking like the Trix rabbit on a sugar high. Stipe's few political remarks included "We are R.E.M., and we approve of this concert," and "Did anybody watch the debate last night?" which elicited a rousing response from the audience.

Stipe referred to the President when introducing 1988's "World Leader Pretend," and called the Iraq War "kind of fucked up" when he introduced "Final Straw," a song he wrote shortly after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

In between sets, conversations in the audience were more about music and the mundane than the upcoming election. One audience member was surprised at the lack of political activists and voter registration efforts outside the arena (there were a few tables inside). Springsteen fan Lisa Durocher of Manchester, N.H. told Paula Kougeas of Alexandria, VA. that she decided to support Kerry over Howard Dean in her state's primary solely because she heard that Bruce's drummer, Max Weinberg, was supporting Kerry. The two women, both Democrats, also discussed the debates and how they were both impressed by Kerry's performance.

Scattered amongst the crowd were a minority of folks wearing pro-Kerry or anti-Bush clothes. Eric, who works in real estate in New Jersey, proudly wore a baseball shirt representing the Halliburton Overchargers. He said he had never made a political donation before, but he and his girlfriend from New York were heading to Allentown, PA. after the concert to help out with a voter registration drive. The smattering of Bush supporters in the crowd kept a low profile, with the exception of a trio of beer-enhanced men shouting for "four more years" as they left the premises.

While the still-streaming-in audience responded well to R.E.M., it was clearly partisan – most of the crowd seemed to be there for Springsteen. Outside the arena, it looked like any other Bruce concert – lots of Springsteen T-shirts, tailgating, and CD players blaring "Born to Run" or other Boss standards. When Springsteen appeared on stage to sing alongside Stipe during R.E.M.'s "Man On The Moon," a Vesuvian eruption of fan adulation overwhelmed the sounds from onstage.

Springsteen's set started with a blistering 12-string rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner," followed immediately by "Born in the U.S.A.," "Badlands" and "No Surrender," and the gritty "Johnny 99." Former Creedence Clearwater Revival front man John Fogerty joined Springsteen and the E Street Band for four songs, including his "Déjà Vu All Over Again" which compares the Iraq conflict with Vietnam, and "Fortunate Son" a '70s Creedence hit critical of Vietnam.

During an extended version of "Mary's Place," Springsteen used his oft-relied-upon device of saving someone through rock-and-roll, only this time, the saved soul was convinced to vote for Kerry. A bowtie-wearing accomplice was "taken to the river of change and carried to the other side," according to healer Bruce.

Later in the performance, Springsteen made his "public service announcement for the evening." The purpose of the evening, he said, was to support the change to a rational government that supports civil rights, fairness and the environment. "America is not always right, but we always seek the truth."

Notably absent from Springsteen's set was the pacifist song "War" as well as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," both of which he has performed in concert on a number of occasions.

The evening concluded with two songs featuring all of the performers onstage. The groups jammed to Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," and Patti Smith's "Power to the People."

The people left, power in hand.

The Long Kiss Goodbye

Nicole Halpern's decision to become politically active came down to two numbers: 22 million and 537. Earlier this year, Halpern, a 30-year-old, living in San Francisco, heard that 22 million single women did not vote in the 2000 election, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That fact, combined with the slim margin of President Bush's victory in Florida (537 votes) made Halpern realize that single women could and should make a difference in this election.

So on July 3, Halpern started WAKEup2004.com, which stands for Women Advocate Kerry Edwards. "I was frustrated about the actions of this administration and decided to channel my frustration and sadness into this project," Halpern said. She said that like many other women, she has been intimidated by politics, and was frustrated by all of the negativity in the political process. "Candidates would always say one thing and do another."

WAKEup's lofty goal is to get 2.2 million single women to register and vote for the Democratic ticket. The group distributes information about both candidates' positions on issues using the Internet and some old-fashioned communications techniques. WAKEup encourages women to distribute a chain letter it produced to at least five of their single friends to encourage them to register and vote.

WAKEUP volunteers kicked off the campaign by sending 500 letters to female friends across the country, with special emphasis on swing states. Halpern said WAKEUP is also putting up posters in laundromats and is organizing 500 social events in 25 days to increase awareness about the importance of voting. Halpern said that on Oct. 19, participants will gather at post offices to send letters to the White House with a lipstick kiss on the envelope "kissing the President goodbye."

"We are going to break the Bush jinx by having fun," Halpern said. "Getting involved can be very empowering."

The bevy of female-oriented get-out-the-vote groups spawned this year includes both non-partisan and left-leaning initiatives using a variety of communication techniques. GetOutHerVote.org, a spin-off from the Feminist Majority Foundation, is organizing teams of women on college campuses to recruit young women to register to vote, while 1000flowers.org is distributing beauty kits with the get-out-the-vote message to 1000 beauty salons.

Women's Voices, Women Vote is a research-based campaign collecting data about how to most effectively reach unmarried women who do not vote. The clearly partisan WomenAgainstBush.org is organizing cocktail parties to reinforce its message of protecting women's rights by voting.

So could these independent efforts add up to something tangible at the ballot box?

Maybe so, according to Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. Bystrom said that because single women tend to vote heavily democratic, a "one to three percent increase in the number of single women voting could make the difference in the election."

Bystrom said that focusing on recruiting single women would help John Kerry because of a "marriage" gap in women's voting tendencies. Bystrom said that an August poll conducted by USA Today, CNN and the Gallup Organization showed a 38-point gap in preference for president, as Bush lead by a 13 percent margin with married women, while Kerry led by 25 percent with single women.

Single women are more concerned about health care and the economy since 54 percent of unmarried women earn less than $30K per year, according to Bystrom. Married women, who tend to live in households with higher incomes, focus more on terrorism and security, she said.

While having cocktail parties and writing letters are important, Bystrom said the women's groups need to personally follow up with potential voters after they register to make sure they turnout on election day. "Single women have a problem getting to the polls," she said. "If you wait until election day, you could be sick, or the car could break down."

To increase voter turnout, Bystrom suggests that organizations urge people to take advantage of absentee ballots or the early voting days that are available in some states. At Iowa State, for example, students are organizing pizza parties on the two Saturdays in early October that the state allows ballots to be completed early.

Theresa Wabler, a 24-year-old consultant from suburban Philadelphia, said most of her gal pals do not vote and are politically averse. Wabler, who recently registered to vote for the first time, said the prevailing perception among her 20-something friends is that "politics belongs to our parents' generation."

"I guess they fall susceptible to the dispersion of responsibility by anonymity.... someone else will be responsible so I don't have to be," Wabler said. She said that attempting to target single women, especially those who are college educated with secure careers, is difficult because "there isn't a single issue discussed that appears relevant to us collectively."

Wabler said the ongoing war in Iraq is the key issue compelling her to vote this year. While in the past she felt "We're living in America, how bad can it get?" the current direction of the country "has eliminated the false faith that every thing will be okay."

Getting a higher percentage of single women to vote is seen as essential to counter the vote of married women who tend to vote Republican. Recent polls indicate that so-called "security moms" with children tend to support Bush because he is viewed as a stronger leader in fighting terrorism.

Women like Wabler who registered this year will likely go to the polls, according to Raymond E. Wolfinger, the Heller Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley. Wolfinger said that 85 to 90 percent of people "really" registered to vote show up at the polls.

Wolfinger said most voter rolls are filled with "deadwood" names of people who no longer live in an area but continue to be listed on the voter rolls. Wofinger said "One-third of all adults in the U.S. changed residences within last 2 years," and their names usually aren't taken off the rolls."

According to the 2000 Census data, only 41.2 percent of women aged 18-44 who have never married voted, compared to just 34.3 of men in the same category. Torrey Strohmeier, the founder of She19.com, said it is a mistake for so many women to fail to vote. "To give (away the right to vote) away is insane," said Strohmeier.

In Strohmeier's social circles, friends were hesitant to have political discussions. "It was scary to be an advocate for a certain position." So she designed a tee shirt referring to the 19th amendment to open as a conversation starter. "(The tee shirts are) an easy way for people to begin to have a very important conversation."

Strohmeier quit her full-time job to dedicate her time to selling tee shirts and coordinating parties to preach the importance of voting, especially in 2004. "If we learned anything from the 2000 election, it is that every vote counts."

Greenhouse Gases Heat Up as a Commodity

American companies have done little to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the years since the government failed to join with other nations in abiding by the Kyoto Protocol. However, despite the lack of government requirements, several dozen organizations are voluntarily helping us to breathe easier through the first North American marketplace for trading greenhouse emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol was established by the United Nation's Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1997; it set targets for 38 nations to reduce their emissions below 1990 levels. The plan allows for organizations within participating countries to buy and sell permits for emitting pollution, creating economic incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

President Bush has declined to sign the agreement, instead offering a less-stringent alternative.

Emissions trading enables companies to buy permits from those that have developed more cost-effective ways of lessening their environmental impact, according to Tim Brennan, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. For example, a company that reduces its emissions by installing solar panels can sell permits to polluters at a premium. For many companies it is cheaper to purchase permits than to reduce emissions themselves, Brennan said.

"Emissions trading has been a very successful way of reducing the cost of pollution control," Brennan said. "It's not just some flaky idea."

In December of 2003, the first trades of greenhouse gas emissions in North America took place on the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The exchange is run by volunteer member organizations that have agreed to take action against global warming. According to CCX vice president Rafael Marques, more than one million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) have been traded on the exchange since its inception.

Professor Brennan said that including an emissions trading plan is the most politically palatable method for governments to introduce the reduction of emissions because "it means that it is being done most cost effectively." Emissions trading "lets the market figure out the best way to solve the problem," he said.

CCX now includes more than 50 member organizations including the City of Chicago, but so far only three power companies – American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio; TECO Energy of Tampa, Florida; and Manitoba Hydro of Winnipeg – have joined.

Bruce Braine, vice president of strategic policy analysis for American Electric Power (AEP), expects more power companies to join once overall membership reaches critical mass. "It's kind of like a club. It becomes 'Why didn't you join?'"

Braine said AEP is has established a full-time position to manage its carbon sequestration effort, which includes tree planting. He said the company would be below its target for emissions in 2004.

Although the number of emissions permits traded per month on the exchange is growing, the price per ton is hovering just below $1, according to CCX. Braine said the price should rise closer to the $10 price of the European market as more companies come on board.

While the reduction in gases by CCX members constitutes only a fraction-of-a-fraction of the nearly two billion tons of greenhouse gases put into the air by the United States each year, Braine said that the perception of being a good corporate citizen will persuade more of the largest power companies to join. "We are moving the ball in the right direction," Braine said.

Braine said he does not expect the government to require greenhouse gas reductions anytime soon, so corporate emissions reductions will continue to be voluntary. "Our political system is such that we probably won't have a system in the next few years."

CCX does not have a formalized penalty structure for companies that exceed their greenhouse gas emissions, but Braine is "positive that every company has been meeting the requirements." Braine said there are mechanisms to verify adherence to the group's conditions. For example, the National Association of Securities Dealers audits each organization, he said.

The reduction of other harmful gases has been supported by emissions trading for more than a decade in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency's Acid Rain Program trades in sulfur dioxide, and the EPA also coordinates 19 states' swapping of nitrogen oxides through the NOx Budget Trading Program.

The EPA's Climate Leaders program is another voluntary effort to reduce greenhouse gas production, but it does not include a trading program. The department encourages "aggressive long-term emissions reductions," and is working with 54 corporations.

Michael Cosgrove, CEO of energy brokerage Amerex, said that while some companies join out of environmental concern, others may join to get positive public relations or possibly to offset some prior negative publicity.

Cosgrove said some companies are being pressured by shareholders to act responsibly. Shareholders threaten to vote out boards that ignore the environment, he said. Consumers may also convince companies to begin reducing emissions. "For whatever reason, if Ford is a member and GM isn't (as is the case today) it may become a selling point to consumers."

Amerex joined a growing roster of companies that are becoming "carbon neutral," Cosgrove said Amerex purchased greenhouse gas permits through CCX to offset all of the energy used at its facilities and by its employees in travel. "By purchasing an allowance, you are sending money to someone who is doing something to address global warming," Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove believes that a change in leadership in the White House could result in corporations being required to reduce emissions, which would greatly expand the market and raise the price of permits. "I would assume that Kerry would be more friendly to Kyoto."

Chickens into Oil

The spike in gas prices and the instability in the Middle East are energizing interest in oil alternatives such as biodiesel and ethanol. But one company has seized on a way to capitalize on two seemingly disparate problems: diminishing oil reserves and wasted animal carcasses. Their solution? Turn the animal carcasses into oil. Turkey and chicken waste products (guts, blood, and carcasses) that are discarded by the ton each day are now being turned into a "bio oil" fuel that can be refined as diesel or gasoline.

For decades, scientists have attempted to rapidly turn animal carcasses or other biomass solids into liquid fuel. Researchers have been refining the "pyrolysis" process of using extreme heat, pressure and a catalyst that is akin to the natural occurrence that turned dinosaurs into petroleum, according to Dr. Richard Cohen, the Graduate Studies Chairman in the Mechanical Engineering Department of Temple University.

In May, a processing plant in Carthage Missouri began turning turkey guts, feathers, blood and carcasses into an oil alternative. Renewable Energy Solutions, a joint venture between ConAgra Foods and Changing World Technologies, is each day transforming 200 tons of material not suitable for the Thanksgiving table into 500 barrels of bio-derived oil. The poultry leftovers come from a ConAgra turkey processing plant located next door. ConAgra produces about 75 common supermarket brand name foods, including Butterball, Chef Boyardee, Hebrew National and Marie Callender's, while Changing World Technologies specializes in processes that convert waste products into fuel.

"Anything you can do with petroleum out of the ground in Texas you can do with our product," said Terry Adams, the Chief Technology officer of Changing World Technologies. Adams said the company's first customer is blending the bio oil into home heating oil, and it can be refined into a gasoline or diesel fuel substitute. According to Adams, it costs Changing World Technologies about $16 per barrel to create the bio oil, which is competitive with the expense of locating and extracting petroleum.

Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, is skeptical of the scheme, and doubts that using animal waste products to create fuel is financially feasible. Lobb said that petroleum is too cheap and animal protein too valuable to create a market. "There is a well-established channel of using animal rendering for industrial products, feed, and fertilizer," Lobb said.

Adams said that unlike other efforts that attempt to convert materials into oil in a single step, his company developed a two-step pyrolysis process that is more cost effective and fuel-efficient. The company's Thermal Conversion Process breaks down the materials so that minerals and other non-organics such as chlorine can be removed, Adams said. Then, the separated liquid organics go to the second stage of thermal processing to produce hydrocarbon oils.

"The basic idea has been around for the some time," Cohen said. The primary challenges are in creating a fuel that has sufficient lubricity (slipperiness) while minimizing the particulate matter that can "gum up" engines and also keeping the cost down. "Getting this balance right has been one of the main problems in creating bio-fuels," Cohen said.

Adams said the company has plans to open three more processing plants in the United States, each with the capability of creating 1,000 barrels of bio oil per day. "Once we've proven it works with two or three plants, there's no reason why we can't open dozens more," Adams said.

With more than 4 billion tons of agricultural animal waste products being produced each year, Adams said it is theoretically possible to create enough bio fuel to replace all of the imported oil.

The waste is generally channeled for use in dog and cat food, fertilizer and livestock feed. The poultry source material may become more expensive if demand as a fuel source rises.

Robb disagrees with the position that there is a large amount of waste that's available as a fuel source. Nearly 100 percent of poultry products are recycled into something useful, he said, with little going to landfills. "Just because something is inedible doesn't mean it goes to waste." Robb said poultry farmers are comfortable with the payments they receive from rendering companies.

Galen Suppes, associate professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia College said that he's familiar with a number of attempts to commercialize the pyrolysis technology, but they all failed because they were too costly. Suppes said that if Renewable Energy Solutions can keep its cost to $16 per barrel "they should be able to find refineries willing to take their product."

Temple's Cohen said that because animal waste product can spread diseases such as mad cow or avian flu, "making it into fuel makes a lots of sense."

Cohen said that pyrolysis technology was explored during the oil crunch of the 1970's, but the government lost interest when oil prices dropped, and it became cost-prohibitive. Cohen said that with government funding, pyrolysis could have been optimized then, but instead the private sector has struggled in its efforts. "We might be in a lot less of a mess now if we would have spent the money then," Cohen said. "Waiting for the free market to do it independently isn't going to happen."

Cohen believes that fuel made from domestic farm products should be subsidized so that they can reduce the need for foreign oil. "We need to develop economical alternative fuel sources that won't fluctuate (like oil prices)," Cohen said. "This observation seems to be missing from the current president's energy plan."

John Gartner writes about environmental technology and alternative energy from his home in Philadelphia.

Manufacturers Address Hazards of E-Waste

Technology companies are trying to stay ahead of changing environmental regulations by getting serious about recycling electronics equipment. Computer and electronics manufacturers are now reaching out to consumers and revving up their own recycling efforts to reduce the tonnage that ends up decaying in landfills.

The rate of replacing mobile phones and computers is increasing every year, resulting in the mounting problem of how to get rid the old stuff after upgrading. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two million tons of electronic waste is put into landfills every year, and in 2005, more than 130 million cell phones will be discarded.

In most of the U.S., there are no laws preventing consumers from placing cell phones, computers, monitors and printers curbside for disposal, and for many, that's the path of least resistance. For example, according to the EPA, just ll percent of the PCs discarded in 2001 were recycled.

However, three states -- Maine, Minnesota and Massachusetts -- have passed legislation in the past year that bans mingling computer monitors, also known as CRTs (cathode ray tubes) with everyday refuse. Beginning in July, Californians will pay a fee of between $6 and $10, depending on the size of the display, when they purchase a computer screen to pay for the cost of recycling. CRTs have been targeted because they contain leaded glass, which according to the EPA is hazardous waste.

Realizing that legislators are becoming increasingly interested in regulating electronic waste, a consortium of consumer electronics companies is drafting rules for proposed legislation that would fund recycling programs. The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) has 15 member companies, including Dell, Epson, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony.

David Isaacs, director of government and public policy at Hewlett-Packard said that NEPSI has been meeting for two years to build consensus on a recycling policy that would meet the approval of the states, federal government and environmentalists. Isaacs said Hewlett-Packard favors shared responsibility between consumers, manufacturers and government agencies, and believes that rule changes are needed. "Voluntary initiatives to promote recycling won't likely solve the problem without legislative help," said Isaacs. "For some people bundling newspapers is too much of a hassle."

"We think that mandates should keep electronics equipment out of landfills and redirect them towards the recycling stream," he said. However, Isaacs warned that achieving consensus in the group might not be possible. "The industry is not of one mind." Isaacs said Hewlett-Packard would rather absorb the cost of recycling, and does not favor placing recycling fees on new equipment.

Hewlett-Packard is one of the few industry players that operates its own recycling centers. The company accepts computer products from any manufacturer and recycles them at facilities in California and Tennessee.

In addition to helping the environment, recycling can be good business for electronics manufacturers. According to the International Association of Electronics Recyclers, the electronics recycling industry in the U.S. includes more than 400 companies and employs more than 7000 workers. The $700 million industry processes over 1.5 billion pounds of electronic equipment annually, yielding approximately 900 million pounds of recyclable materials.

Manufacturers themselves can turn a profit by participating in recycling. Kyocera Wireless made $1.14 million in 2003 by accepting old cell phones and sending them off to be recycled, according to Kyocera Wireless director of quality standards John Knudsen. Knudsen said the company's goal is "zero percent industrial waste." Kyocera Wireless recycles the cell phone batteries, plastic housings, circuit card assemblies, and trace metals.

Kyocera Wireless won two awards in 2004 for the recycling practices used at its San Diego headquarters from the city, according to Knudsen. He said the company conducts two recycling awareness weeks each year to encourage community members to participate.

Kyocera ships the cell phones designated for recycling to Metech of Mapleville, RI. Metech tests the cell phones it receives to evaluate the composition of metals, and then sends them to smelting plants in Japan and Europe, according to Metech marketing manager Jim Gardner. Gardner said that no smelting is done in the U.S. because the cost of meeting environmental regulations is too high and the profit margin too low. Gardner said that governments in Asia and Europe subsidize the recycling process, which helps to create jobs. "It's a philosophical difference," in governments supporting recycling, Gardner said.

Dell Computer is in the process of handing out $120,000 to community groups that sponsor local recycling events, said Tod Arbogast, Dell's senior manager of asset recovery services. Dell sponsored three events during Earth Day week this year as part of the Dell Recycling Grant Program that attempts to keep computers and related equipment out of landfills. Dell conducted 17 recycling events during 2003 that helped divert more than 100 tons of equipment from going into landfills, Arbogast said.

"One day events aren't the answer, but they are a great way to make consumers aware of recycling programs," said Arbogast. Arbogast said that each Dell printer includes a coupon that enables customers to recycle their old units for free. Dell, like Hewlett-Packard and other computer manufacturers, will pick up computer equipment for recycling for a small fee. Arbogast said the fees are not "huge contributors to the bottom line," but they do defray some of the cost of recycling.

Companies may not have the option of whether or not to recycle for long. A recent study being reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that computers, monitors and cell phones under certain conditions would release lead in sufficient quantities to have them classified as hazardous waste, which would require special handling for disposal. The laboratory study, which was completed by the Solid and Hazardous Waste Studies department of the University of Florida, "found that lead leached at high enough concentrations under the EPA regulatory test to be classified as hazardous waste," according to University of Florida professor Timothy Townsend, who oversaw the test.

Townsend said the EPA test uses extreme conditions to determine how much lead could potentially seep into a landfill. He said that the test, which has been maligned by some scientists, simulates "not necessarily normal conditions." However, Townsend said the test is useful in showing that lead that is bound into materials, such as CRTs and lead solder used in manufacturing computers, could decompose and enter the ecosystem. Townsend will finish his report next month, and is conducting a new round of tests using a small-scale landfill.

The EPA is peer reviewing the University of Florida report, but will wait until it is in a final form before deciding on taking any action, according to Marilyn Goode, environmental protection specialist at the EPA. Goode said that in 2002 the EPA proposed classifying CRTs as hazardous waste, and drafted a final rule that will likely go into effect in 2005.

Goode said that "computer manufacturers have been working hard on rules and voluntary procedures for taking back electronics components. They have been very cooperative in defining standards and practices."

John Gartner writes about environmental technology and alternative energy from his home in Philadelphia.

Seeding Renewables to Grow Jobs

Trimming our reliance on fossil fuels is widely regarded as a strategy to stem alarming changes in the environment. It could also cut down the size of the unemployment line, according to research from the University of California at Berkeley. A new report states that investing in renewable energy sources including wind, solar, and biomass yields a greater return in job creation than spending on coal, gas, and petroleum exploration.

The study, which was released on April 13, analyzed 13 independent renewable energy reports that were produced between 1999 and 2004. The report found that "Across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per average megawatt of power installed, and per unit of energy produced, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector."

The report determined that if the U.S. portfolio of energy sources remains constant through 2020, 86,369 new jobs would be created. However, if 20 percent of energy were to come from renewable sources, then between 188,018 and 240,850 new jobs could be created, depending on the mix of wind, solar and biomass energy used.

According to report co-author, Daniel M. Kammen, who is a professor in the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley, investing in renewable energy could result in between "three to ten times the number of jobs" created by spending on fossil fuel subsidies.

Those new jobs would hire workers in high-skill areas such as engineering and design, as well as areas where there is currently higher unemployment, such as construction and agriculture, according to the report. Investment in renewable energy "does seem to be good news across the board," Kammen said. The report factors in some losses in fossil fuel industries, so the numbers indicated are net job increases, according to Kammen.

Kammen said that investments need to be made in renewable energy that will stimulate domestic job growth, as opposed to fossil fuel spending which frequently goes outside the country. "The U.S. currently spends $115 billion a year in foreign oil," Kammen said. "We need a sustained program for this country, and not just create jobs in Saudi Arabia."

The report said renewable energy investment could come in many forms, including research and development, tax incentives, and increasing market demand by specifying a percentage of the nation's energy portfolio coming from renewable sources.

Kammen presented the report at an energy conference in Seattle sponsored by the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, business and faith groups that support energy independence. The Apollo Alliance favors a $300 million federal investment in renewable energy over the next 10 years, which the group says would create 3.3 million new jobs. More than a dozen environmental groups and 17 major labor unions have endorsed the Apollo Alliance.

Bracken Hendricks, the executive director of the Apollo Alliance, said that the Berkeley study overemphasized job displacement in the fossil fuels sector. "It's a mistake to frame this as a war between fossil fuels and renewables." Hendricks said "the real and pressing danger is that we are forfeiting our leadership in major growth sectors."

Investing in renewables would increases demand for advanced manufacturing goods such as solar panels and wind turbines, which would give the U.S. the expertise and economies of scale to become an importer rather than an exporter, Hendricks said. "Wind turbines require a lot of steel, and we're not capturing this industry," said Hendricks, noting that U.S. wind farms rely on products from Denmark and Spain.

Hendricks said government needs to invest in basic research and development that is viewed by the private sector as higher risk than fossil fuels. "Without it we're sacrificing our future," he said.

Investing in renewable energy has been increasingly prominent during this election season, as candidates from both parties are promoting its benefits to job creation, the environment, and energy independence. The Western Governors' Association held a North American Energy Summit in Albuquerque, NM, this month, where governors and legislators from both major parties promised to expand their reliance on renewable energy. The governors of California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico are all promising to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

However, federal funding initiatives to expand fossil fuel and renewable energy development are on hold as Congress has been unable to pass a massive energy bill that has been languishing for nearly two years.

That bill doesn't deserve to be passed, according to Earth Policy Institute research associate Janet Larsen. "The energy bill is weighted much more towards subsidies for oil and coal -- industries we should not be subsidizing at all," Larsen said. "We need to move ahead instead of putting investment into energy technologies from the last century."

While the bill would reinstitute a production tax credit for wind farms and include some biomass incentives, it was widely derided as being laden with pork that subsidizes every energy special interest.

Peter Van Doren, an analyst for Washington-based libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, said that all of the energy bill's subsidies would be ineffective at creating jobs. "It is only rare when political intervention can create jobs... in most cases it is a net jobs loser," Van Doren said. According to Van Doren, investing in renewable energies would only move jobs from one sector to another, not create them.

Van Doren questioned the validity of the Berkeley report, stating "During appropriations season, its easy to get someone to come up with an estimate of how (government) investment can be a net creator of jobs."

Berkeley's Kammen argues that transitioning from fossil fuels requires government investment. "To free us from oil dependence, it requires priming of the pump," he said. "Most analysts believe that profits from renewables will pay back the investments in no time."

John Gartner writes about environmental technology and alternative energy from his home in Philadelphia.

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