Archive for April, 2010

Mrs. Taylor Goes to Washington

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

by Laura Taylor* 

Having been selected a couple of months ago to be Parenting Magazine’s California delegate to their inaugural Mom Congress – I’ve heard the phrase “Mrs. Taylor Goes to Washington” a lot.                      

In the Frank Capra classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” a character named “Taylor” tries to undo Smith’s earnest and pure intentions.  Although I may not be as politically naïve as Jimmy Stewart’s “Mr. Smith,” I identify with Mr. Smith as my heart for children is very similar to his.

Of all the achievements or accolades I’ve garnered in my almost 50 years on earth, being a mother is the one of which I am most proud.  And what an exciting honor to represent Moms from California on the national education front!

As part of my preparation for this auspicious trip I’ve shared my task with a number of individuals in my community from elected officials (even the “Governator”) to local educators in the hopes that I could carry forward their concerns for education in California.  I hadn’t had much feedback until a recent conversation with a special education teacher.  She shared with me her concerns about the ever increasing drop-out rate in our school district and other districts across California.  There seems to be a point at which our schools stop engaging students and start force feeding them.  Shortly after this point, a number of kids shut down and may be lost forever to the education system.

I experienced some of this with my own children as I have a child in the 7th grade this year.  The tone of his education changed from one of engagement to one of “tough love to get ready for high school.”  It has been a matter of cramming a ton of information at him to comply with the requirements of standardized testing – which has left no room for teacher creativity or much-needed intervention.  This hasn’t worked well for my child and has only managed to take him from a kid who loved school to a kid who hates it.  As parents, my husband and I are working overtime to try to undo the damage done this year and keep my son on track.

It seems a simple, almost naïve, message to bring to Washington – “Please don’t drive our kids away from education” – but it seems I finally have my marching orders.  I head to Washington, DC this weekend and will share my experiences with you when I return. 

*Laura is Administrative Assistant to HMMH’s Sacramento Office.  HMMH is pleased to support her as she heads off to Washington!  HMMHers are actively involved in other community activities – details are here.

Volcanic Ash in Europe

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I was at a dinner party this weekend with a bunch of doctors, and was therefore declared the local expert on volcanic ash and airplanes (David was sitting at another table with a friend from Bose – it was all acoustics, all the time).  In fact, I was deemed the local expert on anything more technical than iPods – pretty scary, actually, on a number of fronts.  But I digress.

So the cocktail chatter was all about the impact of the ash from the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano on airplanes, and why the entire European airspace had to be shut down for so long.  For those of you interested in the topic, I’d recommend following James Fallows, who is covering this issue closely.

I also find very curious this graphic that suggests that CO2 released by the volcano is miniscule, in comparison with that normally produced by European aviation emissions – and in fact, that the savings by cancelled flights greatly outweighs the impact of the volcano.

David McCandless & Ben Bartels - Planes or Volcano

David McCandless & Ben Bartels - Planes or Volcano


And here’s a pretty cool picture of the sulfur dioxide plume produced by the eruption, from the NOAA website:

Sulfur Dioxide Plume from Iceland Volcano

Sulfur Dioxide Plume from Iceland Volcano

Let’s just hope the planes start flying soon.  As a generally reliable source reports, “The aviation press is starting to whine about the European authorities being too slow to open the airspace. Sounds like public posturing to me. If I was running an airline, I’d be very happy to keep my airplanes on the ground while blaming someone else for not flying. This is not a safety issue – this is an economic issue. The only time an aircraft has lost power due to a volcano (that I know of) was when they have been flown through the ash plume. But that’s just an extreme case – it’s the increased wear on engine components due to the ash that’s problem, not that the airplanes are going to fall out of the sky…”

A Renewable Energy Postcard from Eastport Maine

Monday, April 12th, 2010

by Steve Barrett

The heyday of Eastport Maine was when 13 sardine factories were processing the daily catch and shipping it by boat to city centers in Portland and Boston.  That was 13 decades ago.  (Not a very lucky number.) Today, the remnants of a prosperous past are visible in the stately Victorian homes and brick-lined Main Street with mostly empty store fronts.  Today, about 1,500 people call Eastport home.  The only way to make a living here is to have multiple jobs and at least one of those is likely to involve the ocean.  However, there is hope for a future in Eastport and most everyone hopes that Eastport’s future lies in tidal electricity generation. 

Eastport Maine

Eastport Maine

The tides and currents around Eastport are legendary.  Eastport sits on a peninsula of land bounded by Cobscook Bay to the south, the mouth of the St. Croix River (and boundary with Canada) to the north, and Campobello Island and Atlantic Ocean to the east.  The old sow whirlpool, the largest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, is located off Eastport. And Ocean Renewable Power Company (OPRC), a tidal energy start-up company from downstate in Portland, thinks that there is limitless energy in these waterways. 

The number one specials board at the Happy Crab says “Seafood Roll and Seafood Chowder.”  Chris Sauer, President of ORPC, recommends it highly and I don’t ask questions.  As the only restaurant (and watering hole) in town, the Happy Crab is the center of all social life in Eastport, and Chris has eaten many meals at the Crab.  Chris has become a local fixture in Eastport despite never visiting until tidal energy became his area of expertise five years ago.  Now everyone knows Chris.  And on this day, the day after “launching” the largest tidal energy system ever deployed in the US in Cobscook Bay in Eastport, the locals come into the Crab and offer congratulations to Chris.

But leading a new technology company start-up is one part glory to ten parts headache.  The “launching” did not occur as planned the previous day due to a technical glitch in the turbine generator requiring it to be towed from the Eastport waterfront back to the Maine Boat School, ORPC’s surrogate marine shop.  ORPC hopes that the problem will be fixed in the next month.  Permits allowing for the deployment stipulated that the turbine could not spin when endangered Atlantic Salmon smolts might be navigating the waterway in May and June so the delay prompted a phone summit with federal and state fisheries agency representatives to consider the implications. 

The beta unit, as the current tide engine is referred to, is remarkable in its simplicity.  A special barge was constructed to lift and drop the generator and foils (not blades) in and out of the water.  The barge is equipped with special equipment for measuring the performance of the contraption and the electricity it produces.  It includes an on-board inverter that converts the electricity from DC to AC before storing it in large batteries that will be transported to the US Coast Guard Station to heat the rescue boat that must be warm and ready to head seaward at a moments notice 24-7.  The whole contraption looks like a push mower.

So what’s a guy from HMMH doing in Eastport Maine eating seafood chowder and observing the ups and downs of a start-up tidal technology company?  Well, you may recall that a flagship project of our new clean energy practices is working with the Town of Edgartown Massachusetts on a tidal energy project proposed between the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.  The technology that Edgartown is proposing is the Gorvlov Helical Turbine after which ORPC has fashioned its beta model.  Data collected in Eastport on technology performance and environmental impacts can be used by Edgartown as it pursues a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to generate tidal energy in off its east coast.  And we are in the early stages of bringing the old lawn mower and custom barge down for testing in Massachusetts. 






A Sense of Scale

A Sense of Scale





EPA Delays Greenhouse Gas Stationary Permits Until 2011

Monday, April 5th, 2010

by Phil DeVita

On March 29, 2010, the EPA issued a final decision to delay the greenhouse gas permitting requirements for stationary sources until January 2011.  The delay allows facilities and state agencies to adequately prepare to cut GHG emissions.  This announcement is a first step to what the agency called a “phasing in” approach to addressing GHG emissions.  The phased approach will require large stationary sources that already must apply for Clean Air Act (CAA) permits to address their GHG emissions in their permit applications in the first half of 2011.  Other large sources will need to address their emissions in the latter half of 2011.  The permits will require sources to prove they are using the best available control technology (BACT) to reduce emissions.  Typical large sources include power plants, factories, and refineries.  The emission threshold requiring a GHG permit has not been finalized, however, the EPA expects that the threshold will be higher than the 25,000 ton limit originally proposed.  

EPA is also expected to announce on April 1st final GHG standards for cars and trucks.  These standards will not take effect until January, 2011 for the 2012-2016 model years. 

This announcement is part of EPA’s response to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision three years ago in the Massachusetts v. EPA case.  In the landmark decision, the court ruled that greenhouse gases are subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  In December of 2009, EPA determined that GHG pollution endangers the public health and welfare, as such, it believes it is obligated under the CAA to issue greenhouse gas emissions standards for motor vehicles.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska recently introduced a “disapproval resolution” that would block EPA from moving ahead on these issues.  The disapproval resolution is currently in committee and there is no timeline for a potential vote.  On the other front, the “cap and trade” bill which would impose steadily declining limits of GHG emissions from large industrial sources has passed the House of Representatives and is stalled in the Senate.  Many Midwest lawmakers, who’s districts are dependant on energy produced by coal, are wary of the implications the bill will have on electricity costs.  After the healthcare debate, many believe the time may not be right for another contentious debate on cap and trade. 

Stay tuned.

From Whence Came Ldn / DNL 65?

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

by Nick Miller

With FAA developing a research roadmap, and fears (hopes?) expressed by many in our airport noise community that the compatibility guideline might change, I became “curiouser and curiouser” about the real origin of 65 DNL as various claims were made about its origin, its immutability, its arbitrariness, and its scientific basis or lack thereof.  What follows is my take on what seems to have happened.  Please forgive oversights, it’s the best I could do with what materials I could quickly dig up.

This is, indeed, a topic with a tortuous and uncertain history.  Apparently, many efforts from the 1950’s on to the late 1970’s were underway to determine levels that could be identified as the threshold between compatibility and incompatibility with noise.  Efforts were pursued in many countries.

In the U.S., it appears that a “west coast”, an “east coast”, and a U.S. EPA effort were simultaneously underway.  The various engaged personalities were surely aware of each others’ work, and it is likely that most of them attended the legendary 1973 International Conference on “Noise as a Public Health Problem” at Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, but produced separate reports.  (Legend has it that during that conference in a taxi cab, Ken Eldred and Liz Quadra derived the relationship between population density and Ldn.  Another legend is that Henning von Gierke finished drafting the “Levels Document” in his hotel room at 5 in the morning.)

On the west coast, Wyle Laboratories provided a report Supporting Information for the Adopted Noise Regulations for California Airports, WCR 70-3(R), January 29, 1971.  This report documents the science behind the California airport noise criteria that were adopted in November 1970.  The criteria limited airport noise in residential communities to 65 CNEL.  The report shows that behind selection of this level, however, was a review of considerable research on the effects of noise on people.  Data on speech and sleep interference, hearing loss, physiological stress and health effects, annoyance and community reaction were all reviewed.  In the end, using community reaction data, 65 CNEL was chosen as the apparent “threshold of complaints,” suggesting that complaints are a reasonable indicator of annoyance. Of note, and generally suffering from benign neglect, is the report’s clear recommendation that: “The CNEL limit should be periodically reviewed by the State with a view to the possible necessity of reducing the limit in light of any new human factors research which may become available,” and that the review should be every five years, at maximum.

On the east coast, Ted Schultz at Bolt Beranek and Newman was hard at work assisting HUD develop compatibility guidelines.  In BBN Report No. 2005 R, Technical Background for Noise Abatement in HUD’s Operating Programs, 8 November 1971 he reviewed noise ratings (dBA, loudness, NNI, etc.), made comparisons across noise ratings, compared noise ratings with subjective judgments, criteria of acceptability, including social surveys and existing noise exposures, and criteria in different countries.  (His work investigating surveys appeared in the “Synthesis of social surveys on noise annoyance,” in JASA, vol. 64, No. 2, August 1978.)  Ted developed criteria for non-aircraft noise that were identified as “clearly acceptable,” “normally acceptable,” “normally unacceptable” and “clearly unacceptable.”  These were indicated on simple graphics that showed areas of level versus percent of time exceeded, over which a measured distribution could be traced or laid and acceptability determined.  However, these were probably too complicated for practical use, since sound distributions were at the time almost impossible to predict – how would a proposed project be judged?  The distributions were also stated first in terms of L33, then as NEF values in 1971, then finally as Ldn values in 1978.

For our purposes, i.e., for aircraft, in Report No. 2005R, he identified “about NEF 30” (~DNL 65) as the criterion of acceptable exposure in the U.S.  This criterion appears to be a synthesis of what other countries were doing.  But note what he says about this criterion: “It should be emphasized that criteria in the NEF 30 range must be regarded as provisional.  In each of the national studies in which these limits were developed, these levels of noise showed up as ‘maximum tolerable’ and were regarded as turning points above which annoyance increased very rapidly; but sizable portions of the population were seriously disturbed at much lower levels.  These turning points, however, were seized by the authorities and treated as acceptable levels such that special precautions and noise abatement measures are required only for more severe exposure.” [Ted’s emphasis] “The situation is even more extreme in the U.S., since the criteria are based on overt action in terms of complaints or legal action.  It is well known that serious public annoyance is prevalent long before official complaints are lodged.  It is therefore obvious that these criteria are not adequate for aircraft noise abatement in the long run, since they are deliberately permissive.”

Schultz’ “Synthesis” JASA article, after long analyses and descriptions, provides a way to choose a “community noise level suitable for a living environment….”  He does this in a graph (Figure 23 in the article) that plots, as a function of Ldn, % U.S. populations exposed to values of Ldn or higher, and % of people experiencing different types of effects at a given Ldn – high annoyance, sleep or speech interference.  What he tries to offer decision-makers is information that balances what is desirable with what is feasible.  We have forgotten, or never knew, that high annoyance was only one of the effects he proposed minimizing or limiting in selecting a level for a suitable environment.

Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA’s Task Group III, led by Henning von Gierke, in responding to the Noise Control Act of 1972, recommended Ldn 60 as the limit of compatibility, and based this conclusion on minimizing annoyance, complaints and community reaction, and speech interference both outdoors and indoors. (See the EPA report Impact Characterization of Noise Including Implications of Identifying and Achieving Levels of Cumulative Noise Exposure, PB224408, 27 July 1973.)

Finally, we also know that for the Maryland Aviation Administration in 1975, Schultz recommended Ldn 65 as the residential standard, to be reduced to Ldn 60 when “the U.S. fleet noise level is reduced 5 dB below 1 July 1975 levels,” Maryland Department of Transportation State Aviation Administration, Selection of Airport Noise Analysis Method and Exposure Limits, January, 1975.

My conclusions? These folks at the beginning tried to account for all the effects they were aware of and had confidence in, and balance what might be desirable with what would be feasible.  And they all suspected or decided that 65 CNEL / Ldn was likely too high as a long-term goal.

History is not as simple as we’d like it to be.  Sorry.

Author’s notes: For people younger than about 55, the people mentioned are: Ken Eldred, now living somewhere in Maine, was a chief participant at Wyle and then at BBN in development of the background for metrics and effects of noise.  Liz Quadra, now lost to us in acoustics, was a major force in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control (ONAC – defunded in 1981).  Henning von Gierke, deceased, was a scientist the U.S. managed to get from Germany after World War II and who lead research on the effects of noise and vibration on people at the U.S. Air Force research laboratories at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  Everyone reading this should know Ted Schultz.  If not, check some of the above links.