Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

Dolan Media Pre-Christmas Rush

12-17-07

Before you break out your favorite Christmas movies, here’s a delectable selection of news morsels from around Dolan Media….

green-river-formation.jpgShell Oil Company wants to extract oil from the Green River Formation, which contains one of the largest oil shale deposits in the world. According to the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Amy Gillentine, the government’s permitting process runs on a different track than Shell’s research on how to squeeze the goo from the rocks.

Shell submitted the application a year ago, but withdrew it when the company realized that research was going to lead in another direction, said Tracy Boyd, spokesman for the Mahogany Project, the name for the oil shale research work being conducted on 17 acres in the Colorado back country near Rifle.

“But that doesn’t mean that we’ve stopped anything,” he said. “It’s a delay, but other things are going on at the site. We’ve finished building the freeze wall test and it’s 100 percent online now. They’re working on heating tests elsewhere on the site.”

The next step, which requires combining both the freezing and heating elements into one big test to see if Shell can really wring oil from the rocks, is causing the delay.

“It takes about a year to process the application, and things in this research are changing so fast that knowing exactly what you want to do in a year is difficult,” Boyd said. “We’re learning a lot more all the time. We’ll resubmit the application a year or so down the road when we have better information to know exactly what kind of integrated test we want to do.”

Shell, which has secured 200 patents for oil-shale extraction technology, is the only oil firm working this problem on such a massive scale. As one might expect, the whole shale-oil enterprise has its critics and skeptics. (more…)

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Monday Morning Dolan News Fix

12-03-07

Sorry to have been such a quiet poster the past few days…been under the weather.

Here are a few stories from Dolan Media I wanted to get out of bed for.

The state-run Healthcare Group Arizona was supposed to be a self-sufficient health insurance plan for small businesses. Instead, “it’s in financial meltdown,” according to a state rep quoted in Arizona Capitol Times.

And the Department of Insurance seems to agree with(Rep. Kirk) Adams’ assessment. Preliminary results from a report that will be finalized in February show Healthcare Group does not collect the data needed to predict health care trends and adjust its premiums accordingly, said Director Christina Urias.

If Healthcare Group was a private insurer, she told the panel Nov. 27, her department would have shut it down.

“In my view, this is a situation…very, very similar to an insolvent insurer operation because it’s relying on subsidies from the Legislature to keep itself going,” Urias said.

Even Kevin Nolan, deputy director of Healthcare Group, told the committee the program may be entering the beginning stages of what is known in the insurance world as a “death spiral,” in which recently increased premium costs drive healthy people from the system, leaving only those with serious illnesses.

Another state Rep. thinks the situation is salvageable — that restrictions on eligibility and on marketing the service could get the program “back on good footing.” The full story is available to subscribers….

If you’re on top of the global warming issue, you’ve doubtless heard the litany of environmentally-friendly sustainable sources of energy: Solar power, wind energy, geothermal…and now “wave parks.” The Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland surveys the seascape, and reports that Oregon’s bid to be the world’s leader in commercializing the technology faces a surge in competition from Nova Scotia, British Columbia and neighboring Washington state.

Oregon… is working to expand Oregon State University’s wave research to a national in-water wave energy research center where companies around the world can bring their technologies for testing. And the state already has two test devices in the water – Canada-based Finavera Renewables’ Aquabuoy and OSU’s wave energy buoy – with six more permit applications on file at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Finavera suffered a setback last month, however, when the Aquabuoy off the coast of Newport began leaking and sank to the ocean floor. And public perception of wave energy parks as threats to ocean life and fishers could set back the state, energy consultant Justin Klure said.

“Oregon needs to accelerate our efforts for community outreach and education,” Klure said, “so wave energy projects are seen as positive instead of a threat.”

Also on the water… If you’re in Baltimore today or tomorrow, you can catch a glimpse of a very cool-looking high-speed Navy ship, on display in the Inner Harbor as part of the Army-Navy game festivities.  Go to On the Record to see it….

Slow home sales in New Orleans have some owners resorting to auctions, writes Deon Roberts in New Orleans City Business. But it seems like the auctions are serving to illustrate that sellers and buyers remain far apart on what they think properties are worth.

(David) Gilmore, president of Sperry Van Ness/Gilmore Auction, said New Orleans-area home auctions are attracting fewer buyers than for commercial properties or lots. Also, many sellers have not been satisfied with residential auction bids, he said.

“There are still buyers in the market,” Gilmore said. “We had bidders at every one of our auctions for 12 different sales three weeks ago. But I’ll tell you, on the residential homes, there was a price differential between which the sellers were wiling to accept and the buyers are willing to give, and that tells you we have market issues.”

Of the 12 properties Gilmore’s firm featured three weeks ago, three homes did not sell because the sellers rejected the offers, he said. There was a 30 percent average difference in what the sellers wanted and the buyers offered.

What one word comes to mind when you think of New York? Did you say “politeness?”  Me too!  But apparently the Long Island Railroad has concerns about its passengers hogging seats with their bags and gabbing on the cell phone, so they’ve launched an anti-rudeness campaign, according to LI BizBlog….

Three thousand gallons of chicken fat from a Perdue poultry plant. An unlatched tanker. Twenty miles of Virginia highway. Yuk.  And a few auto accidents, according to the VLW Blog…. Talk about rude….

Biofuel Displacing Food in Starving Nations

11-07-07

The biofuel kick, prompted by concern for global warming, is driving up the cost of food in developing nations to the point where the trade has become “a crime against humanity,” according to a UN official quoted in this story from the UK Guardian. Writer George Monbiot begins with a painful allusion to Jonathan Swift:

It doesn’t get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought. It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.

The story goes on to explain how biofuel offers countries that have publicly committed to reducing carbon emissions “a means of avoiding hard political choices.” (more…)

Electrifying News from Dolan’s Pubs

11-06-07

Here are a few interesting stories our reporters have picked up the past day or two….

Portland’s one of those towns with some tasty microbrews. In fact, its unofficial nickname is “beertopia.” Today we learn from the DJC’s Libby Tucker that three local breweries are investing–a lot–in energy conservation schemes, including recovery of the intense heat from the brewing process and using biodiesel instead of natural gas to run the boilers. Breweries are “big, dirty behemoths,” one brewmaster is quoted as saying…..

If you’re in Idaho, here’s a name to start remembering: Gateway West. That’s what Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power Co. call a 650-mile power line project they announced Monday, according to IBR. Conservation groups are worried, and ratepayers won’t like the effect on electricity bills. But utility officials say the rolling blackouts Idaho almost experienced last summer could loom again unless this new capacity comes on line….

FedEx was confused by the EEOC’s allegedly inconsistent way of notifying the company whether an employee has charged discrimination or not. So they filed suit. Today the case was argued before the Supreme Court, and from DC Dicta’s report, it sounds like the justices were not just confused, but annoyed….

This can’t be good. The Daily Record’s Jackie Sauter was out on the streets of Baltimore with a photographer and came upon a smattering of snow-like particles. Thanks to some construction workers, a building is shedding white foam, and the breeze is distributing it on the city’s west side. Some of the stuff attached itself to Jackie’s clothes. Where else is it going?

novint-falcon.jpgAnd can you guess what this is?→→→→

Go to LI Biz Blog to find out. A company in Port Washington, N.Y. firm makes markets them, and pretty soon, everyone will want one…..

Windmills, Dams, Poker and Ghosts: Tuesday Evening Dolan Wrap

10-23-07

“Global warming is here.”  That’s how Richard Kessel, until a few weeks ago the chief of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), greets Long Island BizBlog’s David Reich-Hale and Henry Powderly II when they meet at Kessel’s favorite breakfast spotMary Bill Diner in Merrick, N.Y.  It’s mostly a chat about his personal plans, but Kessel did speak out on behalf of an offshore wind energy project that the new LIPA CEO opposes:

He shared concerns about the costs, but he asked “find me a project that is renewable, and it’s cheaper.” Unfortunately, there is no place to put these windmills on land on Long Island.

All alternative energy projects will cost a lot up front and pay off over time, that’s the problem. Bills would rise to cover the up-front costs, he said. And as for the windmills, Kessel swore there is no cheaper way. “In the end the wind project is going to look pretty good when oil hits $100.”

As for solar power on the per-house level, it takes a lot of time to install solar panels and if you spend the same money on them as the wind farm would have cost, you’d generate less electricity.

The bottom line is, alternative energy costs more. If we don’t want to pay, then “stick with oil and see what happens.”

There are wind-energy battles going on all over the country, the most notorious in Massachussets.  NIMBYism and environmentalism are on a collision course and, so far, NIMBYism is getting the better of it….

For those who don’t recognize the NIMBY acronym, it means Not in My Backyard.  Planners love these kinds of acronyms to describe foes of controversial projects.  This one seems perfect for Long Island:  GOAH.  It stands for Gedoudaheah….

The largest dam to be demolished in the Pacific Northwest in 40 years started coming down today, and DJC’s Libby Tucker was there to watch.  It was demolished by the same general contractor, Natt McDougall, who built it 18 years ago….

DJC links to a video here….

The IRS has noticed the poker tournament fad, and wants its cut, reports DC Dicta….

Halloween in New Orleans?  Why, it’s a “mini-Mardi Gras,” according to New Orleans City Business.

“When you enjoy the reputation as one of the nation’s most haunted cities, naturally Halloween is a big draw for people who want to make Halloween a destination,” said Mary Beth Romig, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Hotel Monteleone bills itself as “most haunted,” a distinction not every hotel wants…. 

Duel In The Sand, Gone With the Wind

10-22-07

Some gritty Dolan Media highlights for a Monday morning…

Despite recent passage of a new state law, anti-immigrant activists and business interests that benefit from immigrant labor are both turning to the ballot box to get their preferred fix, according to the Arizona Capitol Times’ Jim Small.

Neither measure has qualified yet, but a war of words has begun.

“In comparison to the other initiative and the law that’s already passed, my initiative will be the toughest employer sanctions law the Constitution allows,” said Andrew Pacheco, chairman of the Stop Illegal Hiring campaign committee.

However, critics say Pacheco’s measure is designed to protect the interests of the business community, which hires illegal immigrants at cheaper wages to maximize profits.

“They want to change nothing,” (State Representative Russell) Pearce, R-18, said. “They want to continue to hire with impunity.”

Don Goldwater, a former gubernatorial candidate and another advocate of a tougher employee sanction bill said the move by business will force him to redouble his efforts to get the Legal Arizona Workers Act on the ballot. According to Small,

many had hoped Goldwater’s group would refrain from actually putting its initiative on the ballot if the state law was enforced to their liking, the chances of that happening now are zilch.

“There is no chance in heck we can drop our initiative now,” Goldwater said.

kk-river-cleanup-crop.jpgWisconsin’s Kinnickinnic River is one dirty, filthy toxic river, according to Sean Ryan of the Daily Reporter. Salmon swim up it to spawn — and then die. There are islands made of shopping carts and bowling balls. But now what locals call the KK is getting cleaned up, due to the combined efforts of developers who want to build waterfront condos, environmental groups, and Milwaukee municipal agencies. If federal money can be found, the river will be dredged, and a stretch of concrete bottom might be removed….

After four years, the Long Island Power Authority will apparently shelve plans for a wind energy facility. Now Delaware wants to build one, and some say they should study what Long Island did — and do the opposite. Details in LI Biz Blog….

A judge in Maryland thinks it’s possible a woman consented to being slugged by her husband at a gas station. So he dismissed the case against her. Details here….

Despite assurances to the contrary, the new South Waterfront neighborhood in Portland, Oregon is “make-sure-you’re-wearing-your-good-underwear-windy,”says DJC blogger Alison Ryan….

Today’s Dolan Wrap-Up Brought To You By the Letters O and G

10-20-07

letter-o.gifIf you want to keep track of how the environmental ethic is being translated into office building construction, you can’t do better than to read our Daily Journal of Commerce in Portland, Oregon. In fact, they’ve created a special “Sustainability Feed,” if you want to keep track of green developments in the Rose City.

How many “Sustainability Feeds” do you suppose you can put on your RSS reader?

The latest DJC story on that topic is about the city of Portland creating a less expensive alternative for tenant improvements to earn LEED certification, the gold star for sustainability that businesses increasingly want to show off. At least in Portland.

“A building is what it is,” Byron Courts, director of engineering services for real estate developer Melvin Mark Cos., said. “All we can do is improve it.”

For Melvin Mark, the improvement potential is on the inside, with the 3 million square feet of office space the company controls. And by tailoring the city of Portland’s G/Rated Tenant Improvement Guide to create company specific outlines, Courts and the rest of the team at Melvin Mark try to push green improvements on a big scale.

The G/Rated program got its start in 2000 as Commissioner Dan Saltzman pulled promotion of green building in the city into an Office of Sustainable Development-housed resource for demonstration projects, policy development, outreach, incentives – and free technical assistance for owners and tenants.

The G/Rated guide for tenants, created in pursuit of healthy and highly efficient workspaces, covers the how-to for office space improvements. The guide got its start in 2002, OSD green building specialist Mike O’Brien said, when Metro funneled OSD a little money to study construction waste – and why contractors weren’t recycling.

“The number one reason was,” he said, “nobody asked us to.”

You know what they say: Today Portland, tomorrow the world…

In that other U.S. state that starts with “O,” ubiquitous sustainability efforts might be a little ways off. But it’s a great time to get into the oil and gas business. At least that’s what Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association President Mike Terry tells The Journal Record.

“It’s an exciting time for the state. For the first time, gross production taxes were over $1 billion in the state.”

The industry has had a lot of attention lately, partly because it’s on such a profitable run.

“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for young people to get into this business, start new careers and make good money,” Terry said. “Southeastern Oklahoma is a very exciting place right now because of the Woodford Shale development. Also, in western Oklahoma the deep drilling going out there is also exciting. It takes a lot of capital to drill out there, but when you look all over the state, it’s a great time because of all the exploration and activity.”

Those in oil and gas also are targeted from time to time by others outside of the business, Terry said.

“At a time like this, it tends to be an attitude by some people that oil and gas industry should pay for everybody’s problems,” he said. “We feel like we pay our fair share. Counties have tried to take advantage of the industry on the ad valorem tax side of things. We have tried to deal with that over the last several years.”

letter-g.jpg

The other “G” they’re talking about in Oklahoma: Gaming. Tribal casinos see that market getting saturated soon, so the tribes are looking into new kinds of business — in partnership with the state government.

Neal McCaleb, a former state representative and chairman of the board of Chickasaw Nation Industries, said tribes need to move into the business enterprise arena in order to bring themselves closer to self-sufficiency.

Congress gave the tribes an opportunity through gaming, he said.

“We’ve taken advantage of it,” McCaleb said.

However, he said that window will at some point close or become more competitive as other states, including Texas, consider venturing into gaming. Oklahoma’s tribal casinos receive much of their customer base from neighboring states.

McCaleb said the Chickasaws formed a federally chartered corporation that is separate from the tribe for purposes of economic development.

He said that placing more land in trust as tribal land would work to the ultimate benefit of the state as well as the tribes, although that thought is anathema to some.

It is true, he said, that tribal lands are not subject to property taxes.

McCaleb added, however, that businesses created on Indian land create more jobs for more people, resulting in added sales taxes and other revenues to the state.

Here’s another great “G” word — guffaws. According to DC Dicta, the Lawyers USA blog, the Supreme Court justice who gets the most of them is Antonin Scalia.

A review by DC Dicta of official oral argument transcripts revealed that Scalia is the justice cracking ‘em up the most during verbal exchanges in the hallowed halls.

While this revelation will surprise no one who has witnessed oral arguments before the Court, the next one might: right on Scalia’s heels in the funny race is the Chief Justice himself, John G. Roberts, Jr.

Tied for last with zero giggles? Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas gets an asterisk, though. He hasn’t actually said anything yet this term.

Federal prosecutors’ favorite “G” word is, no surprise, “Guilty.” According to Eric T. Berkman, writing in Rhode Island Lawyers’ Weekly, the government wanted to use a withdrawn plea of guilty against a Maine defendant in court. Here are the facts of the case:

In February 2002, police searched the home of Winslow Newbert, a Maine resident, where they discovered 18.3 grams of cocaine.

The defendant later pled guilty in U.S. District Court to narcotics possession with intent to distribute.

The plea agreement contained a clause stating that the defendant would waive his Rule 410 rights should he successfully seek withdrawal of his plea “under circumstances constituting a breach” of the deal. The agreement did not define what would constitute a breach.

Shortly after entering into the agreement, evidence of the defendant’s actual innocence emerged. Accordingly, he sought to withdraw his guilty plea.

According to the defendant, he had decided to plead guilty only to protect his wife and a friend, James Michael Smith. But since entering the agreement, he had learned that his wife had moved in with Smith, who was preparing to testify against him.

The defendant also learned from his daughter that she had seen Smith place a pill bottle in the defendant’s house close to where the police later discovered the cocaine. The defendant’s other daughter informed him that, according to Smith, the cocaine the police discovered was actually his.

Meanwhile, the government had no physical evidence linking the cocaine directly to the defendant. Plus, Smith was to be the prosecution’s sole civilian witness against him.

Ah, but the prosecutors had his guilty plea! Notwithstanding the defendant’s actual lack of culpability, notwithstanding that he was clearly set up by people who intended to do him harm… that plea might sway a jury. That’s a win, right?

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said no. Actually, “No,” to the power of four.

No, if a judge agrees to the withdrawal of a guilty plea because it was “not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary,” there is no breach of a plea agreement and no waiver of his rights under Rule 410 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

No, if a plea agreement is ambiguous as to what constitutes a breach, the government can’t interpret it in a way that is adverse to the defendant. Said Judge Sandra L. Lynch, “If the government had such a clear idea of what the breach language did or did not cover, it could have said as much in the agreement itself.”

No, the cases cited by the government weren’t relevant. In both citations, the defendants agreed they had breached their agreements — unlike this case.

And no, the case shouldn’t even be before the appellate court in the first place. The prosecution was really challenging the trial judge’s decision to allow the plea withdrawal, not the defendant’s right to exclude the withdrawn plea. “In pressing this dispute here, the prosecution is attempting an end run around the limits of interlocutory appeal.”

Meanwhile…

Long Island Business News reports that some 76,000 jobs in Long Island derive from just four non-profit/government sector employers….

The downtown jazz park project proposed for New Orleans? One of those post-Katrina feel-good ideas. According to New Orleans City Business blogger Deon Roberts, the lack of support from the city and state might’ve finally worn down the project’s main champion….

Back to sustainability…Colorado Springs Business Journal blogger Alex Brown finds a handy list of environmental blogs….

Michigan Lawyer blogger Ed Wesolowski unearths a Boise, Idaho sports bar that has a “no lawyers” policy….