Voters should push back against pro-pollution politicians

February 17, 2014

Politicians say a lot of dumb things. What’s puzzling, though, is how much we listen to them.

Some of the dumbest things politicians say these days involve criticism of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other state and federal environmental watchdogs. These politicians are indignant that “regulators” are enforcing the laws they and their predecessors passed to keep air fit to breathe and water safe to drink.

The Democrats and Republicans who passed those environmental laws and created the watchdog agencies during the last half of the 20th century were smart enough to realize that pollution spoils our nation, makes us sick and, in the long run, is bad for business.

So why are many politicians today fighting for more pollution? It’s really very simple: Companies pay them to.

If you look at these politicians’ campaign funds, you will see big contributions from polluters: coal companies, chemical companies, electric utilities and other corporations that make more money when they can push the environmental costs of their businesses off on the public.

The politicians who complain loudest about environmental regulation tend to get the most money from polluters. Funny how it works that way.

When these politicians can’t repeal or ignore environmental laws and regulations, they argue that they should be enforced by state rather than federal agencies. That’s easy to understand, too: the smaller the watchdog, the easier it is to muzzle.

Federal prosecutors last week launched a criminal investigation into the relationship between North Carolina regulators and Duke Energy after 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water spilled into the Dan River on Feb. 2. It was the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.

The Associated Press reported last week that North Carolina regulators repeatedly thwarted attempts by environmental groups to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke to clean up leaky coal ash dumps near its power plants.

Two recent incidents in West Virginia, another state where politicians are frequently hostile to environmental regulation, also has raised questions about cozy political relationships with polluters.

The water supply for more than 300,000 people in nine counties around Charleston hasn’t been right since Jan. 9. That’s when storage tanks owned by Freedom Industries leaked as much as 7,500 gallons of coal-processing chemicals into the Elk River.

Freedom Industries has filed for bankruptcy protection to avoid lawsuits. The spill will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Then, last Tuesday, a pipe ruptured at a Patriot Coal processing plant about 18 miles from where the chemical spill occurred. It sent more than 100,000 gallons of coal and chemical slurry into Fields Creek, a Kanawha River tributary. State officials said the spill “wiped out” six miles of stream, causing “severe, adverse environmental impact.”

We’ve heard these stories many times before. Remember the 2008 coal ash pond collapse in East Tennessee that released 5 million cubic yards of ash and cost $1.2 billion to clean up? Or the spill in Martin County, Ky., in 2000 that sent 306,000 gallons of coal sludge into two tributaries of the Tug Fork River? And there are many more smaller incidents that never make headlines.

Does this sound like environmental regulation that is too strict, or too lax?

Many Kentucky politicians like to complain about the “war on coal” — a phrase coined for a well-financed industry propaganda campaign. But the real war is being waged against Kentucky’s land, water, air and public health by companies that want more freedom to blast mountains, bury streams and release toxins into the environment.

Many people support polluters because they buy into the argument that you can’t have both a strong economy and a clean environment.

Sure, sometimes environmental regulation does cost jobs and raise costs in the short run. But history has shown that it has always been good for the economy in the long run because it creates a healthier environment and sparks job-creating innovation. Perhaps the best example is government fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, which over several decades have given us better cars and cleaner air.

How long will some politicians keep fighting for more pollution? As long as polluters keep paying them to. And as long as we keep listening to and re-electing them.


UK shouldn’t destroy unique teaching garden with 350 species

February 11, 2014

140210MathewsGarden0009AJames Krupa, a UK biology professor, stands in the dormant, snow-covered Mathews Garden beside the now-vacant Mathews house. The garden contains about 350 species of native plants, including many rare ones. Below, a rare American elm tree stands in the garden near the College of Law building. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Mathews Garden at the University of Kentucky doesn’t look like much in its winter dormancy, covered with snow.

Dr. James Krupa, a biology professor, says UK administrators have long complained that the garden doesn’t look like much any time of the year. But that’s not the point.

The century-old garden may be the most biologically diverse half-acre in Kentucky, Krupa said, with about 350 species of mostly native plants and trees. The garden provides a unique teaching facility, allowing students to see and compare many unusual plants that rarely grow together.

But like some of its plant species, Mathews Garden is endangered. A proposed renovation of UK’s College of Law building would destroy this unique garden, as well as two adjacent houses, built in 1900 and 1920.

When the $65 million law school renovation was announced in 2012, administrators said the project would claim both houses and the garden. Krupa said he was told recently that the garden is doomed.

But UK spokesman Jay Blanton said no decision about the fate of the garden or houses has been made and won’t be made until after state and private funding are secured for the much-needed renovation. “Those decisions would be part of the design process,” he said.

140210MathewsGarden0004AWhen the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation last month released its annual list of Central Kentucky’s most-endangered historic places, every one was owned by UK. Mathews Garden and the two adjacent houses were on the list for the second straight year. The group also complained that UK had demolished a circa 1800 house at Spindletop Farm without notice or warning.

UK trustees have approved plans to demolish several buildings designed between the 1940s and 1960s by noted architect Ernst Johnson, as well as a circa 1880 Italianate mansion, to make way for new dormitories that will be built and leased by a private contractor.

Architects have complained about the loss of the “architecturally significant” buildings, as well as poor design and construction quality of the new dormitories.

Clarence Mathews, a UK professor of botany and horticulture, created the garden in his back yard after he built a frame house at the edge of campus in 1900. Mathews’ daughter, Ruth, transferred the property to UK in 1968, but continued to live there. She died in 1986.

The Mathews house and the Ligon house next door have been used for UK offices. But the Mathews house is now vacant and showing signs of exterior decay from lack of maintenance.

Krupa said he volunteered to restore the garden in 2000. He said he began by removing 20 truckloads of honeysuckle and other invasive species.

Over the years, Krupa said he has spent countless hours and more than $41,000 in UK funds and his own money improving and maintaining the garden, which he said is used by classes with 1,500 students each year. He has added plants, trails, benches and plant identification markers.

Krupa said the garden is a living botany textbook, with every Kentucky variety of dogwood, azalea, hydrangea and viburnum and other plants. It has dozens of native wildflowers and several rare trees, including roundleaf birch, Georgia oak and striped maple.

The garden has a rare reproducing American elm tree. More than 75 percent of the once-ubiquitous American elms were lost to Dutch elm disease in the mid-20th century. Krupa thinks this may be the last one on campus.

“It’s really amazing that so many species are here in this one place,” Krupa said.

But Blanton said: “The question now is should a facility of dense undergrowth be in the center of campus or more appropriately relocated to a research tract on farms owned by the university?”

Krupa said the garden could not be relocated successfully. “Half of the biological diversity is in the soil,” he said.

Rather than expand sideways and take the garden and old houses, Krupa suggests that the law school expand back, which would displace a parking lot and a small, non-descript 1950s building.

“Administrators have always called this a weed patch,” Krupa said of Mathews Garden. “But it’s only a weed patch if you’re ignorant. I’m up against ignorance, arrogance and a lot of faculty that are afraid to take on the administration.”

For an institution of higher learning that trains many of Kentucky’s architects and historic preservation specialists, UK administrators are showing little regard for either discipline. Let’s hope they don’t flunk botany, too.

 

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The entrance to Mathews Garden. The century-old home and garden were built by Clarence Mathews, a UK botany and horticulture professor.

 


Authors document Robinson Forest in the hope of preserving it

May 7, 2013

 

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In their new book, “The Embattled Wilderness,” Erik Reece and James Krupa write this: “To look out over the forest’s steep ridges — slopes that novelist James Still called ‘a river of earth’ — is to understand that Robinson Forest is simultaneously one of the most biologically diverse landscapes in North America and one of the most threatened.” Photos by Tom Eblen  

 

JACKSON — As we hike uphill through beech and yellow poplar trees, a wild turkey flies out of the woods and across the trail in front of us. A few hundred yards higher, Erik Reece stops suddenly and points at a scarlet tanager foraging among the oaks.

At the crest of the ridge, we climb an old fire tower and are rewarded with a spectacular view of Robinson Forest. On this clear, spring morning, the forest looks like a rolling “river of earth,” as James Still described the natural landscape of Eastern Kentucky in his classic 1940 novel, River of Earth.

The green waves roll out in every direction until they suddenly stop at Robinson Forest’s boundary. Beyond the boundary are huge, gray scars from surface mining and the flattened, denuded remnants of “reclaimed” coal-mine land, now struggling to support foreign grasses and scrubby trees.

“We hope more people will go to Robinson Forest, but a lot of Kentuckians won’t, so we wanted them to experience it vicariously,” said Reece, co-author with James J. Krupa of the new book,The Embattled Wilderness: The Natural and Human History of Robinson Forest and the Fight for Its Future (University of Georgia Press, $24.95).

Reece will sign copies of the book from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at The Morris Book Shop, 882 E. High St.

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Erik Reece on Lewis Fork creek in Robinson Forest.

Reece is a UK English professor best known for his award-winning 2006 book, Lost Mountain: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia. Like Lost Mountain, this book has a forward by renowned Kentucky author Wendell Berry.

Krupa is a UK biology professor who over decades of study has explored every ridge and valley of the main 10,000-acre block of the 14,786-acre forest, which contains some of the state’s cleanest streams.

“It is one of the last and largest examples of the oldest, most biologically diverse ecosystem in North America — the mixed mesophytic,” the authors write in their introduction.

“Unfortunately, industrial development has churned under the mountains surrounding these 14,000 acres, turning Robinson Forest into an island of biological diversity surrounded by an ever-expanding desert,” they write, adding that there is every reason to believe that coal and timber interests want to plunder this land, too.

Reece and Krupa are both fine writers. In this small, engaging book, they alternate chapters, explaining the natural and human history of this unique corner of Breathitt, Perry and Knott counties and making a case to preserve it.

Krupa describes the geological history of Robinson Forest and the surrounding Cumberland Plateau, which was formed before there were dinosaurs, mammals or even flowering plants. These mountains were once covered by a shallow inland sea and then swamps. Dead ferns and trees sank to the bottom for thousands of years, forming peat and eventually bituminous coal.

Krupa also discusses his research into the ecological diversity of the current forest. Who knew lichens and wood rats could be so fascinating?

Reece’s chapters describe the forest’s human history, from settlement to the early 20th century, when Cincinnati business partners F.W. Mobray and E.O. Robinson bought the forest and cut virtually all of its timber.

In 1923, Robinson gave the wasted land to the University of Kentucky for research to “tend to the betterment of the people of the mountain region of Kentucky.” Under UK’s stewardship, most of the land has regenerated over the past 90 years into a second-growth version of the biologically diverse, native forest.

But coal operators, who wield considerable clout, have periodically pressured UK to allow mining in the forest. Reece said he and Krupa decided to write this book after the UK Board of Trustees’ controversial 2007 decision to clear-cut 800 acres of the main forest.

Although the forest recovered from clear-cutting a century ago, critics doubt that can happen again because of the extensive surface mining on surrounding land and the planting of invasive species as part of mine “reclamation.”

Reece said he and Krupa hope their book will prompt UK officials to rethink their management strategy for Robinson Forest and embrace a broader ecological research mission. A part of such a mission could be helping Kentucky adapt to climate change.

Specifically, the authors urge broader input into decision-making about the forest. Currently, Robinson Forest is managed by UK’s Forestry Department. Also, they want UK to separate research and revenue goals, so that there is not periodic temptation to log or mine Robinson Forest to make money for the university.

Reece is up for tenure this year, and he acknowledges this book won’t be popular in some corners of the university. But he thinks Robinson Forest is worth fighting to preserve.

He said the book was inspired by The Unforeseen Wilderness, which UK commissioned Berry to write in 1971. It advocated for preservation of the Red River Gorge at a time when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to destroy it with a flood-control dam.

“We want to give readers a sense of why Robinson Forest is worth saving,” Reece said. “If you can convince people to love something, they won’t destroy it.”

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Excerpts from the final chapter of The Embattled Wilderness

“Robinson Forest is many things: it is one of the most important eco-systems in Appalachia, it is a laboratory for crucial research and teaching, and it is a gift held in trust for future generations of Kentuckians. But it is also a model for how we must proceed in our habitation of the natural world. In fact, Robinson Forest represents a model for an entirely new definition of “economy,” whereby our American systems of exchange, both of wealth and energy, are brought in 130508ReeceBookCover001line with the most important and inescapable economy of nature.”

“What we as 21st century Americans must finally come to understand is that the economy of consumption operates in direct opposition to, and at the peril of, the economy of nature. … Kentucky should look to Robinson Forest as a model for a sustainable, post-coal economy. We must replace the industrial logic of the strip mine with the much more ancient wisdom of the forest.”

“To abandon wilderness places like Robinson Forest would be to abandon ourselves. To ignore the natural laws of its watersheds for the logic of our own industrial imagination would be to abandon our better selves — to abandon a sustainable future for the sake of short-term avarice and indulgence. But to preserve the world will mean learning the lessons of Robinson Forest, and in doing so learning to preserve that embattled wilderness.”

 


Danville company sees bright future in solar energy

October 10, 2011

DANVILLE — The sun shines bright on our Kentucky homes, and Alternative Energies Kentucky LLC thinks that could become a great business opportunity.

Last year, Alternative Energies became Kentucky’s only manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight into electricity to power homes and businesses.

The company has rented office and manufacturing space in the old ATR Wire & Cable plant on Danville’s bypass, trained 10 employees and set up a side business in security systems to cushion its startup.

“It has been slow starting,” said Dan Tolson, one of three partners in the company. Solar power is a novelty in Kentucky, he said, “but we think the potential here is huge. It just makes sense.”

Photovoltaic-panel prices worldwide have fallen more than 30 percent in the past year, making solar power an increasingly viable supplement to conventional power supplies. “The more we use this technology, the cheaper it gets,” AEK partner Troy Lay said.

But on the industry side, the competition is fierce. Chinese companies now have two-thirds of the $39 billion global market for solar panels, thanks to huge subsidies from their government.

Also, Lay said, the industry has been hurt by the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a California company that made a different kind of solar panel that had received $528 million in federal loan guarantees. Solyndra’s failure gave politicians beholden to the fossil-fuel industries a convenient target for attacking the whole idea of investing in alternative energy.

“This is well-proven technology we’re using,” said Lay, adding that the kind of panels AEK makes have been used successfully in Europe for more than three decades. “But we’re still fighting a lot of the same questions.”

Lay said he also faces questions about whether Kentucky has enough sunshine for solar power to be viable. He said Kentucky has far more sunshine than Germany, which gets more of its energy from solar than any other country.

“The idea that we don’t have enough sunshine is crazy,” he said. “I don’t know why that keeps coming up.”

AEK buys silicon wafer cells from Taiwan, solders them together and uses an Italian machine to laminate them with tempered glass to form a tough but flexible and airtight panel that is framed in aluminum.

Completed panels are installed on a building’s roof. The power they produce can be stored in batteries, but most systems are tied into the normal utility grid to supplement and offset power that otherwise would be used.

AEK sells a complete 1.1 kilowatt system — which includes five 31/2-by-5-foot panels, installation and all of the equipment to use and monitor the system’s performance — for $6,999. However, federal and state incentives lower the final cost to $4,400 for homeowners or $3,900 for businesses.

Systems can be expanded by adding panels, an option that will become more attractive if panel costs keep falling. Payback times vary widely, depending on how much electricity is used, a utility’s power rates and how fast those rates rise in the future. Lay estimates that most customers pay for their systems in about 10 years.

One of AEK’s first customers last year was The Animal House, a pet-grooming and boarding business in Versailles. Owner Sharon Hughes said she added six panels to the initial installation and figures she is saving about 30 percent on electricity costs.

“I like having the ability to save energy and use the natural energy out there,” she said.

AEK’s solar panels have an expected useful life of about 50 years, Lay said. They come with a 25-year guarantee, but that depends on the company surviving that long.

So far, AEK has received about $6,000 in state economic incentives for employee training, marketing director John Cotten said. However, state tax breaks could eventually total $1.125 million if the company creates the approximately 30 jobs it hopes to over 15 years.

AEK partner Mike Carpenter said the company would like to become big enough to focus on manufacturing and leave installation to other contractors, and that would create more Kentucky jobs.

“We’re not here to take over the coal business, but solar can be a great asset,” Lay said. “It may not be the complete answer, but it’s going to get better and cheaper.”

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Bluegrass PRIDE marks decade of a cleaner region

September 17, 2011

As a Boy Scout in the 1970s, I spent several weekends helping cleanup crews haul decades worth of junk out of streams and woods throughout Central Kentucky.

I couldn’t understand why people would trash such beautiful places. Did they not know any better? Were there not more environmentally friendly ways to get rid of stuff?

Things have improved since then, but not without a lot of hard work.

One organization behind much of that hard work is Bluegrass PRIDE, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday with a bluegrass concert featuring JD Crowe and the New South and Balsam Range. (The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall. For details and tickets, visit Bgpride.org.)

Bluegrass PRIDE — the acronym stands for Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment — is an 18-county non-profit organization modeled after a similar PRIDE organization that works in 38 counties in eastern and southern Kentucky.

Bluegrass PRIDE has facilitated a lot of cleanup projects with more than $1 million in grants over the past decade, many secured with help from Central Kentucky’s congressmen over that period, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Ben Chandler.

“The grants were much-needed,” said Executive Director Amy Sohner, who directs Bluegrass PRIDE’s staff of 16 from a bare-bones office in suburban Lexington. “They allowed communities to do a lot of things that needed to get done.”

More recently, though, the organization has shifted its focus to environmental education. “We try to help average people learn about small changes they can make that could make a big difference in improving the environment,” Sohner said.

Among those activities: litter reduction and cleanup; recycling of hazardous household waste; road and stream cleanup projects; helping individuals, businesses and cities learn how to build rain gardens to reduce storm runoff; and selling rain barrels to recycle water.

“With rain barrels, we’ve almost put ourselves out of a job,” Sohner said. “We used to be one of the few places that had them. Now, even Sam’s Club sells them.”

Among other things, Bluegrass PRIDE figures it has helped Central Kentuckians recycle 1,200 pounds of batteries and 4,200 cellphones, and properly dispose of 77,500 gallons of old paint.

Much of Bluegrass PRIDE’s funding now comes from Lexington’s government, which has hired the organization to manage the Live Green Lexington Partner Program. That effort enlisted 350 businesses, 130 apartment complexes and 100 schools in a variety of environmental activities that range from proper disposal of used cooking oil to helping the Fayette County Public Schools save $4,600 a month in trash fees through increased recycling.

Bluegrass PRIDE has worked with more than 230 schools throughout the region on environmental education tied to core-content curriculum. It also has furnished home-energy audit kits that Lexington residents can check out from public libraries. The kits include equipment to identify energy loss in homes to save energy — and money.

As Bluegrass PRIDE begins its second decade, Sohner hopes to spread many of the projects pioneered in Lexington throughout the region. She also hopes to use unpaid coordinators in each county to identify local needs the organization can help fill.

“I feel like we do a very good job in Lexington,” Sohner said. “But I really want to be able to serve our other 17 counties more.”

Fayette Alliance’s fifth

While Central Kentuckians have become better at cleaning up after themselves, they also have learned that suburban sprawl is bad for the environment — not to mention taxpayers, who must pay for construction and maintenance of far-flung infrastructure.

Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the Fayette Alliance, a non-profit organization that has made a big difference in reducing sprawl and promoting better land-use management in Lexington.

The Fayette Alliance celebrates its anniversary Oct. 6 with a party from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at its office, 603 West Short Street in Lexington. The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to refreshments and birthday cake, artist Bill Fletcher will be painting a special work that will be auctioned at a future event to benefit the Fayette Alliance.


‘War on coal’ avoids the real challenge, responsibility

June 12, 2011

Did you hear we are at war? I don’t mean the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the covert wars in Libya and Yemen or even the nebulous wars against terrorism and drugs.

I mean the “War on Coal.” All of Kentucky’s politicians are talking about it — at least all of those who want campaign contributions and support from the coal industry.

“They have declared war, war on Kentucky’s coal industry,” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a speech to the Kentucky Coal Association earlier this month. The U.S. Senate’s Republican leader claimed the EPA wants to see the “coal industry driven out of business altogether.”

The next day, state Rep. Jim Gooch, a Providence Democrat who heads the state House Natural Resources Committee, went even further as he complained about the EPA’s efforts to make coal-fired power plants reduce their air and water pollution.

“This is a war on Kentucky,” Gooch exclaimed during a hearing, “because what we’re talking about is totally destroying our economy.”

And don’t forget Gov. Steve Beshear’s tantrum against the EPA during his State of the Commonwealth address in February. “Get off our backs!” Beshear bellowed. “Get off our backs!”

So what is this War on Coal? A lot of baloney, that’s what. It is a public relations campaign by an industry with a long history of maximizing profits by disregarding environmental stewardship and mine safety.

The coal industry is apoplectic because federal regulators are doing their jobs more aggressively now than they did during the Bush administration. The EPA is enforcing the Clean Air Act by requiring industries to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change. The agency also is trying to curb destructive surface-mining practices and reduce water pollution.

Some politicians and business executives have responded by claiming that climate change is a myth, despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary. Others just fear costs. But the costs of pollution have always existed; we just haven’t paid enough of them with our power bills and corporate bottom lines. We pay for them with sickness, premature death and degradation of our fragile planet.

I was encouraged to see that the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has invited journalist James Fallows to be a keynote speaker at its annual meeting July 12 in Louisville. He will talk about his December cover story in The Atlantic magazine, Why the Future of Clean Energy is Dirty Coal.

Fallows’ article — click here to read it online at TheAtlantic.com — is excellent. For one thing, it punctures illusions on both the political right and left. Yes, climate change is real and carbon emissions must be dramatically reduced to avert disaster. No, renewable energy cannot replace coal — at least not in our lifetimes.

Because coal will be essential to civilization for generations, the sensible thing is to figure out how to mine and burn it more cleanly, Fallows wrote. Most of that responsibility must fall to the United States and China, which together produce more than 40 percent of man-made greenhouse gasses and bring different strengths to the fight to reduce them.

Fallows profiled U.S. and Chinese scientists who are working on innovative solutions. The most intriguing experiment may be “underground coal gasification.” Jets of oxygen, mixed with steam or chemicals, are blasted into coal seams deep underground. That creates a chemical reaction, producing a gas that can be piped out and burned to create electricity. The process avoids the need for traditional mining and leaves most of coal’s nasty by-products underground.

Kentucky politicians and business leaders could learn a lot from Fallows’ thinking, which transcends ideology to see the coal issue for what it really is — a technology problem to be solved.

Rather than fighting a “war” to protect pollution, Kentucky’s leaders should look past political clichés and entrenched economic interests.

They should position Kentucky to be a leader in meeting the technical and economic challenge of making “clean coal” a reality instead of an oxymoron. It won’t be cheap, easy or painless for anyone, but it is the smart thing to do.


Will we learn anything from the BP oil spill?

June 19, 2010

I have never been one of those Christians who see the active hand of God in everything that happens, good or bad.

For example, I doubt the lightning bolt that destroyed the “Touchdown Jesus” statue in Ohio last week was an act of divine art criticism. More likely, it was the inevitable result of building a giant steel-supported structure on a flat landscape. Sooner or later, the right thunderstorm was bound to come along.

I feel the same way about the BP oil well that has been gushing 60,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico each day since an April 20 explosion killed 11 workers.

As we find out more about this “accident,” which could devastate the Gulf Coast’s environment and economy for decades, it seems to be the inevitable result of a very human trait: greed. Americans want cheap oil and oil companies want big profits, so corners were cut, oversight was lax and greed trumped expertise. Sooner or later, it was bound to happen.

Still, there seems to be a certain providence in the timing of the BP disaster. It can teach us a couple of important lessons, if we are smart enough to pay attention.

The first lesson is the fallacy of this whole notion that government should regulate business as little as possible. We have heard that drumbeat for three decades, and it has almost become conventional wisdom. Some of it comes from libertarian idealists, but most of it comes from corporations that don’t want to be regulated and politicians who take a lot of money from them.

Inevitable results of this laissez faire attitude include the financial meltdown and the steady degradation of our natural environment for the benefit of coal and oil companies.

Sensitive to public anger over the BP disaster, these politicians are making fewer “drill baby drill” speeches. Abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency no longer seems like such a good idea. But make no mistake: There are still plenty of people who think corporations should be allowed do as they please, no matter how big a mess they leave for the rest of us to clean up.

Believing that multinational corporations will behave responsibly without government regulation is absurd. The New York Times had a chilling example last week in a report from Nigeria, where five decades of unregulated oil drilling has turned the Niger River Delta into a toxic wasteland.

The other lesson we should learn from BP’s gusher is the urgent need to find new energy sources to replace our diminishing supplies of oil and coal. The challenges are both technological and political, and they are closely linked.

Oil companies don’t drill deep-sea wells and coal companies don’t blow up mountains for the fun of it; they do it because we pay them to. The only way to change that is to create energy technologies that will make fossil fuels obsolete. Those technologies could create whole new industries for the economy of the future.

That will require a lot more scientific research. Andrew Revkin noted on The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog last week that while the federal government invests $75 billion a year on military research, $65 billion on health research and $28 billion on space research, it invests only $22 billion on energy research. Adjusted for inflation, federal energy research peaked in 1979.

Why isn’t there more? A big reason is that the oil and coal industries don’t want it. They spend millions each year lobbying to preserve the status quo and convince people that the scientific consensus on climate change is a myth. For them, innovation would be bad for business.

Revkin noted that Obama’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, has suggested that funding for energy technology research, development and demonstration could be tripled with a 2-cent increase in the federal gasoline tax. Seems like a good investment to me.

Without better energy technology, we can look forward to more catastrophes like what we are seeing along the Gulf Coast, not to mention smaller incidents that don’t make headlines. Oil-soaked bayous and strip-mined mountains are the inevitable result of maintaining our energy status quo, and they must be a wake-up call for change.

Then again, maybe God does work in mysterious ways.

The oil-damaged shoreline in the Northern reaches of Barataria Bay, La., on June 17. Associated Press Photo by Gerald Herbert


How to get rid of that nasty household stuff

April 22, 2010

Here’s a practical way to celebrate Earth Week: take those containers of old paint, fertilizer, cleaning solutions and those burned-out fluorescent light bulbs that have been cluttering your basement for years and dispose of them responsibly. For free.

Lexington Spring Cleaning Day, sponsored by Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, is Saturday.  Lexington residents (but not businesses) can bring hazardous household waste to the old city landfill, 1631 Old Frankfort Pike, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. I know I’ll be stopping by before I head out to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

There are a few items you CANNOT bring, including appliances, electronic junk, pharmaceuticals, medical waste, tires and ammunition. The city’s press release also says you can’t bring radioactive waste, although if you have that sitting around you may have more serious issues than a cluttered basement.

Here’s more information from the city’s press release:

The collection of waste has been funded, in part, through a grant from the Kentucky Division of Waste Management’s Kentucky Pride Fund.  Disposal of latex paint and finishes and used motor oil/filters are not covered by the Kentucky Pride grant.  Latex paint will be accepted by the city’s Division of Waste Management for the Habitat for Humanity’s Paint Recycling Program and used motor oil/filters recycling will be supported by alternative funding sources.

To drop off items, take Old Frankfort Pike and turn onto Jimmie Campbell Drive. Volunteers and city government employees will direct you to one of several drop-off lanes. The materials will be unloaded for you.

For more information on Spring Clean day visit www.LexingtonKy.gov/Environmental or call LexCall at 3-1-1 or (859) 425-2255.

For more about city environmental efforts, go to: www.livegreenlexington.com


Recycling turns Lexington’s trash into treasure

April 20, 2010

Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, so everyone should know by now that recycling is good for the environment. But here’s something you may not know: it’s good for your wallet, too.

Thanks to Lexington’s growing recycling program, everyone’s trash is becoming everyone’s treasure.

Since Lexington began citywide recycling in 1991, the city has earned taxpayers more and more money each year by selling recyclable material to contractors. Recycling also has saved taxpayers money by reducing landfill costs.

In the past five years, recycling revenues have risen from $1.2 million to $2.3 million. That’s a lot of green for being green, and it is a big reason the city last year was able to cut the garbage fee by 10 percent.

Recycling revenues are expected to rise to $2.6 million during the next fiscal year. That’s mostly because, beginning June 1, Lexington residents with city pickup will no longer need to separate glass from other materials in their recycling bins thanks to new sorting equipment.

The city expects the change to lead to a 20 percent increase in the amount of materials turned in for recycling. It would be the biggest increase in recycling since 2002, when new equipment no longer required each material to be separated in bins.

Since 1997, yard waste also has been collected by the city and processed into mulch.

Still, there’s room for improvement. Lexington now processes 22,000 tons of recyclable material each year. But 345,000 tons of Lexington trash still goes to regional landfills in Lincoln and Franklin counties. Officials estimate that 60 percent to 70 percent of that material could be recycled, which would generate both revenues and savings for the city and keep landfills from filling up so fast.

“The easier we can make it for residents to recycle, the more we’ll keep out of landfills,” said Steve Feese, the city’s recycling manager. “And the more we can recycle, the more we streamline our overall collection system … and lower the cost of waste disposal.”

The nerve center of Lexington’s recycling program is a big building on Thompson Road, just off Manchester Street across from the former Old Pepper Distillery. There you’ll find manager James Carter and some of the hardest-working people in Lexington: city employees, contractor workers and a few jail trustys who sort recyclables on big conveyor belts as fast as their hands can move.

Sorters must watch closely for cables, wire and other materials that might tangle and damage the sorting equipment. “Coat hangers are our biggest nemesis,” Carter said as he inspected a bin of debris pulled off the line.

Lexmark, which has one of Lexington’s most aggressive corporate recycling programs, delivers truckloads of materials to the center every few weeks. The day I was there, a truckload of soft-drink bottles had just been dumped, filling the floor. Everyone pitched in to push them onto a sorting conveyor. Meanwhile, Bobcat loaders pushed mountains of sorted paper into contractors’ waiting trucks.

Where does all of this stuff go? Glass is ground into bits — some as fine as sand — for use in landscaping and concrete aggregate. Most other materials are trucked to recycling plants in Kentucky and neighboring states. Aluminum cans go to Novelis in Berea. Cardboard goes to Inland Container in Maysville. Fiberboard goes to Tennessee, newsprint to Georgia and milk jugs to Indiana.

Even the old bins used to hold residents’ recycling, garbage and yard waste are recycled. Many are converted into composting bins, which are given away to citizens as fast as workers can convert them.

Lexington can recycle 11 commodities: aluminum cans, newspaper, magazines, telephone books, cereal boxes and other types of fiberboard, cardboard, glass, steel cans, water and juice bottles, milk jugs and the plastic bottles that hold detergent and similar products.

The most common item that ends up in recycling bins but can’t be recycled is plastic shopping bags. Some retailers collect and recycle them, and city officials suggest you take yours to them. Better yet, shop with reusable bags, which most retailers now sell — and sometimes give away.

“Not generating waste in the first place when there are other alternatives is our ultimate goal,” Feese said.

Recycling Dos and Don’ts

  • Use paper or reusable shopping bags. If you must use plastic bags, return them to retailers who can recycle them. (The city can’t.)
  • Don’t put rope, wire or cable in a recycling bin; they can damage city equipment.
  • Don’t recycle knives, which can damage equipment or injure workers.
  • Don’t recycle containers with contaminated with food.
  • Don’t put auto parts in a recycling bin, although you can drop them off at the city recycling center, 360 Thompson Rd., just off Manchester Street across from the Old Pepper Distillery warehouse.

Click on each thumbnail to see entire photo:


Project promotes public transportation, public art

April 14, 2010

Yvette Hurt, an environmental lawyer and anti-smoking advocate, doesn’t have a background in public art or public transportation. But Art in Motion, the all-volunteer organization she and science teacher Scott Diamond started four years ago, has had a big effect on both.

Art in Motion has built two public-art bus shelters in Lexington, has two more approved for construction and is planning more. The organization will have a fund-raiser Saturday night.

“Sometimes I wonder how I got involved in this,” said Hurt, who was co-chair of Bluegrass Action, which pushed for Lexington’s 2004 public smoking ban. “I like art and public art, but I really see it as an environmental project. Building public transportation in Lexington is a huge environmental issue.”

The design for Art in Motion’s fourth bus shelter was chosen Monday from among 18 proposals by an eight-member jury of representatives from LexTran, the University of Kentucky, LexArts and the Aylesford Neighborhood Association. By fall, it should be in place on Euclid Avenue at Linden Walk, beside the UK Alumni House.

The garden-themed shelter was designed by Prajna Design & Construction, a Lexington firm whose principals and staff are all UK College of Architecture graduates.

The design is inspired by the simple sheds found on some Bluegrass horse farms. Made primarily of recycled steel and salvaged barn oak, the shelter will include a “green” roof of blooming sedum plants, a wall of ivy and low-voltage LED lighting.

“It’s not just public art; it’s a shelter. That’s what attracted us to it,” said Garry Murphy of Prajna. “I like the idea of architecture as art, and expressing a city’s individual qualities.”

Claudia Michler, who was on the jury as a neighborhood representative, said Prajna’s design stood out. “I think it will be nice to drive down that street and see a functional art piece,” she said. “Now it’s really a dull corner; it’s just concrete and asphalt and automobiles.”

The third Art in Motion shelter, Bluegrass, on Newtown Pike across from the Fayette County Health Department, also is expected to be completed in the fall, about the same time Garden Shelter is built. The Bluegrass shelter’s roof is supported by blue steel pipes resembling blades of grass, and the back has frames for two-dimensional art that can be changed periodically.

Art in Motion’s two completed shelters have drawn much public praise: The first, Bottlestop on Versailles Road, was finished in January 2009 and was built with translucent walls made from green Ale 8 One bottles. The East End Artstop, at Third Street and Elm Tree Lane diagonally across from the Lyric Theater, includes murals and a colorful sculpture called Lyrical Movement.

Each of the two newest shelters will cost about half the $36,000 that was needed for Artstop. UK contributed $12,000 toward Garden Shelter. Last August, Art in Motion and LexTran received a $150,000 federal grant through the state to help with future shelter projects. Other funding has come from a variety of sources, including LexTran and private donations of money and services.

Because Art in Motion, a part of the Bluegrass Community Foundation, is an all-volunteer effort, all money raised goes to shelter construction, Hurt said.

“Public art is the art that crosses all boundaries,” Hurt said. “In this case, it helps attract ‘choice’ riders to public transportation — people who could drive if they chose to. The more choice riders you attract, the more efficient public transportation becomes, and that’s good for the environment.”

If you go

Art in Motion Shakedown

What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

Admission: $8 donation at the door.

More info: www.art-in-motion.us

Click on each thumbnail to see full image:

  • If you go

    Art in Motion Shakedown

    What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

    When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

    Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Admission: $8 donation at the door.

    More info: www.art-in-motion.us.

  • If you go

    Art in Motion Shakedown

    What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

    When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

    Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Admission: $8 donation at the door.

    More info: www.art-in-motion.us.

  • If you go

    Art in Motion Shakedown

    What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

    When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

    Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Admission: $8 donation at the door.

    More info: www.art-in-motion.us.

  • If you go

    Art in Motion Shakedown

    What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

    When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

    Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Admission: $8 donation at the door.

    More info: www.art-in-motion.us.

  • If you go

    Art in Motion Shakedown

    What: Dance party and silent art auction to benefit Art in Motion.

    When: 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. April 17.

    Where: Buster’s Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St.

    Admission: $8 donation at the door.

    More info: www.art-in-motion.us.


  • How will Kentucky cope with climate change?

    December 9, 2009

    Wow. Talk about climate change.

    The change in our environmental climate may be the same gradual warming that most of the world’s scientists have observed since about 1970. But the political and economic climate for dealing with it changed dramatically just this week.

    Leaders from 193 nations gathered Monday in Copenhagen to plan climate-change policy amid signs that major polluters such as China, India and the United States may be getting serious about addressing the problem.

    Also Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided to regulate greenhouse gasses as pollution. That could lead to mandates for less-polluting power plants, factories and cars — and higher prices for energy produced by burning coal and oil and more emphasis on conservation and development of alternative energy.

    What will all of this changing climate mean for Kentucky?

    About 200 people —students, educators, energy executives, legislators and average citizens — gathered Tuesday at the Marriott Griffin Gate to discuss those issues.

    Down the hall, business leaders and legislators were discussing it, too, at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s annual policy conference. During a break, Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, joked about the different perceptions and outlooks of those at the two gatherings.

    But the underlying truth was clear to everyone: change is here, and Kentucky must deal with it. How well we do that will determine whether Kentuckians prosper or suffer in the future.

    The Regional Climate Change Forum’s lead sponsor was the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. The corporation’s president, Kris Kimel, observed that Americans always tend to underestimate the speed and impact of technological change and overestimate the cost of adapting to it.

    That’s because the economy is increasingly driven by technology and innovation. Adapting to less-polluting forms of energy will present economic opportunities for Kentucky as well as costs and disruptions, Kimel said.

    Kentucky’s coal deposits have given us some of the nation’s cheapest electricity and a lure for energy-intensive industries. But rates are rising because of a variety of economic factors, and regulation to reduce greenhouse gasses and address coal’s other environmental problems will make that power even more costly.

    That’s the bad news.

    The good news is that we waste a lot of electricity now because it’s cheap, and higher prices will provide more incentives for conservation and developing alternative energy. That will reduce the need for costly new power plants and help Kentucky transition away from coal as reserves are depleted.

    Most electric utilities are moving in that direction, said John Malloy of EON-US, which owns Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas & Electric.

    As utilities study better technology for generating and delivering power — everything from solar, wind and landfill methane to better power grids — they also are looking at the potential of conservation.

    “It’s no longer simply a supply-side game,” he said.

    Kentucky’s political leaders have often been allies in the coal industry’s efforts to resist regulation. But they also have done some progressive things recently. Those include new, stricter environmental standards for state buildings and Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller’s Clean Energy Corps, an effort to weatherize homes for low- and middle-income families.

    Forum participants stressed that adapting to climate change will involve a lot more than energy and and its related economic issues.

    Stuart Foster of the Kentucky Climate Center at Western Kentucky University said one of his biggest concerns is that new climate patterns may make Kentucky’s droughts longer and more severe.

    “Extended drought over multiple years could be devastating for Kentucky,” Foster said.

    We also must anticipate and cope with climate change’s impact on agriculture and sensitive natural ecosystems, where a little change can have big and unpredictable consequences.

    Kentucky’s ability to adapt will require education, research and the ability to act quickly to mitigate damage and take advantage of economic opportunities.

    “We can’t predict all of these changes,” Kimel said. “We have to get out ahead of them with our imagination.”


    First piece of Town Branch Trail opens next weekend

    September 5, 2009

    Lexington was born and grew up around the Town Branch of South Elkhorn Creek, but over the past century we’ve done our best to pollute it, bury it and forget about it.

    Water finds its way, though, even if it sometimes needs help.

    Town Branch Trail Inc. has been working for a decade to develop a greenway along the creek west of downtown. The first fruits of those labors will be on display next weekend, when the initial two-mile section of the trail is opened with a benefit concert and bicycle rally.

    The Freedom Concert, with music by Cora Lee and the Townies and Fifth on the Floor, is at 8 p.m. Friday at the new Buster’s in the restored Old Tarr Distillery, which backs up to the creek on Manchester Street. Admission is $10, with all proceeds going to the trail project.

    The next morning at 8:15, the public is invited to meet at Cheapside for a police-escorted 10-mile bicycle ride out and back on roads to the completed trail section off Leestown Road and Alexandria Drive. There will be a hospitality tent at Lewis Manor, a circa 1800 home beside the trail in Marehaven subdivision.

    When I walked the trail last week, people were already using it.

    Workers had just installed stone-cutter Richard McAlister’s beautiful sandstone benches and furlong posts made of finely crafted “Kentucky marble” limestone. And there were several new signs along the trail explaining Central Kentucky’s landscape, geology and ecology.

    Van Meter Pettit, the Lexington architect who put together the trail project, sees it as more than a place to exercise; it’s a way to learn about Lexington’s history and environment. It’s also a way to rehabilitate and protect the watershed and help deal with runoff and pollution problems that have grown with the city.

    “There is a compelling story to why we are the way we are that even many natives don’t understand,” he said. For example: Lexington’s downtown is long and narrow because it was built along Town Branch, which now flows beneath Vine Street.

    Town Branch runs along the west side of the finished section of trail, just beyond tracks that were part of Kentucky’s first railroad line.

    In one section, the trail goes around a giant, centuries-old tree, surrounded by a stand of native cane. When the first pioneers came here 250 years ago, much of the Bluegrass was covered with cane. Now, it’s hard to find.

    “This is about as good a snapshot of authentic Kentucky as you can get,” Pettit said.

    On the east side of the trail is Central Kentucky’s modern landscape: several new subdivisions.

    Efforts to build trails in established neighborhoods often are met with “not in my backyard” opposition. But these subdivisions are new, and many homeowners are building decks and landscaping their yards to take advantage of trail access.

    Indeed, subdivision developer Dennis Anderson was key to the Town Branch Trail’s success. That’s because he realized the trail would not only be an amenity for his development, but would help with drainage and be a financially attractive way to use undevelopable land.

    “Without him,” Pettit said, “this trail would have been a nice idea that never would have happened.”

    With this section of trail finished, Pettit is now turning his attention to another one-mile section that has funding. The remaining five miles is under feasibility study while trail organizers seek money, easements and rights of way.

    So far, Town Branch Trail has received about $2 million in grants and other funding and $1 million worth of donated land, Pettit said.

    Plans call for the trail to eventually be at least eight miles long, going from this first finished section to downtown. It will end along Manchester Street near Rupp Arena, where developers of the Distillery District plan to rehabilitate the stream and incorporate the trail into their multi-use project.

    Eventually, Pettit would like Town Branch Trail to connect with the nine-mile Legacy Trail being built from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park, as well as other walking and bike paths.

    Even further in the future, there is talk of developing a trail beside the railroad line from Lexington to Versailles and eventually Frankfort.

    So come out and see this first piece of Town Branch Trail. You’ll get some exercise, learn about Lexington and see how creative people are harnessing our rich heritage to literally pave the way to a better future.


    Biking to Washington to speak up for the planet

    July 14, 2009

    How’s this for a summer adventure: Dozens of young people are riding bicycles across the country and meeting in Washington. There, they plan to lobby their members of Congress and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on climate-change and environmental sustainability issues, such as bicycle transportation.

    Six of the travelers, ages 16-21, arrived in Lexington from Shelbyville on Monday afternoon. They had started in Pueblo, Colo., a month ago, averaging about 50 miles a day with all of their gear loaded on their bikes.

    The trip is called The Trek to Reenergize America, www.trektoreenergize.org, and this group is chronicling its trip on its own Web site, www.fromthesaddle.org.

    “We’re excited to be here,” said Remy Franklin, 18, of Taos, N.M., who will be starting Dartmouth College as a freshman in the fall.

    Franklin and his five companions were camping Monday night in the Southland neighborhood, in the yard of Tim Buckingham, a staff member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a member of Lexington’s Bike Polo league. Buckingham invited some of his cycling friends over and put on a cookout for the visitors.

    The travelers planned to meet up with other groups Saturday in Charleston, W.Va., and together make their way to Washington by July 26.

    Franklin said the group planned many of its overnight camping stops, but not all of them. “A number of times, we’ve rolled into towns and just met people,” he said. “We’ve been pretty well taken care of. Everyone has been so friendly when they find out what we’re doing.”

    The group found itself in Louisville last weekend during the annual Forecastle Festival, which featured Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes and other musicians interested in environmental activism. The travelers didn’t know about the festival, but a Louisville host called the promoter, who gave them free tickets.

    “People are so generous to us,”  said Lucy Richards, 20, of Durango, Colo., who will be a freshman at Stanford University in the fall. “We meet tons of people every day and tell them about what we’re doing. There’s so much interest in the environment and climate change.”

    Travelers Lucy Richards and Remy Franklin do a video interview with Shane Tedder, sustainability coordinator at the University of Kentucky. At right is Brad Flowers of Lexington. Photo by Tom Eblen

    Travelers Lucy Richards and Remy Franklin do a video interview with Shane Tedder, sustainability coordinator at the University of Kentucky. At right is Brad Flowers of Lexington.


    ‘Adventure tourism’ plan must include all voices

    September 17, 2008

    I was encouraged by the column in Monday’s Herald-Leader by Gov. Steve Beshear and Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. It sought to calm the fears of environmentalists and others about plans for developing “adventure tourism” in Kentucky.

    “Some people have misinterpreted our enthusiasm,” the state’s top two elected officials wrote. “They hypothesize that we intend unrestrained ATV use in even delicate environments and at the expense of other activities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    “In seeking to encourage exploration of Kentucky’s beauty, we must not destroy it,” they wrote, adding that they hope to find the resources for stricter enforcement of laws that protect sensitive natural areas.

    And here was the most encouraging part: As state officials survey state lands to determine appropriate places for new ATV, horse, mountain bike and hiking trails, they will seek public participation. “Kentuckians will have their say,” they wrote.

    I think Beshear and Mongiardo are on to a great idea.

    As they point out, Kentucky’s natural beauty could be more effectively leveraged to improve the economy. They wrote that tourism is already a $10 billion industry in Kentucky, and it could be a lot bigger. I think they’re right.

    Every time I take visitors biking, hiking or just sight-seeing, they’re impressed by Kentucky’s beauty and distinctive culture. And not just in the wild places. For example, the new Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which helps visitors tour distilleries, should have been organized years ago.

    I go on a weeklong bicycle tour every summer in a different part of rural Virginia. More than 2,000 people come from all over the country to ride, and they pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into Virginia’s economy.

    Each year, I return home from Bike Virginia thinking, why doesn’t Kentucky do this? Sure, we might need a few highway improvements in some rural areas, but we all know Kentuckians can pave anything if we put our minds to it.

    In addition to capturing out-of-state dollars, adventure tourism could have an even bigger benefit: It could make Kentuckians appreciate their state’s environment more, and learn to take better care of it.

    Our commonwealth has an old and ugly legacy — the notion that natural resources are something to be pillaged and exported for short-term profit, rather than developed for long-term sustainability. You know the mind-set: Sell the family farm for a subdivision, or let a coal operator strip-mine the holler great-granddaddy bought a hundred years ago. If we make enough money, we can retire and move to Florida.

    Imagine: If more Kentuckians appreciated the beauty of our mountains, it might become harder for coal companies to bulldoze them.

    Besides, Kentuckians are among the nation’s least healthy and most obese people. If there were more opportunities for us to enjoy the outdoors, we might get in better shape, live longer and reduce the financial burden on our health care system.

    But, like anything, the devil is in the details. The success of adventure tourism in Kentucky will depend on diverse and thorough public participation in the planning and execution.

    The new Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority has begun mapping the trails that now exist, and it is asking for the public’s help. People with global-positioning satellite equipment who are interested in mapping their favorite trails can get more information here.

    The authority also is trying to identify areas that could be good for new recreational trails of various kinds — and areas where trails should not go, or should be restricted, such as in nature preserves.

    One piece of the authority’s work is a study that will examine the damage done by misuse of all-terrain vehicles on state land and what should be done to stop it. That study is just beginning, and it is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 15.

    Senate Bill 196, which created the authority earlier this year, called for it to include a variety of interested parties, from coal companies to hiking groups. The authority hopes to bring even more organizations and individuals into the discussion through working groups and public meetings.

    This could be a good test for Kentucky. Will the decision-making process be inclusive and transparent? Can diverse interests work together on a plan that balances environmental stewardship against the historic temptations of politics and short-term profit?


    Saving Kentucky’s aluminum industry, can by can

    April 23, 2008

    Don’t throw away that aluminum can — Subodh Das could be watching.

    Das, an aluminum engineer, is working with the city of Lexington and researchers from the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business to study what you throw away and what you recycle.

    They want to figure out how to persuade you to throw away less and recycle more.

    Das isn’t out to save the planet, although that would be nice. He’s out to save Kentucky’s aluminum industry.

    “In the 1970s, recycling was important because it was a good thing to do,” said Das, president and CEO of Lexington-based Secat Inc., which provides technical research to the aluminum industry. “Recycling now is strictly a business proposition.”

    Although not as famous as horses or bourbon whiskey, aluminum is big business in Kentucky. The industry employs nearly 18,000 people at 142 plants that make everything from beverage cans to auto parts. Where is the world’s biggest can sheet factory? Russellville. The world’s biggest recycling plant? Berea.

    Foreign competition

    But, like so many other industries, aluminum production is moving to countries with cheaper energy, raw materials and labor — not to mention slacker environmental standards. It’s also following new demand for aluminum in supercharged economies such as China’s and India’s.

    Das thinks much of Kentucky’s aluminum industry could quickly disappear unless it secures a long-term supply of cheap raw materials, which account for 80 percent of the cost of making aluminum.

    There are basically two ways to get aluminum:

    The first way is to mine bauxite, copper, silicon, magnesium and manganese in places such as Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. Then refine those minerals and process them into metal in places such as Ireland, Iceland, China and Dubai.

    The second way is to recycle the Coke can you’re holding.

    Economics and environmental awareness first made aluminum recycling popular in the 1970s. It has slacked off since then, and only about half the cans now used in America are recycled.

    Kentucky’s recycling rate is much lower. Lexington, Louisville and Bowling Green have the state’s best recycling programs. Still, the aluminum recycling rate in Lexington is only about 40 percent, Das said.

    Cans that aren’t recycled end up in the nation’s landfills. Das estimates the value of that thrown-away aluminum at more than $60 billion.

    Producing new aluminum also comes with a host of other environmental costs: It uses enormous amounts of energy and creates a huge amount of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. By contrast, recycling aluminum takes only 5 percent of the energy required to produce new material, Das said.

    The price is right

    Until a few years ago, the cost difference between new and recycled aluminum was only pennies a pound. Now, because of a variety of global economic factors, recycled aluminum is about 50 percent cheaper than new materials.

    “If we can recycle more aluminum, companies in Kentucky will automatically have a cost advantage,” said Das, a native of India who moved to this country in 1971 to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

    Das hopes the research into Lexington’s recycling habits will provide the scientific basis for better educational efforts to promote recycling. After all, recycling often comes down to personal habits and cultural behavior.

    One key to changing behavior, Das says, is bringing an idea home to people in human terms. As an example, he notes those signs you see along highway construction zones that urge drivers to slow down when workers are present.

    “It’s like saying, ‘Don’t throw away that aluminum can because my Dad’s job depends on it,’” Das said. “Because for much of Kentucky, it really could.”

    Photo: Subodh K. Das, president and CEO of Secat Inc. Photo/Secat Inc.

    What do you think? What could government and industry do to encourage you to recycle more aluminum and other materials? Comment below.