Archive for May 2017 | Monthly archive page

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DC EcoWomen launched its spring photo contest in April and received more than 30 submissions of high-quality, on-topic photos showing how our great community is advancing environmental efforts in DC and around the world. The photos also showed how our members are learning and growing from environmentally-related experiences and putting their leadership skills to good work. Our grand prize winner, Elizabeth Hogan, shared a photo of three strong women who served as mentors while on an expedition to save marine mammals from entanglement in Alaska. We sat down with Elizabeth to hear first hand about the winning shot and the inspiration behind it.

DC EcoWomen: First of all, congratulations! What a powerful image. Take us back to the time this photo was shot. What was the experience like being there?

Elizabeth: This shot was taken in July 2015, on a trip to locate and disentangle injured Steller sea lions in Glacier Bay, Alaska.  We were onboard a research vessel on the water for two weeks, rolling the rescue work into a larger population survey of the species.  I had never been to Alaska before and to spend that time on Glacier Bay was an incredible privilege; the scenery was astounding and I was aware every second of how lucky I was to be there.  Glacier Bay is a temperate rainforest; which meant that it rained consistently every day and the temperature was in the low 40s, so eight hours in a skiff each day was definitely not warm (“In the interest of staying wet” became a group motto by the end).  But this trip was an opportunity to learn from leading experts in a new, emerging science: pinniped disentanglement. The three women in the photo are scientists whose work and research I had followed for years, so to join them on a rescue trip was an incredible opportunity to participate in the advancement of this field, and one of the biggest honors of my career to that point.    

DCEW: What was the purpose of the trip and what were you hoping to achieve?

Elizabeth: I was new at pinniped rescue (pinnipeds are a marine mammal that can use their flippers to “walk” on land, like seals, sea lions, and walruses) and as part of the work that I do for World Animal Protection on marine wildlife entanglement I had helped put together this rescue mission, to send a team of experts to this region to locate and rescue Steller sea lions with entanglement injuries. This usually means that the animal either has a hook and line caught in their mouth, from stealing a fish in one of Alaska’s commercial fisheries, or a plastic entanglement around their neck, digging into their muscle tissue from an encounter with some form of marine debris lost in the ocean. Both injuries are incredibly painful for the animals and prevent feeding and engaging in social behaviors. Our goal was both to disentangle as many sea lions as we could and to fine-tune the rescue methodology of remote immobilization, which is a long way of saying anesthetizing the animal via dart gun so that we could remove the material and apply medication.  Stellers can grow up to over 2000 pounds; it would not be safe to approach one when fully alert.  Any animals rescued on this trip would also give us more information about the anesthetics we were using, and establish protocols for rescues in the water in contrast to those done on land.

DCEW: We love opportunities that help DC EcoWomen members learn and grow. Did this experience help you grow and learn anything about yourself or about the environment?   

Elizabeth: Without a doubt. At the outset I hadn’t expected to go on the trip, just to make sure that an expert team could go and had the equipment they needed. But at the very last minute a spot opened up on the vessel and they asked me to join them. I was ridiculously excited, but also nervous – I was the new kid with very little experience and wanted to learn and to be useful without getting in their way. The willingness of these three scientists to give me this opportunity and talk me through each scenario was not only a huge step in my own experience with pinniped rescue but also a great reminder of what I hope to be able to do for others when I am further along in my career.

Seeing such horrific injuries to these beautiful animals in an environment as remote and pristine as Glacier Bay – miles from land – was also a firsthand view of how pervasive plastics are in the marine ecosystem.  It’s devastating to see the harm caused to wildlife from our plastic pollution.

DCEW: What words of wisdom do you have for future photo contest winners to try to snap a winning shot?

Elizabeth: No one should ever take my words on photography as “wisdom” as I am still someone who occasionally gets their thumb in the shot, but I will say that one of my favorite things about this photo was that none of the three women in this shot had any idea I was taking it; and we were on a very small skiff (I was at most two feet away) so it speaks to how completely absorbed they are in the job. It’s just a personal preference, but I always liked shots of people focused on what they are doing rather than looking at the camera.  The job at hand was to determine how best to approach a large, injured Steller sea lion in a very challenging environment – dangerous, slippery rock outcroppings in the middle of very cold & wet Glacier Bay, Alaska.  There’s a sense of that environment not just in the background but also in all the gear they are wearing (and I also liked the way our bulky “float coats” were this pop of bright color). It’s hard to explain to people that when it comes to the “action” of pinniped disentanglement, we sometimes have contact with the animal for 20 minutes or less, but hours of prep goes into those 20 minutes, and I took this shot in an attempt to convey that.

See the five winning shots from our 2017 Photo Contest >>

Elizabeth Hogan is the Program Manager for Oceans and Wildlife with World Animal Protection, where she specializes in marine wildlife entanglement in addition to work on marine debris, whaling policy, and wildlife in captivity.  For the last five years, she has researched the impact of derelict fishing gear on marine mammals and worked on establishing rescue networks and protocols for entangled marine life.  Her research on packaging and pinniped entanglement was published earlier this month in the Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy.  When not obsessing about marine animals & ocean plastic, Elizabeth can be found running in Rock Creek Park with her dog, reading about politics, exploring the globe, or baking something.

Follow her on Twitter: @EHHogan

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By Melissa Lembke

When you think of Washington, D.C., hiking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.  You more likely think politics, monuments, and museums.  But, truth be told, the nation’s capital is home to hundreds of miles of natural beauty and opportunities for exploration.

According to The Trust for Public Land’s 2016 ParkScore® index, Washington, D.C. (which is 21.9% parkland) comes in third out of the 100 largest U.S. cities for meeting the need for parks.  All those triangles, circles and squares add up, especially when you add in major resources like Rock Creek Park which is enjoyed by 2.48 million visitors a year.

Make that 2.48 million and one, as I recently had the pleasure of joining Melanie Choukas-Bradley, author of the award-winning book “A Year in Rock Creek Park,” for a morning hike.  Melanie has spent hundreds of hours exploring every inch of the park and she shared a few of the highlights at a recent DC EcoWomen event.

We set off walking in the footsteps of our 26th President along the Theodore Roosevelt Side Trail.  While on the trail I was reminded of Teddy’s love for the outdoors.  His favorite resort was Rock Creek Park, and he frequently led members of his “Tennis Cabinet” and foreign ambassadors on grueling hikes here.  To be invited by the President to go on one of those hikes was regarded as a mark of special favor.

My favorite story that Melanie shared was one occasion when the President lead Jean Adrien Antoine Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador to the United States, on a jaunt in the woods and when they reached the Potomac they shed their clothes and dove in.  The Ambassador sent the following account of the outing to the French Foreign Office:

“At last, we came to the bank of a stream, rather too wide and deep to be forded…But judge of my horror when I saw the President unbutton his clothes and heard him say, ‘We had better strip, so as not to wet our things in the creek.’  Then I, too, for the honor of France removed my apparel, everything except my lavender kid gloves…’With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on; otherwise, it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies.”

The President and Ambassador became fast friends after the outing and remained friends for life.  Today, a monument honoring Ambassador Jusserand – reportedly the only diplomat who could keep up with Teddy on a hike – sits near the trail to commemorate his achievements and love for Rock Creek Park.

As we continued onto the Valley Trail we approached the historic Boulder Bridge.  Melanie explained that the extra large boulders that comprise the bridge resulted from a misunderstanding by the bridge contractor.

“The plans called for ‘man-sized’ stone, which meant stone that could be easily handled by a stone mason.  Instead, the contractor used life-sized boulders.  When the Corps of Engineers head, Colonel Beach, arrived at the site and saw the work underway with the large boulders, he liked the way they looked.”

Not a bad decision as the structure has held up exceptionally well through the years.

Boulder Bridge is also the site of the well-known tale where a prized ring slipped off Teddy’s finger.  After a search failed to turn it up, he placed an ad in the local paper for its return reading:

“Golden ring lost near Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek.  If found, return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Ask for Teddy.”

To this day, his ring has still not been returned.

While that ended our short adventure, it only scratches the surface of the fresh air, landmarks, and years of history that Rock Creek has to offer.  With this green oasis just moments from the heart of the city, there is no excuse not to join Teddy and the other famous users of this “all-inclusive” park featuring a golf course, equestrian trails, tennis stadium, and amphitheater.  No plane ticket to Palm Beach, Florida required.

Melissa Lembke is a DC EcoWomen Board Member. 

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By Heidi Bishop

As the new administration’s impact on energy policy unfolds, increased interest in pursuing “clean coal” technologies have likely put Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) more squarely on your radar. The new “America First Energy Plan” makes no mention of solar, wind, or other renewable energy resources but does state a commitment to “clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” For DC EcoWomen active in energy policy, this is a good time to understand the current state of the technology.

While there are several ways to reduce the various harmful emissions from a coal plant so that it can be labeled “clean coal,” most energy plans citing clean coal are referring to the use of CCS as a method for reducing the carbon content from plant emissions to protect coal as a major form of baseload generation. In short, CCS requires a means of separating CO2 from either the fuel or emissions of a power plant, capturing and stabilizing this isolated CO2 in a solid or compressing it in gas, and then storing it over centuries. CO2 can be removed from coal directly through pre-firing degasification, such as in an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant, or through oxyfiring. CO2 can also be removed in post-processing of emissions. Both approaches are feasible, but expensive, and energy-intensive operations that require significant capital expenditures can reduce plant efficiencies by as much as 20%.

CCS is a complex technology, and there are many useful resources available from the DOE, IEA, or the Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA) to learn more. In more mainstream discussions, however, here are two Clean Coal myths you might come across:

Myth 1: Clean Coal Technologies are Market-Ready

Some proponents point to existing pilots for CCS or utility projects underway as proof that the technology is proven for large scale deployment and poised for growth. While there is significant technical potential for CCS in terms of engineering feasibility and substantial amounts of potential underground storage locations, as a commercial matter CCS is still an infant technology that is likely going to be very expensive initially and is not yet available at a broad scale.

NRG’s Petra Nova plant in Texas, which is paired with enhanced oil recovery to improve its economics, is now up and running as a major success, but the majority of projects are not. Several projects have generally followed a pattern of initial public support, steep cost overruns, engineering problems, eventual public opposition, and suspension or cancellation. Such projects include Future Gen 2 in Illinois. Once the poster-child for CCS, this project was in development as early as 2006, revised beginning in 2010, and then eventually cancelled in 2015. Similarly, the Kemper County IGCC project in Mississippi, which is currently 3 years behind and $4 billion over budget, has recently found that it will be more economic for it to run on natural gas than the coal it was originally intended to use. All of which leads to the next myth…

Myth 2: Clean Coal Plus Lighter Regulations Can Bring Back the Coal Industry

Coal generation and mining have steadily decreased in past years primarily due to competition with low-priced natural gas which makes coal generation uneconomical for a lot of plants. Secondary cases are low load growth, renewable generation, and environmental regulations such as the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) targeting arsenic and metals air pollution from coal and oil plants.

The stayed and now-cancelled Clean Power Plan (CPP) to impose carbon emission restrictions and pricing mechanisms on the power industry is often blamed for impairing coal, but in fact those regulations were not very strong and would have had little impact on an already-suffering coal industry. For example, projections from the Energy Information Administration that do not incorporate compliance with the CPP still include significant retirements of coal resources over the next few years.

Because the falling demand for coal is driven by the availability of lower cost resources, the business case to invest in new coal generation at all is weak—especially for coal with expensive CCS which can increase costs by around 75%.

Despite all these economic forces against coal and CCS, coal generation is not going to be obsolete any time soon. Today’s existing coal plants are often fairly clean in terms of more noxious pollutants like SO2, NOX, and particulates (and can still be improved), have very long engineering lives left, and can continue running on plentiful and fairly cheap coal.

Unfortunately, we are not yet in a position to rely entirely on zero-carbon technologies like renewables because the storage technologies needed to smooth their intermittent availability to meet our consumption patterns are still too expensive for wide use. Technical and economic research in clean coal may still be valuable to address CO2 emissions in parts of the world where coal remains a critical energy supply. Gas-fired power plants also emit CO2, albeit at less than half the rate per kWh as coal, so they also eventually may need CCS. Thus, in many ways, the exact future of clean coal is unsure.

Over the next few years there will be push and pull between regional and national climate policies in the U.S. as well as changes in the economics of competing with natural gas and renewable energy. These influences, however, cannot change the facts that CCS technology is nowhere close to being advanced enough to rapidly expand overnight and that the U.S. coal industry is at best looking to be sustained rather than restored to former levels.

 

 

Heidi Bishop is a marketing and policy associate at a consulting firm based in DC. She specializes in energy policy research, identifying business development opportunities, and developing publications. She has worked on a variety of energy policy topics with a focus on new business models for electric utilities, “Utility of the Future” efforts, distributed energy resources, and retail regulatory strategy. Ms. Bishop received her BA and MBA from Salisbury University and a Master of Public Management – Policy Track, Environmental Concentration from the University of Maryland.