June 14, 2006 – Volume 10, Issue 7
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


The Interstates Turn 50

1945 view, Federal Highway Administration

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal- Air Highway act on June 29, 1956 -- 50 years ago. He did so after a cross-country exercise as a colonel in the military when it took his convoy 62 days to reach the Pacific using dirt roads, wagon trails, and crossing rivers without bridges.

Eisenhower was convinced that America needed an efficient system of national highways. He envisioned the scene above: 12-foot wide lanes, no intersections, no traffic signals, nor rail crossings.

What a vision. Happy Birthday!

Work began on August 13, 1956 and today there are more than 46,000 miles of highways that criss-cross the country, complete with 55,000 bridges, 82 tunnels, and 14,000 interchanges. And the highway system became what AAA calls a “transformative force in American life.” Formerly desolate beach and mountain towns became accessible resorts. How Americans vacation was largely influenced by the highway system.

And the adage, that "If you build it, they will come," certainly has been true of the highway system. In 1956 there were 54 million registered vehicles in the United States; today there are 135 million. And the amount dedicated to the highway system in 1956 -- $34 billion – is just about what is needed each year today to fund highway improvements!

The End of Hummer One

The vehicle, which “delivers a shot of in-your- face masculinity,” has a price tag of $140,000, weighs 5 tons, and gets less than 10 miles to the gallon. But sales have slowed to a trickle. GM has sold fewer than 100 this year and now has discontinued production.

For those that must know, the H2 gets 10-14 miles per gallon and the H3 gets 16-19 miles per gallon.

Mass Transit -- LA's Metrolink

Gasoline prices have pushed more riders onto Los Angeles’s Metrolink commuter rail system. In May, the 14-year old system reached the million commute mark for the first time. Driven by gasoline prices well over $3.00 a gallon, ridership has increased by 8% systemwide -- enough to justify weekend service.

Unfortunately, oil prices are impacting Metrolink as well, and fares are slated to increase 5.5% in June.

For us tried and true – the early adopters and champions of the LA rails – the benefits of rail commuting – avoiding bumper to bumper traffic, extra sleep, preparing for work, making new friends, getting exercise walking to and from the train stations – all far outweigh the twin hits of increased ridership and prices.

"An Inconvenient Truth is the most important film of the 21st century!"
Jim Stewart, Earth Day LA

"An Inconvenient Truth"

Al Gore’s movie about global warming has hit the big screens across the country. The EcoMotion staff went to see it together last week and recommend it to other companies. It's well worth the time.

And if Gore’s message is true, the warning must be heeded and each of us must take action. I came away from the movie with renewed commitment to care for our fragile environment.

We’ve heard several comments: “It’s fantastic.” “Too technical.” “Too many graphs.” “Too long." And still others:

• Stuart Cooley, Energy Efficiency Engineer for the City of Santa Monica, reports the graphics as “stunning,” but said that the film is, “pretty dismal at the end. Is there actually any hope?”
• NRDC stated that Gore, “presents a powerful depiction of the choice before us.”
• George Stephanopoulus challenged Gore: "Isn’t the scientific consensus that sea levels might rise inches in a century, not 20 feet in the next ten years?"
• One viewer told EcoMotion that she doesn’t believe its findings but was impressed by Gore’s passion.

The movie is about as interesting as a power point slide show can be, including a scene during which Gore mounts a hydraulic lift to reach levels of carbon dioxide intensity -- caused by our society -- that were literally off-the-charts.

The film is basically a documentary -- but what a documentary. It has powerful footage and tidbits of Gore’s own story personalizing the messenger. One viewer said she’d never seen that side of Al Gore.

“It’s a good side, one that cares, is articulate, and convincing.”

EcoMotion gives Gore and An Inconvenient Truth a big thumbs up. Do check it out -- and let us know what you think.

Intern Perspective: The Perils of Styrofoam
- by Sierra Flanigan

"I was shocked at the obscene amount of Styrofoam wasted each day on campus at Wheaton College. As a freshman out to make a difference, I decided to get a better understanding of the issues and to look into alternatives.

Styrofoam® is a Dow Chemical Company trademarked form of extruded polystyrene insulation, introduced in the U.S. in 1954. It is a synthetic, non-biodegradable material manufactured from crude oil. It is used around the world for disposable, “to-go” containers, building materials, inserts to cushion appliances and electronics, packing peanuts, pipe insulators, etc. Styrofoam is also the most convenient and cheap food insulation product on the market -- but unfortunately it has many harmful effects.

Many people don’t know about the toxic chemicals that migrate into your body from the polystyrene. A U.S. EPA study of human fat biopsies found styrene residues in 100% of the samples tested!

Styrene is easily transferred from a Styrofoam container to your food or beverage, even meat trays at the grocery store -- especially if the food or drink is hot, fatty, acidic, or alcoholic.

Once styrene enters the blood stream, it mimics estrogen. It can therefore disrupt normal hormonal functions, cause menstrual irregularities, and possibly contribute to thyroid problems, even resulting in breast and prostate cancer. Pregnant women are advised to stay away from Styrofoam.

Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups every year. While it can be recycled, the vast majority of Styrofoam ends up in landfills. Styrofoam is also commonly seen lingering on the side of the road and floating in bodies of water, where it is mistaken as food for birds, fish, and other small animals. Styrofoam can block airways, lodge into animals’ stomachs, throats, and intestinal tracts, eventually causing starvation.

There are alternatives. For instance, paper and cardboard containers are slightly more expensive than the leading Styrofoam products, but they are much easier on the environment and landfills. Another option for “to-go” products is aluminum containers with paper and plastic lids. These are not only reusable and recyclable, but they are often more spill proof.

One recent advance that really sparked my interest – and which may be the ultimate solution and greenest option for restaurants -- is a starch-based biodegradable product called “Eco-Foam.” Starch is prevalent in all plants and roots, and this alternative biodegrades in 180 days after use. For more information on this product, visit the National Starch and Chemical Company’s web-site, www.eco-foam.com."

Household Tips: You and Your Water Heater

Instantaneous hot water heaters may be all the rage (see Volume 10 #2), but most of us have conventional water heaters like this one that may well need maintenance.

• Do you drain your conventional heater on a yearly basis to remove sediment and minerals?
• Do you know about the anode rod that attracts rust in the tank? Have you ever changed yours?
• Is your unit and are its pipes properly insulated?
• Do you have earthquake strapping?

Most of us don’t give water heaters the maintenance that they need for optimal efficiency and lasting operation. As a result, conventional water heaters operate for around ten years before sediment buildup in the bottom keeps the tank from supplying enough hot water, causes the tank to spring a leak to to burst altogether.

If you have an aging unit, I’d be cautious about starting a maintenance program now. For instance, if you try to get an anode rod out of an aging unit or turn a valve at the bottom, you might never get it back together again. But there are things you can do. Certainly, insulating the hot supply pipes is great. Check the pressure relief on top yearly. (Be careful!)

If you have a new unit, keep maintenance in mind to protect your investment, save energy, and you’ll have all the hot water you want when you need it!

Member Bob Senesac, Long Haul Trucker

The U.S has approximately 2.6 million tractor trailer trucks. When in service, they are at idle over 40% of the time, burning on average a gallon an hour. Long haul trucker Bob Senesac, shown here on a recent visit to California, reports, "Our fleet uses at idle approximately 4.4 billion gallons of Diesel Fuel."

One company, Idleaire, is providing a service that truckers can hook up to in truck stops allowing them to shut off their engines and, for $1.25 an hour , get electricity, heating or cooling, a computer with internet, satellite TV and telephone access -- all directly into their cab.

Just one truck using this service consistently could save around 3366 gallons of fuel a year and reduce emissions at idle by over 90%.

Idleair's goal this year is to have in place over 200 centers at truck stops nationwide and save over 1 million gallons of diesel fuel. EcoMotion member Senesac says, "It’s a great service for me on the road. I hate running the engine all the time for heat or AC and the refrigerator I have will kill the batteries overnight. The service has a swipe card which makes it super convenient 24/7. I just wish there were more locations out there.”

Roseville's Solar Boom

This past week I visited Roseville, CA, just outside Sacramento. It's a city that has gained a reputation for its solar developments. Mark Riffey of Roseville Electric told EcoMotion that its solar leadership has been spurred by a $4/watt incentive. (Most of the State offers $2.50/watt; nearby SMUD offers $2.80/watt.) An ad hoc committee, formed at the behest of City Council, is exploring options for a municipal ordinance proposed last year that would require 10-20% of new homes to incorporate energy efficiency and photovoltaics. Developers in Roseville are going green and consumers like it.

Driving through one solar neighborhood of 49 homes developed by Premier Homes, I spotted a young man mowing his lawn with an electric lawnmower. I’d found a solar enthusiast! “I’d always wanted a solar home,” he was pleased to explain, “but never thought I could afford one.” Like each of his neighbors, solar was part of the deal when he bought his home, its costs embedded in the home’s purchase price. So was energy efficiency. Showing me his system and its digital readout, he was proud of the fact that his electricity bill has never exceeded $60 a month, even in the hottest summer months.

This summer, in partnership with PowerLight and Roseville Electric, the Lennar Corporation will begin construction on a 450-unit solar development in Roseville, what will be the nation’s largest solar community. The PowerLight SunTile (TM) solar electric system, a roof integrated technology, will be installed as a standard feature on each home. Buyers of the solar-powered homes may also qualify for a $2,000 federal tax credit through 2007.

Meanwhile, Corvallis, OR developer Wolfang Dilson is planning Benton County’s first solar subdivisions featuring solar electric systems in every home. All 23 homes in Brooklane Solar Village will be built with 2-3 kW, grid-tied photovoltaic systems. According to Dilson, “Every house should be a power plant" or at least “solar-ready."

Fully 38 states have net metering laws, allowing excess power to be sold to the local utility, but only California has more than 1,000, with 13,000 residential PV systems. Oregon has some 300. Compare this to Japan, with more than 250,000 systems, and to Germany, where about 60,000 are being added each year.