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SF is first city to ban plastic shopping bags

Charlie Goodyear, SF Chronicle
Paper or plastic? Not anymore in San Francisco.

The city’s Board of Supervisors approved groundbreaking legislation Tuesday to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets in about six months and large chain pharmacies in about a year.

The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is the first such law in any city in the United States and has been drawing global scrutiny this week.

“I am astounded and surprised by the worldwide attention,” Mirkarimi said. “Hopefully, other cities and other states will follow suit.”

Fifty years ago, plastic bags — starting first with the sandwich bag — were seen in the United States as a more sanitary and environmentally friendly alternative to the deforesting paper bag. Now an estimated 180 million plastic bags are distributed to shoppers each year in San Francisco. Made of filmy plastic, they are hard to recycle and easily blow into trees and waterways, where they are blamed for killing marine life. They also occupy much-needed landfill space.
(2X March 2007)
The NY Times ran a related article. Although the NY Times covered the main points satisfactorily, they couldn’t resist a few sarcastic remarks:

Indeed, in a famously liberal city where finding the moral high ground can take a lot of climbing, the plastic bag has been something of the perfect villain for San Francisco politicians, a combination of common litter and nascent environmental scourge, linked to issues like global warming and big oil hegemony.

Most plastic grocery bags are made from polyethylene, which is derived from oil, which is considered by many San Franciscans to be the root of most of the world’s problems, from $4 gallons of gasoline to the war in Iraq.

Instead of investigating important but non-conventional ideas, the reporter writes them off with a flip remark. Bad show, NY Times!

However, they did pick up a nice quote:

“Frankly, this is our measured response to an obvious problem that global warming is not going away soon, and the era of cheap oil has come to an end,” said Mr. Mirkarimi…

And as we all know, “end of cheap oil” is code for “peak oil.” -BA

Mercury in Energy-Saving Bulbs Worries Scientists

Lisa Von Ahn, Reuters
There’s an old joke about the number of people it takes to change a light bulb. But because the newer energy-efficient kinds contain tiny amounts of mercury, the hard part is getting rid of them when they burn out.

Mercury is poisonous, but it’s also a necessary part of most compact fluorescent bulbs, the kind that environmentalists and some governments are pushing as a way to cut energy use.

With an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006 and with Wal-Mart alone hoping to sell 100 million this year, some scientists and environmentalists are worried that most are ending up in garbage dumps.

Mercury is probably best-known for its effects on the nervous system. The Mad Hatter in the classic children’s book “Alice in Wonderland” was based on 19th-century hat makers who were continually exposed to the toxin.

Mercury can also damage the kidneys and liver, and in sufficient quantities can cause death.

U.S. regulators, manufacturers and environmentalists note that, because CFLs require less electricity than traditional incandescent bulbs, they reduce overall mercury in the atmosphere by cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But some of the mercury emitted from landfills is in the form of vaprous methyl-mercury, which can get into the food chain more readily than inorganic elemental mercury released directly from a broken bulb or even coal-fired power plants, according to government scientist Steve Lindberg.
(28 March 2007)

Bill to Ban Regular Light Bulbs Introduced in House

Nathan Burchfiel, CNSNews
( – A Democratic lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban the sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs – which are less energy-efficient, prompting claims that they contribute to “global warming” – one day after a colleague told a press conference that legislating a ban would be a “last choice.”

As Cybercast News Service reported last week, Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) held a news conference Wednesday calling for more efficient lighting options, and Manzullo said “the last thing we want to do is force legislation down people’s throats.”

One day later, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would set target dates for certain types of light bulbs to be prohibited for sale in the United States. ..

Philips Lighting, the world’s largest producers of light bulbs, has joined with environmental groups to encourage legislation banning incandescent bulbs. Some skeptics believe the company is in the debate simply for its own profit.

Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service it is “unusual” for a company to ask for federal regulation of their product unless it will benefit them financially. ..

“This company conceivably could be using environmentalism as a pretext to market their more expensive and more energy efficient bulbs to the detriment of their competition, who produce cheaper bulbs,” Darling said.

Steve Goldmacher, a spokesman for Philips Lighting, acknowledged Tuesday that the company supports legislating efficiency standards as a way to prevent competitors from offering the traditional bulbs. ..
(21 Mar 2007)