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Bethesda Bagels vs County Executive’s SUV?

April 29th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Two Washington Post articles in the past week provide an interesting little localized contrast of the challenges related to finding a path toward an Energy Smart future.

A week ago, the Post reported that Montgomery Aims to Make Green Homes Mandatory. In addition to speaking to changing building codes, the article spent a few paragraphs to discuss other Montgomery County, Maryland, initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. These include “increasing fuel-efficiency standards for its fleet of 1,430 cars, 286 SUVs, 252 vans and 168 pickup trucks” and reviewing SUVs annually “to determine which employees could use a more efficient vehicle.” This includes the County Executive whose car use will also be reviewed.

“If there’s a way to get the county executive around the county with a different vehicle, we’ll certainly be looking into that,” spokesman Patrick Lacefield said.

So, there will be an active program to seek multiple paths for a more fuel efficient vehicle fleet in the county government. That is simply Energy Smart.

But, there is another aspect.

County Executive Leggett rides in a flex-fuel Chevrolet Suburban powered by a mix of ethanol and gas, which reduces carbon emissions and other pollutants.

A short note, “reduces carbon emissions and other pollutants” is quite questionable as an assertion for a systems-of-systems analysis of ethanol in the fuel stream. While the pollution in the tail-pipe emissions from the Suburban will certainly be lowered relative to gasoline, the questionable EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) from ethanol production and distribution calls into question any direct assert of carbon benefits from using it as a replacement fuel.

Note that the article also notes that

“County government would do its part by … using biofuels for all diesel vehicles”.

In other words, Leggett’s vehicle isn’t alone. Montgomery County is moving toward biofuels which may (or may not) help on the Global Warming front.

And, it can hurt on other fronts.
Today, as the third article in an excellent series on the Global Food Crisis, the Post ran Emptying the Breadbasket. Within this article, Bethesda Bagels (located in Montgomery County) is used as an example of the impact that rising flour prices can have on the retail market.

At Stephen Fleishman’s busy Bethesda shop, the era of the 95-cent bagel is coming to an end.

Breaking the dollar barrier “scares me,” said the Bronx-born owner of Bethesda Bagels. But with 100-pound bags of North Dakota flour now above $50 — more than double what they were a few months ago — he sees no alternative to a hefty increase in the price of his signature product, a bagel made by hand in the back of the store.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years,” he said. “It’s a nightmare.”

Fleishman and his customers are hardly alone. Across America, turmoil in the world wheat markets has sent prices of bread, pasta, noodles, pizza, pastry and bagels skittering upward, bringing protests from consumers.

Why the focus? Why tie these together?

While not the sole cause, the vast expansion of the ethanol industry (and the movement of acreage from wheat to corn crops) is a contributor to the rising wheat prices.

Thus, County Executive Leggett: your Ethanol-Gulping McSUV is contributing to higher bagel prices for Montgomer County citizens while not aiding the fight against Global Warming. Sure seems like a lose-lose option to me.

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Tags: agriculture · climate change · emissions · Energy · environmental · ethanol · fuel economy · Global Warming · peak oil · political symbols · politics · pollution

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  • 1 Reality Based News Feed » The Feds Object To Energy Smart Local Governance // Apr 30, 2008 at 2:42 am

    […] Reality Based News Feed Betsy’s shared news and blog items Tuesday, April 29, 2008 The Feds Object To Energy Smart Local Governance By A Siegel | April 29, 2008 – 3:30 pm – Posted in BushCo., Energy, Environment, building code Montgomery County, Maryland, is moving toward a stronger building code, with requirements for new homes to meet the Energy Star home building parameters. This is the type of measure rapidly implementable across the country to help foster the move toward a more sensible building infrastructure such as envisioned by Architecture2030 (which has a plan to a deCarbonized building infrastructure by 2030). The move to Energy Star construction, as the minimum standard, will mean a reduction of energy consumption by at least 15 percent over existing building code. But they’re being opposed in their efforts by … [drumroll] … the Bush administration. This is part of an overall Montgomery County effort to achieve an 80 percent reduction in County carbon emissions by 2050. “We are attacking literally every source of greenhouse gas that exists and ensuring that our county and our citizens use less energy,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), lead sponsor of the measures and an energy lawyer. Other measures include property tax credits for residents who pay more for renewable energy and a requirement for disclosing utility costs on a home sale. (NOTE to self: next time buying a home, make sure to have an energy audit!) This Energy Smart piece of local legislation will help foster a shift from Cost to Buy to a Cost to Own calculation in terms of home construction, even if buyers will not really have a choice. The building code, itself, will favor upfront investments in energy efficiency (and, potentially, renewable energy) that will make home more comfortable, reduce energy use, and reduce pollution loads. There will be that additional upfront cost. Depending on the size of the home, analysts and developers estimate that construction costs would increase $2,000 to $20,000. For an $800,000 home — the average price for new residential construction — Berliner said that an additional $10,000 would increase the overall cost by about 1.25 percent. Pause for a moment: $800,000 as the average price? Slowly exhale breath in contemplating that figure … At 15 cents per kilowatt hour electricity, how much will a homeowner save each year on utilities? $1,000? $2,000? More? Again, this is an upfront investment that will literally pay for itself for the homeowner while reducing the burden on the rest of the community. There is a however, however. Raquel Montenegro, a lobbyist for the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, said her members “are not opposed to better building; we’re opposed to imposing a mandate that the market is unwilling to pay for.” Sure, we love to build higher quality, but we don’t like to be told to do so. And, the builder’s association has backing from the Bush administration. In response to questions from the building industry, EPA’s Energy Star residential branch chief, David Lee, said in a letter that the agency does not advocate putting its standards into law and suggests that local and state governments “consider alternative, more market based solutions to encourage construction of Energy Star qualified homes.” “Market-based solutions …” ??? Let us think this through. Why do we have seat-belts in cars? Let’s have a market-based solution. Food-safety standards? Market-based solution seems to work well here, doesn’t it? FAA inspections on aircraft? Market-based solution. (Oops, we do seem to have that.) Fire code for construction? Controls on toxics in paints? Lead in paint? Insulation requirements? Inspection of electrical wiring, plumbing, concrete work, etc? Why would anyone have mandates for any of these things? Sigh … In any event, it does look like Montgomery County politicians will be going forward with this tightening of the building codes. Hopefully this will be matched by other jurisdictions around the country. For example, 25 years ago, my county’s ceiling insulation code was R-13. It is now R-38. Tightening to Energy Star represents simply a next step toward mandating a base level of building energy efficiency. And, in a few years, today’s Energy Star will be passe as we move toward even more efficient code. Sensible regulation (including building code) is a key element to Energize America toward a Prosperous, Climate-Friendly Society. PS: Of course, Montgomery County is far from the only local government taking Energy Smart measures. For example, there is nearby Arlington, VA. Nor is all the news from Montgomery County as Energy Smart. See, for example, Bethesda Bagels vs County Executive’s McSUV. […]