Bay Journal

April 2007 - Volume 17 - Number 2

Nation’s new thirst for ethanol could leave Bay with hangover

With a sudden boom in ethanol to help slake the nation’s thirst for transportation fuel, farmers are finding that corn has more in common with gold than just its color.

Corn prices in the region have doubled since late last year, hitting more than $4 a bushel. As a result, farmers everywhere are weighing how much to plant. How they answer that question could have huge ramifications for the Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s the most exciting time since we started farming in the early 1970s,” said Robert Hutchinson, who farms 4,000 acres on Maryland’s Eastern Shore along with his brothers. “Most farmers are planting additional corn this year. We’re just responding to the market.” ...

VA group proposes another ariakensis aquaculture test

The Virginia Seafood Council has proposed a project to continue testing the feasibility of growing nonnative oysters in aquaculture.

Under a plan presented to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in February, 15 growers would cultivate a total of 1.5 million Crassostrea ariakensis oysters in 15 sites in the Bay, its tributaries and the sea side of the Eastern Shore.

The hatchery-reared oysters would be specially bred to be sterile, as in past experiments, to reduce the risk of an accidental introduction of a breeding population in the Chesapeake Bay. ...

Analysis of measures to protect the James finds that most aren’t

An unusual analysis of local codes and ordinances found that most counties and communities in the James River watershed are not doing enough to manage stormwater to protect water quality.

The James River Association and the Center for Watershed Protection worked with three universities to assess whether 45 cities and counties in the James River watershed had adopted local codes and ordinances to encourage the development of design techniques that reduce the impacts of stormwater on the river. ...

MD legislators ban commercial harvest of diamondback terrapins

Diamondback terrapins got a pardon in March, when Maryland’s House and Senate approved bills banning the commercial harvest of the state’s favorite turtle.

The bills would end the state’s short commercial season for terrapins, which thrive in brackish waters around the Chesapeake Bay but are in decline. The bill passed the House 127–10; a similar version passed the Senate 43–2.

Some opposed the ban, saying terrapins should be protected by the state Department of Natural Resources, not through the law. “A number of my constituents said this is a bad idea,” said Del. Adelaide Eckardt, an Eastern Shore Republican who voted against the ban. ...

Dollars and Sense: Growing Home banking on increasing tree canopy

Trees make good neighbors for many reasons. They absorb stormwater, reduce erosion and filter pollutants that might otherwise reach local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Trees also lessen energy costs for buildings and fight global warming through their ability to store and absorb carbon.

But advertising the benefits of trees is not enough to encourage most private land owners to open their wallets and pick up a shovel.

It also takes some good advice and a robust choice of trees at their local nurseries. A coupon doesn’t hurt, either. ...

eForum allows students throughout region to exchange views on Bay cleanup

Hundreds of students in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are tackling the question that has vexed scientists, policy-makers and concerned citizens for decades: how to make its waters run cleaner.

The challenge came from the mountains of West Virginia, where the Cacapon Institute has cooked up a web-based “eForum” that has students and teachers buzzing.

The forum combines studies of Bay science with the messy, but inescapable realm of human negotiations. In the classroom, students spend several weeks studying the Bay’s problems. Their final task is to propose solutions—but not before getting an earful from their classroom peers and through an online debate with students at different locations in the Bay watershed. ...

EPA water issues specialist, Jeffrey Lape, to head Bay Program

Jeffrey Lape, a 16-year EPA veteran specializing in water issues, has been named director of the agency’s Chesapeake Bay Office in Annapolis.

Lape, who has helped to lead key government initiatives to combat water pollution and protect watersheds, will be the fifth director of the office since it was created in 1983. He takes the place of Rebecca Hanmer, who retired in March.

“Jeff has the leadership skills, experience and commitment necessary to build on our progress in restoring and protecting North America’s largest estuary,” said Donald Welsh, administrator EPA’s Region III, which covers most of the Bay watershed. ...

Bay cleanup to remain a priority for Hanmer after retirement

After working on water quality issues for much of the last four decades, Rebecca Hanmer is retiring from government paperwork and ready to pick up a shovel. She plans to get training in designing and planting riparian forest buffers.

In a way Hanmer, who has served as director of the EPA’s Bay Program Office since 2002, will be returning to her roots.

Hanmer got her start in 1966 with the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration, which was then a part of the Department of Interior. Water pollution control had long been focused primarily on public health, but moved to Interior the same year Hanmer started work, bringing new focus on water quality for a broader range of environmental concerns—a lesson she never forgot. ...

Success in reducing air pollution benefits Chesapeake cleanup efforts

Efforts to reduce water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay are expected to get a boost from what may seem an unlikely source: air pollution—less of it, that is.

While many efforts to reduce nutrient pollution in the Bay are lagging, a new report from the EPA Office of Inspector General concludes that a goal to reduce nitrogen deposition from air pollution will be met on time.

The report issued in February concluded that federal air pollution control programs would reduce nitrogen pollution to the Bay by 15 million pounds by 2010. In addition, federal air pollution controls—along with recent state actions—will result in further nitrogen reductions beyond 2010. ...

Questions reveal why ethanol is only part of the answer to energy woes

There are many questions about ethanol’s place in the United States’ energy future. Some are easily answered; others, not so easily.

What is Ethanol? Ethanol is moonshine. Hooch. Rotgut. White lightning. That explains why the last time Americans produced it in any appreciable amount was during the Prohibition. Today, just like back then, virtually all the ethanol produced in the United States comes from corn that is fermented and then distilled to produce pure grain alcohol. ...

Switch to cellulosic ethanol touted for fuel efficiency, habitat benefits

While 95 percent of ethanol produced in the United States today comes from corn, many policy makers and agricultural scientists believe the fuel of tomorrow will be cellulosic.

Cellulosic ethanol is produced using the fibers of a plant, which are much more abundant than the plant’s starches used in ethanol production today. Using cellulosic material requires an extra step to turn the plant material into fermentable sugars—technology that exists but is expensive.

No cellulosic operations are in production in the United States, although the U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year funded six pilot projects. Iogen, a Canadian firm, is producing nearly 800,000 gallons of cellulose ethanol a year at a plant near Ottawa. ...

Reliance on corn ethanol may have more problems than promise

In 1908, Henry Ford proved to be ahead of his time. He built the world’s first flex-fuel vehicle: The Model T, which could burn either gasoline or ethanol from corn.

All cars manufactured today can burn an “E10” blend—10 percent ethanol to 90 percent gasoline. More than 6 million “flex fuel” vehicles on the road can burn either gasoline or, like the Model T, a mostly ethanol blend known as “E85,” which is 85 percent ethanol.

But some question whether that’s a good choice. ...

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