The Takeaway

Today's Takeaway | March 1, 2013

Friday, March 01, 2013

Washington Braces for Sequestration | Congressman Tom Cole on Why the Violence Against Women Act Divided the House G.O.P. | Diet Advice Abounds, But Are We Getting Healthier? | New Movie Releases: '21 and Over,' 'Jack the Giant Slayer,' 'Phantom' | Toxic Waste Site Leaking, While Clean Up Efforts Threaten to Stall Under Sequester | Is Gridlock in Washington the New Norm?

After The Spill: The Environment And Economy Of The Gulf

Thursday, February 28, 2013

In July 2010, the oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion fouled beaches and wetlands, killed wildlife, and ruined seafood businesses. Nearly three years later, as the civil trial against BP begins, those who live and work in the area continue to feel the disaster's effects.


Transportation Nation

Anatomy of a Water Main Break

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A water main break rages under the South Millvale Bridge in Bloomfield in January. (Photo courtesy of PWSA)

(Larkin Page-Jacobs, Pittsburgh, WESA) You know it's winter in Pittsburgh when your car is getting beat up by pot-holes, the streets are chalky with salt, and water main breaks proliferate. But what exactly is going on below the pavement?

Clogged pipes, flooded basements and sheets of ice on roadways are some of the visible signs of water main breaks. But many leaks and breaks go undetected -- including sewer line breaks which filter through the soil and along side the pipes for months or years.

At least a quarter of Pittsburgh’s water is lost annually -- much of it to cracked pipes -- but it is the big breaks, the show stoppers, that make it into the news. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority spokeswoman Melissa Rubin said there are times you can see the water shooting into the air.

“Unfortunately people aren’t typically aware of their infrastructure, they go in, turn on the faucet and there’s water...flush the toilet and that’s great. [But no] thoughts [are] ever put into it until you see water shooting in the air. And oh my gosh you can’t take a shower,” said Rubin.

Miles of Pipes, Countless Breaks

Pittsburgh has 1,200 miles of pipes, many of them around a century old. When they are replaced, the moldering cast iron pipes are changed out for ductile iron pipes for water and PVC for sewers. But Rubin says it is rare that they replace an entire street’s worth of infrastructure because pipes and paving are expensive and the work is disruptive. Instead the process is often piecemeal with pipes being patched or repaired with clamps multiple times before they are finally replaced.

Rubin explained there are two types of breaks: “splits where there’ s a hairline fracture on the side of the pipe, and there’s complete blow outs where it cracks in half.”

Breaks have many culprits. The freezing and thawing cycle of the ground shifts the soil which pushes against the pipes. The make-up of the soil plays a part too – whether it is clay, rocky, or acidic - they all pose problems for long buried pipes. Then there is the engineering standard by which the pipes were placed in their earthen bedding in the first place. Additionally, many of the pipes are tenuously thin from decades of degradation as water wears down the metal. Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Civil Engineering Dave Dzombak said this is common problem in city’s with old infrastructure.

“All metals except for gold and silver corrode when in contact with water," he said, "and that’s a process we call oxidation – long-term contact with water.”

Complicating Factors

Dzombak explained humans also have a hand in certain water main breaks. He points out that breaks frequently occur in clusters which are caused by the very people who are trying to fix the original break.

“There’s a pressure distribution and it’s variable across the system. And if we are fixing one pipe, and we have to close off part of the system, it changes the pressure in other parts of the system and weak spots will fail when we do that. Parts of the system will see somewhat higher pressures, and just enough to take a weak-walled pipe and have it fail. So it’s frustrating – we get one break and fix that and boom, boom, boom around that we start getting other breaks,” said Dzombak.

Yet another complicating factor to repairing water main breaks is the maze of subterranean lines that keep the city humming. The PWSA's Melissa Rubin says the presence of other utilities sharing trenches with the water and sewer pipes is some times indicated by industrial graffiti marking the pavement.

“You see the green arrows and the red, the yellow and the blue. The blue is the water line, green is sewer, red is cable, and yellow is gas – so they all come out and mark so that you’re not damaging other infrastructure in the process of your repair.”

In January a major water main break under Ft. Pitt Boulevard could not be repaired until a nearby gas leak was fixed first.

But short of water pouring onto streets and sudden drops in water pressure, it can be tough for utilities to know when and where a break has occurred. Professor Dzombak technology will meet that need eventually.

“Better monitoring out in the distribution network, better monitoring for pressure, for flows, for quality of water. New technologies are being developed for monitoring that are less expensive. And we’re going to see more and more of that in the years ahead.”

Until then, the city will continue to be on guard for winter’s inevitable disruptions both from the sky and from under the ground.

Follow Larkin on Twitter at @wesalarkin

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The Leonard Lopate Show

"A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet"

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Executive producer Mark Weiss talks about the documentary “A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet,” along with Lois Gibbs, who led the protests at Love Canal, started the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, and is featured in the film. Inspired by the book of the same name by Philip Shabecoff and informed by advisers like the biologist E. O. Wilson, the film chronicles the environmentalism movement. It opens at Cinema Village March 1.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Gospel, Protecting the Environment, Building Storm Barriers

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Leonard Lopate hosts a one-hour gospel special in honor of Black History Month. Then we’ll talk about the documentary “A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet,” about the environmentalist movement. And we'll discuss proposals to protect New York from storm surges with barriers

Increased Humidity From Climate Change Could Make It Harder To Tolerate Summers

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's not just the heat — it's the humidity. Health experts actually apply that principle to workers, soldiers and sportsmen who toil outside and in places that lack air conditioning. A study in Nature Climate Change says that global warming will noticeably reduce the amount of time people can spend working and playing safely outside.


Transportation Nation

To Continue Plowing or Throw in the Towel: That is Connecticut's Question

Thursday, February 21, 2013

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) When the city threatened to tow all the cars on my street after the blizzard, I went into full-on panic mode. I paid a guy with a snow plow thirty bucks to dig out my car. And there was such a huge mound of snow between my roommate’s car and the road, that we actually drove it onto the sidewalk to get it off the street. And then the city never delivered. We live in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven — and we’re not alone. All over the city, mounds of snow have reduced side streets from two lanes to one. Driving through them on Wednesday was a constant cat-and-mouse game with cars approaching from the opposite direction.  Check out this guy, who has just parallel-parked between two mounds of snow.

(All photos by Dru Nadler)

Chris Betances lives in the Beaver Hills neighborhood. Like me, he spent considerable time and effort digging out his car. Then the city never plowed the street. He nearly got towed earlier, forced to park in an illegal spot.

“Good thing I was actually walking out to my car,” he said. “And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car … I was like, there’s no way you’re towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?”

What I liked about my job today was that I could whine to the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, about this, and ask what gives. It’s a math problem and an energy problem, is basically what I was told.

“You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow,” he said. The storm has already cost the city more than $2 million; on Monday, with schools ready to be back in session, he decided enough was enough. “We’ve been essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now.” It took as many as 30 payloaders — a few from the city and from the National Guard, but mostly contractors — to remove as much snow as the city did. A lot of it went here, to this public lot reserved for that purpose:

In Bridgeport, snow is even more of a political issue. Some residents are calling for Mayor Bill Finch to resign, and a Facebook page created this week to that effect has more than 120 “likes.” They say the city took too long to dig them out immediately after the storm, and now, they’re dealing with 20-foot-high mountains of snow piled at many intersections by plows. Imagine turning into an intersection and staring this guy in the face, for instance:

Clearly, the city can’t be finished removing snow with payloaders and dump trucks. And it isn’t, emergency director Scott Appleby tells me. He thinks it’ll take at least a couple more weeks to get rid of these dangerous mountains at intersections all over the city. He also vehemently defends Bridgeport’s response to the storm — originally, forecasters said the city would “only” (ha!) get 18 inches of snow.

Bridgeport actually got more than 31-38 inches. But no one realized that, apparently, until around 10:30 p.m. Friday night, the night the storm hit. That’s when, as Appleby puts it, “the system stalled.” Plow and truck drivers had already been pulling 12-hour shifts to deal with the amount of snow. And the people due for a second shift couldn’t get to work.

Appleby said the city learned many important lessons from the storm: Communicate better, with residents as well as weather forecasters. Institute parking bans and emergency declarations farther in advance, even if it may seem a little premature.

Cut down on contracting, by far the biggest expense, if at all possible – maybe even by using volunteers or other agencies. Maybe earlier parking bans would have prevented bizarre and hilarious scenes like this one:

New Haven’s mayor DeStefano was less forthcoming with “lessons learned” that can help during another snow emergency.

“I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience,” he said.

Or, the money to implement lessons may not be there. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money – but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecasted. Bringing in more equipment and staff means hiring more supervisors – which the city can’t afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they’re not familiar with New Haven’s streets in an emergency.

Maybe the most important thing we need to do, DeStefano told me, is temper our expectations. OK, fine. I don’t expect to find a legal parking spot on my street anytime soon. So I’m parking in the “no standing anytime” zone. And if I get a ticket, someone’s going to pay. Also, I’m going to walk on the street in situations like this, so I don’t get trapped on the sidewalk again:

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.


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Transportation Nation

Steel Gates, Raised Roadbeds & Dunes: NYC Transpo After Sandy

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sandy flooded the Battery Park Underpass with 15 million gallons of water.

(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.

It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.

"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of  damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."

By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."

Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.

"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."

Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.

Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .


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Businesses Speak Up for Polystyrene

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg has proposed banning plastic foam cups and food packaging, saying they are bad for the environment. But some businesses are reluctant to part with polystyrene. Here are three reasons why.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Mayor Wants 10,000 New Electric Vehicle Charging Spaces

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rapid charging station - gives full charge in around 30 minutes

A rapid charging station that gives a full charge in around 30 minutes to electric vehicles.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to add 10,000 public parking spots for electric vehicles over the next seven years.

According to prepared remarks for his 12th and final State of the City address Thursday, the Mayor says:

“This year we’ll pilot curbside vehicle chargers that will allow drivers to fill up their battery in as little as 30 minutes. We’ll work with the City Council to amend the Building Code so that up to 20 percent of all new public parking spaces will be wired and ready for electric vehicles."

The proposal would require that a fifth of new parking spaces to be charging stations for electric vehicles.  Zoning laws in New York require the construction of new parking spaces along with new building construction, usually in the form of parking garages under or next to the building. According to the mayor's office, about 10,000 new parking spaces are added each year in this way.

The City currently has 100 public charging stations and 120 for the city's own fleet of EVs. Thirty more government stations would be added under this proposal.

Building public charging stations however is no easy task. As experience in other cities has shown, building codes, utility cooperation and construction permitting can all slow or impede installation of EV charging stations on public streets.

Private companies began installing public charging stations in New York City in 2010. According to a New York state initiative last year, there were about 400 charging stations set to be live by April 2013. San Francisco city government offered free charging in about 20 public garages at one point. Houston has built, or plans to build about 50 charging stations.

Under the mayor's NYC proposal the city would also initiate testing of curbside charging with two  chargers that can fill batteries in as little as 30 minutes, rather than the standard eight hours. One would be in Seward Park, a middle class apartment development and park on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

The second station will be just for electric taxis, located at the ConEdison Building. This year six all-electric Nissan Leaf taxis will join the more than 13,000 yellow cabs already on the road. The winning model for the Taxi of Tomorrow, also by Nissan, is designed to enable retrofitting run as an electric vehicle if testing shows that's workable and preferable.

The mayor is also expected to announce that the city will add 50 new battery electric cars to New York's municipal fleet, which already includes 458 plug-in electric cars, the third largest EV fleet in the country after the federal government and General Electric.

According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: as of December 2012, there are 2,069 electric vehicles registered in the five boroughs of New York CIty. The breakdown by county: 10 in Richmond (Staten Island); 80 in Queens; 753 in New York (Manhattan); 413 in Kings (Brooklyn) and 813 in the Bronx.

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Transportation Nation

Sandy's Cost to NJ Transit: One Year, $450 Million

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Post-Sandy debris (photo by NJ Transit via flickr)

New Jersey Transit says it could be next fall before service is restored to pre-Sandy levels. And the cost of its damage is now pegged at $450 million -- a $50 million increase over previous estimates.

Speaking Wednesday at a board meeting, NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein said the agency was still assessing the damage and putting together its request for federal aid. The $450 million figure includes approximately $100 million in damage to rail cars and locomotives, as well as approximately $20 million in lost revenue. Weinstein said insurance will be covering the damage to rail cars and locomotives, and the agency is also submitting a request to the Federal Transit Administration for funding.

But full recovery will take more than money. During the storm surge, replacement parts for rail cars and locomotives were damaged. And these are not off-the-shelf items. So Weinstein says bringing service back to pre-Sandy levels will take some more time. “All of the equipment back? I mean we're talking the better part of a year,” he said.

Right now, service is at about 94% of pre-Sandy levels. Weinstein said that number will increase further in March, when repairs are complete at Hoboken’s electrical substation, allowing the electric trains that ply the Gladstone and Morris & Essex Lines to operate again. Right now those lines must use diesel locomotives, which are slower than electric.

Also on the agency’s agenda: finding a more flood-proof rail yard. During Sandy, trains and equipment were stored in low-lying rail yards. Officials have maintained there was no need to move them because the areas had never flooded before. But now, the agency is looking to expand a rail yard south of New Brunswick to provide a safe harbor for trains and equipment during future storms. When asked if the new storage facility would be in place in time for hurricane season, Weinstein answered tersely.

"No, I don't want it to be in place by the next hurricane season," he said. "It will be in place by the next hurricane season."



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The Takeaway

Will Obama Go for Climate Change Legislation Alone?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

President Obama addressed climate change in his State of the Union address last night, but legislation to combat the problem has gotten so little traction in Congress, environmental activists wonder how the Obama Administration can achieve his goals when it comes to the environment.

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The Takeaway

Today's Takeaway | February 13, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama Lays Out Vision for Middle Class | Six Word Memoirs of Love and Loss | Work Less for Better Results | 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Show | Is the U.S. Drone Program on the Border Worth It? | Will Obama Go for Climate Change Legislation Alone?


Fracking Debate Heats Up, As Filmmakers Await Governor's Decision

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dueling pro and anti-fracking filmmakers held screenings and promotions for their films on Monday, as they await a decision by Governor Cuomo on whether fracking will go forward in New York. That could come by the end of the month. But on Monday, the two sides confronted each other in the halls of the Capitol.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

Tibet Wild

Monday, February 11, 2013

In his book Tibet Wild, leading field biologist George Schaller talks about how more roads, homes, and grazing livestock, and are increasingly causing clashes between the wildlife and people.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

A World Away

Monday, February 11, 2013

Journalist Dan Slater discusses how online dating is changing society in more profound ways than we may imagine. James Lasdun relates his experience being stalked online and offline by a former student. The conductor of the Afghan Youth Orchestra and one of his young musicians talk about coming to the United States to perform. Plus, field biologist George Schaller talks about his three decades exploring the wilderness of Tibet!

Transportation Nation

NASA's Moon Mining Robot

Monday, February 04, 2013

NASA's RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) (photo by Matthew Peddie)

In a building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, about 40 engineers and scientists are tackling the practical challenges of space exploration -- like designing astronaut clothing for long missions, converting trash into fuel, and harvesting extra-terrestrial resources.

"It's really a return to NASA's roots, the very early days of how NASA designed new technology" says Jack Fox, Chief of the Surface Systems Office at Kennedy Space Center. "We believe in a hands-on approach: just try something out, and if it works, great. If it doesn't, put it aside and try something different."

Swamp Works- NASA's technology incubator at Kennedy Space Center (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The Swamp Works team is housed in the refurbished Apollo flight crew training building, where astronauts once familiarized themselves with the lunar module and learned how to use the lunar rover. Scientists are now trying to solve some of the problems faced by those astronauts -- like dealing with space dirt.

"Dust got everywhere. It clung to everything," says Fox.

On one side of the building scientists are developing technology to banish dust electronically.

And in the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations lab, engineers are figuring out how to deal with the sandblasting effects of rocket exhaust during landing and lift-off on the moon and other planets. They're also building a machine to excavate space dirt, or regolith. NASA one day hopes to send astronauts beyond the moon, to an asteroid or Mars, and the Swamp Works team is developing a robot that can excavate other planets for water and other resources.

The RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) looks like a small tank. At each end is a fearsome toothed drum, used to scoop up the regolith. It can also raise and lower its arms to climb over rocks.

Drew Smith, who helped design RASSOR, explains the counter-rotating drums would allow the robot to dig on another planet like the moon.

"Since we don’t have a really large mass on another planet we have to be able to cancel out the excavation forces or it would just spin its tracks and not go anywhere."

The robot weighs about 180 pounds, but on the moon that's only about 30 pounds of force.

The engineers are building a regolith test bed -- essentially a giant sand pit -- which they'll fill with 120 tons of "simulant" or imitation space dirt, so they can test the robot.

Philip Metzger, NASA physicist (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Philip Metzger, a physicist at the Regolith Operations Lab, says harvesting resources on other planets could lighten the load of spacecraft blasting off from earth. "By using the resources of space -- of the moon and the resources of Mars, we can reduce the mass of a Mars mission by a factor of between three and five," says Metzger.

NASA aims to eventually send a version of the RASSOR into the craters of the moon to excavate lunar ice deposits. Metzger says anything they design to work on the moon should also work on Mars -- although operating the robot remotely poses a problem: "On the moon there's  only a 2.7 second time delay, so you can tele-operate, but on Mars it’s too far of a distance to tele-operate. So robotic autonomy is one of the key technologies we’re trying to develop," he says.

Companies like Caterpillar are interested in robot autonomy for terrestrial mining. "Mining’s moving into places humans can’t go here on earth," says Metzger, adding that space mining companies have also expressed an interest in licensing the technology.

NASA's Orion spacecraft under construction at Kennedy Space Center (photo by Matthew Peddie)

Meanwhile, in a separate building at Kennedy, NASA employees and Lockheed Martin contractors are assembling the spacecraft designed to take astronauts to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. The green welded aluminum pressure capsule of the Orion crew module is being transformed into a functioning spacecraft inside the Operations and Checkout building. Orion's first unmanned foray into space is slated for September 2014.


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The Leonard Lopate Show

Aquifer Pollution

Thursday, January 31, 2013

ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarden talks about Mexico City's plans to tap a mile-deep aquifer for drinking water, raising new questions about existing U.S. policy that allows water that’s deep underground to be intentionally polluted.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

California's Cap and Trade

Thursday, January 31, 2013

On January 1, California launched its cap and trade program, and it  was recently upheld in a court ruling. Time magazine Senior Editor Bryan Walsh discusses the program and why the country's most populous state is tackling climate change.

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The Leonard Lopate Show

How Healthy Are the Oceans?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fabien Cousteau, a filmmaker, oceanographic explorer and grandson of Jacques Cousteau, and marine toxicologist Susan Shaw talk about the health of the oceans and conservation. Susan dove into the BP oil slick in May 2010 to assess the impact of oil and the chemical dispersants used to clean the spill, which had a devastating impact on marine life in the Gulf and human health.

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