Op-Ed: Coal Trains

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Brian L. Gunn for the Auburn (Wash.) Reporter:When I ran for state representative in 2012, I walked downtown Auburn neighborhoods with a petition calling on state leaders to deny permitting of coal export terminals.The folks who signed the petition agreed that increased coal train traffic through our city was bad for our health, bad for our economy, and bad for our quality of life.In the years since, one coal terminal proposal after another has been rejected, due in large part to the determined opposition of regular folks like the ones who signed my petition.But coal trains can still be seen on an almost daily basis in the Auburn train yard. The U.S. still gets about a third of its power (down from around half a decade ago) from coal-fired power plants, and we’re still shipping millions of tons of coal to Asia.So where does all that coal come from?Much of it (41 percent, according to a report from the Interior Department) comes from public lands, land owned by taxpayers like you and me. The coal companies pay fees and royalties, but are we getting a fair price? Taxpayers for Common Sense says no, and the National Resource Defense Council estimates we may have been cheated by over $30 billion over the last 30 years.Bring in the social cost of burning fossil fuels anywhere in the world, the damage to human health, rising food costs from unproductive fields, and property damage from extreme weather events, and the evidence is clear: the American people are getting a raw deal for allowing coal companies to extract our natural resources.That’s why I’ll be testifying at a hearing in Seattle in support of the Obama administration’s moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. Detractors of this plan claim the coal industry makes vital contributions to our economy, but, as we have seen, that argument just doesn’t add up.Job growth in the renewable energy sector is on the way up. The U.S. solar industry added some 35,000 jobs in 2015 alone. And increasingly, power generated through solar and wind costs no more than artificially “cheap” fossil fuels – as subsidized by you and me. We won’t be placing any financial burden on the household incomes of American ratepayers by accelerating the transition to cleaner ways to power our lives and homes.Full item: Supporting the moratorium on coal leases Op-Ed: Coal Trainslast_img read more

Transition Is Enveloping U.S. Electricity Sector

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Wall Street Journal:The rapid rise of wind and natural gas as sources of electricity is roiling U.S. power markets, forcing more companies to close older generating plants.Wholesale electricity prices are falling near historic lows in parts of the country with competitive power markets, as demand for electricity remains stagnant while newer, less-expensive generating facilities continue to come online.The changing American electricity landscape is pressuring power companies to shed unprofitable plants and reshape their portfolios to favor the new winners. Texas provides a clear example.Citing low gas prices and the proliferation of renewables such as wind and solar, Vistra Energy Corp., a vestige of the former Energy Future Holdings Corp., said it would retire three coal-fired facilities in Texas by early next year and that it plans to merge with independent power producer Dynegy Inc. Exelon Corp., the country’s largest owner of nuclear power plants, placed its Texas subsidiary under bankruptcy protection earlier this month, saying that “historically low power prices within Texas have created challenging market conditions for all power generators.”The average wholesale power price was less than $25 per megawatt hour last year on the grid that coordinates electricity distribution across most of Texas, according to the operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. A decade ago, it was $55.Prices have fallen a similar amount on the PJM Interconnection LLC, the power grid that serves some or all of 13 states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio. A megawatt hour there traded for $29.23 last year, the lowest level since 1999, as far back as the grid’s independent market monitor tracks prices.The price drop at PJM reflects the construction of dozens of new gas-burning power plants, spurred by the abundance of the fuel due to the shale drilling boom. In 2006, 8% of the electricity in PJM was generated by natural gas. In 2016, it was 27%.Weak demand for electricity also has played a role, as Americans purchase more energy-efficient appliances and companies shave power consumption to cut costs. Last year, power demand in PJM grew 0.3% after falling the two previous years.In competitive regions in places like California, wholesale electricity is sold through daily auctions that favor the least-expensive sources of power. The resulting competition—by more power plants to buyers of roughly the same number of megawatts—has most-acutely impacted older coal and nuclear plants, which are struggling to provide competitively priced power. It has even begun to affect older natural-gas-fired facilities that have higher costs.An analysis by investment bank Lazard shows that on an unsubsidized basis and over the lifetime of a facility in North America, it costs about $60 to generate a megawatt hour of electricity using a combined-cycle natural-gas plant, compared with $102 burning coal and nearly $150 using nuclear. By that criteria, Lazard estimates electricity from utility-scale solar and wind facilities is now even cheaper than gas.A megawatt hour of electricity from utility-scale crystalline solar comes in at $49.50 and wind at $45. That metric carries an important caveat, however: It doesn’t factor in that wind and solar are more intermittent producers of power than conventional generation sources, since the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.“It’s too late,” David Schlissel, a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said of the Trump administration’s proposals. “The lesson is if you don’t put your thumb on the scale then gas and renewables will out-compete coal.”More: Electricity Prices Plummet as Gas, Wind Gain Traction and Demand Stalls Transition Is Enveloping U.S. Electricity Sectorlast_img read more

Power plant closures are turning Westmoreland’s minemouth assets into liabilities

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):Two lawyers who specialize in Chapter 11 restructuring see differing paths for Westmoreland Coal Co.: shedding debt and coming back as a leaner company with lenders in control or breaking up by selling most of its assets.Pending bankruptcy court approval, the company plans to sell its core assets, which includes its San Juan operations in New Mexico as well as its Rosebud mine in Montana, to the highest bidder. Its lenders would act as a stalking horse bidder and take the assets in exchange for the company’s debt if there are no higher offers.Steven Abramowitz, a partner with the law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP who focuses on restructuring and bankruptcy, said the lenders usually buy the assets in these sorts of cases, noting that the lenders probably know there’s little chance of another entity paying more than the value of Westmoreland’s debt.Westmoreland also intends to sell some of its noncore assets, which include the Absaloka and Savage mines in Montana; the Beulah mine in North Dakota; the Buckingham mine in Ohio; the Haystack mine in Wyoming; and the Jewett mine in Texas.Peter Morgan, senior attorney with the Sierra Club focusing on issues related to coal, including bankruptcies, said the company’s bankruptcy is taking “a very different form” than the recent Chapter 11 proceedings of other coal producers, such as Peabody Energy Corp., Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Arch Coal Inc. While those companies’ restructuring plans helped them shed some debt while continuing normal operations throughout their proceedings, he said, “Westmoreland really seems like it’s just being split up and sold for parts.”Morgan questioned the value of the company’s core assets — minemouth operations that service coal-fired power plants with units that are scheduled to retire within a decade. Rosebud sells its coal to Colstrip, a plant that will shutter its two older units by 2022 and may close down the remaining two units in 2027. The San Juan mine sells to the San Juan plant, which is slated to retire after its existing coal contract expires in 2022. “When your crown jewels, when your most valuable assets are mines that are inextricably tied to power plants that are in the process of closing,” Morgan said, “that suggests that there’s very little value left in that company.”More ($): With few potential buyers for its mines, Westmoreland could be ‘sold for parts Power plant closures are turning Westmoreland’s minemouth assets into liabilitieslast_img read more

Study highlights potential of floating solar projects in Southeast Asia

first_imgStudy highlights potential of floating solar projects in Southeast Asia FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Economic Times EnergyWorld.com:Development of floating solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants is expected to increase 100-fold in Southeast Asia over the next five to 15 years, according to energy research firm Rystad Energy.The firm added that this will happen as countries in the region are looking to substantially increase their share of renewable energy in the power mix.“Rystad Energy expects large-scale floating PV developments, typically installed on dams and reservoirs, to increase 100-fold in Southeast Asia over the next five to 15 years… This will open new market opportunities for both new and existing players in the industry,” the firm said in a press release.Development plans are in the works in Thailand and Vietnam as large-scale floating PV installations, with smaller utility-scale floating PV developments being proposed in Indonesia, Singapore and Myanmar.“Floating PV offers an attractive alternative for large and mega-scale ground-mounted utility solar development, allowing beneficiaries to take advantage of under-utilised dams and reservoirs,” says Minh Khoi Le, an analyst on Rystad Energy’s renewables team. He added that they expect floating PV capacity to grow from current levels of 0.04 GW to 3 GW in the next 10 years.More: Southeast Asia to see 100-fold increase in floating solar PV plants: Rystad Energylast_img read more

Poland’s PKN Orlen pulls plug on planned 1GW coal project at Ostroleka

first_imgPoland’s PKN Orlen pulls plug on planned 1GW coal project at Ostroleka FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Reuters:PKN Orlen will only invest in building a power station in Ostroleka in the north east of the country if it uses gas, the state-run oil refiner said on Tuesday.Earlier in May, PKN Orlen had completed a takeover of state-run utility Energa, which had planned to build a 1 gigawatt coal-fueled power plant in Ostroleka.The project, dubbed the last coal power plant in Poland, has been suspended because of financing and climate issues. PKN had planned to continue with the investment but had signaled that it might opt to replace coal with less-carbon heavy gas a fuel.“We cannot act in isolation from market trends and European Union’s regulatory policies,” Chief Executive Daniel Obajtek said in a statement. “The investment in Ostroleka will be conducted but it has to be based on gas technology.”Poland generates most of its electricity from coal, but is looking to gradually replace it with less polluting sources, including gas.[Agnieszka Barteczko]More: Poland’s PKN prefers gas as fuel for new Ostroleka power plantlast_img read more

The Pitchell Challenge: A New Journey

first_imgPost-race relief.I’ve never attempted to run a solo long distance speed record effort where it is just me, the trail, and my watch. No entry fee, no fancy aid stations, no finishers medal, no awards ceremony, no race t-shirt, no course markings, and not many folks to urge and cheer you onward; basically stepping way outside my comfort zone. In other words not much of a carrot was dangling in front of me as I hiked in the windy, cold dark of the night up to the tower on top on Mt.Pisgah. Once I got to the top, I was there all alone, no spectators, no competitors, no starting gun. So my challenge began at midnight with no hooplah that I’ve been accustomed to at race starting lines. My journey from here would take me approximately 66 miles with over 15k of climb along the Mountains-To-Sea Trail to the Mt. Mitchell observation deck.This challenge was conjured up by WNC trailrunner, Adam Hill some 7 years ago and he has finished it an amazing 4 times with the fastest time of 15:06, so the bar was set very high. Admittedly I’ve run very few miles in the dark, as I have purposely cherry picked many ultra races to avoid the discomfort of certain stresses and running in the dark has been one of them. I would now be spending the next 7 hours running in the dark, down the Shut In section of the MST and onward until daylight beckoned. Starting at midnight, in the dark on top of Mt. Pisgah all by yourself is a very surreal experience. I had my “A crew” (wife, Anne) waiting down below in the car as she decided the comfort of the car was too much to pass up.I wasted little time once I got to the observation deck. I checked out the amazing 360 degree views, bright stars and let out a howl and I started on my journey. Anne said she could see my headlamps on the summit (yes, I wore three lights- one on my head and two around my waist). I wonder if anybody else saw these lights bobbing their way down the trail, if so it probably made for some interesting discussion. The first few miles I settled into a nice rhythm and managed to run most of the time. Anne was there to greet me at our pre-arranged pit stops with my much needed fresh energy supplies throughout the night. After a couple hours I soon realized that running in the dark was not so bad. I started to forget about all my fears of not being able to run fast enough and all the scary creatures lurking in the night. Actually running in the dark forces you to keep a slower more consistent and deliberate pace, which is needed to control the temptation to start out too fast, something I’ve done more times than I care to remember. The only scary encounter that night was hurdling someone sleeping in a sleeping bag right in the middle of the trail at 2am. He was much more startled than I was as he never heard me coming. I guess he thought I was a bear looking for a late night snack.The first few hours passed rather quickly and I was soon approaching the Biltmore section of the MST/BRP crossing. As Anne handed me fresh supplies she told me she had a “run in” with a park ranger. He had asked what she was doing parked along the side of the BRP at 3am. The ranger was not at all interested in Anne’s explanation of why she was there. However the ranger eventually went on his way but warned her of all the dangerous shenanigans that occur at night and made it a point to say it was really dangerous for a lady to be out this late.I made it to the Folk Art Center around 6am and still had another hour to run in the dark. I knew the easier first half of the challenge was over and that I still had a good 9k of climb to get to Mt.Mitchell. I felt pretty good on the first climb up to Craven Gap but the long section from Ox Creek to Bee Tree Gap was where things got really ugly. I started to unravel quickly as my stomach which is usually never an issue for me started to not cooperate. I could not eat or drink very much. It did not take long for the dreaded bonk to hit me as I was not getting enough calories in my body. Just before Lane Pinnacle I was ready to call it a day, I was reduced to a slow hike and I had absolutely no energy. I was falling while walking uphill, a first for me and my mental state was in shambles. This all happened so quickly and I was concerned that Anne would start worrying, as I slowed quite a bit. My mental state was in shambles and I knew I had to try something to at least get me to my crew. This is where I had visions of dropping, going home and salvaging the day in front of a nice warm fire. As good as this sounded I knew I had to try something, so I choked down a double caffeine gel and took two S-caps. Within a few minutes I started to feel a little better and my mood began to brighten. I finally got to Anne, refueled and she urged my onward. I was still somewhat debating whether I could finish this monstrosity of a run as I had almost 18 miles left. Thankfully I took her advice to continue onward. I mumbled some choice words to myself and stumbled up the trail to Craggy Gardens.Some fifteen minutes or so later the MST trail became much tougher to follow. Partly because the blazes were not as good and partly because I had just run almost 50 miles, so my sense of direction was not all there. I quickly lost the trail and was wandering around looking for that damn white blaze which is the marking for the MST trail. Every tree looked like they had a white dot and I felt like I was in some sort of horror movie. I eventually found the trail after bushwhacking all over the side of the mountain. I was ready to hang it up for the second time. I was in a state of panic and I was letting my negativity get the best of me. I’ve had highs and lows in ultra races before but this was on a different level. I was actually so mad at the situation that I unknowingly started to run pretty fast, relatively speaking. I was on a mission now. I’m going to finish this challenge no matter how long it takes me.Just after getting past my second attempt at wanting to quit, Anne got her second run in with the park rangers. As I made my way down the trail into the Glassmine Falls Overlook, I saw two police cars surrounding Anne in our Subaru. I understood little at the time but I found out later that our dog Sadie was eating out of her bowl beside our car without a leash. The two rangers gave her quite a hard time and eventually wrote her a warning ticket. I quickly grabbed my fuel and got out of there not wanting to get involved especially the way I was feeling. She pleaded with the rangers to hurry up and write the ticket so she could keep crewing for me. Once again the explanation that I was running from Mt Pisgah to Mt Mitchell was met with looks of “should we just lock her up”?The last few miles were extremely tough due to all the climbing but as I got closer to my finish I became even more driven. I was running and power hiking in almost a euphoric state. As I got closer to Mt.Mitchell I was running more and hiking less. The last mile is straight up and I was giving every ounce of energy I had left. My back ached from all the steep climbs, my legs burned from the overload of lactic acid, and my face was contorted into a very painful dead looking stare. I felt relieved that the end was nearing but the steepness of the trail was warranting all my attention. Once the tower was in sight just a few hundred feet ahead it felt like I was about to win some big ultra race but this was even more rewarding. The tourists walking to and from the tower looked at me like some alien just popped out the woods. I did not care at all as this felt like my own personal Olympics.The moment I reached the observation deck it felt so good and I was proud of myself for not giving up. This challenge for me was so much more rewarding than a structured running event. This sixty six mile trek was about running for a different reason. It was a personal challenge on an entirely different level. It was a much less selfish running experience. I found out that I didn’t need that racing event carrot to test myself. All I needed was for my friend Adam Hill to decide back in 2004 that this was a worthy challenge. And so it was!last_img read more

You Got Folly-ed.

first_img“You got Folly-ed!”Sarah laughs, giving me a high five.Erin, my partner-in-crime for the week, and I look at each other, eyes barely open, our noses red from the past five days of bluebird skies. We’re tired, our brains barely able to string a sentence together from the gallons of saltwater that float around in our buckets. Every time I bend over, the Atlantic Ocean comes surging through my right nostril like an open faucet. My hair is sticky, my skin a leathery reddish brown. Once a fair and delicate pinkish hue, the soles of my feet are dark now, tough from running across the scorching hot sand that cooks along the shore. My internal alarm clock has finally adjusted to rising before the sun, sleeping in the heat of the day, and rallying at night when the temperature cools. Finally, finally, I’ve grown accustomed to beach life. The only problem? It’s time to hit the road again, back to the cool mountain air and the tropical humidity.That was three days ago. The Folly Effect has finally subsided and now that I’m back in Blue Ridge proper, I can finally dive into the photos I shot and relish in those glory days of salt, sand, surf (attempts), and sun.Day one.Lots of driving (I think close to 12 hours total, from northern Virginia, through Asheville, Greenville, Columbia, and finally to James Island where we stayed the first two nights at the campground there). We arrived shortly past sunset and decided we couldn’t wait to get salty. We celebrated our arrival with a quick night dip in the ocean and margaritas from Taco Boy where the waiter complimented me on my dress. I use the word “compliment” loosely. His exact words (and what would become our go-to phrase for the week) were, “I like you’re dress. It’s confusing.”Hey. It’s the thought that counts.Nighttime at the pier. Nighttime at the pier.Day two.I’m a light hound. I’ll admit it. It makes me a bit of a grandma sometimes too, going to bed before 10pm, skipping out on the group beverage so I can get up at 5am to shoot the sunrise… It’s hard to get a lot of my friends pumped to get up before the sun, but Erin happened to appreciate that special hour of the day just as much as I, and so, we began our weeklong crusade to chase the rays on day two. We were a little slow moving due to the previous day’s extensive traveling, but we managed to get to the beach right on time.Erin walking along the beach, first sunrise of the trip.Erin walking along the beach, first sunrise of the trip.Reflecting on island life.Reflecting on island life.Found this little guy. First time ever seeing a starfish in real life.Found this little guy. First time ever seeing a starfish in real life.After our walk, we headed over to the Lost Dog Café for breakfast and a cup of coffee before parting ways, Erin to the beach to check out the waves and I to the computer screen to do some much-needed catching up on emails and writing. My office for the day was, fortunately or unfortunately, located outside on a partially shaded deck. By the time midday rolled around, my keyboard was saturated in sweat and I was borderline cranky from the suffocating heat and the onslaught of smart-ass comments from folks passing by – “Aren’t you on vacation?” “You know there’s a beach down that way, right?”Finally I slammed the laptop shut, shed my dress for the much more comfortable (and Folly-Beach-standard) bikini, and practically ran into the ocean, from the sand frying my feet or the anticipation of submerging my head beneath the water I can’t be sure. My irritation immediately floated away as I dove headfirst into wave after wave, which is surprising considering I’ve never been much of a beach person. Growing up, my parents took us to maybe a handful of beaches, and never at opportune times…like the summer…when everyone else goes… Instead, we’d go in early March for a “spring” break or the middle of December, when both the air and water temperatures were too cold and the wind would violently lash at our clothing. The most I ever got out of my early exposure to beaches were two things: 1) a bathtub full of seashells. 2) a fear of oceans.I can spend all day on a river kayaking, tubing, swimming, whatever. I love the water. But there’s something vastly overwhelming and unknown to me about oceans and I blame it largely on the fact that it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I really remember having the quintessential beach experience. Even then, I don’t remember getting into the water all that much, but rather tactfully tanning (and by tanning I mean burning) and swimming in the pool of the house I was staying in. So. Maybe that wasn’t a quintessential beach experience.But I digress. My opinion on beaches and oceans has changed for the most part, although the thought of getting chundered and hitting reef or getting sucked away in a rip tide or torn apart by sharks still keeps me up at night. Folly Beach isn’t like that nightmare-ish version of beaches I have filed away in my brain though, and so, as I floated on my back and let the waves crash over me, I thought for the first time ever, “I like the beach.”The Cherokee getting a little tan.The Cherokee getting a little tan (thanks Brown!).That afternoon, we were set to partner with Jon Ory, owner of Charleston SUP Safaris, to host a stand up paddleboard meet-up on the Folly River. As Erin and I made our way back to the car, we met two out-of-towners who kindly offered us a cold beer. We both agreed that nothing sounded better at 1 o’clock in the afternoon than a covered front porch and an ice cold beverage, so we followed the couple up the stairs of their rental beach home and met the entire extended family (wonderful folks – thanks so much for the hospitality!). Of that family, we were able to convince Bob and Connor that they should join us on the river later to stand up paddleboard, an activity Bob had placed on his adventure bucket list years ago.Bob standing on the low tide sand bar.Bob in his rad shirt, standing on the low tide sand bar.The great thing about Folly Island is that, it’s not just a beach. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, Folly Beach has the best of both worlds. Waves for surfing, flatwater for exploring. It’s a brackish water wonderland. From marshes to sand dunes, the diversity of wildlife in and around Folly Beach is remarkable. What’s more, it’s a great place for people to learn. A South Carolina native, Jon was very in tune with more than just the stand up paddleboarding. As we paddled, the “Folly Green Giant” (as Jon is fondly referred to as) talked on the ecosystem, the wildlife, and the issues with beach erosion. We pulled off onto a low tide sand bar and took a break, soaking in the remarkable views, the dolphins surfacing from time to time in search of food, pelicans diving headfirst into the water, and a horseshoe crab burying itself beneath the sand right at our feet. Magical, mysterious, memorable. This place is that and more.Jon (left) showing Bob (right) the basics of stand up paddleboarding.Jon (left) showing Bob (right) the basics of stand up paddleboarding.IMG_1216Along the banks of the Folly River.The whole gang. From left to right: Erin, Connor, Jon, Bob, and me…being me.Day three.Erin and I again rallied before the sun to explore the northeast end of the island where you can view the historic Morris Island Lighthouse. We were greeted with yet another spectacular sunrise and stayed to relish in its beauty for well over an hour.IMG_1318Did I mention Erin is a yogi master?Did I mention Erin is a yogi master?IMG_1469From there we cruised over to Bert’s Market, which is hands down one of the neatest grocers I’ve ever been to. Local, organic, healthy food sold 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with bangin’ complimentary coffee available all day. It doesn’t get much better than that. We snagged a cup of joe and some stickers to represent Bert’s before returning back to our campsite on James Island. We took down the Go and packed our things to move onto Folly Island itself.Sarah, who I quoted at the beginning of this post, is a full-time Folly Beach resident. She and her roomie Annie were gracious enough to let Erin and I pitch the Go in their backyard for the remainder of the week and give us the locals’ perspective of life on Folly Island. Just a quick walk from the beach, their house sits a couple streets back from the main tourist strip, nestled among a row of idyllic beach houses, some of which date back to the early 1940s and ’50s.Tucked away on the outside of their house is an outdoor rainwater shower, walled in with dark wooden slats. It’s simple, and there’s no option of hot or cold, but to me, it’s a mini-paradise. Standing upright, barefoot, and totally naked in a shower is something I didn’t think I would miss, but after a number of swimsuit-flip-flop-Roadshower-rinse-offs, their barebones shower was more than a nice recess from the road life routine.Because of the problems with beach erosion and the attempts at shore renourishment, Sarah told us the waves were unpredictable and not nearly as high quality as they were prior to the hurricane. So what is there to do when you’re at a beach and you want to surf but the waves aren’t in? You make your own with a little help from a boat.Our captain for the evening, Sarah's beau Matt.Our captain for the evening, Sarah’s beau Matt.Sarah showing us how it's done.Sarah showing us how it’s done.Erin (right) and I, loving the Folly Beach life.Erin (right) and I, loving the Folly Beach life.Sunset on the Folly River.Sunset on the Folly River.Annie tearing it up!Annie tearing it up!The boat crew.The boat crew. From left to right: me, Erin, Matt, Sarah, and Annie.Day four.On our final day in town, Erin and I cruised into the nearby city of Charleston where Sarah works in the Groundswell PR office. We caught up on work for a few hours before heading to King Street for a quick walk and some amazing Thai food for lunch, but our minds were elsewhere, back on the beach and in the water. We hustled back to Folly Island to squeeze in as much surfing as we could (I eventually stood up for my first time, ever) before a yoga session and a night on the town with Jon (side note, if you’re ever on the island, grab some dinner at the recently opened, Asian-inspired tapas bar, Jack of Cups Saloon… killer food for an insanely cheap price).Scenes from Folly Island.Scenes from Folly Island.The Edge of America is bound to be a little off-kilter.The Edge of America is bound to be a little off-kilter.Day five.Reluctantly, Erin and I awoke on day five, forgoing the sunrise for an extra few hours of sleep. We would need it for our long hauls on the road, Erin back to her home in West Virginia and I back to the mountains, this time for a little off-the-grid time in Pisgah National Forest.“I don’t want to leave,” Erin said as we stared out at the ocean.“Me either,” I said, looking down at the water lapping over my sandy toes. Folly Island and the community here had grown on me. Sure, there’s a definite tourist scene during the summer. And yes, my skin is not ideal for tanning. And yes, I really am not very good at surfing at all. But there’s an air of relative ease here, of letting the little stuff wash over you like the waves that crash on and recede from the shore.Erin and I bid our farewells before indulging in the local eats one last time (lunch at The ‘Wich Doctor – definitely recommend topping it all off with a key lime pie ice cream sandwich and some watermelon agua fresca). We were relatively quiet on the drive back to Erin’s car in Columbia. After all, what is there to say after spending a week on one of the most beautiful beaches on the coast with some of the friendliest people I’ve met? Instead of pining for our lost days of paradise, we sat there in silence, letting the images of sparkling waves and palm trees and spectacular sunrises settle in our minds like the grains of sand that have inevitably settled in every crack and on every surface of my car…Until next time Folly…I look forward  to getting Folly-ed again soon.Live oaks draped in Spanish moss line a neighborhood street on James Island. Live oaks draped in Spanish moss line a neighborhood street on James Island.last_img read more

Prestonsburg, Ky.

first_imgPopulation: 3,255Public lands: Dewey Lake Recreation Area, Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, Levisa Fork River Park, Minnie ParkOutdoor Highlights: Dawkins Line Rail Trail, paddling on Dewey Lakelast_img

Snuffing Her Out: The Failed Legacy of Fire Suppression

first_imgMan appeared on earth in a hospitable era. After eons of violence, we inhabited a rugged beauty through which we now recreate and explore. We are so fond of this–the only forested planet in the universe–we attempt to subdue nature’s temper in order to avoid change, spoiling what we love most in the process.Like the failed levees along the Mississippi, our engineered taming of the beast often backfires into catastrophe. What should have been free to enrich the mud-adapted lowlands became an imprisoned monster that broke out when Hurricane Katrina hit. And just as rivers swell, forests burn.Wildfire policies in the United States have sparked intense debate for centuries. In the forest, the recreationist sees freedom, the real estate agent sees privacy, the scientist sees an ecosystem, and the lumberman sees board feet. Let it burn, put it out: Even before the early 1900s, when the Weeks Act protected places such as Pisgah National Forest and the Wildlands Act banned human trammeling, man has disagreed about wildfire. Tourism bureaus, railroad managers, timber companies, treasury secretaries, and people who simply hate to see trees ablaze have all had their say. Policy adjustments followed big fires, while the tools for suppression steadily advanced.Even though the ecological benefits of fire have long been understood, putting concessions into a policy that manages nature’s style of give-and-take is like planning a backcountry trail from the desk of a New York City high-rise. Results just cannot meet intentions. Remember, also, that many of our public forests exist because the U.S. Forest Service was created within the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under the leadership of Gifford Pinchot, forestry was, at its core, about harvesting trees and maximizing profit. Pinchot himself understood the service of fire, but he professed objection to the “law of the jungle” and believed “forest fires were wholly within the control of man.” The agency’s concerns have since expanded, but its mission remains “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands…”Throughout the United States today, every entity (National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior, and more) with a role in forest fire prevention has its own rules. And with a legacy of logging and fire suppression behind us, a proverbial tinderbox is before us.Fire ScienceThe living things in a forest share finite resources by using them, altering them, and passing them on. Carbon, oxygen, water, nitrogen, minerals, and the sun’s energy are always either cycling or held in reserve. Like rain, fire propels the process.For both man and nature, smaller fires are best. A raging crown fire cannot be contained. It is erratic, rumbling, terrifying, and dangerous. Tornado-like convection winds send smoke thousands of feet into the air. A too-hot fire sterilizes the soil. It explodes trees. The leftover material erodes into the nearest waterway, leaving a desolate landscape that cannot recover.A surface fire, meanwhile, forces dead and diseased trees to release their reserves. The ash creates an exceptionally rich seedbed. Fire-adapted species are charred and pinecones drop their desirable cache. The forest floor is opened. Ground dwellers hide safely in their burrows, while others have time to flee. Damaging diseases and insects as well as the tangle of aggressive, choking plants are erased. And since small fires can be more easily contained, human habitat is more easily protected.In general, Nature would most often orchestrate surface fires. But since suppression builds fuel ladders to the canopy, it sets the stage for crown fires.Wild Versus NaturalThe often-quoted Wilderness Act of 1964 declared lands such as the Linville Gorge in North Carolina to be free of human engineering. Here the debate centers on the subtle-but-giant difference between wildness and naturalness. According to researchers, professors, and ecologists such as Peter Landres of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, land that is wild may not necessarily be natural because of human impact. Where the act mandates wildness, human manipulation must be prevented. Where natural conditions are cited, the lighting of torches to return fire to the forest comes into play.Prescribed burning is done to overcome a multitude of human-caused problems when they’ve degraded the ecosystem enough to warrant action. It also resets conditions to pave the way for any future fire to be left alone, because it diminishes the likelihood of an inferno.The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a land steward that employs fire right alongside the Forest Service. Deborah Landau, who has been with TNC for 14 years, leads the ecological restoration programs for the Maryland/D.C. chapter and is an expert in fire ecology. She said, “We will use fire as a tool to meet our ecological needs…Nature answers immediately thereafter. We see astoundingly fast results from orchids, some of which reappear after decades of no activity. There are many rare plants, birds, and animals that come back in force.” But, she said, “We will use fire only when it is safe for adjacent properties and for all parties involved. In a controlled burn, our primary driver is safety.”Recent FiresNational headlines usually come out of the hot and dry west, but as Landau noted, “Wildfire danger and altered ecology is an issue on both sides of the continent.”This past spring, a North Carolina resident was legally burning debris, which ignited a difficult-to-fight wildfire in the tender wildland-urban interface at the southern end of Pisgah National Forest. Though the Ridgecrest fire was expected to consume 2,000 acres, a consorted effort kept it to 740 acres burned.In April, the nearby Blue Gravel wildfire burned 521 acres in the Linville Gorge Wilderness area, closing roads and trails. The cause may never be determined. Part of Pisgah’s Grandfather Ranger District, the remote area was already recognized as in need of a natural fire regime via a winning proposal submitted to the USDA’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program. Blue Gravel was left to burn until it reached previously established fire lines.Too many interests banging on the door make it difficult to calm a caged monster. Before any fire is allowed to burn, the risk to human safety must be analyzed and minimized. “Hazardous fuels” are removed under a 2014 Farm Bill program that salvages dead and diseased trees, essentially plucking them from the forest as “renewable energy” to power man’s habitat. Every policy in response to wildfires bends to the protection of human lives, property, and economics. But at what consequence? That which nature bestows remains a direct result of her unchained fury. There is no picking one or the other.The Need for CautionEven proponents of natural fire agree with Smokey Bear: be always on guard. Out West, the most expensive fire in Colorado history was ignited by an ember from a fire at a volunteer firefighter’s Fourmile Canyon home, one he had extinguished four days prior. 6,200 acres and more than 100 homes burned. Charred trees dot the 10,000-foot mountainsides like the five o’clock shadow on a dark-haired man. An accident determination left the firefighter open to civil lawsuits. He knew about fire regime. He thought his fire was out. He burned down 169 structures.—Ruth Heil blogs about being outside at www.TodaysWalkOutside.com. Email her at [email protected]last_img read more

Mountain Mama: A Q & A with Single Dad and Full-Time Adventurer Thomas Minton

first_imgAfter I posted a couple interviews with single moms, readers responded. “I love what you’ve written about single moms, but what about single dads?” So I sat down with Thomas Minton, one of the most inspiring parents I know.Thomas is a physical therapist who focuses on running-related and sports injuries, a Pose Method Certified Running Technique Specialist, a USA Track and Field Coach, and a Red Level Bike Fit Professional. He’s also a single dad. Basically, Thomas is an all-around bad ass. I was in the thick of it, working an office job for forty-hours a week and mostly raising a toddler alone, and Thomas Minton’s advice saved me. When my son was an infant, it was easy to tie him to me and go for a hike or run with him in the stroller. Once he started walking there was no containing him.Thomas showed me how to turn a playground into a gym. Turns out that monkey bars are perfect for pull-ups, squishy mats become a platform for push-ups, and vertical beams are great for leveraging stretches. When Tobin started riding a bike, Thomas demonstrated how I could improve my own skills, playing around with balancing and maneuvering in tight spaces.I got to see Thomas’ son, Porter, grow and evolve into a teenager who loves to mountain bike, whitewater kayak, and ski and snowboard. Over the years, watching Thomas’ parenting evolve from encourager and motivator to getting outside with a side-kick who carries his own weight has reminded me that one day my son and I will be adventuring together if we continue to play outside. “I’m just trying to keep up,” Thomas said.How did Porter start getting outside?When he was three-years old, we started riding trails like Pine Tree in Bent Creek. I used a bungee cord to connect his bike to mine. Going uphill required a joint effort –he’d push and I’d pull. When we got to a downhill, I’d unhook him and let him rip down the trail.He started off riding a pink Barbie bike and pink is still one of his favorite colors.I knew how being outdoors helped hone my own energy and focus, and wanted him to have the same experiences being in the forest and on rivers. What have been some of the tough parts of adventuring with your son?When he was little, like four or five, we got caught in a pretty bad lightening storm. I found an outcropping of rocks and we hunkered down, hugging are way through it and trying to say reassuring things to keep him calm.I’ve also had to adjust my own expectations to anticipate his needs. Kids get tired. They need to take breaks. They need snacks and encouragement.Porter’s interests have varied over time, and I’ve tried to encourage him to stay balanced. More recently he’s become focused on whitewater kayaking and I want him to still mountain bike and participate in team sports. How have you balanced your own fitness agenda with Porter’s needs?I’ve let go of some of that, expecting that I’m going to get in certain work-outs and instead look for opportunities where I can. Instead of going for run, we might throw a Frisbee or football. We turned the dining room into a home gym and create work-outs around what’s available.When he was younger, we’d go the neighborhood pump track, and I’d do intervals while he’s at the pump track.  Raising Porter meant cutting down on logging longer miles so I turned my focus on technique and form. Some days I’d go out in front of house and run while he’s inside doing homework and got a work out in during a short amount of time in a confined area.When did Porter start kayaking?We dabbled in kayaking early on and Porter first got in a boat when he was three. Porter didn’t really express an interest and I started to think we might not be kayaking together and was okay with that. Then two and half years ago that all changed. He went to camp with buddies and came back and asked if I could do a loop. All of a sudden he was interested. It took Porter finding friends who were into kayaking for him to get excited about it. We started paddling class one and then made the typical progression from class two to three. This past year he’s paddled lots of new rivers including the Cheoah, the Tallulah, and the Narrows section of the Green.It’s amazing what younger minds can adapt too. Porter and his friends soak up everything. They can look at a rapid and they can say now I know it after one time. It takes me a dozen times to remember a rapid.Porter has become self-sufficient – he organizes his own gear, he researches beta about rivers, and he looks at rivers. When he first started kayaking, I modeled that for him and now he likes doing the work that goes in before we even get on the river. He’s taken a whitewater rescue courses, and he and his friends encourage one another to think about safety on the river. What’s been one highlight of kayaking with your son?Porter has always heard stories of my buddies who paddled together. Now he’s entertained by these weird- uncle-like figures in his life. It’s great to see him interact with adults. He’s a good job at that too, there’s mutual respect.  It’s great to see him spend time around the river. Paddlers are well balanced, they’re athletes and also stewards of the environment, that’s important too.What advice would you give to other parents?Get outdoors without expectation and just make it happen and see how it turns out.  Make it short and fun.I tell myself to relax all the time. I’m still focusing on it. It’s easy to get fired up about a plan and then when you’re about to head out the door there’s resistance. I do my best to chill out and still make it fun.last_img read more