A New Vision to Rally Around: Let’s Become the Algae Capital of the World!

Virginians know more than most people about growing algae: The Chesapeake Bay periodically erupts with algae blooms that wreak havoc on the fragile estuarine ecology. While most of us think of algae as an environmental blight, Old Dominion University researchers want to convert the primitive life form into biodiesel fuel — and make Virginia’s waters a little cleaner in the process.

Algal Farms Inc., on a 240-acre tract near the border of Surry and Prince George counties, currently has a working, 1-acre algae pond capable of growing enough microscopic, green algae to produce up to 3,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel per year. A second pond under construction has been designed to grow algae in wastewater effluent, stripping out harmful nutrients. If the pilot project is successful, dozens of ponds could be dug on the property and Algal Farms could become the first commercial facility of its kind in the country, reports the ODU news service.

The vision is to truck in effluent daily from the Hopewell Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility. Though treated, the effluent will be rich in the nutrients that feed algae blooms in the Bay. After the algae are harvested, tanker trucks will haul it back to Hopewell, where it can be discharged into the James River cleaner than it would be otherwise.

All that trucking of water sounds economically wasteful — think of all the gasoline consumed — but treating the water in algae ponds could scrub the water clean enough to avoid investing in expensive upgrades using conventional methods.

Researchers are working out technical kinks, such as the ideal temperatures for growing the algae and developing efficient ways to harvest the slimy, oily organism.

(Photo credit: Old Dominion University.)

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34 responses to “A New Vision to Rally Around: Let’s Become the Algae Capital of the World!”

  1. this puts a whole new meaning to ” I got gas”.

  2. So …

    Why not build the algae ponds right next to the wastewater treatment plants and avoid all that trucking of wastewater? ‘Cause the treated wastewater already goes from the treatment plants into some river or other body of water so that would be another set of trucks eliminated. No?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Put ‘er right in Tysons Corner. The BoS sort of smiled on the crazy vision for 220 M sq. ft. of development that may include a plan to treat and reuse wastewater from Tysons Corner. Won’t that help sell houses in Fairfax County?

    Actually, Supervisors Frey, Foust, Herrity and Smyth tried to interject a bit of sanity, but were generally interrupted by the Kondo King himself – Chairmany Connolly. The Task Force promised to build so much so fast that it would have a zero carbon footprint by 2030, while at the very same time, telling the worriers that much of this might never be built.

    An algae pond is just what we need. Larry, do you know how to build one? You, I trust.


  4. thanks for the compliment TMT.. much better than some of Groveton’s left-handed swipes!


    re: algae ponds

    I actually agree with Groveton!

    Further – why not REQUIRE all animal feeding operations – whether they be chicken, turkey, pig or cattle to covert their sewage lagoons (which currently discharge without treatment) to “fuel” depots.

    More articles point out that the same process can be used to generate on-site electricity instead of fuel.

    Talk about your location specific activities!

    Each and every New Urban Region would no longer need an Urban Support Region to truck their sewage sludge to…

    and when you run low on power – an “alert” is put out for everyone to head on down to the all you can eat eateries!

    Now what Ray would like – would be for the Government to run the all-you-can eat for a really low price – designed specifically to increase the supply of poop… for electricity or fuel…

    Sometimes.. I wonder.. is the reason we don’t do things like this – because they are really not cost effective as I’m sure Ray will claim…or is it because the “other” way, the “status quo” way is already profitable and there is no reason to go looking for some other method if you already have a cash cow to start with.

    whatever… just imagine ..the nomenclature could change from “carbon footprint” to “poop footprint”.

    those who don’t “put out” their fair share will be penalized….

  5. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Hmm. According to the article the pilot project needs 15,000 gallons of water per day.

    15k gal of water per day = 2 large tanker trucks per day.

    20 miles from treatment center to algal farm = 80 total miles per day.

    80 miles divided by 5 mpg = 16 gal of fuel per day.

    180 day open air growing season times 16 gal. = 2880 gal. consumed.

    Sounds like they need to bake this idea a bit longer.

  6. If the point is that hauling wastewater in tankers to a reprocessing facility is expensive – I agree and would also agree with Groveton’s idea of why not locate the algae lagoons where the wastewater treatment plant already is – except in many places there is an available space issue. (otherwise known as “there is no free lunch”)

    On of the reasons I like the overall idea in general is because of the oft-wrong view that wastewater treatment plants are discharging pure, clean water into the rivers and thus into the Bay.

    There are many things that they do not filter – than are now becoming the focus .. of “aha” moments that in my mind just prove how shortsighted we are sometimes even about things that should be obvious.

    what I’m speaking of is prescription drugs, hormones, anti-biotics, etc that apparently are not completely/fully removed in addition to the nitrogen/phosphorous which are seen as potential energy.

    Imagine you have an aquarium and every day when you sprinkle food in it…you also sprinkle.. a few prescription drugs, hormones, anti-biotics, etc… then one day you notice your fish don’t look quite right…


    Imagine yourself – just mixing up a brew of old/extra/unused prescription drugs every morning as a way to get rid of them – instead of flushing said product down the drain to literally feed the fishes.

    but this has been and continues to be our approach to wastewater treatment – even though we have made great, great strides in cleaning it up – we still essentially have a mindset of flushing down the “out of mind – out of sight” drain – unwanted “waste” when, in fact, the drain itself does in virtually 100% of the cases, ultimately end up in a River and then into the Bay – treated yes – but not as pure as often claimed.

    If it were as “pure” as claimed – we could recycle it – right?

    If we can have a process that processes wastewater into electricity/fuel and/or other useful things – and in that process – we also sequester the wastewater and remove/disable/neutralize the substances that now are not – it would be a win-win for us all.

    (and ultimately we may be forced to do this anyhow)

    we’d need more space at our existing wastewater plants – either more land for lagoons or digester tanks, etc.

    What holds a lot of this back is this.

    Yes.. you might be able to make money from such an operation – ultimately – but early on – there would be up-front costs – and the inevitable learning process – that costs money

    .. and in the end – the existing treatment plants are simply cheaper to operate without getting into recycling and re-use.

    ..in the end.. it is “cheaper” to discharge the effluent – in the short run.

    ..in the longer run.. we end up trying to figure out how to deal with the build-up of nitrogen/phosphorous in the Bay (not the mention the effect of drugs/hormones on the aquatic critters).

    However – here is a point that I think we all miss sometimes.

    We talk about the billions of dollars that will be needed to clean up the Bay and we often don’t see this in the context of billions of dollars to create wastewater treatment plants that produce fuel and electricity AND as a huge beneficial by-product – rivers and a Bay that are not so sick that they are barely hanging on.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Now what Ray would like – would be for the Government to run the all-you-can eat for a really low price – designed specifically to increase the supply of poop… for electricity or fuel…

    I don’t know why you say things like that. Biological reprocessing, recycling, and reclamation is one of the most natural things we can do. I spent 8 years working on biological processes to do just that. They were related to claning up chemiclas realted to munitions, like the perchlorte that has recently been in the news.

    Perchlorates have been a known problem for over 40 years, and so far, we are still talking about what to do and who should pay.

    If it’s cost effective, go for it. Trucking water is almost never cost effective.

    Let’s see, if you can get 3000 gal a year off an acre worth $10,000, then your land costs alone are 23 cents a gallon.

    But Larry is out of his mind if he thinks that we can “filter” out all the chemicals he has in mind, after all, most of them get in the water because they are water soluble. Separating such things at the part per billion or trillion level will be unbelievably expensive, trucking aside.


  8. “Let’s see, if you can get 3000 gal a year off an acre worth $10,000, then your land costs alone are 23 cents a gallon.”.

    OK – RH. I usually “get” you calculations but this one kind of baffles me.

    3,000 gallons/year @ .23/gallon = $690 per year per acre in land costs.

    $10,000 / $690 = 14.5 years of useful life?

  9. Larry G:

    Antibiotics in the Bay? I thought that came more from animal feed than Zythromax being flushed.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    I figured the land “rent” at 7% per year.

    Tyson’s is perfect: every federal worker knows that all those contractors are pond scum.


  11. re: “unbelievably expense”

    compared to ?

    the certain knowledge that most all of the aquatic critters .. fish, crabs, oysters, etc are going to have damaged immune systems and be vulnerable to hideous lesions that make them unfit for human consumption and depending on how one feels about critters in general… not so hot for them either.

    We make this same mistake over and over and over – we decide something is “safe” to discard into a river.., when evidence surfaces that harm might be the result, we say that it is “unbelievably expense” to clean up … and that a certain amount of “harm” is inevitable … and needed.. then when confronted with the reality that the harm is much more systemic that we thought – we decide to clean it up.

    It’s really a dumb way to go about things.

    We wait until AFTER the Chesapeake Bay loses it’s crabs and oysters before we admit – that we were fooling ourselves all along about how much harm we were doing…

    THEN.. we say we need BILLIONs to “clean it up”.

  12. re: antibiotics

    both – factory farm effluent AND drugs…

    look here:

    ….” Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations of pharmaceutical residues harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild. Also, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs.
    The original AP series in March prompted federal and local legislative hearings, brought about calls for mandatory testing and disclosure, and led officials in more than two dozen additional metropolitan areas to analyze their drinking water.
    And while most pharmaceutical waste is unmetabolized medicine that is flushed into sewers and waterways through human excretion, the AP examined institutional drug disposal and its dangers because unused drugs add another substantial dimension to the problem.
    “Obviously, we’re flushing them — which is not ideal,” acknowledges Mary Ludlow at White Oak Pharmacy, a Spartanburg, S.C., firm that serves 15 nursing homes and assisted-living residences in the Carolinas.
    Such facilities, along with hospitals and hospices, pose distinct challenges because they handle large quantities of powerful and toxic drugs — often more powerful and more toxic than the medications people use at home. Tests of sewage from several hospitals in Paris and Oslo uncovered hormones, antibiotics, heart and skin medicines and pain relievers.”


  13. Anonymous Avatar

    compared to ?

    Compared to anything.

    You are talking about processing a trillion gallons of water. If you actually have a process that can locate and extract, say aspirin, and it is 85% efficient, then after you pump a trillion gallons through your process you “saved” less than a gallon of aspirin.

    There is gold in the water at those densities and we can’t afford to get that out.

    Then do that over and over for each contaminat you want to get out, and figure out what to do with all the tons of waste products, solvents, ion exchange resins, catalysts, etc. It is just laughable to think you are going to clean up all those chemicals.

    Before that happens you would put a chemical reprocessor on evey toilet, so you can take the chemicals out of the urine before you mix it with the water.


  14. re: toilet chemical reprocessors…

    what’s cheaper –

    filters on sewage treatment plans or all of us buying whole house and faucet filters and bottled water?

    What is it economically acceptable for us to buy filters for our homes but it’s not economically acceptable to put properly treat sewage – so you don’t have to be concerned about impurities in your drinking water – that requires you to buy filters and use bottled water?

    If we took all the money being spent on home filters and spent it instead on sewage filtration would it still be “too expensive”?

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    what’s cheaper –

    It is probably cheaper to drink the tap water along with its contaminants than it is to buy (and dispose of) faucet filters and bottled water.

    Neither the faucet filters nor bottled water eliminate the kinds of contaminants you are talking about, so buying (and disposing of them) would be a total waste, in that regard.

    Bottled water comes from the same global sources as other water and is subject to the same global contaminants (plus, probably, bisphenols and pthalaste esters, among many others).

    We are not talking mere filtration here. To get reductions from the parts per billion or trillion level is a very sophisticated operation. To do that for literallyhundreds of compounds is for all intenets and purposes, impossible.

    You would need to eliminate the source, and that would mean taking life saving medications off the shelves.

    If you took all the money being spent (and largely wasted) on home filters and spent it on advanced sewage plant treatment, it would not even move the tenth decimal, compared to what would be needed.

    Bottled water is subject to less government oversight than tap water. Common household flters are advertised as removing up to 99% of some contaminants such as lead, chlorine, cysts, MBTE, etc. The question 99% from what level?

    If you are talking about getting to the parts per trillion league, then those household things would need to be millions of times more efficient.

    Yeah, it is too expensive. Don’t even bother thinking about it, unless you want to ban manufacturing virtually everything, and going back to a primeval, but pristine existence.

    Nasty, brutish, and short, probably, but at least it would be “clean”, and it wouldn’t cost much, except for everything else we missed.


  16. let’s see.. you can make electricity out of sewage.. then you could use the electricity to distill the water – right?

    Don’t they actually use distillation and reverse-osmosis to produce “pristine” water in some parts of the world?


    “Los Angeles Announces Plans To Recycle Wastewater For Drinking”

    ….”Los Angeles plans to begin using heavily cleansed sewage to increase drinking water supplies, joining a growing number of cities considering similar measures.”


    didn’t you just say that his was too expensive and not possible?

    If they’re going to do this anyhow.. why not pre-process the sewage to generate electricity first and then use it for the drinking water processing?

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “then you could use the electricity to distill the water – right?”

    Nope. You wouldn’t get eneough energy to distill that much water.

    “Don’t they actually use distillation and reverse-osmosis to produce “pristine” water in some parts of the world?”

    Nope, you get water good enough to drink, good enough to pass the usual standards, but no where near clean enough to meet the parts per billion cleanliness being talked about for hundreds of chemicals.

    Distillation does not guarantee pure water. Neither does deionization, filtration or reverse ozmosis, adsorption or phase solubility. Trust me on this, really clean water is really hard to come by, you practically have to make it from scratch.

    Give me a good lab and enough of your water, and I can eventually find almost anything in it. Really, you will be happier if you just don’t know.

    Yes, Los Angeles will use recycled water, but it will not be pure by the standards mentioned above. And that is just the pharmaceutical stuff. Think about it. Pharmaceuticals get excreted, they go through the treatment plant where they are not removed. The water gets treated until it is clean enough, then someone dinks it again, to wash down their pills. Next time it is excreted there is more pharma. Not much because it is hugely diluted with all the water used for swimming pools and lawns. But now the higher mixture goes around again.

    Getting sewage clean enough to drink is easy: you can put a well a hundred feet away from a septic field. But getting really pure water is many, many times harder and much more expensive. All LA is doing is going to a tertiary or quaternary system: it is a big digester.

    In the end, the sewage and the drinking water are the same water. So you use the sewage to grwo some algae and convert that to fuel. That process is not energy free. Then you burn the fuel to make electricity and use the electricity to clean your drinking water.

    Pretty much defeats the purpose of the biofuel to begin with, because now you have no new energy. You wouldn’t even have close enough to clean the water.


  18. Anonymous Avatar

    How much is expensive?

    If you have an event that you are sure will cost you a dollar, then that is a dollar event.

    If you have a billion dollar event that has one chance in a billion of happening, then that is also a dollar event, because 1/billion times a billion is still one.

    It isn’t even a one dollar event because if the chance of it happening is one in a billion then it probably won’t happen for a long time. So now you have a dollar event far in the future. Whichis worth more, a dollar today, or a dollar in five hundred years from now?

    But now you are talking about chemicals, or maybe neutrinos. The chance of a part per billion chemical getting YOU or a neutrino disrupting YOUR DNA and causing cancer might be one in a billion, but there are three billion people on earth, so three of them will likely have some bad luck, eventually.

    So, if this is a dollar event, we OUGHT to be willing to pay a dollar to prevent it. Each of us. Or some portion of a dollar if the event is far away. Now we have $3 billion (or a billion and a half)and that might be enough to do something.

    For one drug or compound. There are probably a hundred thousand of them out there. Now you are talking a hundred thousand dollars apiece. For everyone.

    Who can afford that, really? Especially when you are talking about people who LIVE on a dollar a day.

    Even if you are talking about things with much higher risk, like one in a million, there still isn’t enough money.

    Historically, we lose a space shuttle about once in fifty flights, and yet we have people standing in line to fly them. We spend a huge amount of money on a program that is likely to kill people, same as we do with a lot of other things, like pharmaceuticals.

    Thomas Sowell said, “There are no answers, only trade offs.” and he was right.

    At the parts per billion level, virtually everything we do contributes to the probability of someone’s illness or death. And that includes, even, cleaning up after ourselves.

    All we can do is try to understand the trades. We can start by stop thinking that we can get something for nothing. Like free electricity from sewage to clean our drinking water.


  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “Los Angeles will use recycled water.” So will Fairfax County.

    When asked about the impact on water supply, a spokesperson for the Tysons Land Use Task Force replied that they would be looking at recycling waste water. What a small price to pay so that we turn Fairfax County into an urban area.

    I’d say that the odds of something bad happening from our water supply might just be a bit higher than one nasty part per billion.


  20. I don’t think we’re talking about water that is “pure” to a parts per billion standard but rather water than is “pure” enough such that it does not result harm on a system/widespread basis.

    What you’re talking of is like saying we want frozen vegetables and other food with zero insect parts.

    But what I’m talking about is not having intersex-fish, and water full of substances that cause harm to the point that we say we need to pay money to clean it up.

    That’s the fundamental issue with the subject of this blog post.

    i.e. if we have a “problem” with algae, dead zones, red tides, and, in general harm and destruction to our water habitat and seafood production

    AND we can actually use the cleansed/extracted/harvested algae to produce fuel or electricity then it makes sense.

    and I think you’re dead wrong about distillation – where the water is converted to steam (and only steam) and then condensed back to water.

    Our goal is not pristine. It never was.

    Our goal is to NOT produce effluent that has levels of contaminants so high that it causes system harm – that in the longer run costs more to clean up than it would have cost to remove it in the first place.

    For instance, we know that trying to clean up PCBs and Kepone AFTER it has been released is much more costly that requiring that it not be released.

    This is true of virtually all toxics that are now regulated except for mercury (which we now know if more harmful than originally believed) and pharma, which we now know – something that had we thought about it – should have known before we decided it was okay to flush them.

    The obvious solution to pharma is to sequester it and/or destroy it – like we do other toxics.

    but I take issue with the basic approach you espouse.

    If someone said that we need to build gizmos that remove algae from the water – you would claim that it would be ungodly expensive and beyond that we’d never be able to remove it all to get back to “pristine”.

    And what is being proposed is essentially a way to capture enough of it before it is released so as to allow the River and Bay habitat to return to a minimal healthy level.

    ..not pristine… and not removal to the point where it cannot be measured…

    the difference is that, it has been recognized that some effluent, with available technology can actually be a resource that when processed, returns value – that, in turn, can help defray the additional costs of processing.

    My view is that if you can make a “profit” doing this – then why not use some of that “profit” to purchase other/additional technology to remove “enough” of the pharma such that the same goal is accommodated – not “pristine” but “enough” such that we are not altering/harming the ecology to the point where it becomes so damaged that it is not viable, not sustainable.

    What we don’t agree on for sure is what is the “value” of a healthy river/bay habitat.

    I simply don’t believe it is acceptable to have aquatic critters swimming around with intersex and lesions .. unsafe levels of mercury in their flesh or the loss and destruction of crabs and oysters and that we must find the most cost-effective way possible to achieve this goal but we do not approach it from the point of view that we can never get back to pristine so therefor as long as we make a profit ..from pollution – that preventing it harms people financially and therefore is unacceptable.

    and I’ll give you one example.

    Lead in gasoline does not kill people. It does not kill kids.

    So even if you could put a value on a life – you’d not come up with a way to demonstrate that the extra cost of removing lead from gasoline is “not worth it” because nothing of value that can be measured in dollars and cents is lost.

    And we know – that while such a way of thinking exists that most of us find it an unacceptable way to measure the “worth” of pollution.

    So.. you could go through all your complex ruminations to demonstrate that it would be impossible to have no lead in the environment ..and that no lives are lost from it anyhow, so.. taking it out of gasoline , “costs” everyone from the folks who sell it to make a profit to the folks who pay more for it because it was removed.

    We decided, in fact, that while we cannot have a totally lead-free (pristine) environment and that even though no lives are lost that we still will outlaw it in gasoline.

    I can go on and name dozens, hundreds of other chemicals that we’ve adopted the same approach –

    .. because.. having half the fish in a river swimming around with lesions on them – and still “alive” is not acceptable no more than it is to have “living” kids whose lives are seriously degraded from ingesting lead is acceptable.

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    I just used 1 per billion as an example. We have some knowledge of the real issues,but it is imperfect.


  22. Anonymous Avatar

    “I don’t think we’re talking about water that is “pure” to a parts per billion standard “

    Actually, that is exactly what we are talking about.

    “Researchers are finding evidence that even extremely diluted concentrations ” That means parts per million, per billion, and even parts per trillion. With modern instruments and methods we can detect levels even lower.

    But to take those measurements to the lab and see actual effects is another whole level of effort.

    Now we know that some things cause damage at very low levels. Some are bioaccumulators, etc. With DDT and Kepone we determined that the benefits were not worth the risk. But when you try to tell a patient who depends on it that we are going to do away with methotrexate because it mqight cause lesions in frogs, then he is likely to have a different value set than you do.

    Sooner or later we will have to decide, exactly, how clean is clean, and how much clean we can afford.

    No hand waving: real figures, real dollars, and real lives.


  23. Anonymous Avatar

    The obvious solution to pharma is to sequester it and/or destroy it – like we do other toxics.

    Except now we are talking about toxics that have already been ingested.

    But whether it is Kepone or methotrexate,the issue is the same: what do you give up, in exchange for what you gain.


  24. Anonymous Avatar

    “Lead in gasoline does not kill people.”

    Of course it does. We outlaw it in gasoline because it is too hard to recover/recycle, not because it isn’t killing people.

    “So even if you could put a value on a life “

    We do it all the time, every day. We just don’t publish the prices allong with stocks and home prices.

    “I simply don’t believe it is acceptable to have aquatic critters swimming around with intersex and lesions “

    In other words you are willing to pay ANY AMOUNT to prevent this? Not acceptable means not acceptble, right?

    After we spend all the money there is on this problem, what do we do about the next one on the list? Or the one that is first on someoe else’s list?

    Like lead.

    “no more than it is to have “living” kids whose lives are seriously degraded from ingesting lead is acceptable.”

    In the U.S. about 95% of lead is recycled. The rest escapes to the environment. Kids will still ingest lead, although at a lower rate. We (currently) accept that.

    “taking it out of gasoline , “costs” everyone from the folks who sell it to make a profit to the folks who pay more for it because it was removed.”

    This is a deliberate mis-statement of what I have said. It is not even half of my argument. True, there are costs from removing lead. And there are benefits. You MUST balance the ” negative costs” for those that benefit with the costs for everyone else.

    When the costs are higher than the benefits, it isn’t worth doing. Not even if you assign an infinite value to the benefits.

    If it costs you 100,000 btu to pump 50,000 btu out of an oil well, then you can’t afford to do it, no matter what the price of oil. Even if you pump it with a steam engine powered by cheap coal, you are still losing energy, even if you are making money.

    It is a dead end, and so is the argument you make.

    You cannot look at only the envrionmental costs or only the economic costs; only the environmental benefits or the economic benefits.

    They are intimately connected, and the exchange rate is the value of life, whether it is a frog or yourself.


    “it has been recognized that some effluent, with available technology can actually be a resource that when processed, returns value…”

    That much I don’t have a problem with. This is certainly true.

    “- that, in turn, can help defray the additional costs of processing.”

    But this is where I fall off the wagon. What you are saying is that you can do some processing that returns a profit – and then use the profit to do further processing that doesn’t turn a profit.

    This can’t possibly work. You need to profit to justify the original processing. There is no reason to do further processing that doesn’t turn a profit. (Although it might show a profit with the correct value of life.)

    Oh yeah, and the original idea was to do that processing to create fuel we could use to alleviate our other crises. Highjacking that fuel to distill water or some such means that you now value that process higher than all th eother uses for the fuel.

    There are no answers, only tradeoffs. Unless you are willing to state the tradeoffs explicitly, then you cannot support your argument for a particular activity.

    Simply saying that lesions are not acceptable is not support for your argument.


  25. Anonymous Avatar

    Let’s be clear. I think using sewage as a resource for growing things is a great idea.

    Sewage also has a lot of other stuff in it, that we need to be aware of.

    Anytime you concentrate a stream, you concentrate the bad along with the good.


  26. re: “You MUST balance the ” negative costs” for those that benefit with the costs for everyone else.

    When the costs are higher than the benefits, it isn’t worth doing. Not even if you assign an infinite value to the benefits.”

    How do you put value on kids who don’t die but suffer degradation from lead from gasoline?

    How do you put a value on fish with lesions at a rate of 30-50% or the loss of a crab or oyster fishery?

    How do you put a value on the harm that mercury causes in terms of affecting fetuses and the IQ development of young kids?

    You’re trying to put a dollar and cents value on things that as far as I know – are not valued that way but even if we could – it would be arbitrary – as arbitrary as saying that a life is worth so many dollars.

    Using your approach – how do we justify the money being spent on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay?

    What does your balance ledger say?

    How much do we have to spend before we are spending more than we lose in benefits?

    How much of the nutrients would be have to remove to “balance the ledger”?

    or.. have we already spent too much is reducing nutrients and we are not getting our money’s worth?

  27. Anonymous Avatar

    “are not valued that way but even if we could “

    Of course theya re valued that way, and we do it every day.

    Suppose we spend X amount on reduction of mercury contamination, and it results in Y more basis points of intelligence for Z number of people.

    Then you have set a price for that quality improvement.

    Now suppose someone else comes up with another plan that can make a similar quality improvement for half the money.

    You don’t heve enough money for both, so you do the cheaper one first, and then do half of the more expensive one, with the money left over.

    But if you don’t even concede that such trades are necessary, (and done every single day, whether you believeit or not), then you have no way of achieving the best answer for the money.

    When you say, how do you put value on…. what you are really doing is claiming that some property rights are worth more than others.

    How do you decide whether fish lesions or the crab industry deserve more money?

    This is exactly the problem faced in the Sacramento valley with the salmon run vs the agricultural interests. Right now, the salmon interests are winning the battle over water. They are putting the earth, Gaia, and the environment ahead of people and socioeconomic interests. One result is likely to be that there will be LESS money available for conservation in the future. And, like offshore oil drilling, the value of conservation depends on the value of what you have to give up.

    I don’t claim to kow how to balance the ledger, only that it WILL balance. We can ignore the ethical issues we have to face, but it won’t change the fact that trade-offs will be made.

    We can recognize that and work for the best tradeoffs, or we can work with blind assumptions about “values”.


  28. Anonymous Avatar

    The important thing to remember is that clean up is like wind energy. The amount of power goes up like the square of the velocity. The amount you spend goes up like the square of the amount of “cleanness” you get.

    The first kid you save from mercury contamination costs a fraction as much as the last one.

    This is important because of creeping requirements. It is deceptively easy to say, well, we are already taking out 90%, then 92% should be within reach, when actually it means quadrupling the costs.


  29. Anonymous Avatar

    Speaking of genetic disorders, who would have ever guessed that someone would come up with legitimate and useful reasons for using Thalidomide, for example.


  30. You keep describing the process of polluting and laws/regs controlling it, the harm, and the cleanup costs and you say this is guided by a cost-benefit approach.

    And I’m asking you – for instance – what does the balance sheet look like for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup?

    Are we:

    * – spending exactly the right amount of money and any more would be a waste and any less would turn the bay into an even worse festering cess pool?

    What is the standard that we want for the Chesapeake Bay in terms of Nutrients?

    Are we at the right level already or are there too many?

    How much more money do we need to spend to get the the correct level?

    Where should that money come from and on what things should it be spent for?

    Answer the questions RH.. save the hand waving..

    if you cannot answer the above questions then what is the purpose of:

    1. -claiming that we do have a way to figure out how much pollution to allow verses how much money to spend to clean it up.

    2. continuing to explain the process that you advocate without providing some real examples of specific dollar and sense trade-offs.

    Basically, what you’re claiming is the way YOU THINK the process SHOULD WORK vice the way it really works and.. you have no rational way to compute the dollar benefits/tradeoffs.

    Your claim is basically the status quo is proof of the process “working”.

    and.. that spending more cannot be correct until we “prove” the cost-benefit – which we don’t do with the status-quo either because if we did – the Chesapeake Bay would be in the “balance” that we think is a healthy compromise instead of hanging on by it’s fingernails while we try to figure out how to spend more money to clean it up.

  31. Anonymous Avatar

    I don’t have any idea what the balance sheet for CB is. My point is that no one does, and no one is seriously looking, precisely because so many simply say, as you have done, “How can you be so crass as to even suggest that this might NOT be worth it?, Of course it is, because the value isn’t measurable.”

    I think such logic is total nonsense.

    The fact that cleanup costs rise exponentially with the degree of cleanliness sugggest that the ratinal thing to do, to get the most possible cleanup, is to scurrry around and do the cheapest things possible for as many dangers as possible.

    But single issue and specialinterests politics mostly prevent that by lobbying for MORE for their cause without backup metrics, or metrics that can be compared to previous works.


    The Chesapeake Bay provides fishery, recreation and transportation amenities. We pretty much know what those are worth, and what they have been worth over the decades.

    There is also a value in using the Bay as a dump for nutrients, and that value is equal to what we don’t spend to remove nutrients upstream.

    So it is still the same as before.

    TBV (Total Bay Value) = V(Rec) + V(Transp) + V(Fish) + V(Nutrient dump) – Cost of Cleanup).

    You can spend more on cleanup and get more fish (and more recreation), and less value as a Nutrient dump.

    If you spend more than you get back, then you are losing money, AND you are most likely harming the environment more than helping it.

    Because the costs will rise exponentially with the amount of cleanup, you need to re-eveluate each expenditure with the amount yougain from it.

    And, since changes occur slowly, you had better be prepared to be at this for a very long time before you get an answer. In the meantime, some other priority which is clearly more important may rear its ugly head.

    But you will never get an answer unless you agree for the rules on how to look for one.


  32. Anonymous Avatar

    Oh, yeah, the price of fish affcts the answer too. Here is an example.

    “In 2004, the N.C. Solar Center set up a wind monitoring tower at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher for a yearlong test.

    The idea was to see if there was enough of a sea breeze to help reliably and economically power some of the aquarium’s operations.

    The answer, at least in those days when oil was bubbling around $45 a barrel, was no.

    But today, with oil hovering around $100 a barrel and the interest in domestic and renewable energy supplies on the increase, that answer might be different.”

    The key phrase here is “some of the operations” It might well be worthwhile to replace 5 or 10% of consumption with wind, but not 25% or more.


  33. Anonymous Avatar

    Finally, here is the effect of what I have been talking about.

    “Congress attempts to legislate the value of statistical life … from a Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate (Restoring the Value of Every American in Environmental Decisions Act):

    Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lowered its official estimate of the monetary value of a statistical life. EPA uses that figure in various cost-benefit analyses and other types of decisionmaking. This legislation would restore the dollar-value estimate of human life used by EPA prior to the recent change. In addition, the bill would require EPA to regularly update that value through a process that is open to the public.”

    Now, EPA lowered that estimate, based on the best science and information available. EPA’s value is still the highest one used in regulatory circles.

    And yet, some people saw fit to lobby congress for a higher value. (How do you set a price on…..).

    These misguided individuals undoubtedly THINK they are doing the environment a favor. They THINK they are promoting a social benefit. But in fact, they are doing neither.

    What they are doing is making an unjustified claim for property rights valued at more than the market will sustain – a subsidy, in other words.


  34. Larry G Avatar

    re: “TBV (Total Bay Value) = V(Rec) + V(Transp) + V(Fish) + V(Nutrient dump) – Cost of Cleanup”

    and where are the inputs?

    do you know what they are?

    If you don’t know what they are, then how can you say that the status quo with respect to pollution restrictions and cleanup money spent is the correct approach?

    I don’t think you know.

    I don’t think you have a clue.

    and yet.. you seem uncertain as to how much money is justified for cleanup or whether or not more/stricter pollution restrictions are appropriate.

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