Archive by Author

L.A. largest city to ban plastic bags.

29 May 2012

Photo credit: Macartisan @ Flickr

Over the past few years, Arthur and I have blogged about a trend of state and local initiatives seeking to ban plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines.  While California has not enacted a state-wide prohibition (yet), last week Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve such a ban.  The City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 12 months at an estimated 7,500 stores.  The result – shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase paper bags for 10 cents each.  Michigan looked at this a few years ago, but there is no legislation pending at this time.


Law limits what waste rural Michigan residents can burn.

10 May 2012

Michigan is the last Great Lakes state that permits rural residents to burn household waste in burn barrels, but a new law rules out the burning of some materials.  In a move to protect Michigan residents from exposure to toxic smoke, House Bill 4207 was recently signed into law banning the open burning of household waste that contains “plastic, rubber, foam, chemically treated wood, textiles, electronics, chemicals or hazardous materials.”  Rural residents still can burn yard waste such as brush and leaves, and household waste such as cardboard and paper products.

While the intent is good, there is not a lot of teeth in the new law.  A first offense results in a simple warning and offenders who violate the law four times or more face a civil fine of not more than $300.

Judge asked to sign off on BP oil spill settlement.

19 Apr 2012

Per today’s Huffington Post, BP and lawyers representing more than 100,000 individuals and businesses have presented a federal judge with the details of a proposed class-action settlement intended to resolve billions of dollars in economic damage claims arising out the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf.  According to the article, BP (which earned more than $25 billion in profits in 2011) estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion to resolve private party claims; although, the settlement supposedly doesn’t have a cap and it also doesn’t resolve separate claims against BP by the federal government and Gulf states (which could yield penalties and fines totaling as much as $60 billion).

Court rules that MPSC erred in approving DTE rate increase for smart meters.

13 Apr 2012

Photo credit: portland general via Flickr

Last week I blogged about the MPSC’s ongoing investigation into the health, privacy and cost implications of smart meters (700,000+ which have already been installed by various Michigan utilities).  DTE’s smart meter program took another hit earlier this week when the Michigan Court of Appeals (link to case here) ruled that the MPSC should have not permitted DTE to hike rates to pay for its program.  In his opinion, Judge Henry Saad stated that the nearly $37 million rate increase to fund the program was unreasonable because it was not supposed by substantive evidence.  Judge Saad wrote, “We will not rubber stamp a decision permitting such a substantial expenditure — a cost borne by the citizens of this state — that is not properly supported.”  In short, there was no evidence to show that the program (which allows the utility to remotely collect real-time data and shut-off electricity) provided any benefit to customers.

The court remanded the matter for the MPSC to conduct a full hearing on the cost benefits of the program.  Between its own internal investigation and yesterday’s court decision, the MPSC has a lot of work to do on this matter.


MPSC Investigates Deployment of Smart Meters by Michigan Utilities.

6 Apr 2012

Back in February, DTE Energy announced that it is installing 120,000 “smart” meters at homes throughout Washtenaw County (DTE claims that more than 1 million of its customers will have smart meters by the end of 2013).  The so-called “smart” meters wirelessly distribute information about electricity consumption to DTE and, among other things, helps the utility to remotely monitor power outages.  The meters also give consumers the ability — through a free online account — to monitor their hour-by-hour electricity usage on the day after the power is used (Arthur recently blogged about a similar program from CMS Energy).

Sounds great, right?  Well, not everyone is happy about it. Apparently there has been a steady stream of complaints with the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) about the deployment of smart meters.  The MPSC, in turn, announced back in January that has launched a statewide investigation into the health, privacy and cost implications of the devices.  The deadline for comments from the public is April 16th (electronic comments may be emailed to:, and MPSC staff members plan to develop appropriate recommendations, if any, by June 29th.

Surprisingly (at least too me), this has become a really hot topic of debate (just Google it) and it will be interesting to see how the MPSC comes out on the topic.

DOE Releases Green Lease Website.

29 Mar 2012

Photo credit: By Andrea_44 @ Flickr

The Department of Energy (“DOE”) and several partners (including BOMA) recently launched a website (link here) consolidating green lease resources. The website includes sample leases from a number of public agencies, is organized by resource type, and resources are tagged by relevance to audience and building types.

So what is a “green lease”?  A green lease, among other things, seeks to promote energy efficiency by attempting to equitably align the costs and benefits of efficiency investments between building owners and tenants.  Under the majority of “triple net” leases, which is probably the most common type of commercial lease that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, building owners have little to no incentive to invest in efficiency for their building systems because the operating expenses are passed through to their tenants, who would therefore receive all of the energy cost savings.  In other words, if you are the landlord, aside from being “socially responsible,” why would you spend a few extra thousand dollars on a more energy efficient HVAC unit if the cost of running the unit is entirely paid for by your tenant?  A green lease attempts to solve this “split incentive problem.”

While the new DOE website isn’t very robust at the moment, it is just the start of the online library, and it looks to offer some good (and free) basic information about green leasing.

USGBC and Home Depot Launch Green Building Products Database

9 Mar 2012

Credit: Home Depot

Earlier this week, the U.S. Green Building Council and Home Depot launched an online products database at that features products geared toward residential green building and that may contribute to points and prerequisites for the LEED for Homes Rating System.  The site helps users locate LEED-compliant products in a range of categories (currently more than 2,500 products sold at Home Depot are listed on the website and meet LEED specifications).

The green housing market is growing very rapidly, so the partnership between the USGBC and Home Depot makes complete sense.  And the website seems to be a pretty good database of product information that should help environmentally savvy consumers, contractors, and remodelers find better green home products.

Keep in mind; however, that obtaining a LEED-certified home requires a lot more than simply buying and utilizing green products.  Certain design, installation and construction methods are also required components.  Having said that, while LEED certification is the pinnacle, you can certainly have a very green home without achieving LEED certification and this database should make finding green building products a lot easier.