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California Dreamin'?

Craig Canine ("California Illuminates the World," Spring 2006) perpetuates the myth that Californians caused the blackouts of 2001 by using too much energy, peppering his article with the suggestion that a lack of conservation was the root of the problem. Let's be clear: Enron screwed California. Enron energy traders manipulated the state's energy supply by ordering power plants to shut down for "routine maintenance." They gamed the system and stole billions of dollars from Californians. If Enron had opted to shut down even more power plants, conservation efforts may not have been enough to help California.
Neal Skapura
Pleasant Hill, California

The mainstream media do a poor job of reporting on energy issues, turning out political diatribes at a time when there is a need for solutions, not rhetoric. Canine's article was easily the best, most thorough piece on electricity and energy efficiency that I have read in many years. When I grow up, I want to be just like Art Rosenfeld.
Steve Heins
Plymouth, Wisconsin
Heins is the director of corporate communications for Wisconsin-based Orion Energy Systems.

Craig Canine quotes physicist Art Rosenfeld as stating that the "high-frequency ballasts for fluorescent lamps are saving the United States around $5 billion worth of electricity a year." Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) contain mercury, but few people recycle them properly. What, then, about the cost of cleaning up the mercury pollution CFLs create?
Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey
Beaver Creek, Oregon

The editors respond: Most electricity in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants, and burning coal releases mercury. On average, the amount of mercury contained within a CFL, plus the amount of mercury released while burning enough coal to power that bulb, is less than half of what would be released while burning coal to power a less-efficient incandescent bulb over the same period of time.

Toxic Trash

In "Rough Burial" (Spring 2006), Elizabeth Royte says that Hurricane Katrina created 22 million tons of debris in Louisiana alone. Other countries have begun to deal with waste through plasma conversion -- an ultra-high-temperature process that separates debris into its elemental components, leaving only gases such as hydrogen and recyclable solids.
Kai Vorpahl
Millis, Massachusetts

The Nuclear Option

Although I agree with Tom Cochran's position on nuclear power ("The Nuclear Option," Spring 2006), I would have liked to see waste disposal addressed further. In order for Yucca Mountain to be licensed to store radioactive waste, it must be proved able to isolate the material for 10,000 years. Considering how much has happened in the past 2,000 years, there is no predicting what the world will be like 10,000 years from now. Humans may no longer exist. Now the National Academy of Sciences says we must look even farther into the inscrutable future -- 300,000 years! -- before approving the facility. I am not one to throw caution to the wind, but this is absurd!
Stephen Vandivere
Centreville, Virginia

To enrich enough uranium to run a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant, you would need the equivalent of a 500-megawatt coal-fired plant to process the uranium. Even though nuclear power plants don't emit carbon dioxide themselves, operating them does contribute to global warming.
E. J. Hoffman
Laramie, Wyoming

Erratum: In our Spring 2006 issue, the chart on the left side of page 27 should have been titled "U.S. Refrigerator Energy Use."

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OnEarth. Summer 2006
Copyright 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council