Blue Marble - November 2010

Senators Protest Proposed Pipeline

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 11:12 AM EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently that a controversial pipeline that TransCanada hopes to build from Alberta to Texas is likely to be approved, even though a full analysis of its impacts has yet to be completed. Her remarks didn't sit well with ten senators, who on Friday blasted the proposal and urged Clinton in a letter to reject "dirty oil" from Canada's tar sands.

"Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades," the senators wrote. "We believe the Department of State (DOS) should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals."

The signatories to the letter were: Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Because the pipeline would cross international boundaries, the State Department has the final say on whether it will be built.

The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline expansion would run 1,661 miles from Alberta to Nederland, Texas. A decision about the project isn't expected until early 2011, but Clinton said in an October 15 speech that, while the State Department has "not yet signed off on it…we are inclined to do so." Yet the pipeline remains highly controversial; oil from the tar sands has a carbon footprint two to three times higher than conventional fuels. The XL expansion pipeline would have the capacity to bring 510,000 barrels of oil from the tar sands to the US each day.

The pipeline has also been criticized in the states it would cross, particularly Nebraska, where it would bisect a major aquifer. Given the recent history of oil spills and pipeline accidents in the US, folks in the path of the pipeline are growing increasingly concerned about the possibility of a spill in their area. Clinton's remarks also drew ire from both of Nebraska's senators, Mike Johanns (R) and Ben Nelson (D), who have raised concerns about the proposed path of the pipeline.

In the letter, senators outline a long list of questions about the proposal, including inquiries about how much it would increase greenhouse gas emissions in the US, whether it would increase output from Canada's tar sands, and whether there is adequate response capability should an accident occur. The full letter is posted here.

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Should You Shut Down Your Computer or Put It to Sleep?

| Mon Nov. 1, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Phew! You've made it through another day at the office. You're just about to don your coat and head out into the evening—but your computer's still on. Should you turn it off, or leave it in "sleep" mode? Some say it's better to shut down, since that way it won't be using any power while you're not around. But others say that the process of shutting down and starting up again uses more power than letting your machine sleep. Who's right?

First things first: Turning your computer off, then on again does not use more power than leaving it on in "sleep" mode. "That's a myth," says Bruce Nordman, an energy efficiency researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Another myth: Turning your computer on and off is bad for the machine. "In order to do any real damage, you'd have to turn it on and off far more frequently than anyone would ever want to," says Nordman. That said, trying to remember to shut down your machine every night isn't necessarily the most effective energy-savings strategy. Here's why.

Fifteen years ago, when computer manufacturers first experimented with sleep mode (it used to be called "standby"), the energy savings weren't very dramatic. Today things are different: According to energy efficiency expert Michael Bluejay, while in use, the average laptop requires 15-60 watts, while desktops use 65-250 watts, plus an additional 15-70 for the monitor. In sleep mode, however, most laptops use a measly two watts, and desktops with monitors use 5-10 watts, says Nordman. ("Hibernate" modes on some computers use even less energy—for a good rundown on the difference between various power management modes, check out Michael Bluejay's guide.) Because sleep settings use so little energy, Nordman believes that it isn't really worth making a big production out of remembering to shut down your computer every day: "Much more important to make sure that your computer is set to go into power-saving mode after a certain period of idle time."