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Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

An historic -- and controversial -- climate change bill

   WASHINGTON -- No matter what you think of the bill the House passed Friday, one thing is for sure: the approval of legislation combating climate change was an historic first.

   Never before had either body of Congress been able to agree on legislation aimed at curbing the emissions of greenhouse gases. And it took weeks of jawboning and favor-granting on the part of the Democratic leadership to win this particular victory for President Obama.

   However, any bill with 1,200 pages of details could be packed with devils -- and that's just what Republicans argued. They said the bill's complex system for trading pollution credits would amount to a new tax that would push energy prices higher.

   "Cap and trade" or "cap and tax?"

   That is the question.

   -- Jerry Zremski

No breathing easy in Western New York

   From 2005 through 2007, there were 36 days when the air in Erie County had elevated levels of ozone.

   In Niagara County, there were 33 days.

   In Chautauqua County, that number was 49.

   These are some of the numbers in the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2009" report, released today.

   Ozone, a main contributor to smog and a gas tied to respiratory and other ailments, is one of the two key pollutants assessed in the American Lung Association's annual report, now in its 10th year.

   Western New York again fares poorly in the rating system, our air quality ranking among the worst in the state. Read the full story on the report here.

   The report lists the top 25 cities most polluted by ozone, as well as particle pollution, often called soot.

   Here are the top three from each category:

   1. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.

   2. Bakersfield, Calif.

   3. Visalia/Porterville Calif.

   Short-term particle pollution:

   1. Pittsburgh/New Castle, Pa.

   2. Fresno/Madera, Calif.

   3. Bakersfield, Calif.

   Long-term particle pollution:

   1. Bakersfield, Calif.

   2. Pittsburgh/New Castle, Pa.

   3. Los Angeles/Long Beach/Riverside, Calif.

   -- Aaron Besecker

Windmills in farm country and furrowed brows

I'm obviously not an acoustical engineer, and I had no measuring equipment with me on a recent windy day as Derek Gee, a Buffalo News photographer, and I took a look at the wind turbines in Wyoming County. But I can say this. You can certainly hear these giant tubes with their huge blades.

   From a distance, they look like a field of Mercedes Benz emblems, spinning in the wind. As we stood on Telegraph Road in the Town of Eagle, looking at a landscape of turbines erected by Noble Environmental, on a beautiful October day when the wind was blowing, at probably 15 to 20 miles an hour, one turbine in particular almost seemed to whistle. The rest of them raised a steady whoosh, whoosh, woosh.

   Maybe it was just one errant whistling turbine, and a field of them may be scenic, but what if New York fulfills its alternative energy goal, and there are thousands of these 400 foot towers in the upstate countryside? Would you live next to one?

   With New York's goal of having 25 percent of its electricity produced by alternative energy in just five years, it's a future that all of New York now faces, whether you live in the countryside, spend time there, or just enjoy driving through it.

  -- Michael Beebe

America loves that dirty Canadian oil

   WASHINGTON -- Our biggest oil supplier is just across the border.

   Yes, Canada -- home of the world's second-largest reserve of oil -- now sends American more oil than Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf nations combined.

   And it is likely to be sending more and more oil our way, possibly through two new pipelines through the Buffalo area.

   The trouble is, if oil is dirty, a lot of the Canadian oil is dirtier than most. The oil from Alberta's Athabasca Oil Sands is as thick as peanut butter, and much more laden with carbon than light sweet crude.

   That means the Canadian oil us a bigger contributor to global warming than traditional oil is, although the environmentalists and the oil men disagree, predictably, on just how much worse it is.

   Aides to Barack Obama indicate that he's worried, too, that Canadian oil might not be worth the environmental price.

   But that poses a difficult question. Which is worse … relying on dirty oil from Canada or comparatively clean oil from places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Drilling dilemma

    Guess how many natural gas wells there are in Lake Erie.

   If you guessed 480, you are correct. Read my story here.

   And guess how many are on the American side.

   The answer? None.

   Now Lake Erie is not exactly the outer continental shelf when it comes to untapped energy resources. But it is curious that while environmental concerns have trumped any possibility of natural gas drilling on the American side, a Canadian company extracts enough energy from the lake to fuel a city of 40,000.

   So who's taking the right approach … America, or Canada?

… Jerry Zremski

Lake Erie vista: whitecaps and windmills

   How soon could it be before you look out on Lake Erie and see spinning wind turbines?

   Realistically, experts say it will be at least another five years, and more likely closer to 10 years.

   But most of the people I talked to for this story believed it's not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen.

   One of the factors that will have an impact on whether wind power happens in the lake will be public opinion. Opposition to a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod has blunted that project's momentum.

   Here's your chance to let officials and developers involved know what you think about the idea.

  -- John F. Bonfatti

Protecting our water

   About two months ago, I was chosen for an intriguing program sponsored by the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources called the Great Waters Fellowship.

   For nine days, a group of 14 journalists were taken on a tour around Lake Erie that started and ended in Windsor, Ont.

   In between, myself and 13 other journalists were treated to a rewarding but exhausting program that touched on many of the challenges facing the lake specifically, and the Great Lakes in general.

   The story today on potential water diversions from the lakes to booming places where water isn't as prevalent is the first in a series on the state of the Great Lakes we will run over the summer.

   I first wrote about this issue for The News in 1999, shortly after a Canadian entrepreneur applied for - and received - a permit to haul water in the hulls of ships from Lake Superior to Asia. The entrepreneur subsequently withdrew his request, but the proposal sent shock waves through the lakes.

   As a result, the states around the lakes, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, went through long negotiations to craft an agreement they believe will protect and preserve the water here.

   Will it be enough?

  --- John F. Bonfatti

Windmills can divide the environmental community

   Wind energy has been a curious issue, particularly within the environmental community.

   There's the urge to produce non-carbon-based electricity pitted against concerns over noise, safety, scenery, efficiency  and a host of other issues.

   It's green vs. green.

   You can see what the turbines look like in the photos and the video accompanying today's front-page story.  The blades weren't turning the day much of the video was shot; even Wethersfield has slow wind days.

    But what do you think about the windmills?

    Do you live near turbines? What issues about wind energy concern you most?

   What do you think of them in an aesthetic sense? Are they pieces of art or design atrocities?

   And would you be willing to pay extra for energy produced by wind? I know, the electricity all goes into the same grid, but the utility companies are marketing the amounts of energy produced by turbines as a green resource.

--Elmer Ploetz