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some environmental questions asked of me in 2009

14 August 2010

In March of 2009, before the primary election, the Sierra Club sent a series of seven questions that I answered. Many of these questions are vital to all the residents of PA, and in particular the 45th District, given our region’s location and abundant natural assets.

The questions as I recall them:

1-what is the most important thing you have done for the environment?
2-what will be your environmental priorities as a councilperson?
3-explain your thoughts on sustainability.
4-what will you do about enhancing Monroeville green building?
5-what position do you take regarding Marcellus Shale?
6-how will you work to protect transportation?
7-what should we do with respect to rezoning toward using more environmentally sound practices?

Bernhard Erb, Candidate Ward 1 – Response to Sierra Club

1 – The highest value provided to environment is teaching Boy Scouts
–to respect the land
–to practice the principles of leave no trace
–to live according to the outdoor code
–to conserve in everyday life not only while camping.
–And living conservation principles In Personal life
–Replaced and continue to replace major appliances and HVAC with as many EnergyStar appliances as possible
–Recycle –
–making scrap paper with bad print jobs
–reuse of all metal and plastic containers as possible
–Repair items where possible
–Conservation of Energy through optimal HVAC and near elimination of phantom energy

2 – The three focuses for this community:
–Hold the line against rezoning of S-Conservancy property. Since the use of this property is known to owners before they own the property it does not represent the official taking of property through regulatory eminent domain. Owners should not secure property with the anticipation of rezoning property to meet the demands of development any more than private property rights should be impinged for those that use property legally and within permitted uses. Rezoning must be done within the framework of an overall view of the future of Monroeville.
–Push the implementation of the current comprehensive plans that calls for greater access to Bike Trails and Walking Trails within Monroeville to provide greater provisions for community travel that does not require vehicles not only for residence-to-recreation travel but also throughout the municipality including residence-to-residence and residence-to-business.
–Review the use of SUVs by the municipality, first to determine the need for these. Second to determine the place in the fleet for commercially viable alternatives to the combustion engine. Possibilities – hybrids, electrics, air cars, clean diesel or nat gas, all of which may provide more efficient resource use . Hybrids – typically better mileage than standard combustion engines. Electric – usability limitation is typically speed and range, top speeds and ranges will likely well below the daily use of municipal employees. Air cars – new technology, with low cost and expected release in limited (10,000) production in 2010, uses Compressed Oxygen for a portion of the locomotion – for reference –,, Clean Deisel and Natural Gas vehicles, have been proven more efficient in terms of mileage and as clean or cleaner for air quality than standard combustion engines.

3 – Sustainability is stewarding today that which will be in the hands of future generations. In action it is remembering that there is a future generation that will get the results of decisions made today. Rhode Island’s founders determined that it was a right of all people to have access to the ocean, as a result all beaches are open to the public even today. We have all seen the Avenue de Champs Elysees with the amazing rows of Trees culminating in the L’arc de Triumph. Holding this view in mind when planning, this avenue is sustainability. Ensuring that this municipality is positioned with a balance of quality of life and economic viability is sustainability. My expertise is in business operations, process and management. In the context of the municipality this means I will work toward ensuring decisions made today will not be unmanageable due to lack of future funding. I would work for the protection of our municipal properties and recreation facilities through proper maintenance.

4 – There are likely two aspects to this, the first is what will be done to encourage use of “green” rennovations or building in Monroeville by the private sector, and what will be done by the government. Chapman City, KS used their tornado destruction to rebuild entirely in “green” fashion. We do not have this horror or luxury. We must build with what exists today, but what lessons can be learned and communicated in order to position our community for the future?
Conservation is a critical component to this notion of “green” and sustainability more than fancy technologies, even though many are interesting. Substantial energy savings to the community as a whole and in each family or organization can be realized simply by optimization of HVAC and electronics usage. It is almost Carteresque, but turning out the light in every room is tremendously powerful, turning off the energy to computers saves even more resources.
Currently, the council and the planning commission act in a vacuum; I would encourage one or more joint sessions (eliminating one meeting that month) at least once a year if not twice a year, where in addition to the plans and normal items discussions regarding building materials, techniques and alternatives could be examined outside the normal context of plan addenda. Additionally I would use councils’ ending comments, and the press to engage citizens in this dialogue. I would encourage local neighborhood meetings with discussions about conservation and alternative building options for renovation, break-fix, or greenfield development.
As a businessman, formally trained economist, I view these things much more overtly than most as financial in nature. This is not going to change. All humans, however opaque it is to them, have and always will make decisions based on financial feasibility. The key is feasibility intertwined with arcane references of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), Utility, Net Present Value (NPV), Return On Investment (ROI), and Internal Rates of Return (IRR) inform decision making for everything but speculative endeavors, including groundbreaking research. A local community government need not be involved in groundbreaking experiments however exciting the possibilities. These are not sustainability. If for instance a rennovation or new construction requires an initial outlay more than traditional methods and maintenance also is more then this is not good use of resources (money) available to the municipality and is not sustainable.
There are solutions today that provide comparable utility would be considered of equal utility as well as conservation minded both environmentally and economically. The thing is that these may not apply to all situations, and the government, while encouraging exploration and use of appropriate use ought not impose specific ordinances for all circumstances. As an example in five to fifteen years time the federally mandated use of CFLs will cause great Mercury problems as the bulbs’ disposal reach critical mass in landfills. These bulbs come with warnings about risks to users due to breaking. Government’s foresight will ultimately prove short sighted.

5 – Three points on this issue
–Municipality jurisdiction related to drilling is limited by Federal and State law only to safety issues. EPA issues are reserved by current Federal and State Law to those jurisdictions.
–Due to the size of the drilling rigs required for Marcellus Shale operators need four or five acres of land simply to build a rig. As an industrial use, restrictions, again, for safety can be placed on location choices consistent with industrial facilities.
–MCF pricing currently makes it prohibitive and unlikely that operators will drill in the near term. There is some land speculation that is occurring. Should the Municipality be approached with an appropriate contract with a front loaded payment and reasonably high royalties, depending where on public land this drilling would take place, it should be a consideration.

6 – Fundamentally I do not agree that government taxation ought to be used to support a transportation system that is not financially feasible. The only option that is within council’s control is to lobby. What to lobby for becomes the question. Balancing the budget by any means is not with the purview of this body. My chosen alternative remedy would be to allow the market to properly support routes through a private transportation company. Based on the question, happily for you this is not possible at the local level for an entity not owned by this locality. I can provide you is a commitment not to lobby the state legislature to cease funding and sell the PA to a private entity/entities. I am also willing to hear why this is a local government’s requirement to support financially though I cannot commit that my mind will be changed.

7 – Before embarking on changes to zoning, we must first recommit ourselves to the current comprehensive plan. If in doing so involved that the plan is flawed, it should be redone. While creating residential market districts similar to the mixed use areas in Mt. Kisco, NY, Mt. Lebenon, and Shadyside would to me be ideal, I truly cannot state how that can happen. If the idea of neighborhoods vs plans were more prevalent in this area it might help. To restate – change zoning within the current plan, which was supposed to include this concept, revise plan if needed, and discuss what a view of this looks like if enough concerned residents want to be involved in this process. Possibly the use of marketing research such as a conjoint analysis would contribute to what mixed use looks like to the residents.

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