Duke University

Coal Ash Wednesday: Lead isotope can trace origins of coal ash

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Duke Energy's "naturally occurring" argument just went lame:

Tests show that the tracer can distinguish between the chemical signature of lead that comes from coal ash and lead that comes from other major human or natural sources, including legacy contamination from leaded gasoline and lead paint. "Lead adds to our forensic toolbox and gives us a powerful new method for tracking fly ash contamination in the environment," said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The tracer broadens scientists' ability to assess and monitor exposure risks of people who live or work near coal ash ponds and landfills or near sites where coal ash is being spread on soil as fill or reused for other purposes.

As I mentioned above, Duke Energy has played the "naturally occurring" card numerous times when individual toxic elements are discovered, and fossil fuel-friendly lawmakers have parroted those talking points ad nauseum during hearings and debates. I have often been frustrated with government regulators (state and federal) for not upping their scientific game to pierce that ambiguity. But in reality, they are simply not funded well enough to accomplish the R&D work and the regulatory work. Especially since the GOP took over the NC General Assembly and cut DENR's/DEQ's budget by over 40%. That research shortfall was not a coincidence, it was by design. Once again, we are blessed to have Avner and the Nicholas School working toward solutions:

Duke University hosts town hall on funding of Islamophobic networks

If you're wondering why it's so pervasive, wonder no more:

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations says in a news release that Dr. Abbas Barzegar is scheduled to speak Saturday at a research-based advocacy town hall hosted by the Duke Graduate & Professional Student Council. The town hall will be held Saturday evening in the Schiciano auditorium of Fitzpatrick building on Duke's campus.

In addition to discussing research on funding of hate groups, Barzegar will highlight CAIR's work on federal-level litigation related to criminal justice and government surveillance.

Just to give you an example of how effective these anti-Muslim propagandists are, CAIR itself has been labeled as a "hate group" by many (even in government) just for defending Islamic citizens who are/were attacked. But the work that Dr. Barzegar and his team have done has exposed something more insidious than just the hateful rhetoric. Much of the funding for these groups has been "laundered" through legitimate mainstream philanthropic funds, which serves to hide the identity of the bigots behind the movement. Since most reading this will not be able to attend the town hall, here are some excerpts from the Report itself:

R.I.P. Durham-Orange Light Rail

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It was a nice dream while it lasted:

The GoTriangle board of trustees voted unanimously but reluctantly Wednesday to end the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project. After a closed-door session Wednesday, general manager Jeff Mann recommended to the board that the agency discontinue the $2.7 billion construction project to connect UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with Duke University and other destinations along an 18-mile route.

Opposition from Duke University, escalating project costs and two state deadlines were forcing possible major cuts in the 19-station project, including eliminating a planned stop at N.C. Central University, GoTriangle officials said.

To say this is "unfortunate" would be a gross understatement. No plan is perfect, but this one was pretty damn good. *sigh*

Is there a Koch Brothers connection to Duke's light rail opposition?

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There are five million reasons to think so:

Duke has recently announced that it is accepting $5 million from the Charles Koch Foundation for the “Center for the History of Political Economy,” a center initially established with funding from Koch network donor and anti-public crusader Art Pope.

The Duke community should not just be concerned about Koch’s growing support for corrosive ideology, but the fact that his vast “dark money” network seeks to influence politics by “leveraging” higher education—specifically by influencing what is taught, and by whom. Duke’s contract with Koch gives the donor an implicit veto power over programming by allowing the Koch Foundation the discretion to pull their money at any time with as little as thirty days’ notice.

Bolding mine, because when you consider that leverage in context with AFP's accelerated and very effective opposition to light rail nationwide, it begins to stink:

Are driverless cars a viable alternative to light rail?

Some distinguished scholars believe they are:

The failure to come to an agreement with Duke University has profoundly discouraged many advocates for mass transit in Durham and Chapel Hill. Even if Duke issues can be worked out, escalating costs are almost inevitable.

We propose that large, building-shaking trains be replaced with 6-9 passenger self-driving vehicles, propelled with plug-in technology (just like a Volt or Tesla automobile). Such vehicles would shake Duke medical buildings much less than an existing delivery truck, and the internal battery would not generate electro-magnetic interference. They would also have many other advantages.

My initial reaction to this was it is just a step above "people-pods," which have unfortunately captured the imagination of otherwise logical thinkers. In my opinion, taking the "Mass" out of Transit is a huge step in the wrong direction, and using an inappropriate example to back up your theory doesn't give me a warm fuzzy either:

Duke University's irresponsible opposition to light rail project

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Just to give you an idea of who will suffer most from this:

Leaders at N.C. Central University, Durham Technical Community College and the Durham Housing Authority say the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project will bring prosperity to the Fayetteville Street corridor. The 18-mile, $3.3 billion light-rail project includes two stops — Dillard Street and Alston Avenue — between downtown Durham and NCCU, where the rail line ends.

Fayette Place, the site of an abandoned public housing community meant to house many of those residents, sits between those stops. NCCU, Durham Tech and the Durham Housing Authority held a press conference there on Monday afternoon with light-rail supporters.

I need not mention the symbolism of Duke University wielding such power to suppress the needs of those on the lower end of the economic scale, but since other media sources seem hesitant to make that reference, there it is. And while I'm at it, here's another little tid-bit nobody else thought to mention: The Duke University VP who (literally) hit an African-American parking attendant with his car, and then sped off after calling her a "stupid nigger" from the window of his Porsche, was put in charge of managing the University's response to light rail:

Duke University rethinking construction of natural gas facility

Taking a step back to evaluate their options:

For a university that has always been protective of its global reputation, contributing to global greenhouse gases through a natural gas plant is no way to burnish that image. That’s one of the conclusions of a Duke University Campus Sustainability Subcommittee, which released a report on a proposed combined heat-and- power natural gas plant today.

As a result, university Executive Vice President Tallman Trask announced that the board of trustees won’t vote as scheduled on a new $55 million, 21-megawatt combined heat and power natural gas plant on campus.

It's good they're taking a long, hard look at this project. I was going to say, "It's about time," but I don't want to look a gift academic horse in the mouth. But timeliness aside, there was one particular point I was looking for in the Subcommittee's report, and I found it:

A must-read explanation of "distributed" power systems

The way of the future:

A distributed system, increasingly powered by renewable sources that are often at the site of the business or home. Efficient sensor-enabled appliances, controlled by communication technologies, would be linked to a grid coordinating a complex network of energy producers and users. In this scenario, the end user is increasingly in control of their own energy supply and demand. As networks of these new energy consumers grow, they will link together in micro-grids that allow autonomy from centralized providers.

I sort of jumped into the middle of the discussion with that quote, so you should go read the whole thing. We've already developed parts of this (new) approach with the proliferation of Solar farms, but many more need to be built, with an eye towards local needs. That includes smaller systems that provide power for 1-3 homes. And yes, that last part about "autonomy" will definitely be opposed by Duke Energy and their cohorts, but their business model is going to change, whether they like it or not. Another *huge* advantage of distributing energy generation is to curtail "lost" power. I don't have the stats in front of me, but even the newest long-distance transmission lines lose (waste) somewhere north of 17% of generated power before it can be used. That's right, one sixth of the toxins and carbon we're pumping into the air return *zero* benefits in power. If left to their own devices, Duke Energy will continue their "macro" approach to energy supply, so this battle is going to be a tough one. But it must be fought.

Profiles in idiocy: Asians want to integrate, blacks don't

Making it to the Final Four of stupid bigoted online comments of 2015:

Hough identified himself as a Duke University professor in the comments and went on to praise Asians. “Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration,” said the comment. “Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.”

Considering it costs about $63,530 (per year) to attend this renowned school, you would think they could find somebody smarter than your crazy Tea Party uncle to lecture in their poli-sci department. And before any of you Duke fans come to his assistance with the, "What he believes and what he says in class are two different things" argument, if he's willing to sign off on that comment in the New York Fricking Times, I doubt he has the judgment to keep it out of the classroom.

The battle of the Dukes: Better science vs ambiguous results

When solving the mystery of coal ash contamination is not a priority:

Prominent Duke University water-quality researcher Avner Vengosh and several colleagues developed a “forensic tracer” test last year that promises to identify with great accuracy whether coal ash is the culprit in individual cases of water pollution. “The isotopic signature of boron coming from coal ash is always different from naturally occurring boron or boron from other sources,” added Laura Ruhl, Vengosh’s partner in the research and a professor of earth sciences at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Drew Elliot, DENR’s communications director, said agency officials would welcome more and better testing tools, but they are under “aggressive deadlines” set by North Carolina’s new coal ash law. They can’t meet those deadlines if they detour to add a new series of tests, he said. The state’s preferred methodology for deciding whether coal ash is causing water pollution is to look for obvious, chemical clues in the well samples, he said.

And that "preferred methodology" is ineffective. Ignoring the isotopic signature of the contaminant is like ignoring fingerprints at a crime scene. It only makes sense if you're trying to protect the perpetrator.

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