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Rachel's Democracy and Health News

Rachel's Democracy & Health News #903 "Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?" Tuesday, April 17, 2007printer-friendly version

Featured stories in this issue...

Breast Cancer Cells Grow When Exposed to Contaminated Fish
Tests of river fish indicate their flesh carries enough estrogen- mimicking chemicals to cause breast cancer cells to grow.
Ban of a Chemical Puts Industry on the Defensive
As the precautionary approach becomes a habitual way of thinking in Washington State, the chemical industry finds itself holding a weak hand.
Op-Ed: U.S. Army Caught Stealing from Indiana/U.S. Citizens
After a 3-year battle, citizen activists in New Jersey stopped the U.S. Army from sending VX nerve gas detox byproducts to the Garden State. But now, by stealth, the Army is sending this toxic waste to a mostly-black community in Texas. Here we see an environmental injustice unfolding in plain sight. Hilton Kelly and other activists in Texas are fighting back -- but they need support.
Oregon Incinerator May Not Be Allowed to Burn Mustard Warfare Agent
A court decision in Oregon marks the first judicial recognition of potential public health impacts caused by incineration of chemical warfare agents and associated hazardous wastes. Another step forward for the precautionary approach.
N.Y. Times Columnist Tom Friedman Leads Us Astray on a 'Green' Path
"Clean coal" is the ultimate atmospheric oxymoron. Fossil fuel corporations justify it with "carbon sequestration," the idea of pumping CO2 emissions into caverns and other underground storage facilities. The technology is unproven and the gas is certain, sooner or later, to leak out.
Power Play: How Denmark Paved Way to Energy Independence
Denmark is working steadily to conserve energy and get itself loose from the grip of Big Oil without falling into the twin traps of Big Coal and More Nukes. Their plan is succeeding. Here's how it works.


From: Scientific American
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By David Biello

Many streams, rivers and lakes already bear warning signs that the fish caught within them may contain dangerously high levels of mercury, which can cause brain damage. But, according to a new study, these fish may also be carrying enough chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen to cause breast cancer cells to grow.

"Fish are really a sentinel, just like canaries in the coal mine 100 years ago," says Conrad Volz, co-director of exposure assessment at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's Center for Environmental Ecology. "We need to pay attention to chemicals that are estrogenic in nature, because they find their way back into the water we all use."

Volz and colleagues, including biochemist Patricia Eagon, took samples from 21 catfish and six white bass donated by local anglers as part of a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Los Angeles this week. The fish were caught in five places: a relatively unpolluted site 36 miles upstream from Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River; an industrial site on the Monongahela River; an Allegheny site downstream from several industries that release toxic chemicals; and the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where Pittsburgh dumps much of its treated sewage and sewer outflows. "This is the largest concentration of combined sewer outflows in the U.S.," Volz notes, about the confluence, known as the Point. The researchers also bought several fish at the store as controls.

Using an organic solvent, the researchers created an extract from the skin, flesh and fat of the various fish. They then bathed a breast cancer cell line -- known as MCF-7 -- in the extract. "We used this cell line because it has estrogen receptors in it, meaning that if estrogens are present it causes this cell line to proliferate," Volz explains. "If you put something on it and it grows, then it must be stimulating the estrogen receptor." In addition to responding to pure estrogen applied as a positive control, the extract from two of the white bass and five of the catfish caused the breast cancer cells to thrive.

The highest response came from fish caught in the industrial section of the Monongahela River. "The Monongahela River area is the area in Pittsburgh that was the site of most of the steel production over the last 100 years," Volz says. "That area is still an industrial beehive." But the broadest response came from where the sewer outflows and sewage treatment plants flow into the rivers from Pittsburgh; three of the four catfish caught here caused the breast cancer cells to proliferate. "Sewage might be more responsible for putting estrogenic chemicals in the water than the industries alone," Volz adds. "All of the hormone replacement products that women use go down the drain, along with birth control pills, antibacterial soaps, and many of the plastics we use, like Bisphenol A, have such effects."

It remains unclear exactly what estrogen-mimicking chemicals were actually present in the fish and what kind of cancer-causing role they might have. But their effects on the fish themselves were clear: the gender of nine of the fish could not be determined. "Increased estrogenic active substances in the water are changing males so that they are indistinguishable from females," Volz says. "There are eggs in male gonads as well as males are secreting a yolk sac protein. Males aren't supposed to be making egg stuff."

And this estrogen burden is widespread. The store-bought white bass caused breast cancer cells to grow like its river-caught counterparts (as well as containing higher levels of mercury, arsenic and other contaminants) after being trucked to Pittsburgh from Lake Erie. "These fish, again, were in waters that were seeing industrial waste as well as possible combined sewer outflows," Volz notes. "This isn't just happening in Pittsburgh, this is happening everywhere in the industrialized world."

Volz says he and his fellow researchers are launching a broader survey this summer that will entail sampling fish all along the Allegheny River. Efforts will be made to determine if it is industrial waste, sewage or agricultural runoff -- or all three -- that is responsible for the problem. In the meantime, cooking the fat out of fish may be the best defense. "If you broil fish and let the fats drip out that will take most of the contaminants out," Volz says, though that may not be enough given other exposures to potentially tainted water. "What our study does show us is that there is exposure potential to vast populations that use water from our rivers as their drinking water supply."

Copyright 1996-2007 Scientific American, Inc.

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From: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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By Lisa Stiffler

Stung by the Legislature's groundbreaking ban of a controversial fire retardant, the chemical industry isn't giving up.

Even with Gov. Chris Gregoire's approval all but assured -- she's scheduled to sign the legislation today -- it still didn't extinguish the chemical manufacturers' fight. They've run full-page ads in the state's largest newspapers. They wrote a letter to Gregoire urging a veto. Since 2005, they've spent more than $220,000 here lobbying against a ban.

Why the big spending? Because there is potentially more at stake than prohibitions on flame retardants called PBDEs in Washington furniture, televisions and computers.

A ban here could be the beginning of the end for PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers. It could mark a move toward more aggressive protections by local governments -- at a time when the federal government is largely ineffectual in its regulation of long- used but potentially dangerous industrial chemicals.

"The larger story is that there is a highly organized and very well- funded effort to change the way in which chemicals are regulated around the world," said John Kyte, spokesman for the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, a trade group representing PBDE manufacturers.

That effort, Kyte said, is being led by environmentalists and is unwarranted. The PBDE industry asserted in the ads and letter to Gregoire that the chemical being banned -- called deca-BDE, or just deca -- "has not been shown to be harmful to humans or the environment."

Kyte said chemical exposure levels in people and animals is too low to be of concern. Deca provides a cheap, effective way to make countless household, transportation and industrial items more resistant to fires and that a better alternative is not available, industry representatives said. The ban could result in more fires, they warn.

Many scientists, environmentalists and state officials disagree. PBDEs are found everywhere from Columbia River mud to salmon to house cats to peregrine falcons. They're found in humans at wide-ranging but generally low levels -- though in some people it approaches concentrations that worry health officials. In experiments with rodents, deca can cause problems with intelligence and motor skills.

"The industry that makes deca and PBDEs is freaking out because they lost so severely in Washington state and other states will follow," said Laurie Valeriano, policy director for the Washington Toxics Coalition, an environmental group. "It really is a message from Washington state and policymakers that we won't accept chemicals that build up in our bodies and our children."

In the past, restrictions on chemicals such as PCBs and mercury have come after devastating human injury and widespread pollution.

In the case of PBDEs, the state is being more cautious, said Ted Sturdevant, the Ecology Department's director of governmental relations.

"We're not there yet where a lot of kids are getting brain damage and there's a lot of cleanup (because of deca)," Sturdevant said. "So we're going to save a lot of money and a lot of kids."

One reason the state is taking this approach is that federal regulators have been so lax.

The Environmental Protection Agency -- the federal department responsible for this area of chemical safety -- "does not routinely assess the human health and environmental risks of existing chemicals and faces challenges in obtaining the information necessary to do so," according to the Government Accountability Office, which does investigations for Congress.

If a chemical is found to pose a risk, "EPA officials say the ... legal standards are so high that they have generally discouraged EPA from using its authorities to ban or restrict the manufacture or use of chemicals," stated an August 2006 GAO report.

"The federal governmental is failing miserably in protecting us from toxic chemicals, and the states are no longer going to sit around," Valeriano said.

In response to an earlier GAO report, EPA officials stated they were "proud of the progress" the agency was making in regulating chemicals and that they had reviewed thousands of new chemicals -- restricting the use of some -- before they entered the marketplace.

PBDE bans have been proposed this year in California, Connecticut, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine and Montana. The Washington deca ban is limited to mattresses beginning next year and could be extended to TVs, computers and upholstered residential furniture in 2011 provided an alternative flame retardant is approved.

Nationally, the PBDE trade group has spent more than $300,000 since 2005 lobbying against restrictions. This month, industry-funded TV and newspaper ads ran in Maine.

Yet at least two of the PBDE manufacturers -- Ablemarle Corp. of Richmond, Va., and Chemtura Corp. of Middlebury, Conn. -- also make some of the leading flame retardant alternatives for deca. They'd still have a piece of the market.

That's not the point, Kyte said. Deca is safe and shouldn't become the "poster child" for stricter regulations just because a chemical is detected in people or the environment.

"It creates concerns and fears that aren't warranted, and it leads in public settings to poor decision making," Kyte said.

State officials said the risk is clear.

"To a certain extent, we're precautious about everything," Sturdevant said. "The question is where to draw the line. This (ban) is about drawing the line in a more preventive place." LEARN MORE


Read the P-I's special report about chemical flame retardants: goto.seattlepi.com/309169

P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be reached at 206-448-8042 or lisastiffler@seattlepi.com.

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From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #903, Apr. 17, 2007
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By Craig Williams, Director, Chemical Weapons Working Group

Early in the morning of April 16th -- 4:15 a.m. to be exact -- the U.S. Army's Chemical Materials Agency (CMA), the entity in charge of destroying the U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons, was caught red- handed stealing from the citizens of Indiana and the rest of the country.

In an operation reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, CMA secretly, under cover of darkness, began the shipment of by-products of neutralized VX chemical warfare agent -- the most deadly chemical known to science -- out of Indiana and headed for Texas.

Now, on it's face, this deceitful action might be considered insidious but hardly a theft. However it was a theft, and of the worst kind. What CMA stole was something irreplaceable, a precious resource found in extremely limited quantities these days -- trust.

After years of failed attempts to force communities in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey to agree to the shipment of the waste through or to their states, CMA reverted to secrecy, lies and possibly illegal acts to get the first truckloads of the VX by- products on the road through eight states to an incinerator in Port Arthur Texas, a poor and predominantly African-American town already overburdened with toxic pollution.

Hundreds of local Indiana citizens petitioned the Army not to dump this waste on some unsuspecting community, like Port Arthur: they attended public meetings year after year; they wrote letters and called their elected officials; and local governments even passed resolutions opposing the transport of the material over their roads, wherever it may be going. But the Army, while pretending to be interested in the public's involvement and position, secretly signed a contract, completely dismissing the citizens' wishes, much like the KGB of old ignored the pleas of their citizens.

Additionally, with this latest action, the Army has also blatantly disregarded the wishes of the U.S. Congress, which explicitly instructed CMA to ensure that any community identified as a potential reception site for the waste be informed of the proposal and be given an opportunity to support the plans. One of CMA's spokespersons even admitted, that since informing the public of earlier shipment proposals had resulted in the plans being rejected, this time as "a lesson learned" they resorted to acting covertly.

CMA's secrecy is not a new approach, such disregard for the will of the people has been a tactic of tyrannical governments for centuries. But we have always wanted to believe that it wouldn't happen here within a military program supposedly designed to keep the public informed while destroying the deadly weapons in the most protective way possible for all communities.

In a very direct way then, CMA officials have betrayed us, they have stolen our trust and our faith in the promises they made to us over and again. As one of our colleagues, who sat on the side of an Indiana highway and watched the trucks pass her in the dark of the night, said, "There is much more than 16,000 gallons of waste disappearing down the road. Much more."


Craig Williams is director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group in Berea, Kentucky and winner of the 2006 Goldman Environmental Prize.

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From: Chemical Weapons Working Group
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Portland, Oregon -- A Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon has thrown a precautionary monkey wrench into the U.S. Army's plans to burn the chemical warfare agent known as mustard, in an incinerator in Umatilla, Oregon.

The court ordered the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) to examine the available alternatives for detoxifying the chemical weaponry and "determine that the facility will employ 'the best available technology' for disposal of the agents and munitions and will have 'no major adverse effect on e[p]ublic health and safety' or the [e] nvironment of adjacent lands.'"

Local citizens have been raising questions about the Army's incineration plan since at least 1998.

Karyn Jones, director of the local citizens' group, GASP, said, "Given that breast-fed infants in the U.S. on average already have an intake of dioxin some 50 times greater than the virtually safe dose set by the, EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances, obviously incineration is not the way to go."

Attorney Mick Harrison, lead trial counsel for GASP, the Sierra Club, the Oregon Wildlife Federation and the other individual Petitioners, said, "this decision is a substantial victory for the concerned citizen and environmental groups. It effectively prohibits incineration of the mustard agent and dunnage waste streams at the facility until DEQ/EQC have thoroughly examined the question of the best technology and procedures for dealing with both the mercury contamination in the mustard agent and dioxin formation from incineration of the dunnage waste."

The decision marks the first judicial recognition of potential public health impacts caused by incineration of chemical weapons and associated hazardous wastes. Although Judge Michael Marcus did not revoke Umatilla's operating permit, since the facility has not yet started to treat the 5 million pounds of mustard stored there, he did find that the Army's plans to burn the mustard, recently found to have higher concentrations of mercury than earlier believed, must be reassessed before such operations can take place.

Citizen groups and individuals from the area have been battling the Army and state agencies for 10 years, claiming that incineration is not the best and most protective method of destroying the chemical weapons and advocating instead for a safer neutralization process.

"Incineration does not and cannot destroy mercury, but simply disperses mercury, a toxic and persistent poison, into the environment, " said Harrison. " In addition, incineration actually creates the ultra toxic chemical dioxin, and produces substantial amounts of dioxin when wastes such as Umatilla's plastic protective suits are burned. If the DEQ insists on proceeding with the outdated and dangerous incineration technology, additional legal challenges can be expected," he concluded.

Considering the shortcomings of incineration, the Army will be hard- pressed to pass the legal test Judge Marcus assigned, according to co- counsel Richard Condit, "By its nature, the incineration process used by the Army produces pollution emissions which the court found to be potentially hazardous and possibly illegal."

Portland attorney Stu Sugarman, who also served as trial counsel said, "This is what we've been telling the judge for 10 years now. This is by far our biggest victory in this litigation to date." Sugarman added that this decision will "prevent the facility from spewing high concentrations of mercury through its smokestacks and ultimately into the bodies of unsuspecting children downwind of the facility in Hermiston, Oregon and other cities."

Dr. Bob Palzer, of the Oregon Sierra Club said, "State law, this ruling, and hot water, not fire are the most common sense recipe for guaranteed safe destruction of the mustard agent at Umatilla. Neutralization is a proven technology and was used efficiently to destroy identical material in Maryland."

"There is no need to incinerate this material," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, who organized the suit. "Safer approaches exist and must be used if the State and the Army wish to live up to their responsibilities of protecting citizens while ridding us of our own WMDs."

The text of the decision is available here.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS WORKING GROUP 128 Main St. Berea KY 40403 859-986-0868 859-986-2695 (F) www.cwwg.org kefcwwg@cwwg.org

For more information contact: Karyn Jones (541) 567-6579 Stu Sugarman (503) 228-6655 Mick Harrison (859) 321-1586 Richard Condit (202) 265-7337 Craig Williams (859) 986-7565

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From: Commondreams.org
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By Harvey Wasserman

Not long ago, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was America's top op ed cheerleader for George W. Bush's attack on Iraq, portraying it as a "war for democracy."

Now, in a landmark Times Magazine article, he claims naming rights to a "green" movement for nuke power and "clean coal," portraying them as part of the answer to global warming.

This is VERY dangerous stuff.

But before we proceed, this Earth Day we can welcome the fact that major media types like Friedman finally do concede that we have a global climate crisis. The din of Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" has corporate big-wigs lining up to be washed green. For that much, we can all be grateful.

There is much that's positive in Friedman's writings about the need for emission-free energy. Most of it derives from countless concerned citizens seeking a Solartopian system based on solar, wind, bio-fuels, efficiency and a truly Earth-based culture.

Friedman never acknowledges them. But tens of thousands of grassroots activists have contributed decades of loving labor, often including jail time (mostly at reactor sites), to give birth to that vision.

Normally, a social movement would welcome the embrace of a New York Times columnist. For a major establishment mouthpiece to start spouting ideas for which so many have marched should be a deeply gratifying accomplishment.

But Friedman's sales pitch also sanctifies nukes and coal. In a single horrifying phrase, he writes in the Times Magazine that "to reach the necessary scale of emissions-free energy will require big clean coal or nuclear power stations, wind farms and solar farms."

Thus, in Tom Friedman's new eco-Orwellian "greenspeak," atomic energy and "clean coal" have become the equivalents of solar and wind power.

This is a suicidal double deception.

"Clean coal" is the ultimate atmospheric oxymoron. Fossil fuel corporations justify it with "carbon sequestration," the idea of pumping CO2 emissions into caverns and other underground storage facilities.

In other words: Yucca Mountain for the coal business. The technology is unproven and the gas is certain, sooner or later, to leak out. Continued coal mining -- even with a green veneer -- will devastate landscapes, kill miners, cause acid rain and prolong the world's dependence on fossil fuel.

Worse is the proven 50-year failure of nuke power. Atomic reactors are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass destruction. Nothing can guarantee their safety from a terror attack.

Fifty years ago the Price-Anderson Act gave federal protection to save reactor owners from paying for a major disaster. No private insurer has stepped into the void, not for the past generation of reactors, nor for the future.

There is also no solution to the waste problem. Yucca Mountain, the multi-billion-dollar alleged storage dump, cannot open for at least two decades. It is capped with perched water, marbled with an earthquake fault and surrounded by (so far) dormant volcanoes like itself. If it opens at all, it will be a casino, in one form or another.

Nukes also spew huge quantities of radioactive radon from the billions of tons of tailings that that sit near uranium mines and mills. That uranium is in increasingly short supply, with prices bound to skyrocket.

The enrichment of reactor fuel creates huge global warming emissions. The nukes themselves pump out direct heat, harming air and water. Radioactive emissions kill billions of fish and other life forms, including humans. Near-misses, as at Ohio's Davis-Besse, which was a bare shred of thin metal away from a catastrophic melt-down, are all too frequent. Sooner or later, by terror or error, we must expect the worst.

Friedman mourns that the melt-down at Three Mile Island caused huge quantities of carbon-emitting coal to be burned for replacement power. But if the $900 million it took to build TMI had been invested in real green energy and efficiency, all those emissions could have been cheaply and safely avoided, then, now and into the future. Take the additional $2 billion required to deal with the seething radioactive mess and we could have had a countryside layered with safe, clean, cheap solar and wind farms.

Friedman never interviews the thousands of central Pennsylvanians who demanded the nuke not be built in the first place. Nor does he mention the 2400 locals who've tried for two decades to get a class action trial on the death and disease caused by the 1979 melt-down's radioactive emissions. To this day, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not know how much fallout escaped from TMI, where it went, who it affected or what harm it did.

Friedman instead talks to TMI's newly greenwashed corporate biggies. More nukes would be a great solution to global warming, they say. But they complain that a new reactor could not come on line for, perhaps, fifteen years. And private investment won't do the trick. Government loan guarantees will be required, they moan, because when it comes to energy, the market "doesn't work."

That's an amazing admission for a free market ideologue like Friedman. What he can't face is that the market DOES work for nuclear power, because nobody in their right mind will invest in it without gargantuan subsidies and insurance protection. Only a Bush-style intervention like the one for "democracy" in Iraq will finance new reactor construction.

The real numbers on both existing and new nukes are disastrous. The current generation only looks profitable because the wave of utility deregulation that swept the US a few years ago forced the public to eat the true capital costs.

Back then Friedman yelled that a free market in energy would yield competition and lower prices. But with fake shortages and market manipulations, Enron and its corporate cohorts gouged California and other states for more than $100 billion. Nowhere in the deregulated US is there meaningful competition in electricity. Nor is there an accurate accounting for the true costs of atomic power.

In the 1990s, California's REAL green power movement wanted to install some 600 megawatts of solar, wind and efficiency. That was killed by John Bryson, the "green" chair of Southern California Edison. Bryson then used deregulation to write off the multi-billion-dollar capital costs of four reactors. And then came Enron, to gouge and go bankrupt.

Now Friedman and his fossil/nuke cohorts ask that we repeat the experience in the name of global warming.

We can certainly say "thanks" to him for finally waking up to the climate crisis. But we must also say "no thanks" to fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The Solartopian solution embraces wind, solar, bio-fuels and other truly renewable sources, along with increased efficiency. Wall Street is lining up to invest in these technologies, which have high rates of real return, both financial and ecological.

We've seen the horrific results of Tom Friedman's advocacy of utility deregulation. We've tasted the bitter fruits of his cheerleading for the war in Iraq.

Why would we now buy his fossil/nukes, which are no more green than the climate crisis itself?

Between the lines of Friedman's columns there's a lethal brew of carbon emissions and radioactive crud. Every dime spent on "clean coal" or "safe nukes" will only make things worse.

We're glad so many corporate moguls finally feel compelled to line up at the media greenwash. But there's no need to buy in to their proven failures.

The real solution to climate chaos is the Solartopian Trinity of solar, wind and bio-fuels, with increased efficiency and the return of mass transit. Accept no substitutes.


Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030 is at www.solartopia.org.

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From: The Wall Street Journal (pg. A1)
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By Leila Abboud

HORSENS, Denmark -- Nothing goes to waste in the new Danish Crown slaughterhouse in eastern Denmark. Even the inedible fat of 50,000 pigs killed and processed here each week is used to heat the plant.

Turning pig blubber into heating oil is one of several techniques Danish Crown uses to save heat, water and electricity. The abattoir recently developed a method of scalding and removing hair from pig carcasses that conserves heat.

"We redesigned the whole manufacturing process to save energy," says Soren Eriksen, technical director of Danish Crown, a meat company that produces $11 billion of pork and beef annually. "Everything is reused."

Danish Crown is part of Denmark's successful 30-year effort to keep its energy consumption in check. Through a wide variety of government- driven initiatives, this small northern European country has overcome one thorny challenge of global warming: how to dramatically reduce energy consumption while maintaining a solid growth rate and low unemployment. The downside is higher taxes and costs for businesses and consumers.

Today hundreds of thousands of Danish homes and other buildings are warmed by surplus heat from power plants. Government policies have spurred developers to build homes with thick insulation, and consumers to buy energy-efficient appliances. Utilities that can't meet government energy-savings guidelines can buy credits from companies that have invested in efficiencies.

The result of these and other policies is that Denmark's energy consumption -- the amount of fuel it uses to heat its buildings, drive its cars and power its economy -- has held stable for more than 30 years, even as the country's gross domestic product has doubled, according to the International Energy Agency, a Paris group that tracks energy prices and policies. During the same period, energy consumption in the U.S. has risen 40%, while its GDP has quadrupled. The average Dane uses 6,600 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, compared with 13,300 for the average American. [Peter Bach]

"You can't just sit back and wait for market forces to do this for you," says Peter Bach, a civil engineer who has worked as a regulator at the Danish Energy Authority for 26 years.

Some of Denmark's approaches can't be easily replicated elsewhere. U.S. policy makers and businesses have resisted the type of aggressive intervention and regulation behind Denmark's successes, concerned about higher costs and taxes, reduced competitiveness and slower growth.

But in Denmark, much of the country's energy sector is in the hands of nonprofit cooperatives, with residents as shareholders, which makes it easier for government to direct policy with little opposition from business interests. With a population of 5.5 million people, Denmark also is a social welfare state that puts a higher priority on things like generous health care, free schools and guaranteed pensions than on profits, low taxes and individualism.

Danish consumers and businesses clearly pay a price for the energy programs. A Dane buying a new car must pay a registration fee of approximately 105% of the car's value, plus additional taxes on fuel. Danish companies pay 43% more per megawatt hour of electricity than companies in the U.S., 24% more than in France and 19% more than in England, according to Dansk Industri, an industry trade association. Denmark's high energy costs and its costly social-welfare system likely slow its economic growth in comparison to the U.S., but haven't kept its economy from becoming one of Europe's strongest, says Jonathan Coony, an energy specialist at the World Bank.

Yet Denmark has remained dogged about conservation. Like other countries, Denmark embarked upon its energy-saving crusade after 1973, when Arab nations temporarily cut off oil exports to countries that supported Israel. Many nations, including the U.S., relaxed their efforts as soon as the geopolitical situation stabilized. But Denmark, along with Japan, was one of the few countries that persisted.

Denmark was heavily dependent on imported oil in the 1970s, and the oil crisis helped set off a prolonged economic recession. To cope with the immediate energy shortage, driving was banned on Sundays. Some towns turned off street lights and schools cranked down the heat.

The experience convinced government officials that the country couldn't rely on foreign oil. So in 1976, a government led by the Social Democratic Party laid out a series of ambitious energy plans, including developing renewable energy from wind turbines, exploring the North Sea for oil and natural gas, and conserving energy. Denmark is now self-sufficient in energy and actually exports oil, gas and electricity.

One key policy change was a gradual increase in taxes on the consumption of oil, natural gas and electricity. Taxes now make up more than half of Danish households' electricity bills; prices at the gas pump doubled once fuel taxes took effect.

High energy costs, coupled with rising labor expenses, have made it harder for many companies to compete, especially in energy-intensive sectors like steel and cement. In 2005, 14% of the Danish labor force worked in manufacturing, down from 28% in 1966, according to Danish government statistics.

High energy taxes have been "good for the country, but not good for companies," says John Tang, energy and environmental manager at Dalum Papir A/S, a 133-year-old company that makes glossy paper for magazines out of recycled materials. Mr. Tang says several Danish paper companies have gone out of business in the past 15 years, leaving Dalum with one main rival in Denmark.

But Danish companies that did survive, like Dalum, were forced into strategies that gave them a head start on European rivals that are just now starting to become energy-efficient. Dalum overhauled its factories to save energy in the 1990s, installing more efficient motors and redesigning heating systems to waste less heat, says Mr. Tang.

High taxes have also been a burden on consumers. Yet Danish individuals have largely acquiesced to the higher energy prices. In an opinion poll by the European Union last year, more people in Denmark than in any other country said they would be willing to pay higher prices for energy derived from clean sources.

In addition to raising taxes, the Danish government in the 1980s embarked on a massive overhaul of the heating system. Homes used to be heated entirely with oil, often in inefficient individual boilers in their basements.

In a project financed largely by municipalities and local banks, Denmark developed a combined heat-and-power system in which surplus heat produced as a byproduct at power plants would be transported in insulated pipes to heat homes and offices. This "cogeneration" or "district heating" technology wasn't new, but had thus far been confined to close-knit communities such as university campuses, or in Eastern Europe under Communism.

Building the district-heating system was a pharaonic undertaking that took a decade. Streets had to be torn up to install massive underground pipes. Power plants needed to be moved or built closer to people's homes or offices so that heat could be transferred over shorter distances. The heat is transported from hundreds of small power plants near cities, compared to 15 big power plants that supplied electricity nationwide in the mid-1980s.

When representatives from Denmark's energy regulator introduced the idea to local officials in towns and counties, "they thought we were crazy," recalls Mr. Bach. But the government bulldozed ahead, promising that district heating would, among other things, bring lower prices. Today it's cheaper than heating with natural gas or oil.

Today about 61% of households in Denmark are heated by district heating, a system Mr. Bach estimates accounts for about half of Denmark's energy savings in the past 25 years. The cost of the overall project is hard to know because much was done on the local level. But in Copenhagen's prosperous eastern suburbs alone, workers spent six years and about $475 million to tear up the streets to install the pipes.

To build on the success of the new heating system, the government introduced a new building code in 1979 that forced people to build their homes with thicker insulation and tighter-sealing windows that would preserve energy.

The building code is tightened periodically. It lowered Denmark's heating bill by 20% between 1975 and 2001, even though some 30% more heated floor space in buildings and homes was built during that period, according to the Danish Energy Authority.

Torben Mikkelsen, a veterinary surgeon and father of two, spent $105,000 last year to insulate his white single-level house and to replace sliding-glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows with airtight models. Mr. Mikkelsen expects to save at least 60% on his heating bill, which last year totaled $5,400.

Mr. Mikkelsen says it doesn't bother him the project will take 30 years to pay for itself. For years, his family couldn't stay warm enough no matter how high they turned up the heat. "It's much more comfortable in the house now," he says.

Some local officials have taken conservation even further. In 2001, Willy Eliasen, then mayor of the town of Stenlose, some 25 miles from Copenhagen, decided to develop a new parcel of land. Homes on the land, he decreed, would have to be 50% more energy-efficient than what the building codes required.

Some construction companies balked, saying the new rules would cost too much, and didn't bid. But today the parcel has some 250 houses and apartments, many made of yellow brick and all with thick insulation panels. All have been sold and construction is under way for another 500 homes.

In the mid-1990s, the Danish government turned to energy-guzzling appliances, which consumers bought even when more efficient models were available. All appliances sold in Denmark bear an efficiency label that, according to EU standards, rates the appliance from "A" for the best to "G" for the worst. In 1995, a government study found that only one quarter of the fridges and freezers sold in Denmark had ratings of A or B.

A government-funded organization called the Electricity Savings Trust introduced a temporary subsidy program that gave $100 rebates, payable at the cash register, to people who bought appliances with A ratings. In exchange for the subsidies, the stores promised to devote more marketing and advertising to energy-efficient appliances and also to stock a wider variety of models.

"There are many options to choose from," said Greta Andreasen as she was shopping for a fridge at an appliance store in Copenhagen last month. Before her were 10 refrigerator models -- all with ratings of B or better, and half with grades of A+ or A++. The most energy- efficient models cost from $75 to $150 more than the other models.

With three national rebate campaigns from 1999 to 2005, the Trust passed out some $20 million in subsidies to consumers. In 2005, 92% of the freezers and fridges sold in Denmark had A ratings.

Denmark's center-right government, elected in 2001, has adopted more of a market-oriented approach to conservation. Its key target: utilities, which until recently, played mostly an advisory role. They would lend meters to households, for example, so residents could pinpoint which appliances in their homes were sucking up the most electricity. But the utilities, which distribute oil, electricity and gas, were never held accountable for whether their counseling worked or not.

In 2005, the government ruled that utilities would have to meet a certain level of energy savings every year by law. Utilities can meet their targets any way they want. An electricity company, for example, can persuade an industrial client to introduce more eco-friendly machines into its factory.

But some are skeptical the conservation goals can be met. "All the easy energy savings have already been implemented in many industries," says Ole Sundman, head of energy services at the giant state-owned energy company DONG Energy. "It will be more and more difficult to find energy savings, and more expensive."

Utilities are getting help. Along with the new targets, the government has set up a virtual exchange where utilities that have trouble saving energy can buy credits from any company that has saved energy. Last year, Dalum Papir was able to recover much of the $1 million it spent to replace electric dryers with those that run on natural gas. It did this by selling energy savings to a natural-gas company that needed to meet its annual energy-savings target. The company paid Dalum $625,000.

Mr. Bach, who has been working on Denmark's energy-conservation drive for a quarter of a century, scoffs at suggestions that all the feasible savings have already been made. He believes companies and individuals can conserve more, especially on homes and cars.

"It's like the apple trees I have in my garden," he says. "They grow low-hanging fruit every year."

Write to Leila Abboud at leila.abboud@wsj.com2

Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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