Tuesday, October 31, 2006

desperately seeking biotech

Here is a quote:
"What we're missing in this region is a broad and deep commercialization eco-system," that would allow biotechs.... to continue to survive, and perhaps acquire other companies, as opposed to becoming acquired...
Is this Pittsburgh? Actually this is from Seattle. A good other-regional perspective on the challenges of promoting a biotech economy is this article yesterday in the King County (Seattle) Journal. It's risky to bank on biotech: Companies move, fail before communities see any benefits.

Another perspective of note is this piece just out in Business Week: Biotech's Beef - Companies say grad schools aren't stressing what students require in the real world which talks about the disconnect between academic biotech and what commerical biotech industries actually need.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

metrics for innovative cities from CEOs for Cities

So before I get into this.. does anyone want to guess who wrote this:
…the Pittsburgh region’s future depends to such a major extent upon retaining and attracting highly qualified and professional and technical people and business enterprisers, who are in demand everywhere and who command a high standard of residential amenity and cultural and professional opportunities.
I was reminded of this quote when reading the summary slides on a new report CityVitals from CEOs for Cities by Joe Cortright of Impressa Consulting. It’s an interesting set of slides that says there are a bunch new metrics that can be used to measure innovative capacity in cities for the most part. Not having access to the full report I can’t tell you where Pittsburgh ranks in most of these suggested metrics, but the summary slides gives you a few glimpses.

It goes into the obligatory educational attainment benchmarks. Just fyi: There is some sort of error in there. See slide 7 where it gives the educational attainment of the population age 25-34. For example it has Austin at 7.1% achieving a college degree or higher. I say that number is more like 39%. It’s not on the slide but for Pittsburgh the number is 34%. I thought these might be %’s for graduate school attainment, but even that appears to be too low. It’s just mislabeled is all. UPDATE: anonyous commenter explains the error in my interpretation of the slide. See comments for more.

The report does have some new ways of looking at cities and regions. From the summary you can see a few of the ways Pittsburgh shows up as an extreme case. Again, a lot of these are just artifacts of the age demographic for us, but they are still worth thinking about. Slide 13 for example does not mention Pittsburgh, but it has a measure of venture capital collected per 1000 population. At the bottom: Buffalo at literally 0. I assume that is rounded to zero but maybe it really is nothing.

Slide 18. Surprisingly Cleveland and Cincinatti rank 4 and 5 respectively out of 50 MSA’s in terms of voter participation which is the percentage of the voting age population that voted in the November 2004 presidential election.

There is something you don’t normally see on slide 23. Pittsburgh ranks near bottom (48 out of 50) in terms of percentage of population reporting a trip outside of the US. A reflection of our low immigrant flow and older population for sure.

And on slide 28 we rank 49 out of 50 in terms of Ratio of persons that reported attending a cultural event past year to the number of persons who subscribe to cable television. Just a tad elitist? Below us is Nashville? Maybe they do not count the Grand Old Opry? Maybe we have a high proportion of people subscribed to cable TV? I dunno.

POSTSCRIPT - November 1st: See this week's edition of PopCityMedia for more on the CEO of CEO's for Cities.

POSTSCRIPT2 - November 8th: and more: the Nov 8th edition of PopCityMedia goes into more depth on this report.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

The world's view of Pittsburgh

Free registration may be required to view the article, but the Washington Post has a travel article today Pittsburgh's South Side, Resurrected that is worth a scan at least. Yes, I know, the author is from Pittsburgh so this may not count as an outside view in a strict sense.. but her editors had to approve it.

To balance that out though there is some commentary in the SF Chronicle that seems to sum up our dilemma quite succinctly. The author, a non-Pittsurgher, seems to be defending Pittsburgh against ourselves.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Think you know your geography?

Are you studying for WorldQuest coming up next week? Here is a quiz.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

off topic: Saudi blogging

So another off topic post. I have long had a critique of the media that news coverage of the middle east ignores much of what is happening in the broader region. Not to imply that there should be more or less news of what is happening in Iraq, but with so much middle east coverage in the news it's amazing that I think most are left with almost no insight into what is going on in any other context.

So a long winded preface to explain this recent article in the Gulf News about a young Saudi blogger. I will limit my own commentary, but this is really fascinating. This fellow's blog is online at: Saudijeans.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Duisburg on the Mon

With the news covering a plan on county council to create a large riverfront park in the region it is a good time to talk about the hard hat tours of the Carrie Furnace site sponsored by the Rivers of Steel heritage corporation. I had a chance to go on one of these tours a week and a half ago. This is one picture I took at the site. I think everyone ought to go on one of these. Unfortunately these tours are sold out for the fall, but are said to resume again in the spring.

You have to give credit to all who have been involved with the Rivers of Steel Project. They face some unique challenges and minimal support in their goal to preserve some of the industrial heritage in the region. I have mentioned in the past Duisburg's Landscape Park, which is a park made from the preserved Thyssen Steel Plant. Landscape Park is more on a scale of what you would have if the entire Homestead works had been preserved more than just part of the ironworks alone. If you are interested I have more of my own pictures of Duisburg online here.

One big difference between Carrie Furnace and Duisburg, here you need to sign legal papers and only enter the site in a guided and limited tour. In Duisburg, most of the site is open and you can wander freely on your own throuhout the complex. It's a long way before that will be possible here, in fact I suspect the insurance companies will never allow the same type of unfettered access as is possible in Duisburg. Here in the US there used to be open access to Gasworks Park in Seattle but when I was there last year even it has been completely gated off from the public.

It does highlight for me the different perspectives on history and environment there vs. the US. The Carrie Furnace Site has struggled to get anywhere near the $75-100 million to secure and stabilize their site. Landscape Park as part of the greater Emscher Park International Building Exhibition (or IBA in German) which can best be described as Brownfield Redevelopment on steroids. In the end, and parts are as yet undone, spent upwards of $2 Billion in current dollars to secure and redevelop industrial sites throughout the Ruhrgebeit, Germany's industrial heartland. Emscher Park refers to the Emscher River which was a river that had been redered lifeless long ago by industrial efluent in the region. The IBA has worked to restore the Emscher and may rank as one of the greatest environmental reclamations ever attempted. The striking difference between brownfield redevopment over there and here is that the IBA did not attempt to obliterate all traces of the industrial heritage as it worked to clean up various sites.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Searching for a signal: Starbucks per capita

I was taking a look at the PG Early Returns politics journal and their Oct 20 post mentions this article by Bloomberg Columnist Margaret Carlson who wrote with derision that Pennsylvania had the lowest number of starbucks per capita. Now I do believe that columnists are allowed their hyperbole, but I wondered if this metric really existed. Of course it was a silly question since everything is now quantified somewhere. There are even journals of how to measure things.

Anyway, google quickly lead me to this list of Starbucks per capita in major cities. Take it for what its worth.. it's a little hard to find how it was created. but way down at the bottom is indeed Philadelphia (rank 53 of 54). but near the top is actually Pittsburgh ranked 11 of 54. Not bad when you consider the few regions ahead of us include Seattle, San Fran, even Las Vegas... all clearly ringers in this contest.

Does it mean anything? In itself of course not.. but it does make for a good column snippet. But maybe it does mean something if the prevalence of Starbucks is a signal for other amenities that one is looking for. Starbucks per capita could easily be a signal for identifying where other like minded people are since I am sure those Starbucks marketers are focusing their investment in particular places with common characteristics. Whether that means a high SQ (Starbucks quotient?) is a place you want to move to or move away from is your personal call.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Pittsburgh(er) in the World Series

Splitting the first two world series games is not a bad start for Jim Leyland who is not only responsible to the fans of Detroit, but all the vicarious Detroit fans here in Pittsburgh who are rooting for him.

but I mention just in passing a point of family pride. Completely unbeknownst to him I am quite sure, but Jim Leyland and I are 2nd counsins by marriage. My great grandfather and his great grandfather-in-law was one Patrick O'Halloran who was an American citizen who actually emigrated to Ireland in the late 19th century where he would marry Mary Ann Coyne. Supposedly he was involved with the Molly Maguires in NE Pennsylvania and was forced to flee the country in some haste. but all 9 of his surviving children would emigrate to the US from Coolacloy, County Galway over a century ago. Try and find that on a map. The picture on the right is what the road to Coolacloy looked like a decade ago. Actually the road became a little less 'formal' a just past this point before it finally reached the 'town'. Given the growth over there this may all be a shopping mall by now.. well, maybe not, but still its a different Ireland than the past. The 2nd picture (below) are the remnants of what could have once been the family home which would have housed parents, 11 children and sundry relatives.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

NPR on the Mayor

If you didnt catch it... NPR ran a local piece on the Mayor today. I think you can hear it online at:


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Friday, October 20, 2006

History in a minute

A diversion from our regular programming, but this is cool. All of middle and near east history in a minute. Worth hitting 'play' on this flash object by some people at mapsofwar.com

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not that LQ

So here is a measure of Pittsburgh's LQ.. not its location quotient but its Logistics Quotient?? This recent Business Expansion magazine article has rated MSA's according to best infrastructure for logistics. While we don't seem to appear in the top 10 they do put Pittsburgh in their list of 5 star MSA's which seems to put us in the top 20% of all MSA's for what its worth. As part of that they rank us number 4 overall in railroad infrastructure.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

any filmmakers seeking ideas?

So just to get be onto something more substantive than politics… here is something I meant to blog about when it was on TV (not in the local market though). I have not seen it yet, but I hear a good documentary to see is Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City which aired on the PBS affiliate in Cleveland a few weeks ago. Seems like something we ought to do here, though I am biased of course. It would be an interesting contrast to Cleveland though I suspect not enough of a contrast for this particular series to include Pittsburgh. We would have to do it ourselves.

Has anyone seen this? You can buy this documentary and I meant to do so when I was at the Lincoln Institute, which was part funder and producer for the film, a couple weeks ago. Maybe the Carnegie will buy a copy for lending or WQED will run it at some point.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

getting crowded

I told myself to get off the politics beat here and move on.. but I just caught a snippit of local news last night with Delano interviewing someone who sure sounded like he was running for mayor: Mike Dawida. In fact he sounded much more like a mayoral candidate than any of the other 'names' (apologies to Lloyds) out there now. I had thought this race really could get pathologically crowded.. not just in the number of potential candidates but how they split out so evenly. By multiple accounts the potential candidates include: Lamb and Wagner who would split south and west... Ravenstahl and Woods who would go against each other in the north... Peduto and Caliguiri who will do the same in the east. It would be easy to see nobody breaking 20% if that in itself were the field. And that is before there is any known female or minority candidates who could cut into support across sections of the city.... and now Mike Dawida. His big hurdle would be regaining trust of the African American community. Despite being both the de facto incumbent (as county commissioner) and endorsed Democrat he lost 90% of the African American vote and it likely cost him the election to Wecht in the first ever primary for ACE in 1999. and that was a county wide race, it’s a much bigger constituency in a city race.

but we ought to start a contest to see who can guess what other names beyond those mentioned will pop into the race. My guess: Michelle Madoff is but a plane ride away. Think I'm kidding, she is still getting in the news…. Well, maybe not this election.

last political thought for the moment. With an election in 2007, the potential winner will take office in 2008 and the next primary will be in early 2009. One way or another its going to be a never ending election cycle for a little while.

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at the starting blocks

for the record, I am not sure that past results matter as much as they normally would given the exigencies... but here are some maps of the results from the last two Democratic primaries for the mayor of the city of Pittsburgh. Note I have kept the legend consistent within each year (2001 and 2005) with the exception of Kendrick's results in 2005 which I adjusted a bit for visualization.

2005: Percentage Kendrick - PDF or GIF

2005: Percentage Peduto - PDF or GIF

2005: Percentage Lamb - PDF or GIF

2005: Percentage Oconnor - PDF or GIF

2001: Percentage Murphy - PDF or GIF

2001: Percentage Oconnor - PDF or GIF

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Friday, October 13, 2006

a de facto runoff?

So it seems there is a decision of sorts for when the next mayors race will be. While it's possible this will be the last word, it's hard not to see how this might end up in court. I think anyone who is a resident of Pittsburgh has standing to sue to try and stop there from being an election in 2007. Actually, I suspect any taxpayer has standing in this case because tax dollars are spent to hold the election. A funny question: but with the new payroll preparation tax extended to all city workers regardless of residence, I wonder if that means a lot of non-city residents could sue in this case? If that happens, even if the suit eventually loses, it will further add to the chaos that is going to be the next election. The potential number of people running is getting larger every day and the compacted schedule is going to make it... (fill in adjective of choice). but I also am not sure this is all set in stone anyway. There now exist two completely divergent extant legal opinions and even more issues that a court would have to sort through. A legal process will also dampen fundraising in a cycle that will be short and diluted across a number of candidates to begin with.

Assuming there is an election and if you were to ask me at this moment... I would not be surprised if one major candidate tried to take the Caliguiri (Sr. that is) route and skip the primary to run in the general as an independent. If its a super wide open field then it's likely that the primary winner is not going to come out with a broad mandate. Thus one could plan to paint that winner as more an aberration than as the legitimate Democratic nominee. It would take a leading candidate out of the free for all that will be the primary and give time to prepare (i.e. raise money) for a fall race with the time needed for a major election. It almost makes the primary a no-win situation if the most one could hope for is a small plurality in the end.

Do I think this scenario is good for the city? not really. The potential for extended uncertainty in the city is just not good all around.

Anyway. Again no maps today, but I will try and post some maps of the results from the last few mayoral races... I suspect the past results may not be as relevant as they normally would be given the strange circumstances coming up.. but they still are interesting.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

that city-wide election

Mostly because there was no notice of this in the two major papers I note that the Pittsburgh Courier has a story on a new candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller. Amid all the hullabaloo over the mayor's race, people forget that there is an imminent race for city controller. Looks like another fresh face. I am wondering if there ought to be a rule that you have to be under 30 to be in city government these days.

Honestly, when it became clear there would be a race for mayor I wondered how stringent the rule was for a sitting Common Pleas Court judge not to engage in partisan politics. The quiescence of Tom Flaherty of late seems to answer that. I think the last year is the longest stretch of time that Tom has not made waves in local politics in 3 decades.

but who is going to run? The incumbent and acting City Controller Tony Pokora has already made it known he is running. In normal circumstances the incumbent, even ifnot elected themselves, would be in a strong position. But times are just not normal and the controllers office may not be the power base it was in the past. Common speculation is that Doug Shields is out there though he may be feeling more empowered (for now that is) in his new role as city council prez. One could argue that city council prez is a better base than is the controllers office for a future mayoral run. I have heard mention Bodack may be interested in running and there was brief mention of erstwhile mayoral candidate Lamb looking toward this race but that was a few political generations ago given events so I suspect that is not the case.

Anyone else? There is always the potential for some unknown to pop up. Ed Kiely ran for City Controller some years ago and did ok considering his complete lack of a political base. Even in losing Ed may have had one of those butterfly like impacts on Pittsburgh's future. What am I talking about? anyone know who was Kiely's young campaign manager? (note that google does not help with this question).

but the controllers race is interesting for how it may interact with the mayor's race.. again depending on when it happens. There is the opportunity for some political horse trading with candidates trading their support for another candidate in exchange for mutual support in own. So in that sense, it will make a big difference when the mayor's race is.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

neutron chasing

in case you think the buzz around the nuclear industry is a passing fad. The competition for new nuclear sites has already started in earnest.

but here is something that is actually big news: Bechtel is relocating 300 nuclear industry jobs from update NY to Pittsburgh. Think that is not a big deal. In high tech Pittsburgh the highest paid engineers are not doing computer engineering, robotics or biotech.. it's the nuclear engineers. Average annual income for a nuclear enginner in Pennsylvania: $84K. Is 300 net new jobs to the region a big deal? Most states do not have 300 nuclear engineers in total.

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air rights

ha. Who says that lame ducks are not productive. Only the Towanda News Record makes note of a proposal by Pittsburgh State Rep. Frank Pistella that air at gas stations should be provided free of charge.

You know, I have no idea how this proposal came up... but you could characterize it as a national security issue. I am sure AAA has some data on how underinflated tires cause low gas mileage. So free air to encourage keeping tires inflated will lower our dependence on foreign oil. Sounds good at least... lets make up a number and say free air would encourage proper inflation and increase gas mileage by 1%. Even that would certainly add up to hundreds of millions of gallons per year in the US.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

things that make you go hmmm

you know, I really thought the question about whether UPMC could IPO was just a theoretical question. Still is I suppose. Yet the news today is that UPMC is saying it is now the first major nonprofit to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is actually big news. Complying with Sarbanes-Oxley is at the very least both expensive and time consuming. To my knowledge there is no requirement on the horizon that would force UPMC to do this. As the article states there is some vague notion that changes are coming that could impact nonprofit accounting, but that is mostly conjecture at this point and this really is unprecedented. Whatever their motivations, this clearly would make integration into the for-profit world easier. Just makes you wonder is all.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

everyone needs a Buffalo

It would be easy to pick on Buffalo.. but sometimes it would feel like picking on ourselves. But here is a recent story on Buffalo's alleged 'brain drain' and how it may be misperceived even there. See this story in the Buffalo News. The article is talking about this policy brief recently put out by the Univ. of Buffalo. I may have to compile similar numbers for Pittsburgh and regions in Pennsylvania.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

inexpensive downtown housing....

... is NOT an oxymoron. Consider the current Downtown Market Survey just released by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership et al.

Last week there was this PG piece which focused on the new downtown housing coming online. There was a lot of gnashing in that article about how expensive the new units were which made them unaffordable to the very people that some want to attract downtown... namely young workers.

Yet, the market survey confirms something that I was thinking while reading the PG piece. The new units going in downtown are really quite expensive for the Pittsburgh market, but there is a healthy market of available condos at places like Gateway center and Chatham Tower. Both had condos that were on the market for almost a year and at reasonable prices: Chatham Tower had one unit sell for $38K in the last quarter, Gateway Tower had one for $77K. So there ARE moderate (actually really cheap compared to most cities) downtown condos available. The existence of these units at the same time as these new developments are said to be pre-leasing at a healthy pace is evidence that the market for the two differnt units are very different demographics. i.e. if the people buying the new units wanted just to live downtown, these existing units would have been bid up in price some time ago.

and yes.. I know some of the units in those two buildings are small. But I lived in Manhattan for a while. I remember looking at an apartment once that was well under 300sf and could only fit a murphy bed. Yet, that is the housing for young professionals in some cities. I bet the smallest condos in these buildings are twice that in sq. feet... and there are some fairly large units in these buildings as well.. also at prices that come in a fraction of the new units in question. So even that market seems to lack som substituability.

and just to connect some dots when it comes to Henry George again. One group definitely hurt by the shift away from the two tiered tax were condo owners downtown. Especially condo owners in large buildings such as these. That is becasue condo units in large buildings use a very very small footprint of 'land'. The chatham units actually have ZERO assessed value for land. Thus a land tax winds up immpacting these owners far less than if you tax them on the value of the condo as a whole. Just some trivia though it was interesting that you didnt see any downtown condo owners assocation (does one exist?) come out in favor of the SPlit tax when the brief debate leading to its demise erupted a few years ago. There is a reason for that I will save for a future post.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

down the Ohio

So it seems Cincinnati is the benchmark of choice these days for comparing to Pittsburgh. Maybe its the Sports Illustrated cover that is causing it. but it was Harold Miller's column on Sunday that compared our relative economic performances. So what else is going on in Cincinnati:

Their mayor just announced the formation of a public private partnership called GO Cincinnati to save the city. Their big initiative: convert some old factory space into lofts. We better send a team down there to emulate that!

The Cincinnati Enquirer also has a story today decrying how old the housing stock is in Hamilton County. Man, if they think they have old housing stock.

I was just thinking.. LR is young enough that he will have to think of a post-political career (whether that is soon or decades from now).. It may be a good time to lay some groundwork for that and get some advice from Jerry Springer, who is currently dancing with the stars and is (people forget) the former mayor of Cincinnati.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

The British Middle Class.... and Pittsburgh's

So you may think this is a post that does not have anything to do with Pittsburgh.... it will if you read to the end.

The main headline of London’s Daily Mail over the weekend was “March of the Middle Class”. The British equivalent of the Census Bureau, the Office of National Statistics, has released a study that characterized just over half of the British labor force as “middle class” for the first time. The article is fascinating for a lot of reasons. First is that it was a front page story at all. There are regular stories in the US on the topic of income distribution, but rarely do they get anywhere near top of the fold on the front page. While some of us think that movement in the US income distribution is really important, it rarely is that much of a media story here. Secondly, the article explains that the British definition of Middle Class is not really based on income at all, but is actually a taxonomy based solely upon the occupation of workers. So if you did “white collar” work you were categorized as middle class and if you did anything remotely categorized as manual work you were not.. no matter how much you earned. Some of the groupings are strange. In the not middle class category includes 'students' and 'rest home residents' as well as long term unemployed.

The Pittsburgh link. The US income distribution has long been categorized by a large middle class or at least a distribution that looks like a form of log-normal distribution. i.e. there is a long ‘tail’ of high income people but nonetheless the bulk of the population near the median income. You might say it is a defining characteristic of America to have that large middle class.. but like many things you need to make an exception for Pittsburgh. If you go back 30-40 years wages in Pittsburgh did not have anything like a normal distribution. It actually had a bimodal distribution which means there were two humps. It was very atypical for a region in the US even back then. It was sort of like dividing workers into haves and have nots that were clearly different from each other. That 2nd higher hump of workers were clearly blue collar manufacturing workers. Thus by British standards most of the higher income workers in Pittsburgh would have been excluded from the middle class.

That bimodal distribution of income distribution in Pittsburgh has gone away as the economy here looks more and more like the US as a whole.. but I believe that a lot of social behavior in Pittsburgh is one of those legacies of the past economy. If you had a much higher or lower income than someone else you tended to segregate yourself from them. Is a lot of the perceived parochialism in Pittsburgh to this day due the what the income distribution looked like back then? Much of the population here was born, raised and worked much of their careers when this bifurcated income structure was quite real. Just something worth thinking about.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

energy news

The Denver Post had a good article yesterday covering some of the current issues in the coal industry. See: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_4421583#. The issues around future coal usage are complex. Coal is a dirty energy source for sure, but there are developing ways to make it cleaner. Right now, whether we like it or not, looking into the future the one source of energy that will not be depleted anytime soon is coal. Even if the US does not move to become more of a coal economy, there is this country called China that continues a frightening growth in coal demand. Just trivia but I think coal remains the one major source of energy that the US actually exports.

but on the alternatives.... There is actually fairly big and under-reported news in the Nuclear industry. Two scientists at MIT have recently completed research that shows you can increase the efficiency of nuclear fuel by 50%... with some significant safety enhancements as well. What is interesting is that this development gets more media overseas. See the reuters pickup in the Times of India. In other industries you would describe such a development as a disruptive technology. Pittsburgh remains one of the centers of the world's nuclear power industry so this clearly has an impact here.

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