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Elisabeth Andrews
IU Media Relations

Environmental regulation tipsheet

February 20, 2007

EDITORS: The following Indiana University professors are available to discuss key issues related to environmental policy in the U.S. Contact information is listed for each faculty member below.

Looming regulation is worse than no regulation at all
Ethanol is not a climate change solution
Bring on the bacteria
Cooling through atmospheric injections? Not a hot idea

Looming regulation is worse than no regulation at all. Environmental talks in Congress are currently backfiring by motivating energy companies to build more coal-burning power plants, said Evan Ringquist, a professor of environmental science at Indiana University. "The sense of looming regulation is causing energy producers to rush out and build more old-style, coal-fired energy plants," he said. "These businesspeople know they have more bargaining power over regulations concerning existing facilities, especially if they just spent a ton of capital building new plants. If new regulations aimed at addressing greenhouse gasses are inevitable, politicians should enact these measures quickly, because it's clear that uncertainty in the regulatory environment is a recipe for higher emissions."

Ringquist studies energy policy in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He can be reached at 812-855-0732 or

Ethanol is not a climate change solution. Curbing climate change and moving toward energy independence have been conflated in political speech, but the two goals are not interchangeable, said Marc Lame, a professor of environmental science at Indiana University. "Our President's remarks addressing climate change have focused on reducing gasoline consumption by relying on new technologies such as ethanol. This type of messaging has stimulated a great deal of confusion due to its false implication that developing new technologies is the same thing as decreasing energy consumption. Those of us living in the corn-growing heartland would love to believe that by producing ethanol we can solve our planet's climate crisis, but the truth is, unfortunately, there is no evidence that ethanol uses less energy or produces less carbon emissions than conventional fossil fuels. The President seems to be saying that we can have it both ways -- we can continue to consume carbon-based energy sources so long as they are produced in the United States, rather than acknowledging that we must use less energy and work together to change our consumptive habits. Reducing consumption will address both energy independence and global warming, but switching to ethanol is only a political solution not an answer to environmental problems."

Lame can be reached at 812-855-5249 and

Bring on the bacteria. Bacteria hold great promise for cleaning up contaminated soils and water sources, said Flynn Picardal, an associate professor in Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He has been working to isolate bacteria capable of breaking down polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a class of toxic organic chemicals found in some industrial wastes. Picardal now holds a patent on several strains of bacteria that can destroy hard-to-degrade PCBs in waste water, sludge, and sediment. "Bacteria have been successfully used to clean up oil spills and degrade petroleum products, but it is harder to find bacteria that can manage man-made chemicals like PCBs because they haven't had time to evolve alongside these new compounds. What we've been able to do in the lab is to isolate those few bacteria that can grow on different types of PCBs in the hope that they can be utilized as a tool for remediation," he said. Bacteria may also be useful in controlling substances that cannot be broken down, Picardal said. "In the case of contamination from metals and radionuclides, we are dealing with elemental substances that cannot be broken down any further. Although we can't destroy these elements, we may be able to utilize bacteria that will immobilize them so they stay in the soil instead of migrating into groundwater." Picardal said that one obstacle to the growth of bioremediation technologies is bacteria's poor public image. "People typically think of bacteria in terms of disease, but only a small percentage of bacteria are harmful to human health. The vast majority perform vital environmental maintenance. Our existence really depends on bacteria, and our ability to clean up toxic environmental waste is going to depend on them too."

Picardal can be reached at 812-855-0732 and

Cooling through atmospheric injections? Not a hot idea. "It's like the little old lady who swallowed the fly." That's how environmental science professor Phil Stevens describes his objections to Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Crutzen's recently-announced plans to experiment with injecting sulfur into the atmosphere as a means of cooling the earth. "We don't know what the consequences would be," he explained. "The sulfur is intended to remediate problems from greenhouse gases, but pretty soon we might need something to remediate the problems caused by the sulfur, which could include interference with the ozone layer. There's no telling how long this could go on adding more and more layers to the mix." Stevens said the interaction of different chemicals in the atmosphere can produce unanticipated effects. For example, natural emissions from trees are capable of destroying ground-level ozone, the primary component of photochemical smog. But when mixed with emissions from human-built power plants, these natural emissions contribute to atmospheric pollution instead of curtailing it. "Global environmental engineering is becoming a serious consideration because of our failure to reduce our production of greenhouse gases. But we really have no idea what we are risking. I think Crutzen's ideas are a wake-up call telling us that if we don't get serious about reducing our emissions, we may be headed for some frightening global experiments."

Stevens's research deals with the chemical mechanisms in the atmosphere that influence regional air quality and global climate change. He can be reached at 812-855-0732 and