Can You Be Clean, Green, and Legal?

You may have seen something on the news about Spokane, Washington where there is now a ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates. While this may seem to be an isolated case, there are actually several states (including the rest of the state of Washington) that will make dishwashing soap made with phosphates above a very small level illegal in 2010.

What is phosphate anyway and why is it used in dish washing soap?  Phosphate is an inorganic chemical that is a combination of salt and phosphoric acid.  Because it can clean things like hard water stains, and grease, phosphates are used in all kinds of things including dish washing soap. 

Why all the fuss?  Phosphate is a problem when it finds its way to freshwater rivers and lakes.  The phosphate encouraged the growth of algae which depletes the oxygen in these rivers and lakes, killing off fish and other wildlife. 

While there are green alternatives out there, deleting the phosphates from the dish washing soap can leave one unsatisfied with the resulting product-and a lot of dirty dishes.  Plus some of these green alternatives are pricier than their cheaper phosphorous counterparts.  This has caused people to travel outside their state to obtain contraband detergent from other states-which, of course, defeats the purpose of the bank in the first place. 

What should you look for in a green dish washing soap?  Are there green products that work as well?  While there is no direct substitute for phosphorous, but there are other substances that can be used.  How well they will work depends on a number of factors, perhaps the most important being the hardness of the water used for cleaning.

One ingredient that be used is a surfactants.  Surfactants are usually biodegradable and are used to provide cleaning power and increase the ability of the water to separate the soil from the dish. Anionic surfactants work well as detergents, but can be less than effective in hard water. Amphoteric surfactants are used for their foaming power and can often be found with anionic surfactants. There are other substitutes for phosphates, but these can be even more dangerous than the phosphates. They include nitrilotriacatic acid (NTA) and caustic alkaline chemicals (which are particularly dangerous when ingested-as sometimes happens with children).

It may take some trial and error to come up with the phosphate substitute that works best in your water.  It is unlikely that the ban on phosphates is going away, so it is better to start exploring the options now.  In the meantime, the soap manufacturers continue work on the perfect phosphate substitute, but there are some excellent alternatives out there.

California’s Central Valley Is a Petri Dish for Clean Energy

A Fresno patent attorney wanted to know the most pressing legal needs of clean energy companies in the San Joaquin Valley.

Her emailed question made me think. The industry remains in its infancy but likely won’t dawdle in Huggies for long, especially if petroleum prices continue upward as analysts suggest. Oil-price.net still lists $99 barrel on its one-year forecast, and pump prices continue to climb.

In my response to this attorney, I included concerns of solar, energy efficiency and biomass industries.

“Land use is a big deal,” I wrote. “I have heard that because of increased difficulties getting federal land secured, solar companies are moving to get private land deals. So far those are with municipalities and small solar operations, teaming them with wastewater sites (big electrical users) in hinter-ish lands.”

I also mentioned potential interest by Westlands farmers looking for a new source of revenue for farmland due to restrictions on irrigation water. Hundreds of acres of parched and dead grape fields and orchards greet passers by in this incredibly fertile sun-drenched valley.

My co-worker Sandy Nax, who was also my compatriot on the now mothballed Fresno Bee business desk, says the Central Valley is a veritable Petri dish for clean energy with its abundant sun, wind in the Sierra foothills, methane rich dairy waste and bio-plant-rich farmland.

Should a series of studies prove correct — that clean energy will produce scads of jobs nationwide and in California — I believe a large role will be played by those bitten by the powerful American entrepreneurial spirit. I told the patent attorney to keep an eye on start-ups, especially those related to water and biomass.

For instance, the more than $800,000 fine levied on two biomass plants in Merced and Madera counties by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently will likely worry folks in that industry. The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi called it “one of the state’s largest air-pollution fines in recent history.”

Biomass defines the process of burning woody material and ag waste to generate electricity. Emissions are a part of that as they are for biogas from methane.

Another sector worth a look, perhaps from an attorney’s perspective, is construction. Net-zero homes, the passive house movement and others will likely become dominant features of the new home market. A part of that is retrofits, something we’re quite familiar with at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.

The practice of auditing buildings and upgrading systems that show inefficiencies is gaining converts and consumer interest. Some big players are starting to do this elsewhere. For instance, the Empire State Building is now a model of efficiency after a massive overhaul.

I was talking about the status of the clean energy movement with Valley hydrogen power expert Gene Johnson, and he said the best bet for change is talking up the subject to our young people. “Education is the key to this whole thing,” he said.

I convinced him to be one of the potential speakers in a program we’re working on with Valley high schools and colleges to prepare students for clean energy and entrepreneurial opportunities. Gene is one of those amazing people who can inspire people after 5 minutes in his presence. For example, he decided he wanted a hydrogen powered car so converted a glossy yellow Chevy SSR to run on the clean burning fuel.

Gene’s pretty optimistic about the future of clean energy. “Once people see food and gas prices going up… they’ll realize self-sufficiency is the best way to deal with it,” he said. Gene’s definition of self-sufficiency is pretty global and refers to the United States being able to produce all its own energy, from multiple sources.

Sandy and I keep up with news, and on the subject of clean energy and energy efficiency it looks pretty good. Our hope is that this industry takes off in the next couple of years. That may be optimistic, but things are definitely happening.

The jolt of federal stimulus money didn’t hurt. But it’s limited. In fact, we’re working on a couple of stimulus grants that sunset in the next 12 months. So we are biased — a bit.

We were heartened by a post on grist.org by Bracken Hendricks and Jorge Madrid with the Center for American Progress in which they called “clean energy technology one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy and it is projected to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2020.”

They also said American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name of stimulus money) sustained the nation’s fledgling clean energy industry when it was struggling due to the economy and global competition.

Nice to hear. I put a comment on their post saying as much.

How to Market Homemade Gourmet Recipes & Dishes

Food is one of the basic needs of man. Therefore, food businesses are unlikely to go bankrupt. So, if you like puttering around the kitchen, you might as well turn your hobby into a lucrative business. If you are into gourmet and pastries, you can sell handmade gourmet and handmade pastry around your neighborhood or in high-profile stores. Handmade pastry and handmade gourmet are trendy nowadays. Then again, do not think that there are no documents required. All kinds of businesses have to be legalized, even the small-scaled ones; and all food sellers have to abide by the rules and regulations of the FDA or the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, sanitation permits and insurance policies must be obtained.

Make sure that your kitchen area meets the standards for local inspection, and that it is suitable for commercial use. You need to get a business license and business insurance too, before you can start selling handmade gourmet and handmade pastry. You also have to follow the proper accounting methods. Every locality and state has its own requirement for every category, and you must ensure that you are not violating the law. Moreover, you have to make sure that you can protect yourself if ever something goes awry. Aside from business insurance, you also need business liability insurance. The purpose of this is to protect you from any lawsuit that will be brought against your handmade gourmet and handmade pastry business.

Once all the legal paperwork are taken cared of, you can then proceed to marketing. Keep in mind that consumers are more health-conscious now than they were years ago. That is why they prefer handmade and natural food products. This only means that your handmade gourmet and handmade pastry already have potential consumers. You just have to follow the basics of marketing. You also need to establish a brand as well as a reputation for your handmade gourmet and handmade pastry products. Anyway, one good suggestion on how you can attract the attention of customers is to emphasize that your products are handmade.

Include the list of ingredients on the packaging of your handmade pastry. You can also cite reasons why such ingredients are good for the body. Be sure to emphasize the unhealthy ingredients that you did not use, as well. Then, you can use recyclable materials for the packaging of your handmade gourmet to make it more appealing. For instance, you can place a handmade pastry in a lunch bag, or you can wrap a handmade gourmet sandwich in wax paper. Customers like their orders neatly presented, but they like it better if the packaging materials used are not harmful to the environment. In addition, you can create a website for your products. In this way, old customers will be updated with the latest goods and new ones will see what you have to offer.

Breaking Dishes in the Credit Market

Parents have a sixth sense that warns us when a small child has been too quiet for too long. We call out “What are you doing?” and the little munchkin chirps back, “I’m helping you! I’m washing all the nice china!”

The next thing we hear is a loud crash.

So it goes with President Obama and the current Congress. They want to help, but they just can’t keep from breaking the dishes.

Take, for example, their latest effort to ensure that investors get adequate information from credit rating agencies. The legislative fix was included in the recently passed financial regulatory reform act.

Thanks to this particular reform, would-be buyers of the affected securities now receive no ratings at all. Oops.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has for a long time required asset-backed securities to have ratings from established agencies like Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch. Asset-backed securities are instruments such as auto loans that are packaged into bonds before being sold to investors.

When the credit markets crashed, it became evident that many of these securities were riskier than the agencies had thought. The bonds lost their Triple-A ratings, and their values plummeted. Investors lost a lot of money.

The financial legislation that Obama signed on July 21 attempts to make the credit ratings agencies more accountable for their perceived failures. These firms now are exposed to claims of “expert liability,” the same legal risks facing accountants and other parties involved in bond sales.

The agencies’ response was quick and definitive. They stopped letting bond-sellers use their ratings. Rating agencies do not have crystal balls. Sooner or later a security they’d rated highly would be bound to default, leaving the raters on the hook under the new standard. The only way the agencies could ensure that they would never be wrong was to get out of the guessing game.

This was a potentially shattering development for the president and his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill. One of the keys to getting the economy rolling again is to restore a healthy flow of credit, as voters are likely to remind Washington in November. Asset-backed securities are essential to the credit market because they allow lenders to quickly recoup most of their funds so they can lend again.

But SEC rules require the investment bankers who create such securities to have them rated, and the new law made this impossible by prompting the rating agencies to quit a game that now seemed rigged against them. The market for these asset-backed securities was immediately dead in the water.

As a result, the SEC temporarily suspended the rule requiring securities to be rated.(1) This six-month suspension, in theory, is to allow credit rating agencies to implement policy changes to comply with the new law. In the meantime, securities will be sold without ratings.

What will be different in six months? Nothing, other than the upcoming elections will be history – though the SEC would never acknowledge that political considerations enter into its rule making.

Actually, one more thing will be different six months from now: we will have a new Congress. Maybe the incoming group of legislators will be mature enough to fix the new law so the ratings agencies will conclude it is safe to re-enter this line of business.

Or the SEC might just let the marketplace decide whether it needs ratings at all. If the asset-backed securities market can function during the next six months without ratings, then the original SEC requirement will be exposed as having been pointless, and the new liability standard will stand as nothing more than an attempt to give unhappy investors one more deep pocket to sue.

It’s pretty upsetting when valuable things get broken, and it’s easy to get mad if you have repeatedly warned your little tyke to stay out of the china closet. But we must be patient with little children, inexperienced presidents and congressional Democrats. They are only trying to help.

Sources:

(1) Bloomberg Business Week: SEC Grants Six-Month Delay on Asset-Backed Ratings Disclosure