Your Own Gas
Capital Region couple doesn’t just talk the talk about reducing
their reliance on fossil fuels—they walk the walk by making
their own biodiesel fuel
Kate Abbott and Stephen LeBlanc went to local restaurants
asking if they could have the leftover oil that the eateries
were planning to discard, most places looked at them like
they each had two heads.
first question would usually be, ‘Well, what do you want
it for?’ ” says LeBlanc. “When we told them that we were
planning to make biodiesel fuel to run in our car, that’s
when they really thought we were strange.”
After a couple of rejections—some places, like Dunkin’ Donuts,
told them that they don’t actually throw out the oil but
reuse it—Abbott and Leblanc finally found a few places that
were willing to donate to the cause.
have tried a couple of restaurants’ oil, but the Grass Roots
Restaurant on Ontario Street actually has the best oil around
because it is not animal-based, it’s soy oil,” says Abbott.
Abbott and LeBlanc started making biodiesel fuel last fall
at their home in Guilderland, which they rent. The project
first started in a barn just adjacent to the house. But
as the weather started to get cold they moved their equipment
into the basement of their home.
landlord was really wary because he saw all of these tanks,”
says Abbott. “I am pretty sure he thought we were making
drugs or something, but later he was more concerned that
something would blow up.”
LeBlanc interjects: “The chances of that happening are slim.
If you drop a match in biodiesel fuel, it would go out.”
LeBlanc says that biodiesel fuel, or fatty acid alkyl esters,
is a fuel substitute produced from renewable sources like
vegetable oils, animal fats and recycled cooking oils.
could actually buy a jar of cooking oil at the store and
use it,” says Abbott. “But we like to get ours from restaurants.
For one, it’s a lot cheaper, but also, this way, we are
recycling the oil.”
Biodiesel is typically produced through a process called
transesterification, where organically derived oils are
combined with alcohol (ethanol or methanol). Then a catalyst
is used to yield glycerin and biodeisel fuel.
only bio-product when making the fuel is glycerin,” says
Abbott as she holds up a baggie full of brown soap that
she made from leftover glycerin.
The biomass-derived ethyl or methyl esters can be blended
with conventional diesel fuel or used on its own as 100-
percent biodiesel fuel.
fuel that we make can be run on any diesel engine made today,”
says Abbott. “Plus it is 75 percent cleaner than regular
The couple came up with the idea to make the fuel when Leblanc’s
friend gave him the book From the Fryer Into the Fuel
Tank, by Joshua Tickell.
was looking it over and said to myself, I can do that,”
But the final decision came when Leblanc moved to Albany
from Deer Isle, Maine, where he mostly relied on his bike
was sort of a condition to me moving to the city,” he says.
“A lot of our wars and political problems are driven by
gas. We don’t have enough natural gas here, so we rely on
foreign oil. But if we made our own, things could change.
So I’m making it as kind of a protest vote. Plus it is helping
Abbott agreed that making the fuel is one proactive way
to combat the consumption of gas needed to live in a city
is the real environmentalist,” says Abbott, who works as
an early- childhood intervention teacher. “But I drive close
to 500 miles a week with my job. I was feeling like we were
consuming so much. So this is a way to deal with that and
be more environmentally friendly and conscious.”
She also said if more people relied on biodiesel fuel, it
would help support local farmers and create more jobs.
make ethanol from plants that are grown on farms,” says
Abbott. “This would bring jobs to the country and support
our economy by using products that we make here.”
The first thing that the couple had to do to begin their
fuel-making project was gather the equipment needed to make
what we needed was a blender, that we found at a garage
sale, and a big motorized mixer,” says Abbott. “But the
biggest expense was to buy a diesel car, which neither one
of us had when we started this.”
LeBlanc and Abbott bought two diesel Volkswagens for $350
apiece. One was for parts, and the other was sort of their
think in total on equipment, not including the cars, we
spent about $500. But most of that was just a one-time expense,”
says Abbott. “When we figured out how much we pay per gallon
by making the fuel ourselves, it comes out to about 40 cents
The 1989 red Jetta, which currently has 317,000 miles on
it, started right up when the couple poured their first
homemade batch of biodiesel fuel into it last fall.
As a result of their success, the couple just bought a brand
new Volkswagen, which they plan on running on their biodiesel
fuel as well.
To the best of their knowledge, Abbott and LeBlanc said,
they are the only people in the area at this time making
their own biodiesel fuel. As a result, they want to teach
others how easily it can be done. They have started a biodiesel-educational
business, which consists of going to schools or communities
to teach people how to make the fuel and explain what benefits
it has for the environment and communities.
are here to break down the barriers, and let people know
that you don’t have to use petrochemicals to run their cars.
There is a safe easy alternative,” says Abbott. “Biodiesel
is a completely reusable energy source.”
Welfare Mothers On Steroids
highly subjective critique of the environmental policies
of the Bush administration
been 32 years since the first Earth Day was held back in
1970, and it’s been about 15 months since the Bush administration
took office. Things have not been looking good for the environment
since Bush moved into the White House. While much positive
environmental learning and action has taken place since
that first Earth Day, the actions of this administration
have seriously threatened many of these gains.
Bush environmental policies appear to have been designed
to reward his deep-pocketed corporate sponsors while ignoring
the needs of this country’s people for clean air, safe water,
wilderness areas and unpolluted land. The president, who
ran a campaign in which he relished being considered intellectually
dull, is now applying his campaign obligations and ignorance
to pursue an approach that will only further deteriorate
and desecrate our environment.
Upon taking office, Bush went right to work meeting obligations
established during his record harvest of corporate campaign
contributions. Despite losing the popular vote, and the
strong concerns expressed by the American public for the
environment in poll after poll, Bush decided to do things
his way. He immediately rescinded or put on hold a number
of environment-friendly regulations, including ones regarding
arsenic exposure and the protection of wilderness areas.
He also unabashedly broke his campaign promise to restrict
U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
Soon after being sworn into office, Bush informed the world
that he would no longer have this country participate in
the international effort to reduce the impact of human activities
on the planet’s climate, as embodied in the Kyoto Protocol.
Thumbing his nose at the efforts of 180 countries working
in unison to reduce global warming, Bush told them that
this country would go its own way. Considering that the
United States is the world’s No. 1 greenhouse-gas emitter,
refusing to participate in this gathering of the global
community reflects dangerous levels of both ignorance and
Instead of agreeing to targets for reducing this country’s
release of greenhouse gasses, Bush has expressed his preference
for “voluntary” compliance—which means “do nothing.” Instead
of providing leadership on this critical global issue, Bush
has championed the interests of his corporate sponsors who
don’t want any regulatory burden that might cut into profit
administration does not just refuse to use its authority
to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, it actively
promotes an energy policy that will increase such emissions.
Bush’s energy strategy is production oriented. It focuses
on pumping more oil, building an additional 1,300 electric
plants fueled with fossil or nuclear fuels, constructing
more refineries, laying more pipeline, erecting more transmission
lines and shaking further subsidies for the energy industry
from taxpayer pockets. During his first year in office,
Bush set a record by issuing more than 3,800 oil and gas
permits. Instead of building a strategy based on efficiency,
conservation and the development of renewable-energy resources,
he’d rather maintain this country’s petrochemical addiction
and keep looking for quick fixes.
Major campaign contributors from the energy industry, including
Enron, Exxon/Mobil and the Chevron Corp., advised Vice President
Dick Cheney (who made millions himself in the oil industry)
in the formulation of Bush’s energy plan. Bush has gone
to extraordinary lengths to prevent the American public
from finding out what transpired at these meetings. The
Natural Resources Defense Fund had to get an order from
a federal district court judge to force the release of information.
The papers surrendered were heavily censored and some requested
documents still have not been turned over. It seems that
Bush is not only willing to sacrifice the environment, but
also the foundation of a democratic society: the right of
the people to know what their government is doing.
A centerpiece of the Bush energy plan is drilling for oil
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This proposal epitomizes
Bush’s distorted view of the environment. ANWR is often
referred to as the “American Serengeti” because of its amazing
environment, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls
“among the most complete, pristine and undisturbed ecosystems
on earth.” It is a land of massive migrations of caribou
and the homeland of the Gwich’in (“People of the Caribou”)
Nation, a Native American people whose lives are intertwined
with those of the caribou. The U.S. Geologic Survey has
estimated that the refuge holds about six months worth of
oil, at U.S. consumption rates. It could be 10 years before
oil drilled in the refuge would show up at local gas pumps.
Bush’s fixation with petrochemicals is so myopic that he
fails to see the vast pool of oil in Detroit that would
be much easier to exploit. Increased efficiency in the U.S.
auto and truck fleet could result in far more energy than
sinking wells in ANWR or other wilderness areas. “Drilling”
in Detroit could also significantly reduce U.S. emissions
of greenhouse gases. Increasing fuel efficiency standards
to 40 miles a gallon would lead to reductions in U.S. oil
consumption by 2.5 million gallons a day, according to The
New York Times. The Union of Concerned Scientists has
calculated that such an increase in efficiency would also
reduce greenhouse gas releases by 273 million tons a year.
Recently the U.S. Senate, with the active support of the
Bush administration, voted not to increase fuel-efficiency
Through his authorization of the opening of the Yucca Mountain
nuclear-waste repository in Nevada, Bush has made clear
his intent to revive nuclear power in this country. If Bush
gets his way, nearby interstates and rail lines will become
transportation routes for some of the most toxic substances
known to our species. Bush’s push for nuclear energy is
particularly ironic, considering his administration’s expressed
concerns that such facilities are vulnerable terrorist targets.
But why provide more targets when you can extract more energy
from efficiency measures and conservation?
Seven months after putting arsenic regulations on hold,
Bush changed his mind and adopted the standards developed
under the Clinton administration. During that hold time,
the National Academy of Sciences reported that the new 10-parts-per-billion
standard would still result in 30 times the cancer-death
rate the EPA considers acceptable. In order to get cancer
deaths down to the EPA’s acceptable level, the standard
would have to be further reduced to three parts per billion.
Bush jumped at the higher standard while he had the chance.
Recently Bush unveiled his “Clear Skies” air-pollution initiative.
This program would allow old, polluting power plants to
continue operation without installing needed pollution-control
equipment through an exchange system of pollution credits.
The air in the Northeast would be subjected to growing amounts
of pollution under Bush’s plan. Again, it’s clear whose
interests are being served. These interests may also explain
Bush’s opposition to Superfund legislation that would reinstate
an expired requirement that corporations pay for the cleanup
of the toxic trails they leave behind.
On Earth Day, we can expect Bush to be expounding on his
“Earth-loving” environmental record. Hopefully, few people
will be fooled by these theatrics. And, who knows, maybe
by the next election a new phrase will rise from the public’s
lips—“It’s the environment, stupid.”
Peace Movement Sketch
burgeoning social and political movement springs up in Columbia
to the executive office of the Hudson Peace Coalition,”
Christina Malisoff laughs.
is the executive desk that I work from,” she says, as she
points to a four-burner stove in her third-floor apartment
on Warren Street in Hudson.
Malisoff, along with Joanne Lepore, started the coalition
back in November after the United States stepped up its
bombing in Afghanistan.
was one very angry person and didn’t know what to do,” says
Malisoff. “So I put a sign in my car that read ‘U.S. out
of Afghanistan.’ But I felt so helpless.”
At a peace forum in Saugerties, Malisoff got the idea to
organize a peace walk in Hudson. Nearly 60 people turned
out to march over the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. It was from
that event that Malisoff hooked up with Lepore to form the
Hudson Peace Coalition
realized that one person really can make a difference,”
Obviously, the coalition is a small grassroots organization;
in fact, at this time it’s just two people strong. But it
appears to be part of a brewing social-justice movement
in the unlikely city of Hudson.
This past year alone, a number of groups have sprouted up
to voice dissent with United States politics, as well as
local issues in the city of Hudson and Columbia County.
is unusual because Columbia County is an extremely conservative,
Republican-controlled county; but at the same time, this
could be why this is happening,” says Linda Mussmann, co-founder
of Time & Space Limited, a performance and art space
that occupies an old factory on Columbia Street in Hudson.
Mussmann has been a key player in a number of activist movements
in the city, and she ran for mayor last year.
Mussmann says that Columbia County is riddled with issues
such as drugs, poverty and gentrification, and the city
of Hudson has had to work hard to maintain a thriving downtown
as large big-box retail stores close in on each side.
there is a history of political confusion and corruption
here,” says Mussmann. “The frustration of people watching
the government turn on them has forced people to take matters
into their own hands.”
Organizations such as the Center for Progressive Communities,
Society of Friends, the Human Concerns Group, Columbia County
Greens and Time & Space Limited are collaborating to
change the political landscape in Columbia County. These
groups, in combination with the tireless work of Friends
of Hudson, a local organization that has been fighting to
stop St. Lawrence Cement from constructing a $300 million
cement-manufacturing facility in Greenport, are proving
that the region’s social justice movement is alive and kicking
and using Hudson as its home base.
are representing a new way of organizing,” says Malisoff,
“where a number of small organizations are coming together
to support each other and to do our part to change the world.
We want action versus big organizations.”
Every Saturday since Sept. 11, a number of people have gathered
in the 7th Street Park in downtown Hudson for a peace vigil
from 2 to 3:30 PM. On any given week, says Martin Baumgold,
spokesman for the Columbia County Green Party, anywhere
from five to 65 people will show up. The group often carries
signs expressing political messages. Those messages change
depending on what may be happening in the world at any given
time. For example, at first, the message was to protest
the war in Afghanistan, but later the group expressed outrage
at the Enron scandal. Then came the possibility of the United
States invading Iraq. Most recently, concerns about Palestine
and Israel are being discussed.
are not just one group, like the Columbia County Greens,
holding this vigil,” says Baumgold, “But rather, it’s people
coming from all different groups sharing their message.”
Baumgold says that at first, people used to walk by and
heckle the group, but now many people stop and ask questions
about why they are there.
think in this way we are really spreading a message to the
public,” says Baumgold.
While some organizations attend vigils and organize peace
rallies and forums, others, like Time & Space Limited,
show support for the movement in other ways.
does their own thing to express their concerns,” says Mussmann.
“We express our political position through the exhibits
and shows that appear at TSL. Art is our medium.”
Just last weekend, the political Bread and Puppet Theatre
performed at TSL. The show debuted in 1967 to protest the
Vietnam War. Last weekend’s performance was to express dissent
against the war in Afghanistan.
first time Bread and Puppet came to town, I was not sure
who would turn out for the event,” says Mussmann. “I was
shocked when 200 people walked through the door.”
While Mussmann partly attributes the high turnout for the
event to the fact that Columbia County is a rural area with
not much to do, she says that more people are showing up
for progressive events that promote peace as an alternative
Daniel Goodwin, cofounder of the Center for Progressive
Communities, located on Warren Street, is enthusiastic about
the changes that have been happening in Columbia County
feels like this movement is growing by the day, it’s surprising,”
says Goodwin. “For a long time it felt like you were banging
your head against the wall, trying to get anyone to listen,
and now people are actually organizing.”
Goodwin says that one of his biggest gripes is that the
media rarely question the status quo. “People are given
the typical side of the story, and not everyone has Internet
access to explore other information,” he says. “We get fed
patriotism, and people don’t question it.”
Mussmann and Malisoff agree and say that often, the local
media take the perspective opposite to what the people are
local papers are a joke,” says Mussmann. “They support anything
that is not us.”
As a result, CPC will be opening an independent media center
on May 4 at 454 Warren St., where anybody can come in to
conduct research or obtain information. The center will
have four computers on which people can find thousands of
independent media sources; it will also have work from local
journalists who are taking alternative perspectives to events
that are happening in the community.
someone has a need for information that pertains to social,
cultural or political information, we can help them find
that,” says Goodwin. “This can either be information specific
to our area or global issues.”
Goodwin says that CPC takes more of a direct community-action
approach to creating change in the area. For example, the
center organizes groups of people to work on neighborhood-revitalization
projects, including painting houses. This summer they will
start a program called “Free Truck Drive,” where a truck
will drive around Hudson handing out free clothing, toys
and books to those in need.
are trying to create a reality, not a theory,” says Goodwin.
“Rather then filling people’s heads with some type of political
dogma, we go out in the communities and help plan and create
projects that better people’s lives.”
For Malisoff, the events of the past year are just the tip
of the iceberg. She is striving to create a whole community
based on living in peace. In fact, next Saturday (April
27), the Hudson Peace Coalition will hold its second social
forum. The focus is to discuss what a peaceful society would
look like and to debate whether or not it is possible, in
light of current events.
are not creating a left-alternative view,” says Malisoff.
“We are creating a whole culture that responds to people’s
needs and answers to the machine.”
Karner Blue butterfly’s specialized traits make its species’
struggle for survival in a changing landscape a difficult
friendly critter is roughly the size of a quarter, and tales
are spun of how the butterfly we know familiarly as the
Karner Blue would cozy up to humans, landing on a hand or
a shoulder for a spell. But the days of a gracious visit
from the notorious insect are numbered, many fear. As their
populations dwindle, the butterfly is teetering dangerously
close to extinction.
numbers have declined in New York state, and throughout
their range, by well over 90 percent in just over the last
20 or 30 years,” says Neil Gifford, preserve ecologist for
the Albany Pine Bush Commission. According to Gifford, the
butterfly’s problems stem from a long-term, chronic problem
of habitat destruction, which would hurt any species, but
the Karner Blue is especially vulnerable since it is very
specialized. They feed only on wild blue lupine, a member
of the pea family found solely in certain, generally sandy,
areas, such as the pitch-pine, scrub-oak barrens of Albany’s
Pine Bush Preserve—itself a globally rare occurrence. Barrens
of this sort are found in varying sizes throughout the state,
but it’s a habitat that faces massive disturbances due to
sprawl. The sandy soil is desirable for development, and
many large luxury homes and businesses, such as the mammoth
Crossgates Mall, share the at-risk ecosystem.
In addition, the habitat will not survive as it is without
being burned. Fire is necessary to rid the land of invasive
plants, such as aspen and other hardwoods that shade out
the native scrub oak and pitch pine. And where there’s fire
there’s smoke, which is a nuisance to those living and working
near the preserve, not to mention the potential danger of
a spreading fire. So prescribed controlled burns are few
and natural fires are quickly put out, and the Karner Blue
habitat suffers as a result.
The Karner Blue has many friends, from citizen-action groups
such as Save the Pine Bush to the commission in charge of
protecting the Pine Bush Preserve, the Pine Bush Commission,
which was formed in 1988 by the state Legislature. Made
up of interested private and public parties, the commission
is a partnership of the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and
Historic Preservation, the Nature Conservancy, the city
of Albany, the town of Colonie, the town of Guilderland,
Albany County and four citizens appointed by the governor.
Serving as a board of directors, the commission oversees
the preserve’s staff, acquires new lands and manages the
interests of all involved—not an easy task. “They’re trying
to balance open-space protection and recreational opportunities
for their citizens,” Gifford says of the commission’s efforts,
“At the same time, they need economic development to support
their local economies.”
The Pine Bush Preserve was created to protect the rare ecosystem,
home to rare species including the Karner Blue, while providing
recreational and educational opportunities for the public.
“We are trying to balance a number of user groups in the
preserve,” says Gifford, “Which isn’t easy.” Mountain bikers,
horseback riders, hikers, hunters and researchers all share
the space with the many plants and animals, endangered,
threatened and otherwise.
Aiding in the attempt to keep the Pine Bush stable is Save
the Pine Bush, active since 1978. The group fought against
Crossgates Mall and its later expansion, and it has recently
battled with SEFCU and a proposed expansion for a senior
housing development behind the already existing Teresian
House that abuts the preserve.
Located between two colonies of Karner Blue, the Avila House—as
the proposed senior housing development is called—may block
a potential migration route for the butterfly. “We sued
in Supreme Court, and we lost,” says Lynne Jackson of Save
the Pine Bush.
really the only undeveloped track left between the Crossgates
Hill population of butterflies and the nearest adjacent
preserve land—where there are populations of lupine but
no butterflies currently,” says Gifford of the disputed
land. The Crossgates Hill butterflies, he says, suffered
a tough winter in 1998, so numbers of butterflies dropped.
“It’s even more important, more critical, now to be able
to connect that site with preserve land.”
been monitoring the butterfly since 1991,” says Gifford,
“at the same time, we’ve been figuring out how to restore
habitat, and it’s only over the last couple of years that
we’ve gotten a good grasp on how to restore habitat. . .
. Now we know how, but the whole idea of how wide or narrow
a connecting corridor of habitat between two sites needs,
only time will tell.”
The preserve is not the only home to the Karner Blue. “Its
range used to go from Maine to Wisconsin,” says Stephanie
Gifford, director of ecological management for the Nature
Conservancy’s Eastern Chapter. “It only occurs in a few
of those states now.” There are many pockets of Karner Blue
populations in New York state. “We basically have identified
the four occupied sites in New York,” she says, among them
the preserve, the Saratoga Sand Plains, and the Saratoga
Airport, which is home to the largest Karner Blue population
in the state.
mowed regularly by the airport,” she says. “Its habitat
is maintained in its open nature, whereas many of the other
sites haven’t been managed until recently, so they’re largely
overgrown with shrubs and trees and whatnot.” She says that
in the Midwest a number of Karner Blue populations occur
on property owned by timber companies, and because they
log the property, lupine springs up, “and Karner Blues come
in,” she says.
At the Pine Bush it’s not so easy. “I think we pretty much
need some pretty aggressive disturbance,” Stephanie Gifford
notes of the management needed to bring the butterfly’s
population to a secure level.
a federal draft for strategy for Karner Blue recovery as
well as a state plan,” says Neil Gifford, “as well as individual
plans for each recovery unit in the state and the Pine Bush.
a certain protected land base that we need,” he continues.
“But once the land is protected, like in the Pine Bush and
in Wilton, what do you do then? The basic strategy is first
to maintain and expand existing occupied habitat. Link those
sites together by restoring habitat between those sites,
and create new sites beyond those to get the Karner Blue
population base up to a level that’s considered stable.”
But he is hopeful because of recent Karner Blue population
increases in the managed areas. “It’s the first real sign
of hope and application of a lot of years of theory now
being applied,” he says. “Seeing it being fruitful is great.
The big question is: Is there time now, given how low the
populations are, to recover the butterfly? Nobody knows
the answer to that question.”