It’s Trump – what now for climate action?

What are the implications for international action on climate change of the election of Donald Trump?

There’s shock all round in the environmental movement as the news sinks in that the next President of the United States is a climate sceptic who has threatened to derail the Paris Climate Agreement and has suggested that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy.

CAT Chief Executive Adrian Ramsay says:

The election of a climate change sceptic as leader of one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases is very bad news for the environment – there’s no sugar coating that.

“Coming just days after the Paris Agreement came into force, and at a time when negotiators at the UN climate talks in Marrakech are being urged to be more ambitious, Trump’s election risks slowing global momentum on climate change. However, the Paris Agreement is bound in law and – despite the rhetoric that we’ve seen over the past months and years – Trump cannot simply repeal it over night.

“Time will tell what the true impacts of this election will be, but we cannot afford to wait and see which way Trump will jump. At Marrakech we can push for greater ambition, and as citizens of the Earth we can continue to campaign for the changes we know need to happen if we are to keep global temperature rise to within ‘safe’ limits.”

Later today our man in Marrakech, Paul Allen, will give us a view from inside the COP22 UN climate change talks, where he says the American Pavilion has gone eerily quiet…

“Facilitative dialogues” – Paul Allen at the UN climate talks

Marrakech is turning out to be a different kind of meeting from Paris, but that does not make it less important, in fact quite the opposite.  If Paris was about creating the framework, Marrakech is about deciding the rules so that goals are achieved.

paulearthThe most common phrase of the day in almost every session I have attended is “increasing ambition”. This can be done by turning up the guilt or it can be done by increasing inspiration – showing both that zero is achievable and that there are additional benefits in doing it. Of course, the key advantage of the latter approach is that it is less divisive and works better to unite communities across the globe.

So many people want to accelerate the transition to the zero carbon economy. People around the world are taking action to install solar and wind solutions, block coal and oil infrastructure and protect forests. People want a different future and are creating it. This determination has grown stronger and louder since Paris.

Marrakech must ensure that this increase in ambition results in plans that match the global goals. So this is why so many need to talk about increasing ambition, as the 1.5C goal really can’t wait. However, just like Paris, Marrakech is driven by incredibly complex negotiating processes. And, thankfully, just like Paris, it has attracted an amazingly bright and highly motivated collaborative global tribe inside and outside of the official process. Working amongst them constantly inspires me, as they get to grips with it all and work out how best to influence the process, flagging up the key issues and phrases.

Perhaps the most important phrase to get to grips with at this point is “Facilitative dialogue”. Due to begin in 2018, this cop22-monday-7thdescribes the official COP process of ratcheting up ambition. It is a chance for countries to take stock of how close they are to achieving the key long-term goals of peaking emissions and achieving net zero emissions early in the second half of the century.

“Facilitative dialogues” are designed to inform the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the pledges that each country makes to show their contribution to tackling climate change. Once countries have a clearer idea of the direction of travel, they will have the motivation to either update or communicate their new NDC by 2020.

It is an incredible feeling to join these astounding people in this process, everyone I have spoken to about our Zero Carbon Britain work sees a clear role for more positive scenarios in increasing ambition for NDCs. This will be the core topic of the first session run by the American Pavilion facilitated by the World Resources Institute – I will be there to see how it goes, and to offer America a hug!

Once again climate has become the focus of global diplomacy

Up-beat delegates and observers from across the globe are now arriving in a surprisingly wet Marrakech for the 2016 UN Conference of the Parties (COP22) – Paul Allen reports.

cop22-monday-7thIn many ways, COP22 will be under a lot less pressure than its Parisian forerunner. It will not be a high-profile event, which allows space for higher quality, more detailed conversations. Coming into global force last Friday, the Paris Agreement established both the commitment and the framework for dealing with climate, but although many here are happy with the “well below 2C” goal, the means to actually deliver it require a lot more complex research and negotiations. So COP22 is really aiming at fleshing out the detail. Some key questions being explored include:

How should we track progress?

How can countries increase ambition?

How can poor nations be supported?

How does all this link to adaptation?

And not least…

Who will be the next US president – and how will that affect progress?

So perhaps the most important over-arching task for everyone participating at Marrakech is sorting out the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from COP21.  These form the basis of the Paris Agreement; they are the pledges that each country laid out at last year’s negotiations, showing their contribution to tackling climate.

The first and foremost challenge is that, cumulatively, the current pledges fall well short of achieving COP21’s “well below 2C” temperature goal, and many are waiting to see if this will be an open public discourse or an elephant in the room.  But, in addition, the NDCs are very diverse in format, as countries have been working to very different baselines – which makes it hard to quantify their cumulative impact. So at COP22, delegates will begin demystifying this process by creating a more uniform framework for future NDCs.

The ‘global stocktake’ is one of the key elements of the COP process, designed to deal with the recognition that current NDCs will not meet the “well below 2C” temperature goals. Stocktakes regularly assess collective progress towards meeting the goals, and are part of the ratchet mechanism that is designed to raise nations’ ambitions.  Worryingly, the first one does not take place until 2023 although there will be a test run, called the “facilitative dialogue”, in 2018 – we need to make sure this sets a good pace.

I feel confident we will see progress during COP22. Zero Carbon Britain has been invited to the COP to present robust scenarios showing that we can get to zero carbon, to support those working to raise ambition. Despite the rain, the atmosphere feels very positive this afternoon as I sit observing the first meeting of the technology framework negotiations. If the speed with which the Paris Agreement was ratified is anything to go by, there is commitment. This early ratification means that once-distant deadlines have been brought forward to drive forward action during these coming 10 days.

CAT at UN COP22 in Marrakech

During November Paul Allen will be presenting CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research at COP22, to help increase ambition after Paris. Here, he gives us a brief overview of the process and how CAT will contribute.

SG delivers remarks at the closing ceremony of COP21Today the Paris Agreement becomes legally binding, having reached required number of signatories on 5 October. Having followed the UN climate process for many years, I know how slow this can be, but the speed with which the various countries ratified the Paris Agreement demonstrates a new commitment from many nations to deliver solutions necessary for dealing with climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, nations have agreed to combat climate change, by acting and investing in a resilient and sustainable future that will keep a global average temperature rise below 2 degrees C, with the accepted international aim of working to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

The ratification of this Paris Agreement just days before the start of the UN COP22 Climate Change Conference in Marrakech sends a strong signal that no time will be wasted. Following on from Paris, COP22 aims to agree on the collective steps that need to be taken to combat the global challenges of climate change and foster sustainable development. There is recognition that many nations need to increase the ambition of the ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs) they have each offered, whilst also focusing on implementation.

Since the early days of the climate change convention process, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been actively involved, attending sessions and exchanging views with participants and delegates. I have previously been involved in delivering presentations for CAT at previous COP meetings in Poznan, Copenhagen and, of course, Paris last December.

marrakechThe COP22 site will consist of a ‘Blue Zone’, which will only be available to those with formal accreditation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  A second ‘Green Zone’ space will be created for civil society. In parallel to the formal COP22 negotiations, a wide range of ‘side events’ will be scheduled in both zones. These aim to deepen the thinking, strengthen the debate, present best practices, and develop partnerships and advocacy, as well as formulate proposals, share knowledge or practice, and consolidate or launch initiatives which act on climate.

There is clear recognition that this connection allows vital expertise, experience, information and perspectives from civil society to be brought into the COP process, to generate new insights and approaches. But even more than this, the access and participation of observers promotes transparency in this complex global process, and helps generate wider engagement and creation of social licence. These interactions are delivered in an atmosphere of mutual trust that acknowledges respect for others’ opinions, and takes into account the nature of intergovernmental processes.

At COP22 in Marrakech, I have, so far, been invited to present findings from CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research in the following side-events:

In the official Blue Zone I will be presenting at ‘Improving NDCs: Ecovillage development, energy access and zero carbon societies in Africa, Asia & EU’. How can local solutions lead to ambitious NDCs, provide energy access and improve livelihoods? Many ecovillages and local communities are net zero carbon, energy self-sufficient and offer extraordinary opportunities to scale up local renewables, climate friendly agriculture and eco-system restoration.

In the wider Green Zone I will be presenting at ‘Transition to innovative and clean technology demands a new mindset’. We wish to emphasise that sustainable solutions in technology are based on an ethical and value-based approach. It becomes evident that a paradigm shift is required to move towards a truly green planet.

Paul photoBut as well as these official presentations, simply being present at COP22 allows me to visit a wide range of international pavilions, NGO stalls and events to share our work with representatives and members of the UN, official delegations, non-state actors, NGOs, private companies, trade unions, the scientific community, farmers, indigenous people, state organisations and institutions and local authorities. I will keep you posted how I get on.

Paul Allen is CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain Project Coordinator

Ask an expert: eco refurbishments

Want to refurbish your home in a sustainable way? With over 25 years’ experience, including as tutor on CAT’s Eco Refurbishment course, Nick Parsons has some great advice – here are his top tips.

1. Make it air-tight.

Stop unintentional ventilation (this involves designating an air-tightness layer – and sticking to it!) and design in sufficient intentional ventilation. For a whole-house retrofit this will almost certainly be whole-house mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), but for incremental retrofits, or those with less stringent air-tightness targets, passive ventilation may suffice.

2. Insulate, insulate, insulate!

Don’t automatically believe that Building Regulations standards of insulation are enough. They aren’t bad, but in many cases we should be aiming for far better. If you have the space – and the money – Passive House levels of insulation (U values of 0.15W/m2K or less) and air-tightness (less than one air change per hour for the refurbishment EnerPHit standard) can dramatically reduce your heating requirements and massively improve comfort.

External insulation of solid walls will make your house look a bit different. Ducks are optional.
External insulation of solid walls will make your house look a bit different. Ducks are optional.

3. Insulate externally! (Unless you can’t…)

External insulation of solid walls, if detailed properly, puts the entire building fabric inside a warm ‘tea-cosy’. But it does make your house look different.

4. Risk-manage your insulation

If you have to insulate your solid walls – or sometimes even add insulation to your cavity walls – internally, excellent detailing is critical. Insulating walls internally makes the room warmer but makes the walls themselves colder and more at risk of interstitial condensation – condensation within the new thickness of the wall, behind the insulation. This can rot joist ends and other embedded timbers, and maybe grow mould. Cold walls may also suffer from deterioration of the masonry due to frost damage.

If you insulate internally, make the whole process a documented risk management exercise – identify the risks, identify control measures and document how you will implement them. In certain circumstances, consider embedding sensors and monitoring equipment in hidden timbers so that you can know if moisture levels become critical. The expense may be off-putting, but it will be a great deal less than the remedial works if you have inadvertently shortened the life of your house by doing what you thought was the ‘right thing’.

In general the use of ‘breathable’ (water-vapour-permeable) insulants such as wood-fibre or cork may reduce risks, but very careful detailing is still required.

Greater risks exist with non-breathable insulants, but if they are installed with extreme care, the risks may be capable of being ‘managed’ and minimised. If you are installing them yourself, take advice from someone with a lot of experience. If someone else is installing them for you, are they experienced with such boards? Do they fully understand interstitial condensation and vapour control layers (VCLs)? Have they read the manufacturer’s installation instructions?

5. …and consider its environmental impact

Materials such as plastic insulation – made from crude oil – are high in embodied energy (the energy, including transport, used to get the product from raw material to the merchant’s shelf), but look at the units used. If the measure is weight, a heavy bit of ‘green’ insulation may be higher in embodied energy than a much lighter piece of ‘non-green’ insulation.

You may in any case wish to avoid wherever possible materials made from petrochemicals.

But ‘environment’ may mean more than ‘the world in general’. What about your immediate living environment? You may feel better in a room lined with vapour-permeable, moisture-buffering wood-fibre than in a room lined with petrochemical-based insulation.

6. Minimise thermal bridging

dscf3495You may believe – perhaps because your builder or consultant told you – that having low (good) U values guarantees good performance but thermal performance may be let down by weak-points in the insulation layer. Typically this would be where partition or party walls interrupt the insulation layer, where walls turn into windows or doors, or where internal insulation has to be thinner to accommodate fixtures or fittings. In practice, your U value may not be as low as you believed it to be.

The picture on the left shows: on the left, a wall prepared for insulation to ‘return’ on to internal wall to cloak the thermal bridge; in the middle, Pavadentro wood-fibre board prior to plastering; and on the right an existing brick wall with a lime ‘parge coat’ (air-tightness layer) to reduce air-leakage through voids in the brick wall.

 

7. Minimise thermal by-pass

Thermal by-pass, or ‘wind-wash’, occurs when cold air is allowed to get to the ‘warm side’ of the insulation. This can best be explained in two scenarios:

The first is a loft-conversion. The eaves areas are cold voids. The stud walls to the room (which are built off the floorboards) have been insulated to a good standard but there is only 100mm of insulation between the 150mm floor joists.

The ventilation air which enters at the eaves vents (a good ‘howling gale’ to keep all the timbers healthy) can blow directly under the floor of the heated bedroom, providing instant cooling!
Small pieces of plywood or similar board, sealed at all perimeters, placed between the joists at the edge of the floor on both sides of the bedroom will cure the problem. ‘Plugs’ of quilt insulation placed in the gaps will not do such a good job (as quilt insulation is generally air-permeable), but will be better than nothing. Once these gaps have been sealed, the insulation should in any case be increased to approximately 300mm.

The second scenario involves insulation to the sloping ceilings above an attic bedroom, carried out, as the law requires, by roofing contractors when re-roofing the house.

The house was sold and the new owner decided to remove all the attic ceilings. All but about six of the sheets of insulation fell out from between the rafters. What this tells us is that, while the insulation was in place, the cold air in the ventilation gap between the insulation and the slates was able to migrate to the warm side of the insulation, rendering the insulation almost useless.

8. Plan to do it all!

Many insulation plans are carried out incrementally, perhaps as other work is required, or when a room needs comprehensive re-decoration or (externally) when the cost of re-pointing an elevation can be avoided and put towards the cost of externally insulating that elevation.

When planning your works, ideally plan to do the whole house, even if you know it is going to take you 10 years to achieve it. I’m 29 years in and starting to re-do the internal insulation using better materials and methods than were available in 1987! Plan how your individual works are going to ‘knit together’ so as to limit thermal bridges, where condensation and mould may otherwise occur.

Above all, you don’t want your works – undertaken with the best of intentions – ultimately to shorten the life of your house.

image1About the author
Nick Parsons has worked in energy-efficient and sustainable building and renewable energy for over 25 years. He provides consultancy and project management services to individuals, small businesses and community organisations and is a regular tutor at CAT and elsewhere. See www.sustainablebuilding.org.uk for details.

CAT courses
The next eco-refurbishment course with Nick takes place from 4th to 7th November. For more information and to book, please visit http://courses.cat.org.uk/ or call us on 01654 704966.

A Wonderful Day in the Woods!

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Ailsa Mair Hughes playing the cello on the Quarry Trail

Winding up through the trees along CAT’s brand new Quarry Trail on this special Monday in autumn you would have heard the purest notes of a harp being played. Wandering up further to the reservoir a solo cellist could be heard, the sound drifting across Llwyngwern Quarry where it would eventually intertwine with the atmospheric voices of Welsh folk song projected into the Snowdonia National Park.

Two years ago the idea of opening up never-before-seen areas of CAT woodland was born. The three trails – all equally uneven, steep in places and absolutely spectacular – wind up through broadleaf woodland and skim the steep slope and beautiful views of the Old Quarry.

From here the two longer trails take you to a moorland heath area and tranquil reservoir before trailing through a canopy of trees to reach a panoramic view of the Snowdonia National Park. With CAT in sight below, you make your way down through managed dormouse woodland, a wildflower meadow and willow and hazel coppice until you’re back in CAT once again.

 

On this special opening day, as you explored the trails, you would have discovered musicians, singers and a storyteller who brought the trails to life, while experts in wildlife and history of the quarry helped visitors to gain a better understanding of their surroundings. A micro-landscapes tour provided a glimpse into the tiny world of mosses and lichens, a local ornithologist was on hand with tips and tricks for recognising bird song and an expert from Corris Mine Explorers talked through the geology and history of the Old Quarry.

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Adrian and Rob cutting the Quarry Trail ribbon

The day began with a packed out celebration and ribbon cutting on the platform over-looking the Old Quarry. CAT’s CEO Adrian Ramsay said:

“The new trail will bring people closer to nature and local heritage, illustrating the impact that humans have had on biodiversity, and helping visitors understand how we create landscapes that actively benefit nature. I’m really looking forward to seeing people exploring and enjoying the trails.”

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A walk in the woods

Special thanks must go to Natural Resources Wales who supported the project, CAT’s woodland team Rob, Joe, Eleri, Alison and volunteers Dan, Sion, Max, Jade and Hamish who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to build the trails. Thank you also to all of the enthusiastic and talented people that brought the trails to life during the opening day and all the visitors who filled the trails with fun.

All three trails are now open to CAT visitors but don’t forget to wear practical shoes and keep children close as the trails have steep, uneven sections and are absolutely breath-taking.

Quarry Trail Launch Party!

quarrytrail-copyJoin us on Monday 24th October as we celebrate the opening of CAT’s new Quarry Trail with a day out in nature for all the family.

Built with support from Natural Resources Wales, the trail explores the wildlife and biodiversity of the old slate quarry on which CAT is built, and looks at the history of changing land-use and industry in the area. Winding up through broadleaf woodland, three different trails of varying lengths allow access to never-before-seen areas of the CAT woodlands and gardens whilst offering spectacular views into the Snowdonia National Park.

The launch event will see the trail brought to life by musicians, singers and storytellers, whilst experts in the wildlife and history of the quarry will help visitors to get a better understanding of their surroundings.

Micro-landscape tours provide a glimpse into the tiny world of mosses anqtl-progd lichens, a local ornithologist will be on hand with tips and tricks for recognising bird song, and an expert from Corris Mine Explorers will talk through the geology and history of the old quarry. There’s also the chance to get involved in surveying a new wildflower meadow and to get to grips with green woodworking skills.

The Quarry Trail opens on Monday 24th October, with activities from 10am and an opening ceremony at 11.30am. CAT’s family activities continue throughout half-term week.

Download the programme and map of the day.

 

CAT supporters ‘Make it Happen’ at the CAT conference

Last weekend saw the return of CAT’s annual members’ conference – three days filled with ideas, inspiration and connection. Fundraising Officer Tanya Hawkes reports.

CAT was alive with people and ideas at the weekend. Over 100 CAT members, supporters, staff, lecturers and students arrived for the ‘Making it Happen’ conference. How to ‘Make it Happen’ is the new phase of CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research, and this provided the focus for the conference.

We celebrated the opening of CAT’s new biomass boiler, wrote a collective letter to Theresa May, explored environmental politics with expert speakers from around the UK and danced the night away to a ceilidh band with local organic cider and fresh food from CAT’s gardens.

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A collective letter urged Theresa May to act now to get the UK to zero carbon

This was the first CAT conference I’ve helped to organise and the positive energy and transformational discussions were exhilarating. By far the most interesting part of the weekend was presentations by CAT members and students. Val Walsh gave a passionate speech about the tremendous political changes in the UK in the last two years. Ian Care inspired us to find our inner geek. Lucy Care led a group who collectively penned a letter to Theresa May, signed by all the conference attendees. We heard about so many new projects that people are starting – waste reduction at festivals, new food waste schemes, and plans for community energy programmes.

What is so inspiring about the work of CAT supporters is the strength of the peer to peer learning and sharing of ideas and expertise. It feels like this is the epitome of what CAT stands for: strengthening the environmental work of ordinary people, and inspiring confidence in each other to make real world changes, whilst firmly situating ourselves realistically within current political and economic frameworks.

Our expert speakers came along to share and explore idea with delegates. Engineer Adam Tyler led a biomass heat tour around CAT. Helen Atkins, researcher on the latest phase of Zero Carbon Britain, led a session how to re-centre the voices of marginalised people in the environmental movement. Alex Randall, from Climate Outreach, delivered a workshop on the unhelpful ‘framing’ of refugees in relation to climate change in the media. You can download his podcast here.

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Exploring the gardens with CAT growers Roger (far left) and Petra (right)

Rachel Solnick, a food waste expert and co-founder of ‘This is Rubbish’ shared her plans and expertise with us. CAT lecturers, trustees and staff led workshops in biodiversity, building methods and gardening techniques. Chris Blake, Deirdre Raffan and Dr Jane Fisher explored new innovations in community energy and educational tools for children and adults. Professor Tim Valentine unpacked the psychology of climate change action. Petra Weinmann and Roger McLennan, CAT’s growing experts, ran practical gardening sessions. Craig Shankster and Paul Allen led a session on deep well-being including an opportunity chance to ‘bathe’ in the sounds of gongs to develop deep relaxation, which at the end of a non-stop weekend of information, discussion and practical sessions was most welcome!

There were so many amazing and useful sessions by CAT members, staff and visiting speakers – look out for details about them over the coming months, in blogs and articles. The centre seems very quiet now the buzz of conversation has dulled as the last guests left. We hope very much to see you all next year. Thank you for ‘Making it Happen’ with us.

In search of a life change…

Joe Wogden started his 6 months woodland volunteering at CAT in March 2015. In search of a change of life, he gave up a job in Yorkshire in favour of gaining practical experience in the environmental sector. He gained a degree in Ecology some years ago and wanted to reconnect with the natural world, and for Joe CAT’s long-term volunteer placement fit the bill. After completing his long-term volunteering, Joe was offered a job within CAT’s woodland team which has meant he has been working on the creation of the Quarry Trail since its beginning.

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Joe collecting seeds in collaboration with Kew Gardens

When Rob Goodsell, CAT’s woodland manager, told me early last summer that by October the following year there would be a new 1.5km circular woodland walk open to the public I found it hard to believe.“The new walk will take in a view of the quarry”, he said, “as well as going up to the reservoir and linking to the other side of site”. Hmmm…I thought, gazing down from the top of a steep and slippery slope, thick with out-of-control rhododendron and brambles. I knew straight away that we would have our work cut out for us.

My first week on the project involved my fellow ‘woodies’ and I cutting all the rhododendron on the bank, winching out the roots, dragging everything to the other side and getting a good bonfire going. It was exhausting work but the more we cleared, the easier it was to imagine a footpath in its place. Well, that seems like a long time ago now and since then it has really taken shape, thanks to the hard work of project coordinator Eleri and long-term woodland volunteer Dan, as well as the other short-term volunteers who have helped make it happen.

It’s not just the satisfaction of seeing the path develop over weeks and months that is so pleasing – it’s also the opportunities it has given me to learn new skills. Before I came to CAT my practical skills were very limited, but thanks to the footpath project I can make fences and build gabions with the best of them! We’re in the final stages now, installing the last section of handrail near the reservoir so that the route will be safe and ready to open in the last week of October.

Every time I’m on the new path it makes me think of how far it has come in a relatively short time, and with so few people. The woodland walk is a fantastic addition to all the great things CAT has to offer. I’m proud to have been a part of it and I hope that you get the chance to experience some of its history, biodiversity and the fantastic views!

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View of the old quarry from the new Quarry Trail

After the Quarry Trail has been opened to the public on the 24th of October Joe will be working with the current volunteers on the core woodland management activities that take place in the winter months: felling trees, thinning, vegetation clearance (bramble bashing!) and firewood processing.

He is not sure what 2017 will bring but having gained experience as both a volunteer and an employee at CAT he is keen to pursue a job in the environmental sector, something he would not have considered applying for before.

New biomass teaching facility unveiled

Last week saw the launch of CAT’s new renewable heating teaching facility. The system will provide heat and hot water for several of our buildings, including the WISE education  and conference centre, whilst also being used as an example system for training heating engineers and plumbers in biomass installation. Display signs will help visitors and school groups to understand the benefits, and potential drawbacks, of using biomass as a fuel.

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Image: Launch of biomass boiler. Credit: Ian Care

Speaking at the launch event on Friday 7th October, CAT CEO Adrian Ramsay said: “The installation uses established and proven technology and fits well with CAT’s mission of helping people deliver practical solutions that can address the challenge of climate change.”

The system works on both wood chip and wood pellet – the first time the manufacturers have created this kind of combined fuel system outside of a laboratory. We plan to source fuel from local suppliers wherever possible, with much of the wood chip coming from a supplier based less than 1 mile from the CAT site in Pantperthog.