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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“If you don’t live here, it’s none of your business”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2010

A closer look at Rand Paul’s campaign contributors

In The Fall and Rise of Rand Paul (Jonathan Miller, Details Magazine), Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul reveals appalling ignorance about the environmental calamity of mountaintop removal mining (MTR):

“I think they should name it something better,” he says. “The top ends up flatter, but we’re not talking about Mount Everest. We’re talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I’ve seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass.” Most people, he continues, “would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it.”

“Let’s let you decide what to do with your land,” he says. “Really, it’s a private-property issue.”

…something between indifference and diffidence about the role corporate wrongdoing played in the Big Branch mine disaster earlier this year:

“Is there a certain amount of accidents and unfortunate things that do happen, no matter what the regulations are?” Paul says at the Harlan Center, in response to a question about the Big Branch disaster. “The bottom line is I’m not an expert, so don’t give me the power in Washington to be making rules. You live here, and you have to work in the mines. You’d try to make good rules to protect your people here. If you don’t, I’m thinking that no one will apply for those jobs. I know that doesn’t sound…” Here he stumbles, trying to parse his words properly but only presaging his campaign misstep. “I want to be compassionate,” he concludes, “and I’m sorry for what happened, but I wonder: Was it just an accident?”

…and some astonishing ignorance about the state he hopes to represent as a Senator:

Rand Paul and I are trying to remember why Harlan, Kentucky might be famous. That’s where Paul is driving me, on a coiling back road through the low green mountains of the state’s southeastern corner, in his big black GMC Yukon festooned with RON PAUL 2008 and RAND PAUL 2010 stickers. Something about Harlan has lodged itself in my brain the way a shard of barbecue gets stuck in one’s teeth, and I’ve asked Paul for help. “I don’t know,” he says in an elusive accent that’s not quite southern and not quite not-southern. The town of Hazard is nearby, he notes: “It’s famous for, like, The Dukes of Hazzard.” (links added)

But it’s the way he summed up his libertarian purism for a meeting in Harlan, Kentucky that I’d like to focus on particularly.  Again, it was in reference to mountaintop removal; here’s how Nola Sizemore of the Harlan Daily Enterprise reported his remarks:

I think some of these people complaining about [mountaintop removal] need to come and take a look at it. I say, if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business. Ask the people who live here about it.

Paul said he can’t see why residents of Louisville and Lexington should have any say in what people do with their land in other areas. He said he hadn’t heard any complaints from people who live here. (emphasis added)

Maybe because the ones who are against MTR know it’s a waste of time showing up at your events, Mr. Paul.  At any rate, they’d be right to suspect he doesn’t think it’s any of their business either, once they got a look at where his campaign contributions are coming from.  As Greg Skilling of the Louisville Independent Examiner puts it,

“Rand Paul believes almost everything should be handled at the state and local level – everything except for campaign fundraising.  A quick look at Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports filed by Rand Paul’s campaign and it becomes immediately clear that Kentuckians are vastly outnumbered on the donor list by people who live outside the Bluegrass State. Like his father Ron, Rand Paul has used the Internet to successfully solicit out-of-state campaign contributions from individuals.

Skilling identifies out-of-state PAC contributions from Sarah Palin’s PAC, Duke Energy, and the like, but left his analysis at “vastly outnumbered.”  So I had a closer look at those FEC reports, and specifically at the breakout of individual vs. committee and in-state versus out-of-state contributions.  The resulting summary sheet can be seen here.*

The upshot: over 76% of all contributions to Rand Paul’s Senate campaign — nearly 75% of individual contributions and nearly 92% of political action committee contributions —  are from out of state.  Those donors don’t live in Kentucky either, but I guess Rand Paul figures it’s their business anyway who should be its next senator.  Or maybe he doesn’t, but takes their silver anyway:

Unamuno’s “San Manuel Bueno, Mártir” is, he says, “a great short story. It’s about a priest who doesn’t really believe in God but feels he needs to protect his parishioners from this disbelief, that it’s too much for them.” This calls to mind another favorite story of Paul’s, Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.” “Once again about a conflicted priest,” he says. Priests in a crisis of faith, I point out, appears to be a theme with him. Lightly, he says, “I went to a Baptist college. I had to have an outlet.”

There’s something especially galling about so-called libertarian candidates who — whodathunkit? — wind up consistently protecting the interests of big business in the guise of protecting local control or individual rights.

Do I have a problem with out of state contributions to a Senate candidate?  Of course not — I do it myself all the time.  But I don’t go around saying “if you don’t live here, it’s none of your business” either.  I know people in other states who have to work in unsafe mines or live downstream from MTR runoff need help from individuals like me, and from the federal government, if they’re to have a chance against well-financed corporations — and their glib spokesmen like Rand Paul.

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* I can send the full workbook to readers on request. In a nutshell, the FEC data must be copied in pieces and pasted to an Excel workbook as HTML. Functions of the form “=IF(MID($B21,1,2)=”KY”,$D20,0)” then isolate the two-letter state designation for individual contributions, and tally the contributor or his/her dollar contribution to a new column — “KY” (Kentucky) or “elsewhere”. Addresses were not provided in the initial committee tallies, but there were few enough that I could find the home state of each committee “by hand.”

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27 federal waivers for Gulf drilling *since* Deepwater Horizon disaster

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th May 2010

You would think that after an environmental catastrophe on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the federal agency in charge of reviewing plans for new wells would put everything on hold while it figured out what happened, how to better prevent it, and what to do if another “oil volcano” disaster occurred.

You would be wrong.

From a Friday, May 7 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity:

Even as the BP drilling explosion which killed eleven people continues to gush hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has continued to exempt dangerous new drilling operations from environmental review. Twenty-seven new offshore drilling projects have been approved since April 20, 2010; twenty-six under the same environmental review exemption used to approve the disastrous BP drilling that is fouling the Gulf and its wildlife.  […]

“Salazar is playing a cynical shell game, making the public think he stopped issuing the faulty approvals that allowed the disastrous BP drilling to occur, when in fact he has given MMS the green light to keep issuing those very same approvals,” said  [CBD executive director Kieran Suckling]. “The only thing Salazar has stopped is the final, technical check off which comes long after the environmental review. His media sleight of hand does nothing to fix the broken system that allowed what may be the greatest environmental catastrophe of our generation to occur.”

“For Secretary Salazar to allow MMS to exempt 26 new oil wells from environmental review in the midst of the ongoing Gulf crisis shows an extraordinary lapse of judgment. It is inconceivable that his attention is apparently on providing BP with new environmentally exempted offshore oil wells instead of shutting down the corrupt process which put billion of dollars into BP’s pocket and millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.”

(Via Mick Arran, “Fact-esque.”) The press release provides side-by-side comparisons of the doomed Deepwater Horizon Mississippi Canyon exploration plan and a Green Canyon plan approved on May 6.  Unbelievably, some MMS functionary actually signed off on that plan with the following: “II.J. Blowout Scenario – Information not required for activities proposed in this Initial Exploration Plan.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Deepwater Horizon disaster a rebuke to Obama

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th April 2010

Coast Guard officials were investigating reports on Friday that crude oil leaking from a well beneath the Gulf of Mexico had washed ashore, threatening wildlife in fragile marshes and islands along the Gulf Coast. As the vast and growing oil slick spread across the Gulf and approached shore, fishermen in coastal towns feared for their businesses and the White House stepped up its response to the worsening situation.
Oil From Spill Is Reported to Have Reached the Coast” (Robertson, Robbins, NYTimes, 4/30/10)

As the extent of the Deepwater Horizon spill disaster grows hour by hour, day by day, and likely week by week, Barack Obama’s decision to open new areas off the Atlantic Coast to offshore oil exploration looks worse and worse.

First, and perhaps least importantly, if the widely held conclusion is true that the decision was designed to sweeten the political climate for a climate change bill deal, that calculation may have blown up in the White House’s face with the looming demise of the Kerry bill.  If so, we’ll have oil rigs off Cape Hatteras because that kept Lindsay Graham happy for a few weeks in the spring of 2010.

But it gets worse: it turns out Obama had come to believe (or cross his fingers about) claims about offshore oil rig safety that John McCain made in 2008:

I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.

…when in fact 124 oil rigs spilled a total of over 700,000 gallons of oil — with six spilling 42,000 or more gallons each, and one spilling the 100,000 or more gallons considered to be a major spill.  (Both links via ThinkProgress.)  Watch the video; the characteristic self-assurance with which Obama delivered his mistaken understandings should give even his warmest supporters pause.

Now some are saying Obama has “listened” by ordering a review of offshore oil rig safety.  And of course he has.  But the other way of looking at that is that it was just about the very least he could do. Even a President Palin would have gone to the Rose Garden and said “I’m against oil spills” too — so let’s get the best technology to get all that oil to the fuel pump instead of spilling it on birds, beaches, and fishing grounds.

Where I differ with ‘drill, baby, drillers’ like Palin — and now, sadly, Obama — is that I think the best way to prevent spilling Atlantic shelf oil is not to pump it out of the ground in the first place.

I’ll be interested to see whether Salazar gives any thought to that option in the report Obama wants.  I’ll also be interested whether any expensive precautions he recommends get scotched down the road by the oil companies.  They’ve lobbied against so-called “acoustic switches” before — technology that might have been a last-ditch option for the crew escaping the doomed “Deepwater Horizon.” But even such a switch presumably wouldn’t work if the the breakpoint  is below the shutoff valve it controls.

The fact is that when you open offshore areas to oil exploration, oil spill disasters are the non-negligible risk you take.  It’s more than a bit disturbing Obama took such a weighty step with such a poor understanding of that.

[crossposted to PlanetForward]
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MORE ON DEEPWATER HORIZON SPILL: What the Spill Means for Offshore Drilling, NYTimes debate; BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (Murley, PlanetForward) – links to Transocean/BP, EPA, and White House press briefing.

UPDATE: 4/30: digby at Hullabaloo makes the same point about Lindsay Graham and the Atlantic offshore opening: “This is the reason why people don’t want offshore drilling. It’s not ideological and it’s not aesthetic. We don’t want to look at oil rigs on the horizon, but that’s hardly the main objection. It’s a concern for the environment. Obama tried to help out his pal Huckleberry get some non-existent votes lined up for the energy bill and begin his inevitable turn to the right for 2012. And it didn’t work out. When a policy is this bad, it rarely does.”
UPDATE, 5/2: Obama’s got company in the ‘jeez I wish I hadn’t said that’ club – Mary Landrieu, (Blue Dog-LA).

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Down from the mountaintop: EPA’s new guidance on MTR mining

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th April 2010

Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) is a particularly devastating variety of strip mining practiced in the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in West Virginia, in which whole mountaintops are pulverized to get at the seams of coal beneath. The “overburden” is pushed into neighboring valleys, resulting in ugly, scarred moonscapes and above all, buried, ruined streams that — when they do emerge from the rubble — are too high in dissolved pollutants to support life.

On April 1st, the EPA issued new guidelines that spelled out the downstream conductivity standards that MTR would have to satisfy in the future — standards described by Guardian reporter Susanne Goldenberg as “effectively call[ing] time today on one of the most destructive industries in America.”

But it’s not clear that’s what the guidelines do.  True, EPA chief Lisa Jackson appeared to back up that judgment:

“You are talking about either no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this,” she said. “What the science is telling us is that it would be untrue to say you can have any more than minimal valley fill and not see irreversible damage to stream health.”

While that sounds great, Ms. Jackson also said “This is not about ending coal mining,” and a look at the supporting EPA documents makes that plain:

Q. Will this memorandum stop mining?
A.
No. EPA has recently approved permits for some surface mining projects in Appalachia and expects to continue to do so, where these projects are consistent with the guidance. EPA recognizes the importance of coal to Appalachia and to the nation’s energy mix, but also has an obligation based on the law and emerging science to prevent harm to our waters and environment. Projects that are damaging to water quality will be closely scrutinized, but mining companies that employ the best management practices contained in this memorandum and meet water quality protection standards should expect favorable actions on their permits…

The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. (“Coal Tattoo”) says the simple result is that EPA can block new permits or “demand significant changes” when downstream conductivity is projected to exceed 500 microSiemens. The “slightly more complicated” outcome?

Read the rest of this entry »

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“In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st April 2010

…President Obama once had a different position on offshore drilling. Here’s a clip of candidate Obama’s statement on the subject, on June 20, 2008:

My transcript of his remarks follows.  Given President Obama’s reversal on the subject, candidate Obama’s criticism of McCain’s reversals seem even more hypocritical than his one-time environmentalism:

But what wouldn’t do a thing to lower gas prices is John McCain’s new proposal, a proposal adopted by George Bush as well, to open up Florida’s coastline to offshore drilling. In what’s become a bit of a regular occurrence in this campaign, Senator McCain once had a different position on offshore drilling, and it’s clear why he did: it would have long term consequences for our coastlines, but no short term benefits, since it would take at least ten years to get any oil.

Well, the politics may have changed, but the facts haven’t. The accuracy of Senator McCain’s original position has not changed. Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today. It would not lower gas prices tomorrow. It would not lower gas prices this year, it would not lower gas prices five years from now. In fact, President Bush’s own energy department says that we won’t see a drop of oil from his own proposal until 2017. And in fact you wouldn’t see any full production out of any oil drilling off the coast until 2030. It would take a generation to reach full production, and even then, the effect on gas prices will be minimal at best.

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MD State Police spying scandal widens: environmental group targeted

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd October 2008

Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) executive director Mike Tidwell writes that he, too, was listed as a “terrorist” by the Maryland State Police on their now-infamous “Case Explorer” database.  Tidwell:

Since 2001, I have devoted my life entirely to the peaceful promotion of windmills and solar panels to solve global warming. Apparently not everyone liked my work, however. Believe it or not, the Maryland State Police – your state police – put my name in their criminal intelligence database as a “suspected terrorist” as part of their larger program of collecting information about political activists in 2005-2006. I was on this outrageous “watch” list apparently because of a single act of peaceful civil disobedience I participated in outside a coal-fired power plant in 2004. CCAN’s former deputy director Josh Tulkin was also put in the database as was another former CCAN staffer who has chosen to remain anonymous. Neither of these people has ever been arrested for anything in their entire lives. (See background below)

So about one third of the entire Maryland CCAN staff – one of the largest environmental groups in the state – was officially spied on by the police while we peacefully promoted clean electricity and clean cars for Maryland. This is, of course, an outrage and a threat, not just to civil liberties in Maryland, but to the state’s entire environmental community. When people who are trying SAVE the climate and SAVE the Bay are considered terrorists, the world has truly been turned upside down.

ACLU-MD Tidwell asks readers to send an email to Governor Martin O’Malley asking him to release all surveillance files gathered by the MSP (who prefer to destroy the files), and to support comprehensive legislation (being drafted by local State Senator Jamie Raskin) to prevent similar abuses from happening again.  There will also be a 10:30 am rally tomorrow at the Silver Spring Metro station to further publicize the scandal and press these demands.  The rally and email campaign are both coordinated with the ACLU-Maryland, whose lawsuit helped uncover the scandal earlier this year.

This fishing expedition by the Maryland State Police task force was as un-American as McCarthyism or Nixon’s “dirty tricks” — it was a dry run for Chinese- or Stasi-style surveillance and infiltration of innocuous activist groups, and their labeling as literally enemies of the state.  Dry run is putting it kindly, actually — this was the real thing. The recently released Sachs report relays what I consider a snickering, bald-faced lie about how the “terrorist” designation was considered no big deal by those aware of it:

While the MSP employees with whom we spoke recognized that the individuals and groups under investigation here were not “terrorists,” under any reasonable and accepted definition of that word, none who were aware of the use of the designation seemed to consider that a government agency’s decision to label someone a terrorist, particularly when that label is included in an external database, could cause serious harm to that person’s reputation, career, and standing in the community.

Baloney. They knew full well they were putting a bureaucratic scarlet “T” on all of the people they labeled that way. For this assault on civil liberties to be fully repulsed, that needs to be turned on its head: the superiors involved should be disciplined and demoted, and those doing their bidding should be reassigned to simpler chores, like checking parking meters or directing traffic.

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UPDATE, 10/23: CCAN online communications manager Susanna Murley has set up a “No Police Spying” facebook group, with photos from the rally; alternatively, see the CCAN blog post about it.  Also, the New York Times  Andrew Revkin (“.Dot Earth” blog) is covering the story.

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Department of followups

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 2nd August 2006

Organ harvesting in China: postscript and followup, 7/19/2006; The perfect crime against humanity?, 7/16/2006 — Respected South China Morning Post (SCMP) reporter Mark O’Neill picks up the Falun Gong organ transplant charge (his piece begins at 5:55 minutes into the podcast), and finds the Kilgour-Matas report “lends extra weight” to the allegations, as an SCMP anchor puts it. O’Neill’s print article is quoted on a China studies listserv:

The report, mainly based on testimony provided by Falun Gong practitioners outside China, concludes that the government and its hospitals, detention centres and courts have since 1999 put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong members, removing their hearts, kidneys, livers, corneas and other vital organs for sale at high prices to local and foreign patients. […]

Three pieces of evidence are the most persuasive. One is official statistics that show a sharp rise in organ transplants since 2000. From 1994 to 1999, there were 18,500, and, from 2000 to last year, 60,000. A tripling of these operations does not prove the allegations, but the harvesting of Falun Gong organs would provide an explanation.

The second is the transcript of an interview by Mr Kilgour in the US with the ex-wife of a surgeon who said that, between the end of 2001 and October 2003, her husband removed corneas from 2,000 Falun Gong patients. […]

The third piece of evidence pointing to the possibility of the harvesting is material from websites offering organ transplants.

Makin’ an honest living, 6/8/2005— Last year the Justice Department suddenly reduced damages it was seeking in a high profile lawsuit against the tobacco industry from $130 billion to — ahem — $10 billion. On July 20, Justice Department political appointee Robert McCallum was deposed about the incident after a June ruling compelling McCallum to do so. Former Justice Department official Sharon Banks — now working for the winner of that ruling, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) — charges McCallum misled Congress:

Eubanks said McCallum mischaracterized a court order in his statements to Capitol Hill, making it appear that U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler criticized the government’s embrace of smoking cessation as a remedy in the lawsuit. McCallum cited the judge’s order in explaining why he reduced the government’s request.

Eubanks pointed out that the judge later rejected the tobacco industry’s arguments and allowed Eubanks’ expert witness to testify that the companies should pay $130 billion for smoking cessation.

McCallum claims an appeals court ruling requiring “forward looking” damages dealt a “body blow” to the Justice Department’s case. The DOJ’s Office of Professional Conduct says McCallum was not influenced by political motivations.

Race to save the Lord God Bird, 5/09/2005 — The Chicago Tribune’s Annie Bergman reports (“Birders find no new confirmation of rare woodpecker in Arkansas,” 5/18/2006):

Search teams exploring an Arkansas swamp for better evidence of the ivory-billed woodpecker said Thursday they had no new confirmation of the bird’s existence, and wildlife managers said there was no longer a reason to limit public access to the region.

“Certainly we’re somewhat disappointed,” said Ron Rohrbaugh of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. “We’ve had enough of these tantalizing sounds and we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair, especially in the White River area.”

Srebrenica, 11 years on, 7/11/2006 — Accused Serbian war criminal Ratko Mladic is still at large. But Serbia’s bid to join the EU is stalled until Mladic is arrested, and Serbian officials are scrambling to come up with an approach to do so. Even Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte seems to think this time it’s for real:

Facing pariah status, Serbia presented EU officials with an “action plan” for Mladic’s arrest earlier this month, hoping that a serious show of effort would placate del Ponte and persuade the EU to restart talks.

“Since the action plan was adopted, I think the political will to arrest Mladic exists for the first time,” del Ponte said. “I would like to see the operational plan and be involved.” […]

The plan has not been made public but it is said to include a media campaign to convince Serbs that it is necessary to arrest Mladic, who is accused of orchestrating the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. A government survey published on Thursday showed 51 percent of those polled opposed Mladic’s extradition, 34 percent supported it and 15 percent were undecided.

To me, this seems more like a way to look like you care about catching Mladic than a way to actually catch Mladic. But what do I know.

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NOTES: Follow title links to earlier posts on this blog backgrounding the followups above. The McCallum items are from the AP and the Washington Post’s Pete Yost, respectively. The Mladic item is via a Reuters 7/29 article.
EDIT, 8/27: Listserv name deleted by request.

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Steelworkers Sierra Club

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th June 2006

From the Sierra Club press release:

On Wednesday, June 7th, the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots’ environmental organization, and the United Steelworkers (USW), North America’s largest private sector manufacturing union, will announce the formation of a historic strategic alliance. […]

The Alliance will promote a new vision for American public policy–creating jobs by promoting smart energy solutions to global warming; reducing the risks from toxic chemicals in the workplace and the community; and building a responsible trade policy for America. This unprecedented alliance will chart a new direction for the nation’s labor and environmental movements, bringing together almost 2 million members around a shared vision of the future.

(Via Climate Crisis Coalition – Daily News.) The “Blue/Green Alliance” is described in a bit more detail in a second press release:

“Good jobs and a clean environment are important to American workers–we cannot have one without the other, said Leo Gerard, International President of USW. “In fact, secure 21st century jobs are those that will help solve the problem of global warming with energy efficiency and renewable energy.” […]

The USW and the Sierra Club have worked jointly on issues of mutual concern for many years, including the Clean Air Act, trade reform, and corporate responsibility. Currently, the two organizations have joint projects in fifteen states. The new Alliance will build on these existing programs and focus initially on three key issues-global warming and clean energy, fair trade, and reducing toxics. The work will begin in four states-Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington with plans to expand into at least 10 more states in the next two years.

As the Duluth News Tribune’s Lee Bloomquist reports, the partnership extends a model Minnesota collaboration between regional branches of the two organizations, which worked together on the possible discharge of water from a Minntac Mine taconite tailings basin.

“It’s not that different than what’s already been going on,” said Bob Bratulich, United Steelworkers District 11 director. “I see this event as just a formalization of the alliance. We’re just going to be working together on projects that we have common interest in.” […]

“We have a lot of the same goals and issues,” said Jerry Fallos, a Steelworkers associate member coordinator in Eveleth. “The Sierra Club believes in renewable energy, not just for the economics, but for the environment, and so do we.”

It’s encouraging to see alliances like this one work against the assumption that fighting pollution and carbon dioxide emissions must threaten jobs and economic growth. If the Steelworkers-Sierra Club alliance does nothing but blunt the political appeal of making that charge at election time, it will have been a worthwhile initiative.

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Action items: Darfur, warrantless surveillance, Arctic Refuge, net neutrality

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th May 2006

Help Darfur — Tell Congress to pass the budget bill! (Oxfam America Advocacy Fund):

While the House and Senate are working through differences unrelated to Darfur funding, the process is hampering efforts to get critically-needed assistance to the people of Darfur. Please help us again — urge Congress to take quick action.

Demand The Truth (ACLU):

It’s illegal and un-American for your phone company to hand your call records to the government without a warrant. But that’s just what they’re doing, violating the privacy and rights of millions of innocent Americans in the process.

The FCC has the authority and the obligation to investigate the NSA spying scandal, despite their wrong-headed refusal to act. Add your name to the public record and support our formal demand using the form below. If you live in a state where we are filing a complaint with local regulators, we will also add your name to our local demand for action.

Drilling is NOT the answer (Wilderness Society):

As hard as it is to believe, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in the crosshairs again. Some House members may force a vote on drilling in the Arctic Refuge as early as this Wednesday. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) has announced the latest drilling vehicle, H.R. 5429, euphemistically labeled “The American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act.”

A House vote on this bill could happen as soon as this Wednesday, May 24, so it is critical that your Representative hear from you as soon as possible. Even if you’ve taken action on this recently and repeatedly, we urgently need your phone calls to Congress.

Save the Internet (SaveTheInternet.com):

On April 26, a congressional committee caved to pressure from ATT and Verizon and voted for a bill that would allow large telephone and cable companies to control what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.

This betrayal sparked a public revolt. More than 700,000 people have sent protest letters to Congress. Thousands more are calling their elected represenatatives to demand that they take a stand for Internet freedom. Because of the intense heat, some members of Congress are switching from ATT’s side to ours. The House will vote soon on whether to preserve Internet freedom; a Senate vote will follow shortly after. Every elected member of Congress needs to take a stand on Internet freedom.

You can learn more about each issue via the links provided.

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Every day is Earth Day

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd April 2005

Check out South Knox Bubba for photos of the lovely Smoky Mountains on a “bad air day” and a good one. The bad ones are all too frequent — thanks in no small part to Bush administration policies making it easier to defer upgrading air pollution controls at power plants and other point sources of pollution in the region.

The good news: an EPA settlement with Environmental Defense is forcing the agency to work out by mid-June how to make nearby polluters reduce emissions under a “haze rule.” The bad news: it’s going to take 60 years. As Southknoxbubba points out, haze isn’t just unsightly — it means sulfur dioxide is affecting the park’s (and the state’s) water supplies.

But maybe Mother Nature has struck back. Bush’s photo-op visit to the Smokies today — to tout volunteerism as a cure for environmental problems, trumpet some short-term statistical improvements, and generally waste everyone’s time — was canceled due to thunderstorms delaying Air Force One’s landing at Knoxville.

Meanwhile, on page A9 of today’s Washington Post, I read that Study Says Antarctic Glaciers Are Shrinking, Sea Levels May Climb:

About 212 of the 244 glaciers surrounding the [Antarctic] peninsula, which stretches north from the southern polar continent toward South America, have retreated as temperatures have risen more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s, reported the study by Alison Cook and colleagues.

Get me a fiddle, Rome is drowning. Actually, get me a life jacket. Actually, get me a political system that gives a damn. I suppose these pictures — of giant ice floes banging around at ice shelfs — and similar reports may be more evidence of the same thing.

For a thorough report on global warming, see Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Five Minutes Past Midnight” in the April 25 New Yorker — sadly, unavailable online,+ although this interview with Kolbert gives you a flavor. What’s alarming to me are the several positive feedback loops she describes, including albedo loss and methane from thawing dead arctic vegetation. For details on the climate science of global warming, see the RealClimate blog. Sure enough, there’s a brief discussion of the Antarctic glacier study — by one of its authors.*

Some people are saying that Earth Day should be a more personal thing, and less of a day for politicians to grandstand. For some ideas on what to do today, this weekend, and beyond, check out “Earth Work,” by Janisse Ray (“Ecology of a Cracker Childhood”):

Here’s how we’ll celebrate: We won’t get into our cars, not at all. We won’t buy anything — no planet-shaped chocolates, no strands of green lights, no big blow-up replicas of Earth to tether in our front yards. We won’t buy so much as a cup of coffee. We’ll start our latter-day victory gardens and call them independence gardens. We won’t turn on the television all day. We will force ourselves to be still long enough to think about what our actions and our inactions are doing to the Earth. We’ll watch the songbirds leading spring northward.

Well, I’ll need my cup of coffee this Earth Day weekend as we run around, and fortunately there’s a sidebar to the article listing the usual kinds of Earth Day activities, for those of us in the DC area who like them. But I can’t argue with buying less useless junk — even Earth Day junk — and I leave the TV off most of the time anyway. Planting our vegetable garden this weekend is a good idea, too.

And Ms. Ray’s piece has convinced me to see if I can figure out which birds are singing a few of the songs outside our bedroom window, so I can know what to say thank you to.
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* To be scrupulous, David Vaughan points out “The retreat of these glaciers in itself will have a negligible effect on sea level, since most of the ice that has retreated was in the water already. However, if as a consequence of shortening, the glaciers are also flowing faster, then we would be seeing another (small) contribution to sea level rise.” He does see the pattern of glacier retreats as “broadly in line with what we would expect if this was a consequence of the warming that has been measured in this area.”
+ UPDATE, 5/3: WRONG! The New Yorker is putting Kolbert’s series online: The Climate of Man – I, II, III.

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