Archive for January, 2009

James Woolsey on Energy Independence

January 26, 2009


Photo by Henry Leutwyler from Motor Trend interview, “Oil Warrior: Former CIA chief James Woolsey says if you want to beat Bin Laden, buy a Prius.”

Listened tonight on NPR to a rebroadcast of former CIA Director and neoconservative green James Woolsey speaking at the City Club of Cleveland on October 24, 2008 on “How Our Energy Policy and Dependence on Foreign Oil Affects National Security.” Here it is on YouTube (broken into six segments):

He says that the improvement in batteries for plugiin hybrids has the promise of making dependence on oil moot. (Of course he’d still drill offshore, build nuke plants and sequester CO2, etc.)

Happy 250th Robbie

January 25, 2009


Portrait of Robert Burns from The Scotsman.

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne

A sesquicentennial is the 150th anniversary. (Half again a hundred.) A bicentennial is the two hundredth anniversary. Apparently the 250th is the semiquincentenary. And to celebrate, the Brits have just issued the third set of Robbie (or in the Scot’s spelling Rabbie) Burns stamps.

With the issue of the set, the Telegraph reports,

Scotland’s national bard will overtake Winston Churchill, who has been honoured with two special editions of stamps, while William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens have only received one each.

The night was marked all over the world with dinners in the bard’s honor (even in Lawrence Kansas.) And if you want to plan a Burns Supper for next year, Bennett Fischer of Brooklyn, N.Y. has the recipes. Hugh Porter last year explained all about haggis for Time Magazine in “The Bacchanal of Burns Night.” Of course he was writing from London, so he maunna be thought of as tha gowd standard.

The BBC has coverage of the celebration in Scotland here. Everything you wanted to know about the Scottish Bard can be found here.

Poems for the First 100 Days

January 21, 2009

Official portrait of President Obama by Pete Souza.

Check out Starting Today: poems for the first 100 days. Poets Arielle Greenberg (email) of Belfast, Maine and Rachel Zucker (email) of NYC are posting post a new poem by a contemporary American poet—a poem written for and during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

The Inauguration: the address, the poem, the benediction

January 20, 2009

Photograph by AP’s Ron Edmonds of poet Elizabeth Alexander reading her “Praise song for the day” at the inauguration of Barack Obama. The photograph accompanied “Poet Elizabeth Alexander, Bridging a Nation’s Past, Present and Future,” Bob Thompson WaPo story on the web tonight which will appear January 21, 2009 in the paper on page C10.

Praise song for the day by Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. A chapbook edition will be published on February 6, 2009 by Graywolf.

(With a hat tip to Mark Doty for giving the proper lineation.)

I was one of about five hundred folks who turned up at the Lyric Theatre today with staples for the food pantry in exchange for a screening of the inauguration of our 44nd president ( or I should say presidency, as Grover Cleveland gets counted twice for non-consecutive terms in 1885–1889 and 1893–1897, thus being the 22nd and 24th president.)

The address as prepared for delivery is here
The benediction by civil rights veteran, the Reverand Lowery is here

I like Alexander’s poem (unlike Adam Kirsch of the New Republic who called it “bureaucratic” or Erica Wagner who found it “unmemorable.”) Maybe not as coherent or disciplined as it could have been, but it’s hard to write for an occasion (as Jim Fisher pointed out in Salon) and to write in language and images that can be perceived on first hearing by a wide audience.

To me, Alexander summonsed up ordinary Americans moving forward, in a poem appropriate for the occasion. Could it be a southern thing, finding this poem perfectly fine, as did poets interviewed in the Ashville area? And the folks at Split This Rock had thoughtful things to say– Melissa Tuckey and Ethelbert Miller (with more at his blog, here) plus Sarah Browning and Joseph Ross in the comments.

Update: Joel Dias-Porter takes a close look at the poem here.

Bank of America Gets More Bail Out $$$$

January 14, 2009

A story by Dan Fitzpatrick, Damian Paletta and Susanne Craig in the WSJ for tomorrow caught my eye: “Bank of America to Get Billions in U.S. Aid: Sides Finalizing Terms for Fresh Bailout Cash; Lender Told Government It Needed Funds to Close Deal for Struggling Merrill.” (if you cannot read the story, add “mod=googlenews_wsj” after the html

Discussions over these funds began in mid-December when Bank of America approached the Treasury Department. The bank, already the recipient of $25 billion in committed federal rescue funds, said that it was unlikely to complete its Jan. 1 purchase of the ailing Wall Street securities firm because of Merrill’s larger-than-expected losses in the fourth quarter, according a person familiar with the talks.

Treasury, concerned the deal’s failure could affect the stability of U.S. financial markets, agreed to work with the Charlotte, N.C., lender on the “formulation of a plan” that includes new capital from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to the person familiar with the talks. The amount and terms are still being finalized, this person said. Details are expected to be announced with Bank of America’s fourth-quarter earnings, due out Jan. 20.

Any possible arrangement might protect Bank of America from losses on Merrill’s bad assets. There would be a cap on the amount of losses the bank would have to absorb, with the federal government being on the hook for the remainder, said one person familiar with the matter.

Both the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., alongside the Treasury, are involved in the negotiations, say people familiar with them. That suggests that the aid could take a similar form to the hand extended to Citigroup Inc. late last year.

A cap on losses, but not a share of profits? Sorry, but that looks like more corporate welfare. Another case of “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine, too.”

Bank of America has received pressure in a national campaign by the RainForest Action Network due to its investment in coal-fired electric plants and coal companies to practice mountaintop removal.

How will Roberts Rule on Clean Water?

January 12, 2009


Photo of Chief Justice John Roberts and President Bush via DC Dicta.

I have often said that a major effect of any Presidency is the effect of its Supreme Courts appointments. Even after an administration is long gone, its life-time appointees continue to to make rulings which affect all of our lives.

In “The Chief Justice on the Spot.”Greenhouse, the former NYT Supreme Court reporter who is a Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow at the Yale Law school, wrote January 9,

A case sitting quietly in the Supreme Court’s in-basket promises to tell us more than almost any other about John G. Roberts Jr. and his evolution from spear carrier in the Reagan revolution to chief justice of the United States — and in the process set the direction of the debate over race and politics for years to come.

Greenhouse was writing about a voting rights case, but she just as easily could have been writing about a mining case currently before the Supreme Court. And while that case involves gold mining in Alaska, it has relevance for the continued expansion of mountaintop removal coal mining here in Appalachia. That’s because the Alaska case involves dumping mine waste in bodies of water, a practice which makes MTR more feasible.

With this case, we can look at one more piece of the Bush legacy. First, because of regulations promulgated by the administration. Second because of the Bush nomination of John Roberts as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Clean Water Protection Act proscribed dumping mine waste in bodies of water. But , faced with suits about violations of the Act, Bush’s Army Corps of Engineers redefined that waste as “fill.” And, although it was not widely discussed at the time of his nomination, Roberts, before he took his seat, acted as “spear carrier” when he advised the National Mining Association pro-bono on how to deny citizens standing in environmental cases/ And then, two years later, he hired on to argue on behalf of the association against citizens trying to stop coal companies from shearing off West Virginia’s mountains.

The case before the Supreme Court

In the mining case being argued today, Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, et al. and Alaska v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, et al., the Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for a gold mine north of Juneau, Alaska, to the company Coeur Alaska. The permit allows the company to deposit mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake after raising the level of the lake by building a long earthen dam. Tom Turner (bio, email) , editor at large for the public interest law firm EarthJustice, wrote January 9 on the Coeur case,

All agree that the tailings, fill or otherwise, would kill nearly all life in the lake. Coeur and the Corps insist that once the ore has been exhausted they’ll restore the lake to its former glory and where have we heard that before.

According to another Martin post today, a mining company attorney told the court that an Alaskan lake would be better off in the long run and

Justice David Souter described that logic as “Orwellian.”

Tom Waldo, an attorney in Earthjustice’s Juneau office argued the case at the Supreme Courttoday on behalf of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Lynn Canal Conservation, and the Sierra Club. Here’s their brief and information on their victories to date.

The troubling implications of the case

Turner explains,

That the high court agreed to review the case is troubling—if it had left the appeals court decision alone all would have been well. Should the Court uphold the Corps’ authority to discharge mine waste in a pristine waterway, all waters everywhere could be at risk and the Clean Water Act would be in a shambles.

That the court agreed to review the case is especially troubling, to my mind, given Benjamin Wittes’s observation in the May 2005 issue of The Atlantic that,

the threat to basic environmental protections from conservative jurisprudence is broad-based and severe…By tightening doctrinal requirements that limit citizen access to the courts, judges greatly reduce the legal accountability of polluters.

Roberts and the coal industry

As I wrote for the New River Free Press at the time of Roberts’s nomination,

In 1999, as a partner in the Washington, DC law firm of Hogan & Hartson, Roberts’s lecture before the NMA’s conference offered “several pointers” on how the group might get their views heard by judges.

In the 1999 landmark case of Bragg v. Robertson, the now-deceased U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II limited mountaintop removal coal mining, finding that a stream buffer zone rule prohibiting mining within 100 feet of waters, barred coal companies from burying larger streams with strip mine waste.

The NMA was not a direct party in the case; instead, it hired Roberts and two other attorneys at his firm of Hogan & Hartson to file a “friend of the court” brief in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying the ruling “jeopardize[d] the continued viability of the coal industry in Appalachia and elsewhere.”

The brief also argued that Haden had allowed citizens to “circumvent” an administrative process to appeal permit decisions to the state Surface Mine Board. “Such a result eviscerates the very process Congress established to coordinate the various regulatory programs applicable to coal mining, and creates grave uncertainty for the members of the coal industry who rely upon mining permits as the blueprint for compliance with these programs.”

In its April 2001 decision, the 4th Circuit overturned Haden, saying the dispute instead belonged in state court [where the coal companies hold more sway.]

The Supreme Court decision in the Alaska case, not expected until June, will fill in another piece of the puzzle of the legacy of George W. Bush. The position Roberts takes will reveal whether he continues pro-mining bent or departs from it in his current role. And if the Roberts Court upholds dumping in streams, it will setting a destructive precedent for mountains and for clean water, unless the Obama Administration and Congress provide relief.

Another TVA spill–this time Widow’s Creek in AL

January 9, 2009

TVA photo of Widow’s Creek Fossil Plant

This time the news spread faster than after the much worse spill December 22 which resulted in a Senate hearing yesterday. Anne Paine and Brad Schrade of The Tennessean broke the story of a 10,000 gallon leak of process water from the gypsum pond at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Stevenson, Alabama discovered just before dawn this morning.

TVA is now on the radar screen: I just looked it up and the story has made it to Memeoranum, with a related AP story here. USA Today was the first major paper to post story. And although it was merely a syndication of the same piece, it drew national attention, with some 86 comments in the first two and a half hours.

(Something is off with the Memeorandum permalink, however…here are the links to the complete discussion:

Paine and Schrade write:

TVA official Gil Francis said today’s leak at its Widows Creek coal-burning power plant in northeastern Alabama, was caused by a break in a pipe that removes water from the 147-acre gypsum pond.

The water leaked into a settling pond, where water then escaped into Widows Creek.

Paine and Schrade’s piece revealed an interesting quotation from a Scottsboro, AL man merely identified as “Morgan.” While TVA says the spill was just gypsum, Morgan refutes this. The story on the web has been updated, but there is still no comment on from TVA about his allegations:

This is ash. It’s not gypsum. This is the same stuff on the shoreline up there at Kingston. It’s very obvious what’s happening. All the rains we’ve had, these retention ponds haven’t been inspected and are rupturing. The TVA is not being honest about this and that is very bothersome.

Morgan is a member of a Blue Ridge Environmental Defense affiliated Bellefonte Efficiency Sustainability Team and provided photos he says he took today of a silvery sludge coating the shore at Bellefonte Landing, near a site for which TVA is seeking a permit to build a nuclear power plant his group opposes. That’s 12 miles downstream of Widows Creek, on the Tennessee River.

I added stories on AL spill to get news out to general consumers at NewsTrust. To keep up to date, visit the link for the #coalash tweets at Twitter. You can also take a look at prior environmental release reports for the plant at Scorecard.

Mary Ann Hitt, who until recently served as Executive Director of Appalachian Voices, but has moved on to be deputy director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign,
just sent me a link to an article she co-wrote the the campaign’s director Bruce Nilles. “Coal Waste Spills by the Dozen?” The spill occurred around 6 a.m. and they were writing at 1:48 p.m., according, at least, to the time stamp where it’s cross-posted to Kos.

While full details on the Widows Creek spill aren’t yet available, this new spill raises a simple, obvious question – what is going on here?

One explanation is that this is just an unfortunate coincidence, perhaps brought on by the weather. But a much more likely explanation is that smaller coal ash spills and releases – like the ones we’re learning about in Alabama and now East Tennessee are all too frequent, and the magnitude of the TVA disaster in Tennessee finally shined a light on a quiet tragedy that has been going on for decades.

In fact, there are at least 23 states where groundwater or surface water has been poisoned by coal ash. In 2007 alone there were 24 cases of water pollution linked to ash ponds in 13 states and another 43 cases where coal ash was the likely cause of pollution. Smaller spills often take place, but get little attention outside the immediately affected area.

The Kingston disaster has brought long-overdue attention to what many communities have been suffering for decades. And according to a recent study by the Environmental Integrity Project, There are over 100 sites similar to the TVA site in Kingston that pose a danger to communities across the nation.

The danger and devastation of Kingston are such that environmental groups have invited President-elect Obama to come view the spill there.

The sad truth is that coal ash represents only a small part of the danger of coal. Normal operation of this one coal-fired power plant cuts short the lives of more than 140 people every year from regular air pollution that causes heart disease, respiratory ailments, lung cancer, and other illnesses; nationally, more than 24,000 Americans die each year from pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Furthermore, mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 450 mountains throughout Appalachia, including many in Tennessee, permanently destroying thousands of miles of streams and other waterways. And of course, coal is the number one U.S. source of global warming pollution. Here in Tennessee, we’re already seeing the impacts of global warming: temperatures across the state have increased one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and are projected to rise at least 2 – 3 degrees over the next hundred years in Tennessee. If we don’t end our reliance on coal, heat waves and other extreme weather events are projected to increase; forests and wildlife are projected to diminish significantly; and our plentiful water resources could diminish significantly.

If our country doesn’t act quickly to phase out our use of coal and move to clean energy like wind and solar power, Tennessee will no longer be the same great place we grew up with and love.

Meanwhile, after the Alabama spill, John Atkeison (email), Director of the Climate and Clean Energy Programs for the Alliance for Affordable Energy sent me a joint news release from the and Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club. He tells me, as his group is “between versions” of its website, he doubts it will get posting, so I’m running it here. Don’t have time for more, as the library is closing…

Reports of a spill of coal ash waste at the Widows Creek Fossil Plant in Alabama again confirm the dangers of burning dirty coal to make electricity. Even when toxic byproducts like mercury and arsenic are removed before they are released from the smokestack, these poisons must still be disposed of. Several spills in the last three weeks demonstrate that when stored in the customary ponds at a plant site, coal ash and other residues threaten nearby residents and waterways.

The spill in Alabama is also noteworthy because the pond that is reported to be leaking contains material slated for sale as recycled construction material. Entergy recently claimed that coal waste should pose no obstacle to the conversion of its Little Gypsy generating plant to burn coal and pet coke because it asserts that it will recycle the waste as it claims to at its Westlake facility. (Note: we have been unable to confirm sales of waste material in quantities greater than 36 lbs. from that facility.)

According to John Atkeison, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Alliance for Affordable Energy, “Making electricity from coal contributes nothing special except a grave and growing threat to the climate and poisons in the air and water.”

“Our creeks, bayous and rivers and all who rely on clean water are threatened by dirty coal plants. It’s time we got serious about clean energy solutions,” said Aaron Viles, Campaign Director with Gulf Restoration Network, a member of Louisiana’s Say Yes to Clean Energy coalition, which is challenging the spread of coal-fired power plants across the state.

According to media reports, after the TVA coal-ash spill the Alabama Department of Environmental Management inspected all the coal ash retention ponds and announced they were safe.

“This clearly demonstrates need for better regulation of coal waste and the coal plants themselves,” says Jordan Macha, Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club. “The EPA must improve regulations to better protect our communities and the environment.”

“Coal is dirty, destructive and unsustainable,” said Maylee Orr, Executive Director of Louisiana Environmental Action Network. We must phase out the use of coal while increasing the use of sustainable energy sources. Our natural resoucres, our health and our economic future depends on the choices we make today. Say yes to clean energy and no to dirty coal.”

The Associated Press reported this morning that, “Millions of tons of toxic coal ash is piling up in power plant ponds in 32 states, a practice the federal government has long recognized as a risk to human health and the environment but has left unregulated. An Associated Press analysis of the most recent Energy Department data found that 156 coal-fired power plants store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that collapsed last month in Tennessee.”

Recent coal waste spills include the infamous billion gallon disaster in Kingston, TN, which has been economically wrecked as well as environmentally assaulted. The TVA has also admitted to poor maintenance and releases into the Ocoee River in East Tennessee.

Clean, renewable solutions exist to our energy needs. These tragic incidents underscore the need to both prioritize energy efficiency and require that utility companies purchase a certain portion of their energy from renewable sources, instead of relying on the dirty, 19th century technology of burning coal.

Foreshadowing the Bush Legacy on Coal

January 8, 2009

Photograph by J. Miles Carey of the Knoxville News Sentinel accompanied December 25’s NYT story by Shaila Dewan, “Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards.”

*

leg·a·cy (lg’-s)–The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language

  1. Money or property bequeathed to another by will.
  2. Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past

In these final weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the media has turned to writing stories on the legacy of George W. Bush. In the past, I’ve written on Mr. Bush’s record on torture, secrecy, the unitary executive, concentration of wealth, the increasing deficits, the economic downturn (recession, depression?), warrantless domestic spying, reproductive rights, children’s health care, organized labor and the erosion of civil liberties under the Patriot Act.

To assess what has been handed down from his eight years in office is doable. To write about what will last long term is harder. One exception, though, comes to mind: here in Appalachia, we face a permanent hole in our vistas (and our lives) in the wake of so-called mountaintop removal mining (MTR). So-called because I prefer to call it Mountain Range Destruction. This type of mining pulverizes whole mountains for their underlying coal and dumps the resulting toxin-laden rubble in headwater streams. I’d love to provide you with the latest figures on the extent of this destruction and how much has occurred during the Bush administration, but I cannot find the data. And while I might consult with Ken Ward, Jr. over at the Charleston Gazette for arcane sources, right now he’s covering the coal sludge spill pictured above.

In looking at the Bush legacy on coal, in the past, I’ve written about:

  • the National Mining and Health Safety Administration including
  • the firing of West Virginia mining engineer Jack Spadaro for refusing to sign on to the final report on the Martin County coal sludge spill
  • the appointment of industry officials in a case of “foxes guarding the henhouse
  • the result on the weakening and stalling of regulations to protect miners
  • resistance to the Supplemental Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2007, in which George Miller (D-CA) attempted to address weaknesses in the MINER Act of 2006, passed as a result of West Virginia’s Sago mine disaster and subsequent mining deaths in West Virginia and Kentucky.
  • the Army Corps of Engineers and its redefinition of “waste” to “fill” in the Clean Water Act, which reversed court rulings preventing MTR rubble from being dumped into valleys
  • the unsuccessful attempts to pass the Clean Water Protection Act to reverse the rule.
  • the midnight change which canceled the Stream Buffer Zone rule which said that mining companies may not dispose of the rubble within 100 feet of an intermittent or perennial stream, unless the company can prove the mining activity won’t hurt water quality or quantity. Environmental lawyers had successfully used this rule in court to stop MTR permits. For examples, see Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. the Army Corps of Engineers on October 11, 2007 and before that the Haden decision in favor or Kentuckians for the Commonwealth From May 8, 2002.
  • the ties of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to the coal industry prior to his nomination and how he fought against citizen standing in environmental suits.

I’ll add links to the above, as time allows. Today, though, I thought I’d go back to almost the very start of the administration, to January 29, 2001, and look at how it went on to foreshadow his legacy on coal. That’s the day George W. Bush signed the executive order establishing The National Energy Policy Development Group, more commonly known as the Cheney Energy Task Force, whose recommendations served as the basis of Joe Barton’s (R-TX) Energy Policy Act of 2005 which included a lot of money for the coal industry including funding for things I questioned before such as coal-to-liquids and “clean coal.” The task force revealed, like later events, the administration’s penchant for public secrecy and its alignment with the interests of, among others, the coal and the primarily coal-fired electric power industries.

The National Energy Policy Development Group
aligns closely with industry

The task force, working quickly, produced its National Energy Policy report by May 16, 2001. The composition of the task force, according to the report, was confined to government officials. It prominently featured a quote by the president

America must have an energy policy that plans for the future, but meets the needs of today. I believe we can develop our natural resources and protect our environment.

Sounds good, as do so many turns of phrase, starting with “compassionate conservative.” The plan’s recommendations, however, often looked like a wish list from industry. For instance, the President should:

  • issue an Executive Order to direct all federal agencies to include in any regulatory action that could significantly and adversely affect energy supplies, distribution, or use, a detailed statement on: (1) the energy impact of the proposed action, (2) any adverse energy effects that cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented, and (3) alternatives to the proposed action.
  • direct the Secretary of Energy to explore potential opportunities to develop educational programs…long-term in nature…funded and managed by the respective energy industries, and should include information on energy’s compatibility with a clean environment.
  • [increase funding for]the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP [which is used primarily to pay energy bills for low-income individuals[and]… allow funds dedicated for the Weatherization and State Energy Programs to be transferred to LIHEAP
  • [put] FEMA…[in charge of planning for how to address] power shortages
  • direct the EPA Administrator to work with Congress to propose legislation that would establish a flexible, market-based program to significantly reduce and cap emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from electric power generators…over a reasonable period of time to allow utilities to make modifications to their plants without fear of new litigation [note no carbon dioxide caps]
  • direct the Secretary of the Interior to work with Congress to create the “Royalties Conservation Fund”… [to] earmark potentially billions of dollars in royalties from new oil and gas production in ANWR [the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
  • issue an Executive Order…directing federal agencies to expedite permits and other federal actions necessary for energy related project approvals on a national basis.
  • [direct]to propose appropriate funding of those [energy efficiency] research and development programs that are…modeled as public-private partnerships.
  • direct the Department of Energy to continue to develop advanced clean coal technology by…[i]nvesting $2 billion over 10 years to fund research in clean coal technologies [and] Supporting a permanent extension of the existing research and development tax credit.
  • direct federal agencies to provide greater regulatory certainty relating to coal electricity generation through clear policies that are easily applied to business decisions.

You get the idea. You can read other examples here.

The court fight to reveal who met with Cheney and the Task Force regarding the report

In April 2001, Representatives Henry A. Waxman and John D. Dingell asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the process and costs associated with the task force. Subsequently, Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Ernest F. Hollings, Carl M. Levin, and Byron L. Dorgan, chairs of their respective committees or subcommittees, also requested this analysis.

After Cheney refused to cooperate, David Walker, the GAO’s comptroller general sued for the information. On December 9, 2002, United States District Judge John D. Bates ruled against Walker. Walker did not pursue an appeal. The GAO, instead, issued an incomplete report on August 22, 2003.

The skewed task force recommendations also led Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club to sue for disclosure of just whom had met with Cheney and the task force and when. But, on June 24, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled, returning the case to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

At the time John Dean wrote that the election of John Kerry could make the suit moot. If Bush were re-elected, he noted

I remain hopeful that the underlying lawsuits in Cheney v. District Court will open the records of the National Energy Policy Development Group.

That is the right result legally and constitutionally – and the right outcome for our democracy. We deserve to know if private interests are unduly influencing purportedly governmental bodies.

Such was not to be: the court closed the book on disclosure, when it ruled May 10, 2005 that Cheney and the task force were not subject to the federal open meetings law.

An anonymous whistleblower emerges

And then years after all the stonewalling, the WaPo’s energy reporter Steven Mufson heard from a whistleblower. On July 18, 2007, in Papers Detail Industry’s Role in Cheney’s Energy Report (transcript of chat with readers), Mufson wrote that a former White House official provided his paper with a copy of a

confidential list prepared by the Bush administration shows that Cheney and his aides had… held at least 40 meetings with interest groups, most of them from energy-producing industries.

And sure enough that list included the National Mining Association, Entergy (a company with coal-fired electric plants) and others. Mufson writes,

Jack N. Gerard, then with the National Mining Association, had a meeting with Lundquist and other staffers in February. He urged the administration to give the Energy Department responsibility for promoting technology for easing global warming and to keep the issue away from the Environmental Protection Agency, which could issue regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The administration adopted that position.

All these meetings were held before a meeting with environmental groups on April 4, for which Cheney was not even present. And the official who supplied the list indicates

By the time of the meeting…the initial draft of the task force was substantially complete and President Bush had been briefed on its progress.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who unsuccessfully pushed for details of the meetings, told Mufson

Six years later, we see we lost an opportunity to become less dependent on importing oil, on using fossil fuels, which have been a threat to our national security and the well-being of the planet.

And, I might point you to just how inefficient that dependence is, as I wrote about in the recent research of Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, who found that

options [such as clean coal] that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options [such as wind].

And all of this dependence on coal continues to take its toll, the most recent example I wrote about being the massive fly ash spill right before Christmas at a coal-burning electric plant in Tennessee.

December 22, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge ruptured a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train….

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

Of course, looks at legacy benefit from 20-20 hindsight. But isn’t it interesting to see how even in his earliest days in office, the President was revealing a pattern which would emerge in the years to come, a pattern which will effect us for years in the future?

But to me, there’s a larger question. While those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it, is it really our best use of time right now to be writing about the Bush legacy? I think we’ve already had a lot of coverage on how Bush operated. The time for researching how Mr. Bush got us to where we are today is long gone and could be spent more wisely. Mother Jones (see, even we centrists in Appalachia quote her) said “Pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.” Translating that as a metaphor for journalism (and activism)–it’s time to concentrate on holding Barack Obama accountable.

Democracy Now: Utah Phillips

January 2, 2009


Photo
of Phillips from post by Steve Ide of Wicked Local (MA).

From yesterday on Democracy Now–Amy Goodman’s interview w. the late, great Utah Phillips from 2004 at the pirate radio station, Freak Radio Santa Cruz. I wrote about Phillips on January 20 of last year. He died on May 23. As one of his performing parters, Rosalie Sorrels said,

He was like an alchemist. He took the stories of working people and railroad bums and he built them into work that was influenced by writers like Thomas Wolfe, but then he gave it back, he put it in language so the people whom the songs and stories were about still had them, still owned them. He didn’t believe in stealing culture from the people it was about.

Word of the Day: Archaea

January 1, 2009

Photo of Pattiann Rogers from the Vermont Studio Center, where she will be giving a reading in October 2009.

I wasn’t familiar with the term “archaea” and looked it up after reading the lovely poem by Pattiann Rogers found below (website, email), which first appeared in the September 2005 issue of Poetry. (hat tip to Amy Grier (email). Archaea are a

unique group of microorganisms classified as bacteria (Archaeobacteria) but genetically and metabolically different from all other known bacteria. They appear to be living fossils, the survivors of an ancient group of organisms that bridged the gap in evolution between bacteria and the eukaryotes (multicellular organisms).

The name Archaea comes from the Greek archaios meaning ancient.

From MedicineNet, the authors of the Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary. See also the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology exhibit, Life’s Extremists. Archaea can live where othres wound not survive, for instance in the hot springs at Yellowstone.

Address: the Archaens, One Cell Creatures

Although most are totally naked
and too scant for even the slightest
color and although they have no voice
that I’ve ever heard for cry or song, they are,
nevertheless, more than mirage, more
than hallucination, more than falsehood.

They have confronted sulfuric
boiling black sea bottoms and stayed,
held on under ten tons of polar ice,
established themselves in dense salts
and acids, survived eating metal ions.
They are more committed than oblivion,
more prolific than stars.

Far too ancient for scripture, each
one bears in its one cell one text–
the first whit of alpha, the first
jot of bearing, beneath the riling
sun the first nourishing of self.

Too lavish for saints, too trifling
for baptism, they have existed
throughout never gaining girth enough
to hold a firm hope of salvation.
Too meager in heart for compassion,
too lean for tears, less in substance
than sacrifice, not one has ever
carried a cross anywhere.

And not one of their trillions
has ever been given a tombstone.
I’ve never noticed a lessening
of light in the ceasing of any one
of them. They are more mutable
than mere breathing and vanishing,
more mysterious than resurrection,
too minimal for death.

The Spring 2008 issue of the Georgia Review featured an interview with Rogers by Gordon Johnston, Breaking Old Forms: A Conversation.