Photo by Antrim Caskey, copyright used by permission.

This poem was inspired by my visit with Larry Gibson at Kayford Mountain. I was fortunate to listen to Larry and Maria Gunoe's stories at the West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Writer's Tour. The following is the first of a series of poems I'm working on.You can hear Larry and Maria talking with Steve Mellon (email) of the Pittsburg Post Gazette in the February 26, 2006 slideshow, Mountain Trouble (archive.org copy), which accompanied the story, "In West Virginia, citizens battle against the mining companies carving off their mountaintops," by Diane Jones (email)  

from APPALACHIA'S LAST STAND by Beth Wellington


Picture our fifty
acres, just one family's piece
of Kayford Mountain.

That metal farm gate
used to mark our line, the steep
farm road wound, benign,

though old growth hardwoods,
song birds in flight, both sides a
blessed continuum

of Almost Heaven
West Virginia. Our farm gate's
now The Gates of Hell.

The smell's not brimstone
but ANFO, ammonium
nitrate and fuel oil.


The same Devil's brew
at Oklahoma City
Belfast, Gaza Strip:

terrorists, they call
truck bombers, but Blankenship's
"a big employer."

Such liars, he hires
so few to drive the drag lines:
maggots chewing up

our hills to rubble,
burying headwater streams
that sang us to sleep.

We keep thinking we'll
wake and the knobs will be there.
We keep thinking no

family photos
need be bolted to our walls
to withstand the blasts.

Big Coal has its way
they will blow up Blair Mountain.
Permits are pending.


Eighty years ago
10,000 miners rose up
ten days at Spruce Run

while federal troops
fired: civil war to keep
us company slaves.

Blow up Blair Mountain?
Feature Vicksburg, Bull Run gone
for thirty year's coal.

Mountains should abide
but Massey plays God
scattering our peaks.

How can we be the
Mountain State without mountains,
our home, a war zone?


When I sent the poem out yesterday for Verbal Events, I also sent a copy to John Dufresne (blog), who respond:
Terrific work about a depressing situation. Damn. Time to to John Prine’s Muhlenburg County . “Mr. Peabosy’s coal train has hauled it away.”
It's always good to listen to Prine.

It's also good to let Congress know we want the Clean Water Protection Act passed. Last night, I asked Cindy Rank, (email), chair of the Mining Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy what single thing about Mountaintop Removal should be broadcast. The Clean Water Protection Act was her vote.

As I wrote for November's LLRX.com essay, "Mountaintop Removal Sites - "Strip Mining on Steroids"
One of the casualties of the Republican-led House of Representatives was H.R. 2719, the Clean Water Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on May 26, 2005. Although the bill boasted a bipartisan co-sponsorship with Rep. Christopher Shays, (R-CT) and gained 74 additional co-sponsors, it never made it out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. This is the third time such legislation has been submitted. Pallone introduced the measure as H.R. 4683 on 5/8/2002 (gaining 36 co-sponsors) and as H.R. 738 on 2//2003, (gaining 64 co-sponsors).
I don't know that the lame ducks will pass this, but it's good to write now to your members of Congress and then write again, if the item has to be re-introduced in the 110th session. You can find a model letter at the Appalachian Voices campaign. I suggest you generate your own letter from your own email or fax, in order for it to have the most weight. (I hear tell that the anthrax scare still slows the snail mail.)

I hear there's talk of organizing a national op-ed and letter to the editor campaign. I'll fill you in on the coordination, if I can get more details. In the meantime, be thinking of what you might write.

For another striking photograph of Larry on his land, see "New Coal Isn't Old Coal" by 2001 Alicia Patterson fellow, Rudy Abramson for his project ""The Latter Days of King Coal: Wealth, Poverty & Public Policy in Appalachia". Abramson (email) is the co-editor with my friend Jean Haskell (email) of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (UT Press, 2006). He also chairs the advisory committee of the Insitute for Rural Journalism and Social Issues.

Other news:

An interesting story from the Wall Street Journal on November 15, "One More Time for Judicial Nominees."

It's not only Strickler the Bush keeps on pushing. What happened to his promised bi-partisanship? For more info on the environmental records of his nominees, see Judging the Environment, a joint project of Earthjustice and the Community Rights Counsel, two public service law firms.

Join my friend Barry and me tomorrow at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy's Social Justice U if you're in Roanoke. For details (and to preregister before five today), click here.


Jim Webb: American Workers Have a Chance To Be Heard

Jim Webb takes on the Cato Institute et.al in the November 15, 2006 WSJ, "Class Struggle:  American Workers Have a Chance to Be Heard," which can be found at Webb's site.

The most important -- and unfortunately the least debated -- issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.

Incestuous corporate boards regularly approve compensation packages for chief executives and others that are out of logic's range. As this newspaper has reported, the average CEO of a sizeable corporation makes more than $10 million a year, while the minimum wage for workers amounts to about $10,000 a year, and has not been raised in nearly a decade. When I graduated from college in the 1960s, the average CEO made 20 times what the average worker made. Today, that CEO makes 400 times as much.

In the age of globalization and outsourcing, and with a vast underground labor pool from illegal immigration, the average American worker is seeing a different life and a troubling future. Trickle-down economics didn't happen. Despite the vaunted all-time highs of the stock market, wages and salaries are at all-time lows as a percentage of the national wealth. At the same time, medical costs have risen 73% in the last six years alone. Half of that increase comes from wage-earners' pockets rather than from insurance, and 47 million Americans have no medical insurance at all.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing. Many earned pension programs have collapsed in the wake of corporate "reorganization." And workers' ability to negotiate their futures has been eviscerated by the twin threats of modern corporate America: If they complain too loudly, their jobs might either be outsourced overseas or given to illegal immigrants.

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism.

Still others have gone so far as to argue that these divisions are the natural results of a competitive society. Furthermore, an unspoken insinuation seems to be inundating our national debate: Certain immigrant groups have the "right genetics" and thus are natural entrants to the "overclass," while others, as well as those who come from stock that has been here for 200 years and have not made it to the top, simply don't possess the necessary attributes.

Most Americans reject such notions. But the true challenge is for everyone to understand that the current economic divisions in society are harmful to our future. It should be the first order of business for the new Congress to begin addressing these divisions, and to work to bring true fairness back to economic life. Workers already understand this, as they see stagnant wages and disappearing jobs.
America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

With this new Congress, and heading into an important presidential election in 2008, American workers have a chance to be heard in ways that have eluded them for more than a decade. Nothing is more important for the health of our society than to grant them the validity of their concerns. And our government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization.


RMI's Founder Amory Lovins Takes on Nuke Industry Astroturfer Patrick Moore

The photo of Amory Lovins appeared in an article in Grist, with the credit Rocky Mountain Institute, of which he is the co-founder and CEO.


I wrote in "More about Nuclear Astroturf" May 15, 2006 about Patrick Moore, a former Greenpeace member who now shills for the nuclear energy industry. Moore co-leads its trade group's astroturf group, the Nuclear Energy Istitute's Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, along with Christie Todd Whitman.

Now, I'm happy to report that physicist Amory Lovins (bio), Jimmy Carter's energy secretary and McArthur award winner, has taken on Moore's questionable statisitics in yesterday's Toronto Star in Lovins Q&A by energy reporter Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton asked specifically about Moore's position that large-scale adoption of new nuclear technology is the only way to avert global warming.

I think he's not well informed about energy alternatives and I hope he will become so. I've spoken with Patrick at some length, for example, about variability of wind. He thinks it's a serious problem, and he didn't realize there's a lot of empirical and analytic evidence that shows it's not a problem.

There's a more fundamental issue here, though, and that's about economics. Nuclear plants directly emit no carbon dioxide, although they have some inherent in their construction and operations from other parts of the fuel cycle. I'm prepared to ignore that indirect CO2 emission. However, because I agree with Patrick that climate is a very serious problem, I think we need the most solution per dollar and the most solution per year. If you go to the December 2005 issue of Nuclear Engineering International, you'll find a paper called `Mighty Mice' that summarizes an economic analysis. What that analysis shows from the best empirical data available last year, is if you spent 10 cents (U.S.) to make and deliver a new nuclear kilowatt-hour — notice I said deliver, so that's at your meter — you can displace 1 kilowatt-hour of coal power. That's what Patrick is talking about. And it might seem like a good idea until you look at the competitors.

If you spend the same 10 cents (U.S.) instead on micropower or efficient use, you get two to 10 times as much coal displacement for the same money, because those options are cheaper — you get more per dollar. They're also faster, so you get more carbon displacement, coal displacement, per year.

Lovins explained the cost of nuclear energy:
The balance is tilted somewhat against nuclear lately because the promised low costs already have failed to materialize for next-generation light water reactors. The Finnish plant is a good example. About a year into construction they're already a year behind schedule and getting more so. They're in serious trouble with the safety regulator, and it's already destroyed AREVA's and Siemen's nuclear profits for the year. They've made already a 1.5 to 2 billion (Euro) allowance on their books for cost overruns, and I don't think that's anywhere near the end of the story. It's driven them right into the ditch. Just look at the recent press release on their quarterly earnings. I suspect that if Canada tries to build another reactor it will have a similar experience.

Lovins added,

If you believe as I do that climate change is a serious problem, then make sure you buy the resources that will save the most carbon per dollar per year, because otherwise you're making things worse. If you buy a nuclear plant instead of cheaper efficiency and micropower, you're getting less solution per dollar, less solution per year, and therefore reducing and retarding climate protection.


There's lots of other good information in the article. Lovins compared nuclear energy with conservation:

Nuclear costs too much and it has excessive financial risk. In no new nuclear project around the world is there a penny of private capital at risk. Contrast that with how the competitors are doing. The first and the cheapest one is efficient use of electricity. ...Contrary to the common supposition of diminishing returns and an exhaustible efficiency resource, the actual potential savings keep getting bigger and cheaper, because the technology is continuing to improve faster than we use it. The low-hanging fruit is still mushing up around our ankles but the tree keep growing more fruit and dropping it on our heads. What part of this don't we understand?

About three-quarters of all electricity we use in North America can be saved cheaper than just running a coal or nuclear plant and delivering its power, even if the capital costs of the plant were zero. It's interesting that California, the single biggest market in North America, has held it's per capita use of electricity flat for 30 years. And some places... like Vermont, are actually sending that number downwards, because they're saving electricity faster than their economy and population are growing. But we don't have comprehensive, accurate measurements of how much electricity is being saved. We just know it's a big number, and we know it's still a tiny fraction of how much efficiency is available and worth buying.

Then he talked about other, less risky competitors to nuclear.

The two competing sources that are easy to measure are collectively called micropower — not central plants, but more distributed capacity that's at or near the customers, or at least comes in more decentralized, diversified form. Micropower is providing now between one-sixth and over half of all electricity in 13 industrial countries. Denmark is the leader with about 53 per cent last year. You'll notice this does not count big hydro. If we don't count any hydro above 10 megawatts, then the added micropower capacity last year in the world was 41 gigawatts, compared to 3.7 gigawatts for all kinds of nuclear — none of which was a CANDU (technology)."

There are two kinds of micropower. One is co-gen and combined heat and power. That was about two-thirds of the new capacity and three-quarters of the new electricity last year. The rest was distributed or decentralized renewables, which was a $38 billion U.S. global market last year for selling equipment. That's wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro and biomass. So the overall numbers are quite impressive. Micropower surpassed nuclear power in worldwide installed capacity in 2002, and surpassed nuclear in electricity generated per year just in the last few months. But more interesting is market share — micropower provided a sixth of the world's total electricity last year. Micropower last year provided 32 per cent of the world's new electricity and 16 per cent of the world's total electricity; nuclear last year provided respectively 8 per cent of the new and 16 per cent of the total. In terms of electricity generated, micropower last year had four times nuclear's market share, and it added 11-times as much capacity as nuclear, or 8 times as much if you don't count standby and peaking units, but you should.

Lovins also talked about the capacity of renewables, such as wind and solar, and their capacity to replace the baseload power that comes from nuclear plants.

The variability of sun, wind and so on, turns out to be a non-problem if you do several sensible things. One is to diversify your renewables by technology, so that weather conditions bad for one kind are good for another. Second, you diversify by site so they're not all subject to the same weather pattern at the same time because they're in the same place. Third, you use standard weather forecasting techniques to forecast wind, sun and rain, and of course hydro operators do this right now. Fourth, you integrate all your resources — supply side and demand side — so for example, in the Pacific Northwest, where we're rich in hydropower, for 0.6 cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour the Bonneville Power Administration will firm your wind power. That is, they combine your wind with their hydro and open and close the valves on the dams so that whenever the wind is not blowing and you need the power you can dispatch hydro instead on a firm contractual basis.

In places that don't have surplus or adequate hydropower, it's becoming equally straightforward and much cheaper to back up your wind from a virtual peaker drawn from load management. Like, for example, turning off your water heater for 15 minutes — you won't even know it's happening. That's done automatically, and the power that was going to go into your water heat instead backs up the wind. You can do other kinds of storage as well. For less than 1 cent (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour, you can store bulk electricity as compressed air in a salt cavern. Typically it's much cheaper to manage loads on the demand side than to store electricity on the supply side. But in a grid that is hydro rich, and with an end-use structure that is as inefficient and has as much space in water heating with electricity as you have in Ontario, it's really very straightforward to have large amounts of variable renewables without in any way comprising reliability. It's also worth bearing in mind that although wind and photovoltaics are quite variable, geothermal, biomass and small hydro are not. So you can't even apply this issue to a lot of renewables that are big in the marketplace.

Hamilton asked if Ontario could realistically phase out both coal and nuclear plants in the next twenty years. Lovins replied,

I think it would require a much more aggressive commitment to doing the cheapest things first, especially for modern, end-use efficiency. For example, I'm talking to you from a building at 2,200 metres in the Rockies where it can go to minus 44 C -- you can get frost on any day of the year and you can get 39 days of continuous mid-winter cloud. In the middle of my house I've harvested so far 28 banana crops with no heating system, and it's cheaper to build that way because super insulation and super windows and air-to-air heat exchangers add less to the construction cost than what you take off the construction cost by not needing a heating system. So the house was about $1,100 (U.S.) cheaper to build with good comfort but no heating system.

Hamilton asked about the reliance of micropower, such as co-generation, on natural gas and its effect on CO2 emissions. Lovins explained,

Two-thirds of the co-gen in the world is gas-fired, but both because gas is less carbon-intensive than coal and because you're displacing a separate power plant and boiler or furnace with one unit that's much more efficient overall, you save carbon. Altogether counting the gas-fired and all the other co-gen around the world, you're saving at least half the carbon compared to what it replaces. So yes, I'm making proper allowance for the carbon that does come out of the co-gen and counting the measured cost of the renewables. In fact, I'm counting a wind cost that is over twice as big as the cheapest wind farms built lately. And I'm counting all the cost of making the renewables, like wind, fully dispatchable. So it's an entirely apples-to-apples comparison, and I've done it on a consistent accounting basis but made sure I used assumptions that were favourable to nuclear and other central stations.

Hamilton asked about whether micropower could power plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars.

[I]n the right circumstances it can be an attractive option. The amount of electricity required is quite modest, and it would be at night so wouldn't add to peak capacity requirements. And the electricity needed is a very small fraction of what can be saved running existing thermal stations. So for relatively short trips, shaving into medium trips as batteries get cheaper, this could be an attractive option. It will, of course, have to compete with efficient fuelled hybrid, including biofueled hybrids, and ultra-lights that further double efficiency.

Lovins general philophy is an end to corporate welfare.

Let electricity and energy compete fairly at honest prices regardless of which kind they are — savings or production — or what technology they use, or how big they are, or where they are, or who owns them. If we did that, we certainly wouldn't order more nuclear plants and we'd be phasing out the existing coal and nuclear plants because it's cheaper not to run them than to run them.

He would also align the interest of providers and consumers as an incentive for conservation.

I would make sure that the distributors of electricity and gas...are rewarded for cutting your bill, not for selling you more energy. This could be done by well-understood techniques that decouple profits from sales volumes so the distributors are not rewarded for selling more, nor penalized for selling less. Then I would let them keep as extra profit part of what they save the customer, so that the providers' and customers' interests are fully aligned. The lack of this well-understood reform is the biggest obstacle to using electricity in a way that saves money.

Lovins concluded by talking about the current investments trends in the private sector:

I find it very instructive that essentially all of the efficiency in micropower being bought in the world is financed by private risk capital, but I can't find a single new nuclear project on earth that has a penny of private capital at risk. So what does this tell us? I think it tells us that investors perceive higher cost and higher financial risk in nuclear. They find that unacceptable, and they're buying the other stuff instead. The clean energy space, worldwide, is getting $63 billion (U.S.) of investment this year. Why is that? Why is nuclear struggling to find single orders, scouring the earth for them, and they're all ordered by central planners and largely supported by the public purse; whereas vendors of the competing technologies, which already have four times the energy market share and 11 times the capacity, they are finding it hard to keep up with the explosive growth in their businesses.

In August 2005 the U.S. passed a new law offering on top of the existing nuclear subsidies, further subsidies of around 4 or 5 cents a kilowatt-hour, which equals the entire capital cost of the next six units to be ordered, if any. What was the market's response to this? Well, Standard & Poor's promptly put out two reports saying that even this massive intervention would not materially improve the credit ratings of the builders. In other words, even paying for the whole construction of the plant has the same effect of defibrillating a corpse — it will jump but it won't revive. This technology has died with an incurable attack of market forces. I'm sorry — it was done with good intentions, a lot of talented people devoted their careers to it, but like Betamax it lost out in a competitive market. Other better, cheaper stuff got to the customers first. By now, probably less than half of the world market in new electrical services is being met by any kind of central thermal power station. So let's wake up, look at the data, and make sure we count both halves of the market; not just competition between traditional central thermal plants, but also how they are being rapidly displaced by faster, cheaper and more benign alternatives.

If the public authority is doing the opposite of what the private market is doing, should that ring your alarm bells? It sure does for me.... [Is] electricity...such an immature sector that central planners' choices should be preferred to those of private capitalists.... The word `risky' is a tip-off that the people who would benefit from the choice proposed want to put their hand in your pocket again, and don't want you to notice that the private market is choosing better buys than what your local central planners are proposing.


Yesterday, "Harpers Targets Obama," I wrote about the candidate's take on ethanol. Lovin's Rocky Mountain Institute makes its Winning the Oil End Game available free for download. http://tr.im/RMI_Oil_End_Game. Here is the summary of its strategy from the abstract:

Our strategy integrates four technological ways to displace oil: using oil twice as efficiently, then substituting biofuels, saved natural gas, and, optionally, hydrogen. Fully applying today’s best efficiency technologies in a doubled-GDP 2025 economy would save half the projected U.S. oil use at half its forecast cost per barrel. Non-oil substitutes for the remaining consumption would also cost less than oil.


There is an extensive section in the book on substituting biofuels and biomaterials for oil.

RMI also maintains a blog, on which I found a link to "My Big Biofuels Bet," by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in the October 2006 Wired. Khosla has invested in a Nebraska blant that uses cow manure to produce the electricity needed to produce ethanol and to fertilize the cornfields. This will improve the energy-balance of corn-based ethanol, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the farm, and pave the way for further development of cellulosic ethanol, such as produced in Brazil, which has proved to be even more energy efficient. To keep up on alternative energy, another interesting site is the Alternative Energy Action Network cofounded by Arthur Smith. (email) ( Smith, by the way, disputes Lovins, but readers of the network side wiht Lovins.)


Harpers Targets Obama

The montage combines the cover from the November 2006 Harpers with a photograph of Barack Obama from the news release announcing his keynote address at Harvard Law School's celebration of black alumni on September 17, 2005.

John Dufresne's blog for yesterday featured his caption, "consider the possibility" with a picture of an Obama in 2008 button. I have already mentioned Obama on Charlie Rose in connection with his book tour.

Saturday, October 21, I happened to pick up the November Harper's with the cover story on pages 31-40, "Barack Obama Inc.: The birth of a Washington Machine" by Washington editor Ken Silverstein (email). No no copy has been posted to the site (yet?).

Eric Alterman (blog at Media Matters, Altercation) and Silverstein are currentlyengaging in a pissing match about the article and an earlier article on Alterman by Silverstein in the Villiage Voice which I couldn't find but according to Susan Lehman in her December 4, 1998 Salon Media Circus column entry "Ahoy Mates" was a

vicious hatchet job [in which]... Ken Silverstein, in the Village Voice some years back -- referred to Alterman as "3/4 brown noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy."

Alterman, in his Huffington Post entry "Pre-election Potpourr" on October 19 said that Silverstein had done "a foolish hit job" on Obama. Silverstein, in his blog, Washington Babylon's October 23 entry, "Booted by MSNBC, is Alterman Making a Pitch to be Obama's Press Secretary?" sums up his description of Obama in Harpers:

In the article, I described Obama as possibly the most charismatic Democrat since Robert F. Kennedy, and noted that he is sincere, well-intentioned, and genuinely interested in changing our political culture. The article did take stock of Obama's record in Washington, since much of it looks disappointingly conventional. Because Washington is so intensely hostile to reform and reformers, a progressive like Obama may not be able to accomplish much.

I agree with Alterman that the article, taken in conjuction with its title and cover illustration is indeed a hit job and Silverstein's response seems disingenuous. Rather than being merely "disappointingly conventional," Silverstein depicts Obama as being in the pocket of lobbyists, at least with regard to his support of corn-based ethanol. Consider this criticism of Obama's July appearance at the Center for American Progress's Campus Progress conference :

Despite its audience and ostensible subject matter, however, Obama's speech contained just a singfle call for political action..."Give it up for Mark."...Obama had essentially marshalled his undeniably moving oratory to plump for the classic pork- barrel cause of every Midwestern politician.

Mark Pike, of the Center-sponsored "Kick the Oil Habit" campaign (co-sponsor list) was heading cross country in a flex-fuel vehicle and would only stop at stations selling 85% ethanol fuel, which has been criticized by being bad for conservation because it requires large amounts of fossil fuel for its production, while gasoline gets 30% more miles per gallon.

Silverstein adds that

Obama, Durbin and three other farm state senators opposed a proposal by the Bush administration earlier this year to lower still tariff's on cheap sugarcaneibased ethanol from Brazil and other countries.

Silverstein criticizes Obama for lending his name to a letter with the

dubious implication that Brazilian ethanol is a national security liability comparible to Saudi crude [indicating]...that he is at least as interested in protecting domestic producers of ethanol as he is in weaning America from imported petroleum.

Robert John Keefe (email) in his October 15 entry "Obama and Ethanol" on Daily Blaugue, calls the article "disheartening but unsurprising." He quotes Ted Patzek (sic--it's actually Tad), of the University of California at Berkeley's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as saying that ethanol production is based on

the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the US taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel.

Keefe says that Silverstein quotes Patzek, but in leafing back through the article just now, I couldn't find the citation. I was able, however, to find the context for the comment which is from Patzek (email)'s article,"Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle" which appeared in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 23(6):519-567 (2004). Tad W. Patzek.

I have tried to avoid political questions, but at some point one should ask how it was possible for a poor agri-industrial technology to grow so explosively in the last four years? The only plausible answer lies in politics. The recent growth of ethanol production could occur only because of the massive transfer of money from the collective pocket of the U.S. taxpayers to the transnational agricultural cartel, represented most notably by Archer Daniel Midlands Co., Cargill Inc., Monsanto Co., and A. E. Stanley Manufacturing Co. This flow of billions of dollars from the pockets of the many to the pockets of the few was accomplished by federal subsidies of corn producers, and the federal and state tax subsidies of ethanol producers. It was spearheaded by many powerful, and I would like to think, thoroughly misinformed politicians.

More ominously, as a country, we have diverted our collective attention from the most important issue of this century: energy conservation and increased reliance on the only renewable source of energy, the sun, and its weak derivative, the wind, see Appendix C. Instead, we have somewhat accelerated the rate of depletion of the precious natural gas and crude oil deposits, in exchange for the significantly more wide-spread pollution of water, soil and air over roughly 1/2 of the area of the United States, the incremental carbon dioxide emissions, the substandard ethanol fuel, and the continuous drain of taxpayers' money.

Keefe says of Obama,

In his attempt to become a viable progressive - that is, a legislator who can count on the contributions that will get him re-elected - Senator Obama has done a fair amount of trimming. I gave up on him a year ago, when he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans. I'm afraid that he's just another Kennedy.


I disagree with Alterman's derisive adjective, "foolish." The question for me, "Is Silverstein's hit job valid?" I decided to do some reading on Obama's position on ethanol. I found a March 21, 2006 interview with Grist Magazine , in which author Dasvid Roberts sums up his opinion of Obama,

when I sat across from Obama in a Seattle cafe booth, I sensed no duplicity. His much-storied charisma makes such judgments difficult, of course, but he seemed to have a grasp of the energy situation far broader than bringing home the pork to his constituents. He acknowledged the limitations of his proposals but was unapologetically pragmatic about strategy. He's playing the long game.

This is what Obama had to say about his energy strategy:

I support significant increases in CAFE standards. But we've brought that to the floor again and again and again, and we can't get it passed in its current iteration. I was one of the cosponsors of the amendment to the energy bill last year -- we just couldn't get enough votes. Including, unfortunately, two of our Democratic senators from Michigan, because they're concerned about the auto industry. No matter how much you want to talk about the big picture, people still think very locally.

I think cellulosic ethanol is probably our best short-term solution. The amount of energy required to produce cellulosic ethanol is a significant improvement over corn-based ethanol. The technology exists. We don't have to change distribution systems; essentially it pumps just like gasoline. It only costs $100 to retrofit any vehicle out there. And if Brazil can do it in the span of three or four years, while cutting their transportation-gasoline use essentially in half, there's no reason we can't do it.

So I guess my answer would be: This is an important series of first steps that moves us in the right direction. It is not sufficient to create a sustainable, long-term energy strategy, but it'll be a component of it.

Reader Alec Johnson responded:

I used to have a great deal of respect for Barack Obama, but no longer do. He voted for the egregious Bankruptcy Bill and Dick Cheney's hideous Energy Bill -- neither are even remotely progressive pieces of legislation.

Everyone is getting on the biofuels band wagon, which is more than a bit self-serving for the junior Senator from Illinois. One wonders if he is innumerate, like most of the rest of our population. Do the math, Barack, we do not have enough land mass to grow biofuel and food, regardless of the alleged (and highly dubious) positive energy yield biofuel proponents profess, we'd need something on the order of three additional continents, each the size of the US, to seriously produce the amount of fuel we consume today, not to mention what we are likely to consume next year. At best, biofuels might have a limited utility as a boutique fuel, produced on farms to power farm machinery. I can only conclude that Senator Obama is either an innumerate fool or just another self-serving politician, perhaps both. Don't be deceived by his smile and posturing. And next time you interview him, ask him how he could vote for the Bankruptcy bill and still style himself a progressive.

Before going on to other charges (the bankrupcy bill, Katrina, Obama's support of Lieberman, etc) I wanted to look further into the ethanol bill. It's current incarnation is S. 2446 introduced on March 16, 2006 and stalled in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill's co-sponsor, Dick Lugar (R-IN) issued a news release June 7, "Greenspan cites need for rapid cellulosic ethanol product." Greenspan's testimony at the Foreign Relations committee that date can be found here.

Lugar characterizes the bill:

S. 2446, which would take a four-step approach to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. First, the legislation would spur investment in alternative fuels by increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol and create an Alternative Diesel Standard. Second, it would help increase consumer demand for alternative fuels by providing a short-term, 35 cents per gallon tax credit for E85 fuel and by providing automakers with a $100 tax credit for every FFV produced. Third, it would require the U.S. government to increase access to alternative fuels by requiring the government to allow public access to alternative fueling stations located on federal government property. Finally, it would create a Director of Energy Security to oversee and keep America focused on its goal of energy independence.

While Lugar lists increasing the production of cellulosic biomass ethanol as the first priority of the bill, in actuality, the only specific mention is in section 6, which proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code to extend the alcohol fuel mixture excise tax credit to cellulosic biomass ethanol. I will leave it up to environmental policy experts to evaluate if that makes the bill worthwhile or if the suspicions of environmentalists are valid, as David Roberts sums it up:

With the smell of pork in the air, greens worry that rather than a balanced package of energy initiatives (efficiency incentives, grid improvements, carbon taxes, etc.), America will simply be saddled with yet another massive, entrenched, politically connected, heavily subsidized industry.


Next, I decided to look Keefe's complaint about Obama and Katrina that " he was nowhere in the public discussion of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans." Obama has always comported himself as a bridge builder. I would not expect him to use the term "ethnic cleansing," which, while perhaps valid, is confrontational. Obama did address Katrina his speech to his fellow Black Harvard Law alums. I have yet to find the entire speech; it is not on his Senate website. However Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe quoted extensively in her September 18, 2005 article, "Obama urges alumni to help fight poverty: Gives speech at Harvard meeting of black grads." According to her, he

urged the nearly 1,000 people in attendance to take personal responsibility in combating the urban poverty brought to light after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

She quotes Obama,

The people that we saw in front of the Superdome and in front of the convention center, they had been abandoned before the hurricane.....The violence has always been there. It just wasn't on your television screen because it wasn't spilling out onto the lives of the rest of us..

Obama spoke about the

festering sores of poverty and racism

I do not ascribe to the White House . . . any active malice....'But rather what was revealed was a passive indifference that is common in our culture, common in our society -- the sense that of course once the evacuation order was issued that you will hop in your SUV with $100 worth of gasoline and load up your truck with sparkling water and take your credit card and check into the nearest hotel until the storm passed. And the notion that folks couldn't do that simply did not register in the minds of those in charge.

In the question and answer period, Obama added,

'We want to ensure that people who've been displaced have opportunities to participate in the rebuilding of their own communities.

Obama gave two statements on Katrina as a senator. In the first on September 5, he

a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.

In the coming weeks, as the images of the immediate crisis fade and this chamber becomes consumed with other matters, we will be hearing a lot about lessons learned and steps to be taken. I will be among those voices calling for action.

Once the situation is stable, once families are settled - at least for the short term - once children are reunited with their parents and enrolled in schools and the wounds have healed, we're gonna have to do some hard thinking about how we could have failed our fellow citizens so badly, and how we will prevent such a failure from ever occurring again.

The second was a February 1, 2006 floor statement in the support of a tax credit amendement that he intended to introduce as part of the Tax Reconciliation Act.

We all know what happened to the families on the Gulf Coast due to Hurricane Katrina, and it will be a long time before these families can rebuild their lives. Many of the families in the affected states were evacuated to other areas, and many of them cannot even afford to go back. And the federal response so far has been inadequate to get these families effectively back on their feet.

We need to do better. At a time when we are debating $70 billion of tax breaks, many of which will benefit those who need the least help, it is critical that we remember the worst off and the most vulnerable members of our society.

The bus is coming. More later.


Appalachia's Last Stand: An Open Letter to West Virginia Citizens and the Congress of the United States

On Monday, October 16, 2006 a group of writers spoke with coalfield residents about their experiences with mountaintop removal (MTR) and thereafter flew over the area to view the devastation. Following is a letter we composed the next morning.

On October 16 and 17, sixteen writers gathered in the heart of West Virginia to hear testimony and witness first hand the grievous effects of mountaintop removal. We learned these five devastating facts:

  1. Toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, copper, arsenic, lead, and selenium have been released into the water system which feeds the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This injures not only local residents but threatens water systems all the way to the Gulf.
  2. Dozens of dams (built from mining refuse to contain the toxic waste from mining and cleaning coal) are in danger of breaking. One holds over 3 billion (3,000,000,000) gallons of toxic sludge just 400 yards from Marsh Fork Elementary School. This sludge dam holds back twenty times as much toxic muck as the one at Buffalo Creek, whose rupture killed 125 people in 1972. 
  3. Coal companies have decapitated 474 mountains through the Appalachian region. Almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains have been leveled. West Virginia has lost 500,000 acres.
  4. Every day in WV, three million (3,000,000) pounds of ammonium-nitrate and diesel fuel are used to blow up mountains. This also releases untold quantities of coal and silica dust into the air.
  5. People's homes, property, and businesses have been damaged and destroyed as a direct result of mountaintop removal. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood. The Federal court in Raleigh County, WV, has held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable for this devastation.

In human terms what does this mean? This is what coal-field natives say:

  • This is not a story. These are our lives.
  • My children go to bed with their shoes on, so they can run in case of a flood.
  • I never imagined I'd sit on my front porch, watching the horizon disappear.
  • The first ones going to get it is our little children.
  • Where will our kids live, and our grandkids, and our children's grandkids?
  • Our golden years have turned to black years.
  • We're prisoners in our own homes.
  • Greed is overcoming common sense.
  • Why should I sell my home, when they are breaking the law? No one should have to live like we are.
  • Why destroy our homes for 30 years worth of energy? Why destroy our land, our air, our water?
  • This is not an act of G-d; this is an act of greed.
  • You're bound every where you turn.
  • This is not only a coal-field thing; this is a global thing.
  • This is a war zone. Not only do we have to fight the companies, but we have to fight our cousins and neighbors.
  • A man shouldn't have to poison his neighbors to feed himself.
We do not blame individual miners for struggling to support their families. They, too, are being forced to participate in the demise of their own culture. But this systematic destruction cannot be allowed to continue.

The fight against mountaintop removal will continue in Appalachia, and ultimately the struggle for justice must extend beyond our borders. We call for the end of mountaintop removal, and we call on the United States Congress to take immediate action to save our children, our people, and our mountains.

From Writers who live in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio:

Bob Henry Baber
Adam Brown
Laura Treacy Bentley
Katie Fallon
Diane Gillam Fisher
Denise Giardina
Chris Green
Jeff Mann
Sam L. Martin
Irene McKinney
Rob Merritt
Delilah F. O'Haynes
Edwina Pendarvis
Kathy Pleska
John Van Kirk
Beth Wellington


The Second March on Blair Mountain

The photograph of the Second March on Blair Mountain, a slide archived by Mary Hufford and dated August 26, 1999, was taken by Laura Forman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Council, who participated in the march. It comes from the Library of Congress archive exhibit, "Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia," part of the Coal River Folklife Collection at the LOC's Archive of Folk Culture, at the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C. I found Forman's photo at Appalachian Expedition, which shows the natural abundance of Blair Mountain.

With Misty's Sunday Roanoke Times on the kitchen island, I picked up the feature section, which ran a set of stories by Tim Thorton:

I hadn't realized that the number of UMWA workers shrunk from 50,000 to 600, after the battle, or that the army had enthusiastically sent 17 planes to strafe American citizens. But the stories seemed odd because there was no context, no point of view. Then I checked the website. It turns out that the Virginia section, which was no longer available by the time I looked for the rest of the paper, ran Thornton's major article, "Mine it or enshrine it?
A new Blair Mountain battle pits groups that want to preserve it against ones that would tear it down"
as part of its series on mountaintop removal.

That story provides the contect that this weekend is the eighty-fifth anniversay of the U.S. Army march onto Blair Mountain to fight coal miners in Logan County, West Virginia trying to organize a union under the banner of the United Mine Workers of America. The miners came up against state police, Logan County deputies, volunteers and conscripts and finally, not just federal troops, but those airplanes. Thornton writes,

Now the federal government is in the middle of a fight about the fate of Blair Mountain itself.

One side sees the mountain as hallowed ground, a battleground with a vital place in American history. The other sees it as a repository of billions of dollars worth of energy-generating, profit-producing coal. The first group wants to put the mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. The second wants to tear it down to get at the coal inside.

The place where West Virginia’s mine wars came to an end is being demolished by mountaintop-removal mining. And the battle over how far that mining will reach has been running for years.

Thornton reports that mining companies twice reached agreements with the United Mine Workers of America that

would have set aside about eight acres of the mountain to commemorate the battle and coal heritage. The plan included little more development than an observation tower.

“From this viewpoint, tourists will be able to link the past with the future,” a 1991 agreement said, “through a combination of signs and photos depicting the past while watching state-of-the-art surface mining equipment in a present day mine setting.”

Preservationists want, instead, to set aside 1,600 acres of the mountain without an observation tower and without any mining to observe.

Greg Wooten, chief operating officer of Dingus-Rum Properties depicts the effort to set aside land on Blair Mountain as

simply an attempt by the Sierra Club to stop mining while cloaked in the robes of historic preservation.

Stuart McGehee, a historian who helped mining companies develop strategies continue mining the mountain claims

There has been no ongoing effort by anybody.There is no Logan County Historical Society. There is no Friends of Blair Mountain. … They’ve never mounted any effort to do anything at Blair Mountain.

In fact, the only people who proposed to do any interpretation there are the coal companies — albeit after they’ve knocked the mountain down and got the coal out.

While it is true that the Sierra Club and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have been fighting strip mining and support the preservation, it is actually a small group of local people, according to Thornton, who has been working, since at least 1991, to preserve the mountain. Kenny King (NPR photo from a July story on Blair Mountain), involved with

a state-sponsored study of the area, began to turn up artifacts of the battle: cartridges; buttons; bullets embedded in wood; a rusting revolver. King, who had forebears on both sides of the 1921 battle, lives in Stollings, on the Logan side of the mountain. He works with James Weekley, who lives on the Blair side. Weekley formed the Blair Mountain Historical Organization in 1998. He organized a re-creation of the miners’ 1921 march from Marmet, just outside Charleston, to Blair Mountain.

“What I am doing is for the miners who have lost their life in the mines and in the Battle of Blair Mountain,” Weekley, a retired miner, said at his home outside Blair.

While the the coal companies want to deny their existence, Elizabeth Newberry in the May-June 2000 issue Soujourner's magazine story "16 Tons and What Do You Get? " noted,

James Weekley founded Blair Mountain Historical Organization in February 1999 after seeing the results of mountaintop removal from his front yard. "I saw the devastation of mountain, streams, and everything my grandfather worked for," Weekley said. "I had to protect the future for my grandchildren and children."

While the group’s main objective is to preserve Blair Mountain as a historic site and to use it as the base for eco-tourism, Weekley and other Blair coal-field residents sued the federal government for improper enforcement of surface mining regulations and the Clean Water Act of 1977. Last October, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Haden II ruled [see Charleston Gazette's archive on the ruling and subsequent appeals ]in favor of Weekley and the plaintiffs. Haden’s order could stop mountaintop removal as it is currently practiced.

Newberry quotes Julia Bonds, then an organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch in Raleigh County, West Virginia.

Most of us are poor. Home and water are all we have. We have no place other than our land to move to. We endure what the coal companies put us through.

Regarding requests for historic designation of scattered sites associated with the battle, Thornton reports that the West Virginia Archive and History Commission had rejected them. But after more than a decade of trying, the preservationists won a victory in May 2005 , at its meeting at Chief Logan State Park, when the commission voted to send the nomination to set aside the 1,600 acres to the National Park Service.

The minutes of that meeting note that Frank Unger, a historian, had prepared the nomination for Battle of Blair Mountain Site, Logan County. His presentation, "Myths and Lies,"

spoke to what he identified as misconceptions, myths and lies associated with the site by those opposed to its being listed on the National Register. He noted the significance of the ridge line being nominated as the defensive position of those forces opposing the miners march on Logan and its importance to American labor history, and cited examples and sources documenting the existence of logging roads and gas wells having an impact on the terrain at that time. He contended that the historical and current slides demonstrated that the property retained the essential physical features that enable it to convey its historic identity and the site's integrity. He referred members to a brochure ...demonstrating these features with an aerial photo of the Left Fork of Beech Creek, one of the important earlier advances by the union miners. He emphasiz[ed] the importance of the battle to labor history, of the ridge line's importance to the battle, and the remaining integrity of this line.

James Dao of the New York Times reported in his May 15, 2005 story, "A New Campaign to Preserve an Old Mining Battlefield, " that the union's unwillingness to help protect the entire mountain has frustrated King.

It's their history. You'd think they'd want to save it.

Regarding testimony at the Commission meeting that the mountain had become a dump for discarded furniture and appliances, he replied,

You can clean up the garbage. You can't put a mountain back.

According to Dao, in 1991 the UMWA initiated the preservation efforts, but withdrew its support in the late 1990's, which resulted in King taking over the campaign, enlisting the help of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

The failure of a state commission nominated site is rare, according to Dao. He says that Paul Lusignan, a Park Service historian, reported that the agency generally accepted "99 percent" of the nominations it received from state commissions. But if the National Register decides Blair Mountain deserves to be listed, it would required a majority of the landowners for inclusion.

Historic designation would make it more difficult, but not impossible to strip mine, according to Thornton. The park service sent back the application to the commission, saying in a letter, that while the historic importance of the battle is unquestionable,

the struggle to define the locations, extent and comprehensive assessment of the physical integrity of these places continues.

Companies which want to mine Blair Mountain have sued the commission, claiming not all landowners in the area received proper notification about the plans for the historic designation. Other suits contest the mining permits those companies have and are seeking on and around Blair Mountain. Meanwhile , another mine has begun operations within sight of the mountain.

In January of this year, the Commission put Blair Mountain on a list of 27 endangered historical sites in West Virginia. In May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the mountain one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the nation.

Over the years, various local efforts to preserve the battle site have been blocked by the coal companies that own or lease the property where the conflict occurred. Now coal companies appear intent upon strip-mining Spruce Fork Ridge, which would completely obliterate the well-preserved and intact site. Only by drawing national attention to the importance of the events at Blair Mountain is this threatened battlefield likely to be saved....

Past preservation efforts have failed because of fierce opposition from the coal companies that own or lease most of the ridge. Hobet Mining, Arch Coal, Massey Energy Company and Aracoma Coal Company, among others, are intent on strip-mining, which would destroy the battlefield. Permits for strip-mining are issued through the Army Corps of Engineers, which is subject to a federal preservation review process that provides for consideration of – but not necessarily protection of – historic sites.

Said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust.

It is particularly important, given the recent mining tragedies in West Virginia, that we not lose this symbol of the bravery and determination of union miners to improve their working conditions. It is incumbent upon the property owners and preservationists to work together to permanently protect and interpret this little known but highly significant historic place.

His group hopes that by

increasing public awareness of the significance of the Blair Mountain battlefield, preservation advocates hope to win support for permanently protecting the site with easements and developing a economically sustainable interpretive program, possibly through the National Coal Heritage Area, which would allow the region to take advantage of West Virginia's fastest-growing industry – tourism. An independent evaluation of alternate mining methods may illuminate means by which the site could be mined and preserved. The best possible solution would be a compromise between the property owners and preservationists that will save the site for interpretation, while bringing economic benefit to the owners and local residents.

The group' has an article on King and his efforts. It also has a petition to sign.

Regarding the National Park Service application, the West Virginia commission is waiting on a revised application from the preservationists. According to Susan Pierce, deputy state historic preservation officer,most of the revisions the commission requested are procedural and presentational. The commission meets next on September 29, but Pierce says there is no deadline and she doesn't know if the revisions will be ready by that time.

According to Thornton, King has spent much of the summer building more evidence for the application, working with an archaeologist, documenting more sites involved in the battle. King knows that his opponents are powerful.

“They got the land,” they got the coal rights. They can sit on it for years, I guess.

I'm glad that Thornton reported on this story; my only quibble is that by his arrangement of the story, his ommission of any quotes by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and his giving the last word to the coal companes's historian, McGhee, he could pursuade a casual reader seeing this story and the ones in the feature section, to come away on the side of the coal companies.

The irony of company opposition to mountaintop removal harking back to other abuses is contained in the note describing the photograph:

To invoke the principles of democracy that informed the original march on Blair Mountain, and to call attention to the historic value of this contested site, the BMHO [Blair Mountain Historical Organization] and CRMW [Coal River Mountain Watch], with support from other citizen groups, including the Ohio Valley Environmental Council and Appalachian Voices, staged another march [on Blair Mountain.]

This march erupted into an unplanned dramatization of the historical conflict when the marchers were assaulted, kicked, and pelted en route by spectators who believed the march to be nothing more than a protest against mountaintop removal.

The rest of the note:

In late August of 1999 the Blair Mountain Historical Organization and the Coal River Mountain Watch sponsored a commemorative march on Blair Mountain. The march, which took several days to complete, retraced the steps of ten thousand armed miners who marched to Blair Mountain in 1921 in order to force coal operators in Logan County to recognize the union. At that time, Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin was keeping the union out of his county with the help of ""thugs"" -- Pinkerton detectives paid for by the coal companies. In the largest domestic military confrontation since the Civil War, the uprising was quelled with federal troops and bombers, and the union never did gain a foothold there until Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act into law more than a decade later.

In the wake of these events, Blair Mountain has come to represent a powerful moment in the struggle for workers' rights. In the 1980s, the United Mineworkers Journal dubbed a UMW protest over plans to strip Blair Mountain the ""Second Battle of Blair Mountain."" (""The Second Battle of Blair Mountain,"" 1991) A UMWA effort to nominate Blair Mountain to the National Register of Historic Places resulted in a compromise between the Daltex and Sharples coal corporations and the UMWA. This compromise would allow Daltex and Sharples to stripmine the coal from Blair Mountain, in exchange for an eight-acre park and the creation of several historic sites. (Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology, 1991). However, a plan to extract the remaining coal from Blair Mountain with union labor has been halted, pending the outcome of an appeal of a court case in which federal judge Charles Haden ruled that filling in perennial streams with mine waste violates the 100 foot stream buffer zone mandated by the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.


Chamber of Commerce and the Mimimum Wage

The dapper dude in the photo is U.S. Chamber vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits, a highlighted speaker at the anti-liberal Federalist Society 's 2005 National Lawyers Convention. The next convention is in November--place as yet unannounced.


Randel K. Johnson joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1997 and he's the go-to man on legislation and government programs regarding the minimum wage. According to a bio I found at the publications page of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations,
Prior to joining the chamber, he was the Republican labor coordinator for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
The House of Representatives closed shop for its recess today after after passing two measures I've been writing about for the past several days. The first measure chained an increase in the minimum wage to a huge reduction in the estate tax. Looks to me like the Republicans are getting ready for the election and want to rebut the Democrats criticism that they are responsible for no increase in the minimum wage during the last 10 years. With the Senate opposition to the estate tax reductions at this level, I've got to wonder if they are making that issue a poison pill for the increase.

 After all, many of their constituents--including Chambers of Commerce--have opposed increases in the minimum wage for years. The Chamber ran a feature, "U.S. Chamber Opposes Raising Minimum Wage" in its magazine as recently as May 2006, although, interestingly, this is one of the few articles on its website available only to members. Publicly available are the news releases the Chamber sent out. June 18 2004 its railing against Senator Kerry featured comments by Johnson:
While the political appeal of this proposal is obvious, the fact remains businesses and workers will be losers under this proposal....The majority of economists agree that raising the minimum wage kills job creation. Placing this burden on small businesses will stifle our economic growth....Small businesses cannot simply wave a magic wand to create more revenue when lawmakers pass these types of bills. It is these businesses, the backbone of our economy, which will be hurt the most by this proposal. Some politicians may view initiatives such as these as a painless way to appeal to voters. But in reality, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Johnson pointed to a study by the Employment Policies Institute, "Job Loss in a Booming Economy, 2nd Edition" saying that it suggested the 1996 minimum wage increase of only 50 cents per hour destroyed approximately 645,000 entry-level jobs.
According to Sourcewatch.org,
The Employment Policies Institute is one of several front groups created by Berman & Co., a Washington, DC public affairs firm owned by Rick Berman, who lobbies for the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. EPI, registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, has has been widely quoted in news stories regarding minimum wage issues, and although a few of those stories have correctly described it as a "think tank financed by business," most stories fail to provide any identification that would enable readers to identify the vested interests behind its pronouncements. Instead, it is usually described exactly the way it describes itself, as a "non-profit research organization dedicated to studying public policy issues surrounding employment growth" that "focuses on issues that affect entry-level employment." In reality, EPI's mission is to keep the minimum wage low so Berman's clients can continue to pay their workers as little as possible.

EPI also owns the internet domain names to MinimumWage.com (http://www.minimumwage.com) and LivingWage.com (http://www.livingwage.com), a website that attempts to portray the idea of a living wage for workers as some kind of insidious conspiracy. "Living wage activists want nothing less than a national living wage," it warns (as though there is something wrong with paying employees enough that they can afford to eat and pay rent).
I'm presuming minimum-wage/estate tax bill is the still-unavailable-as-of 3:34 p.m. H.R. 4.  At that time, Associated Press tax writer Mary Dalrymple had posted her story on the bill which would:
  • increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, phased in over three years.
  • lower estate taxes by exempting $5 million of an individual's estate, and $10 million of a couple's, from estate taxes by 2015.
  • tax estates worth up to $25 million at capital gains rates, currently 15 percent and scheduled to rise to 20 percent.
  • trim rates on the remainder of larger estates to 30 percent by 2015.
The other bill passed was the pension measure. More to come.

UPDATE: The minimum wage measure is H.R. 5970: See: "Stealthy Poison: Minimum Wage Raise Linked Estate Tax Cut, Backdoor CUT for Tipped Workers." The pension measure is HR. 4. which Democrats complain the measure favors some industries and doesn't do enough to prevent employers from eliminating defined-benefit plans, according to the AP's Jim Abrams.


Lieberman: Another Democrat Independent?

Could not find the original image online, but it's attributed to fark.com, so my guess is that it was a photoshop contest.

Makes me wonder whether Joe Lieberman has taken a hint from the playbook of the recent Roanoke City Council winners. Not assured of a win at the Democratic Party mass meeting, the "We are Democrat" independents went straight to the ballot. In a close election against conventional Democrats and Republicans, they won.

Now, the Hartford Courant's Mark Pazniokas, in his article today, "Lieberman Will Petition" quotes Lieberman at today's press conference about his decision to run as an "independent Democrat" even if he loses the August 8 primary:

I've been a proud, loyal and progressive Democrat since John F. Kennedy inspired my generation of Americans into public service and I will stay a Democrat, whether I am the Democraitic party's nominee or a petitioning Democratic candidate on the November ballot.

Almost eerily, even before the announcement, the Courant published a commentary yesterday, "No Conservative: Lieberman's A JFK Democrat" by by Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and Steven J. Nider, director of foreign and security studies at the the DLC's think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

Joe Lieberman, more than any other national Democrat, represents the JFK tradition in the national Democratic Party

Call me cynical, but it smacks of Tass and the days of the politburo, this softening up pof the public, publishing Lieberman's sound bites before he even utters them. They continue,

Driven by a motley coalition of left-wing bloggers and the MoveOn.org crowd, a serious primary challenge has been launched against Lieberman. However, if Lieberman is defeated, a disastrous message would be sent to the nation that centrist hawks are unwelcome in the Democratic Party.

The Connecticut Senate primary is nothing short of a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. That is why outside left-wing groups have converged on this state.

Who needs Republican critics, when the Democrats can so shrilly talk about other members of their party this way?

The Nation's Joe Nichols counters today with "Joe Lieberman's Connecticut Problem."

Were Lieberman merely a predictable centrist Democrat, willing to mumble mild criticisms of the Bush administration's foreign policies but unwilling to make a serious break with the administration, he would not be worrying about the increasingly-viable Democratic primary challenge he faces from anti-war progressive Ned Lamont.

But Lieberman is not a predictable centrist. He is an in-the-pocket Bush man -- at least as far as the war in Iraq goes.


Bob Reich, OMB Watch and the Estate Tax

The poster is from Bob Reich's 2002 run for the Democratic nomination for Massachusettes governor by David Caputo of Positronic Design.

Reich is a true progressive. The primary results split the votes 185,315 for Reich to 243,039 for Shannon O'Brien. But those were not the only candidates. Warren Tolman, also running as a progressive got 132,157 votes. Tom Birmingham, who had the teacher's endorsement, got 139,703 votes. Steve Grossman got 5,971. O'Brien went on to lose to Mitt Romney and now we have his health care reform. (I'll write about that later but, for starters, see these Boston University scholar's analysis).

Today TomPaine.com published Reich's "Estate Tax Pyramid Scheme" on Tom Frith's promise to bring repeal to a vote. Here's what he has to say:

Those who argue for repeal say the estate tax discourages entrepreneurs. What? Passing on $4 million tax free to your kids is not enough incentive?

Talk about discouraging entrepreneurship. Repeal the estate tax and within a few decades control over America’s productive assets will be in the hands of non-productive Americans who never lifted a finger in their lives except to speed-dial their financial advisors.

People who inherit great wealth just because they’re lucky enough to have super-rich parents don’t have any particular incentive to be entrepreneurial. They don’t have any particular incentive to do anything. Giving them control over the American economy is like giving control over a Boeing 777 to teenagers with joysticks.

In response to an action alert from OMB watch, I wrote Senators Warner and Allen the following email. I hope you'll consider sending your own.

Dear Senators Warner and Allen

Please vote "no" on estate tax repeal, if it arises this year. We cannot afford to lose a trillion dollars over the first ten years to provide a tax cut that benefits the wealthiest--only one percent of estates pay any estate tax at all.

Warren Buffet has said, "All these people who think that food stamps are debilitating and lead to a cycle of poverty, they're the same ones who go out and want to leave a ton of money to their kids" (Janet Lowe, "Warren Buffett Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World's Greatest Investor," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997).

According to a new report from United for a Fair Economy, such people from 18 families worth a total of $185 billion have financed and coordinated the repeal campaign. They posed as small businesses and family farmers, saying their livelihoods would be threatened unless the tax were repealed. In fact it’s hard to find a small business or family farm with an estate valued at more than $4 million.

Most of these 18 families have been wealthy for decades. Only five of them include any of the people who first earned the family fortune. If they succeed in their repeal campaign, they’ll save a total of $71 billion on their tax bills. Should such public relatiions budgets drive domestic policy?

Repeal will increase the disparity in income and further tear apart our national morale. Today’s workers are 24 percent more productive than they were five years ago but their median real earnings have barely budged. Most of the increased productivity has gone to people earning over a million dollars a year--mostly CEOs, investment bankers and hedge fund managers. Average CEO pay back in 1966 was 60 times that of the typical American worker. Now it’s 400 times.

Repeal will squelch entrepeneurism. Thirty years ago, the richest 1 percent owned less than a fifth of America’s wealth. Now, according to a recent report by the Fed Reserve Board, they own more than a third. Repeal the estate tax and within a few decades control over America’s productive assets will be in the hands people who inherit great wealth just because they’re lucky enough to have super-rich parents, but don’t have any particular incentive to be entrepreneurial. As Warren Buffet has also said, "“parents should leave children enough so they can do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing. "Giving heirs a lifetime supply of food stamps just because they came out the right womb" is an "antisocial act."

Repeal removes an important incentive in the the tax code for charitable giving. Charities stand to lose roughly $10 billion a year if the federal estate tax is repealed permanently, according to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2004 that charitable giving would decline by 6 to 12 %.

Repeal reduces revenues to address rising health care costs, unmet education needs, a growth in an aging population on social security and lax homeland security.

Repeal exacerbates record deficits.

Please do not repeal this tax and shift its burden to to middle class, working Americans and our children to come.

Repeal of the "death tax" is, in fact, a "birth tax."

I ask you to keep fiscal discipline, fairness and compassion in mind.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


More about Nuclear Astroturf

The above diagram of nuclear fusion is from Energy Quest, the California Commission on Energy's educational website.


May 17-19, 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) holds its annual conference, The Nuclear Energy Assembly in San Francisco. It’s theme? Buzz2Build: Turning Promise into Power. The promotional information on the website says, “The outlook for nuclear energy in the United States has never been brighter. Nine consortia or companies are preparing licenses for as many as 20 reactors. The number of reactors with renewed licenses continues to rise, and existing nuclear plants are sustaining record levels of safety and performance.

At one time, in its background paper, "Nuclear Energy: No Solution to Climate Change,” Greenpeace was predicting the demise of nuclear energy.

The nuclear industry is in near-terminal decline world-wide, following its failure to establish itself as a clean, cheap, safe or reliable energy source. The on-going crisis in nuclear waste management, in safety and in economic costs have severely undermined the industry’s credibility.

The paper is undated, but the sources cited date back to the late 1990’s. So, what happened in less than ten year’s time? Could it be the nuclear energy industry's persuation of the federal government to establish Nuclear Power 2010 (NP 2010), unveiled in 2002 as a private industry-government “cost-shared effort," mentioned in my May 10 entry, Nuclear Energy Is Now Clean and Safe?


The NEI's Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which I wrote about that date, is headed by former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), director Christine Todd Whitman and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Not only are these two ex-environmental leaders. Some have argued that they are ex-environmentalists trading their credentials for money to improve the images of known polluters.

After Whitman left the EPA on May 21, 2003, she founded a public relations firm, Whitman Strategy Group. On December 16, 2004, the Washington Post reported,

Whitman actually found herself last month lobbying her former Cabinet colleague Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton on behalf of Citgo Petroleum Corp., which wants federal protection to preserve Petty's Island, N.J., which it owns.

But, according to Sourcewatch.org's article on the Whitman Strategy group

the firm's first ongoing client was FMC Corporation, ‘a chemical company negotiating with the EPA over the cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at a factory near Buffalo, N.Y.’ In a May 2005 interview, Whitman said she had not worked directly with FMC, but would likely advise them on ‘how to improve their image’ and gain ‘access to the people they need to speak to.’ FMC ‘"is responsible for 136 Superfund sites across the country ... and has been subject to 47 EPA enforcement actions.’

But Whitman had always been a market forces sort of “environmentalist.” Perhaps that is why his former colleagues are more dismayed with Patrick Moore. After leaving Greenpeace in 1986, Moore founded the public relations firm, Greenspirit Strategies, Ltd.. According to its website, Moore has spoken out in favor of pesticides, salmon farming, poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) and genetic egineering. Oh and of course, nuclear energy.

Usually he trots out his role with Greenpeace without mentioning his current status as a paid spokeman for the industries involved. For some of the details, look at his website and at Eco-Traitor, Drake Bennett’s March 2004 article in Wired. . Also take a look Sourcewatch.org's article.

Even those who support nuclear power argue that Moore has done the industry no favor by overstating the case. On April 16, in his work for the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, I'd assume, Moore wrote a piece published by the Washington Post, "Going Nuclear: A Green Makes the Case."

In an op-ed, "Wasted Energy," published in the April 18, 2006 New Republic Online, Michael A. Levi responded that Moore had undercut his arguments

with a series of false assertions and slippery arguments. These credibility-damaging tendencies hurt the real case for nuclear power.

A fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, his bio there state that Levi's

interests center on the intersection of science, technology, and foreign policy; he is an expert on arms control and nonproliferation, nuclear and radiological weapons, and science and technology in the Islamic world.

Before joining the Council, Dr. Levi was a nonresident science fellow (2004-2006) and a science and technology fellow (2003-2004) in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Prior to that, he was director (2002-2003) and deputy director (2001) of the Federation of American Scientists’ flagship Strategic Security Project.

In other words, Levi knows a whole lot more about nuclear energy than I do and he's not necessarily against it. I think that makes a look at his critique especially instructive with regard to the claims made by the coaltion and the Nuclear Energy Institute. For instance, Moore claims that nuclear power is inexpensive. Levi responds,

While literally true, that’s a specious claim. The marginal cost of producing an additional kilowatt-hour of nuclear power using existing plants is indeed less than two pennies. But that ignores the capital costs involved in building nuclear power plants, which exceed the costs of building coal-fired facilities. Including those expenses, an MIT report (which made an honest argument for nuclear power) prices nuclear at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, in contrast with only 4.2 cents for coal, nearly 40 percent lower. To be logically consistent, Moore would also have to believe that buying a house is always cheaper than renting (because property taxes and maintenance cost less than rent) and that owning a car is always cheaper than riding a bus (because gas costs less than bus fare).

Regarding Moore's implications that nuclear waste becomes safe, Levi writes,

even that reduced radioactivity still makes waste disposal difficult and costly.

Levi maintains that Moore's claim that recycling nuclear waste will reduce the amount that needs treatment and disposal is "misleading."

First, it is cheaper to simply mine and use new uranium than to extract the remaining “95 percent of the potential energy” Moore refers to. More importantly, recycling used fuel does little to cut down the volume of nuclear waste. When the remaining “potential energy”—locked up in uranium and plutonium—is extracted from used nuclear fuel, the bulk of the radioactivity in that nuclear fuel remains. As a result, that material must still be protected in large, radiation-shielding casks—and disposed of, meaning that the waste problem does not disappear.

Levi also responds to Moore's minimizing the threats of nuclear terrorism. Moore

weakens his case by completely ignoring the main claim made by serious skeptics: The pools containing spent nuclear fuel, which sit outside the concrete containment domes, may be vulnerable to attack.

Levi argues that Moore fails to treat seriously the question of whether nuclear power can be diverted to make weapons. Moore

notes that “If we banned everything that can be used to kill people, we would never have harnessed fire.” That’s true, but the question here isn’t whether nuclear power is dangerous; it’s whether the dangers associated with it outweigh the benefits it entails. Simply because fire had greater potential for good than harm does not mean that the same is true for nuclear power.

Levi concludes,

the greatest political barrier to nuclear energy is public skepticism. And so, as the pro-nuclear crowd attempts to build credibility, exaggeration is the last thing it needs.


Greenpeace goes further that Levi. In that background paper I linked to at the top of this entry, the group says that in

even the most perfunctory examination of the issue shows that nuclear power has no role whatever in tackling global climate change. In fact quite the opposite is true; any resources expended on attempting to advance nuclear power as a viable solution would inevitably detract from genuine measures to reduce the threat of global warming.


Special thanks to a Radford friend, Barry, who kindly sent me the citation I'd used to Michael A. Levi's op-ed. Barry had downloaded my blog entry on the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition before the original version of this post got eaten by Yahoo when I tried to incorporate a link to the Sourcewatch.org article on Patrick Moore.