Tag Archives: environment

All Hail Our Armed Corporate Overlords

16 Jan

1. F your gun

A 12 year-old New Mexico boy brought a .20 gauge shotgun to school.  He shot three times, hit two classmates. One is ok, the other was shot in the face and neck, and is in critical condition. 

…the suspected shooter’s family issued a statement Wednesday saying they were heartbroken and that their remorse could not be put into words. They said the two children who were injured have been in their thoughts and prayers.

“We are horribly sad over this tragedy on so many levels,” the family stated. “We are praying that God will be with everyone who has been affected.”

The family added it will cooperate with law enforcement to “piece together how this awful tragedy occurred.”

The gun came from home. Maybe the family could take its prayers and condolences, double-check their homeowner’s insurance, prepare for the lawsuit they so richly deserve, and properly secure their weapons.

As of December 14, 2013, there had been 26 school shootings since the tragedy in Newtown, CT. But we’re told we don’t have a gun problem. Not at all.  Yet for some reason, school shootings are an overwhelmingly American problem

What would you expect their logo to look like?

2. The Freedom to Pollute Shall not be Infringed

Freedom Industries recklessly poisoned the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians last week. Poor oversight, crappy facilities, a laughably inadequate response, environmental carelessness – ignorance, all contributed to a catastrophe that people still don’t quite get. 

Here’s what I get. When you elevate “job creators” above “people”; when you lionize big corporate interests over clean water and people’s health; when you abandon or reject regulation and oversight of industries that pose a continuing imminent threat of mass poisoning, you have ceased to maintain a proper representative democracy. From the Charleston Gazette

While DEP has said it hasn’t inspected the site since 1991, when it was owned by Pennzoil, Kolb and Bauerle said Monday that the agency had looked into a previous odor complaint at the site and another odor complaint in St. Albans related to a company called Diversified Services, which handles shipping of materials for Freedom Industries.

Kolb and Bauerle arrived at the operation shortly after 11 a.m. In the parking lot, they met Kanawha County fire coordinator C.W. Sigman, whose office was also looking into residents’ odor complaints.

The DEP officials went to the office, where Dennis P. Farrell, who identified himself as president of the company, greeted them. They told Farrell about the odors and asked if the facility was having any problems.

“He said as far as he knew this was a busy time of year. They were just handling a lot of trailers,” Kolb said. “As far as he knew, there weren’t any problems.”

The DEP officials asked Kolb to show them around the facility. When they went outside, an employee asked to speak to Farrell. After that conversation, Farrell told the DEP officials there was a problem, and led them to tank 396.

There, the DEP officials said, they found a 400-square-foot pool of chemical that had leaked from the tank into a block containment area. Pressure from the material leaking out of the tank created what DEP officials called an “up-swelling,” or an artesian well, like a fountain of chemical coming up from the pool.

They saw a 4-foot-wide stream of chemicals heading for the containment area’s wall, and disappearing into the joint between the dike’s wall and floor.

Initially, no one saw the chemical pouring into the Elk River. 

This disaster is a direct result of bad right-wing/glibertarian laissez faire environmental and regulatory policies. You know – the notion that “job-killing regulations” are worse than people-poisoning absence of regulations. 

Instead of rounding people up into death camps, FEMA provided water to the nine affected counties pursuant to a declared federal state of emergency. The area where this happened is known as “chemical alley”. When the pointy-headed nerds from the federal Chemical Safety Board and local environmental groups encouraged West Virginia to improve its oversight and regulations in the area, but no one wanted to do it because jobs and freedom

This is the libertarian/conservative dream scenario. Lack of oversight to prevent catastrophe, and inadequate or non-existent health insurance to treat injuries resulting from it. Add “tort reform” to the mix, to prevent or dramatically restrict liability for wrongdoing, and we might as well elect Freedom Industries and its ilk as dictator-for-life. 

They Paved Paradise

25 Apr

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Contamination, USA

19 Apr

The problem with weak environmental regulation is that yesterday’s pollution is today’s contamination.

The long-gone lead smelters in Buffalo and Niagara Falls are still poisoning people, to this day. This is an important report from USA Today and Gannett stations like WGRZ, and should hopefully open up a national conversation about remediating contaminated properties such as these. USA Today’s interactive feature is here

Kill All the Whales

28 Sep

Let me tell you a little fable that just happens to be true.*

The world was a very dark place in 1850. Dim tallow candles with reed wicks were common, lamps were inefficient, and widespread electricity was several decades off. Man had known how to extract kerosene from coal for thousands of years, but a safe and reliable method for burning it indoors was not yet invented. Instead, the world relied on whale oil to impart some small light on the dark nights.

Whale oil stunk, was hard to obtain, and was expensive. But a large segment of the world economy was based upon its production, and its use endured as German inventors tinkered with kerosene lamps. Right, bowhead, and sperm whales were chased to all ends of the earth, harvested and slaughtered to extract the gooey incendiary fluid from their heads. In the end, it was not the superior illuminative properties of kerosene that won the day, convincing the world to switch to a preferable product. Rather, necessity again proved the mother of invention; kerosene lamps only took off once demand for whale oil far outstripped the supply, driving the price up. Kerosene needed to be cheaper than whale oil to force a global change. In other words, no one would switch until we had killed all the whales.

Fast forward to today, as history provides a less than hopeful prediction of our fossil fuel future. It is increasingly obvious that there is enough oil, natural gas, shale and tar sand on this planet to destroy it. We will never “run out” of oil – we find more dead dinosaurs too quickly, and our global reserves only increase year to year, even as demand surges. We can’t kill all the whales. If we burn every drop of oil, the climate change effects would be calamitous.

Can we break the locust-tendency of our human inclinations? Can we break the basic economic cycle that only forces a change to solar, wind, hyrdo, tidal and (yes, probably) nuke power once gasoline is too expensive? Do we need to use a gimmick to fake ourselves into making the switch, by taxing fossil fuels to force the change, like a dieter removing all tempting food from the house? Or can we collectively make a smart, healthy decision for our planet, and choose to swap while it still costs more? History says we haven’t yet. Breaking the streak is our challenge.

* I totally stole this anecdote, though not the later conclusions, from Bill Bryson’s excellent “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” You should read it – it’s really good.

Tonawanda Coke: Indicted

30 Jul

Nearby residents have long suspected that emissions from Tonawanda Coke have literally been poisoning them.

An investigation has revealed, and a 15-count federal indictment has formally alleged, that Tonawanda Coke and its so-called “Environmental Control Manager” violated the Clean Air Act.

…five of these offenses relate to the release of coke oven gas containing benzene into the air through an unreported pressure relief valve. The remaining ten Clean Air Act counts relate to operating two coke-quenching towers without baffles, a pollution control device required by TCC’s Title V Clean Air Act permit designed to reduce the particulate matter that is released into the air during coke quenches. These charges carry a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, a maximum fine of $500,000 for the corporate defendant and $250,000 for defendant Kamholz, or both.

YNN’s Report is here.

NYPA: Breaking Wind

22 Jun

There’s much debate over whether we should install wind turbines in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to harness the windy lake conditions to produce clean, renewable energy. Environmentalists are torn between the notion of clean energy versus disturbing the lake bed.

I’m not a big environmentalist, so I don’t care about all that.

What I care about is that this is being pushed by the New York Power Authority – the same entity that operates the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant and funnels energy from WNY to parts unknown while most of us in WNY pay higher electricity rates than the rest of the country. While NYPA’s recent reauthorization resulted in annual payments to enhance regional waterfront development, imagine if instead we here in WNY could have cheap, renewable hydroelectric power and use that as a selling point for people and businesses to stay or relocate here?

Letting NYPA get into the windmill business is to invite an unelected, unresponsive, unaccountable authority to export more of our natural resources for others’ benefit, and to our detriment.

If NYPA wants overwhelming popular support for wind turbines in Lake Erie, offer everybody in WNY electricity rates that are cheaper than the national average. Or better yet, free.

Drill, Baby, Drill

23 May

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Peace Bridge OMFG

24 Apr

Correct me if I’m wrong. All of this happened several years before I moved here or cared.

When Peace Bridge expansion plans first began, it was going to be a second, almost identical steel span. Planning to double bridge capacity began in 1992 and was to start construction in 1999. Many people wanted a signature bridge, so a suit was filed to block the steel expansion based on the fact that environmental impact studies hadn’t been completed.

It’s now almost 10 years later. A signature span designed by Christian Menn has been selected, and environmental studies have been conducted.

In the mother of all ironies, the chosen signature span has been eliminated from contention due to environmental concerns. (.pdf). By the Federal Highway Administration. The common tern might have issues getting up and over and around the high pillars, and the silvery emerald shiner may be confused getting around the bases of the bridge. Also, note that the silvery emerald shiner is better known to the common tern as “food”.

Evidently, there was no modification that could be made to the cable-stayed design that wouldn’t adversely affect the In its stead, the Peace Bridge Authority is moving forward with the second-choice design. This was designed by Figg Engineering:

Look. I like it alright. It’s modern, yet evokes the profile of the current bridge. Peace Bridge second span 2030!