The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill that pushes “Stand Your Ground” laws like the Florida law that led to the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, is now working to gut state laws that require electric companies use more energy from renewable sources. ALEC is also pushing laws to discourage people from putting solar panels on their own homes. “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) are laws that require power companies to derive a specific portion of their power from solar, wind or other renewable sources by a certain future date. So far 30 states have enacted RPS laws. In 2012, though, ALEC started pushing “model legislation” calling for the out-and-out repeal of RPS laws. Confidential ALEC strategy documents obtained by the UK Guardian newspaper reveal that ALEC calls such legislation the “Electricity Freedom Act.” So far, ALEC has engineered the introduction of such measures in about 15 states.
(Update, April 3, 2014 – Marcia Neal announced she is running for re-election to the state school board.)
Everyone was surprised by last November’s school board election after Mesa County voters defeated three extreme tea party candidates openly supported by both the Mesa County Republican Party and a conservative billionaire from the other side of the state. Area voters not only rejected all three tea party candidates, but also the Mesa County GOP’s inappropriate attempt to politicize what has traditionally been a non-partisan race. Now Mesa County voters have an opportunity to make even more progress for education in 2014.
Our 3rd Congressional District State Board of Education delegate, Marcia Neal’s, term is up in 2014. Neal is yet another embarrassingly extreme, anti-education western slope representative who desperately needs to be replaced.
Mesa County’s Riverfront Project is a 25+ year project to clean up the Colorado riverfront and create scenic bike and foot trails along the river from Palisade to Fruita. Many volunteers, donors, grants and partnerships have made remarkable progress on the project, and the trails have become a shining star attraction of our area. Views from the existing trails are stunning. New businesses are starting to spring up along the existing trails and further enhance them, like the Botanical Gardens and the new Edgewater Brewery and Pub near the Watson Island section. Tourists and residents alike prize the wildlife, scenic beauty and the huge contribution the trail system makes to this area’s quality of life. But the Mesa County Commissioners, and in particular, Commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman, are trying to end to the Riverfront Project by gutting all county funding for it.
On its website, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce touts green business practices. It sports photos of green leaves and solar panels on its Facebook page and offers up articles like the “Top 10 Green Practices for Landscapers” and “Top 10 Green Practices for Auto Repair.” The chamber urges businesses to take steps to reduce air pollution, protect people’s health and conserve water. Sounds pretty good, right? Like they really care about the environment, huh? So does this mean the Chamber is pro-environment?
Not by a long shot.
The Grand Junction chamber tries to put on a green face but it is one of the biggest political boosters in the state when it comes to promoting development of oil shale and tar sands — two of the most environmentally destructive and economically impractical mining practices in the world today.
Newsweek magazine published a scathing expose’ this week about BP’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit what the public saw and understood about the company’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill. BP assured thousands of fishermen, on-shore residents and workers they hired to help with spill cleanup operations that the proprietary oil dispersant they used called “Corexit” was as safe as dish soap, but people exposed to the Corexit/oil mixture subsequently fell ill with a range symptoms that mimic Gulf War Syndrome, including muscle spasms that rendered their hands unusable, neurological problems like short term memory loss, painful skin inflammation and breathing problems. A Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigation done after the fact found BP purposely withheld manufacturer’s safety manuals for Corexit from the fishermen and other workers. In interviews after the disaster, cleanup workers said BP had threatened to fire any workers who complained about the lack of protective clothing and respirators. Airplanes spraying Corexit also indiscriminately sprayed the substance over the fishing boats BP hired to help contain the spill, exposing the fishermen to multiple doses of the chemicals. Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Pollution published a study that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when mixed with Corexit than it would otherwise be if left alone. GAP representatives asked BP to pay for the medical treatment of victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning but BP has refused. BP’s cover up demonstrates the huge amount of power corporations wield and the inability or unwillingness of governments to restrict that power. Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but no one has yet faced any criminal charges. What’s worse, the BP spill and its after-effects haven’t prompted any changes in public policy towards big corporations and their activities. It’s as though the U.S. government has gleaned no wisdom at all from the disaster and BP’s subsequent actions.
Source: Newsweek, “What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know about the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill,” April 22, 2013 (Accompanying photo is from the University of South Florida study “Findings of Persistency of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Residual Tar Product Sourced from Crude Oil Released During the Deepwater Horizon M252 Spill of National Significance,” [PDF], April 14, 2012)
Rick Berman, the D.C. beltway corporate lobbyist who revels in the nickname “Dr. Evil,” is at it again, this time defending a dangerous New Hampshire “ag-gag” bill that would block the ability to build solid court cases against animal cruelty in commercial agricultural operations. Berman also penned an opinion piece in the Boston Globe opposing the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act,” a bill that would require federal agencies to buy food products only from farms that raise animals free from cruelty and abuse. Aside from the underlying question of why the Boston Globe would print anything by Rick Berman, a corporate sell-out who lacks completely in credibility, why does Berman persist in supporting something as distasteful and horrifically unpopular as animal abuse?
Berman operates the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCR), an industry-funded front group that relentlessly attacks do-good organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Berman uses over-the-top rhetoric, calling people who research and expose the causes behind obesity “food control zealots.” He uses hyperbole and slippery-slope arguments, saying animal welfare groups like the Humane Society are “fighting to get rid of every dairy, pork, egg, beef, veal, and poultry farm across America by increasing the cost of production and hence increasing the price of food.” Hogwash. Whenever possible, HSUS works with commercial ag operations to reduce animal abuses like tail-docking of dairy cows and confinement of animals in horribly small spaces. The groups has been successful in doing so, but does pursue legislation to protect animals, too.
The National Center for Science Education is warning that a bill introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives on January 16, HB13-1089 (pdf), called the “Academic Freedom Act,” is really a trojan horse anti-science bill. The bill directs teachers “to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.” It sounds innocent enough, but such bills use an “academic freedom” guise to tacitly permit teachers to misinform students by allowing the teaching of creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution, or by allowing teachers to misrepresent evolution as being scientifically controversial. The last time such an anti-evolution bill was introduced in Colorado was in 1972, when a lawmakers tried to put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed “all students and teachers academic freedom of choice as to which of these two theories, creation of evolution, they wish to choose.” That measure never made it onto the ballot. All of the primary sponsors and co-sponsors of Colorado’s 2013 “Academic Freedom Act” in both the House and the Senate are Republicans. These tricky, shifting strategies state and local school boards, state legislatures and teachers are using to undermine the teaching of scientific subjects like evolution, climate change and cloning are described in depth an article published in a September, 2010 article in the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics titled Dispatches from the Evolution Wars: Shifting Tactics and Expanding Battlefields.
A group called Forecast the Facts is leading a campaign to peel away corporate funders who give money the Heartland Institute, a prominent think tank that has been a leader in the effort to deny climate science. Heartland is known for its harsh and divisive anti-climate change PR tactics, like running cringe-inducing billboards along major highways that liken people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like Charles Manson and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczyinski. The Heartland Institute has flourished through funding from large corporations and industries that have a stake in climate change denial, including ExxonMobil, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Murray Energy Corporation, Altria/Philip Morris, Microsoft, General Motors and biotech companies like Amgen and Bayer. Forecast the Facts’ grassroots effort to peel away funders looks like it’s paying off, too. The group calculated Heartland’s corporate and trade association funding for 2012 based on the amounts Heartland projected they would take in in their 2012 fundraising plan. Of $2.3 million in projected funding, Forecast the Facts has succeeded in getting corporations to withdraw $1.3 million, leaving about $990,000 remaining. More than 150,000 people have weighed in with various corporations through the project and urged them to pull their funding from Heartland. On its website, Forecast the Facts lists Heartland’s remaining corporate funders, the approximate amount the companies donate to the think tank, and phone numbers at each corporation that people can call to ask the company to stop funding Heartland.
An entirely new kind of law firm has opened up in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Its stated mission is to take the side of average working people against the big dogs: the corporate polluters, discriminatory employers and unsafe manufacturers whose policies, behaviors, products and activities make life difficult for the rest of us. The new, high-powered public interest law firm specializes in fighting for beleaguered, regular working-class clients and on the way getting court rulings that will benefit entire communities. The group, Advocates for Justice Chartered Attorneys (AFJ), is made up of activist-minded attorneys who have extensive experience litigating against big corporations in specialty areas like labor and employment, consumer rights, environmental justice and civil rights. “Our mission is to ensure that high-quality legal representation is not limited to the wealthy, but is available to those who need it most. We represent regular, working people who suffer the bulk of our country’s legal problems,” says Sharon Y. Eubanks, one of the firm’s founding attorneys. Ms. Eubanks is an example of the high caliber of attorneys at AFJ — she served as lead counsel for the United States in the largest civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) enforcement action ever filed, United States v. Philip Morris USA, et al., also known as the federal tobacco litigation. Other attorneys at AFJ are Arthur Z. Schwartz, Cate Edwards, Richard Soto and Tracey Kiernan. AFJ’s website is afjlaw.com. In one of the firm’s current cases, AFJ is representing 170 parents and community members in a civil rights action against a school district in New York. The suit alleges that the school district violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by intentionally segregating white students into private schools, while cutting funds to the primarily black and Hispanic student population of the public schools. AFJ Law in D.C. is located at 11 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. 20036. The group also has an office on Broadway in New York City. If you need help or want a consultation, contact information is on the firms’ web site.
A University of California, Berkeley physics professor and longstanding critic of prevailing global warming science has reversed course and now attributes climate change directly to greenhouse gases produced by human-related activities. Professor Richard A. Muller, a climate change skeptic in the past, has taken funding from the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation named after billionaire Charles G. Koch, owner of the big petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries and one of the most prolific funders of climate change denial and misinformation on Earth. Muller says a research project he undertook actually showed “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover,” he says, “it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.” Muller further concludes that “Humans are entirely the cause” of global warming. He calls his stance a “total turnaround” from the way he used to think. Muller authored an opinion piece in the Saturday, July 28 issue of the New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2012
The big biotechnology firm Syngenta is facing criminal charges for covering up a U.S. study that showed cows died after eating the company’s genetically-modified (GM) corn. The charges came after a long struggle by Gottfried Gloeckner, a German dairy farmer and former supporter of genetically-modified crops, agreed to participate in authorized field tests of “Bt176,” a corn variety manufactured by Syngenta that was genetically-modified to express an insect toxin and a gene that made the corn resistant to glufosinate herbicides. Gloeckner allowed the GM corn to be grown on his farm from 1997 to 2002, and fed the resulting corn to his dairy herd. By 2000, Gloeckner was feeding his cows exclusively Bt176 corn. Shortly after, several of Gloeckner’s cows became sick. Five died and others had decreased milk yields. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros as partial compensation for his losses and veterinary costs. Gloeckner brought a civil suit against Syngenta over the loss, but Syngenta refused to admit its GM corn could be in any way related to the illnesses and deaths of Gloeckner’s cows. The court dismissed the civil case and Gloeckner received no further payments from Syngenta, leaving him thousands of Euros in debt. Gloeckner stopped using the GM feed in 2002, but continued to lose cows. In 2009, Gloeckner discovered Syngenta had commissioned a study in the U.S. of its GM feed in 1996. In that study, four cows died within two days of eating the GM feed, and the study was abruptly ended.
The spectre of fuel- and pollution-free air travel drew closer this month as the first airplane powered completely by solar energy completed its first intercontinental flight. The Solar Impulse left Madrid, Spain in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 5 and flew across the Strait of Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, where it made a spectacular landing 19 hours later. The plane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, but weighs only as much as a medium-size car. In 2010, the Solar Impulse earned a place in history after it became the first airplane to fly for more than 24 hours straight using only solar energy. The aircraft stayed aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, and also set a record for altitude, having flown at an elevation of 30,298 feet. Technology now allows the solar-powered plane to fly both day and night. The landing in Morocco’s capitol of Rabat was also symbolic for another reason: that country’s progress toward development of viable amounts of renewable, non-polluting energy. This year Morocco will award a contract to build a power facility that will generate 160 megawatts of solar power — the first step in an ambitious and progressive national plan to generate 38 percent of the country’s electricity from solar power by 2020. The goal of the Solar Impulse Project is to prove that progress is possible using clean forms of energy, and that it is possible to eventually free societies from dependence on fossil fuels. You can follow the Solar Impulse’s progress at the project’s website, SolarImpulse.com.
Source: Ottowa Citizen, June 6, 2012
A former billboard company employee in Tallahassee, Florida has revealed that billboard companies intentionally poison trees that block their billboards from view. Robert Barnhart, a former crew chief for Lamar Advertising, stated in court filings that he was instructed to poison trees located on private property not belonging to Lamar if they were too big to be pruned or cut back, and blocked Lamar’s boards from view. In a court filing (pdf), Barnhart states he was instructed to wear nondescript clothing without any logos, drive to the area of the offending tree in a truck without Lamar logos, park several blocks away from the offending tree, walk over, use a machete to hack into the root system surrounding the tree’s base and pour herbicide onto the roots. The herbicide was kept in containers marked “AC Cleaner.” Barnhart said he was instructed to do this at least seven times. The actions violate numerous laws and constitute criminal mischief, trespassing, and violation of environmental laws regarding dumping of poison on land. After Barnhart provided his employer with a written objection to the offensive practice, he was subsequently threatened with termination and then fired. It wasn’t Lamar’s first such offense, either. In 2010, Lamar was found liable for trespassing and killing 83 trees along Interstate 84, and in 2009 Lamar was ordered to pay about $182,000 to a couple in Ohio for killing 34 trees on their property to improve views of their billboards. Lamar owns approximately 146,000 billboards in 44 states.
A guest post by Michele Swensen
The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.
The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”
People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.
The U.S. Post Office, suffering from reduced mail volume, has started a new program aimed at encouraging businesses to send junk mail, or “direct mail.” The program is called “Every Door Direct Mail,” and for a greatly reduced price it lets businesses blast out mailings like coupons, fliers and menus to every single household within a specific Zip code or mailing route. Business owners don’t even have to address their ads. The program is the source of fliers packing mail boxes that are addressed to “Our Neighbor,” “Postal Customer” or Current Resident.” Your name gets added to junk mail lists whenever you unwittingly turn over your name and address to a merchant, for example when you buy a big-ticket item like a car or a house, order something from a catalog, donate to a charity, fill out a product registration form or sign up for a grocery store surveillance card (euphemistically called “loyalty cards.”). Any time you hand your name and address over to a merchant, you can expect to start getting more junk mail, and mailing lists are valuable. Companies that sell or rent mailing lists make a lot of money off them. But a nonprofit consumer advocacy group called Catalog Choice, that helps people stop getting junk mail, has started on online petition asking the U.S. Postmaster General to let people opt out of getting unaddressed advertising mail. Catalog Choice doesn’t fault the USPS for its junk mail program, but says it should give people a choice to opt out of such mass-mailing programs. Right now, under USPS’s new program consumers must contact each individual business if they would rather not receive their mail ads — a cumbersome burden to place on people. The USPS defends their new junk mailing program by saying it lets people “know what’s going on in their own neighborhood.”
A group of energy industry-affiliated, right-wing groups is readying a massive PR plan to try and turn American public opinion against the renewable energy industries. The UK Guardian obtained a confidential draft memo written by Illinois anti-wind power attorney Rich Porter that outlines a massive PR campaign to change public opinion towards wind and solar power among “citizens at large.” The goals of the campaign, according to Porter’s memo, are to “A) Cause the targeted audience to change its opinion and action” based on anti-wind messaging, “B) Provide credible counter message to the (wind) industry, C) Disrupt [wind] industry message with countermeasures, D) Cause subversion in message of [wind] industry so that it effectively becomes so bad no one wants to admit in public they are for it (much like wind has done to coal, by turning green to black and clean to dirty.) Ultimate Goal: Change policy direction based on message.” The memo suggests teaming up with established groups like Americans for Prosperity, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Heartland Institute, the Brookings Institute, the Cato Institute and other climate change deniers. It also suggests developing derogatory names for wind energy, like calling it “puff power” and “breeze energy.”
The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.
Main source: The Raw Story, May 4, 2012