Citizens of Lakewood, Colorado, this spring pushed to enact a stricter smoking ordinance in their city, but met resistance from the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), a longtime ally of the tobacco industry. Citizens wanted to make outdoor dining areas, all parks and recreation areas and sidewalks around hospitals smoke free. They also recommended prohibiting smoking inside tobacco retail businesses, to protect employees from exposure to secondhand smoke. In 2001 (pdf), Philip Morris created a front group called the “Colorado Indoor Air Coalition” (CIAC) to promote the notion that providing adequate ventilation in restaurants was the only solution to the problem of secondhand smoke — a tobacco industry strategy to block workplaces from going 100 percent smoke-free. One of the organizations helping Philip Morris head up the CIAC was the Colorado Restaurant Association. So it was no surprise that in 2012, Pete Meersman of the Colorado Restaurant Association appeared at Lakewood City Council meetings to lobby against the changes citizens sought, saying “The anti-smoking people will not be satisfied until no one smokes.” Opponents argued that the new, stricter smoking rules would be unfair to businesses that made capital outlays to meet the older smoking law, like installing more powerful ventilation systems or creating separate patios for non-smokers. But an ever-increasing amount of data now show that heart attacks fall precipitously when effective smoking restrictions are enacted. In Greeley, Colorado, one study (pdf) showed that heart attacks fell 27 percent after a tough new smoking ordinance was passed in 2003. A similar study in Pueblo, Colorado found approximately the same reduction in heart attack admissions to hospitals after a smoking ban went into effect. In the end, though, the City of Lakewood caved to tobacco industry arguments and enacted a watered-down ordinance that failed to include many of the new provisions citizens sought, showing Big Tobacco is still a powerful force on the local level in Colorado, aided by its ally, the Colorado Restaurant Association.
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.”
It took four years, but the Transportation Security Administration finally fulfilled a 2008 Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) request by the investigative journalism group ProPublica for documents detailing complaints against the agency. The information ProPublica received revealed some extraordinarily intrusive searches that caused the subjects substantial humiliation, pain, and in some cases physical injury. In one case, a female traveler complained that a TSA screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast so they could swab her for explosives. Another traveler accompanying her wheelchair-bound mother reported that TSA screeners made her mother get out of the wheelchair and walk during security screening. As a result, the woman fell and was injured. Another traveler reported packing a full bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in his luggage, only to arrive to find the bottle almost empty. Other travelers complained that after TSA searches they were were missing money, jewelry and laptop computers. When ProPublica asked TSA why it took four years for them to send the documents, they received an apology and were told the agency gets 800 requests a year for similar information. TSA also blamed the volume of records they had to review to fulfill the request, even though their total response turned out to be only 87 pages long.
Source: ProPublica, May 4, 2012
New Republican legislation has been introduced in Colorado that purely benefits the oil and gas industry. House Bill 1356, introduced by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would punish local governments by withholding their severance tax dollars if they do anything that stands in the way of oil or gas drilling. Citizens in Sonnenber’gs district who are concerned about the negative health and environmental effects of drilling oppose the measure. The city of Sterling, Colorado also opposes Sterling’s bill, which prompted Sonnenberg to call Sterling government officials “greedy.” After Sterling city officials came out against his bill, Sonnenberg posted a Tweet to his Twitter account that read, “City of Sterling just testified they should get oil and gas money even if the city stops the industry from producing. Can you say greed?” Sonnenberg told the Colorado Statesman that opposition from cities doesn’t matter because governments don’t vote. “Maybe if governments voted, it would matter,” Sonnenberg said. Sonnenberg says his bill is about defending property rights, limiting government spending and encouraging new oil and gas drilling throughout the state. At a legislative hearing for the bill, no one testified support of the measure, but several people spoke out in opposition. It isn’t the first time Rep. Sonnenberg has worked to benefit the drilling industry at the expense of citizen and environmental health and safety. In 2008, Sonnenberg worked to block the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission from hiring 21 new employees to monitor the drilling industry’s compliance with new environmental rules. When contacted by email and asked if he is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobby group that accepts funding from Exxon Mobil and other energy industry interests, Sonnenberg dodged the question and ultimately refused to answer.
Main source: The Colorado Statesman, May 4, 2012
After residents of DeKalb County, Georgia actively opposed plans by T-Mobile and AT&T to build telecommunications towers on the grounds of eight local public schools, Georgia State Representative Karla Drenner stepped up to the plate to help out. Rep. Drenner introduced HB 1197, “Cell Phone Towers in DeKalb County,” that would ban placing cellphone towers on public school grounds unless the cellular carrier can show that there is an absolute need for the tower, and that the location sought on school grounds is the only location that can adequately provide service to satisfy that need. Sixteen out of 18 DeKalb County representatives signed on to support the local bill. Support for the measure crossed political, racial and geographic lines. Citizens in favor of the bill also got support from all of their county commissioners and collected over 1,200 signatures on petitions supporting the measure — an admirable number considering Chuck Sims’ represents a county of only 380 people. A legislative committee heard three hours of testimony about the bill over three days at three separate state hearings, and not one person showed up to say they were in favor of plans to put the towers on school grounds. With support like that, the bill should have passed easily through the committee and moved to the House floor. But it didn’t. Why?
A six-fold increase in the frequency of Richter-scale 3.0 and greater earthquakes occurring in the middle of the country correlates with increase in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” occurring in those locations. In a new paper, scientists present a series of examples in which a significant increase in seismic activity occurred in areas where oil and gas producers increased their disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells. Between 1970 and 2000, the central area of the country averaged 21 earthquakes per year. In 2009, that average jumped to 50, in 2010 it increased to 87, and in 2011, the average rose to 134 quakes per year. While most of the earthquakes are fairly small, the 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Oklahoma last year and damaged buildings and increased speculation that injection wells in the area might be a cause. It was the largest earthquake ever to strike Oklahoma, an area without a reputation for earthquake activity. The summary of the new earthquake study from the University of Memphis, says, “Based on the previous injection history, proximity of the wells to the earthquakes and the previous seismic activity in the source area, the M5.6 earthquake [in Oklahoma] was possibly triggered by fluid injection at these wells.”
Main source: Colorado Independent, April 16, 2012
Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.
The state of Arkansas has ordered Johnson & Johnson and one of its subsidiaries, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, to pay $1.2 billion in fines for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, approved to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The companies were accused of failing to provide adequate warning about potential side effects of the drug, which include diabetes, weight gain, neurological problems and increased risk of strokes and death in elderly patients with dementia. Fletch Trammell, a lawyer in the case who had used Risperdal, said that J&J hid studies that showed Risperdal caused diabetes at a higher rate than a competing drug. The court also found nearly 240,000 instances in which the companies violated the state laws against Medicaid fraud, with each count representing one prescription for Risperdal written to a state Medicaid patient over a 3 1/2 year period. The fine for the Medicaid fraud portion of the case, at $5,000 per prescription, was the state’s minimum. A 12 person jury deliberated for three hours before finding against J&J. Arkansas is just one of several states suing over Risperdal. South Carolina and Texas have already reached settlements with J&J in their lawsuits. J&J plans to appeal the Arkansas ruling, claiming it did not break the law and that the package insert that comes with the medication was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Main source: New York Times, April 11, 2012
A big new billboard has appeared right over a liquor store near Mile High Stadium in Denver that shows a mainstream, straight-laced looking woman smiling with her harms folded, saying, “For many reasons, I prefer…marijuana over alcohol. Does that make me a bad person? RegulateMarijuana.org.” The board is the first in an educational campaign by backers of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a measure that will appear on the state’s November election. The group backing the measure seeks to educate people about the ways that marijuana is safer than alcohol, specifically that it is less addictive than alcohol and tends to cause fewer adverse health effects. Users also cannot overdose on marijuana. The measure would permit limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults, and would let state and local governments in Colorado regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana or ban marijuana sales completely within their jurisdictions. On its website, the pro-legalization campaign says, “We are not suggesting that marijuana is better than alcohol … We are simply asserting that there are many good reasons to use marijuana instead of alcohol.”
Under the law, American citizens used to have to back away from threats, but since 2005 many American states have radically expanded self-defense rights to allow people to meet threats with force, not just in their own homes, but in public places as well. Since 2005, over 30 states have passed so-called “Shoot first” or “Stand Your Ground” laws that make it harder to convict people of murder if they claim they killed in self-defense. Since Florida’s shoot-first law was enacted in 2005, justifiable homicide cases have tripled, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In the five years prior to the passage of Florida’s shoot-first law, 12 private citizens committed killings, but in the five years after the law’s passage, the average number of killings by private citizens in Florida jumped to 36. The national group Associate of Prosecuting Attorneys says “Stand your Ground” laws present a barrier to the prosecution of genuine criminals. Such laws have been spread in part through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-backed group in which corporations partner with legislators behind closed doors to promote conservative, pro-business bills.
Main source: OregonLive.com/Washington Post, April 7, 2012
By now millions of people know about of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Far fewer, though, know about the equally, if not more tragic killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. an elderly veteran with a heart condition who lived in White Plains, New York, who was killed by police in his own home last November. Around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of November 19, 2011, Chamberlain, 68, unknowingly triggered the medical-alert pendant he wore around his neck while he was sleeping. The medical alert company contacted Chamberlain’s apartment through a speaker box in the dining room to ask if he was all right. When Chamberlain didn’t respond, the company called 911 and told police they were responding to a medical emergency, not a crime. The police arrived at Chamberlain’s house and knocked on the door. Chamberlain woke up, went to the door and told the police that he was fine and that he didn’t call them. The police insisted on gaining entry to Chamberlain’s home, though, insisting that they wanted to see that he was all right. Chamberlain kept refusing to open the door and asking them to leave. Finally, after about an hour of this standoff, the officers, uttering racial slurs and expletives, broke down Mr. Chamberlain’s front door. Once inside, they fired a taser at Mr. Chamberlain. The taser prongs apparently missed Mr. Chamberlain and one of the officers shot Mr. Chamberlain in the chest, killing him.
“Stand your ground” laws — also called “Shoot First” laws — are drawing greater scrutiny in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American in Florida who was allegedly shot while simply walking home from a convenience store. Shoot First laws are versions of “Make My Day” laws that allow people who claim they fear for their life or bodily safety to freely shoot to kill someone who enters their home. Florida’s version confers a shoot-first right on people who are even in public places outside their homes. Many Shoot First laws were enacted starting in 2006 in large part due to the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a secretive collaboration between corporations and legislators that helps advance corporate agendas in legislatures across the U.S. ALEC composed and circulated Shoot First model legislation (pdf), which they then got into the hands of conservative legislators, helping to greatly advance their spread. ALEC’s “model” Shoot First law (which they dubbed the “Castle Doctrine Act,”) was composed by ALEC’s “Public Safety and Elections” committee. In 2011, the National Rifle Association was the corporate co-chair of this ALEC committee. The NRA is funded by gun manufacturers (pdf). ALEC apparently got the idea for the law from Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, taking the idea from him and adopting it as their “model legislation” in 2006, after which the laws spread across the nation.