Monthly Archives: July 2014

Gimme Some Water Revisited – Now With Added Mayoral Content

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

By now, everybody’s probably heard of how thousands of homes in Detroit who were behind on their water bills have had their water shut off. If you follow us, you’re probably more informed than most on the matter, as we’ve run three pieces recently on the DWSD and how the shutoffs are impacting Detroit residents.

As we explained in our most recent piece on the subject, under the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, Michigan Governor Tom Snyder may appoint an Emergency Manager, who is essentially a de jure dictator of a local government and/or school district during a fiscal crisis. He appointed Kevyn Orr to be Detroit’s Emergency Manager. On Tuesday, Orr announced that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan will now have control of the water department. According to the Detroit Free PressOrr made a statement saying: “This order ensures a common focus on customer service and sound management practices that reflects the city’s commitment to refocusing its efforts to help DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewage Department] customers get and remain current on their water bills,”

For his part, Duggan said on Tuesday“I welcome the Emergency Manager’s order this morning giving me the responsibility for dealing with the water department issues. We need to change a number of things in the way we have approached the delinquent payment issues and I expect us to have a new plan shortly. There are funds available to support those who cannot afford their bills. We need to do a much better job in community outreach to tell our residents how to access those funds.”

He went on to say: “I’ve heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices. We’ve got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements.”

Shea Howell of the Boggs Center and Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management said in a statement that the shift in management of the water department back to an elected official is a welcome change. He went on to say that; “It is obvious that the emergency manager is unable to respond in a humane, fair, swift, and effective way in the face of a mounting human crisis and international embarrassment.” 

However, Howell also says he’s uncertain if the mayor will be able to address the situation any better than the emergency manager had. “Thus far his responses have been disappointing and do not show any understanding of the dimensions of the human suffering that is going on nor of the systemic collapse of the efforts to see water as a revenue source, not a human right,”

He went on to say: “His most egregious comments continue to make it sound as though this crisis is the result of a few people who are choosing not to pay their bills, He is attempting to turn one Detroiter against another at the very moment when public leaders should be encouraging turning to each other for support and sustenance and safety.”

We’d like to think that Mayor Duggan will be able to bring this horrible situation to an end, and that this all isn’t just a play to shift blame away from the Emergency Manager’s office. Only time will tell.

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I’m Loving It – Now With More Liability

By National Labor Relations Board [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By National Labor Relations Board [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve written about workers’ rights on a number of occasions. Whether it’s about safety on the job, the right to organize and collectively bargain, the concept that everyone working full time should earn a wage they can live on, gender/pay discrimination, or other topics we’ve touched on, it’s a topic near and dear to our hearts. Well, something happened yesterday which, if upheld, will be seen as a turning point in the labor movement of the twenty first century.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled yesterday that McDonalds can be held jointly responsible for employees’ treatment by the brand’s franchise owners. Why is this important? Because 90% of the 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants are owned by franchisees, and McDonald’s has always claimed that they aren’t responsible for the way the employees were treated at the franchises. And, because responsibility rested with the individual owners and not McDonald’s itself, any worker lawsuits or organization attempts were limited in scope, 

Labor organizers have long argued that McDonald’s should be held accountable as a joint employer because of the control it has over menus, uniforms, supplies and many other terms of operations.  

While yesterday’s ruling stemmed from older claims dealing with workers being fired from franchises when they attempted to unionize, it would logically also apply to the current class-action suits dealing with wage theft by certain franchise owners.

Wilma Liebman, a former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama and now an occasional consultant to unions, said the decision could give fast-food workers and labor unions leverage as far as getting the company to negotiate about steps that would make it easier to organize McDonald’s restaurants. She also said that the ruling could give the workers and unions more clout in pressing McDonald’s to have its franchisees raise wages.

Julius Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas, said: “Employers like McDonald’s seek to avoid recognizing the rights of their employees by claiming that they are not really their employer, despite exercising control over crucial aspects of the employment relationship. McDonald’s should no longer be able to hide behind its franchisees.” And Micah Wissinger, an attorney at Levy Ratner who brought the case on behalf of McDonald’s workers in New York City, said; “McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the NLRB shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple.” He went on to say“McDonald’s has tried to avoid the obligations associated with employing the vast majority of the people who prepare and serve their food, but the reality is they require franchisees to adhere to strict rules.” 

Of course, not everybody is happy with the ruling. Steve Caldera, the CEO of the International Franchise Association (IFA), wrote in The Hill prior to the ruling; “Years of federal and state legal precedent would be upended and thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations they worked hard to build. The result would be a wave of ‘going out of business signs’ across the country and thousands of lost jobs. Signed contracts would be tossed away as if they had never been written.” And, after the decision was made public, he said in a statement“If franchisors are joint employers with their franchisees, these thousands of small business owners would lose control of the operations and equity they worked so hard to build. The jobs of millions of workers would be placed in jeopardy and the value of the businesses that employ them would be deflated.”

Occupy World Writes applauds the NLRB’s decision. By ruling that companies are just as liable as the individual franchise owners themselves when it comes to workers’ rights, they’ve put the whole franchise industry on notice. And just like when we wrote about the fast food worker strikes back in May, we can’t help but think of the McDonald’s jingle…

I’m loving it!

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The EPA News – Methane Edition

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve talked a lot about pipelines and the fact that they leak. All pipelines will leak; it’s just a matter of when and how much they do. And, while we’ve been focusing on the leaks we can see (oil is pretty noticeable, after all), what about the ones we can’t?

Last Friday, Rick Beusse, Erica Hauck, Kevin Good and Richard Jones of the EPA’s Inspector General office published a report stating that in 2011, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost due to leaks in pipelines. This, of course, resulted in higher prices paid by the consumer, as well as potentially having serious environmental impact.

Up to now, the EPA has had a program that encourages natural gas companies to reduce their methane emissions voluntarily, but doesn’t require them to do so. Needless to say, as in most self-regulating schemes in the oil and gas industry, it hasn’t worked.

The IG report stated

“While the Natural Gas STAR program has been successful in reducing methane from other segments of the industry, this voluntary program has achieved limited reductions from leaking distribution pipelines, due largely to financial and policy barriers. For example, LDCs [local distribution companies] generally have had to bear the upfront capital expenditures to repair leaks, while the savings from these repairs have accrued to the consumer, thus creating a disincentive for LDCs to repair non-hazardous leaks.

“While the natural gas distribution sector is not the largest emitter of methane, it is one of the industry sectors included in the 2014 interagency methane strategy. The EPA should partner with PHMSA to reduce methane emissions from both a safety and environmental perspective, and develop a strategy to address financial and policy barriers. The EPA also needs to set goals and track its progress in reducing emissions from distribution pipelines through voluntary approaches to determine if future regulation would be appropriate.”

Why all the fuss about methane? Because methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 86 times more heat than CO2 does over a 20-year period. In 2013, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan stated that “curbing emissions of methane is critical to our overall effort to address global climate change.” 

Along the same lines, BlueGreen Alliance released a report earlier in the week recommending that the U.S. replace pipelines every 10 years, rather than every 30. This makes sense, as methane leaks typically occur in older pipelines made of cast iron or unprotected steel, which are more prone to cracking and corrosion.

These are just the latest in a number of recent reports warning about major methane emissions from the natural gas sector and/or criticizing the EPA for not doing enough to curb methane emissions. A Cornell University study from earlier this month states that 40 percent of the oil and gas wells in parts of the Marcellus shale region will probably be leaking methane into the groundwater or into the atmosphere, and a study released in May by the  University of Colorado at Boulder found methane leaks from oil and gas development in Colorado were three times greater than they had been predicted to be by emissions inventory estimates. And in May, two Cornell researchers said the EPA is drastically underestimating the potency of methane, and that not enough is being done to reduce methane emissions in the U.S. 

 Meanwhile, you have idiots like both major party candidates running for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, who claim that climate change is best left for other countries to deal with, and that it’s not our problem…

 

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Ardor For Arthur

Market Basket's flagship store in Chelsea, MA. Photo by Cybah (own work), public domain.

Market Basket’s flagship store in Chelsea, MA. Photo by Cybah (own work), public domain.

We often read about workers striking to protest a CEO’s policies. But, how often do you hear about a company where the workers are out on strike to protest a CEO’s firing? And, how often do you hear about customers joining the picket lines, or 100 state legislators and mayors supporting the boycott?

Say hello to Market Basket. Market Basket is a chain of 71 supermarkets in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine owned by the Demoulas family.  The current situation is the result of a power struggle between two cousinsArthur T. Demoulas, the former CEO and a 40 year employee, and Arthur S. Demoulas, who works for an investment capital firm in Boston.

Up until last year, Arthur T. had been in control of the board of directors. Since 2008, sales had grown from just under $3 billion to over $4 billion per year, and the number of employees had grown from 14,000 to 25,000. He was popular with his employees.

Then last summer, Rafaela Evans, a woman living in London who was once married to one of Arthur S. Demoulas’s brothers, switched sides and began voting with the Arthur S. faction. This led to Arthur S. holding the majority.

There’s nine people who hold shares in the company; all of them either descendants or in-laws of descendants of the two brothers who originally founded the company. So, what was one of the first things the new board did? They voted to give themselves a $300 million special dividend, even as Arthur T. warned against doing so. They also replaced two of the three trustees overseeing the very popular employee profit sharing program.

In June of this year, Arthur T. was fired From Market Basket. Two other executives were also fired, leading to seven executives with a combined 277 years with the company quitting in protest.  An estimated 300 employees rallied outside a store in Chelsea, Massachusetts in solidarity with Arthur T. and the other fired executives. The protests spread.

Then on July 18, warehouse workers walked off their jobs in protest. On July 20, eight longtime workers with a combined 280 years with the company were fired. The new co-CEOs cited “significant actions that harmed the company and therefore compromised Market Basket’s ability to be there for our customers” as the reason for the firings. Then this Friday, an estimated 10,000 supporters gathered at the Tewksbury location.

The new co- CEOs; Felicia Thornton, a former executive of the grocery chain Albertsons, and Jim Gooch, former president and chief executive at RadioShack Corp, made statements assuring workers that they are not planning drastic changes in the way the company is operated, and they urged employees to return to work. Meanwhile, on Wednesday Arthur T. (remember him? He’s who this whole thing is about) offered to buy the company.

The protesters issued a statement to Boston.com on Friday, saying:

“(Market Basket) associates and customers remain fully committed to our cause. (Arthur T. Demoulas) must be reinstated with full authority to CEO of (Demoulas Super Markets). This has been, and will continue to be, non-negotiable.”

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with the employees of Market Basket, and with Arthur T. We applaud them for standing up for their former boss, and applaud him for putting happy employees, satisfied customers and a fair profit over maximizing profits and to hell with the rest.

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Gimme Some Water

Fort Wayne Officers Row, Detroit. Photo by MJCdetroit via Wikimedia Commons.

Fort Wayne Officers Row, Detroit. Photo by MJCdetroit via Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve talked about the water crisis in Detroit before; first when a coalition of activists filed an appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD)’s cutting of water and sewer services to thousands of households, and again when a United Nations team of experts agreed with the activists. 

On Monday, the DWSD announced that it would suspend shutting off water for fifteen days to Detroit residents behind on their bills. However, this is only talking about new shutoffs; it does nothing for the 15,200 households who’ve already had their water shut off.

Then, there’s the target of the shutoffs. When the shutoff program was announced in March, the DWDS claimed they were going to cut off everybody who was $150 or 60 days in arrears. However, the shutoffs have disproportionately targeted poor residents and left businesses alone. The biggest debtor? The state of Michigan itself, which owes over $5 million in water bills. The top 40 commercial and industrial accounts have past-due accounts totaling $9.5 million. In all, commercial and industrial accounts owe in the neighborhood of $30 million, yet they’ve for the most part been exempt from the shutoffs. And, due to layoffs in the DWDS itself, they’ve had to hire a private demolition company to do the shutoffs, at a cost of $5 million. 

Of course, none of this could happen if Detroit wasn’t under “emergency management.” Under the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, the governor may appoint an Emergency Manager, who is essentially a de jure dictator of a local government and/or school district during a fiscal crisis. If you were following the 2012 elections, you might ask yourself; “Hold on- didn’t Michigan voters repeal the emergency manager law?” Why, yes; they did. However, Rick Snyder and the Michigan legislature pushed a bill through during a lame duck session that essentially mirrors the old law, but with one huge difference; this one can’t be repealed by the voters.

So, what can be done to stop the madness? Some residents have been turning their water back on after the DWSD shuts it off; an action which could cost them $250 if caught. Being caught a second time carries a $500 fine, and a third time supposedly results in a permanent shutoff. This is obviously not a long term solution.

Enter the Detroit Water Project. The Detroit Water Project allows people who wish to help pay a delinquent family’s water bill do so by matching them anonymously with a family who needs help. They emphasize that any help goes a long way. The project’s already pulled in more than 1,600 donors in the week that it’s been active.

Occupy World Writes stands in solidarity with the people of Detroit. We applaud the Detroit Water Project, and encourage anybody who can donate to it to do so. We call on the DWSD to extend their moratorium on residential shutoffs, and for them to instead target the real delinquents; the commercial and industrial accounts. And finally, we call on the people of Michigan to vote in November and elect a government that works for the good of its residents, and not for the good of business at the expense of the residents.

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Less Bang For The Buck?

 Lac-Mégantic burning. Photo by Sûreté du Québec

Lac-Mégantic burning. Photo by Sûreté du Québec

Earlier this month, we ran a piece about the sharp increase in explosions, fires and other accidents involving trains carrying oil, and how we’ve seen more oil spilled in rail accidents in the last year than in the previous 35 years combined. This has led to the federal government requiring that railroads carrying more than 1 million gallons of highly flammable oil from the Bakken oil field in a single train – about 35 tank cars – disclose details of volatile oil shipments to the states.

This week, the Obama administration proposed new regulations on the safe transportation of flammable liquids. The proposal includes such things as better classification of mixed gases and liquids, rail routing risk assessments and disclosure of train details as mentioned above and reduced speeds. As far as improvements to the trains themselves go, the proposal includes better braking capabilities and sturdier tank cars.

Under the proposal, the DOT-111 tank car, which is the type most involved in spills, would be phased out or rebuilt to the new standards over a two year period. There’s three possible standards for the tank cars; the sturdiest of which would add $3 billion to transport costs over the next twenty years. However, it could also save $3.5 billion from avoided damage and death caused by accidents.

So, this all sounds good, right? Not really, if the truth were to be known. To begin with, the new regulations wouldn’t go into effect until October 1, 2015. Between now and then, all of the oil transported by rail will be in cars that have been deemed to be unsafe to transport Bakken crude oil. And, after that they’d have an additional two years to phase out or rebuild the cars.

Then, there’s the classification. The DOT release concerning the proposal states: “Specifically, within two years, it proposes the phase out of the use of older DOT-111 tank cars for the shipment of packing group I flammable liquids, including most Bakken crude oil, unless the tank cars are retrofitted to comply with new tank car design standards.”

Note that the proposal only calls for phasing out the DOT-111s for packing group I flammable liquids. Liquids classified as packing group II or III could still be shipped via DOT-111 cars. Tests of the oil from the Lac-Megantic disaster revealed that the oil should have been classified as packing group II. Under the new proposal, the Lac-Megantic train would be in compliance.

Matt Krogh of ForestEthics released a statement that sums it up quite nicely:

“Today the Obama administration announced weak new standards for high-hazard flammable trains that give the oil industry a license to threaten the safety of millions of Americans and leave communities and emergency responders holding the bag.

The administration seems to have carefully calculated and managed the inconvenience of these rules to the oil industry, but they’ve severely underestimated the threat of these trains to the American public.”

He also said that the administration needs to “go back to the drawing board and put public safety first.” We couldn’t agree more.

Occupy World Writes feels that the flaws in the proposed regulations are both obvious and dangerous. We encourage all to comment on the proposal when the 60 day public comment period starts; the proposal isn’t listed yet on regulations.gov.

Rolling bombs are not acceptable in our communities.

 

 

 

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Stay Thirsty

Colorado River Basin. Graphic by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Colorado River Basin. Graphic by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

We at Occupy World Writes talk a lot about water, and with good reason. Our planet’s most valuable resource is water. We need it to stay alive; plants and animals need it. Our industries need it. Almost everything we do or consume uses water somewhere or another. We’ve talked about industries polluting our water, but we haven’t really discussed what’s happening with our water otherwise.

The U.S. has been suffering drought in one place or another since at least the turn of the century. The Colorado River basin has been especially hard hit, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is the federal water management agency, says that the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

A new study by scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine finds that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources.  Using data gathered by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, they tracked changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. 

Monthly measurements of the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed that the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. This is almost double the volume of Nevada’s Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author, said; “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out. This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates roughly four million acres of farmland.

Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at JPL who’s presently on leave from University of California, Irvine, said; “The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States. With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.” He further went on to say;  “Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico.” 

Meanwhile, in drought-stricken California, somebody appears to have plenty of water. And, funny enough, it’s a corporation. Nestle, through its subsidiary Nestle Waters, operates two wells, the water from which is sold as the Arrowhead and Nestle Pure Life brands of bottled water, on property it leases from the Morongo tribe, and has been doing so for more than a decade. Linda Ivey, a Palm Desert real estate appraiser, asked; “Why is it possible to take water from a drought area, bottle it and sell it?” 

Then again, we are talking about Nestle, In an infamous video from 2005, Peter Brabeck, the CEO of Nestle, said that declaring water a right is ‘extreme’, and asserts that water is a commodity best valued and distributed by the free market; in other words, privatized. He’s since said he was taken out of context, but we’ll let you judge for yourself:

I was having a conversation around five years ago with a friend of mine who lives out in LA. He’s what many people would call a futurist; very bright and always looking ten to twenty years down the road. The subject was what we considered to be the biggest limiter or threat to California’s, and hence, to a large extent, the U.S.’s economy in the next ten years. He said not enough energy, and I said not enough water. I’m sorry to say it looks as if I was right.

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The Daily Double

TTIP protest in London. Photo by World Developement Movment (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wdm/14657251391/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

TTIP protest in London. Photo by World Developement Movment (https://www.flickr.com/photos/wdm/14657251391/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We at Occupy World Writes cover many different topics. If you’ve been following us, you’ve probably noticed that every once in a while two or more topics that we’ve been covering suddenly merge into one through some piece of news that we’ve picked up and reported. Today is one of those times, and it combines two of our favorite topics; Canadian tar sands oil and the TTIP.

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself; “OK- the tar sands I’m familiar with. OWW’s done lots of stories about the environmental issues with the extraction and transportation of them. And, they don’t do anything as far as promoting energy independence goes, as they go to the Gulf refineries and from there out to the world market. But – TTIP? What’s that?”

TTIP is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. We covered it briefly in one of our very first posts. And, while its sister agreement TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) has received much more coverage both here and elsewhere, the TTIP is just as egregious, if not more so, in the way it tosses out national laws and human welfare concerns in favor of corporate interests.

With this in mind, you can understand our complete lack of surprise when Friends of the Earth Europe released a report suggesting that the U.S. and Canada are working to permanently block a regulatory proposal in the European Union known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). The oil industry has repeatedly expressed concern over the FQD, and the E.U.’s classification of tar sands oil as “dirty oil.” 

The FQD as it presently stands calls for a six percent reduction in the emissions of transport fuels by 2020. But, in 2011, the E.U. proposed that tar sands and other unconventional oils be recognized as having higher greenhouse gas “intensity” than conventional oil, given that they require more energy to produce – a 23 percent higher intensity, according to a study done for the European Commission. Needless to say, if the E.U. puts the FQD into place, there would be a very limited market for tar sands oil, due to the additional greenhouse gas emissions over other energy sources.

Hence, the U.S. negotiators prefer a “system of averaging out the crudes”, meaning that all forms of oil would simply receive one median score regarding their emissions intensity. This would effectively kill any E.U. restrictions on unconventional oils, and add an additional 19 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, according to a Friends of the Earth study.

With some $150 billion invested in Canadian tar sands by the major oil companies between 2001 and 2012, it’s easy to see why the oil companies would be pushing for this. The U.S. was once seen by investors as the logical market for the tar sands oil, but due to both a lessening dependence on oil (and imported oil in particular), and growing public skepticism towards the pipelines and other means of transporting the oil, a different market needed to be found.

So, what would the U.S. offer in return for the E.U. going along with the averaging proposal? A TTIP paper on E.U. energy policy leaked last week suggests that the U.S. abolish restrictions and automatically approve crude oil exports to the European Union. I’ll quote:

6. In conclusion, a clear signal from the U.S. at this stage that it is accepting the principle of negotiating a specific chapter including provisions on unrestricted access to U.S. natural resources would show our resolve while further encouraging investments in the upstream and downstream energy sectors. Such a signal would also usefully build on the political support recently expressed by the U.S. Administration at its highest levels in favour of stronger energy security and more integrated energy policy in the EU by demonstrating that TTIP could also bring a concrete contribution in this respect.”

Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., stated: “These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process. Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others.”

He goes on to say: “Major oil investors want to immediately move as much tar sands oil as possible to Europe. Over the longer term, they want to get the investments that will allow them to develop the infrastructure necessary to ship that exceptionally dirty fossil fuel to Europe.”

Ilana Solomon, director of the Responsible Trade Program at the Sierra Club, said: “We strongly oppose attempts by the E.U. to use this trade agreement, negotiated behind closed doors, to secure automatic access to U.S. oil and gas. I think there’s strong support for continued restrictions on this issue among both the public and policymakers, due to the implications for both energy security and the climate.”

Unfortunately, the secrecy and non-transparency seems to be the one recurring theme during the TTIP and TPP negotiations. Wouldn’t you think that if these agreements were to benefit the normal citizen, you’d hear constant jabber in the media about it? When (if ever) was the last time you heard any coverage by the mainstream media about it?

The silence over these agreements is deafening…

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Don’t Ash About The Cleanup

By wabeggs (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By wabeggs (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On February 2 of this year, Duke Energy, the largest electric power holding company in the United States, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in North Carolina. We wrote about the spill shortly after it happened, and questioned how well it would be cleaned up.

In May, the EPA announced that it had reached an agreement with Duke Energy over the handling of the spill cleanup. At that time, Heather McTeer Toney, the EPA Regional Administrator based in Atlanta, said: “EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all Federal and State environmental standards, and moves as quickly as possible. Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River.”

So, how’s the cleanup going? Last Thursday, the EPA and Duke Energy both announced that the cleanup was complete. However, Duke has only cleaned up approximately 2,500 tons that had piled up against a dam in Danville, Virginia. Duke and the state regulators say they will continue to monitor the river.

Dianne Reid, water sciences chief for the NC Division of Water Resources, told the Charlotte Observer“Ecologically, you could do more damage trying to remove all the ash than leaving it in place,” because disturbing the river bottom also risks stirring up the toxic mercury and cancer-causing chemicals called PCBs that already contaminate the Dan. The EPA’s on-scene coordinator Myles Bartos Bartos said“We continue to do some monitoring and will base our decisions for actions on the data collected. But I don’t think there will ever be a removal again in the river. I think it has been adequately removed.”

Kathleen Sullivan, senior communications manager for the Southern Environmental Law Center, asked in an email to the Danville Register and Bee; “Where are the other 37,000 tons?” She went on to say;  “They have not accounted for 94 percent of the coal-ash waste spilled into the Dan River. Duke has removed about 6 percent of the coal-ash waste it spilled and at just two places: at the spill site itself and the Danville dam. It is hard to believe that the coal ash hasn’t collected elsewhere in places in the river where it could be removed.”

Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison stated“This arrogant announcement from Duke Energy is the ultimate insult to the people of North Carolina and Virginia whose river has been devastated by the company’s toxic ash spill. Worse yet, Duke doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that there’s still a public health advisory declaring that the river is not safe to fish and swim in. Duke’s celebratory announcement that it ‘completed’ the clean-up threatens to mislead the public into think the danger has passed.”

Brian Williams of the Dan River Basin Association probably put it best: “This stuff is not just going to go to the bottom and stay there and not harm the environment. It will be an issue for many, many years to come.” We can’t help but agree with that assessment.

 

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Remember

Image By Andrikkos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image By Andrikkos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Occupy World Writes extends our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of both MH17 and the killed and injured civilians of the Gaza Strip. We are appalled that through the course of these tragedies, a humanitarian recognition to set differences aside is outweighed by any other agenda.

Remember Me

Remember me when flowers bloom
Early in the spring
Remember me on sunny days
In the fun that summer brings

Remember me in the fall
As you walk through leaves of gold
And remember me in the wintertime
In the stories that are told

But most of all remember
Each day right from the start
I will be forever near
For I live within your heart

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