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Tuesday: In a Season of Crime

Ride the train, I’m far from home
In a season of crime, none need atone
I kissed your face


— excerpt, Sue (or In a Season of Crime) by David Bowie

Bowie left us an amazing parting shot with his 25th and final album, Blackstar. The cut featured here is a free jazz/jazz-rock fusion work which sounds off-kilter or out of sync, the lyric melody not tracking with rhythm — until one looks at the lyrics as a story of confusion told at the same time as a driving lyric-less and inevitable story beats on at the same time.

Seems like an unintended metaphor for our general election politics.

Back to School, Fool
Guess who’s back in town? A bunch of Congressional lame ducks back from vacation — I mean — work in their districts where they glad-handed at county fairs between bites of deep-fried Twinkies and kissing babies for campaign photo ops.

Get back to work and produce funding for Zika research AND birth control, damn it. Your continued intransigence is costing lives — short, ugly, painful, deformed lives on which you are pitiless and merciless, you fundamentalist let-them-eat-cake hacks. It’s only a matter of time before somebody in your district ends up Zika-infected and pregnant after vacation trip to someplace warm like Miami — or mosquito-bitten during during their day job like lawn care or construction or mail delivery. Researchers are working incredibly hard with the limited funding they’ve had; there’s only so much they can do with inadequate funding. And birth control MUST be available to all who need it. Planned Parenthood can and does hand out condoms, you pathetic slack-handed weasels. Fund them.

STG if I was the president, I’d look at any way possible to trim funding to unusual projects in states with GOP senators and then declare an emergency, pull that trimmed funding to pay for subsidized birth control in the same damned states. With researchers now having found Zika infection may spread by bodily fluids like semen, vaginal fluid, saliva, and tears while documented cases mount, there’s ample grounds to write an executive order during a lame duck session.

Big Oil = Big Bully

The NoDAPL project is bad all around. There’s no good reason for it to proceed.

— The economics of oil supply and demand do not support it; the cost to proceed is simply not supportable.

— The environmental cost of this project and the oil it is intended to carry are untenable; investment of resources private and public should go toward non-fossil fuels.

— The project violates the rights of Native Americans in numerous ways and no good faith effort has been made to address them during planning, let alone now as construction begins. The current and future damage to the Sioux only exacerbates hundreds of years of abuses against their sovereign nation.

— The companies investing in this project including Enbridge cannot assure the safe operation of this pipeline given the history of pipeline leaks across this country. In Enbridge’s case, this foreign-owned corporation has already proven unreliable and opaque in pipeline operations.

— NoDAPL should not proceed for the same reasons Keystone XL pipeline did not proceed: it is not in our country’s best interest.

I don’t know how anyone can look at this bulldozing of land containing buried Native Americans and not see it as a direct, deliberate effort to erase their existence. This is accursed behavior which in no way addresses the needs for alternative energy outlined in the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Review or our nation’s need to secure its people by reducing carbon dioxide output.

Odd Lots

  • Disposal wells in Oklahoma including Osage Nation shut down after earthquake (Tulsa World) — Yet another case where extractive fossil fuel business on Native American tribal lands has been highly problematic. 17 wells were shut down by the EPA after Oklahoma’s M5.6 induced earthquake this weekend; these wells are in addition to 37 other disposal wells shut down this weekend near the quake’s epicenter. Haven’t seen yet whether another earthquake of this magnitude could set off an overdue 500-year magnitude earthquake along Missouri’s New Madrid fault.
  • U.S. district judge denies federal plan to open 1 million acres of central CA public lands for fracking and drilling (IndyBay.org) — Bureau of Land Management didn’t do its homework on environmental risks from fracking, focusing too heavily on drilling instead. Sounds a lot like Army Corp of Engineers’ slap-dash disregard for externalities when it analyzed the NoDAPL, doesn’t it?
  • OK’s earthquake insurance market already under review (Tulsa World) — Insurers have only paid out on 20 percent of earthquake-related claims since 2010; the market has also undergone consolidation and 300-percent rate increases. No word yet on how much damage this weekend’s M5.6 quake or subsequent aftershocks have caused. Hope the public lights a fire under Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak about his review of the market. It’s grossly unfair the public must bear the cost of risk created by extractive industries as it is.

Longread: Lawsuit against DMCA Section 1201
Johns Hopkins University professor and cryptographer Matthew Green filed suit against the federal government in late July to strike down Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The current law prevents security researchers from adequately investigating products. Worthwhile read — this has huge repercussions on our safety and security given how much of the technology around us is copyrighted but leaky as hell and prone to hacking.

Hasta pasta!

Tuesday Morning: #FlintWaterCrisis Hearing Today

This is a semi-special morning roundup edition due to this morning’s Congressional hearing on #FlintWaterCrisis. Details:

Tuesday 15-MAR — 10:00 AM — Hearing on Flint, Michigan Water Contamination (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)
Former Flint, Michigan Mayor Dayne Walling, former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, and Virginia Tech University’s Marc Edwards testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing on water contamination in Flint.  Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

If you don’t catch today’s hearing, there will be another on Thursday morning:

Thursday 17-MAR — 9:00 AM — Gov. Snyder (R-MI) & EPA Head McCarthy: House Hearing on Flint, MI Water Crisis (est 3 hours, on C-SPAN3)   Link to House Oversight Committee calendar entry

You can find my timeline on Flint’s water here — it still needs a number of new entries.* Of particular note today will be the first half of 2014 when the decision to cut over from Detroit’s water (DWSD) to the Flint River was finalized and enacted, under then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley. Earley was the third EM appointed to Flint after December 2011; he had been preceded by Michael Brown (twice) and Ed Kurtz (once).

You’ll recall that Michigan implemented an emergency manager law in 2011, allowing the state to appoint an administrator for insolvent municipalities. The EM law eliminated the powers of democratically elected municipal officials, vesting those powers and more in the appointee.

Reports this morning based on initial assessments of Darnell Earley’s written statement for the hearing today indicate Earley was overwhelmed by the demands of the EM role in Flint, and he regrets not having pushed back more firmly on decisions about the water cut-over.

However, the timeline reveals that in early 2013 a previous EM Ed Kurtz actually signed the decision to buy water from the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) when it completed construction. Kurtz also notified the DWSD that Flint would leave in one year’s time, in spite of a last-minute emailed offer on April 15, 2013 from DWSD offering a rate far cheaper than the rate Flint was paying in 2013, and possibly cheaper altogether than the KWA rate.

Did EM Ed Kurtz see this email? If he did, why was it ignored? If he didn’t, why not?

Ditto for Darnell Earley — did he know there was an offer from DWSD making the KWA potentially irrelevant or redundant?

Why wasn’t Flint able to accept the DWSD’s cheaper rate from 2013 through to cut-over to the KWA upon the pipeline’s completion as a stop-gap, avoiding the debacle cutting over to the Flint River created?

Why was there so much pressure on development and implementation of the KWA, to the point that cheaper water from DWSD was ignored?

Michigan blogger Mark Maynard asked whether the KWA was really established to serve fracking wells in counties through which the pipeline ran from Lake Huron to Flint (see here and here). I would love to know if anybody has FOIA’d documents from the state, Flint, and the KWA regarding containing any of the search terms [fracking, hydraulic fracturing, wells, oil, natural gas, injection, energy].

We already know the state wasn’t paying much attention (ahem) to fracking in northern Michigan; did they turn a blind eye to both bid rigging up north, and the development of water resources in eastern Michigan?

Get your popcorn maker out and ready for 10:00 a.m. EST. You know what I’ll be doing — join me.

UPDATE — 8:25 a.m. EST —
I do have one more question I’d ask Darnell Earley about early 2014. Knowing the city’s water would be cut over from DWSD to KWA in April, were there any tests conducted prior to the date DWSD was cut off as a source? In other words, did Flint River water enter the Flint water system anytime BEFORE the end of the contract with DWSD? Or was the city simply supposed to assume the cut over would work without fail?

I’d like to see when Genesee County Health Department first noticed changes in health services required, along with any anonymized health service data from hospitals serving Flint residents. Would the health data show illness in sync with the official cut-over to river water — or earlier?

UPDATE — 2:20 p.m. EST —
Drive-by impressions after hearing:

  • Didn’t get answers to my questions. Also, Earley should have been asked whether Snyder, as his boss, 1) asked him to limit contact with public for feedback, or 2) if it was clear going into EM role that public feedback should be limited, and 3) if it had been made clear by governor to Earley that financial concerns overrode all others in performance of EM duties.
  • Susan Hedman’s testimony helter-skelter, did not improve impression of her ability as a regulator. She’s still on the hot seat. Email cited in hearing from EPA’s Region 5 Water Division Branch Chief Debbie Baltazar which said, “I’m not so sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for” did not help Hedman’s case whatsoever.
  • Do not recall any mention of Legionnaire’s cases during questioning, though contamination was mentioned. Not good — lot of important focus on lead poisoning, but to forget about deaths due to this crisis?
  • C-SPAN cameras caught Dr. Marc Edwards giving interviews after hearing ended; he told interviewers Flint’s water was safe for bathing (non-consumption hygiene purposes), but could not say when Flint’s water was safe to drink because of testing still underway across Flint.

Ugh. Thursday’s hearing will be must-see TV.
__________
* Sorry, harpie, I still have to follow up with the additional links you’ve shared recently.

PG&E’s Profitable Threat to Our Critical Infrastructure

Back when PA’s Department of Homeland Security was investigating anti-fracking activists as potential terrorist threats to critical infrastructure, I noted that the bigger threat to critical infrastructure pipelines was corporations that pocket rate increases rather than dedicating them to maintaining the pipelines.

Just to take one example, who do you think is a greater risk to our oil and gas infrastructure? A bunch of hippie protesters trying to limit drilling in the Marcellus Shale and thereby protect the quality of their drinking water (which is, itself, considered critical infrastructure)? Or PG&E, which sat on knowledge of an extremely high risk pipeline for three years even after setting aside the money to fix it?

Now CA’s Public Utilities Commission is out with audit results that show just how negligent PG&E was.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. diverted more than $100 million in gas safety and operations money collected from customers over a 15-year period and spent it for other purposes, including profit for stockholders and bonuses for executives, according to a pair of state-ordered reports released Thursday.

An independent audit and a staff report issued by the California Public Utilities Commission depicted a poorly led company well-heeled in its gas operations and more concerned with profit than safety.

The documents link a deficient PG&E safety culture – with its “focus on financial performance” – to the pipeline explosion in San Bruno on Sept. 9, 2010, that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

The “low priority” the company gave to pipeline safety during the three years leading up to the San Bruno blast was “well outside industry practice – even during times of corporate austerity programs,” said the audit by Overland Consulting of Leawood, Kan.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who represents San Bruno, enunciates what’s going on perfectly.

“It is truly unconscionable that PG&E was allowed by the CPUC to steal ratepayer monies that should have been spent on safety and, instead, was put in the pockets of PG&E shareholders,” said Rep. Jackie Speier,

Though, if PG&E were Muslim and brown-skinned, they’d call this terrorism, not just theft.

Jeff Immelt: EPA Should Say Fracking, Gulf Drilling, and Trans-Candian Pipeline Are Safe in One Week

I wanted to return to Jeff Immelt’s Dartmouth talk to focus on what he means by regulatory reform. It’s newsworthy not just for the way Immelt creates straw men to try to claim the energy industry is overregulated. But given that he’s such a key Obama advisor, and given that Obama is also claiming that regulatory reform will create jobs, Immelt’s worrisome claims–such as that regulatory agencies should approve applications in a week–deserve some attention and publicity.

In response to a question posed indirectly by Hank Paulson about what he would do to create jobs (after 35:00), Immelt put regulatory reform as the first thing on his list (the others are infrastructure investment, retraining, and small business financing). (All transcriptions and errors therein in this post are my own.)

You’d look at regulation permitting cycles; you’d look at some regulatory schemes that are retarding growth. And as important, you’d just look at cycle time. Cycle time. You’d say, okay instead of three years, I’m gonna give you a week.

Later (after 46:30), an audience member asks him how to make us more efficient while still being environmentally safe. Rather than answering that question, he returns to the idea of regulatory reform.

I think that there are permitting cycle times that just are purely bureaucratic. The fact is, if you’re doing a cross-state line gas it takes four years, if you’re doing electricity grid it takes seven years. That seems a bit tardy, to me.

And then, I think, let’s pick three. Let’s pick drilling off the Gulf of Mexico, let’s take the Trans-Canada pipeline that goes from the oil sands in Canada down to the United States, and let’s pick shale gas.

Now, I think there should be rules for all of those. I don’t think people should be able to just do whatever they want to do. There should be rules for all of those. But we should be doing them all.

In other words, the role of a regulator, be it the FDA or the EPA or anybody else is how to make it safe. It’s not to switch an on or an off switch.

Now, this country could be an exporter of natural gas. We have more natural gas than almost any other country in the world. Why not celebrate that?

You know, we’ve been doing shale gas in Pennsylvania for a decade. There’s a 150 environmental laws that you have to adhere to if you want to shale gas discovery in Pennsylvania today. Do we need 300?

Look, I’m not anti-EPA, I’m not. I think in some ways the EPA drives good standards. And those standards are important for competitiveness and those standards create an equal playing field.

But I think today, we’ve let some agencies to run with no accountability at all. None. And I think that might have been okay when unemployment was 5%; it may have been okay at some other time. But I think if we’re making everybody else accountable, the FDA and EPA should be as well.

Aside from the straw men Immelt constructs here (after all, it’s not actually the case that the EPA is preventing most kinds of Gulf drilling from going forward; and legitimate political opposition is holding these issues up as much as regulatory reform), the passage is stunning for the way it spins real regulatory review as a lack of accountability. After all, FDA regulatory capture and accelerated review has led directly to problems with drugs and medical devices (some of the latter in GE market segments). And the same factors–EPA and DOI regulatory capture and speedy approval processes–led directly to what is probably the biggest energy disaster in the history of the country, the BP oil spill. Both of those cost lives and, because of the damage, business efficiency, and (in the case of the BP spill) jobs.

If anything, we need to hold regulators accountable for these failures, not give them a green light to go make more of them, on a larger scale.

But Jeff Immelt, the Chair of Obama’s jobs council, says instead of that kind of accountability, we need to approve things like fracking in one week’s time.