How have I blogged here for 2 1/2 years without exposing you all to my collection of dead horse images? Over the next week, it’s time to change that and fill a gap in your life you didn’t know existed.
Dead horse washed into tree by flood, near Louisville, Kentucky, 1937
This is not an acceptable decision from the EPA during a Democratic administration:
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency allowed the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection to change how toxic selenium pollution from mountaintop removal mines is measured for the purposes of determining compliance with the Clean Water Act. Selenium, which causes significant biological damage to fish native to the waters of Appalachia, is a toxic pollutant discharged from valley fills into rivers and streams below mountaintop removal sites. The EPA-backed changes to how Kentucky measures selenium pollution allow the state to rely on an impractical and complicated test of tissue samples from fish rather than the current practice of directly sampling the water discharged below mountaintop removal mines and other selenium sources. EPA’s capitulation gives a free pass to industry and will allow unacceptably high levels of selenium pollution to continue flow into Kentucky’s waterways.
If anything, Obama’s EPA should be cracking down on coal mining and making it harder for the mountaintop removal industry to destroy the mountains and ecology of Appalachia. There is no good reason not to directly sample the water. None. Except that the coal industry doesn’t like it. Because ultimately this isn’t about the poisoning of fish. It’s about the poisoning of people. If the fish are poisoned, the people probably are at higher risk as well. Of course, one expects nothing else from the coal industry; it’s spent the last 125 years treating the people of Appalachia like feudal serfs. But for the Obama EPA to actually weaken testing rules, that I don’t get.
Here’s some background on why this all matters:
Current selenium limits in states like West Virginia have helped the Sierra Club and other nonprofits force coal companies to hand over millions of dollars in fines and cleanup costs, but those standards are based on older EPA water criteria and guidance that hasn’t been revised in nearly a decade. New data has suggested less stringent requirements would be adequate and the EPA has said it is updating the acute and chronic freshwater ambient water quality standards for selenium, though the agency has yet to act.
Kentucky is now trying to move ahead while the agency drags its feet, having developed its own criteria with help from the EPA and submitted it for federal approval. The proposal would require that high selenium levels be present in fish tissue before triggering a violation, and it would likely be emulated by neighboring states if it gets the green light from the EPA.
In taking the initiative, Kentucky is hoping to put more regulatory control in its own hands on an issue that has been litigated frequently in other states like West Virginia, according to Crowell & Moring LLP partner Kirsten L. Nathanson.
“The environmental groups have been driving enforcement through lawsuits,” Nathanson said. “Kentucky is trying to find an instructive solution to these issues and avoid some of these ad-hoc enforcement actions by taking affirmative control of its regulatory program for selenium.”
Industry has always preferred state-led regulatory programs because the states are far easier for industry to control than the feds. Politicians come cheaper and they tend to be much friendlier to local industry.
A very disappointing decision.
Conservatives in Kentucky are very angry. After all, the state might adopt scientific standards that teach actual science instead of Christian mythology. The responses are quite rational:
Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister, is one of the opponents who spoke to the board about why the standards should not be adopted, according to The Courier-Journal. “Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man’s elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God,” Singleton said. “Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state.”
Another opponent, Dena Stewart-Gore, suggested that the standards will make religious students feel ostracized. “The way socialism works is it takes anybody that doesn’t fit the mold and discards them,” she said, per the The Courier-Journal. “We are even talking genocide and murder here, folks.”
What killed the Jews in the Holocaust was the Nazis teaching them that the Earth was not 6000 years old. They all dropped dead of heart attacks or something.
Who are the real friends of coal miners? Like in the timber wars of the 1980s, an exploitative industry and its lackey politicians have claimed that the industry looks out for the miners against those evil environmentalists, while at the same time engaging in land management and labor policies that make workers’ lives worse. Given a declining industry due to overexploitation of the resource and because of a lack of economic alternatives for scared workers, this political move has been very effective both in logging towns of the Northwest and Appalachian coal country.
But in both places, activists have pushed back against the false choices of industry versus environment. Here is an outstanding letter from retired UMWA organizer Carl Shoupe about the lies of the coal industry to the people of Kentucky.
Since I’ve been around coal all my life, I guess I should be pleased when our “leaders” say they are Friends of Coal. But lately, I’ve been wondering, which part of coal they’re friends with.
Peabody Energy and its new company, Patriot Coal, are trying to weasel out of paying health and pension benefits promised to thousands of retired UMWA miners. Have you heard any objection from these Friends of Coal in our marble palaces in Frankfort? Those miners earned their benefits with their sweat and their blood, but now Peabody wants to dump them like they’re just more overburden.
These politicians may be friends of coal, but they’re not friends of coal miners and their families. These miners and their families are being robbed of their retirement and benefits.
My friend Truman recently spent a week hooked up to a hospital ventilator. Like thousands of others, he suffers with black lung, caused by working in underground mines filled with coal dust. Today, the number of severe black lung cases is on the rise again, affecting workers on strip mines and below ground. And yet Congressman Hal Rogers has led efforts in Congress to block rules designed to protect miners from that awful disease.
Another friend of mine had to move with his daughter away from the homeplace where his family has lived for over 200 years. Toxic runoff from mountaintop removal was poisoning him and his family.
But his state representative, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, stood up at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing about water pollution and insisted that anyone who wants to save the mountains should just “go buy one.”
The speaker may be a friend of the coal companies, but he’s no friend of coalfield families threatened by mountaintop mining and poisoned water.
Coal companies and politicians of both parties who are beholden to coal money are not the friends of workers. At the very least, political progressives should be aware that environmentalists are not the enemies of coal miners. The enemy is the employer who has zero concern for the aftermath of coal mining and the long-term effects of coal dependency on Appalachia.
This past weekend we held the annual Patterson School Crisis Simulation. This year’s topic was cyber-warfare; I have a long writeup at Information Dissemination, and a shorter writeup at the Diplomat:
Coincidentally, my institution (the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce) ran a simulation last week on a cyber attack against U.S. defense contractors. Although the simulation abstracted a great deal from reality, it nevertheless provided some policy lessons. The attackers in our simulation (representing a Russian criminal organization rather than the PLA) shied away from directly assaulting U.S. government institutions, instead focusing their efforts on a law firm associated with several contractors. The attackers hoped to gain access to intellectual property, including patent applications and trade secret information, as well as patterns of communication between the firm, the government, and the contractors.
In our simulation, the attackers substantially succeeded in most of their goals, although they did run into some difficulty selling the information. The most important lesson we learned is that poor communication between government and private organizations can doom cyber-defense efforts. In our case, the law firm only reluctantly relayed its concerns about a breach to the government and to its clients, leaving the attackers with ample time to conduct their theft. This reluctance was hardly irrational; the perception that secrets could be at risk would prove devastating to the firm’s business prospects. Although our simulation did not subdivide the U.S. government (by creating different teams for different departments), similar dynamics surely complicate interagency responses to cyber-attacks.
Thanks to the Daily Caller, I’m now a strong supporter of Ashley Judd’s potential 2014 Senate bid:
- On her comparing mountaintop removal to the Rwandan genocide: “President Clinton has repeatedly said doing nothing during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 is the single greatest regret of the Presidency. Yet here at home, there is full blown environmental genocide and collapse happening, and we are doing nothing. Naturally, I accept that I set myself up for ridicule for using such strong terms, or perhaps outrage from human victims of slaughter.”
- On fathers giving daughters away at weddings: “To this day, a common vestige of male dominion over a woman’s reproductive status is her father ‘giving’ away her away to her husband at their wedding, and the ongoing practice of women giving up their last names in order to assume the name of their husband’s families, into which they have effectively been traded.”
- On the coal industry, which employees thousands of Kentuckians: “The era of coal plant is over, unacceptable,” she tweeted in October.
- On how Christianity “legitimizes” male power over women: “Patriarchal religions, of which Christianity is one, gives us a God that is like a man, a God presented and discussed exclusively in male imagery, which legitimizes and seals male power. It is the intention to dominate, even if the intention to dominate is nowhere visible.”
- On men: “Throughout history, men have tried to control the means of reproduction, which means trying to control woman. This president is a modern day Attila the Hun.”
Of course, we’ll see how all this plays out in an election, and how strong a candidate Judd proves to be (if she does indeed run). Kentucky is a funny place; we all remember how devastating the Aqua Buddha scandal was to Rand Paul’s political career.
This is ugly. Take a look at the Jerry Tipton and John Clay twitter feeds to get a sense of the emotional dead space at the core of Big Blue Nation.
… post-game press conference even more ugly, if possible:
“We’ve got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable,” said John Calipari after his worst loss in four years as UK’s coach. “You tell them over and over what we want to do, what we have to do, and they do their own thing. That’s where we are.”
I hesitate to link to this; take care, because it’s a genuinely horrible story of the death of a small child. Newspapers acquire, justified or not, reputations for certain kinds of stories. The Lexington Herald Leader, it seems, almost invariably has some terrible tale of something awful befalling a toddler, whether shooting or car accident or fall from great height or some other mishap.
For reasons I haven’t been able to fully articulate, this story affects me more than most. I’ve thought about it since the incident first hit the news, for reasons that should be obvious. The story of the last moments is incomparably horrible, both for mother and child. At the same time, the participants oddly defy blame. The father will likely go to prison, but this is clearly not a case of intentional homicide; it is perhaps too easy for parents to imagine something like this happening, if they ever found themselves with the misfortune of being forced to live in a trailer-turned-meth-lab.
While we can make social-science-laden-public-policy observations about events like this, in a country as large and varied as the United States, the overall impact of any public policy shift is simply to marginally increase or decrease the number of toddlers who die horrible deaths. Policy shifts can have an impact that is hardly trivial; any of more investment in schools, an easing of drug prohibition, anti-poverty programs, greater access to and information about birth control, and better funded social service programs might have made a difference in this case. Nevertheless, people are going to die in ways that shock and horrify; state policy only changes the “who” and “how many.”
I should also say that I’ve been reluctant to post on this because of a nagging feeling that, for the family, there ought to be something deeply private about this event. Reading the story, especially in the excruciatingly clinical style of the first link, feels like watching pornography; there’s something wrong about the notion that I have the right to know about it. The story activates my horror/outrage/despair centers in an almost voyeuristic manner. That the story happens to be true only enhances the emotional rush. Surely the state needs to intervene, even if the principles have already been horribly punished. Clearly, the media should stand as watchdog to the state, and evaluation of the events should inform our politics and policy. Still, I can’t help but feel that the combination of righteous outrage and horror that I feel when I read about the case is inappropriate; this belongs to someone else, and I have no right to this sense of despair.
Get big government out of my grocery store liquor aisle!
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Kentucky law prohibiting grocery and convenience stores from selling wine and distilled spirits is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II of Louisville said the state law “violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in that it prohibits certain grocery stores, gas stations and others … from obtaining a license to sell package liquor and wine.”
In Kentucky locations where alcohol sales are allowed, beer — but not wine or spirits — may be sold in grocery stores. Grocery stores, however, may get a license to sell wine and liquor if they provide a separate entrance to that part of the store, where minors are not allowed to work. A store employee of legal age is required to conduct beer sales.
Such requirements do not apply to drugstores.
Thank goodness somebody finally found a use for the Constitution. This change will make it approximately 2.3% easier to acquire wine and liquor in Lexington by effectively making every single business establishment a liquor store. Now if we could only do away with the “no liquor sales on Election Day” rule, and the “can’t mail booze into Kentucky” rule, which is a genuine inconvenience.
This is how we roll in Kentucky:
Former state treasurer Jonathan Miller finished eighth overall in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and won $69,896.
Miller was one of nine players left in a No-Limit Hold ‘em tournament that started with 4,620 players. With 1,700,000 chips, Miller, a lawyer from Lexington, was ranked third. The winner, Dominik Nitsche of Germany, received $654,797.
Miller said in an interview during a break that he’s been an amateur poker player for six or seven years, and making it to one of the final two tables in the tournament has been “unreal.”
Playing in the World Series of Poker was a goal he said he deferred while in public office.
“When you’re a politician in Kentucky, it is not a real good public relations move going to a gambling tournament in Las Vegas,” Miller said.
Not actually sure that this will be a net political negative for Miller…
Eric Lipton’s feature on the decline of coal in Kentucky is interesting, though flawed. He tells a heartbreaking story for these coal miners, helping us understand just how deeply people in eastern Kentucky believe in coal. Even if other economic opportunities appeared in the region, a lot of people just don’t want to imagine a world not dominated by coal. Of course, the fact that the coal industry has ruled this area as a feudal domain for a century doesn’t help.
Both Lipton and the Kentucky coal operators are giving environmentalists too much power. The idea that environmentalists can set policy in 2012 is pretty laughable and flies in the face of a huge amount of evidence. Environmentalists can be a useful ally if more powerful players want something to happen. New York and Chicago are moving away from supplying power through coal because Bloomberg and Emanuel want it to happen. Sierra Club lobbying might be making a difference but they are hardly, say, passing national legislation or even state-level legislation on these matters. Environmentalists are an easy target. And by including pollution controls on new coal-fired plants, they have raised the cost of doing business. But environmentalists are an easy target that ignores what’s really going on.
And that’s fracking. The economics of natural gas just make a lot more sense. And for as horrible as fracking can be (and for all the problems we have ignored while just plowing ahead), it is almost certainly better for everyone with a stake in energy than coal, except for the coal miners themselves. Natural gas is tremendously efficient for home heating. It’s less dirty than coal. It doesn’t change the climate as quickly. And it’s just a lot cheaper at the present time. Even if you don’t have the pollution controls on new plants, coal can’t compete with natural gas right now.
And one issue the article elides is the fact that Americans are still mining enormous amounts of coal–but it is increasingly in Wyoming instead of Kentucky and West Virginia. Lipton mentions the overseas market for coal, especially in Asia. But high-quality coal seams are disappearing in Appalachia; after over a century, it is finally drying up. So the ability of Appalachia to transition to an overseas market is limited. The companies know this and they are invested whole hog in western coal.
Ideally, the government would step in here like Bill Clinton did during the spotted owl crisis. Settling the issue more or less in favor of environmentalists, as needed to happen, Clinton also ensured significant federal aid and job retraining programs to people who lost their jobs. But there’s no way that is going to happen in 2012. Loggers in 1993 weren’t any much pro-Democratic president than coal miners are today. But Oregon and Washington also had huge local constituencies who wanted to see old-growth logging on federal lands end and there’s just not that local community in Kentucky and West Virginia lobbying for the end of coal. It’s even more of an insider-outsider paradigm than the ancient forest campaigns proved to be. Even more important is the shrinkage of the welfare state and the overt hostility today to helping even white people, as opposed to the 90s when subsidies for poor white loggers were OK but welfare for black mothers was repealed.