Catching up with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK)

29 October 08 | Posted in Events, Legislation, Sin Bin

30 years ago this month I left Alaska. I left to get an emotional break from a sad divorce, and an even more draining fight over an Alaska lands bill in Congress.

Ultimately, millions of acres were “protected” or “locked-up” –depending on your point of view–because what constituted “good management” of federal lands could never be agreed upon by residents, elected representatives, government bureaucrats, environmentalists and developers.

The congressional delegation could have played a role here, in getting all parties to the table to hammer out a solution that would bring energy resources,  jobs, safeguard the most sensitive areas, and protect the traditional rights of the native people.  They did not, largely because they hated environmentalists so much, and wanted no restraints on economic development.

Alaska’s congressional delegation was rabidly pro-development, especially Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Stevens and Young never met an oil corporation, mining outfit, construction company, or logging group they didn’t like. 

I can think of very few U.S. senators disliked more by the Sierra Club than Ted Stevens.

Now he’s headed out the door.

Sen. Stevens, 84, was found guilty of violating federal ethics laws by failing to report over $250,000 in gifts and services he had received from friends, most notably Bill Allen, the former president of VECO Corporation, an Alaskan oil pipeline services and construction company.

A lot of these “gifts” were used to renovate and furnish Stevens’ home in Girdwood, Alaska.

Mr. Allen wore a wire for the Feds in his conversations with Stevens. Allen was convicted for his role in a scheme to bribe Alaska lawmakers to help with his oil exploration projects. stevens-courtpreview.jpg

Stevens was finally shown to be a bully and cheap hustler. He promoted legislation benefiting his oil company friends, and traded his influence for furniture and home remodeling at the expense of  Alaskan working people he always proported to support.

It would have been “business suicide” to cross Bill Allen, testified the Augie Paone, the carpenter who renovated Sen. Ted Stevens’ home in Alaska and who said he was bullied into not sending the senator a final bill of $13,393. Allen told him he should “eat” the final bill from the home renovations.

Paone testified that he objected to “eating” the bill for work at Stevens’ home and said so in a meeting with Allen, who told the carpenter he should “look at it as a political contribution,” Paone said.

“At first I was shocked,” Paone said. “I also tried to hold on to my composure. I knew I was in a bind, because I knew he had me in a spot where I really couldn’t do anything.”

The great irony of Sen. Stevens’ tragedy is that with his political demise, it may tip the balance to the Democrats, helping them to win enough seats to give them a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes.

Just imagine what kind of environmental legislation could be passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and White House.

It’s gonna be tough sledding for some folks in Alaska….

Catholics Thinking Outside the Bottle

22 July 08 | Posted in Food, Lifestyle, Sin Bin, Stewardship, U.S. Catholic

Sr. Janet Corcoran, vice president of mission service at Marian Medical Center in Santa Clara, CA, is just one of the Catholic voices spreading the gospel that bottled water, however convenient, is environmentally, economically and politically wrong. “It’s a matter of getting people to think more consciously about what they are doing,” she said. Her column, “Environmental Tips from a Green Franciscan Sister” is published in a hospital publication.

Concerns about bottled water are bubbling up in Catholic organizations, adding clout to a growing number of municipalities and secular organizations concerned about the issue–with women religious strongly in the lead.

Numerous women’s religious communities are banning bottled water at their motherhouses, retreat houses and conference centers, and some are substituting refillable water bottles for the throw-away kind at sponsored events.

Bottled water has become a lighting rod for several environmental-social justice issues surrounding water. bottledwater.jpg

There is a negative environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles. I see plenty of those on the beach–used and left by fishermen (both native born and Spanish-speaking immigrants) to wash out into the ocean. There is the oil used to make plastic bottles.  And lastly, the prize of the ownership and access to good water, especially for developing countries. Like energy resources–oil, gas, coal–water is now being privatized by corporations.

The United Nations  estimates that more than 1 billion people currently lack access to safe drinking water and that by 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will not have access to drinking water.

Some Catholic groups have borrowed information and ideas from Think Outside the Bottle, a major non-religious player in the anti-bottled water movement.

The organization has launched a web-based campaign that provides information and support. In addition to inviting individuals to sign a pledge to boycott bottled water, the program urges people to send postcards to corporations challenging corporate control of water, to attend stockholders’ meetings and mount other forms of pressure on corporate executives.

I guess what this means for me is to stop buying Poland Spring at Staples or the supermarket, and fill the empties with tap water.

I love Poland Spring. It’s easy to tote to the gym or have in the car. Water in refillable plastic bottles tastes vile.  This is going to be a tough one.

White House Blocks Scientific Testimony on Global Warming

Jason Burnett, 31, a Stamford-trained economist, was until June 9 a senior official with the Environmental Protection Agency. He resigned, and is spending some time working for the election of Barack Obama to the presidency.

Apparently, he wasn’t regarded highly by environmentalists on his appointment to the EPA, but he should be one of their biggest heros, now.

Burnett charges that Vice President Cheney’s office urged him to delete or water down testimony to Congress by top administration officials on the impacts of global warming.

Burnett also said the White House blocked an effort by EPA to issue an endangerment finding, a conclusion that climate change is a threat to the public. Under a Supreme Court ruling last year, the finding would have forced the administration to cut emissions.

In October 2007, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding was scheduled to testify before the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. Burnett said he was asked by Cheney’s office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality to “work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of human health consequences of climate change.”

Burnett refused, saying the testimony was “fundamentally accurate.” It included examples of how climate change is likely to have “a significant impact” on public health.

But the Office of Management and Budget later deleted six of twelve pages of testimony, including sections suggesting climate change could lead to a rise in infectious diseases, air pollution, food and water scarcity and extreme weather events.

The issue of whether greenhouse gases endanger public health or welfare is significant because a finding by the EPA that they do would require the agency to regulate them under the terms of the federal Clean Air Act, spurring new rules across a range of industries.

Environmentalists, Congressional Democrats, and officials in more than a dozen states have sought to prod the EPA to reach a decision on the matter, following a Supreme Court ruling last year that greenhouse gases are pollutants and can be regulated under EPA’s existing authority. greenhouse-gas.jpg

But the Bush administration has resisted, arguing that the economy-wide regulations of such emissions could cripple the U.S. economy.

Burnett said he was told to retract the document because a bill to raise fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, which was moving through Congress at the time, would make the endangerment finding moot. But he said the logic was flawed.

“The energy bill did not change the science, it did not change the law,” Burnett said, adding, “EPA still has a responsibility to respond to the Supreme Court.”

Planet of Slums

29 June 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Friends, Sin Bin, Social Justice

Mark Davis, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, is a self-described Marxist environmentalist. His work has stirred both controversy and acclaim. mike-davis.jpg

His 2006 book, Planet of Slums, examines the current state of global cities, using a recent U.N. habitat report, The Challenge of Slums, as its starting point. planetoftheslums_.jpg

“By the report’s conservative accounting,” Davis explains, “a billion people currently live in slums and more than a billion people are informal workers, struggling for survival…the entire future growth of humanity will occur in cities, overwhelmingly poor cities, and the majority of it in slums.”

According to Davis, progressive urban planners advocate “hazard zoning” to exclude development and population from dangerous floodplains, swamps, unstable hillsides, fire-prone brush lands, and liquefaction zones.

“Capitalist urbanization in the Third World  works exactly by the opposite principle: concentrating huge densities of poor, vulnerable people in the most unstable and hazardous sites.”

Nevertheless, he sees cities as the solution to the global environmental crisis: “Urban density can translate into great efficiencies in land, energy and resource use, whlie democratic public spaces and cultural institutions likewise provide qualitatively higher standards of enjoyment than individualized consumption and commodified leisure.”

David has often criticized well-to-do environmentalists for ignoring the problems of working people. To that end, he argues that activists should link every environmental demand to a specific proposal that improves quality of life in working class areas, whether this be higher employment or more park space.

Flow – For Love of Water

27 June 08 | Posted in Events, Friends, Sin Bin

Last weekend, a top female rep for Nestle pitched a fit at the Nantucket Film Festival, which Nestle co-sponsored, during a screening of Flow – a documentary clobbering Nestle Waters as harming the environment.

The film, distributed by Brooklyn-born Adam Yauch (best known as Beastie Boys rapper MCA) and his Oscilloscope Pictures, probes the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh-water supply. It blames the crisis on Nestle along with Pepsi and Coca-Cola. “It takes a good look at Nestle pumping communities around the United States and how they pull water out in order to bottle it and sell it. It depletes the water for farms and irrigation,” said one insider.

Yauch said the problem is that Nestle is “promoting bottled water in general. It’s the bottles themselves, the amount of pollution they create and then disposing them are problems.” adam-yauch.bmp

“They put pretty pictures of springs and forests on bottles, but in this movie they’re getting called out. I think it’s great. They lock down water as a commodity they can buy and sell. It’s terrifying.”

The movie, directed by Irena Salina, will be shown in New York this September.