Tag Archives: Environment

Why I Quit Googling

In case you missed it, a couple weeks ago Google held a fundraiser for notorious climate denier/oil company shill/all around nutbar Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe.

Considering the great lengths Google has gone to present itself as a “green” company, more than a few people consider this a gross display of hypocrisy. You simply can’t claim to have any sort of green ethos while raising money for the Senate’s most vocal and active climate denier.

And no, saying you have a data center in Oklahoma is not sufficient explanation. You don’t get off with that trite “we don’t agree with all of their policies” bullshit. This isn’t just any policy. This is a major policy on which you’ve hinged a whole boatload of your feel-good PR, and Inhofe is probably this country’s most powerful activist working to obstruct any policy action related to climate change.

You do not get a pass on this. This is not, we have a minor disagreement on this one trivial thing but can find common ground elsewhere. This is, we are galaxies apart on a major fundamental issue of cataclysmic proportions. So, fuck you, Google. We’re not that stupid.

There’s simply no excuse for this. I mean, I guess they’re bowing and scraping for some kind of favorable tax treatment or whatever? To which I again say: fuck you. How many bazillions in profits do you people need, anyway? I just don’t get Corporate America, I really don’t. You’re all, oooh we want Americans to love us and feel good about us! but you act like such dicks all the time, spending bazillions of dollars on lobbying and PACs and greenwashing and PR campaigns and fundraising for asshole Republicans and groups like ALEC which support legislation that oppress your customers. Why not just spend all that money on doing the right thing in the first place? Instead of spending money on being assholes and then spending more money on a PR/marketing campaign trying to convince us you’re not assholes?

Wouldn’t that just be easier?

Anyway, comedian Andy Cobb put together a hilarious video clip mocking Google for its hypocrisy. Give it a look-see:

But I have to tell you guys, this isn’t the reason I stopped Googling. I stopped Googling a while ago and here’s why: they started sucking. It’s true!

I use search engines when looking up stories for my weekly gun report, and about six weeks ago I noticed that suddenly a news search for something like, “gun accident, Memphis” would yield a whole string of Daily Caller stories having nothing to do with guns, accidents or even Memphis. Don’t believe me? Look, this is Bing’s search:


And this is Google’s:


If you click on the picture you’ll see that other than CNN’s top story, the rest is some Daily Caller BS that has nothing to do with what I’m searching for. (Daily Caller is that far-right rag Tucker Carlson started which peddles wingnut crack. Notorious for firing and missing, repeatedly, we’ve nicknamed them the “Daily Failure.”)

Anyway, I’m not tech-savvy and I can’t pretend to understand all of the algorithms and other crap which goes into making a search engine do its job. I’ve heard of Google Bombing and all that, so I’m gonna guess the people at Tucker’s Daily Failure embedded some SEO terms in their codes or whatever it is they do to make sure anyone searching for “guns,” “Tennessee” and maybe some other redneck-y sounding terms will land on Tucker’s Little Shoppe Of Internet Rumours.

Anyway, that ain’t working for me so I switched to Bing. So far, no problems.

You know, I’m not naive. Despite Corporate America’s Herculean efforts to put forth a huggsy-wuggsy image and to make sure its Twitter feed is full of Nice Time, I know they’re all evil to some extent, the difference is just in degrees. And I can handle some evil, it’s part of life in America today. But when you become both evil and you stop working? You’re dead to me.


Filed under climate change, corporations, Media


It finally rained last night. This was the first rain to fall on my garden in at least a month. Let me tell you, hearing that rainfall on my roof was some sweet, sweet music. And this morning I awoke to the most wonderful present: four full rainbarrels!

This drought has been something else. Last week while driving around town I rounded a turn and for a fleeting moment thought I was on a canyon road in Los Angeles. Something about the brown scrubby vegetation and the smell of the air made me think I was back in my hometown. And I thought: damn. I’ve been talking about moving back to L.A. for so long, I conjured it up in Nashville! Just give of us a beach and take the Baptists and it’s done.

We broke more heat records this week — seven heat records broken since June 28. Anyone who is still pretending this is “cyclical” needs to reacquaint themselves with the definition of a circle. When you’re breaking a new heat record every day — some over 100 years old — you don’t get a circle. You get a line pointing straight up. Just sayin’, people.

Middle Tennessee had a severe drought two years ago, and another one three years before that. I remember reading that the farmers outside of Nashville were forced to truck hay in for their livestock from places like Iowa. But with 75% of the country now in drought, I don’t know where they’d go for that hay these days.

Most deniers I know are now saying, “well, maybe it is climate change, but it’s too late to do anything about it, anyway.” Oh, well now you tell us. Thanks a lot, assholes. They are probably correct on this front but still: thanks for reminding us how y’all have been wrong about everything important and why we shouldn’t listen to you in the future. Also, we all know as soon as there’s a snowfall they’re all gonna be like, “Al Gore is fat, nyah nyah,” so I just don’t waste my time with these idiots. Crawl back under your holes with your friends the Birthers.

Last night’s rain probably saved my garden. We were in triage mode, trying to save big stuff like trees and giving up on the rest. Most of the hostas got scorched weeks ago and just need to be cut back. As I said in an earlier post, I long ago gave up on annuals like impatiens and have planted drought-tolerant species like lantana and yarrow, which offer a nice pop of color and have brought the hummingbirds to the yard. Speaking of hummingbirds, I’m guessing the drought has killed off a big portion of their nectar supply so I’m going to be extra diligent about keeping the feeders fresh.

We’re supposed to get more rain this week, which is a blessing. The temperatures have dropped, too. It’s a small dose of normalcy in a summer which has been anything but.


Filed under climate change, garden blogging

The New Normal

The calendar says June. The map says Nashville, Tennessee. The thermometer says Phoenix, Arizona.

Yesterday it was 109 degrees in Nashville. I shit you not.

Did I mention it’s still June? Hottest day ever on record. Today is not much better. In fact, for the foreseeable future Nashville is expected to be 100+ degrees. If this is June, then August is going to be positively brutal.

When I was a kid, we used to visit my grandmother in Palm Desert, California every summer. I remember more than one July Fourth in the California desert that was as hot as Nashville is this weekend. In fact, Nashville’s temp this weekend is the same as Phoenix, Arizona.

So here we are. We’re becoming a desert. Get used to it. Sure, the record we’re breaking was set in 1952, but we’ve been breaking daily records for decades. Hey remember that awful August of 2007? When people died from the heat? And that was August.

And 2010 was so bad, I was blogging about record-breaking August heat and the strange critters it had drawn out into the land of the living.

So, welcome to the new normal. I’m trying to make peace with it. For one thing, the super hot and dry temperatures have wrecked havoc on our nastier pests: chiggers and mosquitoes. The little fuckers don’t stand a chance in this climate. Winning! Also, for the past few years I’ve nixed stuff like impatiens and opted for hardier Lantana, which can handle extreme heat and drought. Last winter, believe it or not, my Lantana wintered over. First time that’s ever happened.

Some Like It Hot

On the other hand, I’m desperately trying to save my Viburnum, which have just the sweetest smelling blooms in spring. I’m losing. I’m afraid the koi are going to boil alive in the pond. And what was I thinking when I cut down some trees shading the garden? I know: I was thinking my plants needed more sunshine. Damn, I’d give anything for that shade now.

So, folks, you can pretend climate change isn’t real all you want. Pass all the bills you want allowing you to teach that the dinosaurs just missed Noah’s boatlift and climate change is a liberal plot. That doesn’t change the facts and that doesn’t mean it ain’t happening. It just means you’re stupid.

Personally, I’ve been with the “it’s too late, anyway” camp for a while. We can’t reverse this. We could have if we took action a few decades ago, but not anymore. I’m sure when things become too obvious for even wingnuts to ignore they’ll blame Democrats — that’s what they always do. Might I suggest they cool off at a nice, air conditioned movie theater — perhaps one showing Phil Valentine’s climate change denial movie?


Filed under climate change, garden blogging, Nashville weather

Living The Leaf Life, Update

In honor of Earth Day I thought I’d update folks on my Nissan Leaf experience. Short answer: yes I still love my car. No, I haven’t had any issues — not with range, nor with anything else.

The one question everyone always asks when I’m out and about is, “what kind of gas mileage do you get?” To which I always answer, “Zero.” Ha ha. People are still wrapping their heads around the idea of a non-internal combustion engine. And I get that; it’s a big change. The concept of a car without a tailpipe — which doesn’t require regular oil changes! — is a big effin’ deal, to paraphrase Joe Biden. You know what else the Leaf doesn’t do? Get hot. You come in from a long drive and the hood is pretty much cool to the touch.

The Leaf’s Carwings software tells me I average 7 miles per kWh. Based on that, we calculate I get the equivalent of 300 miles per gallon. That’s factoring in what NES charges for electricity on a $3.65/gallon gas price: since we have a solar array on our roof and are actually selling our power several months out of the year, it doesn’t quite work out that way for us. But you get the general idea.

And no, we haven’t seen any uptick in our electric bill; in fact, as I’ve mentioned before, because of home energy efficiency work we did last year like insulation and ductwork sealing, we’re actually using less electricity than last year, when we didn’t have an EV.

All of this has to be presented with a big caveat: I don’t drive a lot, mostly just in-town stuff. So, “your mileage may vary.”

Last week I saw this story in a local paper about the number of public charging stations which go unused. We see these stories a lot these days, and they annoy the hell out of me. Fer crying out loud, people: the Leaf has only been available in this state for, what, a year? Jesus. Give it a rest. This stuff takes time. Quit yer whining.

You know, I’m always hearing people say, “there’s an EV charger at such-and-such place and .. I never see anyone using it!” My response? So what! How many times do you see empty handicapped parking spaces? Or how about those parking spaces retailers reserve for expectant mothers? I see them at shopping malls and grocery stores all the time, and they’re always empty. No one bitches about those, do they?

These are things that retailers do to serve their customers (except for handicapped parking, which is required by law). If you’re going to be all “free hand of the market” about this stuff, then let a business owner do what they think serves their clientele. Don’t get your shorts in a knot because you think you know better. I’ve got a steaming cup of STFU with your name on it.

I mostly charge my car at home. Sometimes I charge when I’m out and about, but because I live in town, these public charging stations are not for me. They’re for Leaf owners I know who live out in Williamson County and come into town to do their business. These public chargers will be used as the number of EV owners increases.

And let me add, I’d use the ones down in Brentwood and Williamson County if I knew they were there. There really needs to be a better way of letting people know where these things are: some kind of standardized signage or something. Carwings is supposed to tell you where chargers are located but half the time they don’t show up on your console screen until you actually use one.

So far, the Leaf life is working out really well. Last time I crunched the numbers I calculated I spent $8 a month on transportation, versus the $100 or so I’d spend previously. The economics work, but also: it’s just a great little car.


Filed under Earth Day, electric car, energy future, environment

Waiter Is That Corexit In My Shrimp Cocktail?

So now it looks like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill did, indeed, contaminate the food chain:

The study, “Macondo-1 well oil-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in mesozooplankton from the northern Gulf of Mexico,” found that oil has contaminated zooplankton, one of the first links in the oceanic food chain.

“Traces of oil in the zooplankton prove that they had contact with the oil and the likelihood that oil compounds may be working their way up the food chain,” Dr. Michael Roman of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science said in a statement accompanying the study.

Baby fish and shrimp feed on the tiny, drifting zooplankton, and then introduce contamination and pollution to the larger sea creatures in the food web.

Those larger creatures also include us, let me point out. Anything that eats shrimp is at risk of getting contaminated. And here we are nearly two years after the fact, and I’m sure a lot of people feel like everything is fine, go ahead and tuck into that shrimp special at your favorite local restaurant. Freedom! But two years is not nearly long enough for any of this stuff to be cleansed from the ecosystem.

I bring this up because I’ve been having a long-running battle with the seafood guys at Whole Foods about this. First, let me say: I rarely eat shellfish anymore because well, they’re seabugs, y’all! That lobster is just a giant cockroach! But Mr. Beale likes it and so I will occasionally cook shrimp for him, and sometimes I can forget crabs are big sea-spiders, if they’re chopped up in a crab cake and I don’t have to see the legs.

But ever since the BP oil spill I have avoided Gulf shrimp, and no amount of “oh you’re just being silly” cajoling will get me to change my mind, because of this:

That Ain't Natural & I Ain't Eating It

This is some gross orange-y gook that I often find when I clean Gulf shrimp and only Gulf shrimp. It looks just like Corexit and is found along the “mud line.” It also discolors the meat around it, and sometimes even a toughens the texture.

Now usually on the rare occasion that I buy shrimp I ask where the shrimp is from and if I’m lucky I can get shrimp from Savannah. Thanks to the USDA’s COOL laws, the store has to tell you where your food is from, and I am eternally grateful for this information (don’t get me started on grapes from Chile, people. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post). But on Monday all Whole Foods had was Gulf shrimp and once again I got into an argument with the guy about what that orange gook is. I even showed him the picture (taken the last time I made the mistake of buying Gulf shrimp), at which point he told me I was being silly and that these were teeny tiny eggs.

That is the second time someone has told me that these are shrimp eggs. Okay look, I know it’s been a few decades since I took biology class and I’m definitely not a fisheries biologist, but the mud line is not where one finds shrimp eggs. The mud line is the shrimp’s GI tract. That “mud” is shrimp shit. Shrimp do not shit out their eggs. If you’re a female shrimp and you have eggs, they are on the other side of your body, where the legs are. In fact, those little tiny legs are called “swimmerets” and are there so females can hold their eggs.


So people, if anyone tells you that the orange gook in your shrimp are eggs, please show them this picture and ask them how it’s possible, biologically speaking, for eggs to be where feces is. You can also let them that they are full of shit, if you wish. Just like your shrimp.

If you’re a fisheries biologist and can offer me any more insight on what this orange gook is, please weigh in. Until then, I’m going to assume this is some kind of oil-spill related contaminant, because I never saw it before the Deepwater Horizon disaster and I’ve never seen it in any kind of shrimp besides those from the Gulf. And let me be clear: before I started boycotting Florida for being racist fucktards, we used to go to the beach every summer and buy Gulf shrimp from those little refrigerated shrimp stands on the beach. I’ve cleaned a lot of shrimp in my day. But now Gulf shrimp seems to have orange slime in it and I ain’t eating it.


Filed under environment, Gulf oil spill

It’s All Fun & Games Until Someone Gets Elected

Rick Womick Will Save You From Dastardly UN Goons Trying To Steal Your Stuff

Rutherford County Republican Rick Womick, last seen trying to purge Muslims from our military, has uncovered yet another threat to the republic called “Agenda 21.” But no fear, young patriots: Womick is on the case!

A resolution in the state legislature opposes what is depicted as an insidious United Nations scheme to take away citizens’ property rights through radical environmentalism.


The proposed resolution says that global political control is one of the intentions of the U.N. program and it is being covertly pushed into local communities through policies that incorporate words like “sustainable development,” “green” or “regional visioning.”

Noooo! Not “regional visioning”! What in the name of Soros could that mean? Tofu Tuesdays? Curbside recycling programs? High-speed rail? Even — gasp! — composting and community gardens?!


To the battlements, young Wolverines!

If you’re wondering where Womick got the crackpot idea that this stuff is part of a nefarious UN plot, well, read on:

Parts of the resolution word-for-word are found in a model Stop Agenda 21 bill that the John Birch Society offers on its website. The 54-year-old organization, which opposed the Civil Rights Act, fights efforts that include what it paints as a conspiracy under way to impose one-world government.

The resolution, which equates Agenda 21 with socialism and communism, endorses rejection of the program’s “radical policies” and “any grant monies attached to it.”

Rep. Rick Womick of Rutherford County, one of the resolution’s sponsors, said Tuesday that the U.N. created multiple political subdivisions and independent shadow organizations in a stealth move to work with towns and cities and undermine rights.

He said the “grandiose plan” is meant to stop economic growth and includes telling people they must, for instance, set aside wetlands or regulate against urban sprawl.

“It’s about taking property rights away from people,” said Womick, R-Rockvale. “People are fed up with government interfering with their lives.”

Oh, riiight. You know, don’t even get me started on the whole “government interfering with peoples’ lives” bullshit, because our legislators are perfectly happy to stick their noses into my business when it suits them: all that stuff about birth control and abortion and what people do in their bedrooms and who they do it with? Tennessee Republicans have no problems with any of that stuff, that’s freedom! But green initiatives? Communism!

The radical John Birch Society was founded to stop communism in 1958. You know what? Communism is dead. You guys won, woohoo, goodie for you. Now fold up your chairs, box up the mimeograph machine, and be sure to turn off the Bunn ’cause it’s time to go home. But no, these groups never die. They just start looking for new boogeymen so they can continue to fleece the gullible of their money. Fear sells and there’s always some asshole willing to buy.

And before you point your fingers and laugh at the rubes in Tennessee, read this Mother Jones article from last year, which tells of Agenda 21 paranoia spreading around Tea Party circles all across the country. Hate to break it to you, dear readers, but you’ve probably got some of this nonsense percolating through your state’s legislature, too.

I first got wind of the anti-UN tin-foil hatters back in the ’90s when I worked in the communications office at a federally-owned national recreation area. I happened to answer the phone when a guy at a low-wattage radio station I’d never heard of called. He wanted someone from the park to appear on his radio show to talk about how we’d ceded control of our site to the United Nations; he said the UN actually owned this park. Of course, we’d done no such thing.

Turns out this crazy idea stemmed from the fact that we had a unique ecosystem on site that had been included in the UN’s biosphere reserve program. All that meant was that we had been recognized for having a globally significant ecosystem and that wildlife biologists could study and share information with the international scientific community about it. But don’t tell that to conspiracy nuts like Henry Lamb, who see a UN goon squad behind every tree. Anyway, I laughed and told the guy we weren’t interested.

Yes, this stuff used to be relegated to the fringes of the AM radio dial and the mutterings of crazy people on downtown street corners. Now it’s been mainstreamed. How did the black helicopter crowd get so much influence and power? I blame an uneducated, fearful public who votes for uneducated, fearful politicians like Rick Womick. I blame a news media which treated the Teatards like the neatest thing since sliced bread, ignoring the Dirty Fucking Hippies who pointed out that the Tea Party was just warmed-over John Birch Society crackpots. Yeah, this stopped being funny when the idiots started getting elected to office.

Look, it is absolutely crazy to think sustainability initiatives are some kind of UN conspiracy. Here’s something else I don’t get: how come international cooperation under the guise of the United Nations is demonized as some kind of New World Order crap, but under the guise of economic forums like the G8 it’s perfectly fine?

And I mean, really? One World Order? Are you people serious? You can’t get the UN to agree on an order at Starbucks without three years’ worth of intensive negotiations. Do you seriously think this notoriously unwieldy and largely powerless group can take over the world? That’s not just delusional, it’s embarrassing.

And you know what else is embarrassing? That this crazy conspiracy has made it all the way into our state legislature.

I really don’t get what these people are thinking (or drinking .. or smoking). But they need to be laughed back into their secret hideouts. And they need to be replaced by sane leaders who live in the real world and get their information from fact-based sources, not WorldNet Daily and John Birch Society newsletters.


Filed under conspiracy theory, environment, Tennessee, TNGOP, United Nations

Al Gore Is Fat: The Movie

Local talk show blowhard Phil Valentine, last seen circling our state capitol while repeatedly honking his car horn, has a hilarious new anti-climate change film that is a 90-minute attack on Al Gore, liberals and environmentalists. It’s in one theater here in Nashville (because he lives here), and probably won’t be coming to a theater near you, but I’m sure it will be hitting the wingnut DVD distribution circuit soon. The Tennessean did a story on it, which you can read here.

This was funny:

In Michael Moore fashion, Valentine in the film goes to a book signing for Gore to try to talk to him and also to Gore’s Belle Meade home, where he says he wants to see him.

“Yes, this is Arlen Specter,” he says at one point, speaking into the intercom at the entrance. “Can Al Gore come out and play?”

He imitates different voices, including pretending to be Jesse Jackson. An employee comes out and says Gore is out of town and gives him information for the contact person he needs to call.

Har dee har har! That’s so funny! What’s really funny is that despite their professed hatred of prominent liberals like Michael Moore, the right has accepted their cultural superiority. They wouldn’t be copying them otherwise. As I’ve said many times before, conservatives are constantly co-opting the messaging and tactics of the left because they’re culturally irrelevant themselves, and are incapable of creating anything new. Instead of coming up with their own ideas they need to come up with a conservative version of whatever the left has already been successful doing. It’s kinda sad, really.

So, Valentine has basically made a documentary with an all-volunteer crew to debunk climate change by saying it’s phony because Al Gore is fat. Really, that’s it in a nutshell. As Michael Vandenbergh, director of Vanderbilt’s Environmental Law Program and the Climate Change Research Network, is quoted as saying in The Tennessean:

“Whatever you think about Al Gore doesn’t affect that there’s scientific consensus about climate change, and it won’t make it go away,” he said.

Al Gore has been a great straw man for the deniers, but they look beyond silly as climate change has become reality, as anyone with a vegetable garden knows.

What’s funny to me is Valentine’s own inconsistencies on issues like energy.

Little is sacred on the green front. Valentine at one point makes fun of people who recycle plastic bottles and own hybrid cars.

Valentine said he doesn’t recycle, but he does drive a restored 1985 Mercedes-Benz, which was highlighted in the film. It runs on biodiesel that he makes from old restaurant oil.

It’s strictly to save money, he said.

He backs solar, wind and nuclear energy along with drilling for traditional fuel sources as ways to ease the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. He said he is not for cutting back on energy use.

Dude, you’re a moron. You’re for saving money but only the way YOU do it? Hybrids’ better gas mileage saves money. Making buildings more energy efficient saves money. How come that’s not okay, but driving on vegetable oil is?

Recycling plastic bottles saves money. It means you don’t have to make new ones. Why is that not okay?

This is why I don’t worry about the troglodytes of conservatism who claim to support free market solutions to everything, but then are critical when the free market decides something they don’t like. I spent $8 fueling my car last month. Who wouldn’t want that deal? It doesn’t matter what your politics may be, the pocket book has already won the argument. You guys lost. Attacking Al Gore isn’t going to change a thing, except put you on the wrong side of yet another issue. We’re used to seeing that from you guys. Thanks for staying consistent on at least that one point.

This is why I’ve decided to stop worrying and love the climate change deniers. I’ve realized the people who need to know about this stuff, the people who matter, are not the people with their head in the sand. And by people who matter, I’m not talking about the champagne-swillers in Davos. I’m talking about engineers and biologists and agricultural scientists and medical doctors. I’m talking about the folks who are building city storm sewers, who know devastating floods are the new normal and are adjusting their plans accordingly. And yes, I’m talking about business leaders.

Climate change isn’t just real, it’s been decided. There’s no going back at this point, it’s too late. All we can do is prepare for its impact. And people are doing that. Phil Valentine can try to propagandize to his faithful, but he’s preaching to the choir. We already know these people are out of touch with reality. So keep it up. Because you’re just backing yourselves into a corner, showing yourselves to be even more irrelevant.


Filed under Al Gore, climate change, conservatives, Phil Valentine, talk radio

Keystone Kaput

It appears the Obama Administration is putting the kabosh on the Keystone XL pipeline, at least, that’s the early word. Republicans are gonna howl like stuck pigs, seeing as how the oil industry has bought their support, er, invested $12 million in contributions to friendly Congress critters.

They’re also gonna make up all sorts of nonsense about how this is gonna kill tens of thousands of jobs, a blatant lie.

Here’s a handy fact sheet explaining why this project has been so controversial and a pre-emptive debunking of some of the more notorious lies which I’m sure will be all over the news today because journalists won’t be able to “fact-check” at Wikipedia.

Oh, and yay. We finally win one. (Knock wood.)


Filed under Barack Obama, Big Oil, environment

Clean Coal Strikes Again

Looks like another coal slurry mess polluting a river in Tennessee:

Coal mining waste has tainted several miles of the New River in East Tennessee in violation of a permit held by Premium Coal at a plant in Devonia, TN, according to state information.

The release of a fine, grayish-black material that results when separating coal from shale and rock is estimated to have lasted 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 2.

The state was not notified at the time, as required, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment said.

Of course not! The glorious free hand of the market was supposed to fix the problem! Oppressive government agencies like the Tennessee Dept. of Environment & Conservation just get in the way of the natural order of things!

TDEC says slurry was found seven miles downstream, while the activist group Community eMpowerment says black water was seen 40 miles downstream from the coal processing plant. Just keep repeating: coal is cheap! And clean! And cheap!

And since we’re talking about “clean” coal, I’ve been wanting to update folks on the cleanup from our last big coal slurry disaster, the devastating 2008 Kingston Coal Ash spill, which dumped 1.1 billion (that’s with a “b”) gallons of toxic coal ash sludge into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, obliterating everything in its way (including homes). The cleanup involved hauling the toxic goop over 300 miles away to a landfill in Alabama, which just so happens to be located in Alabama’s poorest county. It’s also, surprise surprise, a predominantly African-American county. While landfill operators touted the 30 jobs and $3 million in “host fees” Perry County would receive, I wrote at the time that this placed the community in the untenable position of choosing between poverty and poison.

I wrote then:

And if taking this coal ash waste were such a great thing, well, we’ve got some landfills here in Tennessee, in counties that could use those jobs and that money. Gotta ask yourself why we’re shipping it out of state to begin with.

Well, it appears the residents of Perry County, AL asked that same question and have filed a civil right lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management:

The complaint charges ADEM with violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. ADEM receives millions of dollars in financial assistance from the EPA each year.


The population of Perry County is over 68 percent African-American, and over 35 percent falls below the poverty line, making it Alabama’s poorest county. The landfill is located near Uniontown, Ala., a community where 88 percent of residents are African-American and almost half live in poverty. The population in the census blocks surrounding the landfill range from 87 to 100 percent African-American (click on map for larger version).

The landfill sits only 100 feet from the front porches of some residents, who say they have experienced frequent foul odors, upset appetite, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. They also complain that fugitive dust from the facility has contaminated their homes, porches, vehicles, laundry and plantings.

This is how the “free hand of the market” works in America. Coal is cheap, we tell ourselves, and it fuels our glorious lifestyle, and government support of clean technology like wind and solar is socialism. And then when the inevitable disaster strikes, we make our poorest citizens suffer the longterm consequences. Oh right, and be sure to tell these poor people living with radioactive, arsenic -laden coal sludge that their health problems are just proof of how irresponsible they are. Any notion they had of getting some kind of access to the world’s best healthcare is just more crazy socialism talk.

Anyone who can’t see how all of these issues are connected is simply lying to themselves. And who is going to solve this problem? The man from Bain Capital who fired thousands so his company could be more profitable? The intellectual policy wonk who is allergic to drama?

No. It’s our problem. We caused it. We are the ones who demanded “cheap” electricity, so we’ll just ignore the costs on things like healthcare, blame the people who are suffering, remind ourselves we’re a Christian nation, drop a check in the collection plate on Sunday and call it a day.

How much longer can we operate like this? Not much, I’m afraid.

Wake up, America.


Filed under ash spill, clean coal, eco-justice, environment, EPA, racism, Tennessee

Privatize Gains, Socialize Losses

Today the EPA has officially (as in, scientifically) linked the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking with contaminated drinking water and explosive bathwater in Wyoming.

Residents began complaining of fouled water near Pavillion in the mid-1990s, and the problems appeared to get worse around 2004. Several residents complained that their well water turned brown shortly after gas wells were fracked nearby, and, for a time, gas companies operating in the area supplied replacement drinking water to residents.

Beginning in 2008, the EPA took water samples from resident’s drinking water wells, finding hydrocarbons and traces of contaminants that seemed like they could be related to fracking. In 2010, another round of sampling confirmed the contamination, and the EPA, along with federal health officials, cautioned residents not to drink their water and to ventilate their homes when they bathed because the methane in the water could cause an explosion.

To confirm their findings, EPA investigators drilled two water monitoring wells to 1,000 feet. The agency released data from these test wells in November that confirmed high levels of carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, and a chemical compound called 2 Butoxyethanol, which is known to be used in fracking.

Still, the EPA had not drawn conclusions based on the tests and took pains to separate its groundwater investigation in Wyoming from the national controversy around hydraulic fracturing. Agriculture, drilling, and old pollution from waste pits left by the oil and gas industry were all considered possible causes of the contamination.

In the report released today, the EPA said that pollution from 33 abandoned oil and gas waste pits – which are the subject of a separate cleanup program – are indeed responsible for some degree of shallow groundwater pollution in the area. Those pits may be the source of contamination affecting at least 42 private water wells in Pavillion. But the pits could not be blamed for contamination detected in the water monitoring wells 1,000 feet underground.

That contamination, the agency concluded, had to have been caused by fracking.

Of course, a spokesman for Pavillion wells owner EnCana claims “the science remains inconclusive…” Of course they do! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! No one can definitively say that smoking causes lung cancer! That a diet drenched in high fructose corn syrup would lead to obesity! That human activity is responsible for climate change! Jury’s still out on all of this stuff! Sure, we can put men on the Moon and eradicate whole classes of diseases but when it comes to stuff that’s inconvenient for some folks, the science isn’t there yet!

So let’s just wait another 10 or 15 years (keep in mind, people started complaining about this stuff back in the ’90s), ignoring all of those earthquakes while discrediting the EPA study. Along the way be sure to buy off a few scientists, bully a few politicians, and when the cancers start appearing and the livestock starts dying, EnCana will be long gone, either out of business or purchased by some Vulture Capitalists who broke it into so many pieces, good luck finding a deep pocket to pay for cleanup and damages. Privatize the gains, socialize the losses: it’s the American way!

Oh, and be sure to remind everyone, ad nauseum, how cheap natural gas is! Thanks for playing, America!

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