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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Majority Want Indy Marking in Debates

Most of South Dakota's mainstream media scrupulously avoids ever linking back to us blogs. I thus don't expect the Mitchell Daily Republic to pay much attention to this post.

But maybe they ought. Following MDR boss Korrie Wenzel's decision to exclude Independent B. Thomas Marking from the U.S. House candidates' debate at the Corn Palace Festival on August 28, I posted the following online poll:

Should SD media include Independent candidate for U.S. House B. Thomas Marking in live public debates with candidates Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem?

Your responses, dear readers:
  • Yes: 115 (78%)
  • No: 32 (22%)
Voting was pretty steady through the week. I didn't detect any poll-sandbagging effort from the Marking grassroots (does such a group exist yet?) or from any Operation Chaos mercenaries from either of the other campaigns.

A few potential interpretations of these numbers:
  1. Those darned liberals reading the Madville Times just want Marking on stage to confuse and split the anti-incumbent vote (hey, not that I'd mind).
  2. Voters want to see if Marking will dare the same zingers face-to-face with the big dogs as he's willing to lob on YouTube.
  3. (I like this one best): Voters want every candidate, regardless of party, to have a fair chance to make their pitch to the electorate.
Mitchell Daily Republic, 78% of this poll sample join me in urging you to change your mind and invite Mr. Marking to the Corn Palace stage with Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem. And other South Dakota media, consider the possibility that South Dakota voters might actually want to hear from every candidate on the ballot.

Shelter Fest Brings Tonic Sol-fa, Su Fu Du to Madison

Shelter Fest 2010 was the nicest summer night of the year in Madison. Look at that sky—after Thursday night's soaker, not a cloud left. Look at those trees—standing straight instead of leaning at a 30-degree angle in another thundering, prairie-scouring gale.

Oh yeah, and look at that a cappella group:

Mark McGowan, Greg Bannwarth, Shaun Johnson, and Jared Dove—that's Tonic Sol-fa singing at Trojan Field, right here in Madison Friday night!

No instruments but the tambourine and the egg. No pyrotechnics or fancy stage pieces—just four men putting their voices to one of the finest uses possible.

Tight harmony, high energy, singing as if nothing in the world matters more than hitting that note... totally groovy.

Su Fu Du banged the drums and boogied to open the show.

The crowd was duly appreciative. Around 500 people—including (memo to Chamber!) visitors from Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, and Iowa—enjoyed the music and the opportunity to throw some money into the kitty to help Habitat for Humanity build houses. Great show!

Friday, July 30, 2010

KJAM Picks up Blog Report on TransCanada Keystone Leaks

Update 2010.08.01: I was wrong! KJAM was repeating a story from WNAX, which has the full report mentioned below, complete with audio, on its website. Thanks to WNAX newsman Jerry Oster for the note!
Kudos to KJAM news director Lauri Struve, who did high-quality journalism this morning on the TransCanada Keystone pump station leaks, publicized first here on the Madville Times. I can't find a link to the story on KJAM's website yet, but it was solid. Struve called DENR, talked to the officials involved, got more details, and gave the story a good few minutes of attention. The only thing missing: a hat tip to the blog that broke the story. ;-) But that won't stop me from offering a sincere hat tip back for good reporting... and, as far as I can tell, beating all the bigger radio and TV stations and newspapers (you know, places where the news staff is larger than one) to this important South Dakota story.

According to Struve's report, TransCanada did everything it was supposed to (other than installing valves and gaskets that don't leak). The leaks were entirely on their property and got all cleaned up to DENR's satisfaction, so there will be no penalties. Everything is fine, nothing to worry about, Big Oil is our friend....

Madison Crazy Days Straw Poll Today!

I'll be downtown today at the Lake County Democrats' table. Party chair Joan Stamm and other loyal Dems will be selling baked goodies and other treats—we'll also happily take donations for the fall campaign!

And I'll be there with the traditional Crazy Days Straw Poll! This year we're polling the general election candidates: U.S. House, governor, and District 8 Senate and House. We're asking for whom you plan to vote. We're also gauging favorability ratings for all of the candidates for those offices. All are welcome to vote, Dems, GOP, Libertarians, Greens, Indies—no ID required, just an interest in the fate of the Republic.

Come down to the Dems table—we'll be somewhere on the North 100 block of Egan, probably a spot or two south from Radio Shack. Cast your vote, buy some bread, and enjoy some civic conversation!

And don't forget to vote right here in the latest Madville Times poll! Should SD media include Independent B. Thomas Marking in the U.S. House debates? That poll runs until breakfast time tomorrow, so if you haven't voted yet, vote now! Hit the poll in the upper right hand sidebar here... then tell your friends to do the same!

I'll have results of both the Crazy Days straw poll and the Madville Times Marking poll tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Ellis: Lindberg Perfectly Qualified to Run Tea Party

...at least that's what it sounds like he's saying!

Barb Lindberg has staged a perfectly legal coup to officially take over the Rapid City Tea Party, a.k.a. Citizens for Liberty. Bob Ellis, along with others who thought the group was their own little club to dictate, is miffed to have been out-maneuvered by a woman he clearly considers his inferior. He appears to declare Citizens for Liberty no longer has any credibility—and how can it when it is not blessed with Bob's certainty and divine authority?

Ellis and his vanquished outflanked Citizens for Liberty board—and we can only use "board" colloquially, since the group had no written bylaws until Lindberg filed the official incorporation papers—have aired all their dirty laundry on Dakota Voice, with a link on the Citizens for Liberty Tea Party website (alas, Ellis still holds the Web keys, so Lindberg will have to start a new website for the official group... let's hope she includes a daily blog!). The "board" rebuttal is ugly, petty, self-righteous, Newspeaky, yet hilarious. In a 4,435-word essay (and Bob has chided me for writing lengthy rebuttals as a sign of ill conscience), they lambaste Lindberg's public speaking and time management skills. They air in-house e-mails.

And, in the funniest thing I've read all week, the beaten Ellis et al. summarize Lindberg's qualifications to run a Tea Party thus:

The CFL board tried for several months to work with Mrs. Lindberg on some of her rough edges, and while there were some improvements, she was becoming increasingly intransigent and heavy-handed at board meetings. In the end, she escalated to the point of paranoia and veiled threats to somehow remove two board members with whom she had the sharpest disagreements [Ed Randazzo, Dawn Pence, Zach Lautenschlager, Bob Ellis, "Facts Behind the Dismissal of Barb Lindberg from Citizens for Liberty," Dakota Voice, 2010.07.29].

Rough edges, intransigent, heavy-handed, paranoia, veiled threats... wow. Those characteristics perfectly describe of the Tea party mindset, the town hall tactics used last year to oppose health care reform, the tactic of bringing guns to public rallies, and the rhetoric of spilling blood to nourish the tree of liberty. It sounds like the Rapid City Tea Party has found its perfect leader.

Plus, Lindberg still wants to bring Glenn Beck to Rapid City. Keep the good times rolling, Barb!

Bonus Baggers: Some environmentalists constituting a "Green Tea Party" in Florida delivered green tea bags to Senator George LeMieux to demand Senate action on climate change legislation. Ah, it's good to see teabagging can swing both ways!

Heidepriem Wrong, Daugaard Thinking on Casino and Scarcity Mindset

Some days it's hard to be a South Dakota Democrat. Our gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem has declared his first priority as governor to be convening a task force to figure out how to build a mega-casino in Sioux Falls to combat the purported economic drain that will be caused by the under-construction Grand Falls casino across the border in Larchwood, Iowa.

South Dakota's first priority: building another casino. I'm having trouble working that into a campaign slogan.

Heidepriem's proposal does tie together a whole mess of potential voting blocs. If you buy his argument, his fight-fire-with-fire proposal wins local Chamber of Commerce types, Sioux Falls event center boosters (Heidepriem says he'd direct casino revenues toward building that grand dream for Sioux Falls), and Native Americans who might run the Sioux Falls-area casino.

But I get a bad vibe from the proposal. If we're making a bigger pie, it's a gambling pie, and I don't care much for that pie as the staple of our economic diet. Much of Heidepriem's own reasoning is that gambling is bad, it causes social problems that we're going to have to pay for, so we might as well cash in on the revenue side, too. I have trouble getting up my ambition to fight to expand an industry that causes addiction and other social problems. (But I eagerly await riffs on this theme from Mr. Newland and activists of other flavors to advocate legalizing marijuana, prostitution, gay marriage....)

And if there's only so much pie (and that seems to be the competitive tenor of Heidepriem's "Don't mess with South Dakota" press release), then we're really gambling that as the two casinos compete, the one on our side of the border will win and drive those darned Iowans out of work. "Screw Iowa!" doesn't sound like a great rallying cry for the troops, either.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dennis Daugaard is playing Mr. Mellow on this issue. He might also be playing Mr. Logical. He looks at a casino in Lyon County, Iowa, with a population hardly 6% the size of adjoining Minnehaha County. Daugaard may be thinking what I'm thinking, that an Iowa casino might not be a zero-sum game:
  1. We're already seeing $7.5 million of the $50 million construction budget go to South Dakota contractors.
  2. The casino will hire over 700 people. There are 788 people in Larchwood, and I suspect some of them are already spoken for jobwise. There are 5,595 people looking for work in the Sioux Falls metro area.
  3. Suppose 100,000 out-of-staters say, "Hey! Let's go gamble in historic Larchwood, Iowa!" Do you think they're going to fly into Larchwood Metropolitan Airport? No. They're going to fly into Sioux Falls. They're going to rent a car in Sioux Falls. They're going to stop at the Sioux Falls Target to get the toothbrush and swim trunks and whatever else they forgot to pack. They're going to spend a day golfing and gambling in Larchwood, say, "Well, that was fun, now what?" And then they're going to come back to Sioux Falls to see a movie or a show at the Pavilion or whatever other brilliant entertainment a synergy-minded convention and visitors bureau can come up with. And for every visitor who wants to spend the night in tranquil, bucolic Larchwood, I'll bet we can find one or two who'd prefer to end the day with jazz and a martini under the sparkling downtown lights of Sioux Falls.
Heidepriem's thinking on casino competition sounds too much like the small-minded thinking of various small towns around South Dakota who think any gain for a nearby town is a loss for them (see Madison's and Hartford's small-minded reaction to Rutland's and Montrose's open enrollment success). Our neighbor's success doesn't mean we have to compete to take that success away. Think Sturgis rally: Deadwood and Custer and Wall and Mitchell don't try to outdo Sturgis with a bigger rally and put that event out of business. We all put up the "Welcome Bikers!" banners and offer drink specials and other events to cash in on the increased flow of visitors.

Once again, I can hear my fellow Dems telling me, "Ah, but this is the good political strategy! South Dakotans will eat this stuff up!" Yeah, maybe they will. Maybe raising a bold middle finger across the Big Sioux toward our dastardly Iowegian neighbors is just the thing to get the typical South Dakota voter fired up and ready to go Dem in November. And if Iowa flipped us the bird first, well, maybe they have a fight coming.

But I don't like it. Instead of trying to drive Larchwood out of business, we should focus on looking for other opportunities to build on the increased economic flow Grand Falls Casino will draw. If Iowa's building better mousetraps, let's fire up the cheese factories.

Think synergy, not scarcity.

p.s.: There has been some bragging from the Iowa side about how the "vast majority" of Grand Falls Casino's revenue will come from South Dakota. Is it just me, or does anyone else think that building a business model on the promise of drawing lots of big-spending South Dakotans is... overly optimistic?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

T-Minus 24 Hours to Tonic Sol-fa -- Come to Madison!

24 hours from right now, The Su Fu Du Drumline will be rocking Trojan Field, warming up the crowd for Shelter Fest's headliner, a cappella superstars Tonic Sol-fa. If you haven't picked up your tickets yet, get down to Mochavino in downtown Madison and do so! $15 a pop for some really good music... plus you'll be helping the local Habitat for Humanity chapter put another family in a good, safe, sturdy home.

And if you're not in Madison, well, get here! Come tomorrow, buy your ticket at the gate, and come have a good time.

Madison weather forecast: raining right now, but breaking up in the west as I type. Tomorrow's forecast: wet in the wee hours, chance of t-storms through lunchtime, then, by showtime at 6:15 p.m., partly cloudy, 79°F, and east wind at a tickling 2 mph.

Shelter Fest! Get here! You'll love it!

265 Jobs Disappear from Lake County in June

Planting must be done: 265 jobs disappeared from Lake County in June. The latest South Dakota Department of Labor statistics say that the number of people working in our fair county decreased from 6425 in May to 6160 in June.

255 laborers also disappeared from our workforce, down from 6740 in May to 6485 in June. The number of officially unemployed people thus only increased by 10, from 315 to 325, for a June unemployment rate of 5.0%.

Now some economists will tell you 5% unemployment is actually full unemployment—after all, you're always going to have some people between jobs. But that's cold comfort for the LAIC's Forward Madison committee, which is now has to create 925 jobs by the end of next year to meet its "400 new jobs!" goal set in 2006. Uff da.

The news from the septa-county area is mixed. Brookings County remains the beacon of eocnomic hope with the lowest unemployment in the area, 4.1%. Still, that's an increase from May's 3.9%.

Miner County also saw an increase in unemployment, a full percentage point from 4.8% to 5.8%. But don't be fooled: Miner County actually added 25 jobs in June; they just had 15 more people than that jump into the labor pool.

Same situation in Moody County: they created 45 jobs, but had 140 new people come to town and say "I wanna work, too!" Moody's unemployment rate thus junped from 5.2 % in May to 7.4% in June.

Kingsbury, McCook, and Minnehaha all managed to post declines in unemployment, with jobs created growing faster than the increase in their county workforces.

Solar Cheaper than Nuclear; Ethanol Needs No Subsidy

A couple of energy notes of interest to South Dakotans:

Solar Cheaper than Nuclear: A study by two researchers at Duke (Duke! They've got basketball; they must be reliable!) finds solar power may now be able to generate electricity per kilowatt-hour more cheaply than new nuclear power. Photovoltaic systems have dropped 50% in price since 1998, while construction costs for new nuclear plants have boomed (though the industry guys would prefer we didn't use nuclear and boom in the same sentence). The Duke data looks at costs in North Carolina, which has about the same solar power potential as central South Dakota. The Black Hills have even better PV potential—time for solarpanel hats on Mount Rushmore! Read the full report in PDF glory here.

No Need for Ethanol Subsidies: Here's South Dakota's big chance to get off the government teat! Iowa State University econ prof Bruce Babcock finds that ending the ethanol blenders credit and the import tariff would "have neither the dramatic, adverse effect U.S. ethanol producers claim, nor create the export bonanza Brazilian producers hope for." Professor Babcock says ending these industry subsidies would result in the loss of maybe 300 jobs, not the 112,000 to 160,000 the ethanol industry claims. Without subsidies, ethanol production would still increase, while we would save a few pennies per gallon at the pump and shave a several billion dollars off the deficit each year (just as all of our Congressional candidates want to do).

Of course, Babcock's study was funded by the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association. Brazil produces 7 billion gallons of ethanol from sugarcane each year, behind only the U.S., which makes 12 billion gallons of corn ethanol annually.

But note that U.S ethanol producer Valero—you know, the nice folks who bought VeraSun's ethanol plants after VeraSun went broke, and the third-largest ethanol producer in America—says it wouldn't reduce ethanol production one bit if we cut subsidies.

Broadband Essential for Entrepreneurs... But U.S. 23rd in Fast Web

Memo to all rural economic development specialists: Mike Knutson at Reimagine Rural notes that broadband is essential for entrepreneurship on the prairie:

Those of us who live and work in rural communities know the importance of high speed Internet connections. Because of it, the barriers of distance are broken and more businesses are possible in small towns. In fact, just the other week I met with an entrepreneur from Howard, SD whose business would not be possible without it. The owner has an engineering background, and he needs the Internet to connect with clients around the country. He’s a creative guy and wants to live in a rural community. Without broadband, he might have to consider moving to a city [Mike Knutson, "Broadband: An Entrepreneurial Requirement," Reimagine Rural, 2010.07.28].

In just two decades, broadband Internet access has become as essential to business growth as telephone and electricity. The broadband need Knutson highlights poses a challenge to my local self-sufficiency paradigm: I like to advocate building as much of our economy as possible on local people producing locally used goods and services... but lots of creative people have money-making skills that just can't find a sustainable market in small places like Howard or Madison. Even if you have a product or service that you can make a living on exclusively within the South Dakota market, you need fast Web to get your message (and your images, and your video!) out to your customers in Sioux Falls, Milbank, and Hill City.

Unfortunately for all of us, the United States is lagging in broadband deployment. In a survey of 57 countries, we rank 23rd in getting good Internet and all of its concomitant business opportunities to everybody. Why are we lagging?

The United States... trailed the rankings in a number of the five index components. [Analyst Ben] Piper says competition—or the lack of it—is to blame for the high prices and low average speeds in the US.

"With essentially zero intra-platform competition, US service providers have little incentive to innovate offerings or differentiate beyond par," said Piper ["U.S. Ranks 23rd in Broadband Development," StrategyAnalytics, 2010.07.20].

What? You mean the free market is working better in those darned socialist countries like France and Germany and Lithuania than it is in the U.S. of A.? My world is being turned upside down all over today.

Let's hope some of those mystery companies LAIC's Dwaine Chapel is confabbing with behind closed doors are broadband companies to bring zoom-zoom Internet, competition, and entrepreneurship to Madison.

TransCanada Keystone Springs Two Leaks in Two Months, Meets Century Spill Quota

I was wrong: the June oil spew at Pump Station 22 near Roswell on the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline was not the first reported spill. Shortly after posting the DENR report on the Roswell incident, I received this DENR report documenting a 5-gallon leak at Pump Station 21 near Carpenter in Beadle County on May 21, 2010. This time a leaky valve was the culprit.

Leaky valve... would that be anywhere near a pipe joint... the kind of joint Welspun might have built... the kind of joint that was the source of hundreds of defects in Welspun-supplied steel in other pipelines built between 2007 and 2009?

Five gallons doesn't sound like much, and tar sands oil is supposed to be relatively more viscous than regular crude oil, meaning it shouldn't spread as much. But heavy rain during the leak appears to have spread the oil around the site in a 47x29-foot area. The clean-up crew ended up hauling away 185 cubic yards of contaminated dirt and 9356 gallons of contaminated water. Compare that to the 100-gallon leak at Roswell, which resulted in removal of 200 cubic yards of oily soil and only 2500 gallons of yucky water.

A mere five gallons of spilled oil is pretty good for local business. The May spill report includes receipts from Safety-Kleen out of Sioux Falls for about $9500 in giant Shop-Vac services. I wonder if TransCanada and Governor Rounds included that in their promises of economic benefits from the pipeline.

Now here's the really good news about the Carpenter and Roswell spills: in its June 2006 pipeline risk assessment for its State Department permit application, TransCanada predicted the following spill frquencies:

Of the postulated 1.4 spills along the Keystone Pipeline system during a 10-year period, the study's findings suggest that approximately 0.2 would be 50 barrels or less; 0.8 would consist of 50 to 1000 barrels; 0.3 would consist of between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels; and 0.2 would contain more than 10,000 barrels (Appendix A). The spill volume frequency distribution likely underestimates the proportion of spill volumes under 50 barrels due to reliance upon the greater than 50 barrel reporting criteria within the USDOT incident database. The current analysis tends to overemphasize large spills and underreport the small spills, making the assessment conservative.

Based on probabilities generated from the study, the estimated occurrence intervals for a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years, a spill between 50 and 1,000 barrels might occur once in 12 years; a spill of 1,000 and 10,000 barrels might occur once in 39 years; and a spill containing more than 10,000 barrels might occur once in 50 years. Applying these statistics to a 1-mile section, the chances of a larger spill (greater than 10,000 barrels) would be less than once every 67,000 years [ENSR Corporation for TransCanada, "Pipeline Risk Assessment and Environmental Consequence Analysis," Document No. 10623-004, June 2006].

In other words (Canadian readers will appreciate this), two spills in one year means we are ahead by a century.

Now, if only our local media weren't behind by a century. If I were a paid journalist, I'd find two reported oil leaks before the pipeline became fully operational a significant story. But still no word from the mainstream media....

Bonus: Here's a reminder from WEB Water Development's June 2007 filing with the PUC on the environmental threat posed by the Keystone pipeline:

The TransCanada-Keystone Oil Pipeline plan calls for a wide separation between mainline automated valves and manual valves. For example, the distance between the pump station at the North Dakota-South Dakota state line and the next pumping station near Ferney, SD is about 42 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 156,660,000 gallons of crude-oil (3,728,571 barrels). The distance between the Fernery pump station and the next pump station near Carpenter, SD is about 47 miles of 30 inch pipe which would hold about 175,312,000 gallons of crude oil (4,174,000 barrels). In addition to the 4 automated valves at compressor pump stations, the TransCanada-Keystone Pipeline will have 7 to 10 manually operated valves on the 220 miles of pipeline in South Dakota, with some valves being 20 to 30 miles apart. In the event of a major pipe failure, there may not be time to reach valves to stop the crude-oil from draining out of the pipeline on to productive farm land and into wetlands. Manually operated valves won’t do much good if the TransCanada operations staff are hundreds of miles away in Alberta or Omaha. A pipe failure at a low elevation point on either the 42 mile reach between North Dakota and Ferney, SD or the 47 mile reach between Ferney and Carpenter, SD could result in a spill of millions of gallons of crude oil. By way of comparison, the 155 mile WEB water mainline has 31 manual isolation valves, with each valve located every 5 miles, and six pump stations and control points which are monitored and operated by a computerized SCADA system and operations staff dispatched out of Aberdeen, South Dakota.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DENR Documents TransCanada Keystone Oil Leak in South Dakota

You read it here first: we have our first documented leak from TransCanada's Keystone pipeline in South Dakota.

Pump Station 22, site of TransCanada's first reported spill in South DakotaPump Station 22, Miner County, SD. Photographed during construction in late summer, 2009. PS-22 was originally sited for Mike and Sue Sibsons' farm; luckily for them, TransCanada moved the site off their property to two miles north of their house. The Keystone pipeline still bisects the Sibsons' fields.
According to DENR documents, on June 23, oil sprayed out of a loose fitting at Pump Station 22, three miles south of Roswell and two miles north of the Sibson farm in Miner County (featured last September here on the Madville Times). In three seconds, about a hundred gallons of crude oil blasted out and coated a 60x100-foot area. A crew was on site and shut off the oil immediately.

The clean-up recovered 80 gallons of oil. The response team removed 2500 gallons of oily water and 200 cubic yards of impacted soil. The ground was saturated at the time due to recent heavy rains.

You can read the full report here. (Sorry -- the file came with pages rotated 90 degrees; you might need to download it, then rotate the view in your PDF reader by hitting Shift-Ctrl-Plus.... ah! Update! and now some friends have kindly modified the PDF to rotate the pages in the right direction. Thanks, Web elves!)

So the TransCanada Keystone pipeline had its first leak in South Dakota... a week before the pipeline shipped its first drop of oil. Good work, fellas.

Now the report indicates no waterways or groundwater were contaminated. That includes the nearest well, two miles away, the water the Sibsons and their cattle use. No people or cows or utilities appear to have been harmed.

But consider: suppose this leak had not taken place when a crew just happened to be on site to turn the wrench or hit the button that shut off the flow. Suppose more than three seconds had passed between the time the gasket blew, the time someone noticed, and the time someone with the right-sized wrench showed up to perform a manual shutdown. In just two hours, that pump station could have thrown 240,000 gallons of oil—over 5700 barrels—into the air and onto the ground. And that's less than one sixth of the Keystone pipeline's current pumping volume.

By the way, the Miner County Commission unanimously approved zoning for Pump Station #22 two years ago. I wonder if they'll continue to gush with enthusiasm for Big Oil after this incident.

Bailouts, TARP, Stimulus Avert Depression, Say Blinder and Zandi

President Obama's pitch for his fellow Dems in November is that the economy would have been a lot worse if he and Congress hadn't taken action. That's not the easiest sell: it's a lot easier to convince voters on the basis of what did happen rather than what didn't happen.

Now economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi take a swing at proving what didn't happen thanks to the Obama Administration (and yes, the Bush Administration, in its last months) pouring on the bailouts, TARP, and stimulus. They find that in the alternative world where we would have followed the do-nothing approach of this year's Palin-Tea-Party panderers, we would have seen...
  1. Gross Domestic Product 6.5% lower this year;
  2. 8.5 million fewer jobs (on top of the 8 million lost in our reality);
  3. deflation instead of low inflation.
The Economist agrees that alternate-universe calculations don't persuade voters nearly as much as the fact that in this universe, they're still sending out résumés. And defenders of the faith on the other side will find tomatoes to throw at this analysis. But Blinder and Zandi paint a pretty grim picture of what could have been if we had let the economy crash without government taking the stick to engineer a softer landing.

SDSU Cans Catangui for Defending SD-Specific Science?

Professor of Plant Science and Extension Entomologist Mike Catangui has been dismissed by South Dakota State University. South Dakota farmers and gardeners may recognize Dr. Catangui as a regular panelist on Garden Line on SDPB.

Professor Catangui's dismissal may have an interesting states-rights twist. Catangui has done research on aphids and soybeans and finds that the regional recommendations made for spraying soybeans with insecticides to get rid of aphids don't work in South Dakota's climate. Dr. Benjamin Kantack, SDSU professor emeritus of plant and bug science, apparently agrees. Kantack is telling the press that Catangui's firing is a result of his resistance to those regional recommendations.

"He was told he would accept the recommendations from these other states, which do not fit South Dakota weather conditions or growing conditions and so forth, which his own research showed do not fit," said Kantack, a professor emeritus and retired Extension entomologist at SDSU. "He was told if he didn't accept them he would not keep his job.

"He has defended the ag interests of South Dakota and saved them a lot of money over the years. He's being discharged, in my opinion, unjustly" [Wayne Ortman, "SDSU Dismissal of Longtime Extension Insect Specialist under Fire," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2010.07.27].

I'm not up on my aphid science, and I'll appreciate any enlightenment my farm neighbors can offer. But I am curious as to whether there is some Monsanto angle to this story, since SDSU is run by a highly paid member of Monsanto's executive board. Monsanto does cite in its aphid-management literature the 250 aphid-soybean threshold that Catangui and Kantack appear to challenge, but Monsanto take its info cue from extension services in neighboring states. If anything, Catangui's science seems to recommend more aggressive use of pesticides against South Dakota aphids, something Monsanto shouldn't mind. If Kantack is correct, Catangui's dismissal appears to be politics within the Extension Service trumping science that makes sense for South Dakota's unique growing conditions.

Everyone else from Catangui to the SDSU president is keeping mum, since this is a personnel matter and legal wheels are a-turning. As a teacher who's been there, I do appreciate Professor Kantack's willingness to speak out on behalf of a colleague he feels is being mistreated. I hope Catangui can come out with a fair resolution of the situation and continue his research on behalf of South Dakota's farmers.

Gulf Oil Spill Dissipating; Pipeline Spews in Michigan

Let's start with the good news: BP's giant oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is disappearing faster than anyone expected. As in War of the Worlds, we can thank the tiniest members of the ecosystem, bacteria, for getting rid of a big part of the problem. In an interesting evolutionary note, the Gulf of Mexico has lots of natural oil seepage, so natural selection has favored microbes that can eat the stuff. Also helping: evaporation (oil evaporates? who'd've thought?) and the biggest oil spill response ever, 4000+ ships, thanks to BP and Uncle Sam.

Of course, this is just the view from the surface. Fishermen worry that much of the oil is down below, settling to the sea floor where they get shrimp and oysters. One researcher can still find oil in the coral at the site of a 1979 oil spill off the Yucatan Peninsula. Fisheries recovered from that spill after two years, although oyster beds appear to have been permanently degraded.

Now the bad news, especially for those of your being forced to become neighbors with TransCanada's Keystone tar sands pipeline: an Enbridge Energy pipeline sprang a leak Sunday near Marshall, Michigan, and spewed 840,000 gallons (about 20,000 barrels) of oil into a creek that runs into the Kalamazoo River. Local officials worry that the size of this spill makes contamination of the local water supply inevitable.

Enbridge, TransCanada's Calgary-based competitor, at least won't have any trouble paying for the cleanup: they just reported record earnings for the second quarter of 2010.

When it's working, that Enbridge pipeline carries about 190,000 barrels of oil per day from Indiana to Ontario. 20,000 barrels represents about two and a half hours worth of pipeline capacity... meaning the leak ran for at least two and a half hours before someone noticed and put a cork in it. The first word authorities got of the leak came not from Enbridge but from a citizen calling 911 around 9 p.m. Sunday after noticing the stink of oil in his neighborhood.

A note to neighbors on TransCanada's Keystone pipeline route: that new pipe pumps 435,000 barrels a day across our prairie wetlands and water supplies. TransCanada's proposed but increasingly embattled Keystone XL expansion would haul another 900,000 barrels a day across West River and other nice places. If either of those pipes blows a gasket, imagine how long it will take for a farmer or rancher or other passerby to notice the oil and fumes out in the middle of a slough, and then for TransCanada to dispatch a response team from Fargo or Yankton.

But don't worry: in the State Department's draft environmental impact statement, TransCanada's people calculate that Keystone XL will only have one spill incident every 7400 years (see page 14). Of course that's per mile of pipeline. Feel free to divide by 1700 miles of pipeline and roll the dice on your aquifer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pants Fight! Street Cinema from Rapid City

West River neighbor Bill Fleming recommends the following video, in which I find mirthful metaphor for the partisan combat between Mr. Powers and myself. I hope the metaphor does not extend to the fate of the bearded combatant.

Mr. Fleming promotes this film as proud poppa: his offspring Bonny (cinematography) and Dylan (bearded dude) joined Kasey Reub (Son of Cancer Man) to film this minor local masterpiece. Beats most of what's on KELO!

I'd check for the logical sequel—Underpants Fight!—but I'm afraid of what Google might throw at me.

Evil Corporate Contributions Disqualify Herseth Sandlin, Noem... Who's Left?

So Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin took a $1000 donation from a BP employee last December. Fair enough. I'm pleased to see South Dakota's conservative bloggisariat is coming around to my position that Big Oil and big corporate money are evil.

I agree with HuffPost and PP: I don't like seeing my Congresswoman funding her campaign with money from dirty, greedy, Gulf-killing BP. Her being in the company of Alaska's Republican oil lapdog Lisa Murkowski on this "issue" is embarrassing. And I tell you what: if the people of South Dakota vote Stephanie Herseth Sandlin out of office purely on the basis of her taking money from Big Oil, I will consider that a giant leap forward in the political thinking of our state. I would expect my District 8 neighbors to take the same stance toward State Senator Russell Olson and kick him out of office for sucking up to TransCanada by killing the pipeline tax and preserving their tax exemptions.

Also worth noting: over the last 20 years, 71% of BP-related campaign contributions have gone to Republicans. I wonder why this issue didn't make PP's radar until Herseth Sandlin's name popped up?

I'd be more than happy to be able to go through every candidate's donor list and exercise a line-item veto on contributions from sources I or my fellow South Dakotans might consider scuzzy... speaking of which, where's Republican candidate Kristi Noem getting her money? A quick run-through of the Federal Election Commission numbers show...
  1. $500 from Harms Oil of Brookings
  2. $500 from Howes Oil of Sioux Falls
  3. $1250 from subsidy-sucking Poet Ethanol
  4. $500 from economy-crashing Citibank (SHS has $12,750 from Citigroup)
  5. $450 from usurer extraordinaire Premier Bank
  6. $1000 from an out-of-state Metabank banker
  7. $4650 from Sanford Health's CEO and docs (surely to promote evil stem-cell research)
  8. $2400 from wealthy venture capitalist Steve Kirby
  9. $1000 from Apple (Dietr! What are you thinking?!)
  10. $2400 from Sioux City's Agri Beef Co.
  11. $6900 from lawyers
Interestingly, I can't find any itemized contributions for Independent candidate B. Thomas Marking. Looks like he's our man!

Bonus Raspberries: As for the guy who isn't running because no one would chase him, don't forget that Senator John Thune has received $3500 from BP. Thune's biggest donors include the bankers and real estate agents, among whom one might find a fair amount of responsibility for our current economic plight. Lawyers also like Thune, as do Poet, Xcel Energy, DM&E, Wal-Mart, and Moyle Petroleum.

Larry Pressler, Tom Daschle, Tim Johnson, Larry Diedrich, and Rick Weiland also appear on the two-decade roll of BP donations to South Dakota candidates. BP employees have also given $250 to our neighbors Michele Bachmann and Al Franken. Go figure.

Sioux Falls Bus Bargain: $3 a Day!

I've never ridden a Sioux Falls bus. I suspect very few of us out-of-towners have done so. We come down to the big city in our Personal Family Tanks, load up on provisions at Hy-Vee and Menards, and generally terrorize you big-city folks with our country driving.

That said, Joe Sneve's report yesterday on the new fare boxes on Sioux Falls buses makes me think mass transit in the Queen City is quite a bargain.

With the new system, riders will be able to buy one-day bus passes for $3, a seven-day card for $10, a 10-day card for $8.50, and a 30-day card for $25. Except for one-day cards bought on the bus, fare cards are not validated until the first time it is used in the fare box. Passengers can ride the bus unlimited during the validation period [Joe Sneve, "New Fare Boxes Board City Buses," that Sioux Falls paper, 2010.07.26].

$3 for a full day of urban adventure? Wowza! When I lived in Vancouver, B.C., six years ago, I paid $3 for a two-zone ticket that lasted just 90 minutes. (That's up to $3.75 now... $2.50 during non-peak hours.) A Vancouver day pass is $9; a monthly pass ranges from $81 to $151. So for the typical urban dweller trying to get along without a car, travel in Sioux Falls is remarkably cheaper than travel in Vancouver.

Of course, it's still not as cheap as going everywhere on your bicycle! Even there, Sioux Falls beats Vancouver, since it's not raining all the time.

Now granted, you can go all over a lot more kingdom come in Vancouver than you can in Sioux Falls. There's more there there! Compare the metro areas of Sioux Falls and Vancouver (side-by-side maps courtesy of Yahoo Maps):

Side-by-side comparison of Sioux Falls and Vancouver metro areasSioux Falls and Vancouver metro areas—click to enlarge!

The transit system in Vancouver has a lot more penetration of the city than the Sioux Falls system. Consider the Sioux Area Metro map:

Sioux Falls bus mapSioux Falls bus routes—click to enlarge!

Check out that big transit dead zone in southeast Sioux Falls. Evidently the folks in the ritzy development from Tuthill Park outward don't feel the need for mass transit. But hey, your housekeepers have to get to work, don't they? Oh well—perhaps as commerce blooms on the East Side (cue Moby!), a bus route will punch through to Highway 11.

Someday I'll take a day for a mass transit excursion around Sioux Falls (we did that on our family trip to Winnipeg last year—loved it!). In the mean time, local riders, I welcome your comments. How's the bus treating you in Sioux Falls?
p.s.: The fare boxes mean less freeloading and more driver attention on the road. This new, more fair and efficient electronic system comes to Sioux Falls courtesy of federal stimulus money. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

New Poll, Vote Now: Let Marking Debate SHS and Noem?

The Mitchell Daily Republic's exclusion of Independent candidate for U.S. House B. Thomas Marking from the Corn Palace Festival debate on August 28 got me thinking: what's a guy got to do to earn a spot on the political debate stage? How much popular viability beyond getting enough signatures to make the ballot must a candidate demonstrate to be taken seriously?

While we ponder that, take the latest Madville Times poll: "Should SD media include Independent candidate for U.S. House B. Thomas Marking in live public debates with candidates Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem?" Click your position right here in the right-hand sidebar, then drop a comment. Tell us all what you think earns a candidate the right to be heard in a public debate. Voting and comment is open to everyone, regardless of your potential for winning a public vote. ;-)

Poll is open until breakfast time Saturday, around which time I'll post the results and offer some more commentary. Tell your friends, and vote now!

Feds Fail to Enforce River Law: Time for SD to Act!

Rebecca Terk points out we have our own need for some Arizona-style, federal-authority-usurping legislation right here in South Dakota. She noted that on the Missouri River near her home, people break the law regularly by running jet skis in the restricted waters of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The National Park Service banned personal watercraft from WSRA-designated stretches of the Missouri in 2000, citing damage to wildlife, oil pollution, conflict with other more mellow recreationists, noise pollution (hear hear!), and high accident and injury rates. But the jetskiers keep rop-rop-roaring along the protected waterway in flagrant violation of federal law.

Terk says she has contacted the local heat to go after these lawbreakers. Their response: yup, they're illegal, but we can't touch 'em. Only a federal agent can enforce federal law, and the National Park Service hasn't even stationed a ranger in the area.

Well, who are we to let a little thing like federal jurisdiction stop us from enforcing the laws of the land? South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley is filing a friend of the court brief supporting Arizona's effort to usurp federal authority on immigration law. AG Jackley justifies our state's involvement by saying illegal immigration "is really a public safety issue." GOP House candidate Kristi Noem favors expanding state government power to enforce laws when the feds fail to do so.

When the 2011 South Dakota Legislature gets on its high horse and puts off working on the budget to pass grandstanding legislation on immigration (and they're already chomping at the bit to do so), they should consider expanding any such proposal to a general declaration that South Dakota's sheriffs, city cops, Highway Patrol, and game wardens will gladly enforce any law that the federal government isn't... including the ban on jet skis on the Missouri downstream from Yankton.

After all, our support for Arizona's immigration law isn't just about those darned Mexicans. It's about our unwavering support for the rule of law and strong government... right?

Bonus Fun Fact: Congressman John Thune was outraged when this ban was announced in 2000. He demanded the National Park Service reopen the issue for public comment. NPS did so. 82% of the folks who commented supported the ban.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mitchell Media Muzzle Marking

I offer my sympathy this morning to independent underdog B. Thomas Marking. The U.S. House candidate was told by Mitchell Daily Republic publisher Korrie Wenzel that he will not be allowed to participate in the big Corn Palace Festival Debate with his big-party opponents Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem on August 28. Marking says he'll still come to Mitchell that day (and hey, who won't? It's the Corn Palace Festival!!!) to visit with voters. Marking appears to accept the Mitchell mainstream media's exclusion of outsider voices with a sigh and a shrug, as well as optimism that he'll still get to debate the big dogs in October on SDPB and at other events.

Wenzel defends his exclusion of Marking by citing the independent's low marks in the polls. Of course, the only such data available comes from the Republican-run Rasmussen polls... and Republicans have a keen interest in seeing anti-incumbent sentiment focused on their novice GOP darling rather than dividing voters' attention with a real outsider.

Attend to Wenzel's circular reasoning:

I understand if he’s disappointed, but we have to remember that we only get an hour per debate and I think the audience will be better served by hearing what the top candidates — candidates who appear to have an overwhelming lead in the polls over Marking — have to say [Korrie Wenzel, quoted in Tom Lawrence, "Excluded from Debate, Marking Plans Separate Event in Mitchell," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2010.07.23].

Hmmm... could it be that the two "top candidates" are on top mostly because people have already heard a lot from them? Are people really "better served" by hearing from the people they already know? Might they not gain even more benefit by hearing a new voice who doesn't usually get much attention from the media information gatekeepers? Maybe the Corn Palace Festival would do the voters a favor by excluding Herseth Sandlin and Noem and giving Independent Marking a chance to catch up with the "top candidates" who have lots of money to spend on ads in Wenzel's newspaper?

(Oh, oops, sorry—there I go again, slipping into advocacy for affirmative action.)

I'll admit, I'm not wholly convinced Marking deserves a seat at the debate. After all, I've criticized the Constitution Party for whining about having to round up a certain threshold of popular support before being allowed into the statewide political arena. Allowing every fringe candidate a seat at the debate table can make for a messy forum.

But as Marking notes, he did get enough signatures to make the ballot, and as an Independent, he had to get as many signatures as Herseth Sandlin and Noem combined. Marking has already made it through the gate of statute and popular support to make the ballot: should media executives be allowed to erect another gate to keep challengers out?

In the meantime, B. Thomas, add more meat to that Facebook page, fire up a blog, and crank out some more videos!

(And I wonder what other wacky tea-flavored independent candidates the Mitchell Daily Republic might muzzle....)

Bonus Baseball: I notice that on July 14, the Marking for House Facebook page got updated with three photos from a Citizens for Liberty event. One photo features Marking in front of a "Curd for Congress" poster; the other two show R. Blake himself in the frame with B. Thomas. Is this a clever ploy for Curdistas disappointed that Noem stole their thunder? Or is B. Tom just solidifying his support among the ever-important first-initial-only crowd?

Update 13:55 CDT: I still sympathize with Marking, even though he makes the patently absurd claim that Stephanie Herseth represents the far left. B. Tom, I know the far left. I am the far left in South Dakota (which isn't saying much). Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is no far leftist.

Recession Slows Plans for Brandon Wind Tower Plant

The wind power news isn't all rosy: the recession is stalling wind tower production in Brandon.

Broadwind Energy subsidiary Tower Tech Systems doesn't build the turbines; they build the 200-foot towers that hold those whirling turbines up. Tower Tech has built a plant just north of I-90 by Brandon, the company's third such facility, to build these towers. The building is 1150 feet long—that's three football fields, plus endzones! Materials go in one end, long towers come out the other, just like Play-Doh! Tower Tech picked the location due to good road access and proximity to wind projects. (I can't wait to see them try snaking those towers up the ramp at Exit 406.)

So Tower Tech has the building and equipment, they have the location.... now they just need contracts. Jill Meier at that Sioux Falls paper reports that Tower Tech had a big contract with General Electric, but that GE backed out. Just two years ago, GE was saying we had a wind turbine shortage. But then the recession hit and slowed all sorts of construction down, including green projects. (So, it wasn't enviro-hippies who slowed down green power; it was the gambling bankers who crashed the economy.)

The Tower Tech folks are saying optimistic things to the locals, assuring them the economy will turn around and the plant will be ready to create 150 new jobs soon. Their optimism may be warranted. The green stimulus is kicking into gear. Vestas Wind just landed its fifth big contract of the year (after landing none in gloomy 2009). GE is expanding its investment in wind in Europe and Idaho. GE is also supplying turbines to some other big projects.

So keep your fingers crossed and hardhats ready, Brandon workers: 150 green jobs may be a-comin'!

Related: Even amidst the recession, green power made up more than half of the new electrical generation capacity constructed in the U.S. in 2009.

Milk and Tea: Raw Dairy Producers Test Tea Party Principles

Mr. Kelley brings to my attention two alarming articles from Grist. Apparently there is a widespread, federally coordinated effort to raid dairies producing and selling raw milk.

Now you can take sides in the debate over whether raw milk you want raw milk on your kids' Wheaties. Just as important as the health debate is the economic debate, summarized neatly in Grist:

Clearly, we are moving closer to judicial consideration of how far consumer rights extend when it comes to consumers opting out of the factory food system and arranging for private access to the nutritionally-dense foods of their choice [David Gumpert, "Want Raw Milk? Lease a Farm—and Hire a Lawyer," Grist, 2010.07.22].

Monsanto and the other giants of the ag-industrial complex have already driven most independent family farms into bankruptcy or subservience to the corporate will.

But what still gets me is that the professed conservatives and teabaggers among us who rage against the nanny state and government intrusion in our lives don't seem to even notice the real government oppression of independent dairy operators. They were silent about South Dakota's effort to ban raw milk (an effort that failed, although producers had to settle for a compromise with our state Ag Department). Ranch blogger Troy Hadrick even turned on his fellow producers, taking the Big Ag line and supporting restrictions on raw milk even while whining about tighter federal requirements to test for E. coli in slaughterhouses.

Tea Party, the raw milk issue is tailor-made for your movement. You have local, state, and federal officials conducting searches and seizing property and vital computer data from independent farmers. You have bureaucrats taking away the freedom of producers and consumers to engage in commerce. You even have government collusion, with the feds helping smaller agencies do their meddling. This issue is crying out for grassroots activists who want to advocate for pioneer-style self-sufficiency and market freedom. (And I'll bet the Founding Fathers drank raw milk while writing the Constitution.)

Let's add some milk to that tea: conservatives, check out the South Dakota Alliance for Raw Milk, and prove your conservative cred by standing up for independent producers and consumers who don't want to get gobbled up by the big corporate ag machine.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

VA on Medical Marijuana: Groovy, Man!

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may be knocking the legs out from under South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley's position on medical marijuana. In his official ballot explanation for Initiated Measure 13, AG Jackley notes that the pot-related activities IM 13 would authorize remain illegal under federal law.

Enter the VA hospitals:

Patients treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics will be able to use medical marijuana in the 14 states where it's legal, according to new federal guidelines....

"If a veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the veteran from receiving opioids for pain management" in a VA facility, [V.A. Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert A.] Petzel wrote. "The discretion to prescribe, or not prescribe, opioids in conjunction with medical marijuana, should be determined on clinical grounds" [Hope Yen, "Medical Marijuana to Be OK in Some VA Clinics," AP via Yahoo News, 2010.07.25].

This isn't the first time the Obama Administration has signaled a willingness to defer to states on medical marijuana. (Read that again, conservative friends: President Obama defers to states rights.) Of course, if President Obama believes marijuana laws aren't worth enforcing, he would do better for the rule of law by cowboying up and advocating outright abolition of those laws.

Jackley's ballot explanation may remain rechnically true, but if someone violates a federal law in the forest and the feds don't send agents to enforce it, does violation really make any noise?

Besides, why should Jackley make any noise about federal laws? He's all about states' rights—he should be defending South Dakotans' rights to challenge unjust federal laws, just as he's doing with his health care lawsuit... right?

Herseth Sandlin Wanted Tougher Health Insurance Reform?

Is Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin a bigger liberal on health care than I thought? Here's a puzzler I've been trying to sort out for over a week.

A while back I fired off some grouchy missive to the Congresswoman's office about her position on health insurance reform. On the 16th, I received a reply from the Congresswoman's office. SHS says she digs the following big points of the reform passed in March:
  1. ending rescission and pre-existing condition exclusions
  2. extending kids' coverage on mom and dad's policy until age 26
  3. creating health insurance exchanges (more transparency and competition)
  4. reauthorizing of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
Yeah yeah, whatever, I thought, bracing myself for the familiar Blue Dog triangulation. She harped first on cost (as if any of us thought we could achieve reform without spending money). But then I started to hit lines that sounded more like they came from my man Dennis Kucinich.

SHS criticizes the watering-down of the excise tax on high-cost insurance plans. The Senate excluded more plans and delayed implementation of the tax until 2018. SHS appears to say she wanted a stiffer tax sooner to reduce overutilization and help pay for the reforms. In other words (pay attention, Kristi), SHS wanted more taxes on rich people with Cadillac insurance plans.

SHS says she wanted a tougher Independent Medicare Advisory Board. Some observers say this board as enacted still has some teeth. SHS, however, indicates she wanted more and again cites a delay in implementation (this time until 2015). Again, SHS wanted more government clout in health care sooner.

SHS includes some niggly-porky bits in her rationalization for opposing the bill: absence of inflation indexing from the Medicare Hospital Insurance Tax, increasing Medicaid costs for South Dakota, the medical device tax that South Dakota employer 3M doesn't like, and the inclusion of student loan reform in the reconciliation bill (SHS still prefers the Rube Goldberg system of federal subsidy for private profiteers).

But on two big points, SHS comes out sounding like she wanted a tougher health insurance reform bill, with stronger government action, the kind of liberal position that I think health care needs. That's certainly not the narrative I was hearing last year or even in SHS's most recent ad. Was I just not paying attention? Could the SHS narrative on health care be more complex than I in my Kucinichian froth recognized? Or might SHS be getting ready to wage the fight I want her to fight?

Related: President Obama sends a surprise video to Netroots Nation and tells liberal bloggers to "keep making your voices heard; to keep holding me accountable; to keep up the fight." Yes sir, Mr. President! Now about passing single-payer and repealing the Patriot Act....

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Kill All the Lawyers? Just Buy All the Scientists

Classic Big Oil playbook: BP is trying to stifle science. As it rounds up experts to help build its defense against over 300 lawsuits stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, BP is trying to get academics under contract not just to testify on their behalf, but to prevent them from offering any testimony for plaintiffs against BP. Those contracts include confidentiality clauses that would restrict scientists on BP's payroll from publishing any research results on the oil spill for three years.

Anyone care to speculate how many of the 3% of active climate scientists who still deny anthropogenic climate change have been similarly bought by Big Oil? Or how many of these educated folks who helped prepare the inadequate draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline may have contracts to ensure they never say a discouraging word about the designs of Big Oil?

Worth noting: Entrix, the consulting firm TransCanada paid to write the DEIS and lowball the risk of pipeline rupture, is also BP's go-to team for environmental consulting. Also, one of the Entrix folks in charge of oil spill risk assessment in the DEIS has as her highest degree an MBA from questionable for-profit online University of Phoenix.

Shelter Fest, Baseball Tourney Looking for Volunteers

Crazy Days are coming up in Madison next weekend, and a couple of events are looking for volunteers.

First, Shelter Fest, the benefit concert for our Habitat for Humanity chapter, is looking for volunteers to serve as concert security and other details. If you're free Friday (July 30) at 4:30 p.m. and would like to get a free listen to Tonic Sol-fa and the Su Fu Du drum corps, give concert coordinator Erin Heidelberger a call (605-256-4737).

Also up for next weekend is the VFW teener baseball state tournament. The tournament committee is looking for volunteers for crowd patrol and other tasks for any time Friday through Sunday. The folks to call: Susan Williams at 480-0201 and Paul Hansen at 480-2021.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Potpourri: Local School Lunch, Gluttony, Tea Party Civil War

Too many browser tabs: time to clear the queue!
  1. Cool news from Flying Tomato: the Vermillion School District is looking to add locally grown food to its fall and spring lunch menus. Hooray! Vermillion's food service is run by Lunchtime Solutions, Inc., the same privateers that Madison contracts with for burgers and fries. The company has previously bought local foods in Mission Hill, Sioux City, and Springfield. Maybe they can look into feeding kids some garden surplus right here in Madison.
  2. But don't eat too much: Pastor Shel points to this Ryan Andrews article to remind us that gluttony—not just overeating, but all overconsumption—is a sin.
  3. Sounds like gluttony for power may be breaking up South Dakota's noisiest Tea Party. Gordon Howie handed presidency of the Citizens for Liberty over to septic-tank crusader Barb Lindberg so he could run for governor. Left with nothing better to do after his fourth-place primary finish, Howie noe wants his presidency back. Citizens for Liberty is thus embroiled in a power struggle hilarious for its contradictions and small potatoes. The group demands open government, but then club agitator Shad Olson criticizes Lindberg for speaking to the press. They demand adherence to the Constitution, then conduct board votes unsupported by any published by-laws. Conservative Michael Sanborn gives Citizens for Liberty the what-for they deserve.

Congress Wimps out on Energy Policy: Time to Conserve!

Heartland Consumer Power District exec Mike McDowell is surely thrilled that obstructionist Republicans like Senator Thune and wimpy Democrats like Representative Herseth Sandlin have killed serious clean energy legislation for now. Instead of imperiling our economy with "heavy-handed expensive government mandates" (i.e., plans like cap and trade, which are empirically proven to reduce pollution and not kill the economy), we can trundle along with a status quo that supports the polluting, irresponsible energy economy that will leave our grandkids nothing to burn but resentment.

But wait: McDowell does have a plan I can work with:

Part of our LEED Platinum commitment is sustainability. This means smarter use and reuse of common consumer products. The positive impact on the environment as well as reducing oil consumption is startling. It can be done with simple changes in behavior, using existing technologies at affordable prices. It can be done without heavy-handed expensive government mandates and without waiting for some silver bullet technology to be developed to make it work [Mike McDowell, "Consumers Can Take LEEDing Steps to Reduce Oil Use," HCPDBlog.com, 2010.07.21].

McDowell and I agree on the power of conservation, and if our Congress can't overcome the Big Oil and Coal lobbies, then conservation is perhaps the best grassroots pocketbook policy we can do. McDowell and I agree that recycling is great. We agree that replacing plastic bags with canvas sacks and backpacks at the grocery store is a great way to reduce oil consumption.

McDowell also points out the remarkable savings to be gained from recycling motor oil:

  • It is easier and cheaper to recycle used oil than to make new oil from crude. One gallon of used oil can produce the same amount of motor oil as 42 gallons of crude oil while requiring about a third of the energy.
  • If all used motor oil in the U.S. were recycled, it would result in a saving of 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.
  • Used oil can be re-refined into good-as-new lubricating oil. Oil never wears out it just gets dirty [McDowell, 2010.07.21].

1.3 million barrels a day. That's more oil than both the Keystone and Keystone XL pipelines will transport at full capacity. One change in our energy practices, recycling our motor oil, could eliminate the need for a massive, environmentally dangerous project and reduce our dependence on dirty foreign oil.

If we can't motivate Congress to change our energy policy, then we'll have to do it ourselves. let's all be conservatives and conserve, conserve, conserve!

Businessman Hunter Likes Big Government Mail

Jon Hunter loathes big government. In Hunter's world, health insurance reform, financial reform, and energy reform are all efforts to shrink the private sector and grow government.

So how does the Leader Printing executive feel about scaling back the United States Postal Service?

The prospect of losing Saturday delivery from the Postal Service is a huge concern for Americans, and we should fight to retain it to better serve America.

...[T]he Postal Service should be considering improving its delivery performance and expanding choices for mailers. As the economy recovers, businesses and consumers will need a reliable and affordable deliverer of mail. Our nation's economic health depends on it.

South Dakota's congressional delegation supports ongoing Saturday delivery. But we'll need the help of other members of Congress to reject this idea and push the Postal Service back into fulfilling its mission of affordable, universal delivery. [Jon Hunter, "Now Is the Time to Fight to Retain Saturday Delivery," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.07.20].

By Hunter's logic, Americans may not have a right to universal health care, but they apparently have a right to receive advertisements six days a week mailed from Madison's convenient central location at the lowest rates possible, courtesy not of the free market of but Uncle Sam.

Hunter's business interest in cheap federal mail inspires not only political inconsistency but typical MDL illogic:

The irony is that the Postal Service blames an increase in the use of email as a contributing factor in volume decreases and financial losses. Yet they believe that reducing service will somehow reverse this trend? [Hunter, 2010.07.20]

Hunter's language in that last sentence is a bit unclear. What trend does he think USPS officials are trying to reverse? Obviously, reducing service will not reverse the trend of Internet-driven decreases in mail volume, and I don't think any USPS official has argued that it would. But when there's less mail to deliver, the logical way to reverse or at least mitigate financial losses is to spend less money, and reducing service is one logical way to do that.

Perhaps Hunter simply believes that it's more important for the federal government to continue stimulating the economy by providing printers and advertisers with cheap universal delivery and by employing lots and lots of postal workers. I'm fine with that. And heck, I enjoy sending and receiving mail on Saturday, too. But I don't have to square my support for reliable, efficient, universal government mail service with conservative Republican principles the way Jon Hunter does.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

EPA: Send Keystone Environmental Impact Study Back to Drawing Board

TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline faces some serious problems. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has declared the pipeline "would be a step in the wrong direction, undermining the President’s efforts to move America to a clean energy economy." The folks who plan to make the steel for Keystone XL produced all sorts of defective steel for other pipelines between 2007 and 2009.

And now the Environmental Protection Agency has said the State Department's draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Keystone XL is inadequate.

"Inadequate"—that's govspeak for "It sucks." EPA only has three categories for rating the adequacy of DEIS's: "inadequate" is the lowest rating possible. To provoke one government agency to so directly contradict another, the State Department must really have failed to do its homework on Keystone XL.

The opening statement from EPA's letter to State:

[W]e think that the Draft EIS does not provide the scope or detail of analysis to fully inform decision makers and the public, and recommend that additional information and analysis be provided. The topics on which we believe additional information and analysis are necessary include the purpose and need for the project, potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the project, air pollutant emissions at the receiving refineries, pipeline safety/spill response, potential impacts to environmental justice communities, wetlands and migratory birds [Environmental Protection Agency, letter to State Department, 2010.07.16].

Pipeline spills— like the 3300-gallon spill that contaminated Belle Creek in southeastern Montana last November and cost Texas-based Encore Operating a $93K fine. EPA notes that TransCanada won't tell us what mystery chemicals it plans to mix with the tar sands oil to make it flow through the pipeline, sicne the mix of "cutter stock" is declared "proprietary." Keeping that information secret makes it difficult to calculate the full impact of spills on the environment and to plan proper safety and clean-up responses when (not if) a spill happens.

EPA says the State Department takes far too narrow a view of the impact of Keystone XL on the environment and our long-term energy security:

Alongside the national security benefits of importing crude oil from a stable trading partner, we believe the national security implications of expanding the Nation's long-term commitment to a relatively high carbon source of oil should also be considered [EPA, 2010].

On greenhouse gases, EPA says State only calculates the impact of construction and operation of the pipeline and refining on our end. EPA suggests State include the emissions at the Canadian end as well. EPA estimates that converting tar sands into pipable oil will emit 27 million metric tons of CO2 above the emissions of normal crude oil production. Says EPA, that's equivalent to firing up seven new coal-fired power plants.

Dang—that's what I've been saying!

Review the full list of EPA recommendations for bringing the DEIS up to snuff, and you'll see that EPA is not saying that Uncle Sam should shut down Keystone XL. But EPA is saying that if we are going to permit Keystone XL, we need a lot more rigorous science to understand, plan for, and mitigate its drastic impact on our environment and our energy security.

Related: In a press release, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem connects the EPA's letter and the curent administration's "coddling" of TransCanada. Heidepriem notes that he supported but Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard and his boss opposed a two-cent-per-barrel tax on pipeline oil to cover the cost of spill clean-up and a cancellation of millions of dollars tax refunds for the Keystone pipeline projects.

  1. TransCanada doesn't think Keystone XL needs any more studies.
  2. Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach spent $55,800 earlier this month to buy a Washington Post ad defending the project from Congressional criticism. I wonder how much of the public coffers he'll spend lobbying the EPA on behalf of Big Oil.
  3. The Sierra Club "applaud[s] EPA's scrutiny" and calls EPA's ruling a "game changer."
  4. Some nice people in Nebraska are applauding as well.