September 30, 2009

Chamber's political agenda drives away members

More companies are quitting the US Chamber of Commerce in response to the Chamber's continued opposition to serious action on climate change. And it isn't just a few who cater to the tree-hugger crowd.

This has been around in the news, but in case anyone missed it, the latest to quit the Chamber include two major utilities, Exelon in Illinois and Pacific Gas & Electric in California. Today, the Chairman of Nike resigned from the Chamber board of directors.
PG&E probably has the most direct statement so far.
"Extreme rhetoric and obstructionist tactics seem to increasingly mark the Chamber's public stance on this issue. These reflect neither the true range of views among members, nor in many cases, an honest view of the economic and environmental realities at hand."

The Chamber's weaselly strategy is to make generalized public statements in support of taking action on climate change, while simultaneously fighting tooth and nail to weaken or defeat strong bills in Washington.

This is what makes working with the Chamber so frustrating. They have some good programs in local communities. Yet, they use their contacts and financial relationships to push a horrible, extremist political agenda at the local, state and national level. Whenever there's a proposal to benefit the common good I nearly always see the Chamber on the other side whether they're fighting against consumer safety, pushing regressive tax policies, or promoting uncontrolled sprawl. And they often do it in ways that hurt their small business members.


National coal day of action in Springfield

Tuesday was the "Coal is Dirty Business" day of action and the Sierra Club held a lunch forum in Springfield.

The first speaker, Dennis Ruez, Jr., gave an interesting perspective on global warming, coal, and carbon sequestration efforts from a geological perspective that I hadn't heard before. If you aren't in one of his classes at UIS I strongly recommend taking any chance to hear him speak.

Dr. Stuart Frank gave an excellent presentation for Physicians for Social Responsibility focusing on the health impacts of coal plants and global warming.

I had to find new camera batteries so I didn't get pictures of their talks. Catherine was nice enough to snap a couple during my comments on the State Capitol coal plant and efforts by the coal industry to weaken EPA's regulatory authority.

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We didn't have a huge crowd but hopefully everyone enjoyed the other two speakers as much as I did.


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Most people who came had their picture taken for the national photo-petition asking the EPA for strong regulations of global warming emissions. If you weren't there Tuesday you can still add your photo here.

September 23, 2009

Springfield getting more energy efficient

Like most public utilities, Springfield's CWLP has worked on energy efficiency for many years, and those efforts are reaching a new level. Several new funding sources are about to dramatically increase investments in saving energy and reducing global warming emissions.

The CWLP agreement with the Sierra Club states that a portion of power sales from the new plant will go toward an environmental initiatives fund. At least half of the fund is designated for energy efficiency projects for CWLP customers. The rest can be used on other initiatives that reduce carbon emissions, such as renewable energy or improving pollution controls on their existing coal plants.

The Energy Services Office has already seen a significant budget increase following the Sierra Club agreement and more money will be on the way now that the new Dallman 4 plant is going online. The bad news is that the slumping economy means demand for power sales is much lower than what everyone expected a year ago. The good news is that the federal stimulus bill contains money for municipal energy efficiency projects.

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CWLP was ready to apply for extra stimulus dollars partly because they were already working on new programs and had previously hired RLW Analytics to conduct a community energy usage study. You may recall that one city alderman voted against conducting the study because it cost more than the original estimate in the Sierra Club agreement. Thankfully, he was outvoted and now that early investment will continue to pay off in the form of lower utility bills, cleaner air, and new green jobs.

Some of the funds awarded were announced in a press release I received earlier today from the city. Below is the full text.

Springfield Awarded $1.2 million for Efficiency Projects

Mayor Tim Davlin announced today that the City of Springfield has been awarded an Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant allocation of $1,225,600 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act announced this past March.

“These funds will further bolster CWLP’s activities to save energy, reduce greenhouse gasses, and create jobs locally through many important energy efficiency projects.” said Mayor Tim Davlin. “Every dollar that we can invest into smart energy solutions is a win for the city in that Springfield homes and businesses are less expensive to heat and cool and it’s an opportunity for local energy efficiency related firms to expand business in tight times.”

This grant, specifically allocated to Springfield, originated from a Department of Energy program totaling almost $1.8 billion nationally. Energy efficiency projects funded through this grant will provide both significant energy savings and reduce the carbon footprint for City Water, Light and Power (CWLP) electric customers.

“With this funding, we particularly look forward to expanding our efficiency and rebate options we can offer to our residential and business customers,” said CWLP General Manager Todd Renfrow. “Every kilowatt saved is money to be earned for being a smart consumer.”

CWLP will utilize these funds to undertake one new energy efficiency programs and reinstate two others, which include a high efficiency air conditioner rebate program, a commercial retro-commissioning program and bringing back a commercial lighting retrofit program, CityLights. These programs will be managed by CWLP’s Energy Services Office and will lead to substantial energy and cost savings for many CWLP customers.

The 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act was signed into law by President Obama in February.

Department of Energy’s EECBG Program
www.eecbg.energy.gov


September 20, 2009

Radical environmentalist

It has been a few years since the clean energy agreement with CWLP had the talk radio crowd calling the Sierra Club a bunch of blackmailers, extortionists and eco-terrorists. The State Journal-Register runs a lot of mind numbing letters-to-the-editor from the talk radio cult, which I usually avoid the pain of reading, but I caught one which indirectly referred to me as a "radical" environmentalist.

Sometimes I get flack from tree-hugging friends in other groups for being involved in such a large, mainstream, moderate organization like the Sierra Club. It even has a policy against acts of civil disobedience. I feel better knowing there's at least one person out there who still thinks I'm a radical environmentalist!


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September 18, 2009

Madison county opposes long wall mining

Earlier this week, the Madison county board passed a resolution opposing the expansion of destructive long wall mining methods into their county and calling on state and federal governments to protect agricultural lands from the practice. That's pretty impressive for a county where the coal industry has so much influence.

Here's the text of the resolution:
RESOLUTION OF THE MADISON COUNTY BOARD OPPOSING LONG WALL MINING IN MADISON COUNTY

WHEREAS, coal mining interests have been reviewing the suitability of lands located within Madison County, Illinois in order to place a long wall mine operation within the confines of Madison County, Illinois; and

WHEREAS, long wall mining has been found to have an adverse affect on the environment, particularly agriculturally sensitive lands;

WHEREAS, Madison County has adopted a comprehensive plan that heretofore places an emphasis on the protection of the natural resources and the environment of the County; and

WHEREAS, performance criteria, as utilized by both state and federal mining law address concerns in the areas of mine site conformance to the County's Comprehensive Land Use Plan, Conservation Lands Systems and other related conservation plans, prevention of water quality and quantity impacts, concurrent reclamation and visual impacts; and

WHEREAS, both state and federal law will be required to take into account consistency with local land use and development plans, which in this case is the Madison County Comprehensive Land Use Plan; and

WHEREAS, the typical legacy left behind from prior and existing mines may place undue costs and adverse impacts on the tax payers of Madison County with few local tax benefits, and is therefore unacceptable; and
WHEREAS, a recent study of the effects of Long Wall mining found that water quality impacts from long wall mines are consistently underestimated and therefore the mitigation is consistently inadequate; and

WHEREAS, water quality impacts to the Silver Creek Watershed and the water source for the communities of Highland, St. Jacob and Marine could be detrimental to rare riparian habitat along the creeks, the endangered species within the creeks, and the high quality water supply to the entire area; and

WHEREAS, environmental impacts associated with the deposition of dredge and fill materials on agricultural lands have been shown to be detrimental; and

WHEREAS, the practice of long wall mining and the associated subsidence typically has a serious effect on area geology, particularly on flat surface lands, and that remediation of the subsidence has proven to be detrimental to the land; and

WHEREAS, the information any Coal company has provided the County to date leaves many questions unanswered and is insufficient to determine if and how Madison County would be able to meet any environmental performance criteria outlined by the County to address the negative impacts associated with long wall mining.

NOW, THEREFORE, UPON MOTION DULY MADE, SECONDED AND CARRIED,
BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

1. The Madison County Board opposes the development of any long wall mining operation in Madison County.

2. Madison County will continue to actively comment on any future plans of operations submitted on any such mine, including during any formal review by the U.S. Department of the Interior per the National Environmental Policy Act and through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Mines.

3. The Madison County Board requests that both of State and Federal legislators take active roles in the curtailment of such mining operations that have an adverse effect on agricultural lands within Madison County.

Passed by the Madison County Board


Springfield named top green city...again

I never got around to writing about Springfield being named one of the top mid-sized green cities by NRDC's Smarter Cities rankings. We're ranked #4 overall and #1 in air quality. We even beat out liberal towns like Eugene, OR and Berkeley, CA.

The city profile highlights Springfield's use of wind power, shutting down the old Lakeside power plant, and energy efficiency programs like the Refrigerator Roundup. The city got high marks in a few other areas but we didn't score as well on transportation.

The rankings and national stories about Springfield's commitment to clean energy are becoming almost routine, but we risk turning back the progress we've made if people become complacent.

September 11, 2009

Shimkus earns a detention

Progress Illinois linked to the post I wrote yesterday morning about the behavior of John Shimkus and other Republicans during Obama's speech. The Shimkus walk-out got more attention after a Chicago Tribune blog posted a response from his office.
"Congressman Shimkus was frustrated that the president was not offering any new ground and left with just minutes remaining in the speech.''

Since I didn't notice anyone talking about this before my post, it makes me wonder if the Tribune reporters who follow me on twitter noticed my twit about it yesterday morning.

Shimkus was a high school teacher and still speaks to government classes (one can only hope he isn't teaching them his belief that a compassionate monarchy is the ideal form of government). We know West Point didn't teach him to publicly disrespect the Commander-in-Chief, so I decided to look at the student handbook for Metro-East Lutheran High School where he used to be a teacher.

Maybe the school code has changed since Shimkus was there but it has some good advice he should consider.
As representatives of our Lord and of our school, all students need to behave in a manner that reflects integrity upon themselves, upon any school activity, and upon the school itself.
Oops.

Among the behaviors subject to detention are: "disrespect, dishonesty, disrupting class, and tardiness."





I know that sometimes it can be frustrating to sit still and listen to teacher, but if high school students can learn to not be disruptive in class then I'm sure members of Congress can learn too. Clearly, John's bad example warrants a visit to detention hall.

The handbook has some helpful advice for how to deal with these situations.
The purpose of applied discipline is to assist each student in developing the self-control necessary to function appropriately in all personal and social relationships. Our standards and policies are based on commonly accepted social behaviors and the Word of God. ...Consequences are warranted when students repeatedly and/or willfully disregard school guidelines/rules or otherwise bring discredit to their Lord, their school or themselves.

Joe Wilson, John Shimkus and some other partisan congressmen could use help learning how to function appropriately based on commonly accepted social norms.

The school code of conduct begins with a Bible verse.
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." -- Matthew 5: 16 --

The world has seen the works of Shimkus from his role in covering up the House page scandal to his ridiculous statements about global warming. I don't believe the word "glorify" applies in this case.


September 10, 2009

A party of children

I only read a few news stories today but I guess everyone is writing and talking about the Congressman who yelled "liar" during Obama's speech. I couldn't make out what he said so that's not what bothered me at the time.

It really got on my nerves that after years of Republicans scolding people about respecting the Presidency while Bush was in office, there they were waving papers and heckling Obama during the speech. These are supposed to be adult members of Congress. That wasn't an attempt at discussion or debate. It was cheap theatrics.

Personally, I have no problem with cheap theatrics or acting out in the right context. I went to rallies and protests of speeches by Bush or Cheney at least six times during their Presidency. Of course, they never let us protest close enough to be seen by either one of them.

At one Bush visit I saw someone get arrested for going outside the "free speech zone" where they corralled protesters. She carried a sign that said "America is a free speech zone!" Apparently, you can now carry a gun directly outside Presidential speeches without getting arrested so freedom is on the march.

I only saw George Bush speak in person once when he came to the dedication of the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. I was pretty annoyed that he sullied the occasion with his presence so I knew I had to make a statement. I wore a t-shirt with Bush's image that said "not my President."

But you know what? When Bush spoke, I sat down and listened. I didn't do it for Bush, who I have no respect for. I did it out of respect for the occasion and the people who came to hear him. If you have the chance to hear a President of the United States speak, the least you can do is shut up and listen, even if you think he's full of crap.

I thought Bush's attempt at using Lincoln's name to justify the invasion of Iraq that day was incredibly disrespectful to Lincoln's legacy and offensive to the people who didn't come for a political rally. But, I still think he deserved the chance to be heard.

These adult members of Congress haven't learned the basics of common courtesy and they disrespected all Americans who tuned in to hear a serious discussion. Who raised these people? Someone call their mothers!

And why on earth did they just sit there stone-faced when Obama denounced the lies about death squads? Do they believe the death squad accusations are real? Are they afraid of standing up to the talk radio hosts who spread that garbage? I can only interpret their failure to condemn the lie as a sign of approval.

Added on edit:

I shouldn't be surprised that my own Congressman, John Shimkus, joined the playground of partisan pouters. After heckling Obama with the paper-waving stunt he actually walked out during the speech.

Maybe he needed a potty break. Or maybe was in a hurry to help protect a colleague from being caught harassing underage male pages...again.


September 7, 2009

Labor and the Nation

Happy Labor Day!

The red-baiting and retirement of Van Jones remind me that labor unions were always the first target of McCarthy style campaigns. Unions became very strong after the 1930's and conservative corporate leaders knew they had to fight back. Red-baiting has divided and crippled the labor movement throughout its entire history but it was taken to new levels in the 50's.

I ran across a 1937 speech titled "Labor and the Nation" by John L. Lewis, probably the most significant single person in the history of organized labor. He helped push anarchists and radicals out of the United Mine Workers in his early career so he was no friend of communism.

What strikes me about the speech is how little the players and tactics have changed since the 1930's, although things are less violent today. His comments remind me of the astroturf polluter rallies against climate change legislation and the organized sabotage of health care forums.
The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and similar groups representing industry and financial interests, are rendering a disservice to the American people in their attempts to frustrate the organization of labor and in their refusal to accept collective bargaining as one of our economic institutions.

These groups are encouraging a systematic organization of vigilante groups to fight unionization under the sham pretext of local interests. They equip these vigilantes with tin hats, wooden clubs, gas masks and lethal weapons and train them in the arts of brutality and oppression. They bring in snoops, finks, hatchet gangs and Chowderhead Cohens to infest their plants and disturb the communities.

Fascist organizations have been launched and financed under the shabby pretext that the C.I.O. movement is communistic. The real breeders of discontent and alien doctrines of government and philosophies subversive of good citizenship are such as these who take the law into their own hands.

No tin-hat brigade of goose-stepping vigilantes or bibble-babbling mob of blackguarding and corporation paid scoundrels will prevent the onward march of labor, or divert its purpose to play its natural and rational part in the development of the economic, political and social life of our nation.

Lewis may have been too quick to drive radicals out of the union, but he understood how accusations of communist infiltration were used to advance a corporate agenda. His comments even foreshadow how coal and oil interests are trying to frighten farmers today with the same style of propaganda they used to divide farmers from labor 70 years ago.
Labor has suffered just as our farm population has suffered from a viciously unequal distribution of the national income. In the exploitation of both classes of workers has been the source of panic and depression, and upon the economic welfare of both rests the best assurance of a sound and permanent prosperity.

In this connection let me call attention to the propaganda which some of our industrialists are carrying on among the farmers. By pamphlets in the milk cans or attached to machinery and in countless other ways of direct and indirect approach, the farmers of the nation are being told that the increased price of farm machinery and farm supplies is due to the rising wage level brought about by the Committee for Industrial Organization. And yet it is the industrial millions of this country who constitute the substantial market for all agricultural products.

It's funny how relevant speeches from American history are to modern issues. Then it was breaking up monopolies, forming unions, or getting social security. Today it's climate change, health care, and getting back the right to organize. But it's always about whether government should be a tool to serve the interests of powerful business leaders or a tool in the hands of the people to create a more fair and just economy. It's all the same struggle.


September 4, 2009

Energy Citizens pep rally pics and video

I know most Springfield residents didn't get to see the Energy Citizens polluter rally Tuesday, and not because they were banned from entering like I was. Most of the crowd were bussed in from out of town and obviously had jobs related to the coal, oil or chemical industries.


Anti Cap and Trade Rally 026
I didn't get any photos but ELPC posted some on flickr.


Anti Cap and Trade Rally 022
Some Illinois Farm Bureau members came from the Farm Progress show happening in Decatur this week.


Anti Cap and Trade Rally 024
Buses from around the state lined up to take people home.


Anti Cap and Trade Rally 008
At least they got a free lunch.


Doug wrote two posts with pictures of the rally which he thought was surreal and just plain sad.

Wes shot some video from inside.





The line you hear before the pledge is: "This is a wonderful opportunity for all us to realize what a great country we live in that we can have a rally like this and there is nobody outside getting ready to shoot your ass."

Unless you're rallying for health care or hearing Obama speak, in which case you'll have conservatives with guns waiting outside. I saw a few cars with NRA stickers in the parking lot but they must have been inside for this one. I guess being on the same side as the crazies has a few advantages.

A couple of people were walking around with signs which read, "Say no to socialism!" I was worried they might get into fights with the rural electric co-op members since conservatives called those a socialist scheme when they were created.

The big irony of the pep rally being in Springfield, Illinois is that we're proving them wrong. Our city is using nearly 20% wind power, we shut down an old coal plant, we're making major new investments in energy efficiency, creating green jobs, and we still have lower electricity rates than nearby Ameren customers.

Jack Darin points out that Springfield shows how realistic the goals of the federal energy bill are. "Springfield knows these were good choices, and we are already seeing the results. Maybe big oil and dirty coal can take some of those lessons back to Washington."


Ryan's last expose in Springfield

I think the awareness that we have a coal plant in downtown Springfield just increased by 1,000% after the Illinois Times cover article.

What's most troubling is how close it is to Springfield's main hospitals and the widely promoted regional Medical District. The plant has no equipment to control nitrogen oxides (NOx), and no scrubbers for sulfur dioxide (SO2) or mercury.

These pollutants are known to cause a variety of health problems including respiratory problems, increased asthma attacks, emphysema, bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death. It's a particular risk for children, the elderly, and people with lung diseases such as asthma.

The plant is four blocks away from the emergency rooms I went to when I had major childhood asthma attacks!


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The one positive note, as the article points out, is that it uses a small volume of coal. But, the fact that you rarely see smoke coming out of the stack does not make it clean. There are dangerous pollutants coming from this plant regularly.

Sadly, I think this was Ryan Nave's last article for the Illinois Times. I'll miss the perspective and insights he brought to Springfield. Oddly enough, he also interviewed me for his first IT article back in June of 2005.


September 1, 2009

Facts banned from oil industry rally

Several environmental organizations sent press spokespersons to the "energy citizens" rally organized by the oil industry in Springfield today. I went for the Sierra Club and gave several interviews. We decided not to stage any sort of counter-demonstration and things went smoothly.

However, I did manage to get banned from the event for trying to speak with reporters.

At one point, before things began, I went into the ballroom where the rally was held to look for any reporters we may have missed. I asked one of the cameramen behind a table labeled for press if he was with a network but the entire row of cameras were set up by the event organizers.

That's when someone from the event staff started asking who I was and who I was with. I explained that I was looking for reporters. He kept pestering me about who I was and what I was carrying so I finally gave him a copy of the press statements I had with me. He walked off and started talking down into a microphone in his shirt. I looked around a little more, and after not spotting any new reporters, left the ballroom.

I was wondering if they would overreact when event staff kept walking to the doorway and talking while looking in my direction. Eventually, another person walked up to me after talking into his shirt. He told me I wasn't allowed to re-enter the ballroom because I was distributing materials.

I pointed out that I didn't distribute materials to anyone other than the press release I gave to their staff person who asked for a copy. "Bob" replied that I was banned because their staff saw me distributing materials and that wasn't allowed by anyone other than the sponsoring organizations. I responded that I knew I had been seen because I gave it to their staff person who asked for it.

He finally made the odd statement that we both "knew what our roles were today." My role was to provide a differing viewpoint to the press. I guess his role was to prevent the distribution of accurate information.

Another press spokesperson had been standing next to me during this conversation. When he later attempted to enter the ballroom, without carrying any materials, he was barred from entry by two Sangamon County Sheriff's deputies. He had never distributed literature of any kind but they used that same excuse.

Be forewarned that the act of standing next to me is apparently enough to get someone banned from an energy citizens rally. I'm a little proud of that.

Rally organizer and oil industry lobbyists David Sykuta has been quoted in the local press asking people to study and fully examine the ACES bill. But, judging by their ban on outside materials for the press and public, they want to make sure the only thing you study is one-sided propaganda from polluters.

I wasn't too worried about missing anything at the rally. I heard some interesting stories about Cubs and Bears banners being waved around the room while a live band played. One person told me it was like a High School pep rally.

It was interesting to see who attended. I spotted State Representatives Raymond Poe and Rich Brauer along with Senator Larry Bomke. I'm told Aaron Shcock and John Shimkus sent representatives. I said hello to the county board member I ran against three years ago.

They even brought in the big guns from out of town. Robert Murray, CEO of "the largest privately owned coal company in America" was giving interviews. I recognized his name but I wish I had remembered more about him and his company before I left. I'm sure we could have had an interesting conversation.

It all happened at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which is conveniently located near the I-55 exit for everyone they bussed in from out of town. It was an interesting day. I'll post pictures soon.