It ain’t right to charge a man for tryin’ to make a livin’

This is why we have government regulations. This is why some people think we shouldn’t:

“I got paid to do a job. And I was hired for money.”

“Granted, it was wrong. Hell, it would have taken an hour to cut it up, cut it up. And by that time, you done caused a big ruckus.” It takes longer and it costs more to do it right.

It’s pretty clear why they did it: “Honestly, I figured I could do it and not get caught.”

Which is why we have enforcement of government regulations (ideally, anyway).

But, you know, it’s just those big-guvmint regulations out of control, trying to keep the little business owner down: “Licensed and insured, no? I just do it just to do it. .. Nah, I ain’t no big time company man. I ain’t got none of that.  I’m just an individual trying to make a livin.’ ”

How do you try to evade responsibility for ignoring the law: “And we’re gonna get charged for trying cut down a tree to make money? That’s wrong. Don’t you think that’s wrong? Trying to get charged for making money? … Don’t you think that’s wrong at all? You do, don’t you? It ain’t right to blame a man for trying to make a livin?”

It’ would be wrong, the newscaster said, “If you do the job right.” They did not.

This is a funny little clip, but it also seems to exemplify a bigger problem. These two gentleman see government regulation as an impediment to making a living. And, to the extent that’s what they’re trying to do, it is. But it’s also about making sure that people more interested in making a dollar or getting to the lake with their girlfriends don’t take shortcuts that end up getting in everyone else’s way. Their attitude seems awfully similar to Republicans and Democrats alike who put the interests of industry – especially industries that donate – above the common good.

I’m reminded of the coal industry and its political supporters*. What industry are you reminded of?

It’s easy to see why these two guys are wrong. Can we apply this lesson more broadly?

*For the record, every coal miner I’ve met in my life is way smarter and more responsible than either of these guys. I’m talking about the folks running the operation and the politicians who support them. Their decisions, unlike these guys, are a result of applying the profit motive, not an underdeveloped intelligence.

Good riddance to the Glen Lyn plant

Word from AEP that it will most likely be shuttering its 90-plus year-old Glen Lyn plant is unequivocally good news. You wouldn’t know that by the reaction of some politicians, though, who complain that new EPA regulations behind the closure will cost jobs.

“When they spend billions of dollars, we’re going to pay every penny of that” in higher electricity bills, U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, told The Roanoke Times. “It’s a huge cost, and it’s all because of the EPA.” West Virginia’s Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, for instance, sent out a release complaining that West Virginia would lose more than 200 jobs because of plant closures announced there as part of AEP: “Today’s announcement by AEP reinforces the belief that the EPA is out of touch with the economic impact of their overreaching regulations,” Tomblin wrote.

Griffith and Tomblin act like the EPA is doing this just to be mean or to intentionally hurt the economy. But the fact is that closing the Glen Lyn plant will save lives. According to a study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force, pollution from the Glen Lyn plant is responsible for 31 deaths a year, as well as 47 heart attacks and 480 asthma attacks.

These new stricter nationwide standards for mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions will prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks and 12,000 emergency room visits. The EPA estimates the cost of compliance will be around $10 billion, but the economic benefit will be closer to $100 billion.

Griffith and Tomblin want to merely whine about the cost without considering the benefits, including lives saved.

The Glen Lyn plant is an ancient, dirty beast that has polluted Virginia’s air and sickened and killed those who live near it. Its demise should be celebrated and, if possible, hastened even further.


What happened to the liberal media, part 2

Nothing like a one-sided report about one-sided congressional hearings. WVMetroNews – an operation that gives lie to the notion of some monolithic liberal media cabal – ran an article about yesterday’s EPA-bashing hearings in the U.S. House. Dutifully, WVMetroNews reported all the dire warnings from coal industry apologists about how the EPA’s recent enhanced scrutiny of coal mining permits threatened the very existence of the coal industry in West Virginia, including thousands of jobs.

Now, this was a terribly one-sided hearing. House Republicans didn’t invite any residents of Appalachia to testify about the impacts of mountaintop removal on their communities. No scientists were invited to testify about the extensive environmental damage caused by current mining practices. But, unlike the first hearing, this one did at least have someone from the EPA to defend the agency.

If your only information about the hearing came from WVMetroNews, you’d know that official was there, but you wouldn’t have a clue what she said. This is all the ink WVMetroNews gave her:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was scheduled to be on hand to address the subcommittee, but did not show up.  Instead a second tier representative of her office was on hand.

I wrote about Nancy Stoner’s comments for a post on the Appalachian Center’s new blog. She defended the agency’s handling of coal permits and pointed out numerous scientific studies outlining the dangers to water quality and other environmental hazards associated with current mining practices that justify a stricter look at permits.

WVMetroNews readers wouldn’t know anything about that, unfortunately. It borders on journalistic malpractice.

The dangers of climate-change denialism

Fred Hiatt discusses the predilection of current Republican officeholders to engage in fantasy in an excellent column in this morning’s Washington Post. He talks about the mostly harmless but bizarre fantasies – such as the belief that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. But there are more harmful fantasies – such as the belief that taxes should only go down, never up or that the overwhelming scientific consensus that mankind is contributing to global warming doesn’t exist.

As Hiatt points out, it was not so long ago that the Republican leadership acknowledged the seriousness of climate change and agreed with the need for a cap-and-trade policy (a conservative, market-driven solution, by the way) to deal with it. This may be hard to remember, but the McCain-Palin ticket endorsed a cap-and-trade proposal, saying it would “harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels.”

By 2010, every single Republican contender for the U.S. Senate was a climate-change denier. In 2011, the House Energy and Climate Committee rejected an amendment acknowledging the scientific consensus that global warming, caused by man, is happening and poses a major threat.

And the candidates lining up for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 are running from any previous support they may have had for cap-and-trade or other ways to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Hiatt singles out Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who once supported cap-and-trade and does at least admit the climate is warming. But when Hiatt asked him recently if mankind contributed, his office said that was unknown, even though, as Hiatt put it, if you ask 1,000 scientists, 998 would say human activity was a large contributor to warming. As Hiatt summed up:

Does Pawlenty believe what he says now? I’ve spoken with the former Minnesota governor. I know he is a smart man. As recently as 2008 he was supporting congressional action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I do not believe that he believes those 998 scientists are wrong.

Which leads to another question: Should we feel better if a possible future president is not ignorant about the preeminent environmental danger facing our planet, but only calculating or cowardly?

Using food for fuel is a really bad idea

Here’s a story from the New York Times that’s worth using up one of your 20 allotted free stories for the month:

The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

Across the globe, food prices are rising dramatically, even as developing nations adopt ever more ambitious goals for converting to nonfossil fuels. In the United States, the price of corn went up 73 percent in the last half of 2010 alone. According to The Times, “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that its index of food prices was the highest in its more than 20 years of existence.”

Experts in the global food supply don’t argue for giving up on biofuels, but they think a more flexible approach is needed when prices increase. “The policy really has to be food first,” Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank told The Times. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

That, and encouraging more research into using non-food sources for biofuels – remember President Bush’s promise to boost research into using switch grass?

Transocean sticks foot in mouth, twice

First, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that blew up last year, killing 11 workers and causing a massive oil spill, made the incomprehensible statement that 2010 was the “best year in safety performance in our company’s history.” If that’s true, well, it doesn’t speak well for Transocean Ltd.’s safety record. If it’s not true, then Transocean’s executives probably shouldn’t have been given bonuses and raises partly for the company’s “performance under safety.”

But then, after the wording in the proxy statement caused a controversy, the company put out another statement acknowledging that talk of 2010 being the company’s best year for safety “may have been insensitive in light of the incident that claimed the lives of eleven exceptional men last year…”

Gee, you think?

He doesn’t even have a clue that he doesn’t have a clue

OK, I promised not to spend all my time picking on Don Surber’s ridiculously right-wing blog, but this post requires some ridicule. Surber picks up on an article from The California Institute of Technology that discusses why New York is so much colder than Portugal, even though they’re at the same latitude. The article explains that for a long time this was thought to be because the Gulf current carried heat from warmer waters toward Europe, but research found that could only be responsible for 10 percent of the difference. What Cal Tech researchers recently discovered is that the Gulf current is responsible, but not because it warms Europe. Instead, the warm water off the coast of the United States creates conditions that cool the Eastern coast:

Using computer simulations of the atmosphere, the researchers found that the warm water off an eastern coast will heat the air above it and lead to the formation of atmospheric waves, drawing cold air from the northern polar region. The cold air forms a plume just to the west of the warm water. In the case of the Atlantic Ocean, this means the frigid air ends up right over the northeastern United States and eastern Canada.

Surber completely misses this. “No one in California has heard of the Gulf Stream? No one?” he asks. Uh, yeah. They’ve heard of it, Don. But scientific research proved the current wasn’t warming Europe.

He then goes on to criticize the researchers for accepting funding from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the the National Science Foundation, claiming that somehow the researchers are “repackaging the Gulf Stream as proof of global warming to advance a socialistic agenda,” even though, at least from the Cal Tech article, the researchers don’t appear to be linking this to global warming at all.

Don completely misconstrued the point of the research, and left his readers with a totally false impression. Sadly, that is what he often does.


‘The Dark Lord of Coal’

Don BlankenshipIf I have one regret about rejoining the fight in Appalachia now, it’s this: I’m coming back too late to help get rid of this scumbag. Don Blankenship “resigned” as CEO of Massey Energy late last year, a week after Rolling Stone published this devastating profile. I doubt the two events were related. Massey shareholders had been growing increasingly restless with Blankenship’s Snidely Whiplash routine and, as the federal investigation into the Upper Big Branch mine disaster heated up, his departure was all but inevitable.

Still, the profile was powerfully damning. It revealed Blankenship’s true self: the ruthless reincarnation of a 19th century coal baron. Blankenship didn’t hesitate to utterly destroy anyone who stood in the way of profit – whether it was unions or competing coal companies. He used any means possible, up to and including buying a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court – an act so brazen it led to an unusual U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing the Supreme Court justice installed by Blankenship to recuse himself in a $50 million lawsuit against Massey.

The article’s conclusion nicely summed up the tragedy of Blankenship’s life story: “Given his local roots and his business acumen, he might have helped West Virginia turn toward the future and imagine itself as something more than a landscape to be raped and pillaged by greedy industrialists. Instead, he has become just another coal baron, a symbol of all the worst impulses of American capitalism.”

Blankenship stepped down and Massey is being sold to Alpha Natural Resources. Everything won’t suddenly be right in West Virginia as a result, of course. But it will be just a little righter.