Dirty South Bureau

June 6, 2011

Open letter to Louisiana Congressman John Fleming (R-Minden)

Filed under: energy,environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 1:05 pm

I was greatly disappointed by the lack of vision or even contact with reality betrayed by your statements at a recent U.S. House Natural Resource Committee hearing, where you stated that you had never met anyone who has a green job.

I am one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who has a green job, writing about the global solar industry. This industry alone employs 93,000 Americans.

The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st century estimates that there were 3 million renewable energy jobs globally in 2009.

It is true that many states, particularly Louisiana, do not have the share of green jobs that we could have – largely due to the actions the Republican Party, of which you are a member, at the national level, and of a painful lack of foresight by politicians from both parties in Louisiana.

However, even here green job growth is a reality on the ground. Notable examples include Blade Dynamics’ plans for a new factory in New Orleans East to make wind turbines, which will create 600 jobs by 2015 with an average salary of $48,000 annually.

In recent weeks, Alexandria metal manufacturer AFCO Industries received one of its largest orders ever for an estimated 37 truckloads of aluminum for a solar energy project in California.

We have a stark choice in Louisiana as to whether we will join in the global energy revolution, or be left behind. The lack of vision shown by leaders including yourself puts the future of the state at great risk.

Christian Roselund
New Orleans

April 21, 2011

My response to Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, or, Poorly executed falsehoods at the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana — christian @ 6:42 pm

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit’s meeting: “Strategies for Developing Clean Energy in the U.S. Gulf Coast”.

The Gulf Coast Leadership Summit was an odd sort of conference. In a hotel conference room (nothing good happens in hotel conference rooms), well-dressed, well-heeled professionals and politicians discussed the future of our region. Which is problematic, as many of these “leaders” are the very people who have enacted and supported political decisions to assure that we have no future.

I am speaking specifically of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, Representative Steve Scalise, former Representative Joseph Cao, and of course, Charles Rice, the new CEO of Entergy New Orleans.


Hoary lies: Entergy and renewables

Mr. Rice was a panelist on the “strategies for developing clean energy” panel, which is also odd; as he does not appear to have any strategies or interest in developing clean energy. Instead, he offered a series of poorly thought out and disingenuous excuses, which – sorry, Louisiana – utility executives do not dare to try in other parts of this nation or the developed world.

Among Mr. Rice’s statements, one stood out as truly absurd – his claim that “wind is five times as expensive as natural gas”. It was very unfortunately that my one question – the only one that was allowed – was limited by a hostile moderator who claimed that we had gone over time. However, Mr. Rice asked me to back up my statement, which was that natural gas is around six cents a kilowatt-hour and wind eight to nine, so I will.

LCOE details – how much do wind and natural gas cost?

Now, the technical details. First, we tend to measure this cost in levelized cost of electricity – the cost of power produced over the lifetime of generation units. This is problematic and somewhat arbitrary for several reasons. First, for those energy sources with fuel inputs – like natural gas – the costs of these inputs have to be estimated. Second, organizations tend to have their own proprietary LCOE models.

Third, the cost of any type of generation depends upon the region. However, since Mr. Rice made such a broad statement, I assume we are talking about national averages.

A quick web search found Energy Information Administration (EIA) data offering U.S. levelized costs 2009 for plants entering service in 2016. The EIA is a problematic source. Among other deficiencies, they tend to vastly under-report solar electric (photovoltaic) electricity generation, but they are a good starting point.

The EIA estimates natural gas plants at between USD 0.0631/kWh for advanced combined cycle plants and USD 0.0661 for conventional combined cycle plants. Other natural gas technologies are as high as USD 0.1245/kWh.

Or as I said – six cents per kWh.

The report also estimates wind at USD 0.097/kWh, however it also assumes that the best sites for wind will be taken, and that generation will move to less favorable areas. The cost it estimates for the best sites is USD 0.082/kWh.

OK – eight to ten (not nine) cents per kWh.

Greentech media researcher Brett Prior gave similar numbers a 2010 report, but put wind at USD 0.074/kWh and combined cycle natural gas plants at USD 0.062/kWh.

Just for reference – we who live in New Orleans pay a retail rate of around USD 0.14/kWh – well above both of these costs. I highly doubt that Entergy is getting USD 0.06/kWh out of its cranky, inefficient old Michoud natural gas plant, which it runs to supply a portion of our demand at times of peak power usage.


Renewable energy in Louisiana – sugar and sun

Clearly this was a clumsy attempt to discredit renewables, but it was also a red herring. Like the rest of the Deep South, Louisiana has very limited land-based wind resources.

What we have, in spades, is biomass in the form of crop residues – notably sugarcane bagasse and rice hulls, as well as lumber mill residues. All of these residues are already brought to a central location for processing.

Bagasse is also already burned to supply steam and power – but not efficiently, as sugar mill owners cannot get a decent price for their power from Entergy, and thus do not invest in modern, efficient boilers.

We also have moderately good solar potential – though far better than Germany (the world solar leader), or Ontario (North America’s second largest solar market).

Solar is significant for our state for a number of reasons. It was noted during the panel that we get only five or so hours of peak solar output per day, which Mr. Rice used as an excuse to discredit solar as a source of power.

What Mr. Rice did not mention is that these are the five hours when we most need power, and when it is most expensive for Entergy to generate electricity to feed our need for, among other things, air conditioning.

This greater need for power during some periods is called peak load.


Solar and putting a price on peak load

What does supplying peak load cost, in terms of dollars and cents? I have been searching for an answer to this question for some time. Recently, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) put out a program for mid-sized renewables, which while lackluster (far better than any utility policy Entergy has put forward) offered a novel price approach – rates paid are for time of generation, both by time of day and month.

The lowest rate paid for the program is for generation at night during the winter, at USD 0.0443. The highest rate is for afternoons in summer months, at USD 0.160.

The TVA values power produced during peak periods almost four times as highly. Which is relevant because the TVA’s service area – Tennessee, Kentucky, and Northern Alabama and Mississippi – has a similar climate. If anything, peak power should be worth more in Louisiana, where the need for summer cooling is more intense.

So in truth, we should compare solar not to our average electricity rates, but some multiple thereof, as solar produces the most power during these periods. And suddenly solar is not so expensive.

I will also note that the choice of natural gas is the most favorable to Entergy. Entergy is the second largest operator of nuclear power plants, and last time I checked the River Bendd Plant (one of two nuke plants in Louisiana – the other, Waterford 3, is in Killona) was looking to install a new reactor.

The IEA’s estimate for “advanced” nuclear is USD 0.1139, which is actually quite favorable, as many estimates are putting nuclear much higher due to escalating costs for engineering services and steel, not to mention the inevitable cost overruns that the nuclear industry is famous for.

Of course, none of this includes the other costs associated with Entergy’s fuels of choice – nuclear and natural gas, including the poisoning of groundwater from fracking to obtain shale gas, the issues of spent fuel disposal from nuclear power, or multiple safety issues with both technologies.

Conclusion: the problem is our utility

Diversification of our energy sources to include renewable energy is a financially viable if not superior option for practically all regions of the world, Louisiana and the Deep South included. All that is needed are the policies to make this happen.

It would be wonderful if we could all sit down at the table, sing Kumbabaya, and build a clean energy economy. But some people are not interested in Louisiana developing its renewable energy potential.

Entergy wants to keep us dependent upon dirty, dangerous natural gas and nukes, and has fought tooth and nail, with small armies of lawyers, to assure that we do not develop 21st century clean energy industries. I saw this personally while part of the Alliance for Affordable Energy’s campaign for a renewable portfolio standard in 2009-2010.

So if you wonder why we have no real renewable energy development in Louisiana, and no “green jobs”, look no further than that large, dark building in the CBD. And your power bill.

April 9, 2011

Fukushima on the Gulf Coast: What the media isn’t telling you about the human costs of energy disasters

Watching the tragedy in Fukushima unfold, in recent weeks, I saw a sickening replay of a familiar script. As the magnitude of the dangers posed by the radiation leaks and ongoing failure to control the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were unveiled, their coverage on the main pages of world news outlets decreased.

You could blame it on the public; we have short attention spans. You don’t have to be very far away from these disasters, it seems, to become easily jaded. But if the American public has short attention spans, I will argue that it is because we have been trained to be so, by the Pavlovian conditioning of the daily assault of mass media and advertising. Easily distracted people are easy to sell things to.

But more importantly, easily distracted people also easily forget what their neighbors are going through, even if these are grave crimes. Which serves the spin-masters in the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company just as well as it has our own U.S. government and BP for the past year. If you can hide the worst details of a disaster in the early days, when they come out later fewer people are paying attention.

Which is exactly has happened in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Not yet a year has passed, and the coverage of the real costs to people who live on the Gulf Coast of this disaster are utterly absent from the pages of mainstream American media.

Which is what I am asking you, reader, to overcome.

The gross failure of the media

As a journalist I am particularly angry about the role that the media has played and is playing in downplaying the risks that people face from these disasters, a pattern which I have witnessed both in Fukushima and in the oil flood following the Deepwater Horizon accident.

In our complex, technological, contemporary society the media fills a very important role in informing the public about what is actually going on in the world. However, it seems that to many media outlets and journalists, this role is secondary to managing public perceptions. The role that journalists take mirror that of government and corporate public relations, in that keeping the public calm takes priority.

Or it could be that many journalists themselves do not do sufficient research to find out what the real dangers are. However, I find that highly unlikely given how easy it is to find much of this information from credible sources.

Regardless of why, in both disasters the majority of large, and some local media outlets have failed us by failing to warn the public of the actual dangers that we face from these disasters. The most obvious way was by not warning the public of the worst health effects, though it is significant that the media also frequently fails to report on these health effects as they are revealed.

Media failures in Fukushima

For a long time I was a big fan of the BBC. I felt like I was getting a more balanced, more global, less corporate-influenced version of the news. That confidence is gone. Again and again I have watched the BBC downplay the dangers that the Japanese people face, even as the United States government set a much higher recommended evacuation zone and the head of France’s nuclear agency stated that the accident is an INES level 6 – the second highest rating, less severe only than Chernobyl.

Meanwhile, the BBC, which seems to be taking its cues from the Japanese government, has repeatedly cited the Japanese government’s absurd initial rating of INES level 4. The Japanese government later admitted that the accident is an INES level 5, days after U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the world that the accident was worse than Three Mile Island (a five on the INES scale.)

I now realize there are Judith Millers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Japanese government is interested in downplaying its own liability for allowing Tokyo Electric Power Company to build these plants on a fault line. It doesn’t want a huge health disaster on its hands, and it appears to be doing what President Barack Obama’s administration did after the Deepwater Horizon oil flood – lying its way out of responsibility for what had happened and its inability (unwillingness?) to control a large corporation.

Meanwhile, not only the BBC but a number of media organizations seemed to go out of their way to downplay radiation fears, regurgitating official statistics about the lack of cancer deaths associated with past nuclear accidents. But as the child of a cancer survivor, I know that when someone gets cancer, you never know exactly why, so it is impossible to track all the cases of cancer to which exposure to radiation contributed.

And again, I must cite conflict of interest: government officials have a material interest in not being liable for giving people cancer, not having to deal with public health crises in which they may be implicated, and not interrupting the status quo of power generation.

It is interesting to note that I have seen this in other stories by the BBC, including a story about an Taiwanese factory producing iPhones were workers were exposed to n-hexane, a chemical found in the blood of Gulf Coast residents. The article mentions more superficial effects, but never that n-hexane is toxic to the nervous system.

In high enough doses radiation causes cancer and birth defects. Let’s be clear on that one. The Fukushima disaster has led to very high levels of radioactivity in the ocean and in the air near the plants.


Media failures in the Gulf Coast BP oil disaster

This all follows the play book I saw after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Again and again I watched both U.S. national media and the New Orleans Times-Picayune fall down on the job.

In May 2010, Journalist Tom Philpott of Grist Magazine reported that one of the main ingredients in one of the two varieties of Corexit that BP was spraying contained 2-Butoxyethanol, which causes birth defects and testicular damage in rats (no data for human testing is available for obvious reasons). NIH analysis here: http://hazmap.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/hazmap_generic?tbl=TblAgents&id=129

I never saw the words “birth defects” “reproductive harm” or “testicular damage” in any of the media coverage following the gulf oil flood until a group I worked with organized a rally in Baton Rouge to call for an end to the spraying of Corexit, specifically citing these dangers. After that, the concept again disappeared from the media.

Even when legendary Chemist Wilma Subra (winner of the 2011 Global Exchange Human Rights Award) came to New Orleans to directly address the issue of impacts of the oil and dispersant, and specifically addressed the potential for birth defects, miscarriages and reproductive harm, the Times-Picayune still failed to talk about these dangers.

The article produced, which was better than many before it, specifically mentioned: “skin irritation, nausea, headaches and vomiting… liver and kidney damage, cardiac arrhythmia and chronic respiratory problems”. Journalist Bill Barrow also mentioned that benzene causes cancer – one of the few times that I have seen the word “cancer” in the media connected to this disaster.

Having your child born deformed is many magnitudes of severity greater than skin irritation.

On a technical note, a common practice has been to solely quote Material Safety Data Sheets. Which is dumb. Producing MSDS sheets is the responsibility of the manufacturer, which is a clear conflict of interest. They frequently do not include the most dangerous long-term effects. For a serious accounting of dangers, I refer to the National Institute of Health’s Haz-Map program – a program produced by a credible government organization that is a few steps removed from liability, and does not have the direct competing interests as do the corporations that make dangerous chemicals.

I must also note that in addition to Grist, one other media outlet deserves praise for their forthright coverage of what is happening in the Gulf: Al Jazeera. Looking at their coverage of this disaster, one wonders if Al-Jazeera exists on the same planet as the Times-Picayune and the BBC.

I never thought I would join the activists in Mobile Alabama in praising a media network from a monarchy in the Middle East for their coverage of a local issue. We truly live in strange times.

What is going on in the Gulf

I have very bad news for Gulf residents, which I have waited until after Mardi Gras to deliver for my New Orleans readers.

We have evidence that the seafood from the Gulf is contaminated with high levels of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, and that the FDA instead changed the acceptable levels to avoid warning you.

Cleanup workers and residents who live in coastal parishes and counties the near the Gulf have been poisoned. A large number are reporting serious health effects, and the blood tests that have come back from some of those suffering these health effects show highly elevated levels of highly toxic hydrocarbons including benzene (which causes cancer), ethylbenze (which may cause cancer, damages the liver, and is toxic to the nervous system), xylene and hexane (which is toxic to the nervous system).

This information is all from the National Institute of Health’s Haz-Map program and Chemist Wilma Subra. The full information from Ms. Subra is available here: http://leanweb.org/news/latest/making-the-connection-2011.html.

I refer you to the earlier information about 2-butoxyethanol and birth defects and reproductive harm. Since we have seen every other health impact associated with these chemicals, there is no reason to believe that we will not see these.

In case you didn’t get the memo the first time around, the government will not tell you, there is a serious health crisis in parts of Southeast Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Gulf Coast, and it is not going away because the cameras have left.

We must transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power

I pray for the residents of Fukushima Prefecture and the residents of Northern Japan, as well as for the residents of the Gulf that none of their families must suffer this terrible outcome, as did families in the Ukraine and Belarus following the Chernobyl disaster.

But we must be clear – cancer, birth defects, and the poisoning of whole regions – these are the human costs of our dependence upon unsustainable energy sources, the drive of large corporations to make a profit at any cost, and the deep collusion between governments and corporations. We will pay them again and again until we make profound changes in the way we use energy, and change the structure of our society.

Moving to a sane and sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure – meaning renewable energy, high speed rail and other forms of efficient mass transit – isn’t just about feeling good about “going green”. It is about people’s lives – whether that is in Navarre Beach Florida, Venice Louisiana, or Fukushima, Japan.

In the short run, people on the Gulf Coast need to have this addressed as a real health crisis and the result of a poisoning, so that they can access the resources that they need.

April 3, 2011

Oath of Menes

Filed under: environment — christian @ 8:15 pm

I don’t normally post fiction to this blog, or other people’s work. However I recently had the pleasure of meeting a man who has written a beautiful piece that speaks to the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and our relationship to nuclear power. Without further ado, I present the Oath of Menes, by William Simmons of Van Horn, Texas.

Oath of Menes
 
 
My name is Menes, Eternal King over Egypt, and first Pharaoh in Upper Egypt. I have reigned here since 3100 years before what you in the West call the Common Era, or for about 5100 years.
 
I started my reign here at around the same time that we thought to write down the events of our lives. We carved these writings into stone; but 400 years after the start of my reign, one of my servants devised a material called papyrus, and we started recording on it many more of the events of our lives.
 
Over the centuries, we recorded how we strove with each other, and how we strove with other peoples around us. Apart from our own internal wars, we fought with, and overcame, and sometimes were overcome by, the Persians, the Hyksos, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Turks, the French, the English, and, now, the Israelis.
 
We wrote down many things, but some things I regarded as too precious to record. At the beginning of my reign, the gods revealed to us a potent source of power contained in a few sacred metals. These metals had to be refined, and highly purified in order to harness their power. But after they were purified, they became dangerous to all living things which approached them. The gods would permit me to use them, but only if I would swear an eternal oath to take custody of this material until it was no longer a danger to the sons of man.

Alas, in my avarice for power, I undertook this obligation, which is why I stll linger, and have not yet laid my head to rest and joined the rest of my people.
 
Over the centuries, I held firm to my solemn oath in the knowledge that, by discharging it faithfully, I would be protecting the sons and daughters of man from the results of my own pride. But, less than one short century ago, what was given to me by the gods, you discovered yourselves, and now you are playing with the sacred metals, having taken no oath to protect either yourselves, or your children, from its ravages.
 
And, now, I despair in my soul of my oath. I have watched as you have indulged in the same acts of hubris in which I indulged so long ago; but you commit these acts without the willingness to take on the yoke of obligation to protect your people. For all the 5100 years that I have lingered on this earth, I have not yet discharged even one-fifth of my oath for the Plutonium-239, and not even one-millionth of my oath for the Uranium-235.
 
Let me tell you clearly that you will not be able to responsibly care for these metals and guard your children unless you are willing to live nearly forever. As I have watched human history unfold, I have not seen one dynasty, kingdom, regime, civilization, or political system which has endured long enough to actually undertake a responsible commitment to protect others from these metals. I alone have lingered on this earth for 51 centuries, and I have only discharged one-fifth of my obligation for the metal with the shortest half-life. And, after I retreated with my metals to the underworld, my kindom was overrun by the Persians, the Hyksos, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Turks, the French, the English, and the Israelis.  Any plan to responsibly maintain custody of these metals cannot endure such upheavals–not to mention the unpredictable ravages of the gods: earth tremors, mountains of fire, towering waves, blinding winds, ruinous rains, blistering sun, and bone-chilling cold.
 
I tell you bluntly that humankind is incapable of being a responsible custodian of these metals, even if he wanted to be. In the first place, he does not live long enough. Moreover, the institutions, which he might set up to act as a custodian of these metals, do not last long enough, because man is too given to war. The civilizations which he erects rise and fall like the tide on the shoals of human history.  Any commitment to maintain custody over fuels so long since spent will fade quickly in the memories of the sons of man.  And, in the end, man is primarily concerned with himself, and not nearly concerned enough for his neighbor.  To think that man has even the remotest chance of bringing such an awesome commitment to term is the height of hubris.

October 15, 2010

Voting records on energy issues, Louisiana candidates in Nov 2, 2010 federal elections

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,The Feds — christian @ 10:41 pm

I’ve talked a lot on this blog of late about the importance of energy and environmental issues in the November 2, 2010 congressional elections, and I feel like it’s time to back that up with some data. Things like party lines are not always indicators of the way an elected official will vote on a particular issue, though for Republicans, voting patterns on party lines have been more clear lately.

So how do the candidates we are going to vote for in the November 2, 2010 election measure up on energy issues? Obviously I have my own opinions about which policies are the most important, but I decided it would me more complete and fair if I used the list of legislation collected by Project Vote Smart for the last two years. Here we go:

Louisiana Senatorial Candidates

U.S. Representative Charlie Melancon

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – yes
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – yes
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – yes

U.S. Senator David Vitter (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no vote taken
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – folded into HR3534 – see below
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – folded into unrelated bill*
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no vote yet
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no vote yet

* – it would be unfair to rank a vote on this bill, as Cash for Clunkers became an amendment to a much larger spending bill in the Senate, so the vote by Vitter could have been for or against the larger bill, not this amendment.

Louisiana Second District Congressional Candidates

U.S. Representative Joseph Cao (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no

Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond

Now, this is going to be a little different. Cedric Richmond has been in the Louisiana legislature, where the bills are different, and VoteSmart had no records, so I took a sampling of the bills that renewable energy advocates the Alliance for Affordable Energy supported in 2009, and added the solar tax credit passed in 2007.

2007 HB90 – solar tax credit – yes
2009 HB858 – expands eligibility for the solar tax credit – no
2009 SB224 – allows for construction of municipal finance program for solar and energy efficiency – yes
2009 HB733 “green jobs” tax credit – yes

Legislation sponsored in 2009:

H.B. 850 – Providing incentives to utility-scale renewable energy producers. Bill died in committee.

So there’s my data, as objective as I could find. The objective part ends here.

Analysis

Key national bills: I personally think the stimulus (HR1) was the creme de la creme of progressive energy bills. The $23 billion for renewable energy projects has funded renewable energy projects in most states. The investments in regional passenger rail are critical to reducing petroleum usage, and hell, reducing traffic. Section 1603, which turned the federal solar tax credit into a grant has been critical for the solar industry since tax equity funding dried up with the recession. But don’t take my word for it – ask the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Second in importance I would rank HR 2454, the “cap and trade” bill. However, do not mistake that for an endorsement. The bill was over a thousand pages long and full of loopholes, but never mind that – cap and trade was the worst carbon regulation idea that has ever been taken seriously. I’m personally much more fond of greenhouse gas regulation at the EPA level, or at least a “cap and dividend” approach, as was sponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Delaware), that would refund the proceeds of the program to American public in our tax refunds. Better yet is the national renewable portfolio standard that Senator Udall (D-New Mexico) has proposed.

However, HR 2454 was a key bill and a barometer of how much a candidate supported the idea of carbon regulation. Needless to say, none of the three candidates who could have voted on it from Louisiana supported it.

The other bills, while important, kind of pale before these two, large measures.

Now, for an analysis of candidates – Melancon is a Blue Dog who is not progressive on energy issues. Nonetheless, he is the only one of Louisiana’s seven congressmen who voted for the stimulus. That was, in the words of our Vice President Joe Biden “a big f***ing deal”.

Vitter is a loyal member of the party of No and would have voted against ACES if he had the chance. While there isn’t much to see from his voting record, besides the “No” vote on the stimulus, that is because most of these bills couldn’t even make it to a vote in a Senate which has set a new bar for obstructiveness.

Joseph Cao: Cao voted as a loyal Republican on party lines in key energy votes, voting against the stimulus, cap and trade, and most every other key vote for the Obama Administration. That means that he was a disaster for progressive energy policies.

Cedric Richmond: Hard to say by the votes alone. I’ve seen the Louisiana Legislature vote almost unanimously on any uncontroversial bill that comes out of committee. So in Richmond’s “yes” votes, he was joined by nearly every other member of the Louisiana house.

However, I would also note the bill that he sponsored, H.B. 850. While the bill hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell given the budget war between Jindal and the Legislature and never made it out of committee, it was by far the most aggressive bill I saw in that session for expanding renewable energy in the state. Judged by his legislative record, Richmond appears very supportive of progressive energy policies, and even a leader.

Feel free to comment, particularly if you have any other votes that you think should be tracked, or if you want data for other federal races in Louisiana.

September 15, 2010

Towards a politics of results, or I am voting Democrat for solar panels, high speed rail and wind turbine factories and you should too.

Filed under: environment,Louisiana,Other — christian @ 7:49 pm

Why I have returned to the Democratic Party: voting for results

For the first time in ten years, I have returned a staunch if critical supporter of the US Democratic Party in the 2010 congressional elections. Many of my friends will ask why, after ten years as an active Green Party member and someone critical of our economic system I am supporting the Democrats, a mainstream party that gobbles up corporate donations, is inconsistent in its support of working people and the environment, supports wars in foreign lands and generally doesn’t seem to have a consistent ideology. Hell, I didn’t even vote for Obama; I didn’t believe he would do much for us. I was wrong.

In short: I am voting Democrat for high speed rail, wind turbine factories and solar panels. Because I vote for results, and the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats have delivered.

I work for a company reporting on the global solar industry, and that position allows me to closely monitor the news in energy policy.* There has been a lot that President Obama and Secretary Chu of the DOE have done that I do not like; namely the loan guarantees to Southern Company to build new nuclear reactors in Georgia. However, the more I look into it, the more the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act or “stimulus package”) is appearing to be the most important piece of legislation passed in my lifetime, and one that will begin to put this nation on a path towards a better future in tangible ways.

*Disclaimer: the writings on this blog do not represent the positions of my employer and never have.

The Dangers of Global Warming and dependence on finite resources

Most of you, like most of the world, are aware of the danger that man-made Global Warming poses for us, our children and our world. You know about the shrinking glaciers, you know about the opening up of the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean north of Russia to sea travel for the first time in recorded history. You may also know that Hurricane Expert Dr. Kerry Emanuel says that Global Warming gave Katrina the extra energy to destroy our poorly-made levees here in New Orleans. You may or may not know that record temperatures seriously damaged Russia’s wheat crop this year, and that flooding in Bangladesh continues to worsen. And you may or may not know that if sea levels rise, you can kiss South Louisiana goodbye.

You also know that coal, petroleum and natural gas are finite, while our appetite for energy grows every year. And you know what happens when we go looking for oil farther and farther off shore. You also know that even Alan Greenspan has acknowledged that our war in Iraq was all about oil supply. You also know that people don’t voluntarily stop using energy. Therefore, any sane leader would put mass transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy industries at the top of the list of national and international priorities.

Nurturing the seeds of clean energy and new mass transit industries

Every few days I write another article from another state on some renewable energy program that has been funded by the Recovery Act. Whether it is a wind turbine factory in New Orleans East, a lithium-ion battery plant in Michigan, high-speed rail on the West Coast, the Midwest and Northeast, or just another run-of-the-mill solar incentive program, the Recovery Act has cast seeds of this better future far and wide.

It is now up to us to nurture and grow these seeds. Historically, new industries have not sprouted whole; they are typically nurtured by states through their early stages until they can become competitive. Nations that are not allowed to do this, as historically has been the case in the “developing” world (which never quite gets to developed) remain economically stunted. China right now is pouring heavy state support into its renewable energy industries, because it knows that these are the industries of the future. If we want to compete, we have to do the same. Period.

The benefits of doing this are not only good manufacturing jobs but fewer wars and other catastrophes, both from the crises that will inevitably occur when we exhaust our fossil fuel resources, but from the changes that Global Warming will cause when it manifests as shifting climate patterns.

Of course, people must live in the short run as well, and I will note that among other things, the Democrats are responsible for extending unemployment insurance and forcing health insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It is also important to note that the Democrats’ new legislation has abandoned the “free-market” Clintonite era and is embracing economic nationalism, which is a fancy term for keeping good jobs in this country.

The Right has No Plan

Which is exactly why I am strongly, if critically supporting the Democratic Party this fall. The Republicans have no answer to these crises except to thwart renewables (with the exception of Schwarzenegger), and to continue to subsidize fossil fuel generation. Hell, David Vitter (R), our whore-mongering hypocrite of a Senator here in Louisiana, even suggested that we bail out BP, a foreign corporation, after they destroyed the Gulf, poisoned the shore, and lied about everything.

Now I do want to note that President Obama does not have a spotless record either. He has given with one hand and taken away with the other. His EPA utterly failed us in the BP Oil Flood, and he deserves to be taken to task for this. However, Obama was not alone. Thirty years of mostly Republican Presidents have been whittling down agencies like the EPA and OSHA to the point where they are a failed model of protection. I’m not letting Obama off the hook. He failed us. However, not only might Republicans have done even worse, but they are part of that failure by fighting against environmental regulation and the interests of working people.

The Republican Party, whether in its mainstream or Tea Party variety stand not only for racism, war, and the entrenched interests of the rich and corporations, in its most visceral form, but for quarterly profits over the future for our children. They don’t believe in health and safety regulation, and they have no plan for when the oil runs out. Instead, they substitute racially tinged paranoia, moralistic arguments and economic mystification.

Furthermore, they are lying about their opposition to Big Government. They support a militarized border with your and my tax dollars, as well as social programs that will lead to an expansion of prisons and law enforcement. The Right in this country gave us the $800 billion Iraq adventure that left hundreds of thousands dead. They want a Big Government and they will need taxes for it; only their Big Government will give you war, police and prisons instead of healthcare, education and jobs. Never forget that our military is our biggest source of federal government expenses.

We can’t let these bastards take over congress this fall. We have too much to loose.

Voting in the larger scheme of things

My friends have ask me from time to time what I think needs to be done. We need real structural change in this country; namely we need to build real institutions by, of and for working and poor people, we need to disband the large corporations and nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, and we need a government and a society focused on sustainability (which will only come from the first two). Voting Democrat won’t get you there. But there are long-term programs and short-term fixes. Voting is a minimal form of political activity, and isn’t as important as belonging to or starting a union at your workplace, but it is important at times. This is one of those times.

Look at the policies that matter for our children and our future. Stop voting on name or even personal reputation, but on policies. These people aren’t Sunday school teachers, we’re hiring them to do a job, and that is to vote for our interests. And I urge each and every one of you to get politically active this fall, because this election matters.

Voting for results in Louisiana elections

Now, I want to make clear that I still don’t support Democrats because they are Democrats. I support the Democratic Party at this present moment because they are giving us meaningful policies for our future, and the minute they stop, so does my support. Also, I do not support certain right-wing Blue Dog Democrats, like Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Landrieu, a servant of the oil industry, has consistently conspired with her buddy Senator Lisa Murkowski to undo any effective regulation of greenhouse gases. She is a traitor to the future of our state and will be remembered as such.

I do support Charlie Melancon. I don’t agree with everything that he does, but he alone among Louisiana’s congressional delegation voted for the stimulus, and for God’s sake: he’s running against Vitter. And I strongly support Cedric Richmond against Cao, because Cao voted against the stimulus, health care reform and expansion of public lands. I don’t care if he’s nice to talk to, he’s a pawn of the big money and votes against our interests time and time again. Don’t let Slick Joe fool you.

There are other important races in other parts of the nation. We can’t afford to lose; too much rides in the balance. Pollsters are already predicting a Republican victory this Fall, and they will be buoyed by the unlimited money of corporations now that we the Supreme Court has turned our elections over to them. But it is not over yet.

Various organizations like MoveOn.org will ask for your money. I support MoveOn, and while both are important I say it is more important to talk to your neighbors and get active than to give money. We can’t outspend the corporations but we can out-mobilize them. We had better, as we are engaged in a national struggle for the future of our nation and our world.

Go get her done.

May 28, 2010

BP Oilmaggeddon update – protest Sunday May 30

Filed under: BP oil spill,environment,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 10:43 am

So Lisa Jackson has “clarified” that they merely “asked” BP to look into other dispersants. She is showing herself to be a total invertebrate and the Obama Administration so far has utterly failed us. I don’t care if Obama comes down here for a photo op; they need to make BP stop using dispersants that cause birth defects and destroy marine life, and they need to actually enforce health and safety instead of letting BP use South Louisiana fishermen and first responders as disposable. The reports that fishermen are not allowed to use masks is particularly horrible.

So you may ask, what are you doing about it? This Sunday, pissed-off New Orleans residents are having a rally at Jackson Square, at 1 PM. If you are in the region come by. Paul Orr from the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and someone from the Fishermen’s Association (probably George Barisich) will be speaking.

Among other things, we are calling for an end to the use of Corexit, the seizure of BP’s assets, and the declaration of a disaster.

more at murderedgulf.wordpress.com

I sincerely hope the “top kill” works. But whether or not it does, we still have a disaster of unbelievable proportions down here that will continue to go on long after the news cameras leave.

May 20, 2010

Update – EPA orders BP to use different dispersants

Filed under: BP oil spill,environment,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 2:39 pm

Today the Washington Post reports that the EPA has ordered BP to use less toxic dispersants to break up the oil in BP’s petro-Hiroshima.

I have no definite confirmation yet that this means Corexit, but this certainly sounds good.

Thanks to everyone who wrote letters on this. Every little bit counts. BP and the EPA must not be allowed to treat the people of the Gulf Coast as disposable any longer.

May 19, 2010

Open letter to Lisa Jackson, EPA on toxic dispersants

Filed under: environment,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 6:10 pm

Ms. Jackson,

As a resident of South Louisiana, I am writing to call on your agency to rescind approval of the dispersants Corexit EC9527A and Corexit 9500. The National Institute of Health on its Haz-Map website reports that 2-Butoxyethanol, an ingredient in Corexit EC9527A, causes birth defects and reproductive damage in animals, which has been confirmed by scientific studies. Britain and other nations do not allow the use of Corexit EC9527A, and the state of California has identified 2-Butoxyethanol as a hazardous substance. While not as bad as Corexit EC9527A, Corexit 9500 is reported to be more toxic than several commercially available alternatives and we ask that you rescind approval for this dispersant as well. It is bad enough that the people of South Louisiana have been exposed to this horrible oil spill without making it worse by exposing us to toxic chemicals with these kinds of extreme dangers, especially when less dangerous dispersants are available.

The Commercial Fishermen’s Association has already requested that you order a halt to the use of dispersants, and I and my fellow residents of South Louisiana support this call. But even if you do not discontinue the use of all dispersants, we need you to stop allowing BP to use Corexit dispersants.

The public information that your agency has provided is also woefully inadequate. As a partial step in remedying your agency’s extreme failure, you need to immediately post information on the health risks of all dispersants being used, in addition to the warning to use respirators. Furthermore, we do not believe your air quality testing. The air in New Orleans smells like petroleum, people are getting sick and we know something is wrong. Retest and give us accurate information.

As another partial step, you should immediately assist the state of Louisiana in obtaining information on the health dangers of dispersants as requested of BP by Louisiana DHH Secretary Levine, Louisiana DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch and Louisiana DFW Secretary Barnham.

I cannot adequately express to you my anger in your agency’s failure to adequately protect our health and safety here. When Obama was elected, many of us thought we would be under an administration that would protect us better than the Bush Administration. You and your agency have proven us wrong, and we will not forget this.

Christian Roselund
New Orleans

May 18, 2010

Notes on a disaster, part 3: mutagenic poisons, corporate dominance and failures of the American Left

Filed under: Class,environment,Media,Race,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 4:46 pm

I had originally only intended to write two parts of Notes on a Disaster, however what I have learned in recent days has caused me to re-evaluate. In particular, the failures of Obama’s EPA has dramatically exposed how much the US Government can be a tool of the large corporations. There is an urgency in this issue that must be addressed.

The most overlooked aspect of this whole disaster is the potential impacts of the dispersants, which have been used to break up the oil. It has been revealed that BP and the Coast Guard used two dispersants, called Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527A. Corexit 9527A contains 30-60% of a chemical called 2-butoxyethanol, which the National Institute of Health via its Haz-Map data indicates causes birth defects and reproductive harm in animals. The Coast Guard has dumped and sprayed hundreds of gallons of this toxic substance into the gulf, and we don’t know how much more is on the way.

The only way that I found out about this risk is due to the work of journalist Tom Philpott at Grist.com. Tom is a real hero for putting out this information. While some other media outlets, like the Mobile Press-Register, have expressed strong concerns about the dispersants, no other outlet drew the link to reproductive damage, and the media in general has massively fallen down on the job here. Which should not be surprising, as under our stage of corporate domination, the corporations

The New York Times, however, has at least let us know that Corexit was not the only available dispersant. No, instead it was the only dispersant that was made by a company that BP has a close relationship with.

 

The free market and corporate dominance

This is the way that the free market actually works in many cases. The natural tendency of capitalism is towards monopoly, and corporations act in their self-interest, whether or not that follows the so-called rules of the market. Once corporations get big enough, they make the rules, whether that means overlooking better or cheaper products and/or destroying any competition in the market. BP, like may large companies, does whatever it wants.

This spill and its aftermath should serve as a stark warning that the big corporations are calling the shots here and that the government has been mostly a tool. While Obama gives lip-service to ending the cozy relationships with oil companies, not only has BP not been held to task for the incredible damage they have caused, but they have been allowed to manage the disaster, while the EPA looks the other way. And we who live on the Gulf Coast are treated as disposable.

The lack of information on the dispersants is a perfect example. I encourage all of you to read Mr. Philpott’s article on Grist. Even the Louisiana government is demanding to know more about the dispersants, while the EPA continues to shuck and jive.

In the past the government has been important in reigning in the worst abuses of the corporations. But when we are at this point of corporate dominance, it is essentially the same as Mussolini’s description of fascism that the government and the corporations are one.

 

The disposable South

Again, it isn’t surprising that Louisiana is getting screwed. The same thing happened after Katrina. I’m reminded of the Legendary KO’s words in George Bush Don’t Care About Black People, written in late 2005: He would have been in Connecticut twice as fast after all we’ve been through, nothing’s changed you can call Red Cross but the fact remains. If you think that is different under Obama, think again.

The people and land of the Deep South are treated as disposable for reasons of regional, class and race biases that have everything to do with power. It’s easy for the rest of the nation to pass off the whites down here who are portrayed as ignorant, backwards racists in much of the mainstream media. It’s a poor region with low education, and that allows people in other parts of the country to sneer at Southerners, and then, and when we suffer for the nation’s oil supply, to intimate that we somehow deserve this. Black Southerners have always gotten the short end of the stick, but all of us in the Deep South especially whites have to realize that as it is easier for large corporations and the federal government to disregard blacks, this allows them to prey on the whole region.

Let’s be clear here Louisiana is suffering for the nation’s oil.

 

Failures of the Left

This is a time when we need leaders to organize the people take on the corporations. Unfortunately, the American Left for decades has been a marginal force that is content to sit back and make absurd, maximalist demands instead of organizing for real change. Another failure of the Left is attachment to historical terms and cultural identifiers that, if they do mean anything to the people they would organize, merely associate leftists with failed models and foreign dictatorships.

People down here need real help and real solutions. We need to be safe, and we need a movement that will make sure that this never happens again. That will only come when we stop the corporations. And that will only come when we have a real movement that can speak to and work with people in places like Louisiana. We are on the front lines.

May 13, 2010

Notes on a Disaster, part 2

Filed under: culture,environment,New Orleans Economy,Southern Louisiana,The Feds — christian @ 1:11 pm

Readers will pardon the delay in delivering part 2 of Notes on a Disaster. Ten days is a long time in many disasters; however in this one it isn’t. Not only does oil continue to gush, unchecked, from the ocean floor, but we are going to be living with this spill for a long, long time.

Before I get into the meat of this post, what have we learned in the last few weeks?

1.BP could find out better estimates of how much oil is leaking, but either won’t or won’t share what they do know courtesy of NPR.

2.The air quality in Plaquemines Parish is f***ed courtesy of chemist Wilma Subra and Louisiana Environmental Action Network. The amounts of hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds are hundreds of times the levels for physical reactions.

3.While offshore drilling carries significant inherent risks, BP fucked up really bad on this one, and the lack of regulation is finally being noticed by the media. Which goes to my point in part 1 about thirty years of dismantling health, environmental and safety regulations, led by the Republican Party, unchecked by weak institutions of organized labor. Failures of batteries, blowout preventer, Ongoing failures of regulation.

4.Containment will be harder than we hoped.

5.No one wants to tell us what the oil dispersants will do to our health (courtesy of LEAN).

 

Louisiana, Oil and the Spectacle

Oil is far from the only industry in South Louisiana. Very significantly, we have an enormous tourist industry; when conventions are included this is estimated to be about $5 billion in the city of New Orleans alone. And while much of the tourism hinges around the reputation of the City of New Orleans as a place of wildness and decadence, the culture of the region largely the music and the food are perhaps more important. In the rural areas, food and music absolutely are the draws.

However, as Gulf Restoration Network often points out with their No Coast No Music festival and advertisements, the music is a product of the land of South Louisiana. If this is true of music, it is moreso true of food.

The oil industry burrows itself into the cultural economy, to assure that when these contradictions do emerge, they are insulated. The largest example is Shell Oil’s sponsorship of Jazz Fest, New Orleans’ second largest tourist draw (after Mardi Gras) and a PR extravaganza for Shell. Shell has used their sponsorship of this festival in the past to try and muzzle musicians like Dr. John, who has been outspoken about the way that the oil industry has ruined the coast. Gulf Restoration Network has also used the festival as a public education opportunity, flying planes with banners over the festival asking Shell to Hear the music fix the coast you broke.

There is also the function of keeping the spectacle going as a way to prop up the city’s economy and a distraction from the very serious realities of life in South Louisiana. Everybody likes music and food, and we are masterful down here at living Le Bon Temps while the world sinks around us.

Jazz Fest is not the only place the Oil Industry inserts itself into the cultural landscape. Every September, the city of Morgan City, in the heart of Bayou Country near the mouth of the Atchafalaya River holds the (yes, this is real) Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. It will be interesting to see how well attended that festival is this year.

But perhaps the most cynical move by the oil industry is creation of the America’s Wetlands organization; a faux-grassroots effort by big oil to pressure the federal government to put money into fixing South Louisiana’s wetlands so that they won’t have to. Tragically, since locals have organized few other mechanisms to address these needs and America’s Wetlands is so well funded, many locals in South Louisiana will half-heartedly support the effort even though they know it is a sham.

 

Our addiction to fossil fuels: policy

When faced with a disaster of this scale, people want quick answers. But America didn’t get into this addiction easily and even under the best case scenarios we won’t get out of it easily. We can’t just stop offshore oil drilling we have to reduce our use of petroleum, otherwise that oil will have to come from somewhere. The best moves we can make to change this dependence will take decades.

It was a series of policy moves over decades at the national level that created this monster. Where shall we start? Autmobilies were emerging on their own as a popular product in the early 20th century, but there were a few steps along the way where they got a little help in taking over our landscape.

How about the Great American Streetcar Scandal where Standard Oil, Mac Truck, Firestone Tires and other companies got together to buy up the mass transit in 45 cities, so they could destroy them?1

Better yet, the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950′s and 1960′s the creation of the world’s most aggressive automobile and truck infrastructure paid for with our tax money.

Let’s not forget the building of the roads system in our national forests, which subsidized big timber and left us with more miles of publicly constructed roadways than the insterstate highway system.

It is ironic that the free-market right supports the oil and nuclear industries, pretending that they came to dominance by the rule of the market, when in fact they were greatly assisted by specific policy decisions. Big government intervened heavily to create a dependence upon the automobile and fossil fuels. In making these arguments free-market ideologues are denying the historical reality that got us here.

 

Policy, Energy and Infrastructure

The policy decisions that we are making today are likewise crucial, and it is here that the Left has an important role.

Marxist-Leninist regimes are not known for progressive environmental policies (with the significant exception of post-1991 Cuba); however the Social-Democratic Left has been a world leader. When looking at the rise of the solar industry, many are quick to forget the policy that started in Denmark and Germany and has been replicated across Europe, the feed-in tariff, was passed in both countries by coalitions of Greens and Socialists. Because of the feed-in tariff not only has Europe installed 80% of solar panels used globally (not to mention dozens of offshore wind parks and other renewable development), but they have essentially created a booming global industry.

Likewise, the battles in the United States over policies that move us away from fossil fuel dependencies have been in recent years a battle between the left and the right of the extremely narrow American political spectrum. Spurred on by a large if problematic environmental movement, the Democrats in congress under Obama’s leadership have passed policies that are extremely important first steps for moving away from this dependency.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus package) in particular has supplied funding for both passenger rail and renewable energy development. And while much more is needed for the kind of wholesale changes in our mode of life, these moves have been groundbreaking. Let’s not forget that in doing so, Obama was influenced strongly by a former self-described communist – Van Jones. Again the left has led, but this time, it has found institutional support in Obama’s administration.

Likewsie, the Republican Party and the Blue Dog Democrats like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu have blocked significant progress on policies that would move us away from this dependency. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal even rejected stimulus money intended for passenger rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Republican and moderate Democratic politicians, elected by voters nationwide including in Louisiana, are keeping this addiction going.

However, it is a national addiction and most of the oil that is coming out of Louisiana is not going to Baton Rouge or Lafayette it is going all over the nation, including to cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, Madison, Wisconsin, Boulder, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, full of smug progressives and liberals, who, even if they don’t drive, live the rest of their lives on our petroleum infrastructure. Louisiana has a tragic relationship to the oil industry that in many ways is like an abused spouse. But it is extremely important not to blame the victims here.

The world is already moving in this direction. But we won’t get there by alienating poor and working people, or by blaming the victims. Some of the solutions, like a move to biomass from agriculture and forestry wastes for a portion of electricity production, will upset environmental fundamentalists but will be extremely important for the Deep South.

Van Jones has set an excellent example in his call for Green Jobs. There is a way to move away from fossil fuels and create a more broadly prosperous society. It is time for Louisiana to become a leader again, like we were in the 1930′s.

May 4, 2010

Notes on a disaster: Louisiana pays again for our nation’s oil addiction

Filed under: environment,Labor,Louisiana,New Orleans Economy,The Feds — christian @ 9:05 pm

Like many people in South Louisiana, I have been utterly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster represented by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. To witness another catastrophe of this scale, less than five years after post-Katrina levee failures, is almost too much to comprehend. There is a tendency to block it out; to think that this really can’t be happening. But it is.

News accounts will talk of leaked memos, of containment strategies, of the small armies of volunteers and of the volume of oil. Thousands of barrels per day. First it was 1,000, then 5,000, and on April 30 we find out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thinks we could be facing a leak ten times that size, of 50,000 barrels per day. The numbers begin to lose meaning, because the truth is that we are screwed.

But this volume of oil is the only real thing. All the containment strategies are too late, the fires ineffective, the same with the dispersant chemicals.

A question of scale

This disaster didn’t happen on April 20. It happened long before, and all of this was just waiting. It is difficult to disaggregate how much of this is the result of safety failures on the part of BP and how much is the inherent risk we run with offshore drilling. This particular rig had a series of accidents, yet still was drilling offshore wells that set records for their depth. Obviously better safety procedures lower the risk of these kinds of accidents; but sooner or later, people make mistakes. In the offshore oil industry, like the nuclear industry, it is the magnitude of the consequences of these mistakes that is damning.

We’ve been sowing the seeds of this for roughly a century, by building an economy on the use of finite fossil fuel resources, which we now must go farther and farther to find, and by under-developing the regions where we extract these mineral resources, including lax workplace and environmental safety concerns.

And in the absurdity of this disaster, this is perhaps the most absurd thing; that we are so intently focused on utterly ineffectual short-term responses. It is not surprising that there is a lack of larger analysis in our short-attention span corporate media. Not surprising, but a dis-service nonetheless.

Multiple disasters

In this immediate, dramatic disaster, there is the background of the other, slower disaster: land loss in South Louisiana, accelerated by canals cut through the wetlands by oil companies for petroleum exploration and navigation. Non-profit Gulf Restoration Network estimates that we have lost 50% of the wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico already. Others throw around figures about how long it takes to lose a football-field sized chunk of land (under an hour).

But all of that is abstract until you stand on the edge of brackish water where people’s homes and businesses once were. Because this land loss has not only meant that South Louisiana residents, including in the city of New Orleans, are more vulnerable to hurricanes, but the displacement of entire communities. For those who live in South Louisiana and are flooded every time a major hurricane comes, sometimes every few years, it means a losing battle to hold on to land, community and ultimately culture.

The oil companies have never been held accountable for their role in this other, slower disaster. With the Horizon Deepwater leak, the livelihoods of many in these communities is on the line. Louisiana produces a large portion of the United States’ wild seafood. This seafood boiled shrimp, oysters fried and raw, crabs, seafood gumbo is an important part of the culture of South Louisiana, and has been a family business for many in rural South Louisiana for generations. The oyster beds offshore of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes are already closed. We don’t know when they will open again. Shrimpers have already filed a lawsuit. Many shrimpers and oystermen, who have had to fight rising fuel costs, hurricanes and floods, and in the case of shrimpers, dumping of farm-raised shrimp from other nations, are now out of work again. Again this time, more will look for work elsewhere. In a cruel irony, many who have been forced out of shrimping have gone to work on the offshore oil rigs.

Louisiana as an underdeveloped petro-state

It may be hard to understand this outside of the Deep South, but it is not really that surprising that when this happened, that South Louisiana was the first place to be affected. The oil industry has been doing whatever it wants down here in our home-grown banana republic for a long time.

Huey Long, who created the foundation of modern Louisiana, was the first political leader to take on big oil and win substantial victories. Long paid for much of the economic modernization of the state (importantly roads and bridges) and the undergirding of social reproduction (schools, hospitals, textbooks) with oil money. He succeeded in using a portion of the mineral revenues to help create a mildly social-democratic order in the state, but failed to ever really control the oil companies. Long’s approach was not to nationalize, but, as he had said of the nation’s millionaires, to file their nails and let them live.

This petro-populist approach may have won some victories for poor and working people, but it left a legacy of a state dependent upon mineral revenues, and politicians who are utterly sold out to big oil companies. It has been a long time since Louisiana had strong labor unions, so the forces to counter these tendencies have been few and weak. Our right to work laws and anti-union culture have prevented unions from seizing the power that is necessary to bring workplace safety to the forefront, as unions have in other states. It’s common knowledge that the oil industry in refining and petrochemical processing gets sweeter deals and more leeway here in Louisiana, particularly in terms of environmental enforcement and health and safety.

The results of this oil fiefdom, coupled with a dismantling of health, safety and environmental laws at the national level over the last 30 years, leaves us in a situation where these kinds of disasters are entirely predictable. Dismantling regulations seems so distant and arcane, and yet ultimately these are the results.

March 7, 2010

Nutriapalooza II

Filed under: culture,environment,Southern Louisiana,We Are Not OK — christian @ 3:57 pm

There are those nights when you say to yourself this is why I live in the greatest city on earth, New Orleans. For the record, I felt this sentiment in fully sobriety, as has been my less-than-ideal state for all two weeks and five days of Lent.

Nutriapalooza is one of those events that could only happen in this city. Billed as a fashion show, it was actually simultaneously a fashion show, an environmental education event and a cultural celebration of South Louisiana and our city of beautiful freaks. Saturday night was Nutriapalooza II (I missed the first one, which I have heard was also great).

Where to begin? The tattooed models on the runway in Audrey Hepburn-esque fur outfits made from our favourite invasive species? The outrageous rock and roll auction of nutria fur? The beautiful work that went into turning rodents into fashion?

Again, only here. Before I go further, let me explain for those of you unfamiliar with what they called on Broad Street “nutria rats” that the nutria is a member of the muskrat family that was imported into Louisiana in the early 20th century to be raised for its fur. Nutria got loose, bred like, well, rodents, and have been helping the oil industry sink out wetlands into the Gulf of Mexico for over 50 years. So we have to get rid of them, one way or another. Which means killing them off. It’s them or us.

Also, they happen to have really fine fur.

The show was sold out, and my friend and I got the last two tickets for standing room only. It started fairly slowly, with a presentation by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) and its charismatic invasive species guy, Michael, who was frequently interrupted by questions from a rowdy audience that wanted to know, among other things, why nutrias had such poor dental hygiene. (They don’t. Their teeth are naturally yellow-orange.)

There was also a discussion of nutria as cuisine, an idea that State of Louisiana officials have, in the past, devoted millions to. This was not particularly successful. And while I strongly believe not wasting the flesh of dead animals, my own experience with nutria, as have been documented on this blog, were not pleasant. I think it could work out roasted with a honey glaze, but for God’s sake, DO NOT STEW. It is not a good idea to stew any particularly gamy meat, and especially NOT NUTRIA. Maybe I hadn’t cleaned it properly, but I ended up with a broth that was really only suitable for chemical warfare. Also, I will note that the hindquarters were much gamier than the rest.

There was also a presentation by Mr. Pitre, the last nutria furrier in Louisiana and the man who supplied the rodent furs for the fashion show. This was a rare moment in a freak venue on St. Claude, to have a second-generation furrier from rural South Louisiana explaining his family business and the fluctuations in the price of nutria pelts to a fascinated audience.

Finally, after a few more shows including the inadequately-miked but charming Jurassic Parish Folk Ensemble and their song about five dollars a pelt, the models came on.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I’ve never really been able to understand why scantily clad tattooed women in fur bikinis do it for me. Maybe it was growing up reading too many Savage Sword of Conan comics, but this was hot.

The designs were not only beautiful but daring and broad in scope. We saw and entire gamut from Red Sonjaesque and Native American-inspired designs (where did the gutterpunks get the idea to all dress like late-19th century Native American train robbers, anyway?) all the way to 1940′s and 1860′s styles, and a hauntingly beautiful homage at the end of the show to recently deceased fashion designer Alexander McQueen. There were even nutria designs for men, but unfortunately few of these items were on sale at the auction later.

John C. Calhoun was one kick-ass auctioneer, regularly performing multiple kicks in the air and stage dives, backed by the newly-formed Invasive Species, which is actually they guy who works as a notary public on Prytania on guitar, and Helen the cellist on drums.

But what’s amazing about all of this is that this was an environmental awareness event, and worked as such. It was also a tiny bridge between the urban-rural divide in South Louisiana, where rural residents often show contempt, financial jealousy (they get all the federal money and we have to make do on our own) and fear of our city, and people in New Orleans forget that rural Louisiana even exists. Which is not in our best interests, if for no other reason than we need the wetlands for this city to survive. More and more people here are getting it, which can be the basis for a political movement which will be necessary (and which may not be enough) for South Louisiana to survive this century.

Every student of environmental communications should study the Righteous Fur movement. This truly was making environmental issues sexy. In our own weird and beautiful way.

Thanks to Cree McCree and Righteous Fur, Micheal and BTNEP, John Calhoun, Helen Gillet, Notary Guitarist/MC Guy, Mr. Pitre the furrier, all the designers and models (especially the Rat King) and everyone else for a superb event.


Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program

Righteous Fur

December 20, 2009

What is wild?

Filed under: Class,culture,environment,Southern Louisiana,We Are Not OK — christian @ 10:13 pm

Exciting news for Dirty South Bureau: tomorrow I am going to an interview on a short film that flimmaker Ed Holub and I produced on the impacts of hurricanes and loss of wetlands on communities in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. It’s thrilling to know that our short, the Human Cost, will be shown along with the other winners of Gulf Restoration Network’s Defend Our Wetlands, Defend Ourselves film contest on local television courtesy of Timecode NOLA. When Ed and I shot the footage and the interviews we knew we were on to a big story, but didn’t figure that we would make local TV.

For those of you who weren’t aware of this, Southern Louisiana is experiencing an environmental catastrophe unparalleled in our nation. We are literally losing the land in our coastal parishes, as the wetlands and marsh slip away into the Gulf of Mexico. Why this isn’t a bigger national story says a lot about the warped priorities of our media, but also about our own ideas about what the environment, nature and wild mean.

Part of the film focuses on the struggle of the Point-aux-Chenes people, a native people living in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, to survive. The Point-Aux-Chenes and other native groups in South Louisiana are not recognized by the federal government. Like the native Americans in Southeast Alaska, natives in South Louisiana waged no wars against the United States and were never put on reservations. The old folks speak French and they live next door to Cajun and other bayou communities, with a history of intermixing that appears to predate the purchase of the land by President Jefferson in 1803. With their French language, their diesel powered shrimping boats, and their assimilated way of life not much different than their neighbors – they are about as far from the American cigar store, feather headdress image of Native Americans as you could get.

But is it European culture that assimilated these indigenous people, or the other way around? In many practical respects, if you forget about the diesel fuel and modern wooden houses, the way of life for those living off the bounty of the sea and the land is not fundamentally different.

The natives of South Louisiana challenge our post-Rousseau Western notions of what is wild. In the untamed West of the United States, we set aside huge areas of land as natural preserves, to protect some pristine notion of wilderness from our own impacts. After, of course, we removed the people who lived there. In this dichotomy of wild vs. civilized, the space for contemporary indigenous people is in a museum or on a reservation.

By these notions the land of South Louisiana is hardly pristine; but does that make it any less worth saving? What about the people who live there: Native American, Cajun and just folks who live down the bayou?

Much of the failure of modern environmentalism has been rooted in false dichotomies nature vs. people, trees vs. jobs which the large corporations who perpetrate environmental crimes, be they Shell or International Paper – are more than happy to perpetuate. But environmentalists are part of the problem. When environmentalist and their organizations and the big national ones have been among the worst – speak the language of yuppie environmentalism, where the environment is something on the outside, separate from us, that needs to be saved (at times by removing people), the seeds of these conflicts are sown.

The truth is that we are dependent upon our environment, and the most pressing reason to be concerned about environmental issues is that they affect us, our health, and our ability to survive. We are the ones that need saving. Nowhere is this as clear as South Louisiana, which is ground zero for environmental issues.

A big thank you to Chuck Verdin, Nathalie Bergeron, Robert Bergeron, Marylee Orr, Paul Orr, Aaron Viles and everyone who made this possible. The Human Cost can be seen on YouTube.

September 9, 2009

Van Jones and the witch hunt

Filed under: Class,environment,Race — christian @ 11:53 pm

I know that my readers on this blog are expecting some sort of commentary or story on New Orleans, as this is the personae that has been created for Dirty South Bureau. My apologies for disappointing all of you, but there are moments when national issues have to be addressed.

The character assassination and subsequent resignation this previous weekend of Van Jones from Obama’s cabinet has me more and more angry the more that I think about it. Don’t get me wrong. Growing up watching the stilted, narrow, shallow and right-wing dominated terrain of national politics, I never would have dreamed that someone as cool as Van Jones would end up in a presidential cabinet. Call me crazy but I just didn’t have that much faith in the people elected by the corporations with the consent of my fellow Americans.

It was too good to last. Van Jones was too much of a visionary for the overly cautious Obama, and now I suspect he has been thrown under the train the same way that Reverend Jeremiah Wright – whose great crime was to tell the truth about race in this country – was.

Van Jones has done something unprecedented for this country. He showed our country the relationships between the environment, race and poverty. More importantly, he articulated a positive vision for our future which we have far too few of. A vision of inner-city people having good jobs creating energy options that would make the citizens of this country masters of our destinies true energy independence. A vision of a more just economy and a greener future. A vision of solar panels rising over former crack houses. A vision we in a city like New Orleans need, and that many of us, in our work, follow.

And what is it that Jones’ great crime was, anyway? That he signed a petition that called for the Bush administration be investigating for potentially allowing 9-11 to happen? That he called Republicans assholes? That he is a closet Socialist, and that he was once a Communist?

I’ll take these one by one. First, I suspect the Bush administration of having allowed 9-11 to happen. There – I said it too. It may have happened before. Scholars still debate whether or not Roosevelt knew Pearl Harbor was going to happen. Among the crimes of the Bush Administration too numerous to mention, Cheney and Rumsfeld repeatedly ignored and fabricated intelligence as an excuse for war. We all knew there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction – yet they used this gross lie to invade Iraq. So why is it so improbably that they may have known about and ignored 9-11?

The Bush administration also essentially ignored our great disaster the flooding of the city after Hurricane Katrina. I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Second, asshole is none too strong a word for members of a party that starts a $500 billion war that kills hundreds of thousands of people in a foreign country for no good reason, fails to rescue the victims of the worst natural/engineering disaster in our country’s history (post-K levee failures) or adequately help them recover, and then gives hundreds of billions to banks with few strings attached, against even their own free-market rhetoric. It is absurd that we allowed the Republicans to do this. Now we get excited about a four-letter word in describing a party that committed these and other crimes against humanity on this scale? Give me a break.

Finally, it appears that Van Jones once was a Communist. So what?

Are we back in the 1950′s again? Is the Communist Party really such a worldwide threat that we are in secret danger of them overthrowing our government? Look, I’ve studied the history of Communism. The Communist Party, led from Moscow, was seeking to overthrow governments worldwide in the 1950′s but even that doesn’t excuse what we did, which was to ruin the lives of thousands of people in a meaningless purge. A lot of good people suffered because of tail-gunner Joe and his self-promoting escapades, and we are the worse for the loss of their contributions to our society. And this was at a time when the Communist Party was a real threat.

That was sixty years ago. Today, the Communist Party may take over Nepal, but it is in little danger of taking over anything in North America besides a few bookstores in the Lower East Side and in Madison, Wisconsin. The radical left is so thoroughly marginalized in this country it’s not even funny. Jones recognized that and got out, and now goes around the country talking about green capitalism – which if the right had any brains they’d pick up on, because it offers one of the only ways for the economic system they hold so dear to survive coming energy-induced catastrophes.

I have to wonder what planet the right-wingers are on, with their fantasies about Obama turning this country into a Socialist state. Give me a break. Cynical bastards like Limbaugh and Beck are feeding these fantasies to poor ignorant people who have never been out of this country and don’t know better.

But whether or not Obama forced Jones’ resignation, this is a serious strategic error. Giving in to the paranoid forces of reaction only makes them bolder, and now they will call for more and more in a genuine witch hunt. We are going back to the fifties. We are doing so because the Democratic leadership is full of cowards who continue to sell us down the river with their capitulations and compromises on the real issues, like health care reform and carbon regulation. And now we have lost the best member of the Obama administration at the behest of a lunatic fringe.

Where is Glen Beck’s vision of the future? More dependence on oil, until it leaves us in a profound economic and social crisis as it runs out? More wars? More inequality? More prisons? Fewer and fewer people having access to the skyrocketing cost of health care? More financial crises due to deregulation? More forced morality by the most immoral people in the country?

The right offers paranoia but no answers. The greatest irony of this whole escapade is that among the worst things that actual Communist regimes did in the 20th century was to conduct ideological witch hunts among their populations and leadership. And now the right is trying to do exactly the same thing.

It’s time real and decent people fought back, just like some of us did in the 1950′s, before this thing goes any further. Van Jones will go down in history as a great visionary, perhaps one who came before his time. I salute you, Mr. Jones. You are a real leader.

March 29, 2009

Mr. Go, the future, and hope.

I don’t know what has gotten into me. This week, yet again, I find myself posting positive news on Dirty South Bureau.

I have an innate aversion to this. Perhaps because there is so much misery and pain that people don’t want to talk about but that needs to be learned from, I have taken it on as my personal role to work in such territory. Or maybe it is a deep revulsion to the sunny voices that dominate certain types of media, such as many shows produced by NPR affiliates. For the stories I produced for such venues when I was a radio reporter, I recall the premium placed on resolution of the crisis in the story, which contrasted with the absence of easy resolution in post-Katrina New Orleans. Either way, I tend to avoid overly cheery accounts; after all Sheila Stroup might get testy if I start to tread on her emotional market share.

And yet there is no other way to express my experience yesterday of attending a ceremony to mark progress on the closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO).

For those of you not living in this region, Mr. Go, as we like to call it, is a 76-mile shipping channel leading from the Gulf of Mexico into the Intercoastal Waterway, a few miles before the Interharbor Navigational Canal (AKA the Industrial Canal), which cuts through the 9th Ward and divides New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward from the main part of the city. It is also the hurricane superhighway that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, carried a brutal storm surge into the Intercoastal Waterway and the Industrial Canal, where it destroyed levee walls on both sides, flooding the 9th Ward, the Lower 9th Ward and large swaths of St. Bernard Parish, particularly the parts where most people live.

Of course, there were other factors: the loose barge left in the industrial canal that went through the flood wall into the Lower 9th, not to mention the poor design, construction and maintenance of levees, much of which was revealed in a forensic investigation by a UC Berkeley team in the summer of 2006. Even with these qualifications, Mr. Go is not a popular waterway for many here.

The boat launch was at 8 a.m., and, needless to say, my companion and I arrived late. This was in part due to the fact that we had never been to Yscloskey, Louisiana, before. I believe that by the time we found Yscloskey we had seen much of rural St. Bernard Parish, which is a hauntingly beautiful landscape. I was reminded of how Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s describes the bogs in Jutland wild, desolate, utterly empty areas of grassland and swamp, broken in areas by stands of trees, many of them dead.

Our timing turned out to be good luck. Immediately upon finding the Yscloskey Marina we encountered a lost Argentinian photographer, in a very Down By Law moment. With his help we flagged down a passing motorboat, containing not one but two councilmen from St. Bernard Parish, Wayne Landry and George Cavignac, who were kind enough to give us a personal tour of the Mr. Go closure.

Mr. Go is a very impressive waterway. During the high-speed boat ride (we were advised to close our teeth) Landry and Cavignac patiently and cheerfully explained the ins and outs of the waterway, as we passed barge-loads of large rocks and earth-moving equipment. Originally built to be around 500 feet wide, Mr. Go is now between 1,000 and 2,000 feet wide, enough for many cargo vessels to pass each other, ships that now have to use the Mississippi River as they did for the first 250 years of this city, and as many did anyway afterwards.

The rock wall that we reached was not particularly impressive, despite the crane atop it. It spanned only part of the waterway, and to our disappointment it appeared that no heavy work was being done that morning. Are we being overly impatient? It should be noted that the entire industrial canal took only nine years from legislative approval (1956) to completion (1965). As a nation, we can accomplish incredible feats of engineering (particularly with the Army Corps of Engineers) when, and only when, there is the political will. How about our white flight superhighway, the 24-mile causeway spanning Lake Ponchartrain, that we built to allow middle-class and affluent whites to escape the city and still commute in the 50′s and 60′s? It is now three and a half years after Katrina. How long will it take to build a rock wall across a mere 1,500 feet of canal?

Some say that a rock wall is not enough that Mr. Go should be filled. I am in no position to evaluate such proposals, but Cavignac and Landry indicated that a rock wall, while it won’t entirely stop a storm surge, would at least act as a brake on the speed and intensity of any storm surges traveling up the waterway.

But the important part to all of us is that it is there, and that it is being built. It meant something to me. As absurd as it may sound, I saw hope in that pile of rocks.

It was also a lovely day, just cool enough to be invigorating, with pelicans and hawks passing overhead and dolphins swimming in the waters. All of that is enough to make us forget, temporarily, that New Orleans and Southern Louisiana are ground zero for the impacts of global warming. Sea level rise due to the melting of polar ice adds to other factors that cause the wetlands that protect this city to increasingly disappear. And of course, there is the link between global warming and more severe hurricanes. In the end, the levee walls constructed after Katrina and severely tested during Hurricane Gustav (anyone else remember watching Geraldo Rivera narrate water splashing over the top of levee walls on a television in a distant city?), may not hold back the next major Hurricane to hit this region. We are all guinea pigs here.

I am reminded of the end of the movie Blade Runner, when the Harrison Ford character, escaping the city to the north, explains that he doesn’t know how much time he and his genetically manufactured girlfriend have before her internal clock stops ticking. But who does? he asks. New Orleans is in deep shit for a lot of reasons, and may not survive this century. But many of us, who choose to live here because we love this city, don’t need forever. We just need some reasonable assurances of short-to-medium term viability, including some effort by the feds to fix any infrastructure problems that threaten us with total annihilation. It’s just not too much to ask for a medium-sized American city.

Coming back in the motorboat to the safety of the launch, past the enormous piles of rock fill, I was given just enough of that assurance.

(Big thanks to St. Bernard Councilmen Wayne Landry and George Cavignac for their superb hospitality.)

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