Friday, July 27, 2012

Frack U III

I have previously posted about fracking in the Shenandoah Valley and about the George Washington National Forest Management Plan. Like some of you, I've attended meetings and contacted decision-makers to urge fracking caution on both public and private lands. In recent months the issue seems to have fallen off the media radar, but that doesn't mean it has gone away.

Fortunately, the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors (most of the proposed wells are in the Bergton area, but other locations could eventually be impacted) is being just that - cautious - and insisting on local self-determination for setting regulations that will protect the local quality of life. They have set a good example for other jurisdictions.

The George Washington National Forest Management Plan, which will guide activities on nearly 1.1 million acres for the next 15 years, is nearing completion. Although public comments (53,000) on the plan were overwhelmingly (95%) in support of a ban on natural gas fracking and horizontal drilling in the Forest, and 10 local governments in the region support it, it seems the final version of the plan may yet weaken or eliminate the proposed ban - as Ken Landgraf a National Forest planning officer said, "we're evaluating that very carefully to see if we can put together a package of mitigation factors that would allow us to make portions of the forest available." Might be a fox in the henhouse - could oil and gas campaign contributions to key congressmen and high powered D.C. lobbyists be hijacking the process from citizens and local governments?

We could talk about the million plus visitors to the GWNF each year, or the impact to wildlife, or the heavy truck and equipment traffic that would shatter the tranquility of not only the forest but also of the communities along roads accessing this treasure. However the most compelling reason to keep the ban on hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling is the protection of a huge watershed (headwaters of both James and Potomac rivers) that provides drinking water for local residents of the Shenandoah Valley, and also for millions in NOVA, Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

Below is a proposed letter drafted by the Shenandoah Valley Network for you to copy/paste/edit and email directly to Secretary of Agriculture (the Forest Service is part of that Department) Tom Vilsack at Time is of the essence as the Management Plan is expected to be finalized in the next few months.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I support the US Forest Service’s sensible proposal to protect forest resources and drinking water on the George Washington National Forest by prohibiting horizontal drilling on any future federal oil and gas leases in the new Forest Plan. 
The Forest Service should stand firm. The well-considered ban, which is intended to limit or prevent high-volume hydraulic fracturing, was supported by the great majority (95 percent) of more than 53,000 public comments, as well as by many local governments adjacent to the Forest. 
The proposed ban on horizontal drilling will protect the direct drinking water source for 260,000 local residents and the headwaters of the James and Potomac Rivers which supply water to millions in cities in Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland, safeguard fish and wildlife habitat, and preserve the forest recreation experience for the more than 1 million people who visit the George Washington National Forest each year. 
The draft forest plan also proposed to make nearly the entire GW Forest available for vertical gas drilling. The potential impacts of vertical gas drilling on the GW should be more thoroughly studied, with public input, before a decision is made. At a minimum, local drinking water supply watersheds, priority watersheds, and other sensitive natural, scenic and recreation areas should be made unavailable to drilling. 
Thank you for your support on this critical issue.
More information on Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, the George Washington National Forest Management Plan, and water quality.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cooch watching

Although Virginia is a critical toss-up state in the presidential election, many eyes have turned to the Commonwealth's 2013 gubernatorial election - specifically on the likely GOP nominee, Ken Cuccinelli. For anyone other than reactionaries of the far right, the attorney general has a very dangerous mind. Activists on issues ranging from individual rights to protecting the environment are taking preemptive action to make sure Ken Cuccinelli, aka "the Cooch," is exposed in all his glorious wing nuttery.

The Cooch has made news, and Virginia a laughing stock, since he took office. You may remember him covering the left breast of the Virtus, the goddess of virtue, on pins of the Virginia State Seal. Changing our Founding Father's work is certainly job #1 in this AG's office!

Donate to the VA Sierra Club PAC - get this bumper sticker.
Then the Cooch used state resources and energy to sue the University of Virginia as a way of attacking climate scientist, Michael Mann. The Cooch, who rejects science and is a climate-change denying ideologue, alleged that Mann committed fraud by using UVA funding for the research. He also sued the EPA saying they had no scientific evidence to regulate greenhouse gasses. The attorney general had swings and misses on both cases, but in the meantime he spent an estimated $1 million in tax dollars. The Virginia Chapter Sierra Club has taken notice of this crazed anti-environment fanatic and launched their Cuccinelli is a Hoax campaign.

Ken Cuccinelli made his early political name trying to do away with abortion rights in the Commonwealth. As attorney general he has continued to do everything in his power to bring the power of big government to regulate lady parts. This past June, the Board of Health issued regulations for abortion facilities. Because they included a grandfather clause for existing facilities, the Cooch abandoned typical procedures and delayed action for a month before refusing to certify them. In response a group of abortion rights activists has started COOCH WATCH 2012 because, as their website notes, "The Cooch has been keeping an eye on your vagina, so now we’re going to keep an eye on him…"

The Cooch just keeps on embarrassing Virginia. Last night Rachel Maddow highlighted COOCH WATCH 2012 and discussed how the Cooch and Virginia Republicans probably torpedoed Governor Bob "ultrasound" McDonnell's craving to be tapped by Mitt Romney as the VP candidate. Rachel tells the story with humor and class....

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Friday, July 13, 2012

Money. Secrecy. Democracy.

On a recent Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers examined the Supreme Court's announcement that it would not reconsider democracy-killing Citizen's United decision. Moyers finds himself in rare agreement with the right wing as they crow about super-PACs successes. It is all about "the sheer force of money." Moyers exposes the hoax of the free speech argument: "Free speech, my foot: It’s about carpet bombing elections with all the tonnage your rich paymasters want to buy."

In comparing these tactics to those of despots and dictators, Moyers added, "On the one hand, conservatives declare that corporations and the superrich can spend all they want on exercising their First Amendment rights, but on the other, they demand to keep it secret so the rest of us can’t exercise our First Amendment rights to fight back.

Moyers concisely drew the logical conclusion that many of us believe to our very core: "Three things don’t go together. Money. Secrecy. Democracy. And that’s the nub of the matter. This is all a sham for invalidating democracy in the name of democracy."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Affordable Care Act - the more you know

With the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act and all the hysteria among my neighbors and friends ginned up by local and national media, it was good to read a commonsense and nonpolitical article addressing some of the pros and cons. Consumer advocate Stacy Johnson addressed a reader's question about the penalty and coverage and then went on to note some of the law's provisions.

While being upset by all the hype about the penalty, most people I know are supportive of well-known provisions of the law - for example, allowing children to stay on the parents' policy until age 26 and forbidding the big insurance companies from cherry-picking by denying or dumping people with preexisting conditions. As more of the law's provisions become known, this bird predicts the law will gain even more support.

Stacy's MoneyTalksNews post included information about a provision of the Affordable Care Act that I've found very few people knew about, but when informed, they think is a great idea - insurance companies are required to spend 80-85% of gross income on health care for customers and not on bureaucracy, CEO pay, or stockholder dividends. Failing to meet this requirement, means the company will have to send rebates to policyholders. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the rebates to businesses and consumers could be as much as $1.3 billion in 2012 alone.

Anytime you are discussing the big health insurance companies, cynicism rolls through the brain like sweat off the brow during the recent heatwave - creative accounting and smoke and mirrors may yet undo these good intentions of the law. But, the fact that this "anti-greed" provision is even in the law more than implies that federal inspectors will be keeping at least a cursory eye on the company books.

When I brought this to the attention of an anti-Obama skeptic the clucking stopped for a least a moment. Seems even Tea Partiers and Occupy folks can find common ground when it comes to excessive CEO salaries and greed! While I don't think the Affordable Care Act is perfect and will need modifications especially during the first years of implementation, I do think there is far more good than most Americans now realize - the more you know.

Friday, July 6, 2012

VA is the "Biggest Loser"... and that's a good thing!

Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Map Source
The Environmental Protection Agency's Region 3 has named Virginia the "Biggest Loser" for coming in first in the midAtlantic and second in the nation for reducing nitrogen pollution. In 2011 the Commonwealth's programs kept 2.5 million pounds of nitrogen out of our streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Although there is more than a wee bit irony of a Republican governor touting an award from the EPA, that was just part of an announcement from Governor Bob McDonnell highlighting progress in cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. Other key advances on restoring our water resources include included in the governor's press release include:
  • In 2011 major wastewater plants exceeded pollution reduction goals by more than 2,000% for nitrogen and more than 450% for phosphorus,
  • Virginia has allocated $92 million toward point and nonpoint water quality programs,
  • Virginia reported more phosphorus and bacteria load reductions (216,000 pounds) than any other state in EPA’s Region 3 (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia).
While much remains to be done to fully restore the Chesapeake Bay and all our precious state waters, this is especially good news for oysters and osprey, for striped bass and blue crabs, and for eagles and everyone who understands the economic and environmental benefits of clean water.

Many of the reductions were achieved by implementing 400 best management practices on over 340,000 acres of farmland. The Department of Conservation and Recreation gets about $3.5 million per year in Clean Water Act grants to reduce nonpoint pollution. The DCR works through the Soil and Water Conservation Districts and with responsible farmers to fence cows and other livestock out of streams, to reduce erosion and nutrients by planting vegetation along streams, and to upgrade out-of-date septic systems.

Plenty of kudos to the governor, the DCR the farmers, and everyone involved... it is great to be the "Biggest Loser." However, much remains to be done to assure clean water for future generations. There are probably tens of thousands of defective septic systems across the state. The Commonwealth has over 47,000 farms covering 8,100,000 acres (about a third of the Commonwealth's land area)... that's a lot of streams and creeks to fence and restore. Today is a good time for all Virginians to crow about these successes. Tomorrow is prime time to set new goals and and to start working on the other 7,776,000 acres and all those septic tanks.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Truth is a stranger

In much of our politics, be it local, Virginia, or nationwide, the truth has become a stranger.

All politicians of whatever stripe, from whatever era, and manipulating whatever form of government engage in exaggeration and boasts, in selective forgetting and remembering, and in false advertising. But in modern American politics, especially on the Republican side, the truth has become an absolute stranger.

Consider that the forces driving today's GOP reject science (until they need a transplant) in fields such as biology and climatology. They refuse to accept the president's (how many ways can you prove it is valid) birth certificate. Republicans, tea partiers, and their honchos on Fox and talk radio regularly engage in spewing "false facts." Oh, I guess they sound knowledgable and convincing to the ditto heads, but truth has become a stranger. Facts don't matter. Repeat lies often enough and big enough and there are fools who will believe.

As Leonard Pitts noted in a recent column, "...Americans increasingly occupy two realities, one based on the conviction that facts matter, the other on the notion that facts are only what you need them to be in a given moment."

The recent Supreme Court decision on health care has ginned up the Republican "false facts" talking machine to new levels of dishonesty. Mitt Romney, for example, just earned 4 Pinocchios for Romney’s claim on an Obama health care pledge for twisting and perverting the meaning of 2008 campaign statements made by candidate Barack Obama.

Before the ink was close to dry on Chief Justice Roberts' decision, the Fox fact-free zone was deriding the mandate and penalty as a "tax." Arrogant Eric Cantor went into hyper-lie mode as he promised to hold a (political posturing and meaningless) vote on July 11 to repeal Obamacare. Those talking points have filtered down to local tea partiers and wingntus and are being heard on call-in shows and in barber shops in the Shenandoah Valley.

Permit this bird to push back against the distortions and false facts currently littering my nest. I guess the  mandate and penalty in the Affordable Health Care Act is a "tax" in the broad sense that every payment to government is essentially a tax. Shenandoah National Park entrance fees are a "tax." Get caught failing to drive by the rules you get a fine... I mean penalty... I mean "tax." The mandate and penalty in the Affordable Health Care Act is quite similar to the well established principle that if you want to license a car and drive on our government built roads you have to have insurance. If you fail to do so, you must pay a uninsured motorist fee... or a penalty... or a "tax."

Ezra Kline @ The Washington Post.
Another oft repeated Fox/Republican false fact that is making political rounds locally as well as nationally is that Obamacare represents the largest tax increase in history. Wrong. False. Untrue. As the Washington Post's Ezra Kline concludes, "So no, the Affordable Care Act isn’t the 'biggest tax hike in history.' It’s not even the biggest tax hike in the past 60 years. Or 50 years. Or 30 years. Or 20 years."

I'd like to add that the mandate and penalty, if it is a "tax," is (like the uninsured motorist fee) a voluntary tax. You choose to be irresponsible and not be insured... then, and only then, you pay the tax. It is all about personal responsibility and paying your own way. But, we shouldn't be surprised that Republicans only give lip service to personal responsibility and paying the costs of what they want.

In their zest for removing President Obama and putting politics above nation, Republicans appear to have taken to heart the advice of Mark Twin when he wrote in a letter to San Francisco Alta California, dated May 17, 1867, "The most outrageous lies that can be invented will find believers if a man only tells them with all his might."

More Mark Twain wisdom on lying liars and the lies they tell.