113th Congress, America, Barack Obama, civil war, Congress, Democrats, divided, Economy, Education, Elite, Federalism, Food Stamps, History, housing assistance, Infrastructure, Medicaid, Medicare, middle class, national defense, Poor, Poverty, power, power control, power grab, President, President Barack Obama, Republicans, Rich, Sequestration, SNAP, Social Security, States, Tea Party, U.S, U.S. Government, United States, Washington D.C., wealthy
Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.
It’s as if an entire branch of the federal government — the branch that’s supposed to deal directly with the nation’s problems, not just execute the law or interpret the law but make the law — has gone out of business, leaving behind only a so-called “sequester” that’s cutting deeper and deeper into education, infrastructure, programs for the nation’s poor, and national defense.
The window of opportunity for the President to get anything done is closing rapidly. Even in less partisan times, new initiatives rarely occur after the first year of a second term, when a president inexorably slides toward lame duck status.
But the nation’s work doesn’t stop even if Washington does. By default, more and more of it is shifting to the states, which are far less gridlocked than Washington. Last November’s elections resulted in one-party control of both the legislatures and governor’s offices in all but 13 states — the most single-party dominance in decades.
This means many blue states are moving further left, while red states are heading rightward. In effect, America is splitting apart without going through all the trouble of a civil war.
Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, for example, now controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in more than two decades. The legislative session that ended a few weeks ago resulted in a hike in the top income tax rate to 9.85%, an increased cigarette tax, and the elimination of several corporate tax loopholes. The added revenues will be used to expand early-childhood education, freeze tuitions at state universities, fund jobs and economic development, and reduce the state budget deficit. Along the way, Minnesota also legalized same-sex marriage and expanded the power of trade unions to organize.
California and Maryland passed similar tax hikes on top earners last year. The governor of Colorado has just signed legislation boosting taxes by $925 million for early-childhood education and K-12 (the tax hike will go into effect only if residents agree, in a vote is likely in November).
On the other hand, the biggest controversy in Kansas is between Governor Sam Brownback, who wants to shift taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class and poor by repealing the state’s income tax and substituting an increase in the sales tax, and Kansas legislators who want to cut the sales tax as well, thereby reducing the state’s already paltry spending for basic services. Kansas recently cut its budget for higher education by almost 5 percent.
Other rightward-moving states are heading in the same direction. North Carolina millionaires are on the verge of saving $12,500 a year, on average, from a pending income-tax cut even as sales taxes are raised on the electricity and services that lower-income depend residents depend on. Missouri’s transportation budget is half what it was five years ago, but lawmakers refuse to raise taxes to pay for improvements.
The states are splitting as dramatically on social issues. Gay marriages are now recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state permit the sale of marijuana, even for non-medical uses. California is expanding a pilot program to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions.
Meanwhile, other states are enacting laws restricting access to abortions so tightly as to arguably violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. In Alabama, the mandated waiting period for an abortion is longer than it is for buying a gun.
Speaking of which, gun laws are moving in opposite directions as well. Connecticut, California, and New York are making it harder to buy guns. Yet if you want to use a gun to kill someone who’s, say, spray-painting a highway underpass at night, you might want to go to Texas, where it’s legal to shoot someone who’s committing a “public nuisance” under the cover of dark. Or you might want to live in Kansas, which recently enacted a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed firearm onto a college campus.
The states are diverging sharply on almost every issue you can imagine. If you’re an undocumented young person, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at public universities in fourteen states (including Texas). But you might want to avoid driving in Arizona, where state police are allowed to investigate the immigration status of anyone they suspect is here illegally. And if you’re poor and lack health insurance you might want to avoid a state like Wisconsin that’s refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government will be picking up almost the entire tab.
Federalism is as old as the Republic, but not since the real Civil War have we witnessed such a clear divide between the states on central issues affecting Americans.
Some might say this is a good thing. It allows more of us to live under governments and laws we approve of. And it permits experimentation: Better to learn that a policy doesn’t work at the state level, where it’s affected only a fraction of the population, than after it’s harmed the entire nation. As the jurist Louis Brandies once said, our states are “laboratories of democracy.”
But the trend raises three troubling issues.
First, it leads to a race to bottom. Over time, middle-class citizens of states with more generous safety nets and higher taxes on the wealthy will become disproportionately burdened as the wealthy move out and the poor move in, forcing such states to reverse course. If the idea of “one nation” means anything, it stands for us widely sharing the burdens and responsibilities of citizenship.
Second, it doesn’t take account of spillovers — positive as well as negative. Semi-automatic pistols purchased without background checks in one state can easily find their way easily to another state where gun purchases are restricted. By the same token, a young person who receives an excellent public education courtesy of the citizens of one state is likely to move to another state where job opportunity are better. We are interdependent. No single state can easily contain or limit the benefits or problems it creates for other states.
Finally, it can reduce the power of minorities. For more than a century “states rights” has been a euphemism for the efforts of some whites to repress or deny the votes of black Americans. Now that minorities are gaining substantial political strength nationally, devolution of government to the states could play into the hands of modern-day white supremacists.
A great nation requires a great, or at least functional, national government. The Tea Partiers and other government-haters who have caused Washington to all but close because they refuse to compromise are threatening all that we aspire to be together.
Baghdad, Bradley Manning, citizens, corruption, cover-ups, covert operations, crimes, deaths, Fort Meade Maryland, History, Inhumane, innocent, Iraq, Iraq War, Julian Assange, Leaks, Political corruption, torture, treatment, Trial, truth, U.N., U.S, U.S. Government, U.S. Military, United States, Video, Wikileaks
As I type these lines, on June 3, 2013, Private First Class Bradley Edward Manning is being tried in a sequestered room at Fort Meade, Maryland, for the alleged crime of telling the truth. The court martial of the most prominent political prisoner in modern US history has now, finally, begun.
“For me, I stopped keeping track,” he told the court last November. “I didn’t know whether night was day or day was night. And my world became very, very small. It became these cages… I remember thinking I’m going to die.”
After protests from his lawyers, Bradley Manning was then transferred to a brig at a US Marine Corps Base in Quantico, VA, where – infamously – he was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of his captors – a formal finding by the UN. Isolated in a tiny cell for twenty-three out of twenty-four hours a day, he was deprived of his glasses, sleep, blankets and clothes, and prevented from exercising. All of this – it has been determined by a military judge – “punished” him before he had even stood trial.
“Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched, I believe, in our nation’s history, as a disgraceful moment in time” said his lawyer, David Coombs. “Not only was it stupid and counterproductive, it was criminal.”
Read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julian-assange/julian-assange-bradley-manning-trial_b_3384436.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=060513&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry
Americans, Big Oil, Bloomberg News, BP, British Petroleum, Chevron, Congress, consumers, contracts, corruption, cover-ups, Deadly, Deepwater Horizon, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, defense contractors, Defense Logistics Agency, Energy, environmental disaster, ExxonMobil, fuel supply, greed, Gulf of Mexico, History, Lawsuits, oil, oil companies, oil spills, Pentagon, Project on Government Oversight, Shell Oil, taxpayer-funded, taxpayers, U.S, U.S. Defense Department, U.S. Government, U.S. Military, United States, Valero Energy Corp., Washington D.C., World Fuel Services Corp.
The scorn heaped upon BP following the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history in 2010 wasn’t echoed at the U.S. Defense Department. It stepped up purchases from the London-based company, making it the Pentagon’s biggest fuel supplier.
BP’s contracts with the military surged 33 percent to $1.35 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 from $1.02 billion in fiscal 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government. BP received 49 percent more in defense contracts than the No. 2 fuel supplier, San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp.
To critics, BP’s favored spot at the Pentagon cash window adds insult to the injury caused by the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The incident killed 11 workers, sullied hundreds of miles of coastline and crippled the region’s fishing and tourism industries.
“When BP still owes billions of dollars in possible fines and penalties for their spill in the Gulf of Mexico, our military shouldn’t renew lucrative contracts” for the company, said Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. It’s time “for our government to stand up to BP,” Markey said in an e- mail.
A trial to determine compensation for businesses and residents victimized by the spill is scheduled to begin Feb. 27 in New Orleans federal court. The company also faces hundreds of other lawsuits, at least 40 filed by survivors or relatives of the 126-member crew that was aboard the rig.
“BP still hasn’t fulfilled its commitment to fund the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, but they pocketed $26 billion of profits last year, thanks in part to these government contracts, and that’s not right,” Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Virginia, said in an interview.
Most of the contract money awarded to BP by the Defense Department was subject to full and open competition, according to federal procurement data. The company offered the lowest price, said Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which buys fuel for the Pentagon.
Government agencies are allowed to suspend or disqualify companies from receiving contracts if they have committed or are suspected of committing wrongdoing.
“BP is neither suspended nor debarred and is therefore eligible to offer on and receive U.S. government contracts,” McCaskill said in an e-mail.
The company’s facilities in the Gulf of Mexico don’t play any role in its government work, said Scott Dean, a BP spokesman in Warrenville, Illinois. He declined to comment further on the company’s contracting.
The Pentagon awarded $14.7 billion in fuel contracts in fiscal 2011. Eleven suppliers accounted for half of the total, led by BP, the world’s sixth-biggest oil company by market value.
Also among the top 10 Pentagon fuel suppliers are No. 6 Chevron Corp., the fourth-largest oil company by market value and No. 4 Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks third by the same measure. Exxon Mobil Corp., the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company, was the Pentagon’s 12th-largest supplier last year.
The military’s hunger for oil may make it too difficult to eliminate major providers, said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group in Washington. Excluding countries, the Defense Department is the world’s biggest consumer of energy.
“There is a sense that large federal contractors, like BP, are too big to suspend or debar,” Amey said in an e-mail.
“The government’s over-reliance on such companies can make it nearly impossible to hold them accountable, absent a monetary penalty and promises to keep clean,” he said. “Temporarily cutting off millions or billions in taxpayer funds seems like a better way to get a company’s attention and truly alter corporate culture.”
The military’s global reach makes geography an important determinant of the Pentagon’s fuel suppliers. Valero, Chevron and World Fuel Services Corp., a Miami-based marketer of marine and aviation fuel, are the only U.S.-based companies among the top 10. World Fuel ranked No. 5 last year with $858 million in fuel contracts, a notch ahead of San Ramon, California-based Chevron, with $620 million.
“Almost all of the fuel used by the military services overseas is purchased overseas,” the Defense Logistics Agency’s McCaskill said. “As a result, many of the contract dollars are awarded to foreign-based companies.”
It’s often less costly and easier for the government to buy oil from local suppliers, said Pavel Molchanov, a Houston-based analyst with Raymond James & Associates Inc.
“When I talk about those geographies where U.S. companies have very limited access, I’m thinking of places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa,” Molchanov said in an interview. Even in countries like Germany and Japan, where the Defense Department “has a very large presence,” it may be cheaper to use a local supplier, he said.
The Gulf catastrophe may yet cost BP some of its business with the Pentagon, from which the company received $7.06 billion in fuel contracts in the last five years.
BP, BP Oil, British Petroleum, cancer, Congress, Corexit, cover-ups, crime, Deadly, deception, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, environmental disaster, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, fossil fuels, greed, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf War Syndrome, Health Problems, History, marine life, Obama Administration, oil, oil spills, scientists, Toxic, U.S, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Government, United States
Photo: British Petroleum (BP) mix of oil spill and extremely toxic Corexit from after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and the biggest oil spill in world history of approximately 210 million gallons (780,000 cubic meters) of Louisiana sweet crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010! The spill covered up to 68,000 square miles or 180,000 square kilometers!
Three years ago, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon began leaking some 210 million gallons of Louisiana Crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government allowed the company to apply chemical “dispersants” to the blossoming oil slick to prevent toxic gunk from reaching the fragile bays, beaches, and mangroves of the coast, where so much marine life originates. But a number of recent studies show that BP and the feds may have made a huge mistake, for which everything from microscopic organisms to bottlenose dolphins are now paying the highest price.
After the spill, BP secured about a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527, according to The New York Times. Of the two, 9527 is more toxic. Corexit dispersants emulsify oil into tiny beads, causing them to sink toward the bottom. Wave action and wind turbulence degrade the oil further, and evaporation concentrates the toxins in the oil-Corexit mixture, including dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer and developmental disorders.
When BP began spraying the Gulf, critics cried foul. They said Corexit is not only toxic to marine life on its own, but when combined with crude oil, the mixture becomes several times more toxic than oil or dispersant alone.
Not surprisingly, BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley defended use of the dispersant. “The toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap, which is effectively what it is and how it works,” he told stockholders. “In hindsight no one believes that that was the wrong thing and it would have been much worse without the use of it. I do not believe anybody—anybody with almost common sense—would say waves of black oil washing into the marshes and beaches would have been a better thing, under any circumstances.”
BP says that Corexit is harmless to marine life, while the Environmental Protection Agency has waffled, saying both that “long term effects [of dispersants] on aquatic life are unknown” and that data “do not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life. Moreover, decreased size of the oil droplets is a good indication that, so far, the dispersant is effective.”
But many scientists, such as Dr. William Sawyer, a Louisiana toxicologist, argue that Corexit can be deadly to people and sea creatures alike. “Corexit components are also known as deodorized kerosene,” Sawyer said in a written statement for the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, a legal consortium representing environmental groups and individuals affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. “With respect to marine toxicity and potential human health risks, studies of kerosene exposures strongly indicate potential health risks to volunteers, workers, sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles and all species which need to surface for air exchanges, as well as birds and all other mammals.” When Corexit mixes with and breaks down crude, it makes the oil far more “bioavailable” to plants and animals, critics allege, because it is more easily absorbed in its emulsified state.
Mix of oil and Corexit heads towards surfer in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Sawyer tested edible fish and shellfish from the Gulf for absorption of petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC), believed to have been facilitated by Corexit. Tissue samples taken prior to the accident had no measurable PHC. But after the oil spill, Sawyer found tissue concentrations up to 10,000 parts per million, or 1 percent of the total. The study, he said, “shows that the absorption [of the oil] was enhanced by the Corexit.”
In April 2012, Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was finding lesions and grotesque deformities in sea life—including millions of shrimp with no eyes and crabs without eyes or claws—possibly linked to oil and dispersants.
The shocking story was ignored by major U.S. media, but covered in depth by Al Jazeera. BP said such deformities were “common” in aquatic life in the Gulf and caused by bacteria or parasites. But further studies point back to the spill.
A just-released study from the University of South Florida found that underwater plumes of BP oil, dispersed by Corexit, had produced a “massive die-off” of foraminifera, microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain. Other studies show that, as a result of oil and dispersants, plankton have either been killed or have absorbed PAHs before being consumed by other sea creatures.
Hydrocarbon-laden, mutated seafood is not the only legacy left behind by Corexit, many scientists, physicians, environmentalists, fishermen, and Gulf Coast residents contend. Earlier this week, TakePart wrote about Steve Kolian, a researcher and founder of the nonprofit group EcoRigs, whose volunteer scientists and divers seek to preserve offshore oil and gas platforms after production stops, for use as artificial reefs and for alternative energy production.
Oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig is visible on the surface of Gulf of Mexico in this June 18, 2010 satellite image provided by NASA.
EcoRigs divers took water and marine life samples at several locations in the months following the blowout. Now, they and countless other Gulf residents are sick, with symptoms resembling something from a sci-fi horror film, including bleeding from the nose, ears, breasts, and even anus. Others complain of cognitive damage, including what one man calls getting “stuck stupid,” when he temporarily cannot move or speak, but can still hear.
“If we are getting sick, then you know the marine life out in the Gulf is too,” Kolian said. The diver and researcher completed an affidavit on human and marine health used in GAP’s report.
Kolian’s team has done studies of their own to alarming results. “We recently submitted a paper showing levels of hydrocarbons in seafood were up to 3,000 times higher than safety thresholds for human consumption,” he said. “Concentrations in biota [i.e. all marine life] samples were even greater.”
Kolian’s friend and colleague, Scott Porter, described in his affidavit to GAP how Corexit had caused dispersed crude to coat the bottom of the sea in a sickening, deadly film. In July 2011, he and other divers traveled to a part of the Florida Panhandle, known as the Emerald Coast for its pristine seawater, to collect samples for the Surfrider Foundation.
“When we went diving, however, the water had a brownish white haze that resembled what we saw in offshore Louisiana at 30 feet below sea level,” Porter’s affidavit stated. “I have never witnessed anything like that since I began diving in the Emerald Coast 20 years ago. We witnessed…a reddish brown substance on the seafloor that resembled tar and spanned a much larger area than is typical of natural runoff.”
In areas covered with the substance, “we noticed much less sea life,” Porter continued. “There were hardly any sand dollars or crabs and only some fish, whereas we would normally see an abundance of organisms. It was desolate.”
A bird covered with oil from the spill. The massive oil spill lasted an almost agonizing three months from April 20 – July 15, 2010! However, the oil well was not officially capped and finally sealed until September 19, 2010! Reports continue to circulate that the well still leaks an estimated 400 gallons of oil per day into the gulf! Enjoy your seafood!
“It’s as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.” That’s what Jamie Griffin says the BP man told her about the smelly, rainbow-streaked gunk coating the floor of the “floating hotel” where Griffin was feeding hundreds of cleanup workers during the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, the workers were tracking the gunk inside on their boots. Griffin, as chief cook and maid, was trying to clean it. But even boiling water didn’t work.
“The BP representative said, ‘Jamie, just mop it like you’d mop any other dirty floor,’” Griffin recalls in her Louisiana drawl.
Griffin did as she was told: “I tried Pine-Sol, bleach, I even tried Dawn on those floors.” As she scrubbed, the mix of cleanser and gunk occasionally splashed onto her arms and face.
Within days, the 32-year-old single mother was coughing up blood and suffering constant headaches. She lost her voice. “My throat felt like I’d swallowed razor blades,” she says.
Then things got much worse.
Like hundreds, possibly thousands, of workers on the cleanup, Griffin soon fell ill with a cluster of excruciating, bizarre, grotesque ailments. By July, unstoppable muscle spasms were twisting her hands into immovable claws. In August, she began losing her short-term memory. After cooking professionally for 10 years, she couldn’t remember the recipe for vegetable soup; one morning, she got in the car to go to work, only to discover she hadn’t put on pants. The right side, but only the right side, of her body “started acting crazy. It felt like the nerves were coming out of my skin. It was so painful. My right leg swelled—my ankle would get as wide as my calf—and my skin got incredibly itchy.”
“These are the same symptoms experienced by soldiers who returned from the Persian Gulf War with Gulf War syndrome,” says Dr. Michael Robichaux, a Louisiana physician and former state senator, who treated Griffin and 113 other patients with similar complaints. As a general practitioner, Robichaux says he had “never seen this grouping of symptoms together: skin problems, neurological impairments, plus pulmonary problems.” Only months later, after Kaye H. Kilburn, a former professor of medicine at the University of Southern California and one of the nation’s leading environmental health experts, came to Louisiana and tested 14 of Robichaux’s patients did the two physicians make the connection with Gulf War syndrome, the malady that afflicted an estimated 250,000 veterans of that war with a mysterious combination of fatigue, skin inflammation, and cognitive problems.
BP claims to have used 1.8 million gallons of Corexit, about 1/3 of the world’s supply, to ‘disperse’ the oil spill! The Coast Guard granted BP 74 exemptions for Corexit surface use in 48 days! The EPA and the federal government were aware of this!
Corexit’s chemical composition:
Corexit’s main ingredient:
Corexit’s main ingredient 9527A – 2 Butoxy Ethanol
Three years later, the BP disaster has been largely forgotten, both overseas and in the U.S. Popular anger has cooled. The media have moved on.
As for Obama, the same president who early in the BP crisis blasted the “scandalously close relationship” between oil companies and government regulators two years later ran for re-election boasting about how much new oil and gas development his administration had approved.
Congress is largely bought out by Big Oil! No party is innocent! We should be asking ourselves “Why are we not progressively protesting the destruction the fossil fuel industry has drenched our planet in?” How big of a spill does it take to get America in a uproar enough to take direct action by forcing our ELECTED officials to disperse and divest from dirty, finite fossil fuels? Money may speak volumes, but millions of voices reach farther than any dollar can stretch! – John Loeffler, Fountain City, Wisconsin, U.S.A.
Atmosphere, carbon dioxide, climate change, climate crisis, consumers, Dangerous, environment, fossil fuels, global, Global Warming, Hawaii, History, Humans, Mauna Loa, Mauna Loa Observatory, Records, world-wide
Earth’s atmosphere is entering a new era. A mountaintop research station that has been tracking carbon dioxide for more than 50 years says the level of that gas in our air has reached a milestone: 400 parts per million.
That number is one of the clearest measures of how human beings are changing the planet. It shows how much carbon we have put into the air from burning fossil fuels — and that carbon dioxide drives global warming.
This measurement comes from Mauna Loa, Hawaii, a remote volcano where the air is largely free of local influences.
1940's, 1970's, activists, air pollution, aquifer, Army Corps of Engineers, Attorney General, benzene, Bridgeton, Bridgeton Landfill LLC, cancer, Chris Koster, Claire McCaskill, conflict of interest, Congress, contamination, corruption, Cotter Corporation, cover-ups, covert operations, Dan Gravatt, deaths, deception, Democrats, dirty politics, DNR, Drinking Water, Economy, Ed Smith, Education, environmental catastrophe, environmental disaster, EPA, fire, floodplain, Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Actions Program, garbage, Governor Jay Nixon, greed, Health Problems, History, hydrogen sulfide, Idaho, illegal dumping, Jobs, landfill, Lawsuits, leached barium sulfate, lies, Mallinckrodt, Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, Manhattan Project, Missouri, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Missouri River, nuclear energy industry, nuclear reactors, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear waste, nuclear weapons, odor, Peter Anderson, public health hazards, Radioactive, Representative Keith English, Republic Services, Republicans, residents, Robert Criss, Rock Road Industries LLC, Rolling Stone, Roy Blunt, safety violations, secrets, Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, St. Louis, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state assembly, Superfund law, Toxic, U.S. Department of Energy, University of Chicago, uranium, uranium processing, Utah, Washington University, West Lake, West Lake Landfill
An underground landfill fire near tons of nuclear waste raises serious health and safety concerns – so why isn’t the government doing more to help?
here’s a fire burning in Bridgeton, Missouri. It’s invisible to area residents, buried deep beneath the ground in a North St. Louis County landfill. But the smoldering waste is an unavoidable presence in town, giving off a putrid odor that clouds the air miles away – an overwhelming stench described by one area woman as “rotten eggs mixed with skunk and fertilizer.” Residents report smelling it at K-12 school buses, a TGI Fridays and even the operating room of a local hospital. “It smells like dead bodies,” observes another local.
On a Saturday morning in March, one mile south of the landfill, several Bridgeton residents have gathered at a small home in a blue-collar subdivision called Spanish Village. Concerned citizens Karen Nickel and Dawn Chapman are here to answer questions posed by four of their neighbors. “How will I ever sell my house?” “Am I going to end up with cancer 20 years down the road?” “Is there even a solution?”
In February, the landfill’s owner, Republic Services, sent glossy fliers to residents within stink radius claiming the noxious odor posed no safety risk. But official reports say otherwise. Temperature probes reveal the fire has already surpassed normal heat levels. Reports from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) indicate dangerously high levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide in the air. In March, Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) – which has jurisdiction over Bridgeton Landfill – quietly posted an Internet notice cautioning citizens with chronic respiratory diseases to limit time outdoors. A month after Republic distributed its potentially misleading flier, the state attorney general sued the company on eight counts of environmental violations, including pollution and public nuisance. And this week, as part of a settlement set to be announced Tuesday, Republic sent another round of fliers offering to move local families to hotels during a period of increased odor related to remediation efforts.
Nickel and Chapman are stay-at-home moms; Chapman has three special-needs kids. Neither of them wants to spend her time worrying about a damn landfill fire. But until someone higher up the power chain intervenes, they have sworn to call municipal offices, file Sunshine requests and post notices to the community’s Facebook group, no matter how unsettling the facts they uncover. Scariest of all: The Bridgeton landfill fire is burning close to at least 8,700 tons of nuclear weapons wastes. “To have somebody call you at 11 P.M., and they’re in tears, concerned for their family, that’s heartbreaking,” Chapman tells Rolling Stone. “We’re doing this because we don’t have a choice. If we don’t come together as a community and fight, no one’s going to do it for us.”
West Lake Landfill is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site that’s home to some of the oldest radioactive wastes in the world. A six-foot chain-link fence surrounds the perimeter, plastered with bright yellow hazard signs that warn of the dangers within. On one corner stands a rusty gas pump. About 1,200 feet south of the radioactive EPA site, the fire at Bridgeton Landfill spreads out like hot barbeque coals. No one knows for sure what happens when an underground inferno meets a pool of atomic waste, but residents aren’t eager to find out.
At a March 15th press conference, Peter Anderson – an economist who has studied landfills for over 20 years – raised the worst-case scenario of a “dirty bomb,” meaning a non-detonated, mass release of floating radioactive particles in metro St. Louis. “Now, to be clear, a dirty bomb is not nuclear fission, it’s not an atomic bomb, it’s not a weapon of mass destruction,” Anderson assured meeting attendants in Bridgeton’s Machinists Union Hall. “But the dispersal of that radioactive material in air that could reach – depending upon weather conditions – as far as 10 miles from the site could make it impossible to have economic activity continue.”
In a response offered to Rolling Stone, Republic Services says, “Mr. Anderson made his statement without any proof or evidence, and he ignored the fact that ongoing evaluation by MDNR, EPA and local authorities have confirmed that the increased heat at the Bridgeton Landfill has not impacted West Lake and does not pose a threat to the materials at West Lake.” Republic Services also denies that it is dealing with a “fire” – the company prefers the euphemism “subsurface smoldering event.” Under orders from the state, Republic is drilling holes to contain this “smoldering event.” Republic estimates it’s already spent over $20 million – about 0.25 percent of its 2012 revenues – on such mitigation efforts, “not because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do.”
When Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued Republic Services on March 27th, outlining a host of alleged odor pollution and public health violations at Bridgeton Landfill, he described the risk of the fire contacting the nearby radwaste as a mere “remote hypothetical.” But many residents are far from reassured.
The story of West Lake’s radioactive waste goes back to April 1942, when a St. Louis company called Mallinckrodt Chemical Works began purifying tens of thousands of tons of uranium for the University of Chicago as part of the Manhattan Project. Mallinckrodt’s workers did not receive adequate safety protections and had little knowledge of what they were dealing with – oversights that would lead to disproportionately high cancer death rates among workers, as documented in books, dissertations and journalistic accounts, including a groundbreaking seven-part series from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1989. Over the next 25 years, the company’s uranium processing also created huge amounts of radioactive waste, much of which was secretly dumped at sites throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area, including West Lake.
Today, West Lake’s radioactive waste – all 143,000 cubic yards of it – sits on the outskirts of a former quarry with practically none of the standard safety features found in most municipal landfills. No clay liner blocks toxic leachate – or “garbage juice” – from seeping into area groundwater. No cap keeps toxic gas from dispersing into the air. This unprotected waste sits on a floodplain 1.5 miles away from the Missouri River. Eight miles downstream is a drinking water reservoir that serves 300,000 St. Louisans. Worst of all: The materials dumped in this populous metropolitan area will continue to pose a hazard for hundreds of thousands of years.
The EPA’s Region 7 is based in Lenexa, Kansas, about 250 miles west of St. Louis. The agency operates from a glass-paned office building that once housed the international headquarters of Applebee’s. In an empty conference room on the ground floor, Dan Gravatt, the EPA manager tasked with handling West Lake, looks every bit the government scientist in his blue work shirt, khaki pants and thin-framed glasses.
In 2008, the EPA decided to cap the radiotoxic material dumped at West Lake and leave it there. Capping the site meant piling five feet of dirt and rocks on top and implementing long-term monitoring for contamination. Facing widespread public pressure, including a letter from St. Louis mayor Francis Slay, the EPA postponed its decision pending further studies.
Gravatt has a smooth, rehearsed response to almost any question about the West Lake landfill – a skill he put to use at a community meeting on January 17th, when more than 300 concerned citizens gathered to hear the results of those EPA studies. One person in attendance was Kay Drey, an 80-year-old civil rights and anti-nuclear activist who’s been advocating for the removal of wastes from the St. Louis area for more than three decades. “I was very disappointed,” Drey tells RS. “The evidence is clear. This is radioactively hot stuff and it shouldn’t be in the floodplain by the Missouri river. And if they can’t admit to that – well, it’s incomprehensible.”
Back at his office, Gravatt insists that West Lake’s radioactive wastes only pose health risks for people who come in direct contact with the site, adding that the nuclear dump “doesn’t pose any current exposure pathways to area residents as it stands now.”
But Robert Criss, a geochemist at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied the issue closely, says the EPA is grossly underplaying a host of risks surrounding West Lake – flooding, earthquakes, liquefaction, groundwater leaching – that could pave the way for a public health crisis. That’s not to mention the recent development of an underground fire nearby. Says Criss, “There is no geological site I can think of that is more absurd to place such waste.”
Digging through old Nuclear Regulatory Commission studies, he recently stumbled upon what he describes as an error with major implications. For the last three decades, various government documents have referred to the waste at the landfill as “leached barium sulfate,” a nearly insoluble compound generated from uranium processing. But Criss says that the NRC’s own data shows the material dumped at West Lake contains far too little barium and sulfate to compose barium sulfate – by factors of 100 and 1000, respectively. “If I had this long to study something, I would be pretty embarrassed if this is what I came up with,” says Criss. “It is inconceivable for these people to promote remedies when they don’t even know what they’re dealing with.”
In a statement to Rolling Stone, the EPA disputed Criss’ findings, but declined to offer further explanation, instead deferring to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Upon request for a chemical analysis proving the waste is barium sulfate, the NRC sent RS the same 1982 report that Criss disputes.
So what happens now? The EPA officially lists four potentially responsible parties for the West Lake Superfund site. One is the U.S. Department of Energy. A second is Cotter Corporation, a company whose contractors secretly dumped nuclear waste at West Lake in the Seventies, as uncovered soon after by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The others are Bridgeton Landfill LLC and Rock Road Industries LLC – both subsidiaries of Republic Services, which currently runs the landfill. Under Superfund law, these four parties must ultimately foot the bill for any remedial actions ordered by the EPA; at the same time, it is these same four parties that contract and pay for all EPA studies leading up to a decision. This might seem like a conflict of interest, but Gravatt insists it’s all on the up and up: “We tell them what to do.” It must be a coincidence, then, that the EPA’s capping plan cost the potentially responsible parties only $41 million, compared to up to $415 million required to actually excavate the waste.
Missouri State Representative Keith English has another idea to fix the mess at West Lake. In February, English and 12 co-sponsors filed a resolution with the state assembly to transfer control of the site from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers’ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Actions Program (FUSRAP) – a proven success that has already cleared more than one million cubic yards of atomic waste from other sites in the St. Louis area, shipping the radioactive contaminants to safe disposal cells in Utah and Idaho. A nearly identical resolution filed by State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal in Missouri’s other legislative body garnered three co-sponsors. “The educated people that deal with this type of waste can see that there’s an issue with just putting a cap on top,” says English.
Unfortunately, anything that passes through Missouri’s statehouses would only represent a symbolic victory. Since West Lake remains under federal jurisdiction, only an act of Congress could transfer the site to the Army Corps. For this reason, many are looking to Missouri’s U.S. Senate delegation – Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt – to lead on this issue. “I hope that our resolutions pass and get to Senator Blunt and Senator McCaskill’s office,” English says. “Because they’ve been sweeping it under the rug for the past several years.”
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, which has advocated for the removal of West Lake wastes for more than a decade, in part blames Missouri’s ties to the nuclear energy industry for the senators’ lack of action. Both McCaskill and Blunt, as well as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, have pushed for bringing more nuclear reactors to the state. Any more attention to a hazardous radioactive dump might get in the way of that messaging. “They won’t touch this with a 10-foot pole,” says the Coalition’s safe energy director, Ed Smith. “It doesn’t fit their narrative of clean nuclear power and ‘jobs, jobs, jobs.'”
Blunt has yet to make any public statement on the issue, and his office has not responded to requests for comment. McCaskill, meanwhile, supported the 2008 cap-and-leave plan for the West Lake radwaste; on March 12th of this year, she sent a response to several concerned citizens, assuring them, “I will continue to monitor these situations and ensure that any proposal put forward to address them provides a safe, cost-effective solution for Missourians.”
McCaskill’s reference to a “cost-effective solution” didn’t sit well with the activists in Bridgeton. “I don’t give a flying fuck how much it costs,” says Chapman. “This is about my children.”
Bridgeton’s underground fire was news to Ramona Herbert, who moved to Spanish Village with her family last November. She and her husband, Joshua, came here from St. Louis’ inner city, hoping for a safer place to raise their kids. When the Herberts signed a five-year lease for their new home, no one disclosed to them that hot nuclear dumps sit a mile north from their children’s bedrooms. No one told the Herberts that an ongoing landfill fire burns just down the street from their local Bob Evans restaurant. After two months in her new home, Ramona Herbert noticed an EPA flier on her door announcing a community meeting, but it meant little to her.
“My landlord said to me that we have a little sewage problem,” she recalls. “So I’m thinking the sewage system isn’t working right.” But the stench only got worse, and she started having trouble sleeping. Parents stopped letting 14-year-old Mateo Herbert’s friends shoot hoops in his neighborhood, because something in the air was making their kids’ eyes water. And Joshua Herbert, who boasted a nearly spotless medical history, started suffering terrible headaches.
Ramona Herbert learned about St. Louis’ nuclear waste legacy from a Rolling Stone reporter. As soon as she found out, she got in touch with Chapman, and she is now part of a growing coalition. Like hundreds of other concerned citizens in North St. Louis, she wants answers. “When were we going to be warned?” Herbert wonders, standing at the door of her new home. “When is it too late?”
2012, Atlantic Ocean, burning, carbon dioxide, climate change, CO2, destruction, East Coast, environmental catastrophe, environmental disaster, fossil fuels, Global Warming, Gulf of Maine, high, History, Huffington Post, Human, IPCC, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, oceans, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, record, rise, sea levels, Sea surface temperature, water temperature
NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) has reported that the U.S. east coast sea surface temperatures had the warmest year in 2012 in the past 150 years.
The researchers analyzed temperatures between Cape Hatteras, N.C. and the Gulf of Maine using satellite and ship-board measurements. They found that the average sea surface temperature reached 57.2 F (14 C) in 2012, which beat the previous highest record set in 1951.
“2012′s temperature rise also marked the largest single-year increase since records began in 1854 and one of only five times that average temperatures have jumped by more than 1.8 F (1 C),” writes the Huffington Post.
“Changes in ocean temperatures and the timing and strength of spring and fall plankton blooms could affect the biological clocks of many marine species, which spawn at specific times of the year based on environmental cues like water temperature,” Kevin Friedland, a scientist in the NEFSC Ecosystem Assessment Program, said in a press statement.
The Huffington Post shares:
Research has shown that rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change may also pose a threat to the ocean’s single-celled phytoplankton, such as algae. They are not only the foundation of the marine food chain, Climate Central explains, but they also “consume about half of the carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.”
Scientists aren’t certain of the extent to which rising temperatures will impact these organisms, or how quickly they will be able to adapt, but slowed phytoplankton growth could mean more CO2 remaining in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are at their highest level in human history and continue to rise.
“It’s yet another reason to be very seriously concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now and the additional amount we continue to put out,” NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco told the Associated Press in 2012. “It is going to be a long time before we can stabilize and turn around the direction of change simply because it’s a big atmosphere and it’s a big ocean.”
As we’ve previously reported, new research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has found that the global rise in sea level is happening 60% faster than the projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“Results show that global temperature continues to increase in very good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC,” the authors of the new study write. “The rate of sea level rise of the past decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea level projections for the future may also be biased low.”
The study’s lead author, Sefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam (Germany) Institute for Climate Impact Research shares:
It contrast to the physics of global warming itself, sea level rise is much more complex. To improve future projections it is very important to keep track of how well past projections match observational data. The new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist, and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks.
Wondering how different the two projections are? The IPCC projected that sea level rise is happening at the rate of 2mm per year, whereas the new research estimates that sea levels are rising at an average rate of 3.2mm a year. What’s more, these findings don’t even account for the ice flowing into the sea from Greenland and Antarctica.
2012 FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, 9/11, Americans, cell phones, CIA, CISPA, computers, corruption, covert operations, Department of Homeland Security, Facebook, failure, FBI, Federal Government, Freedom, Google, History, Illegal, internet, invasion, law, Loss, NSA, Obama, Orwellian, Patriot Act, phone companies, Police State, privacy, spying, Surveillance, technology, terrorism, totalitarianism, U.S, U.S. Constitution, U.S. Government, United States, unlawful, Wiretapping
“Given the capabilities of today’s technology, the only thing protecting us from a full-fledged surveillance society are the legal and political institutions we have inherited as Americans.”
“Unfortunately, the September 11 attacks have led some to embrace the fallacy that weakening the Constitution will strengthen America.”
Manufactured national security threats matter more than fundamental freedoms. Domestic spying is institutionalized.
Anyone can be monitored for any reason or none at all. Privacy rights are lost. Patriot Act legislation authorized unchecked government surveillance powers.
Financial, medical and other personal information can be accessed freely. So-called “sneak and peak” searches may be conducted through “delayed notice” warrants, roving wiretaps, email tracking, and Internet and cell phone use.
The FBI, CIA, NSA, and Pentagon spy domestically. So do state and local agencies. Spies “R” us defines US policy. America is a total surveillance society. It’s unsafe to live in. Everyone is suspect unless proved otherwise.
The 2012 FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act renewed warrantless spying. It passed with little debate. On Sunday, December 30, 2012 Obama signed it into law. Doing so largely went unnoticed.
These type disturbing measures usually slip below the radar. Weekends and holiday period enactments conceal blows to freedom. Warrantless spying became law for another five years.
Phone calls, emails, and other communications may be monitored secretly without court authorization. Probable cause isn’t needed. So-called “foreign intelligence information” is sought. Virtually anything qualifies. Vague language is all-embracing.
Months after 9/11, Bush secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans lawlessly. Sweeping surveillance followed without court-approved warrants.
Doing so violates core constitutional protections. Major US telecommunications companies are involved. They have been since 9/11. Things now are worse than then.
It headlined “Panel seeks to fine tech companies for noncompliance with wiretap orders,” saying:
“A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Facebook and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur, according to current and former US officials familiar with the effort.”
At issue is alleged FBI concerns about “Internet communications of terrorists and other criminals.”
FBI spying is longstanding. So are other lawless practices. Throughout its history, the agency operated within and outside the law.
J. Edgar Hoover ran it from 1924 – 1972. He waged war on communists, anti-war, human and civil rights activists, the American Indian Movement, Black Panther Party, and other groups challenging rogue state policies.
He ordered agents to infiltrate, disrupt, sabotage, and destroy them. Anyone advocating ethnic justice and racial emancipation, as well as economic, social, and political equality across gender and color lines became vulnerable.
Post-9/11, FBI abuses escalated. Intrusive surveillance tools now target ordinary Americans. Unchecked authority and other abusive practices are widespread. America’s war on terror matters most.
Disturbing tactics include greater physical surveillance, commercial database data retrieval, paid informants infiltrating groups (or targeting individuals) on false pretenses, and letting covert unidentified agents conduct “pretext” interviews for information.
Muslims are America’s target of choice. So are anti-war and social justice activists. A gloves off, no-holds barred approach is followed. Virtually anything is fair game. Innocent people are vulnerable.
The Patriot Act authorized so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). FBI agents take full advantage. They do so by demanding personal customer records from ISPs, financial institutions, credit companies, and other sources without prior court approval.
The FBI wants more. According to the Washington Post, it wants companies failing to heed wiretap orders penalized.
In February 2011, then FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni told House Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee members about a “Going Dark” problem.
She explained the agency’s inability to access comprehensive “communications and related data.” She claimed a “public safety” threat when critical information is missed.
In March 2013, current FBI general counsel Andrew Weissmann addressed an American Bar Association discussion. He did so on legal challenges new technologies pose, saying:
“We don’t have the ability to go to court and say, ‘We need a court order to effectuate the intercept.’ Other countries have that. Most people assume that’s what you’re getting when you go to a court.”
Under current law, Internet communications companies can refuse to comply with court-ordered wiretaps. They can claim no practical way to do so.
Proposed legislation would change things. It would force companies to rebuild their capability to allow government monitoring.
Weissmann calls doing so a “top priority.” Proposed legislation is being drafted. It’s an extension of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
It grants federal authorities sweeping surveillance powers. Doing so lets them spy on Americans more intrusively.
CALEA originally applied only to digital telephone networks. It forced telephone companies to redesign their network architectures to make wiretapping easier.
In 2005, online communications were added. Broadband providers had to rebuild their networks accordingly.
At issue was permitting access to Internet “phone calls” through VOIP applications, as well as online “conversations” by instant messaging programs.
Law enforcement wiretapping is longstanding. Existing laws permit tapping phone or online communications regardless of what programs or protocols are used.
Industry largely cooperates. Digital age surveillance is easier than authorities claim. They want greater ease than currently permitted. Expanding CALEA is overkill. Doing so enhances police state powers.
The FBI cites its “tappability principle.” It does so to justify its demands. It claims whatever is legally searchable sometimes should be physically searchable all times.
Applied to phone and Internet communications, it would require designing phones and computers with built-in bugs. Doing so would elevate surveillance powers. Everyone could be spied on at all times. Private communications no longer would exist.
Expanding CALEA is the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps software companies are next. Enhanced legislative authority may force them to create surveillance-ready programs. Doing so may compromise innovation.
Applying phone system rules to software development and online communications assures trouble. What’s longstanding policy for one compromises innovation for the others. It also more greatly undermines freedom.
Police state powers are enhanced. Companies are forced to comply. Under draft legislation, courts could levy fines. Judicial inquiries could impose additional ones. After 90 days, unpaid amounts would double daily.
According to Center for Democracy and Technology senior counsel Greg Nojeim:
“This proposal is a non-starter that would drive innovators overseas and cost American jobs. They might as well call it the Cyber Insecurity and Anti-Employment Act.”
Former federal prosecutor Michael Sussman added:
“Today, if you’re a tech company that’s created a new and popular way to communicate, it’s only a matter of time before the FBI shows up with a court order to read or hear some conversation.”
“If the data can help solve crimes, the government will be interested.”
In 2010, after its networks were hacked, Google began emails and text messages end-to-end encryption. Facebook followed suit.
Doing so compromises FBI monitoring. Agency officials want enhanced CALEA authorization permitting it.
They claim doing so only extends current law to new technologies. It requires phone and online companies to allow wiretapping.
It’s much more than that. It elevates mass surveillance to a dangerously higher level. It’s another step toward full-blown tyranny.
On April 29, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) headlined “Feds Push for Backdoor Wiretap Capabilities.”
According to CDT Senior Staff Technologist Joe Hall:
“A wiretapping mandate is a vulnerability mandate. The unintended consequences of this proposal are profound.”
“At the very time when the nation is concerned about cybersecurity, the FBI proposal has the potential to make our communications less secure.”
“Once you build a wiretap capability into products and services, the bad guys will find a way to use it.”
CDT President Leslie Harris added:
“What the FBI is proposing sounds benign, but it comes with such onerous penalties that it would force developers to seek pre-approval from the FBI.”
“No one is going to want to face fines that double every day, so they will go to the FBI and work it out in advance, diverting resources, slowing innovation, and resulting in less secure products.”
“The sad irony,” said Hall, “is that this is likely to be ineffective. Building a communications tool today is a homework project for undergraduates.”
“So much is based on open source and can be readily customized. Criminals and other bad actors will simply use homemade communication services based offshore, making them even harder to monitor.”
Media scholar/critic/activist Robert McChesney told Progressive Radio News Hour listeners how Internet freedom has been compromised.
His important new book “Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy” explains what should concern everyone.
“The corporate media sector (did) everything in its immense power to limit (its) openness and egalitarianism…., he said.”
“….corporate and state surreptitious monitoring of Internet users” compromises fundamental freedoms.
Doing so is “inimical to much of the democratic potential of digital communication.”
Internet freedom depends on “arrest(ing) the forces that promote inequality, monopoly, hypercommercialism, corruption, depoliticization, and stagnation.”
It requires ending mass surveillance powers. It’s about restoring lost democratic principles. America’s heading the wrong way. It’s perilously close to ending freedom altogether.