Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Skeptical member of commission attacks global-warming commission's report in meeting with legislators

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Member Criticizes Global Warming Commission
By John Lyon
LITTLE ROCK -- A member of the state Governor's Commission on Global Warming told lawmakers Wednesday they should be skeptical of the panel's recommendations for combating climate change.
Richard Ford, a professor of economics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, spoke at an informal meeting requested by Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, former Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Energy.
"I don't think we followed the law as given," Ford said.
Ford said the 2007 law that created the commission directed the body to "study the scientific data, literature and research on global warming to determine whether global warming is an immediate threat to the citizens in the state of Arkansas." He said that never happened.
"It was implicitly assumed that global warming is a pending catastrophe, that it had to be addressed, basically by limiting (carbon) emissions," he said.
The commission presented to the governor late last year a report containing 54 recommendations for reducing the state's contributions to climate change, including a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until pollution-control technology improves.
"I would ask you to be skeptical of many of the recommendations -- most of them," Ford said. "Be skeptical of the cost numbers. I several times pointed out that they were estimates on the low side because they just flat did not include everything."
The commission's report includes analysis of the costs to implement 29 of its recommendations. It estimates the net cost at $3.7 billion between 2009 and 2025.
Lawmakers also heard presentations by others with skeptical views of global warming.
Art Hobson, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and also a commission member, said in an interview Wednesday he believed the commission did follow the law.
Hobson noted the title of the legislation creating the commission states in part that its purpose is "to establish a global warming pollution reduction goal and comprehensive strategic plan."
"It didn't seem to me that we were really directed to study the underlying science," Hobson said, though he said as a scientist he would have been happy to discuss the scientific evidence of global warming.
Hobson also said he disagreed with Ford's assertion that the commission's cost estimates were inadequate.
"A lot of these policy options that we recommended would save money for Arkansas, and some would cost money. Those were very carefully worked out by CCS (the Center for Climate Strategies)," he said.
CCS, a nonprofit group based in Harrisburg, Pa., provided consulting services to the commission while it was preparing its report. Hobson said he has heard complaints that the group "roped Arkansas into doing this and into hiring CCS," but he said in fact it was the other way around.
"The commission was appointed, and then we looked around at each other and said, 'Well, what do we do now? How are we going to develop these ideas?' Then some of the people who were supporting the idea of the commission looked around and found CCS," he said.
Malone said he had hoped Ford and the other speakers could address an official meeting of the Joint Committee on Energy, but the scheduling of Wednesday's meeting conflicted with committee rules, so an informal meeting was held instead.
Malone encouraged people with other points of view to contact the committee's new Senate chairman, Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, and ask to make a presentation.

Naysayers get a say on global warming

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Critics To Give Minority Report On Climate Change

By John Lyon
LITTLE ROCK -- The House and Senate chairmen of the Joint Committee on Energy clashed Tuesday over a proposed meeting to hear an alternative view on global warming.

In a compromise, the chairmen decided not to hold an official meeting today but to allow the scheduled speakers to talk at an unofficial meeting at the Capitol, according to the panel's outgoing Senate chairman, who requested the meeting.

The committee had been scheduled to meet today to hear presentations from critics of the Governor's Commission on Global Warming, including a commission member.

The commission last year presented to the governor a report containing 54 recommendations for reducing the state's contributions to climate change, including a moratorium on new coal plants until pollution-control technology improves.

Commission member Richard Ford, an economics professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, planned to present a "minority report" at the energy committee's meeting. Ford said Tuesday the commission was charged by law with considering whether global warming is real.

"I don't think we did that," he said.

An announcement in the House chamber Tuesday declared the meeting canceled, but the committee's Senate chairman, Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, said Tuesday afternoon he was not consulted beforehand and he wondered aloud whether the House leadership was attempting to stifle debate on the issue.

"I'm having (the meeting) if I'm the only one there," Hendren told the Arkansas News Bureau.

Sen. Percy Malone, D-Arkadelphia, the committee's outgoing Senate chairman, said late Tuesday it turned out the meeting had been set before the new chairmen were appointed, in violation of committee rules.

Malone said a group that included him, the chairmen and House Speaker Robbie Wills, D-Conway, met and discussed scheduling a meeting for next week, but because some of the speakers were already in town a decision was made to let them speak today in Room 171, upon adjournment of both chambers. The event will not be an official meeting and will be for information purposes only, Malone said.

Malone and Hendren both said they were interested in hearing multiple points of view on the subject.

"I always said, we'll let anybody who has relevant information about a subject matter tell it," Malone said.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Windmill-blade plant announces layoffs in Little Rock

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Windmill blade maker announces Little Rock layoffs

By James Jefferson
LITTLE ROCK -- In a sign the economic crisis could calm Arkansas' soaring wind energy industry, the first of three planned windmill blade manufacturers to begin production in the state announced Tuesday it would lay off more than 150 workers.

LM Glasfiber experienced rapid growth last year but said business has slowed as developers find it harder to finance projects because of the national credit crunch.

The Danish firm announced plans for its Arkansas operations in July 2007, predicting its work force would grow to more than 1,100 within five years. Tuesday's announcement came less than a year into production.

The company said it would keep more than 350 employees in Little Rock. That includes about 60 who will transfer from a plant that is closing -- originally a training facility -- to the main plant at the Little Rock port. The transfer is in preparation for round-the-clock operations in Little Rock and is expected to be complete within 60 days.

"We remain strongly committed to our North American operations, including our new regional headquarters in Little Rock," said Randy Fox, vice president and general manager of North America operations.

Fox said as recently as three months ago the company was hiring 60 to 70 workers a month in anticipation of projects that have since been scaled back or canceled. He said the announced layoffs were permanent and did not rule out further job cuts.

"We hope this is it. We don't want to go at this piecemeal," Fox said. "In this environment, two or three months is a long time. If things change, we'll have to react accordingly."

Just last month, Gov. Mike Beebe hinted Arkansas was in line for a fourth windmill manufacturing operation.

Besides LM Glasfiber, Polymarin Composites USA Ltd. plans to begin operations in Little Rock this year along with Wind Water Technology, making windmill blades and turbines. Those operations comprise a $20 million investment and a projected work force of 800 employees. Also, Nordex USA Inc. announced in October plans for a $100 million wind turbine plant in Jonesboro that is expected to employ 700 people.

But a Beebe spokesman acknowledged Monday the administration was aware of rumblings of possible trouble in the industry.

North Dakota wind tower manufacturer DMI Industries announced layoffs Sunday six months after publicizing plans for a major expansion. The company cited significantly lower than expected production demands for 2009.

"We've been hearing, even before (the DMI) announcement, that the wind industry is seeing some slowdown with the rest of the economy," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Monday. "We don't know what the extent of the impact in Arkansas will be."

Beebe suggested Tuesday that LM Glasfiber's announcement was not surprising considering the economy and the company's rapid growth in Arkansas.

"They had ramped up faster than we had even anticipated, and by cutting back the 150 they're probably still on about the same course," the governor said. "But it's a reflection on the national economy."

Beebe said at their last meeting the nation's governors decried Congress' failure to extend the federal wind energy credit.

"What that does is, that creates uncertainty in those markets. It creates an uncertainty in that whole investment area. And when you do that, you're sending a mixed message," he said.

Fox said LM Glasfiber is confident growth will return, though he added "the time between ending this credit crisis and getting back to sustained growth -- you'd need a crystal ball to say how long that's going to be."

Frank Epps, president of Polymarin parent company EWT Americas, said Tuesday the company pushed back hiring of senior management in Little Rock during the fourth quarter of last year, in part because of the souring economy.

That hiring is taking place only now, which Epps said could push back the rollout of the first blades manufactured in Arkansas by several months this year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Antrim Caskey's slide show of coal-ash spill provided by AlterNet

Coal-ash spill from Tennessee power plant called America's worst environmental disaster

Can America Clean Up from Its Worst Environmental Disaster? [Contains Photo Slideshow]
By Antrim Caskey, AlterNet
Posted on January 5, 2009, Printed on January 5, 2009

Editor's Note: You can watch an incredible photo slideshow of the effects of the coal ash sludge spill at the bottom of this story.

Harriman, TN - On December 26, 2008, the Roane County Codes Enforcement Office condemned three homes along Swan Pond Circle Road in Harriman, Tennessee, four days after 5.4 million cubic yards, more than 1 billion gallons, of coal combustion waste (CCW) slurry surged, "like a tsunami" according to residents, into the confluence of the Emory and Clinch Rivers after breaking a 40-acre holding pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant.

The Schean family lake house, which they had spent that last 3.5 years restoring from a beaten up lakeside shack, was thrown off its foundation across the road thirty feet. Fifty-three-year-old James Schean was asleep in bed when the earthen retaining wall broke, sending a wave of coal sludge through his home; Schean escaped by kicking out the bedroom window and clamoring out of the house, just as emergency personnel arrived at the scene. Neither his wife nor his daughter were in the house at the time.

DeAnna Copeland, a neighbor of the Scheans, expressed her dismay at the destruction of the Schean lake-house, "every waking moment they were working on that house." The Schean house, the bass boat and James' red pick up truck all lay under a dark grey sludge, which was punctuated with household items, toys, and clothing that had been expelled from the house.

Many of the residents of Harriman and the surrounding river-front properties and forested peninsulas say they moved here to live out the latter part of their lives in a beautiful river setting -- many "cashed in everything" to buy river-front homes, like the Copeland family. As one of the police officers at a checkpoint along Swan Pond Circle Road said, "Sunday night, people went to bed with lake-side property; when they woke up Monday morning, it was gone."

Chris Copeland was startled awake at 12:40 am Monday morning, December 22. Copeland got dressed and drove his car down to the shore and put his high beams on to see what was going on. "I could hear things breaking and popping -- at first I thought it was a storm...I could see what looked like ocean waves going over our cove, then trees and debris," Copeland recalled. "I thought that the Melton Hill Dam had collapsed." Copeland, a fire fighter at the Oak Ridge National Laboratories, immediately called 911.

Copeland was up all night and "hasn't slept very well since," he admitted. Subsequently, his wife DeAnna and two young daughters, have gone to Florida to stay with relatives. Copeland said that he wanted to get his children away from the mess and he was not sure when they would come back.

This is not the first time that the coal ash containment ponds have breached at the Kingston Fossil plant. There have been two in recent years, one in 2003 and in 2006. Danny Collins, the manager of the Rockwood Municipal Airport, said that he'd noticed a green ooze coming from the retention wall of the waste pond for the last year and a half.

But this environmental disaster may be the worst in the country's history and the threats to health and the environment are severe, as the residents are beginning to learn. Clean up crews expressed their shock at the size and scope of the accident. "I ain't seen anything like this ever before," said one worker, who asked not to be identified by name because "TVA told us not to say anything. Fifteen years ago there was a tornado here -- it was nothing compared to this," he explained.

Residents in the affected area expressed frustration at TVA's response to citizens. DeAnna Copeland likened it to going to the emergency room for care and being put in a waiting room. "First they send the receptionist to check on you; next they send the candy striper. We need the doctor!"

In the wake of the spill, Kingston City Councilman Brant Williams called an emergency community meeting to be held at the Kingston Community Center, on Sunday, December 28. Five of the seven council members attended along with the Mayor Troy Beets, who also heads the City council, Ron Kilgore, CEO of TVA and Ron Hall, the Kingston plant manager.

According to Kilgore, 3 homes have been condemned, 42 homes were damaged in some way; at least 63 pieces of equipment are currently engaged in clean up efforts, "24-7." One by one, citizens raised their hands to make comments and ask questions. Mayor Beets handed each person a microphone, which usually ended up back in the hands of TVA CEO Ron Kilgore, who answered questions for hours.

Considering the magnitude of the spill, citizens were almost eerily polite; there was much talk of "not wanting to bash TVA." Some residents affected by the coal sludge spill expressed concern that if they spoke out against TVA that family members who did business with the company could lose their jobs.

Citizens listened to Kilgore enumerate the TVA plan of action: first to ensure public safety, second, to contain the spill, and third, the recovery stage. Kilgore repeatedly described planned efforts to monitor the water, air and soil around the spill but never explained to the approximately 300 people why these precautions were being taken.

He addressed the safety of clean up crews and admitted that he pulled them off task when rains came over the weekend after the spill, "you can imagine that it is kind of dangerous working with this stuff," he said. However, when a citizen later quoted back his statement and questioned health and safety issues, Kilgore said that he was describing the slickness endangering the workers, not the actual content of the spilled waste.

But there may be good reason for alarm. Activists representing United Mountain Defense, River Keepers and Citizen Coal Council distributed information about coal ash and its dangers at the meeting. Stephen Smith of demanded that Kilgore tell the crowd what is in the coal ash. Kilgore refused to answer saying only that, "we are concentrating our efforts on clean up."

Chris Irwin, with United Mountain Defense, spoke to the crowd warning them that this community meeting was "nothing more than a public relations snow job." As reported in the New York Times, December 30, TVA finally revealed an inventory of the Kingston Fossil Plant waste generation in detail : "In just one year, the plant's byproducts included 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4 million pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese. Those metals can cause cancer, liver damage and neurological complications, among other health problems. And the holding pond ... contained many decades' worth of these deposits."

Subsequently, independent tests of the water quality at the spill site and downstream, in coordination with Appalachian Voices and the Waterkeeper Alliance's Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Program, were conducted and analyzed this week. The results are frightening. Tests were conducted at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry labs at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. At the Kingston plant's canal intake, the tests revealed arsenic levels 300 times what federal laws allow; all samples contained "elevated levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury , nickel and thallium," according to Appalachian Voices' website.

Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, one of the scientists conducting the tests concluded, "The ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble, the aquatic ones for some time, until nature is able to bury these compounds in the environment," said Tuberty. "I don't know how long that will take, maybe generations."

The coal disaster at Kingston has clued Americans in to the real consequences of coal. We use coal-fired power for almost half of our daily electricity use; when you turn on your lights, your plasma TV or laptop computer, you are probably using coal. The coal industry, which has come under sustained attack, especially in the wake of global climate change, is spending tens of millions of dollars on a public relations war to convince Americans that coal is good and clean.

But many residents of Appalachia who live with the daily effects are strenuously opposed. Long before this latest disaster, citizens in the Coal River valley in southern West Virginia have pointed to the threats of massive sludge ponds in their neighborhood: Brushy Fork, which contains 9 billion gallons of sludge and the 2.8 billion gallons that sit above Marsh Fork Elementary School, which according to reports written between 1998 and 2005 by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, is at risk for failure which could fatally impact 1,000 people downstream. From the Coal River Valley -- and across the nation -- the people cry for Marsh Fork Elementary to be moved away from the toxic waste dump which has accrued hundreds of repeated violations. But West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin, III has refused this community's requests. Massey Energy, which runs the operation, assures West Virginians that their dam is safe and inspected regularly. But that is also what TVA assured the people of Kingston.

Clearly corporate responsibility is an issue when it comes to the threats posed by coal. In the case of Kingston, environmental organizations like Greenpeace are calling for criminal charges against TVA. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is planning to sue TVA under the Federal Clean Water Act. Additionally, Roane County land developers are suing TVA for $165 million. And many are hoping that the Kingston spill will be the impetus to help Americans commit to the immediate transition away from coal to clean, renewable energy.

Antrim Caskey is a Brooklyn-based independent photojournalist whose work focuses on community and social justice issues. Caskey has been reporting on the human and environmental costs of Mountaintop Removal/Valley Fill coal mining since May, 2005.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Friday, January 2, 2009

The Morning News reports that Beebe acknowledges reality of global warming

The Morning News

Local News for Northwest Arkansas

Global Warming Not A 'Hoax,' Beebe Says

By Rob Moritz
LITTLE ROCK -- Global warming is serious problem, not a "hoax," and requires more than a state response, Gov. Mike Beebe said Friday.

"I think it's a threat, and I think global warming is occurring," Beebe said in response to a caller to his statewide radio program who said he believed the climate change crisis was a "hoax."

Another caller asked if Arkansas was going to promote a national carbon tax, which is being discussed in Washington, D.C., as a way to get companies to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, a major cause of global warming.

Any initiative designed to tackle the global warming issue "shouldn't be done on a state-by-state basis ... It should be done regional, national or global," Beebe said during his monthly call-in show "Ask the Governor" on the Arkansas Radio Network.

In October, the Governor's Commission on Global Warming recommended the state impose a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the state until technology to capture emissions improves. Southwestern Electric Power Co. is building a $1.5 billion coal-fired plant in Southwest Arkansas.

The commission, which said the plants are a major source of carbon emissions, also suggested a carbon tax that would set a fee for the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

In November, the state Department of Environmental Quality granted an air quality permit for the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in Hempstead County.

Last month, opponents presented the governor with 3,700 signatures on petitions asking that the project be halted until environmental concerns can be addressed. Beebe said he did not think he has the authority to impose such a moratorium.

Responding to another caller Friday, Beebe said he had not reviewed a bill pre-filed this week that would allow consumers to place security freezes on their credit reports, but said he agrees with the concept.

Rep. Dawn Creekmore, D-Hensley, prefiled a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would expand the state's current security-freeze law and allow all consumers, not just those who have already been victims of identity theft, to place freezes on their credit reports.

In 2007, Beebe vetoed similar legislation by Creekmore, saying he was concerned that parts of the legislation might be taken advantage of by those wanting to commit identify theft.

"We had some concerns that it would do more harm than good," the governor said Friday.

Beebe later in the 2007 session signed a measure backed by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel that allows credit freezes for victims of identify theft.

Late last year, three of the nation's main credit bureaus began allowing consumers to places freezes on their reports, regardless of whether they were victims of identify theft.

"If this can be written in such a way that you can do this even before you've been affected by a credit problem, then yes, I can be supportive of it," Beebe said. "The concept is 'yes, let's protect the consumers, but let's not make it easier for the bad guys.'"