An Average Person

with a little Liberal Commentary, Progressive News, Opinions and Ranting.

It's a mad world out there, folks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The War on the EPA

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Tea in hand to watch my morning news. In the midst of a hot sip I looked up to see a commercial openly blasting the EPA. The EPA? Really?

It was akin to watching a car crash, because I just Couldn't Look Away.

I have to admit, I thought I might have fallen asleep and dreamed this commercial. But no, this ACCCE ad airs nationwide under the name "America's Power". But is it really fooling anyone? I shudder to think of the family who wants to save a few bucks at the gas pump, but in exchange are willing to except anything less than quality air, water and soil for their children. And yet this is what the debate comes down to. Money versus Nature. The position of the ACCCE, as well as a number of Republican candidates for president, is that the Environmental Protection Agency has "killed jobs" with their environmental standards and regulations. This is actually happening now, and many of us knew it would. Rick Perry's campaign contributors must be so proud. The National Institute on Money in Politics states that the oil and gas industry has contributed $4,902,958 to Rick Perry's Campaign, so methinks this may have something to do with the 12.47% of the contributions Perry has brought in from the Oil and Gas industry.

Why is this an issue we need to be passionate about? Because what the opposition is stating  is so obviously flawed. According to the World Research Institute:
In her February 9th testimony (PDF, 218 Kb) before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Dr. Margo Thorning based her primary conclusions regarding possible negative economic implications of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on modeling and policy analysis supported by questionable assumptions that have been criticized by expert economists on several recent occasions. Dr. Thorning’s approach to economic modeling has been commonly used by opponents of environmental regulations for years. Peer-reviewed studies, based on more supportable modeling assumptions (i.e., grounded in empirical data), have demonstrated that her pessimistic assumptions and one-sided, cost-only modeling practices will inevitably yield gross over-estimates of the economic costs of such regulations. Based on our careful review of Dr. Thorning’s testimony and our own research on the subjects of public policy, industrial energy efficiency and economic modeling, we reached the following conclusions:

    The EPA is proceeding in a reasonable manner with the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on cost-effective opportunities for energy efficiency and by limiting requirements to the largest pollution sources.

    Dr. Thorning makes the unrealistic, unfounded assumption that the U.S. economy is constantly operating under optimal conditions – and that all resources are efficiently allocated at all times – leading her directly to the following incorrect conclusions of core significance to her testimony.

        First, Dr. Thorning’s economic model operates under the assumption that business-as-usual is always optimal and any public policy – including energy efficiency policies – can only slow economic growth and yield net job losses.

        Second, she asserts, without supporting evidence, that U.S. manufacturers are currently operating at optimal energy productivity and that public policy has no role to play in removing barriers or otherwise increasing private sector investments in industrial energy efficiency.

    In fact, there are many untapped opportunities for cost-effective investments in industrial energy-efficiency. With roughly half of industrial boilers in the United States now more than 46 years old (Energy and Environment Analysis, 2005), for example, there is abundant evidence that facility upgrades could increase productivity, with net benefits for manufacturers and for the economy as a whole.

Full text of statement available for download

We learn, essentially, that the model which gave us these "jobs lost" numbers is flawed and unsupported by evidence. It's not a surprise, but it gives us a glimpse at the slight of hand these companies are willing to perform in full public view. It has been argued that the effect of EPA regulations on jobs lost is pretty much neutral, as new regulations provide employment to new inspectors and a variety of other positions within the private sector and the EPA. So Big Oil and "Clean Coal" are lying? What now?

We get more informed, more angry and more passionate than ever.

Let's break up the monotony with a fun little music video about the dangers of fracking, shall we?

Knowing is Half the Battle.

What else do we know? Well we know that Oil and Gas have numerous EPA violations for contamination of water and air. Let's explore these. From the EPA website:

The CWA violation settled in U.S. v. Berry Petroleum was part of a multi-agency (federal and state) case relating to a crude oil spill of 2,000 barrels from an oil production facility in a wetland area located adjacent to a California state beach. The spill contaminated the wetlands, adjacent ocean, and nearby beaches. It was determined that the spill occurred, in large part, because the facility failed to implement its EPA-mandated SPCC plan. Berry Petroleum paid $800,000 to EPA for the CWA violation in addition to $1.06 million in penalties to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other federal and state agencies. Berry also transferred $1,315,000 to a trust fund administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that will be used for long term restoration of the site.

Here you can find a multitude of EPA non-compliance cases.

So the EPA is regulating, and it seems some companies just don't want to comply. One would think that in order to sell your product you would want your customers...what is that word I'm looking for...Alive. Pollution is estimated to cause about 40% of world wide deaths. That is a significant statistic, and one we cannot afford to ignore any longer.

In my opinion, the Big Oil, Natural Gas and Coal industries are fear-mongering. That isn't a term I like to throw around lightly, but when you have a significant amount of people living in poverty or economic uncertainty and you are feeding them lies about losing their already threatened jobs, you might be a fear-monger. Americans are stressed, we're tired, and above all else we are poor. The last thing any hard worker wants to hear is that the EPA wants to make him lose his job so the Hippies will be happy. But that is not the case at all, as we've been seeing. So why do these Natural Resource mega-companies think they cause persuade the American voter to vote against his or her best interests?

The answer is simple. They believe you are stupid. They put nuggets of misinformation out there, along with the "jobs, jobs, jobs" rhetoric, in order to scare you into letting them kill you. They may not be knocking on your door with a shotgun, but the pollution spewing from these industries is effecting your air, water and soil quality.

The ACCCE, otherwise know as America's Power has this on their website:
What exactly do we mean when we say clean coal technology?

“Clean coal technology” is a term of art meaning the entire suite of technologies that can be used to reduce the environmental footprint of coal-based electricity plants. These technologies include devices that increase the operational efficiency of a power plant, as well as those technologies that reduce emissions. Early work to promote clean coal technologies focused on efforts to reduce traditional pollutant emissions like sulfur dioxide (SO2); nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are a precursor to urban smog; and particulate matter. And because technology is often evolutionary, the role and definition of what constitutes clean coal technology will change as we develop and deploy new technologies to respond to new and emerging environmental challenges.

When you look at the results, it is clear that clean coal technologies have provided substantial benefits to our nation.

To date, the coal-based electricity sector’s investments in clean coal technology have provided measurable benefits through improved air quality and continued access to affordable electricity to the American consumer. Because of those investments to date, the environmental performance of coal-based generation for traditional emissions such as SO2, NOx and particulate matter has been significantly improved.

But there is still work to be done.

Climate-change concerns represent a serious challenge. Today, energy companies are working with the federal government to develop, demonstrate and deploy the next generation of advanced technologies. These technologies will make it possible to reduce emissions to very low levels for traditional pollutant emissions, as well as capture and safely store carbon dioxide, while ensuring a reliable supply of affordable electricity to meet America’s growing energy needs using America’s most abundant, domestically produced fuel.

And why, do you suppose, are these technologies more "Clean"? Because the EPA forced them to be, for your safety. The EPA has this overview posted to their website, documenting a few policies that have effected pollution in surrounding ecosystems:

Today we've done some good work, maybe we've become more informed. Tomorrow we look at what's next. How will new, green systems impact our energy capabilities in an oil-depleted future?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Education in America

Yesterday was MSNBC's first day of Education Nation: Teacher Town Hall, one of a series of 2 hour meet and greets with the nation's teachers. It's moderated by the always classy and comedic Brian Williams, and gives teachers nationwide a voice and a forum to host their concerns. Teachers from across the country gave their input through the website Education Nation, and through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Among the many stories shared on day one of this week long forum, one in particular stood out to me.  Teacher Brian Crosby, hailing from Nevada, spoke of technological means for innovation in classrooms at length. His story of a young girl facing a battle with Leukemia, who used skype and a laptop to attend his class every day, shows the innovation teachers are willing  to embrace if it means reaching their students. Crosby's classroom also used Flickr to host pictures and all of his students had Blogs to update. Teachers are prepared to teach in the Information Age, and students need to learn computer skills for an ever growing amount of careers it could involve. The problem here appears to be funding. Schools in rural communities, and low income students may not have consistent access to online educational resources. This creates a problem for teachers who do want to give their classes these types of skills. Social networking is a medium school kids understand, and it is vital to prepare them for the world beyond the classroom.

Poverty is another issue Teachers are grappling with today. Statistics from the Federal Government say 14 million children Live in Poverty here in the U.S., 19% of the children living in our country. And that is 2.5 million more children than in 2000. With numbers this overwhelming it can be difficult to come up with a solution to the issue of hunger and the burden of poverty weighing children down in this country. In MSNBC's Teacher Town Hall, many teachers said that hunger was a very real problem, especially in low income districts.  According to  The Poverty level for a single parent in 2009 was  $10,830, and for a two parent home it goes up to $14, 570. There seems to be an enormous problem with wealth disparity and the ability to learn in the classroom of today. Many teachers interviewed during the town hall meeting said that they had a large percentage of students on the free lunch program, and one had an instance where a child could not afford as new uniform and therefore could not attend school. At  you can see the statistics regarding a Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which shows a significant effect in preventing clinical depression in at risk youth.  With so many in poverty, the weight of this can have a sizable affect on children in low income families. The thought is that these overwhelming burdens stand in the way of education as a whole, and is a roadblock we cannot ignore on the way to higher education.

Can social aid programs deal with the rising poverty levels and meet the challenges for a set of troubled kids? That really is the question for me. Nutrition Assistance Programs like SNAP fill a need for low income families to meet their nutritional requirements. However on this subject I do not feel it does enough. As a child who grew up with occasional Government Benefits, I can tell you there were still many times when my mother had to go off by herself to cry and privately worry that we would not have enough food for the upcoming week. And this did have an enormous effect on my personal ability to learn. How can a child throw themselves into a full load of coursework when at home Mom and Dad can't find the resources to make ends meet. Education Nation will be devoting an entire session to the issues of Poverty in our schools, and I will be taking notes and doing heavy research to bring more on that end of the story.

Overwhelmingly, the theme of Education Nation seemed to be that teachers want to be treated as capable, decision-making, professionals. I agree with all of the Teachers who said they deserved to be paid for the amount of hard work and sacrifice they put in, the irregular hours, and the supplies they pay for out-of-pocket. In a survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association it was found that Teachers pay for 77% of their classroom supplies. Teachers desperately need the resources to reach out to America's children.  According to the AFP The United States was ranked 25th for mathematics compared to 34 other nations, we were ranked 17th for science and 14th for reading skills. These are alarming statistics. How will we ever be a Super Power with such low academic results? The problem is not the nations teachers. It is the system in which teachers are forced to work. They put in their long hours and dedication teaching the youth of America, even while states like Wisconsin and my home state of Ohio are trying to destroy parts of their collective bargaining.

How have we gotten so lost, America? Land of Opportunity, Land of the Free, Stop failing the nation's children. Legislation effecting education can not be shoved on the back burner until the economy is settled. These children will grow up and need careers in which they can make a livable salary. The problem is urgent and it faces us right this moment.

Stay tuned for more parts of this series on Education in America.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Elizabeth Warren on fair Taxation

Also, you should all check out this excellent article (complete with nice, bright charts) from Mother Jones on the the Whys and Hows of the Super Rich.

Notepad in hand

I'm settling down for the MSNBC Education Nation: Teacher Town Hall. I have my notebook open and am ready for some comprehensive note taking. Thankfully a terrific Science teacher taught me how to do this.

Article should be up by tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Something Affecting my Home State

A Life of (Food) Service

In April of 2011 I quit my job as a shift manager for a popular chain of coffee and bakery shops here in Ohio. This job paid 8.75 an hour, had no options for health care for even the most senior managers, no breaks and no sick days.

 Why did I quit this Gem of a job? Good question.

 As a manager for this restaurant chain I commonly had to call people with strep, the flu, pink eye and a series of other illnesses you would want to touch your food, and tell them they had to show up for their shift or they would be fired. They could go to the Emergency Room and obtain a note so we could not legally fire them. However most of the people I worked with did not have insurance. They did not have a few hundred dollars to give to a Hospital, in order to get this required Doctor's Note. I saw many, many people fired for this in my 2 year position. I did not have a choice, all firings were handed down from The Big Boss Man.

 And I saw and went through some extremely distasteful things. I came in for 5 8-hour shifts at a temperature of 102 degrees. Snot pouring from my nose, my eyes hazy and my mind exhausted. I made people's food with these symptoms because I was the only person who had been there long enough to keep up with a morning rush. And I became good Friends with these people. I've seen them punished with being let go or having their hours cut to the point where they had no choice but to quit and find a job that didn't hold illness against them. There are not a lot of those jobs available to these people.

 The Big Boss Man had his 7 managers (3 from one store he owned, and 4 from another) spending all of their gas money making multiple trips to other stores in our district to beg to borrow product because he did not want to order a proper amount for services. We attempted to organize a chart detailing miles driven and gas used in an effort to get reimbursed for these 50-100 dollar a paycheck expenses. We were systematically ignored.

 I had to overdraw my bank account two paychecks in a row to even afford to drive to work, and despite working extremely hard to become a manager in the first place it seemed as though I was actually doing worse financially. The occasional 16 hour shift began to happen more often, and the chronic joint pain I've suffered from since the age of 19 began to worsen. Things had started to fall apart.

 I attempted to have these physical issues addressed through a clinic for low-income people, but they did not have the resources to properly diagnose the joint pain and seizures I had been suffering. I then attempted to find a low cost government funded option for people with too little money to afford health care. At roughly 15,500 a year, I was told I made far too much money to qualify for assistance. I was between a rock and an extremely painful place. So I made a decision and quit this job after I had once again attempted to rectify the reimbursement issue with The Big Boss Man.

 Does this make me a lazy, no-account slacker? I don't believe so. My fiance has a decent job (although he has to travel about 50 miles a day to get to it) and he and I made the decision together, with him strongly encouraging me to think of my health before my dedication to my job. And believe me, I had an insane level of dedication. I believe in hard work. I believe in integrity. That's how I was raised. You are either all in or all out.

 But I had a choice to make- do I allow myself to be exploited for someone else's gain without any of my needs being met, or do I attempt to stand up for myself even if it means I have to quit on principle?

 I believe I made the correct choice for myself. But many cannot quit their exploitative jobs because they will not survive. Financial security does not exist down here on the bottom. And I empathize with all food service workers (and any other worker) fighting against these conditions and abuses. They do exist.

 So next time you go through a Drivethru, remember that the person on the other side of the window may be miserable for good reason.

Getting to Know You

There are a lot of things I will not pretend to be. I'm not the most highly educated woman. I am not an expert. I have opinions, and they are informed. I observe a lot of things in the course of daily life that upset me, and a lot of things in politics and society that I see as incorrect or unjust.

 I am young. I do not have much in the way of experience. But these things I view as an asset. It gives me a somewhat unique opportunity to look at things literally from the bottom up. And I do not like what I see.

 I may be brash sometimes, I may be bold, and I may in fact rant about my opinions. Disagreement is Patriotic- I plan to show I am engaged, no matter what my views are and the level of their popularity.

Hopefully with a little hard work and help, I can turn this into a conversation starter. I plan to try.