Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Create Food Democracy, Occupy our Food Supply by Vandana Shiva / Rainforest Action Network / Common Dreams

The biggest corporate takeover on the planet is the hijacking of the food system, the cost of which has had huge and irreversible consequences for the Earth and people everywhere.
From the seed to the farm to the store to your table, corporations are seeking total control over biodiversity, land, and water. They are seeking control over how food is grown, processed, and distributed. And in seeking this total control, they are destroying the Earth’s ecological processes, our farmers, our health, and our freedoms.(GLobal Crop Diversity Trust)
It starts with seeds. Monsanto and a few other gene giants are trying to control and own the world’s seeds through genetic engineering and patents. Monsanto wrote the World Trade Organization treaty on Intellectual Property, which forces countries to patent seeds. As a Monsanto representative once said: “In drafting these agreements, we were the patient, diagnostician [and] physician all in one.”
They defined a problem, and for these corporate profiteers the problem was that farmers save seeds, making it difficult for them to continue wringing profits out of those farmers. So they offered a solution, and their solution was that seeds should be redefined as intellectual property, hence seed saving becomes theft and seed sharing is criminalized. I believe that saving seeds and protecting biodiversity is our ecological and ethical duty. That is why I started Navdanya 25 years ago.
Navdanya is a movement to occupy the seed. We have created 66 community seed banks, saved 3000 rice varieties, stopped laws that would prevent us from seed saving, and fought against biopiracy.
Corporations like Monsanto have created a seed emergency. This is the reason I am starting a global citizen’s campaign on seed sovereignty. I hope you will all join. The lawsuit that 84 organizations, including Navdanya, have filed against Monsanto in New York through the Public Patent Foundation is an important step in reclaiming seed sovereignty.
The next step in the corporate control of the food supply chain is on our farms. Contrary to the claims of corporations, the chemical-based “green” revolution and genetic engineering do not produce more food. Navdanya’s report on GMOs, Health per Acre, shows that the GMO emperor has no clothes. Biodiverse organic farming protects nature while increasing nutrition per acre. We have the solutions to hunger, but it’s not profitable for major industrial agriculture companies like Monsanto and Cargill to implement those solutions.
Cargill, the world’s biggest grain giant, wrote the WTO’s agriculture agreement, which has destroyed local production and local markets everywhere, uprooted small farmers, devastated the Amazon, and speculated on food commodities, pushing millions to hunger. A global corporate-controlled food system robs farmers of their incomes by pushing down farm prices, and robs the poor of their right to food by pushing up food prices. If a billion people are hungry today, it is because of greed-driven, capital-intensive, unsustainable, corporate-controlled globalized industrial agriculture. While creating hunger worldwide, agribusiness giants collect our tax money as subsidies in the name of removing hunger.
This system has pushed another 2 billion to food-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. Replacing healthy, local food culture with junk and processed food is achieved through food safety laws, which I call pseudo-hygiene laws. At the global level these include the Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary agreement of the WTO. At the national level they include new corporate-written food safety laws in Europe and India, and the Food Safety Modernization Act in the US.
The final link in the corporate hijacking of the food system is retail giants like Walmart. We have been resisting the entry of Walmart in India because Big Retail means Big Ag, and together the corporate giants destroy small shops and small farms that provide livelihoods to millions.
We must Occupy Our Food Supply because corporations are destroying our seed and soil, our water and land, our climate, and biodiversity. Forty percent of the greenhouse gases that are destabilizing the climate right now come from corporate industrial agriculture. Seventy percent of water is wasted for industrial agriculture. Seventy-five percent of biodiversity has been lost due to industrial monocultures.
We have alternatives that protect the Earth, protect our farmers, and protect our health and nutrition. To occupy the food system means simultaneously resisting corporate control and building sustainable and just alternatives, from the seed to the table. One seed at a time, one farm at a time, one meal at a time — we must break out of corporate food dictatorship and create a vibrant and robust food democracy.
Vandana Shiva
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Soaking the Customer: Private Companies Infiltrate the Water Market, We're Getting the Raw Deal by Wenonah Hauter / Other Words / Common Dreams

Ruby Williams, a 78-year-old Aqua Pennsylvania customer, got stuck with a $40,000 water bill because of a serious leak in the pipes under her home in Bristol Township, Pennsylvania. After her situation garnered national media attention, the private company agreed to reduce her bill to a few hundred dollars.(ILRI / Flickr)
Likewise, the Price family of Stallings, North Carolina recently had their sewage service cut off by Aqua North Carolina despite having paid an overdue bill. The company demanded $1,000 to restore it — hundreds of dollars more than the actual cost to do the work. Again, thanks to bad publicity and public outrage, Aqua backed down.
It's not just American consumers that feel the pinch as our municipal water systems change from public to private hands — and it's not just that Aqua America is one bad actor, either. Private interests worldwide increasingly control our water. Too often, customers are getting a raw deal.
Nestlé, Veolia, and Suez Environnement are just a few of the multinational corporations that either provide water services to our homes, bottle our communities' spring water, or otherwise control the vast amounts of water needed to power our industries. All of us, like Ruby Williams and the Price family, will pay the price — unless we stop allowing them to turn our water into a commodity that they can exploit, and instead force our governments to do their jobs and protect our water resources.
Many economists, market-oriented environmentalists, and think tanks say we should let the market decide when it comes to water provision. They say that the higher the market value of water becomes, the more likely it is that people will use it wisely. That's a thorny proposition for a public resource that has no substitution and that is essential for human life. As consumers have seen, market forces can create untenable burdens by driving up water rates.
At the most extreme, companies cornering the water market will price out the poor. As the planet's population (7 billion and counting) and industrial development increases, entire freshwater lakes disappear, groundwater resources are drawn down, and technologies — including chemicals used in fossil fuel extraction — pollute water supplies. It doesn't take a brilliant economist to recognize that water will become more valuable. That means the companies that control it will become richer. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide already lack access to clean water and sanitation. Their numbers will increase.
It's wrong to let the private sector drive water policy. But it’s already beginning to happen. This trend will be on full display in France at the World Water Forum, which begins March 12. Many of the same companies that increasingly control our water will be holding a corporate trade show disguised as a multi-stakeholder forum to create solutions for providing water to the world's poor. Letting the private sector take the lead on these efforts is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.
After all, as consumers time and time again have experienced, corporations in the water business are accountable primarily to their shareholders, not the people they serve or the localities in which they operate. Conversely, public officials can be voted out if their constituents don't like the services rendered.
All people deserve access to an adequate supply of clean water. Profits reaped from water services should be reinvested in the local community, not pocketed by shareholders half a world away. It's in the public interest.
Wenonah Hauter
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply FEBRUARY 27, 2012 by Common Dreams

Food justice advocates rise up to confront corporate control of our food system

- Common Dreams staff               
An alliance of Occupy groups, environmental and food justice organizations have called for a global day of action on February 27 to resist corporate control of our food system and to work towards a healthy food supply for all.
Occupy Our Food Supply is a call facilitated by Rainforest Action Network and is supported by over 60 Occupy groups and over 30 organizations including Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farms Coalition and Pesticide Action Network.
Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Agribusiness campaigner with Rainforest Action Network says of the day of action:
"Occupy our Food Supply is a day to reclaim our most basic life support system – our food – from corporate control. It is an unprecedented day of solidarity to create local, just solutions that steer our society away from the stranglehold of industrial food giants like Cargill and Monsanto,”
Occupy Our Food Supply supporter Vandana Shiva says:
"Our food system has been hijacked by corporate giants from the Seed to the table. Seeds controlled by Monsanto, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Philip Morris, retail controlled by Walmart - is a recipe for Food Dictatorship. We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."
Occupy Wall Street’s Sustainability and Food Justice Committees also issued a letter in support of the day of action:
“On Monday, February 27th, 2012, OWS Food Justice, OWS Sustainability, Oakland Food Justice & the worldwide Occupy Movement invite you to join the Global Day of Action to Occupy the Food Supply. We challenge the corporate food regime that has prioritized profit over health and sustainability. We seek to create healthy local food systems. We stand in Solidarity with Indigenous communities, and communities around the world, that are struggling with hunger, exploitation, and unfair labor practices.”
“On this day, in New York City, community gardeners, activists, labor unions, farmers, food workers, and citizens of the NYC metro area, will gather at Zuccotti Park at noon, for a Seed Exchange, to raise awareness about the corporate control of our food system and celebrate the local food communities in the metro area.”
Vandana Shiva:  "We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."
"When our food is at risk, we are all at risk."
In an op-ed on the Huffington Post today, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, supporters of the day of action, emphasize that the consolidation of our food supply is harming the environment, food safety and farmers:
Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can't find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about foodborne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farmworker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day's work.
When our food is at risk we are all at risk.
Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.
What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.
This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.
The Occupy Our Food Supply website indicates that the action is Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, and that in addition to confronting the corporation control of our food supply, we must work towards solutions to make healthy food accessible to everyone. It invites people to share their fair food solutions on their Facebook page and on Twitter using the #F27 hashtag.
* * *
Eric Holt-Giménez, Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First Executive Director, writes that while the demand to fix the food system seems reasonable, it does not address the "inequitable foundations of the global food system."
The goal of food justice activists is a sustainable and equitable food system. Their strategy is to actively construct this alternative. Tactics include community gardens, CSAs, organic farming, etc. The problem is that this combination of strategy and tactics only addresses individual and institutional inequities in the food system, leaving the structure of the corporate food regime intact. The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful -- and why it is feared. The political alignment of these movements, however, is no small challenge.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Friday, February 24, 2012

NRDC Lawsuit Seeks to Ban Agent Orange Ingredient from Weed and Feed Products / Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) / Common Dreams

Popular Use of Toxin 2,4-D in Pesticides Poised to Skyrocket without Action

WASHINGTON - February 23 - Seeking to ban a World War II-era toxic weed killer ingredient called 2,4-D, the Natural Resources Defense Council today filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their failure to respond to a 2008 petition to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances of this known neurotoxin and ingredient in Agent Orange.   
“This dangerous pesticide is lurking all over the place – from ball fields and golf courses, to front lawns and farms – exposing an enormous amount of the American public to cancer and other serious health risks,” said NRDC senior scientist Dr. Gina Solomon. “There’s no reason to continue allowing a toxic Agent Orange-ingredient in the places our children play, our families live and our farmers work. EPA must step up and finally put a stop to it.” 
2,4-D is one of the oldest pesticides still legally on the market. Forty-six million pounds of 2,4-D are still used every year in the United States alone, applied, often via weed-and-feed products, to areas such as front lawns, playgrounds, and golf courses. Agricultural uses of 2,4-D include application to pasture land, timber, wheat, corn, soybeans, barley, rice, oats, and sugar cane.
Despite dozens of scientific studies that have long demonstrated 2,4-D’s link to cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, cell damage, severe hormonal disruption, reproductive problems and birth defects, it remains the most commonly used conventional pesticide-based weed control product in the home and garden market and one of the top three pesticides sold nationwide today.
The pesticide has been detected in drinking water and as a contaminant in surface water and groundwater. The pesticide also lingers in soil for over a month after it is applied to lawns, meaning 2,4-D can easily finds its way into homes tracked in by shoes and pet paws. 2,4-D is classified by EPA as a hazardous air pollutant and by the State of California as a toxic air contaminant.
2,4-D can be absorbed through the skin, making anyone who applies it or is in contact with lawns or surface water near application at risk of exposure. As a result, young children who crawl on carpets or play on the floor are most vulnerable to indoor exposure by hand-to-mouth ingestion, skin absorption, and inhalation of dust.
The NRDC lawsuit, which calls for EPA to respond to a petition to ban 2,4-D, comes on the heels of aggressive pushes by agricultural biotechnology companies eager to win U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval of newly engineered and pesticide-resistant crops. Dow Agrosciences is petitioning to deregulate its 2,4-D-resistant genetically engineered crops with USDA, for which the agency is currently accepting public comments through April.
Toxic 2,4-D is expected to be used in even greater quantities as weeds have become increasingly resistant to Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup. If Dow Agrosciences’ genetically modified 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybean crops gain USDA approval, use of 2,4-D could increase by 50-fold or more. This will put thousands more Americans at unnecessary risk and further contaminate our air and water. Also, wide-scale application of 2,4-D threatens other crops grown downwind, as well as trees, landscaping, and vegetable gardens, since these plants are easily damaged or killed by 2,4-D.
“We cannot ignore the serious harm 2,4-D poses to human health and safety any longer,” said Nick Morales, NRDC attorney. “EPA already understands the health threats. Now the agency needs to act on them.”
For more information about 2,4-D and the serious human health impacts, please see NRDC’s fact sheet and Gina Solomon’s blog.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Links:

Central Pennsylvania Cave, Bats, and Other Rare Wildlife Saved from Mine / Center for Biological Diversity / Common Dreams

WILLIAMSBURG, Pa. - February 23 - Conservationists have succeeded in saving a central Pennsylvania cave and surrounding wildlife habitat from a proposed limestone mine. A state-endangered bat species and a tiny cave arthropod found nowhere else on the planet are among the beneficiaries of the settlement agreement reached today by conservation groups Center for Biological Diversity and Juniata Valley Audubon Society, and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Catharine Properties, LLC, the mine developer. In exchange for dropping their lawsuit against the DEP and Catharine Properties, the conservationists have received a formal pledge from the company that it will not disturb the cave site or surrounding area, or bring harm to the species of concern.
“Bats in the Northeast have been under huge pressure in recent years, because of the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Further stressing these animals, by destroying important bat habitat and possibly even killing bats directly, is completely unacceptable.”
The groups had challenged the DEP permit because it failed to protect the eastern small-footed bat, which hibernates in Heller Cave and roosts in rock piles in the surrounding area. The mine also threatened the sole location of the Heller Cave springtail, first discovered in 1997. Hikers, bicyclists, and birdwatchers were concerned about the impact of the quarry on the adjoining Lower Trail, and local residents worried about the safety of hundreds of quarry trucks per day, driving back and forth on the area’s narrow, rural roads.
The bats in Heller Cave were discovered to have contracted the newly emergent fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, two winters ago. Bats throughout the eastern United States have been devastated by the illness, which is estimated to have killed nearly 7 million bats over the last five years, in 16 states and four provinces. The Center filed a federal petition two years ago requesting endangered species listing of the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat, which has also been found in the vicinity of the mine site. Both species have experienced steep declines due to the ravages of the disease.
The terms of the settlement agreement stand so long as Catharine Properties, or its successors, are without an approved “large non-coal” mining permit. The large permit would be subject to the same review, and potential litigation, as the small permit that had been challenged by the conservation groups. Among the claims brought by the groups was that DEP had not included a requirement in the permit for a “total avoidance area” around Heller Cave — a stipulation made by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in its review of the permit’s impact on state-protected species.
Stan Kotala, Conservation Chair for the Juniata Valley Audubon, was cautiously optimistic that the long-term outcome for the Heller Cave area would be its permanent protection. “Ideally, this site, which has been recognized by both Blair County and the state of Pennsylvania as an outstanding natural area, will eventually be protected by a permanent designation, such as a conservation easement. Until then, our groups will stay vigilant to protect this special place.”
The conservation groups were joined in the lawsuit by wildlife advocate Laura Jackson, and were represented by Professor Kenneth T. Kristl and his law students at Widener University Environment and Natural Resources Law Clinic. The Delaware-based school has a campus in Harrisburg.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Juniata Valley Audubon is a regional conservation organization with more than 600 members in Blair, Huntingdon, and Bedford Counties, Pennsylvania.

How the New Mexico Anti–Nuclear Campaign Achieved A Major Victory by Subhankar Banerjee / Common Dreams

On February 17, as I was stepping out the door for an exhibition opening of my arctic photographs and to participate in an environmental panel at Fordham University with former New York State assistant attorney general Robert Emmet Hernan, I received an email news update from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a Santa Fe, New Mexico based NGO that began with these words, “We have reason to celebrate with the ‘abandonment’ of the proposed Nuclear Facility as part of the Chemistry & Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) by President Obama and the Department of Energy.”Joni Arends and David Bacon with smoke from the Las Conchas Fire in the background (Photo by Subhankar Banerjee)
On February 13, the President released his proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. On page 26 of the document “Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings: Budget of the U.S. Government” we find, “The Administration proposes deferring the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility... for at least five years.” Then on February 17 the Albuquerque Journal reported, “Chu [U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu] told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the Department of Energy decided to abandon—at least for now—a planned LANL plutonium lab because of budget constraints.”

Abandoned or postponed—either way, this is a major victory for the New Mexico anti–nuclear activists and community members who have been fighting this issue since 2003. So far the news has mostly escaped the radars of the national mainstream and progressive media—I found one Associated Press article, and few articles in the New Mexico newspapers. But this story has local, regional and national significance, so I’ll share a bit more with you.

In New Mexico, the two national labs—Los Alamos and Sandia wield a lot of power as they bring in a lot of money into the state—to develop among other things weapons of mass destruction. These projects are usually justified with a simple argument—in the interest of National Security—the U.S. sacred cow. It isn’t easy for an elected official—state or federal to oppose a major weapons project at one of these labs. The Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board was quick to express their displeasure with President’s decision and blamed it on the mismanagement at the lab, “New Mexico’s Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the committee, noted that ‘for years we have been told the CMRR nuclear facility was necessary...’ although he stopped short of condemning the DOE for essentially pulling the plug and shifting the money to the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn. ...But if it wants to get ahead in the funding game—and regain value in the eyes of the administration—mistrust between the labs and with the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration], operational inefficiencies and a draconian management culture must be fixed.” Let’s take a closer look.

We’re always so inundated with bad news and sad news that we rarely take the time and look back, when we do win, most importantly at the things that got us there, however fleeting that win might be. In activism there is no win however, only ongoing engagement, as environmental activist David Brower once famously articulated, “Conservationists have to win again and again and again; the enemy only has to win once.” That aside, for now, what can the New Mexico activists tell us about how they stopped what they call, a Plutonium Bomb Factory. Here is their story.

Exposing Public Health Hazards

We know from history that one of the most effective ways to fight destructive projects and products is to expose the public health hazards—because people vote! If we only tell “this animal and that bird would die” if a project moves forward, it’s a tough sale—because sadly, but it’s true, animals and birds don’t vote. So, getting community members (read: voters) engaged in the campaign is crucial, and threat to public health—anyone can understand that, and that is one thing the New Mexico activists have done well in exposing.

Last summer, New Mexico experienced the largest fire in the state’s history—the Las Conchas Fire that started on June 26 burned more than 150,000 acres in northern New Mexico, in and around the Los Alamos National Lab. Arizona, broke their record too—the Wallow Fire burned more than 530,000 acres. Climate change? Yes, of course. If you have a bit of time to read, I’d recommend New Mexico writer William deBuys’ thoroughly researched and beautifully written book, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Last summer, I was living in Santa Fe. Thick smoke from the Las Conchas Fire filled our sky and there was legitimate fear that the smoke might have radioactive and hazardous substances from LANL’s operations—past and present. So, I had all my windows closed in the small adobe home—it was hot like hell, and I wrote the first piece, “New Mexico is Burning with Potential for Nuclear Contamination” that you can read here. For that piece, I spoke with Jay Coghlan, Executive Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, and learned from him that public comments on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the proposed CMRR–Nuclear Facility were due by the end of June 28—the same day I posted my piece.

Then, I sat down with Joni Arends, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and Marian Naranjo, an elder and activist from the Santa Clara Pueblo. They were concerned about nuclear contamination and were determined to stop the proposed CMRR–NF. Marian told me, “you cannot see radioactive elements in the air, you cannot smell it, you cannot taste it, and just because it cannot be detected with technical toys, doesn’t mean its not there. After the Cerro Grande Fire [of 2000] the government told us that no radioactive element was released in the air. We never had leukemia in our children, now we do, in Santa Clara and the San Ildefonso Pueblos.” Later Joni, CCNS board member David Bacon, and I visited Marian at her home, and saw the raging fire and its massive smoke that was burning not that far from her community. Las Conchas Fire burned large areas in crucial watersheds and sacred sites in the Santa Clara and Cochiti pueblo lands. On July 1, I published my second piece, “Las Conchas Fire Woke Us Up—Let Us Now Stop the Plutonium Bomb Factory” that you can read here.
Then, Joni introduced me to Registered Geologist Bob (Robert) Gilkeson, a former LANL employee, who had resigned from the lab and became a whistleblower. I sat down with Bob, Joni and David for four hours, and then spent more than two weeks going through the enormous amount of documents that Bob had given me. On July 18, I published my last and the most extensive piece on the issue, “Another Kind of Fukushima? Asks Whistleblower Robert Gilkeson” that you can read here. It was the first article that told the story of Bob’s groundbreaking investigative research and analysis. Bob and Joni were later interviewed by several media outlets in the U.S. and abroad.

I won’t repeat what’s in those articles, but when you read all three, you’ll know that the New Mexico community organizations and activists had articulated extremely well the public health hazards of building a plutonium pit production facility that sits on a complex network of seismic faults, that reside in an extremely fire prone habitat, in the drought stricken (read: climate ravaged) American southwest. The lawmakers had to listen.

Activism Rooted in Science and Knowledge of Law

The team of Joni and Bob—a dedicated activist teaming up with a careful scientist—the result ought to be good, right? But the things that Bob said in the article may have come across to many readers as hard to believe. Here are some examples: “I can tell you LANL doesn’t have the required knowledge for seismic hazard to continue operations with nuclear materials,” and, “The seismic hazard at LANL is possibly 75% higher than the power of the earthquake ground motions that released very large amounts of radionuclide contamination at Fukushima.” And David Bacon said, “Because they’re looking at a possible major earthquake, it’ll impact all of us. With 6 metric tones of plutonium inside the lab, and all of the surface and subsurface nuclear waste, it’ll impact the entire American southwest, everybody. They need to pack up right now and leave.” At the time, all these could have sounded like scare tactic.

Now consider this. On November 17, 2011 during a public meeting in Santa Fe, Peter Winokur, Chairman of the U.S. Defense Nuclear Safety Board (DNFSB) said of the existing Plutonium Facility (PF–4) at Technical Area 55, which is right next door to the site for the proposed—now abandoned CMRR–NF, “The Board believes that no safety problem in the NNSA complex is more pressing than the Plutonium Facility’s vulnerability to a large earthquake. Today, NNSA and the contractor described their plans to fix weaknesses in the building’s structure and to upgrade key safety systems so they can survive a large earthquake. These plans are promising, and progress to date has been sound, but this work must continue to be executed with the utmost urgency to ensure adequate protection of the public and workers. From the Board’s perspective, additional modeling and analysis will be required to ensure that all seismic vulnerabilities for the Plutonium Facility that can lead to its collapse or loss of confinement are fully addressed.” You can read his full statement here.

In a 13–page memo to me dated February 21, 2012 Bob and Joni write, “Director Peter Winokur and the Senior Staff of the DNFSB held a meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico on November 17, 2011 to hear concerns from the DOE, LANL and the public for the seismic hazard at LANL. Gilkeson made a written and verbal presentation that brought attention to the great earthquake danger at LANL that was misrepresented and ignored in the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] documents for the proposed CMRR–NF and the large data gaps in the required knowledge of the seismic hazard for the engineering design and cost of the proposed facility. Gilkeson described the failure of the DOE and the DNFSB to implement the four Industry Standards required by Presidential Executive Order 12699. Director Winokur and the Senior Staff of the DNFSB took notice of my presentation. We understand that after the meeting in Santa Fe, Director Winokur met with the Office of the President about the seismic hazard at LANL.” But they also point out, “During the November 17, 2011 meeting in Santa Fe, Director Winokur put on record that the DNFSB considered the earthquake danger at the large plutonium facility (PF–4) at LANL TA–55 to be the most pressing issue in the DOE Nuclear Weapons Complex. This statement was based on maximum ground motions of 0.5 g from a single earthquake. The statement did not take into account the potential for much greater ground motions from synchronous earthquakes and the much greater ground motions from the concealed active fault that crosses TA–55 close to and possibly below the 40–year old PF–4, which is located next door to the proposed CMRR–NF. The PF–4 is the only nuclear facility in the DOE Complex where new plutonium bomb triggers are manufactured.” You can read their memo (pdf) to me here, which has wealth of information in the first nine pages of text and then four pages of maps.

I spoke with Bob and Joni over telephone on February 21, and I said, “Sounds like lawmakers paid attention to sound scientific analysis,” to which Bob responded, “Perhaps, but not exactly. It’s knowing the law.” He emphasized, “It’s knowing the law.” He had studied a particular NEPA document 12699—Seismic Safety of Federal and Federally Assisted or Regulated New Building Construction. The memo to me states, “After discussions with the technical staff in the DNFSB, Gilkeson discovered the assessment of the earthquake danger at the proposed CMRR–NF at LANL Technical Area 55 was not in compliance with the 1990 Presidential Executive Order 12699.”

Also note that this project was moving forward without a thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). On that basis, the Los Alamos Study Group had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for New Mexico against the DOE and NNSA that claimed, “The Obama Administration had not written an applicable environmental impact statement for the project (CMRR–NF), the cost, material requirements, and impacts of which have all grown considerably since the project was first conceived.” The Study Group wanted the government to write a new and thorough EIS, not a supplemental EIS.

Economic Analysis and Alternatives

Secretary Chu told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the DOE “decided to abandon” the project because of “budget constraints.” The price tag for American taxpayers for this project was $6 billion. The New Mexicans did many creative things to raise awareness about that budget. I had written, “The lingering question in my mind was who would make the biggest bucks if the federal government hands out the $6 billion for the proposed CMRR–NF project. I was shocked to find out it’d be none other than Bechtel, the lead operator of LANL.” At hearings and meetings activists and concerned citizens shared stories of Bechtel’s long list of cruelties in other facilities, and the organizations distributed double–sided handouts with plenty of information on Bechtel. The truth spoke for itself and led to the outrage that the community members felt. They also exposed that in a state where public services are being cut drastically, the government was ready to write a fat check for a plutonium pit production facility.

But instead of focusing only on the negative, the New Mexicans also offered a specific economic alternative that community members of a financially disadvantaged state could relate to and would benefit from. They suggested the $6 billion should be spent on: “Jobs that would go to 12,000 individuals including from the distressed communities like Santa Clara, Cochiti and others; $50K a year for each individual for ten years—for forest restoration, watershed restoration and management, replenish our communities, and give people back their humanity.”

Gregg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group Director expressed his outrage with these words: “The Democrats on our congressional delegation are trying to hide from the public by supporting a bogus SEIS process, which examines no alternatives and resolves nothing. They are selling out the state’s future with their permissive silence, the motivation for which is surely pecuniary, given how the great need for cash in our political campaigns. This project directly competes for appropriations with renewable energy and the jobs, environmental benefits, and security those could bring us, raising questions about what priority New Mexico Democrats really give such popular concerns. We will pursue every avenue to stop this project, for the sake of our young people, our environment, and our economy.”

As you can see, the New Mexico activist community had framed their argument also with solid economic analysis and offered hopeful alternatives.

Community Engagement

I asked Joni if she could tell me how the community members engaged with this campaign. She responded, “In New Mexico, we congratulate everyone for all the good work done to oppose the Nuclear Facility, which was proposed in 2003 in a National Environmental Policy Act draft environmental impact statement. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, through various iterations over the decades, New Mexicans and others have actively opposed the manufacture of plutonium triggers at LANL and the plans to increase it. The opposition to the Nuclear Facility grew from grassroots actions organized for the various NEPA processes, including informed public comments made during the official meetings and hearings; creation of art, signs and skull masks; letters to the editors; petition signing; phone calls to decision makers; and many prayers.”

This victory is a relief, a big one for sure, but the work of New Mexico anti–nuclear campaign goes on. Bob and Joni point out in their memo to me aptly titled, Great Earthquake Danger at Los Alamos National Laboratory, “The available information indicates that the seismic rehabilitation of the 40–year old plutonium facility PF–4 is not feasible. For example, DOE has admitted that seismic rehabilitation of the 60–year old CMR is not feasible. Nevertheless, DOE plans to use the unsafe CMR and the PF–4 nuclear weapon facilities for at least the next ten years and probably even longer now that DOE is not allowed to construct the proposed CMRR–NF because of the great uncertainty for the earthquake danger at LANL.” The focus of the New Mexico anti–nuclear campaign right now is—LANL has to be cleaned up, and that is a major project; and so they’re currently engaged in a new kind of economic analysis. I’ll tell you more, as I find out more about that in the coming weeks. As I was wrapping up this piece news came in that LANL Director Charlie McMillan citing budget cuts has just proposed to the NNSA a layoff of 400 to 800 employees at the lab.
On February 17, as I was getting ready to give my talk on the arctic at Fordham University in New York, the news came in that the Obama administration had just approved Shell’s spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea in arctic Alaska. My heart sank. That project is moving forward without a thorough Environmental Impact Statement, and the government knows full well that Shell does not have either the technology or preparedness to respond to a BP–like spill in the harsh environment of the frozen arctic seas. I just completed editing a 384–page anthology titled Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point that will be published by Seven Stories Press on June 19, but you can pre–order it now. In the book nearly 40 contributors—conservationists, indigenous activists, writers, and scientists, tell the story with stunning urgency and groundbreaking research why we must fight to protect the arctic now, for all of us. I hope you will join us in that campaign in urging the President to stop Shell’s drilling plan in America’s Arctic Ocean. You can also check out the Special Series on Shell’s Arctic drilling here.
Let us congratulate and give thanks to our friends in New Mexico, and continue on with our own work, which lie ahead of us, as always.
Subhankar Banerjee
Subhankar Banerjee is founder of He is currently editing an anthology titled, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (New York: Seven Stories Press, April 2012). For his Arctic activism he has received numerous awards including Cultural Freedom Fellowship from Lannan Foundation, National Conservation awards from National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, and was most recently named an Arctic Hero by Alaska Wilderness League. Subhankar has been appointed Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and a Fellow at Forbes College of Princeton University for fall term 2011.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Will Chevron Case Take Down Trade Pact ‘Investor-State’ Enforcement System? / Public Citizen / Common Dreams

CONTACT: Public Citizen

Arden Manning (202) 454-5108
February 17, 2012

Unprecedented Ruling Today by International Investor Tribunal Orders Ecuadorian Government to Violate Its Constitution, Interfere in Its Independent Court System to Help Chevron Evade Liability for Amazonian Contamination
WASHINGTON - February 17 - An unprecedented ruling today, in which an investor-state international arbitral tribunal initiated by Chevron ordered the Ecuadorian government to interfere in the operations of Ecuador’s independent court system on behalf of the oil giant, provides a chilling glimpse of how corporations are trying to use international investor tribunals to evade justice, said Public Citizen.
After having lost on the merits in Ecuador and U.S. courts and after 18 years of trying to stall judgment, Chevron turned to an ad hoc “investor-state” tribunal of three private lawyers as the last chance to help the company avoid paying to clean up contamination in the Amazonian rainforest. Chevron is trying to get this private tribunal to suspend enforcement of or alter an $18 billion judgment against Chevron rendered by a sovereign country’s court system.
The tribunal issued a ruling today even though it has not even determined that it has jurisdiction over the case. Past such international investor cases in which tribunals have ordered governments to pay cash damages to corporations have led to growing controversy.
“The Ecuadorian government should not violate its own constitution and interfere with its independent courts’ order for Chevron to clean up its horrific contamination in the Amazon, because some unelected ad hoc tribunal of three private sector lawyers called together by Chevron to meet in a rented room in Washington, D.C., pretends to have the authority to second-guess 18 years of U.S. and Ecuadorian court rulings,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
“Consider the broader implications of this star chamber ‘investor-state’ system: How can a panel of three unelected private sector lawyers order a sovereign government to violate its own constitution’s separation of powers and interfere in its court system, all to help Chevron (a company whose severe contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon has been repeatedly proven), and how can that tribunal do this all before it has even decided that it has jurisdiction over this case,” Wallach said.
Meanwhile, the three private-sector lawyers serving as tribunalists on this kangaroo court will continue to rack up large hourly fees even as they order Ecuador’s government to help Chevron deny justice to the 30,000 Amazonian indigenous people who have won a historic $18 billion clean-up of deadly environmental contamination. Tribunalists in this system, who alternate between serving as “judges” and representing corporations in cases before panels of their colleagues, are paid on an hourly basis.
“The only silver lining of this obscene ruling is that having one of these shady investor-state tribunals presume to attack a country’s constitution, justice system and 30,000 people whose futures rely on Chevron cleaning up its mess could lead to the implosion of the entire investor-state system, which international companies are increasingly using to try to evade justice worldwide,” said Wallach.
These unaccountable investor-state tribunals have issued perverse rulings in the past on behalf of corporate claimants. Recent U.S. trade agreements empower foreign corporations to use this system to skirt our domestic courts and directly use our government before these corporate tribunals to obtain payment of unlimited taxpayer funds when they claim domestic environmental, land use, health and other laws undermine their “expected future profits.” More than $350 million has been paid by government to corporations in attacks on toxics bans, environmental issues and zoning permits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.) Billions in additional claims are pending. Possible inclusion of the investor-state private enforcement system for corporations to sue governments is becoming one of the most controversial issues in the first “trade” deal the Obama administration is negotiating – a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Willie Nelson Joins 300,000 Activists in Suit Against Monsanto / Common Dreams

Published on Friday, February 17, 2012 by Common Dreams
Willie Nelson joins a plaintiff group of over 300,000 members in a lawsuit against big-ag giant Monsanto challenging the company's patents on genetically modified seed.
Democracy Now! reports today:
Willie Nelson(photo: Dave Hensley)
The singer Willie Nelson has joined with 300,000 other activists in a lawsuit against the U.S. agricultural giant Monsanto, citing the company’s practice of suing small farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds. The suit was filed as part of the "Occupy the Food System" campaign protesting the corporate takeover of small farms and the use of harmful pollutants like Monsanto’s "Roundup" herbicide.
The Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA) explains the lawsuit background on its website:
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhatten on March 29, 2011, on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed. On June 1, 2011, we amplified our OSGATA v. Monsanto complaint by bringing on an additional 23 Plaintiffs to bring the total to 83. Our plaintiff group now represents over 300,000 members.
(photo: Ian MacKenzie)
As Grist noted last week, the plaintiffs say that "Monsanto wants ultimate and absolute control over everything:"
OSGATA and company finally got their day in court on Jan. 31. Approximately 200 farmers and supporters showed up in front of the Federal District Court in Manhattan for opening arguments. Occupy Wall Street’s food justice working group helped organize the rally, though they are not plaintiffs in the suit. “We’re part of OWS, which is all about corporate consolidation, and you can’t discuss that without addressing agriculture,” says Corbin Laedlein, a member of the working group.
“We want nothing to do with Monsanto. We don’t want their seed. We don’t want their technology. We don’t want their contamination,” says Jim Gerritsen, an organic farmer from Maine and president of OSGATA. The organization originally brought the idea of a suit to the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a group that wants to change how patent law works in the U.S., and PUBPAT took on the case pro bono. In Gerritsen’s estimation, about 300,000 individuals are involved in the case by proxy of organizations they’re a part of, including most certified organic farmers in the country. Gerritsen calls the dustings of GMO-crop pollen and the occasional seed carried wayward by the wind — a natural atmospheric occurrence found in what is known as the “outdoors” — contamination which not only is unwelcome, but can also could potentially lower the quality and value of organic and other non-GMO crops.
“They are probably the most aggressive patent holder in the U.S.,” Gerritsen adds. According to PUBPAT, between 1997 and April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement, and more than 500 farms are investigated each year.
“The seed that Monsanto doesn’t control, they will control through contamination,” Gerritsen says. “Monsanto wants ultimate and absolute control over everything.”
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice                

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Great Carbon Bubble: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard by Bill McKibben / Common Dreams

The Great Carbon Bubble: Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet -- as we shall see -- it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.“The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.” (Photo: Creative Commons / NASA Goddard)
In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.
It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”
In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history -- 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”
In the face of such data -- statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet -- you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to... deny there’s a problem.
Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”
Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.
And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.
It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.
Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.
Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.
Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.
When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.
If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons -- five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.
Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).
If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything -- including fund an endless campaigns of lies -- to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead. To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil -- believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.
What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain -- pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.
Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself -- not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt -- and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.
Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's All About the Framing: How Polls and the Media Misrepresent the Keystone XL [Tar Sands] [Oil] Pipeline by Liz Barratt-Brown / Switchboard NRDC

First of all, you won’t find tar sands mentioned in any of the polling.  And in most polls, you won’t even find oil.  It’s just the Keystone XL pipeline, no context, no mention of what it will carry, and certainly no mention of the environmental risks of building a massive pipeline to carry toxic tar sands sludge through the heartland of America to the gulf of Mexico, where it would be exported out of the U.S. Tar Sands Destruction in Canada
The question asked by two recent polls, one by Rasmussen and the other by the National Journal, was more or less, “Do you support or oppose building the Keystone XL pipeline?”   And the Rasmussen poll also asks if job creation is more important than protecting the environment, posing these two goals as  oppositional.
Most Americans don't see it that way.  In our opinion research and other opinion research, such as the major new survey in the West, Americans overwhelmingly believe that a strong economy and the environment can go hand in hand.  And they show a real concern for protecting resources, such as our water supply, from degradation.  But both the Rasmussen and the National Journal polls show a majority of Americans in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline.
But are they really?   
What if the pollsters changed the question to more accurately represent the actual project and inserted “tar sands oil pipeline”?  What if they described to the public that the pipeline would jeopardize one of America’s most important freshwater aquifers, the Ogallala?  What if they were told that a first pipeline just like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and built by the same foreign company, TransCanada, had had over 12 spills in the U.S. (30 if you count Canada) in just its first year of operation?  What if they were told that the oil is not really oil but a toxic sludge that is largely strip mined from under the Boreal forest in Canada and has to be diluted with toxic chemicals and pushed through pipelines at high temperature and pressure in pipelines only regulated to carry conventional oil?  And what if the public were given the opportunity to choose a tar sands oil pipeline or increasing our reliance on homegrown renewable energy?
No poll has set this tar sands pipeline in any kind of context.  Instead most of the questions are preceded or followed by generic questions about jobs and the economy or with questions about whether the country is going in the right direction.
So, without context, what do you think most Americans would first think of when asked about a pipeline?
Jobs and the economy.
And that is just the framing they have also been hearing again and again from the media.
Take jobs as an example.  Job creation has been the major argument put forward by pipeline proponents.  Even though TransCanada is on record admitting that there would in fact be no more than 6,500 jobs over two years and only hundreds of permanent jobs, that has not stopped the company, the American Petroleum Institute, Republicans on the Hill and the Republican Presidential candidates from saying the pipeline would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and putting it forward as a national jobs plan rather than the single construction project that it is.  The jobs estimates have been so wild that Stephen Colbert couldn’t resist poking fun at the million jobs pipeline.
Lots of Americans are suffering right now and jobs creation must be a top priority but at what price and who benefits?  The one independent study that has been done on the jobs issue, by Cornell Global Labor Institute, found that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a jobs killer because it would suppress clean energy jobs and because inevitable spills would cost jobs in other sectors of the economy.   When all of the risk is being underwritten by American families and the major beneficiaries are the major oil companies, you have to ask is this good for our economy in the long run?  Roger Toussaint of the Transit Workers of America said it best when he said, “We want jobs but not as gravediggers for the planet”.  
So let’s dig in a bit regarding what the public has been hearing.
Media Matters, a nonprofit organization that tracks the media, released a survey that analyzed coverage of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from August 1 to December 31, 2011.  They found that the media overwhelmingly framed the pipeline as a jobs issue.  In 33% of the broadcast coverage, the highly inflated jobs numbers were repeated verbatim.  In none of this coverage was any criticism of those figures mentioned.  It was not much better for cable news.  In 45% of the coverage, the figures were repeated verbatim.  And only 11% of the coverage mentioned any criticism.  Fox News repeated the jobs numbers more than all the other TV networks combined.  Print news was not much better, with 29% repeating the jobs figures verbatim and only 5% mentioning any criticism.
It also seems to matter who you interview.
Here is a figure that really made me shake my head  -- 79% of the time, broadcast news reporting on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline interviewed a pipeline proponent.  Only 7% of the time did they interview a tar sands pipeline opponent.  Cable news was not much better:  59% of the coverage featured proponents and only 16% featured opponents.  Print news did slightly better with 45% featuring proponents and 31% featuring opponents.
And this was over the period of time when there were 1250 peaceful protesters arrested in front of the White House and then a few months later when nearly 15,000 people gathered and encircled the White House opposing the pipeline.   It was during the months when an Inspector General investigation was launched into the State Department mishandling of the environmental review. And it covered the period when the President declared that more environmental studies needed to be conducted to understand the risks of the pipeline to the American public and find a new route that avoided the sensitive Ogallala and Sandhills regions of Nebraska.
Media Matters collected data on how jobs and energy security mentions compared to environmental mentions.  In broadcast, cable, and print respectively, jobs were mentioned 67%, 77%, and 68% of the time.  Energy security was mentioned 22%, 28%, and 54% respectively.  And environment was mentioned 17%, 34%, and 65%.  Coverage of the State Department mishandling of the review process was scarcely mentioned at all.
What’s more is that since Media Matters did their survey, the rhetoric around the pipeline has become even more extreme and even venues like the New York Times, which has been one of the exceptions in providing fair coverage of the pipeline, are running political stories about the pipeline that don’t include any environmental perspective.
So it is not surprising that when Americans are polled by Rasmussen and the National Journal, where they throw out a few quick questions or maybe just one question on the pipeline, we’re getting higher than expected levels of support.  Given the Media Matters survey, I am frankly surprised the numbers aren’t worse.
I went to google Speaker Boehner’s statements on Keystone XL and I found that “Keystone” is actually one of the words most frequently associated with the Speaker (after crying, birthday song, and payroll taxes). That’s because he and the Republicans in Congress have taken up the pipeline as a holy crucible.  The reality is that the “Keystone Energy Project” – as he likes to describe it (notice we lose even the mention of pipeline) – is the top bidding of the oil industry.  After defeating the climate legislation on the Hill, there has been no higher priority.   And in addition to the lopsided media coverage, Americans have also been deluged with ads about the benefits of the pipeline. 
Fortunately, most Americans have a heavy dose of skepticism when it comes to the oil industry.  So maybe, just maybe, when people hear the pollsters’ question, they hesitate for a moment and wonder what is all this pipeline fuss really about.
So what can we conclude?  I’d wager that if you ask people if they think building a new pipeline will create jobs, they will inevitably say yes.  But if you were to provide context and ask them if they wanted to risk their drinking water, greater energy self-reliance, and providing a future for our kids that does not trade off our climate and drinking water to line the pockets of the multi-national oil companies, I suspect they’d say no.  
There desperately needs to be an improvement in both poll taking and in media coverage so that there can be a fair and balanced debate about this tar sands mega pipeline.  So far, the debate has been anything but balanced and that does the American public a great disservice.
Addendum:  On February 6, Politico reported that a Hart poll showed that once independents better understand the pro and con arguments for the tar sands pipeline, they agree with the President's decision to delay the pipeline by a margin of 47% to 36% (Democrats are already on side in strong margins).  They are particularly concerned that risks to water supplies from pipeline spills, especially over the heartland's Ogallala aquifer, be addressed.  The poll was conducted in late January in Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio.
Liz Barratt-Brown
Liz Barratt-Brown has worked with NRDC’s International Program for the last 15 years. When Liz first came to NRDC, she worked with Canadians to stem acid rain. More recently, she has worked to protect its ancient forests – from the coastal rainforests of British Columbia to the Boreal forest that circles the top of the planet.  Right now she is working on the Alberta tar sands, an area of the boreal forest that is being torn up to produce oil to feed our relentless thirst for our cars, airplanes and trucks.