Nel's New Day

November 20, 2015

LGBT Equality Only Partial

Many same-gender couples will spend their first Thanksgiving as married couples after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. Yet Obergefell v. Hodges has not made LGBT families secure throughout the nation because of a myriad of roadblocks in many states.

An early obstruction came in Rowan County (KY) last summer when the county clerk, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. After her contempt of court kept her in jail for a few days, she said that the county deputy clerks could issue the licenses but only after she changed the wording of the license forms and removed her name and that of Rowan County. She also ordered her deputies to sign the forms as “notary publics” instead of deputy county clerks.

Although Gov. Steven L. Beshear declared last month that the marriage licenses were valid, he has now submitted a brief with the U.S. District Court that states his office does not have the authority to determine whether these licenses are valid. Couples have filed a brief in U.S. District Court supporting their prior assertion that the Rowan County clerk’s office failed to comply with orders directing deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses without interference by Clerk Kim Davis.

ScaliaSupreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia angrily spoke about losing Obergefell during a speech to first-year law students at Georgetown last week. Scalia said that determining which minorities deserve protection should be made through the democratic process rather than a court decision. According to Scalia, only political and religious minorities are protected by the constitution.

Last summer’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges may have changed the perception of due process. According to Kenji Yoshino, the case may displace five decades of the high court’s substantive due process decisions. For a half century, the Court used tradition, specific definition rather than general abstraction, and the willingness to protect negative “freedom from” rights rather than positive “freedom to” rights to determine due process. Almost two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Washington v. Glucksberg that due process did not cover the right to assistance in committing suicide. In Obergefell’s dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts, who declared that the majority “effectively overrule[d] Glucksberg, the leading modern case setting the bounds of substantive due process.”

The marriage equality ruling has replaced a rigid ruling on due process, according to Yoshino, with the common-law approach voiced in Justice John Harlan’s dissent for Poe v. Ullman (1961). He supported a balance of individual liberties against government interests without being “shackled to the past.” Tradition, to Harlan, was a “living thing,” a concept that Scalia despises. Instead of opposing marriage equality because of the long historical tradition against same-gender marriage, the Court majority considered the “right to marry.” The question for the future is whether Obergefell will be used to make future decisions about due process or whether the Court will revert to the past as it has many times since Roberts became chief justice.

For now, some courts and legislatures are giving same-gender couples a “partial equalty”—really an inequality—that will require the Supreme Court to take up more litigation. Custody, adoptions, fostering children, and couples’ rights after separation are most likely the next fights for same-gender couples.

Hoagland.PeirceIn Utah, Judge Scott N. Johansen ordered a nine-months-old child removed from a lesbian couple because it was “not in the best interest of children to be raised by same-sex couples.” Public outcry led to his rescinding the order, but the judge left open the possibility of removal at a December 4 hearing. Fortunately for the child, the judge has now recused himself “and refers all pending matters to be assigned by the presiding judge.”

Utah began placing children with same-gender couples after the Supreme Court decision last summer, and an infant girl was placed with married couple Rebecca A. Peirce, 34, and April M. Hoagland (above left), 38, and their two biological children in August. On November 10, 2015, the two women attended what they thought was a regular hearing, but Johansen ordered that the baby be removed within a week and given to a heterosexual couple. The Division of Child and Family Services said that it was “in the child’s best interest” to stay with the two women. Even the GOP governor joined in the protest for the judge’s decision. Gary R. Herbert said, “He may not like the law, but he should follow the law.”

As in Kentucky, the current obstacle is not necessarily the law but the attitude of government employees who discriminate against LGBT people. In the hearing, the judge said “that research has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home,” but he refused to cite any sources. At this time, research is on the side of the same-gender couple with no current credible study supporting the judge’s bias.

Justice Anthony Kennedy clearly listed adoption among the rights associated with marriage, but he didn’t mention foster parenting. Until recently, most states prevented child placement with same-gender couples who were not married, and the law prevented many of these couples from being married. Several states permit private placement agencies to discriminate against same-gender couples, but Mississippi is the only state that flagrantly enforces a state law banning adoptions by same-gender couples.

smith and Phillips adoptionFour couples are challenging the Mississippi ban on adoptions by same-gender couples, including Janet Smith and her wife, Donna Phillips (right). The state is blocking Smith’s adoption of Donna’s eight-year-old daughter, Hannah Marie. The two married women are raising Hannah together, but Smith has no legal status in regards to their daughter. Phillips, a captain in the Mississippi Air National Guard, is “concerned about legal aspects for Jan” if she is called or activated. This lack of legal recognition puts children at risk of losing both their parents and ending up in foster care if something happens to their birth parent and their other parent is not legally recognized.

Last year, 29 percent of Mississippi’s same-gender couples were raising children younger than 18, the highest percentage of any state. A year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves found the adoption ban to be unconstitutional, but the decision was stayed pending action by the Fifth Circuit and then the Supreme Court. Ronnie Musgrove, the governor who signed the ban into law 15 years ago, has written that he regrets his action. “As I have gotten older, I came to understand that a person’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to be a good parent.”

Another Mississippi couple, Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, has waited 15 years for a second-parent adoption of the child they raised together since he was born just six weeks before the ban went into effect. Two other couples, also plaintiffs in the case, want to adopt children from foster care. Kari Lunsford and Tinora Sweeten-Lunsford wanted to take a child with special needs who could not be matched with other foster parents. They were told that they would have to live apart for at least six months during a home study, and only one of them could adopt the child.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review an Alabama case in which judges refuse to recognize an adoption granted in another state. A lesbian known in court filings by her initials V.L. helped raise the children, now ages 10 to 12, but has no visitation rights since the couple separated. During their 16-year relationship, the two women had three children from sperm donors, and a Georgia court approved V.L.’s adoption of the children in 2007. In September 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down the woman’s visitation rights and ruled the adoption invalid, saying the Georgia court was wrong under that state’s adoption laws to grant it. Earlier this year, the same court directed probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-gender couples even after a federal judge ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

The case involves a constitutional provision requiring one state to respect court orders of other states: Article IV’s Full Faith and Credit Clause. Lawyers for V.L. wrote that the decision “would create a massive loophole in the Full Faith and Credit Clause.”  They added, “There is no legal or practical basis for singling out adoptions as uniquely unworthy of full faith and credit.” If states don’t recognize adoptions from other states, LGBT parents can lose their parental rights when they travel, for example the inability to make medical decisions for their children if they are in an accident. V.L.’s attorneys have also applied to the Supreme Court for a stay of the Alabama’s ruling so that she can visit the children during the appeal. Justice Clarence Thomas, the justice with jurisdiction in Alabama for emergency actions, has called for E. L., the biological mother, to respond to the stay applications by November 30.

LGBT discrimination

Despite last summer’s ruling that same-gender couples can marry, 61 percent of the LGBT population “will continue to live in states with medium or low legal protections—or that have outright hostile laws,” according to the report Mapping LGBT Equality in America, released earlier this year. Since this map was released in early October, all of Houston (TX) LGBT people lost their rights in the November election.

March 21, 2014

GOP on National Parks: Follow the Monday

Tired of trashing just people, GOP members of the U.S. House has decided to throw away the country’s most wonderful resources—the national parks. These people are in a snit because the President of the United States has had the right to declare new parks and monuments for 108 years. Rep. Bob Bishop (R-UT) introduced a bill this month that would give Congress the sole power to create new public resources. HR 1459 is called “The Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of Monuments and Parks,” but it would better be called “No New Parks.” The GOP members of Congress that wants to be responsible for our public resources has opposed every piece of legislation that would protect the environment or conserve land in the nation.

Once again, the GOP opposes what the public wants. A few months ago, three-fourths of respondents to a survey indicated that the government is not doing enough to protect national parks or public lands. In another survey, almost 70 percent of the people said they would more likely vote for a candidate who protects the environment and cares for the land.

HR 1459 is on schedule for a vote next week. That fast work is amazing for the House because bills sent over from the Senate such as immigration reform or helping the unemployed are still unattended.

Such quick action from the GOP calls on a response called “follow the money.” Bishop’s home state of Utah is sitting on a possible three trillion barrels of oil, more oil than used thus far in human history. Utah is getting ready for all this extraction with a $80-million highway into the Book Cliffs after a request from an oil shale lobby. A year ago BLM and the president allocated 800,000 acres of public lands for oil shale and tar sands leasing.  Benefiting companies are Enefit American (Estonia), Total (France), and Red Leaf Resources (Canada).

Tar sands oil is a mixture of sand, clay, and water. Usually the rock is “stripped” from the land, crushed, and then separated from the oil with the use of heat, water, and chemicals. Transport to a refinery requires dilution with some kind of petroleum solvent. As with other methods of fossil-fuel removal, tar sands oil mining uses a great deal of energy and water and causes massive and dangerous waste.

Below is the already mined Black Cliffs in Alberta and the Book Cliffs area before any mining.

black cliff alberta

book cliffs #3U.S. Oil Sands already got approval because the state’s Water Quality Division’s director, Walt Baker, doesn’t think there is any groundwater in the area in the high country between Vernal and Moab (UT). That site is called PR Spring, the name of a nearby freshwater spring, and the company plans to use groundwater for its processing. The total of that mine’s production over seven years will provide six hours of the fuel supply in the United States.

Jeremy Miller, of the environmental group Living Rivers, described the process during its seven years:

“Heavy machinery would scour bitumen from the pit around the clock … The sand and mineral fines remaining after the oil has been removed will be combined, shoved back into the pit and covered with topsoil. But processing expands such wastes by as much as 30 percent. The overflow will be dumped into surrounding ravines—a method starkly reminiscent of Appalachia’s mountaintop coal mining. And the project will create miles of light pollution, illuminating one of the country’s last great ‘dark’ regions.”

The mining company plans to use an untested “citrus-based solvent.” Miller said:

“In order to utilize the solvent, the sands must first be sent through a series of on-site crushers. Hot water is added to the resulting slurry, generating a ‘froth’ of oil, solvent, and fine sand particles. This mixture is then passed through a series of separation towers, where the crude oil is isolated. It’s then trucked to refineries in Salt Lake City for processing. Unlike conventional light crude oil, the heavy crude generated from PR Spring—like Canada’s—requires extra, energy-intensive refining steps to remove impurities, such as sulfur and heavy metals, before it can be turned into anything useful.”

arch parkThis site, however, is small compared to the largest deposit further south in the Tar Sands Triangle between Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the Dirty Devil River Watershed. These are near some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including the red-rock canyon country of Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and inside Capitol Reef National Park.

white Canyon

[White Canyon in Natural Bridges National Monument. White Canyon, just outside the monument’s boundaries, is a designated tar sands development area. Credit: Bobby Magill]

canyonlandsTar sands mining would, in the words of BLM, “completely displace all other uses of the land.” Its environmental impact statement would mean that the air nearby could be:

“… contaminated with carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, while air close to the site could be contaminated with benzene, toluene and formaldehyde. More than 100,000 acres of wilderness-quality land could be industrialized, construction of reservoirs would alter natural streamflow patterns, hydrocarbons and herbicides could cause ‘chronic or acute toxicity’ in wildlife and habitat for 20 threatened or endangered species could be lost.”

That was the report from the federal agency that approved the tar sands mining.

These “before and after” photos shows the change in a northern Alberta forest on the Suncor Millennium tar sands site. [Photo by Peter Essick; complete article in March 2009, National Geographic.]

tar-sands-before-after Alberta

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has asked Secretary of State John Kerry for a “comprehensive human health impacts study” analyzing the respiratory ailments, cancer and other illnesses related to harvesting and refining the dense hydrocarbon bitumen in Alberta’s oil sands. In a press conference, she said:

“The health impacts of tar sands oil are being ignored. This press conference is about waking up Americans that more tar sands coming into this country is a danger to the health of our people, all along the way, from the extraction to the transport, to the refining.”

She noted that people living near the facilities suffer from “higher rates of the types of cancers linked to these toxic chemicals, including leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” The letter to Kerry stated, “Putting more Americans at risk for asthma, cancer and other serious health impacts is not in our national interest.”

Her concern was about the pollutants from tar sands mining in Canada and piping it across the United States so that companies can make billions by shipping the product to Asia. The GOP wants tar sand mining to destroy the country’s public lands.

Water from the area targeted for the mining goes into the Colorado River watershed. Aside from taking water from a source for 30 million people, the resulting pollution would greatly damage the fragile Colorado River watershed.

Boxer needs to expand her concerns about what could happen to the land of Utah as this photo from the Alberta mines shows. Photo by Garth Lenz.

Alberta sands at night

As president, Theodore Roosevelt conserved over 230 million acres of U.S. land. He created five national parks (doubling the previously existing number); signed the landmark Antiquities Act and used its special provisions to unilaterally create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon; and set aside 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and more than 100 million acres’ worth of national forests. Now the Republicans want to again reject Roosevelt’s policies and destroy the beautiful lands of Utah. The GOP has one goal: follow the money.

 

January 15, 2014

Utah, Oklahoma Overturn Marriage Equality Bans

Less than a month after U.S. District Robert Shelby decreed that banning same-sex marriage in the highly conservative state of Utah is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern did the same thing yesterday in Oklahoma. U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruling Both of them set up rationales that could be used in the remaining 31 states.

In Utah, Shelby referred back to the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning that “the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.” Kern, however, uses a simple “rational basis” protection, far lower than the required higher level of scrutiny that other courts have used. He concluded that the two lesbian couples bringing suit had suffered no stigma because they could not marry. Instead he wrote:

“Supreme Court law now prohibits states from passing laws that are born of animosity against homosexuals, extends constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently. There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.”

In Romer v. Evans (1996) the Colorado Supreme Court struck down Amendment 2 of the state constitution that forbid protecting “those who suffer discrimination due to their sexual orientation” because the amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. That case did not move up to SCOTUS. In Windsor v. United States, (2013) the U.S. Supreme Court overturned part of DOMA, allowing the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to be also used by same-sex couples under the due process clause of the constitution’s Fifth Amendment. SCOTUS used the same clause ten years earlier when it decriminalized sex between same-sex couples in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

The Supreme Court’s ruling less than seven months ago that created the impetus for court rulings regarding marriage equality was ambiguous: their decision failed to explain what protections that LGBT people should have. Thus Kern used Justice Anthony Kennedy’s language and tone.

The Windsor decision, the judge said, supports a plea for marriage equality because much of the reasoning of the Court majority about the purpose behind DOMA could also be applied to state bans on same-sex marriage. It supports marriage equality in the state, the judge added, because of the lengthy commentary in the opinion about states’ primary power to define marriage.

Shelby used dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia’s words when he struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage. Scalia predicted that the two successful rulings for marriage equality last summer, including Windsor, would end up legalizing nation-wide same-sex marriage. In his opinion, Shelby wrote, “In his dissenting opinion, the Honorable Antonin Scalia recognized that [legalized gay marriage] was the logical outcome of the court’s ruling in Windsor.” He then quotes from Scalia:

“In my opinion, however, the view that this Court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion. As I have said, the real rationale of today’s opinion … is that DOMA is motivated by ‘bare … desire’ to harm couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”

Shelby continued:

“The court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor. … And Justice Scalia even recommended how this court should interpret the Windsor decision when presented with the question that is now before it. The court therefore agrees with the portion of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Lawrence in which Justice Scalia stated that the Court’s reasoning logically extends to protect an individual’s right to marry a person of the same sex.”

As Shelby did in Utah, Kern granted a stay of same-sex weddings in Oklahoma until an appeal is adjudicated. Yet 17 of the 50 states presently allow LGBT marriage, and Ohio recognizes same-sex marriages if one of the couple is dead. Litigants in over three dozen cases are challenging marriage equality bans in 20 different states. Only one-third of people in the country oppose marriage equality, down 12 percent from the 45 percent in opposition just two years ago.

Who are the judges who made these rulings? Judge Terence Kern, nominated by President Clinton, is a native of Oklahoma and a former Army reservist who easily won Senate approval. Robert Shelby is a registered Republican and former Persian Gulf War engineer. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called him a “lawyer with an unwavering commitment to the law.” Tea Party member Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) called President Obama’s nominee a “pre-eminently qualified” nominee who would be an “outstanding judge.” So much for the conservatives’ accusation of “judicial activism.”

Appeals from both Utah and Oklahoma will be heard by the ideologically split 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Half of the ten judges were appointed by presidents of each party. One of President Obama’s appointees is Judge Scott Matheson Jr., a former federal prosecutor and the Mormon son of a former Utah governor.  

Supreme Court

The next few months will show whether more states will be required to recognize same-sex marriages or the U.S. Supreme Court—albeit reluctantly—dives into the fray once again.

Kern wrote, “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed.  It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions.” Hopefully this argument can be used in the struggle to protect LGBT people from discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, and the rest of our lives.

July 4, 2013

Celebrate Beauty on July 4

In early May, my photographer Ann Hubard traveled from Portland to Utah with her partner, taking more than 2,000 photographs along their trip which also dipped down into Arizona. These photographs show how remarkable that part of our country is, thanks to presidents who go back to Theodore Roosevelt who set up the national park system.

[Disclaimer: some people have said that her photographs that I post cannot be viewed. If not, I’m very sorry because they are truly magnificent!]

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These petroglyphs carved into Newspaper Rock in Utah were done hundreds and hundreds of years ago by Anasazi, or Puebloans as they are now called, and later relatives.  They differ from pictographs which are drawn. This photo was taken on a back road into the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park that also has other amazing scenes such as  chocolate cliffs.

SW16Canyon de Chelly National Monument was established over 80 years go within the Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona. It is the only national park service land that is managed by a Native American Tribe. My favorite part of this is the white horse that shows how truly high the cliffs are. Photographer Ansel Adams took many famous pictures in this area.

SW17Ann said that their Navajo guide called these cow pie formations. But everyone could probably recognize that!

One of the many cliff dwellings, in Canyon de Chelly, the one below is called the White House Ruin because of the white on the ceiling. Only one trail is available to access this ancient dwelling without a Navajo Guide. The trail down to the ruin at the bottom descends 700 feet from the rim, but the necessary switchbacks make the trip about miles for the round trip. People can also go there with a guide in an all terrain vehicle.

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SW21Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly is a famous source of photography, particularly beautiful at sunset especially with the thunderstorm brewing in the background.  According to Navajo legend, Spider Woman lives on the top of  the 800-foot-tall Spider Rock after she saved the Navajo people.

Bryce Canyon (below) is unique in the number of these hoodoos, fantastically-shaped pillars of rock created by water erosion. The names comes from the hoodoo definition of casting a spell. Paiutes explained the colorful hoodoos as “Legend People” who were turned to stone by Coyote. The first photo is at sunrise–to quote the photographer, “freezing ass cold but so beautiful.” She added, “Only me and the hoodoos this morning.” Fairyland Canyon, one mile north of the National Park entrance station, allows visitors an “eye-to-eye” view of hoodoos.

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The Ruby Mountains, just east of Elko (NV), provide a wonderful shot with the snowcapped mountains and the crazy lenticular clouds.

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Please think of these beautiful places on the day that we celebrate our independence and support ways to save them.

April 3, 2013

Keystone Pipeline, Destructive

The decision on building the Keystone Pipeline project, designed to send oil from north of Montana through 1,700 miles and six states, is coming to a head. Since its inception, conservatives have advocated for this disaster—unless it crossed their own land—and environmentalists have fought it.

The issue exploded when the Exxon Pegasus pipeline ruptured last Friday in Mayflower (AR), flooding a residential neighborhood with tens of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, and the noxious odor, similar to that of asphalt, wafted for five miles. The Keystone Pipeline is designed to carry nine times as much as the Pegasus pipeline.

The Arkansas disaster was just one week after the Senate voted to support the Keystone Pipeline, perhaps persuaded by a State Department draft report, authored by a person with extensive ties to oil companies, claiming that the Keystone Pipeline will have no environmental impact. Congress has no control over the project; it is the State Department that makes the final decision.

Two days before the Pegasus spill, a train carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. During that week, Exxon got a $1.7 million fine for its pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011. The fine is miniscule, 0.004 percent of Exxon’s $45 billion profit last year.

The pipeline transports diluted bitumen because bitumen is in a solid or semi-solid state that can be sludge or rock-like and must be diluted into a liquid to move through the pipe. The industry won’t tell anyone what it uses to dilute the bitumen.

The first Environmental Impact Statement gave Keystone an “inadequate” rating because of no information on the diluents. In 2011, Cynthia Quarterman, the agency director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, testified in the House of Representatives that her agency, the regulatory one for the pipeline, had no idea whether dilbit is more dangerous in transport than ordinary crudes and had not studied the issue.

The second EIS, released this past month, shows that no one knows anything more about the contents of the diluents or how it will react to a spill. Instead the report waffled by saying that the diluted bitumen does “behave as a conventional crude oil.” The EPA does report on the damage to animals, plants, and humans of benzene, a very toxic chemical remaining in the air after the Enbridge tar sands spill of 2011.

This spill in Michigan, which released a million gallons of dilbit in the Kalamazoo River and cost more than $820 million, still challenges scientists and regulators as they try to remove submerged oil from the riverbed. Thirty-two months after the Enbridge spill, the Kalamazoo River still has oil, and the cost has risen to over $700 million dollars. Conservation groups, with evidence, that sands oil leads to more spills because it is “highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable.”

So back to the oil spill in Arkansas. Exxon-Mobil expressed regret and apologized. But who will fix it? The state Oil and Gas Commission can’t do anything because the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge. That means that the state can’t inspect the spill or the pipeline and that the state has no oversight over this disaster.

Exxon won’t have to pay one cent for the clean-up. The company confirmed that the pipeline was carrying “low-quality Wabasca Heavy crude oil from Alberta” that had to be diluted. According to a 1980 law, diluted bitumen is not classified as oil, and companies transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Other conventional crude producers pay 8 cents a barrel to ensure the fund has resources to help clean up some of the 54,000 barrels of pipeline oil that spilled 364 times last year.

The Keystone Pipeline is bad for United States economy:

The building of the pipeline won’t provide the number of jobs that the GOP promises: The State Department has estimated the project would create about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for two years. After that it would require about 35 jobs a year.

Much of the oil refined in Texas will be exported to other countries: At least 60 percent of the gasoline produced in 2012 at Texas Gulf Coast refineries, the same ones the Keystone pipeline will serve, was exported. Exports will only rise because U.S. production is rising but consumption is declining and the industry can make more money through exports.

Many Canadians are opposed to the Keystone Pipeline: A year ago, a poll showed that nearly 42 percent of Canadians don’t want the pipeline. It is one of the world’s most environmentally damaging activities, wrecking vast areas of forest and sucking up huge quantities of water from local rivers before making it toxic and then dumping the contaminated water into ponds that now cover 70 square miles.

The Keystone Pipeline project will hurt both national and local economies: The increase of the earth’s temperature from burning tar sands oil can permanently cut the U.S. GDP by 2.5 percent at a time that 67 percent of U.S. counties have been hurt by at least one of the eleven $1 billion extreme weather events. Superstorm Sandy alone cost an estimated $80 billion, and the drought that affected 80 percent of farmland last summer destroyed one-fourth of the corn crop and did at least $20 billion damage to the nation’s economy. NASA climate scientist James E. Hansen said if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be “game over” when it came to the effort to stabilize the climate.

The fossil fuel interests pushing the Keystone pipeline have cut, not created, jobs: While garnering $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees. Forty percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

Unemployment will rise because of increasing disasters: Mark Zandi, the Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics, reported that “Superstorm Sandy [sliced] an estimated 86,000 jobs from payrolls.” Two weeks after Hurricane Irene, the number of workers filing unemployment claims in Vermont rose from 731 to 1,331. Hurricane Katrina erased 129,000 jobs, almost 20 percent, in the New Orleans region. For the U.S. economy as a whole, 2011 cost US taxpayers $52 billion.

Poor and working people will be disproportionately affected: Keystone and projects like it have a disproportionately negative impact on already struggling working families. Sixteen states were afflicted by five or more extreme weather events in 2011-12; households in disaster-declared counties in these states earn $48,137, or seven percent below the U.S. median income.

Building the sustainable economy, not the Keystone pipeline, will create far more jobs: The solar industry creates jobs six times faster than the overall job market. Research shows a 13-percent growth in highly skilled solar jobs including installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing, and software development, bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 people. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, investment in a green infrastructure program would create nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas.

Congress is more inclined to vote in favor of Keystone, however, because of the lobbying money. At least fifty oil companies, business trade associations, labor unions, and political groups with combined lobbying budgets of more than $178 million paid politicians to suppport the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in 2012. The dozen groups lobbying against the environmentally risky project had 2012 lobbying budgets of less than $5 million total.

How likely is it that the new Keystone Pipeline will have spills in addition to the 14 that they’ve had on the first part of the project? Isabel Brooks knows. When she and two friends locked themselves one night inside part of the pipeline in Winona (TX), they were amazed to see sunlight coming through gaping holes in the pipe the next morning from faulty welding. Law requires independent inspection, but TransCanada pipeline contracts can pick their own inspectors.

Brooks got her photographs of the holes in the pipeline shortly before the three protesters were arrested and jailed for 24 days. That gave TransCanada time to bury the pipeline without inspecting it. This is the same pipeline that runs under the Ogalalla aquifer which provides drinking water to millions of people in the United States.

Utah kids are being taught to support the use of oil. As a part of Earth Day, the Department of Oil, Gas, and Mining is sponsoring a poster contest for all kids grades K-6 with the theme, “Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, and Mining?” State winners get $500 for their schools and are honored at the Earth Day Awards Luncheon.

The sponsors—and teachers—probably won’t be telling students that the EPA has ranked Salt Lake City among the worst U.S. metropolitan areas for air pollution close to Los Angeles. Other Utah cities–Logan, Provo, and Brigham City respectively — took the top three spots on the EPA’s worst air quality list in January.

Of course, the Keystone Pipeline won’t be going through Utah.

July 22, 2012

Whining Republicans Protest States’ Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:45 PM
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President Obama is gutting welfare: that’s the latest cry from Republicans about a recent White House directive giving more flexibility to states in determining requirements for welfare. Mitt Romney is leading the charge, complaining that Obama wants to “strip the established work requirements” from the welfare reform act of 2006 that required people to be searching for work in order to get any welfare. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)follows right behind, calling the action “a partisan disgrace.”

Back in 2005, 29 governors asked Congress to grant them waivers from some requirements in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Romney, then Massachusetts governor, signed the letter asking for waivers as well as Gov. [Haley] Barbour (Mississippi) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (Alabama). Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also supported the waiver suggestion. Romney’s campaign now denies that he would do such a thing, but the signatures are on the Daily Kos website. It won’t be the first time that the Romney camp has had to back down when they lacked the facts about an issue.

George W. Bush didn’t take any action on the governors’ request, but less than two weeks ago the current White House issued a directive that giving alternatives to states so that they can use a combination of learning and work or vocational educational training to meet TANF requirements. George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), invited all the states to submit applications for waivers from certain parts of the TANF law, permitting states the opportunity to try programs that promote employment for welfare recipients in the face of the recession.

Sheldon’s memo states, “The Secretary will not use her authority to allow use of TANF funds to provide assistance to individuals or families subject to the TANF prohibitions on assistance.” That means that states cannot bail out people who aren’t on TANF because they didn’t meet the law’s work requirement. States have to provide specific methods of performance evaluation with establish necessary standards for the continuation of the state’s program.

Current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that “within limits, however, we agree … that states should have ‘the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.” She did add in her letters to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), “We do not go as far as these governors in supporting state flexibility.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti wrote that TANF’s work requirements are often phrased in terms of “activities,” unpaid work and internships, job searching, etc. as well as employment, activities which may only lead to unpaid work or unsuccessful job hunts. Waivers could  target employment rather than activity and ensure that successes are actually employment and not “busy work.” Pavetti added that waivers could reduce “mind-numbing” (Sheldon’s term) red tape and free up social service workers to give more attention to people in need.

When jobs were plentiful in the late 1990s, welfare reform moved people into employment. The growing recession has caused a steady drop of transferring single women into employment. Much of the TANF money is also spent on administration: only 30 percent of the budgets are used for cash assistance, and twice as many people live on less than $2 per day now.

Thus far two states with GOP governors, Utah and Nevada, have submitted requests for a waiver so far, while three additional states, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, have asked about the potential for waivers. Also Orrin Hatch, also from Utah, is a leader in trying to dismantle the president’s directive.

Sounds like a win-win, giving states the flexibility to create their own programs, but the Republicans are reacting like swarming bees, stinging everything in sight. They’re screaming that the directive is “a blatant violation of the law” and have dragged out the old canard that poor people will become more dependent on handouts. “By waiving the law’s requirements, President Obama will make it harder for Americans to escape poverty,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote in a statement. “He is hurting the very people he claims to help.” Rick Santorum compared President Obama to “a two-bit dictator” in this attempt to permit states to make welfare requirements more flexible.

Nevada wrote the following in its request for a waiver:

“Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities. Nevada is also interested in exploring performance measures that ensure program accountability and also increase the probability of families becoming self-sufficient by providing meaningful data as to the services or combination of services with the best outcomes.”

Nevada Republicans think they can benefit from the voluntary program. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a hissy fit about the lack of states right. So now Republicans want regulations and federal law? Go figure!   Republicans just want to disagree with President Obama more than they want to follow their own philosophy. They will do anything to destroy President Obama even if it destroys the country.

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