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Monday, April 30, 2007

What a long great trip it's been! - Wrapping up the THK blog tour

When Meredith Efken approached me in March with the suggestion that we do a "blog tour" to promote Teresa Heinz Kerry's upcoming Pittsburgh conference on Women's Health and the Environment, I had no idea what a blog tour was. To make it more intriguing, I learned from Meredith that a "blog tour" is something more and more book authors are doing to promote their newly released books - but Meredith was suggesting to adapt the technique to promoting the conference. Hmmm. Why not? So with the approval of the good folks at the Heinz Family Philanthropies and Teresa herself, we embarked.

Since 4/14 Teresa has visited 15 blogs, with great answers to interesting and challenging questions at each. In between, she prepared for and delivered (with of course the help of the other wonderful sponsors) the main event, an absolutely great conference on April 20th.

I had the good fortune to attend and live-blog the conference. I must say it surpassed my expectations - I have been to conferences before that left me thinking along the lines of "ok, fascinating, but so what? Will any progress happen because of this conference?" Of course I realize that some of my cynicism is just due to lack of knowledge on my part; it is quite possible that all of those conferences have been plenty productive, but I'm just not insider enough to know about it. But in this case - and maybe it was because I was at the blogger's table, and thanks to a shout out from Jeff Lewis in the introductions everybody knew we were there, we had a chance to meet a lot of people and hear a lot about efforts going on in the real world to put this great information to use. I saw real connections happening that I think will result in information being delivered to people who need it and will use it - eventually, even if not overnight.

The list of great moments at the conference is too long to give recognition to everyone, but I would say that the following were highlights for me:

From the blog tour, it is just impossible for me to select any favorites - every set of questions was interesting, and all the answers were well thought out, detailed, and informative. I learned something at every stop! Here is a list of the stops with direct links to the blog tour posts:

4/14 Culture Kitchen
4/15 Light Up The Darkness
4/16 Democracy Cell Project
4/17 A Dem Fine Woman
4/18 Big Green Purse
4/19 John Kerry Is My Hero
4/20 The Democratic Daily
4/21 Post Carbon Institute
4/22 The Unofficial Kerry Blog
4/23 Culture Kitchen
4/24 We Love John Kerry
4/25 Violet Voices
4/26 Cocking A Snook
4/27 VB Dems
4/28 Tough Enough
4/29 Liberal Values

Finally, I want to close with a list of (a few of the) links that were given out in the conference and the blog tour - these are some key resources we can use as we "continue the conversation" and just as importantly, start taking action in our own lives, to reduce ours and our children's exposure to environmental toxins:
That isn't nearly all the great links that were given out between the conference and the blog tour, but it's getting late and I really should post this. I hope everyone will use the blog tour index given above to find any posts you missed, or just revisit the posts on occasion for all the great information they contain.

Thanks to everyone who joined us on this wonderful trip - I hope you enjoyed yourself! And most especially a heartfelt thank you to Teresa Heinz Kerry, Jeff Lewis, Meredith Efken, Karen & Richard, all the bloggers who asked such great questions and made such great posts, and all those other wonderful souls who helped out in various ways - we couldn't have done this without you. Great job, everyone!

Shall we do it again for the Boston edition of this conference, this fall?

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

WHY are my tax dollars paying for this?

No, I'm not talking about the Iraq Civil War.

I'm talking about THIS.

Life came unglued for Bernie Ellis on the day drug agents raided his farm like it was the fortified villa of a South American cocaine kingpin. Ellis was bush-hogging around his berry patches when two helicopters swept low over the treetops. Then, rumbling in on four-wheelers, came 10 officers of the Tennessee Marijuana Eradication Task Force. The war on drugs had arrived, literally, in Ellis’ backyard. It was a major operation to strike a righteous blow against the devil weed.

It must have been a real disappointment. Ellis, a public health epidemiologist, readily acknowledged that he was growing a small amount of medical marijuana to cope with a degenerative condition in his hips and spine. He was giving pot away to a few terminally ill people too. There were only a couple dozen plants of any size scattered around his place—enough to produce seven or eight pounds of marijuana worth about $7,000.

But for that crime—growing a little herb to ease his own pain and the agony of a few sick and dying people—Ellis was prosecuted like an ordinary drug pusher. Actually, if he had been one, he probably would have been treated less harshly. He has mounted $70,000 in debt to his lawyers, lost his livelihood and spent the past 18 months living in a Nashville halfway house. Worst of all, he risks losing his beloved Middle Tennessee farm—187 acres of rolling green hills along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Prosecutors are trying to seize the property as a drug-case forfeiture, and Ellis is fighting against the odds to save his home of nearly 40 years.

It seems to me that the bucks spent on tracking down, arresting, incarcerating, and prosecuting a sick old guy for growing a plant that makes him feel a little better, could better be spent on, oh, where should we start? A couple solar panels on public buildings? Maybe a geothermal installation or two? A few more resources for after-school programs? Simply paying down the deficit?

I sometimes tell people that I know I'm a liberal because I don't mind paying my taxes. What bothers me most about tax time is not the final figure, but the time and hassle that goes into it (and the anxiety that a simple mistake will end up in a more significant expense of time and hassle sometime in the future).

But stuff like this makes me feel some common cause with conservatives and tax-haters. I mean come on, I don't mind giving my share to the government so I can live in a reasonably safe and democratic society (and yes, despite current trends, we in the US are still better off than many), but I don't like to see it being spent on stupidity like this.

And oh yeah, speaking of stupidity, about that Iraq Civil War - that too, of course.

Which brings me to part II of this rant. "Opportunity Cost" - a term I heard in first year Economics in college - that is what I think of when I think of sending this story to my elected reps with the question "Why the HELL are you letting this happen?" Because, you know, the Iraq Debacle has and continues to hurt, maim, kill, and generally destroy the lives of far more people than this elderly pot grower and his friends. It seems the media and the politicos are rightly all wrapped up in figuring out how to extricate us from Bush's Blunder - and when they aren't, then there is this little matter of global warming to deal with - so there is just no time left, it seems, for dealing with the relatively minor stupidity of a "War on Drugs" run amok. That's the opportunity cost of the Iraq War - it's sucked away all the resources for dealing with the very real problems that existed before we invaded Iraq. Those problems aren't going away, they are only getting worse - just like the threat of terrorism too, oh by the way, according to Bruce Reidel, counterterrorism expert.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Women's Health and the Environment Conference - Recap

I'm back home after attending the Women's Health and the Environment Conference in Pittsburgh on Friday (Apr 20) and then taking advantage of the great weather to visit with family in West Virginia.

The conference was excellent - I quasi-live-blogged it at The Democratic Daily (quasi because my own laptop isn't aircard-enabled so I had to bum keyboard time from someone who was), and several other folks live blogged as well. And of course there is the ongoing blog tour with Teresa answering bloggers' questions about the conference topics.

Speaking of the blog tour, this blog will be the final stop on the tour, on April 30. Although I am planning to use that post to sum up takeaways, key website links, and so forth from the conference and the blog tour, I thought I would take a moment now to list the relevant links for those who missed them on conference day and want to catch up.

Most importantly - the conference website notes:

For those individuals who wanted to attend but didn’t register in time, check back on April 29, 2007 to view speaker videos or download podcasts.

The presentations were all good, and some were absolutely fabulous. Standouts include Tyrone Hayes, Fran Drescher, and Herbert Needleman - but you'll enjoy the others, too, so if you have time, just watch them all!

At the conference, attendees received a "toolkit" that includes lots of information about how we can individually and together take action to safeguard our health from toxins in the environment. The materials in this toolkit are now available online, along with many other resources, and you can sign up to receive a newsletter.

While you're waiting for the podcasts and videos to be made available at the conference website on April 29, you can get the flavor of the proceedings, plus lots of great links to informative sites that were mentioned, by skimming the live blog threads:

Finally, don't miss Teresa Heinz Kerry responding to bloggers' questions on her Blog Tour (full schedule here). We are about halfway through the tour - catch the latest excellent post can be found at The Unofficial Kerry Blog, and later today there should be a post up at Culture Kitchen.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Women's Health and Environment Conference

I'm in Pittsburgh this weekend, looking forward to attending the Women's Health and Environment Conference.

If the tech gods and goddesses smile on us, we'll be liveblogging the conference, at The Democratic Daily, Democracy Cell Project, and perhaps Dailykos and Democratic Underground.

Democratic Daily is also the conference day stop on the blog tour. You can check out all the blog tour stops here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Supreme Court Win #2: Power Plants must upgrade pollution controls when making other mods

From Environment News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court today unanimously upheld a federal program designed to clean up the nation's oldest coal-fired power plants, vacating a lower court ruling that has derailed major air pollution enforcement efforts against Duke Energy and other utilities.

The court rejected a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found Duke Energy did not violate provisions of the Clean Air Act when it upgraded eight coal-fired power plants in North and South Carolina during the late 1980s and 1990s.

The Supreme Court ruled that the lower court's interpretation of the law was "too far a stretch" and ordered the court to reconsider its decision.

Environmentalists praised the ruling and said it is a major victory in a broader effort, launched by the Clinton administration, to clean up older coal-fired power plants.

"The decision is going to reverberate throughout the electric utility industry and have a major impact on the air quality in dozens of states," said NRDC attorney John Walke. "It also puts the final nail in the coffin of the Bush administration's ceaseless six-year effort to monkey-wrench the federal laws requiring power companies to bring half-century-old plants up to safe environmental standards."

The case was originally brought against Duke Energy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2000 and illustrates the confusion with federal rules that aim to clean up older power plants.

Note that the case was brought in 2000 - I wonder if EPA would have initiated this case after 2001, or at any rate after Christine Todd Whitman threw in the towel?

Update: I meant to add Marcia Coyle's remarks to Ray Suarez on this, which sum it up nicely:

MARCIA COYLE: This was, again, the interpretation of the Clean Air Act. EPA this time had sued Duke Energy and a number of utilities that made modifications to very old and deteriorating coal-burning power plants back in the 1980s.

EPA claimed they had violated the Clean Air Act by not getting permits. The modifications that the utilities made allowed these plants to operate for more hours and increased the annual pollution, so they needed the permits.

The lower court had agreed with the utility that the utility's interpretation of what a modification is under the Clean Air Act did not require a permit here, basically. The Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with the lower court's analysis of the Clean Air Act.

This was a very high-stakes case for both sides. Environmentalists feared, if EPA's interpretation of "modification" failed, that these utilities would be able to continue to run these aging plants that would continue to pollute areas that had now come within air quality standards.

The utilities feared that, if their interpretation failed, they will be facing very costly implementations of modern pollution-control technology. Electricity prices would go up.

I don't know about you all, but I'm okay with electricity prices ticking up a little, if it means my air will be cleaner. Of course I realize that equation may not work for everyone, but for many people, the reduced health care expenses (asthma and so forth) could very well offset or more than offset any energy cost increase. And for those that it doesn't ... well, let's re-allocate some of those Iraq War expenditures to our social safety net at home, why don't we?

Supreme Court Win #1: Clean Air Act does give EPA authority to regulate CO2

Yesterday in "Massachusetts v. EPA" the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the EPA can't duck their duty to regulate CO2 based on the flimsy excuse that they were trying to use, that the Clean Air Act doesn't tell them they can. Of course, while the EPA is under Bush or any other Republican administration, they will probably continue to duck their duty anyway, but they'll have to come up with a different excuse now. And in 2009 hopefully we'll have an administration that cares about the environment and people's health enough to appoint functional EPA people for a change.

San Jose Mercury News has the details:

In a 5-4 ruling, the court - taking up global warming for the first time - declared that the federal Clean Air Act clearly allows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide as a form of air pollution.

The ruling, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, was a stern rebuke to the Bush administration, which argued the EPA had no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

"This is probably the most important Supreme Court environmental ruling in history," said Carl Pope, national executive director of the Sierra Club, in San Francisco.

Ray Suarez at NPR interviewed a few knowledgeable folks for their take on it. Marcia Coyle sums up EPA's arguments and the Supreme Court decision:
MARCIA COYLE: Well, EPA really had two arguments. It said first that it didn't believe it had authority under the language of the Clean Air Act to regulate these emissions and said, secondly, even if it did have the authority, it felt it was unwise to do so at this time, because a variety of reasons. There was no clear causal link between the greenhouse gases and global warming, and regulation would interfere with a variety of other federal global warming programs, including the president's approach in treaty negotiations.

RAY SUAREZ: And what did the justices decide?

MARCIA COYLE: The justices rejected all of EPA's arguments, those two, as well as a very important question involving whether the states and the local governments even had what we call "standing" to sue EPA, that is, had the right to go into court and sue EPA.

Christopher Beam at Slate rounds up the analysis of a few bloggers. One happy with the decision predicts further positive effects from this decision:
At Warming Law, a blog started by the Community Rights Council in response to the case, Tim Dowling predicts that the ruling will "affect pending cases … that involve other provisions of the Clean Air Act that use the term 'air pollutant' (most notably, provisions that govern emissions from power plants and other stationary sources)." In addition, he predicts, "the ruling might well prompt the U.S. Congress to act more quickly and more aggressively on comprehensive global warming legislation."

I hope Dowling is right, and it certainly is a win, even if we don't see any positive action for awhile. It's knocked down one more barrier to action, and that's a good thing.

Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration's public statements on Iraq
The Bush Administration's
public statements on Iraq
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