Thursday, March 31, 2005

Negative Campaigning and Partisan Politics
 
I received a memorable sample book when I was working in an elementary school program for emotionally disturbed children. The book dealing with behavior problems had the catchy and descriptive title, He Hit Me Back First. This book and title come back to me whenever I hear the complaint that so and so is indulging in 'negative campaigning' or 'partisan politics.' Both at the federal and local levels, whenever I hear the complaint, I am concerned that what is really being done is a discounting or discrediting of criticism, and a denial of the purpose and legitimate issues raised by the loyal opposition. Republicans in particular are very skilled at utilizing this ploy to deflect criticism from their policies and plans and in turn going negative attacking Democrats for being negative. Democrats just aren't very good at it, and instead they fall prey to the baiting. What's worse, the public appears go right along with it. What is behind this elementary playground tactic is the desire on the part of the accuser to be able to advance their agenda without any public scrutiny. Take, for example, the following verbatim plea:
"Sometimes people try too hard to interject partisan politics into an issue when there are none there. Over the Legislative break I was at my lake cabin relaxing a bit. When I'm there I usually pick up the Duluth Tribune. A letter writer was taking Rep. Tom Rukavina to task for his criticism of Governor Pawlenty's state website having photographs of the Governor as a child on the site. I thought it was silly of Rep. Rukavina to call a press conference and make a big deal out of it. A Duluth resident agreed and said:

"'Rukavina is clearly playing bad politics and wasting the taxpayers' time coming up with crazy laws. Rukavina said it should be illegal to have links about the Governor on the state Web site. Is that the best Democrats can pump out? Local Democrats have been using taxpayer-paid newsletters to defame the Governor for a while now. Just a few months ago, Rukavina pleaded guilty to drunken driving. Perhaps he should do something productive, such as making laws that keep drunks off the streets. Or better yet, resign.'


"This letter writer was pretty blunt and hard on Rep. Rukavina. It points out that trying too hard to interject partisan politics into issues generally is a poor idea. Rep. Rukavina took some pretty 'cheap' shots at the Governor about the website. He deserved to be called up short on it as the letter writer did."


Who hit back first? The blogger, in this case my former opponent, is appalled that Tom Rukavina took exception with the Governor's use of his taxpayer provided Governors website for personal promotion. Bringing it to the public's attention does not mean Rukavina's approach is right, the public will decide on that, but is Rukavina right in bringing the concern of public funds for personal promotion to the public? - absolutely. Does Ray have a right to question Rukavina's method, that he "took some pretty 'cheap' shots at the Governor" . . . ? Yes, he has the right to question the method, but Rukavina's right to question and bring it forward is fundamental. Does the letter writer Ray quotes, or Ray in quoting him, have the right to suggest that Rukavina should not be listened to or be given a fair hearing of a legitimate concern about use of taxpayer funds because of past behavior? No, questioning public expenditures, is basic democratic discourse. Improper use of taxpayer money should always be a concern it is a serious matter. Elected officials should not be using their office for personal gain. That is not why they are elected. Politicians, when elected, do gain in their individual and even business influence and power, which is the reason abuse of that power and influence is important to question.

My former opponent began his blog though as cover and deflection for criticism he received, criticism he wanted to paint as being 'partisan politics.' The subtext here is "the people have no right to question what I do." We live in a democracy, and activist citizens have a right and a responsibility to question when something looks suspicious. They may or may not be right, but they have the right to ask, otherwise our government is one of dictators. If elected officials can't operate in the light of day and be willing to justify what they do, then we have a serious problem. Ray has every right to be involved with bringing forth an initiative that he believes is for the public good, but it is wrong to dismiss the concerns of a citizen by claiming they are partisan, suggesting therefore the questions have no merit, and failing to answer the primary question - is this bill he sponsored premature? Here is how the blog begins:

"The campaign manager for my opponent in the last election had a letter in the Northfield News last week criticizing me for carrying a bill to protect the retirement benefits of local hospital workers. Interjecting partisan politics in this issue was uncalled for. The City of Northfield and the Northfield Hospital asked me to introduce this legislation. They continue to work at deciding what ownership should be used to continue operating the city hospital."


The point is not 'partisan politics.' Even though the person in question was my campaign manager, she is not now. Long before becoming my manager she has been an activist and has spoken out about issues of concern to her in the community. More importantly, as a professional she represents members of the public and groups raising issues, questioning is what she does, in this case representing a group about hospital issues. Her letter is not 'partisan politics,' it asks the question, "What is going on here that we're not aware of? Why isn't this being talked about publicly?" Her letter reads as follows:

To the editor:
Before Northfield's new hospital was built, I represented some residents who were concerned about improprieties in the process and all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to make the new hospital happen.

Now I see that Rep. Ray Cox has authored H.F. 920 specifically for the Northfield Hospital. This is a bill which secures pensions of hospital workers when the hospital is privatized.

As I recall, the hospital is the city's greatest economic asset, back before the hospital was built, I believe it was worth about $22 million. Since when is the hospital on the auction block? Wasn't that idea dropped again last fall when challenged? Is this in the public interest or just Allina's interest? And why is Ray Cox greasing the skids to make it happen when it's not even on the public agenda? Whose interest is he representing? Isn't this a bit premature? Or is the decision already made and the public just doesn't know it?

Carol A. Overland


My former opponents response to the letter on his blog follows:

"Last year the city approached the hospital about possibly changing the hospital ownership to some type of private ownership. The city is increasingly concerned about legal liability for hospital actions. The city is also concerned about having to regularly approve large expenditures for equipment but not really fully understanding all aspects related to the equipment purchase. In addition to this, because the hospital is publicly owned, all planning work must be done in public . . . any competitor medical facility that wants to know what Northfield Hospital is planning just has to pick up the hospital board minutes and find out.

"Because of all these reasons they city and the hospital are working on a study to figure out if a change in ownership makes sense. If the result is a desire to end the municipal ownership the current employees would need legislation in place to protect their pension plans. I would not want to see employees harmed by a change of ownership and was more than happy to prepare the required legislation . . . maybe others don't worry about that, but I appreciate the fact that both the city and hospital administrators care about employee retirement provisions."


Now of course my former opponent can interpret the facts as he sees fit, however my reading of the Hospital Board and City council meetings described on the League of Women Voters website suggests that the hospital initiated the discussion and neither the hospital or city want to be scrutinized by the public and the hospital wants to be free from the salary restrictions found in public service, to be able to forgo the competitive bidding process for future construction plans, and to operate without the restrictions of the open meeting law. "Who does this benefit?" is the question being asked. Who benefits from elimination of salary restrictions? Who benefits from secret bidding? Who benefits from closed meetings? It is not a question of whether or not employees should be protected, because they should be, but why do they need this protection before it's been determined publicly that a change is in the public interest? If this is determined, the employees can and must be protected with a contract provision and future legislation. What's the rush?

 



Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's all connected . . .
 
Following are summary notes from Carol Overland's March 17th presentation (prepared by her for this blog). There lengthy, loaded with information you won't find anywhere else, and well worth the read; especially if you want the scoop on the status of electrical transmission that Minnesota legislators are grappling with. For Scott Schumacher's review of the presentation see Northfield.org

The great questions at "Transmission 1001" on Thursday night point out the need for information on transmission - it's really only nuts and bolts with a little common sense thrown in - if a lawyer can understand it, anyone can! Or so think the engineers that I deal with. On that note, I offer some insights, perspectives and resources gained from my decade mired in utility regulation.

Why should we care about electric transmission? Because we are the public that utilities serve, and we have to make sure that they do not forget, in their drive for unregulated transactions, that their obligation to serve the public is primary - that is their purpose, the basis for their corporate charter granted by the State of Minnesota. Yet people tend not to think of electricity beyond, as Ray Cox suggests, flicking on the switch. That's shortsighted. It's where we go wrong, because electricity as a regulated essential service plays a very large role in our lives, and policy decisions from choice of generation to nuclear waste storage, from 60% cuts in utility personal property tax that goes to local governments to transmission through my client's property, "incentives" to produce jobs! jobs! jobs! from coal gasification to reliance on existing jobs and technology that leaves workers and landowners exposed to EMF all day long -- electricity has a big but largely unrecognized impact on our daily lives. If you don't think so, ask yourself why the World Bank and IMF policies focus on privatization of utility infrastructure - and why, coincidentally, Minnesota's greatest boondoggle, the Mesaba project, is much the work of Julie Jorgensen (the wife of "Two Lobbyists and a Wife" Mesaba fame), whose experience is in 3rd world infrastructure acquisitions and acquisitions for NRG! Yup, it's time to get informed.

Utilities are "public service corporations" established for the public purpose of providing an essential service, and as such are granted state authority to operate as a monopoly, have exclusive territory, opportunity for rate recovery, eminent domain to aid in siting approved projects in exchange for an obligation to serve those in their territory, a necessity of proving facilities proposed are "needed" and are a "reasonable and prudent investment" and for a PUBLIC PURPOSE. Their corporate charter is in essence their contract with the state - are they living up to its terms? Where's the enforcement?
FYI - Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy (ME3)is the best energy website. If you have documents to post send them to John Bailey: bailey@ilsr.org


Transmission Planning

State statute requires that utilities produce a "transmission plan" every two years.
State Transmission Plan
Minnesota Transmission Owners submit joint report -
2001 Transmission Plan (pdf)
2003 Transmission Plan (pdf)
Map (pdf)


The Minnesota Transmission Owners (MTO) are now preparing the 2005 Transmission Plan and this plan is more important than the others because, for the first time, they are asking for certification of projects in the plan. If the projects are "certified," the legal equivalent of a Certificate of Need, the utilities can proceed to the EQB for siting permit and then proceed with construction.

MAY 2005 - TRANSMISSION PLAN MEETINGS WILL BE HELD. It's important to review the plan and show up and make your comments, in person and in writing. SE Minnesota zone meeting will be held in Rochester at Rochester Public Utilities office. Keep checking the MTO site for plan and for meeting announcements.
CapX2020 - (Capital Expenditures!) A Transmission Planners' Dream
MAPP (Mid-Continent Area Power Pool)Map (1999 map due to "security concerns")


In this area, power generally flows from NW to SE. The transmission system was built to facilitate utilities' local load service and tap into systems of neighboring utilities in an emergency to cover their native load. The plans proposed by utilities are all part of the larger WIREs and WRAO plans, the purpose of which was to get electricity into Wisconsin and Illinois.

These plans are nothing new -- For the origins of the lines in the permitting process in MN see:
WIREs 1998 (scroll down to "WIREs")
WRAO 1999 (scroll down to "WRAO")
ATC 10 year Plan 2004
Arrowhead-Weston - WIREs Option 3j (A-W as applied for did not include all of 3j)
Chisago - WIREs Option 5a 5b
SW MN 345kV - WIREs Option 9a and 9b


Industry Entities
MAPP - Mid-Continent Area Power Pool
MAIN - Mid-American Interconnected Network - MAPP's export target market, includes Milwaukee and Chicago markets:
MAIN "public" transmission map (pdf)
MAIN reports online
MAIN reserve margins of the day

MISO - Midwest Independent Service Operator
MISO tariff revisions forthcoming

NERC - North American Electric Reliability Council - "voluntary" utility reliability organization that establishes operational procedures and guidelines for operating the grid. No real teeth.
Blackout information
Library - Reliability Assessments

FERC - Federal Electric Regulatory Commission - federal jurisdiction over generation and wholesale transmission rates
Minnesota PUC - Public Utilities Commission (651) 296-2174
To be on Service List for energy projects, email Robin.Benson@state.mn.us and ask to be on general service list for energy projects, or specify which types (it is a LOT of paper).

Jurisdiction over local load rates for local load, determination facility is "needed"

Minn. Stat. §216C.2421 Certificate of Need (CoN)
Minnesota EQB - Environmental Quality Board
Al Mitchell, Power Plant Siting Act (PPSA) Mgr. (651) 296-3714
To receive an electronic copy of the EQB Monitor, e-mail eqb.monitor@state.mn.us
To get on mailing lists (many to choose from) from any docket go to mailing list, or to site.
Energy facilities - Jurisdiction over siting of power plants, transmission lines, wind turbines, pipelines and high level nuclear waste.
Minn. Stat. §116C.59-69 Power Plant siting Act (PPSA)
Both CoN and PPSA are "environmental law" and enforced by MERA & MEPA
MERA ch. 116B - MN Environmental Rights Act
MEPA ch. 116D - MN Environmental Policy Act

Utilities have power of eminent domain - take land for public purpose, provide essential service
Minn. Stat. §302.02
Minn. Stat. ch. 117 - Eminent Domain
Minn. Stat.§116C.63, Subd. 4 - "Buy the Farm"

Wisconsin PSC - Public Service Commission. Wisconsin combines both environmental and "need" parts of evaluation of application in one proceeding.


THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN TRANSMISSION BILLS
Here are some bills that have been proposed, House Files are listed and are linked through the "Status" link to the Senate File links:
H.F. 1322
H.F. 1344 ("Governor's bill")
H.F. 1347 ("Xcel's bill")
H.F. 1517 ("Wind on the Wire's bill")
H.F. 1645 (incorrectly dubbed "Landowners" bill, but it offers little to landowners, and has provisions that do nothing to landowners but hurt them, i.e., cutting permitting process, focus on "regional reliability")

There are themes in the legislative proposals regarding transmission this session, legislative examples are cited for each, but this changes daily and these themes will reappear in different bills. These themes represent changes that are NOT needed and that are NOT in the public interest. One by one, here are the themes to watch for:
- Automatic Rate Adjustment - transmission "for renewables"

Xcel has abused the existing statutory provision by claiming everything from the sagging Wilmarth line and the ticklish Ft. Calhoun Interface in Nebraska are necessary "for wind." This is absurd -- don't make it worse! Make Xcel demonstrate its claims.
Found in bills such as H.F. 1347/S.F. 1332; H.F. 1517/S.F. 1502; H.F. 1645/S.F.??, and it may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? How do we tell if it's "for renewable energy?"
? Where's the funding for a state electrical engineer to evaluate utility claims?
? What technical assistance is the Office of the Reliability Administrator providing?
? What will sufficient technical assistance cost, how can that best be mandated, and how will the cost be covered?
? Costs of transmission are recoverable in the rates. Why should this be handled differently?
? Costs of transmission are recoverable in the rates. Why should Xcel get it
immediately and not under the usual scheme?

Call it "Transmission Cost Adjustment," call it "Automatic Adjustment," by any name, this is a bad idea because Xcel makes exaggerated claims and the state cannot determine whether it is "for renewables," as was demonstrated in the SW MN 345kV proceeding. Minn. Stat. §216B.1645 provides for an automatic adjustment for infrastructure necessary for "renewable energy." No more is needed - and that provision should be repealed.

- Xcel has abused the category of improvements for "renewable" and will classify anything and everything as "renewable." This was a blatant problem in the SW MN 345kV case, and Xcel withdrew their request after challenge. If legislators do not know how to tell if "it's for wind," and they don't, they shouldn't be drafting or voting or promoting legislation to change rate recovery for "renewable" infrastructure.

- The state has no way of knowing or proving whether transmission is "for renewables." The state does not have an electrical engineer to evaluate these projects. The Reliability Administrator, whose job it is to provide technical assistance, does not provide technical assistance. The Reliability Administrator must provide technical assistance. Ask Ken Wolf, Reliability Administrator, how much technical assistance his office has provided in these cases. I tried to subpoena him in the SW MN 345kV case because the Intervenors and the state did not have technical resources to evaluate Xcel's claims regarding losses. Same goes for whether a particular transmission improvement is "for wind" or not. No generation or transmission project should be approved without review by a qualified electrical (power/transmission) engineer working on behalf of the state with no conflicts of interest.


- Exemption from Certificate of Need - DON'T DO IT!


Certificate of Need (CoN) through the Public Utilities Commission is the only way to require demonstration that purpose of generation or transmission project is what they claim it is!
Found in bills such as H.F. 1344/S.F. 1368; H.F.1347/S.F. 1332; H.F. 1517/S.F. 1502; H.F. 1645/S.F. ??, and it may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? Review for projects included in Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) or that meet Renewable Energy Objective/Standard (REO/RES) is nominal once this criteria has been demonstrated. If it is exempted from CoN, where is the demonstration that it's included?
? For transmission lines exempted under H.F. 1645, how will landowners receive notice?
? If there is no Certificate of Need proceeding, that cuts landowners' participatory rights. Will they be compensated at whatever rate necessary to appease them for taking away their rights? Where is this codified?

Several bills propose exempting wind or renewable projects from Certificate of Need, so while reading through the bill to the spot where this amendment is proposed, look at how narrow the exemption categories are and then you'll see a HUGE exemption for wind. Why?

There is no need to exempt wind projects. The Certificate of Need process is the way that project proponents prove up their projects, that they are what they claim to be and that they are included in the utility's Resource Plan or Renewable Energy Objective/Standard. Once that claim is established, the review is perfunctory, not onerous Certificate of Need review is also the means in which the landowners and those affected by a transmission project get. If all were automatically exempted, where is the necessary opportunity to assure the project really is what they claim it is? How is it demonstrated that this facility best fits the need, that it is planned to best utilize existing infrastructure and does not require or depend on construction of infrastructure? This determination can be met only through a Certificate of Need proceeding.

- "Regional Reliability" as a criteria for "need" is a crock


We will not freeze in the dark in an incubator without a job. There is a glut of electricity (search this blog for "glut" for more information).
Found in bills such as H.F. 1347/S.F. 1332; H.F. 1517/S.F. 1502; H.F. 1645/S.F. ??, and it may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? What is impact of project on local load service?
? Does local load service provide any basis for project?
? What ratepayers are paying for this "regional reliability" project?
? Show me the market analysis to support planned market transactions.
? What is target market?
? What new generation is planned within "regional reliability area" of target market? (MAIN, MAPP)


Reliability - The classic utility line that "we need this for reliability" is not true. Utilities use the false threat of impending outages irresponsibly to justify construction of transmission, but these threats are deceptive empty threats that cover up the reasons for utility drive to build transmission - their access to increased unregulated market transactions, and the reason for the outages - system manipulation and overloading to increase unregulated market transactions and unwillingness to cut transfers when necessary, all actions that put the grid at risk. I've entered 4 industry investigations of outages and "incidents" on the records of various transmission proceedings and transmission planning dockets, including those of July 11, 10, 1997, June 25, 1998, July 10-11, 1999 (2), that show industry alarm at the cavalier manner in which the utilities are operating the grid, typified by overloading the system beyond its capacity to reap profit, not taking action when forewarned of trouble, taking the wrong action - avoiding cutting bulk power transfers, and doing too little to late. It is the industry desire for vastly increased "economic transfers" that is at the root of the system reliability problems. Here's an overview with a similar take:

Recommendations from Major Power Outages Potentially Applicable to ...
... the entire northern MAPP Region was separated from the Eastern Interconnection,
... in the eventual blackout of the northwestern Ontario Hydro system. ...


Look for the phrases and code words that let you know they were overloading the system to sell as much electricity as possible, running the system above operating guides, delayed action rather than cut transfers, actions which put the grid at risk:
- heavily loaded
- reduce scheduled transfers to a safe and prudent level
- high demand
- high electricity transfers
- establish maximum transfer levels
- encourage operators to exercise their authority to take immediate action
- system must be operated within approved Operating Guide limits
- system must be returned to a reliable state within the allowed readjustment period
- system operator must take responsibility to restore the system immediately
- record peak loads
- reactive demand exceeded reactive supply
- High transfer levels across the system

Building more large transmission lines will not increase reliability, they will only increase the number of transmission lines needed to provide a stable system and it feeds on itself in a never ending utility claim of "need." The big transmission and instability and reliability concerns can be avoided through broadly distributed generation carefully placed.
Here's the catch: When someone wants to build transmission for "reliability" or to "get electricity to market," always ask about their market. Where are they selling the power, to whom, how much? Then look at the reserve margins in that area, and think what the power will cost to get there, the cost of generation plus the cost of transmission should make it more expensive than any local generation. Note that reserve margins are at an all time high, double or more what is needed.

NERC - North American Electric Reliability Council - "voluntary" utility reliability organization that establishes procedures and guidelines for operating the grid. It provides the operational rules but has no real enforcement teeth.
Blackout information
Library - Reliability Assessments
2004 Reliability Assessment - read the comments about available generation and transmission capacity, note that it states it is a CONSERVATIVE estimate of resources (the situation is even rosier than this report states), note the comments on ability of distributed generation and hardware updates (FACTS, reconductoring, etc.) to increase system capacity, and most importantly, note reserve margins for MAPP and MAIN p. 31-32.

MAIN - Mid-American Interconneted Network and click on MAIN submittal to NERC for the longterm assessment(public info) Again, note the reports of new generation in MAIN, 9.900MW, and that's a conservative estimate. P. 1 - Resource Assessment

- Transfer of transmission assets - TRANSLink style entities are not in the public interest
Found in bills such as H.F. 1347 - TRANSMISSION ASSETS TRANSFER, and it may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? Iowa and MN Attorney General found this not in the public interest. How would this transfer be in Minnesota's interest (public interest)? What is the Minnesota benefit?
? What is jurisdictional impact of such an asset transfer?
? What is rate impact of such an asset transfer?
? How is this in the ratepayer's interest? What is ratepayer benefit?
? What is the Xcel shareholder benefit in this transfer?

TRANSLink failed at the Minnesota PUC so now we're faced with this legislative attempt to revive an idea that takes away Minnesota's jurisdiction. TRANSLink was rejected by Iowa as not in the public interest. At the PUC, MN's OAG-RUG (Office of Attorney General - Residential Utilities Division) found it to be a really bad idea, many appeared to agree, including TRANSLink which withdrew the application. Here's the PUC staff briefing papers(pdf). Pay particular attention to the OAG Comments, summarized below:
- The purpose of the petition is to escape all State regulatory oversight.
The Commission's authority to approve the petition without legislative action is questionable - the Commission has not been empowered to allow the transmission grid to be removed from its jurisdiction.
- Approval would result in the surrender of Commission authority under Minn. Stat. §216B.79 giving it authority to order utilities to control sufficient generation, transmission, and distribution assets.
- Transfer of this asset is not required by FERC Order 2000, transfer to an RTO is, and FERC can be satisfied by participating in MISO.
- Approving the Petition would invite FERC preemption as was experienced by New York state.
- Ratemaking authority would be in question.
- Regulation of reliability and protection of native load would be in question.
- Transfer does not meet the public interest requirement of Minn. Stat. §216B.50 due to the loss of jurisdiction over transmission.
- Public interest is not served by side door deregulation on the backs of utility customers.
- Minnesota Power has a substantial interest in ATC, and Deb Amberg, MP in-house counsel, was/is on the ATC Board of Directors.
- Minnesota customers could pay for transmission built to serve wholesale transactions and not needed for native load.
- Company would be biased against non-transmission solutions to constraints.
- ATC has no obligation to work with Commission and public agencies to address reliability concerns.
- The financial viability of ATC has not yet been proven.

There are enough concerns, most focusing on jurisdiction of the Commission, and all unaddressed since this issue was last considered by the Commission, to compel the legislature to refrain from making this drastic change. This is not a step to be taken lightly, and the Legislature has an obligation to preserve the authority and regulatory power of the state.

For a copy of the agreement between TRANSLink and ME3, Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and North American Water Office, email Clodet Jenson, Clodet.Johnson@state.mn.us Dept. of Commerce, and ask for Document 02-2102 in the TRANSLink docket.

- Stakeholder process to "streamline transmission" approval


Found in bills such as H.F. 1347/S.F. 1332; H.F. 1645 Alternative Review, and it may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? What is wrong with transmission approval process now? (dig deep, and take
the inquiry down a couple levels, if "delay" is a problem, why is that a problem and what is the cause of the delay.)
? What would impact of proposed changes be on landowners and intervenors and interested parties?
? Where improper notice and difficulty of meaningful participation are already landowner and public concerns, how will these concerns be addressed?
? Who are regarded as stakeholders? Who has the time commitment and funding necessary to participate fully (anyone other than "environmental" organizations with big budgets?)?
? Will Intervenors and state agencies charged with approval be funded sufficiently to deal with applications?


Process does NOT need streamlining - what holds up projects is bad applications (Chisago, Arrowhead)
The concept of "streamlining" transmission approvals is nonsense, and speeding it up will not help. The application review system is working, sort of, although the state agencies do not have the technical expertise they require, no engineer and no staff qualified to evaluate industry proposals (THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM). The reason that utilities are having problems getting proposals approved, such as the Arrowhead and Chisago Transmission Projects is that they are putting forth harebrained ideas without substance that do not stand up under scrutiny. The utilities claim that lines are "needed" for things "reliability," or "local load service" yet in the transmission permitting proceeding, we find those claims are not supported by industry reports, they are forecasting load increases that do not match with history or current experience. Bottom line, utilities want the transmission lines for "economic transfers" - wholesale bulk power transfers that are not regulated by the state. The applications do not contain the necessary information for approval under state criteria because they are not intended for the purposes the state permits, and instead of using the process honestly, they have circumvented the process by designing the lines to come in just under the length requirement for a Certificate of Need, claiming they're "for wind" or whatever it takes to make a case for approval by the state. What these patterns of industry plans show is the 1970's pattern of utility overbuilding, which is why we have not needed infrastructure for so long.

- Landowners' compensation must be updated

Found in bills such as H.F. 1645 (missing Buy the Farm @ 100kV); S.F. 462, and may come up in future incarnations.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
? Where purpose of transmission line is market transactions, will landowners receive a share?
? What is basis for payments proposed?
? Is landowner contract to be renegotiated if easement to be used for another purpose, upgraded, fiberoptic, etc?
? Where purpose of transmission line is market transactions, a private purpose, what is utility basis for claim of eminent domain?
? Is "Buy the Farm" available to ALL landowners facing a high voltage (over 100kV) transmission line?
? Does proposed legislation contain a notice provision of landowner options?

Landowners are concerned about two things: Given the changing nature of transmission, am I being fairly compensated for use of my land, and second, has the state PUC and EQB review process been public and fair? Landowner compensation for transmission lines occurs under two statutory scenarios, Minn. Stat. ch. 117 (standard eminent domain) and Minn. Stat. §116C.63, subd. 4, knows as "Buy the Farm." The legislative intent of "Buy the Farm" was to allow landowners to get out from under a transmission line by opting eminent domain for their entire parcel, not just the small easement, so they can move away. Transmission is now going forward for other than the "public purpose" that is necessary for eminent domain, and landowner compensation must reflect this changed market and regulatory structure. Transmission projects have been permitted in a way that landowners could not take the Buy the Farm option because they were exempted from, and not granted, a permit under the Power Plant Siting Act (Minn. Stat. ch. 116C). FYI - there is no provision in the law that landowners be notified of the "Buy the Farm" option if it applies to their situation. On March 4, 2005, in Luverne, MN, Xcel's Pam Rasmussen testified that they had not provided notice, would not provide notice, and would not provide a list of names and addresses of affected landowners to let someone else provide notice. THIS IS A PROBLEM. Landowners are not aware of their rights and are not being notified, either that the provision exists or that if a project is exempted they will not have this option, and that's a notice problem.

Look for provisions that:
- Assure landowners and all levels of local government receive actual notice of projects in their area, including Biennial Transmission Plan certification projects and specific project applications
- Provide for annual payments to landowners, spreading the profit of transmission to those providing land for it (maybe optional one time payment/buy out?)
- Annual payments available in all land acquisitions for infrastructure, whether eminent domain or negotiated easements.
- Right to annual payment follows the land
- Notice is provided to landowners of the Buy the Farm and annual payments options
- Buy the Farm must be available to all those affected by high voltage transmission lines - those over 100kV (was set at 200kV threshold in 2002).


What Can YOU Do ? Stand up - let them know what you think!

It's your job to speak out, otherwise they'll never know. 5 people working together at the state legislature can make things happen - and even just one persistent person can make a difference -- that's all it takes. Email has changed political participation, it makes it easy. To find your legislators, go to the House and Senate website and look under "members." In this area, Senate District 25 and House District 25B:

Sen. Tom Neuville sen.thomas.neuville@senate.mn
645-9058 (h)
645-4451 (w)
At Capitol: SOB 123 (651) 296-1279

Rep. Ray Cox rep.ray.cox@house.mn
645-5736 (h)
645-8975 (w)
At Capitol: SOB 413 (651) 296-7065
Committees: Environment & Natural Resources, Higher Education Finance, Transportation
(Ray is no longer on Regulated Industries) (he coauthored 2003 Mesaba bill HF 964)

Governor Tim Pawlenty
Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Martin Luther King Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
(651) 296-3391
(651) 206-2089 (f)

Get a copy of the little green book at State Office Building - Info Office first floor across hall from the Secretary of State's Office.
You can get two, so get one for you and one for a friend.
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Lobbying takes TIME, you have to build a reputation for reliable information, can't do it overnight.
Utility issues are typically heard in House Regulated Industries and Environment Committees, and in the Senate, the Energy and Environment Committees, but some also go to Governmental Operations, some go to Tax, it all depends. You have to deal with those on the right committees, not just "YOUR" legislators. If you send committee members emails, send them individually or blind copy so there's not a big string of addresses filling up the screen - you want your message to show! Make it simple, use bullet points, and send the specifics in an attachment if there's a lot of necessary detail. Always put your full name and address, phone, and email so they can reach you if they have questions.
Committee schedule - sign up for email notification of schedules. To sign up to testify when a bill is before a committee, call that committee's administrator. It's that easy. When you go to testify, be sure to have a handout with concise statement of your position, with necessary details or exhibits following - keep it simple.
House
Senate

To look up current statutes or proposed bills, go to the legislative website and click the section you want, then search by statute or bill number and/or key words. It's a good site, though sometimes it is hard to come up with the right "key words" if you don't know what you're looking for.
Now the legislature's site is set up so that you can track your own specific bills and you'll get an automatic email notification when anything happens on those you're focused on.
ME3's legislative watch has nothing this year. What's that about?
Sign up for updates from minnesotavotes.org. Yes, sigh, it's Center for the American Experiment, but it's a great site and service - take advantage of their funding!

It's All Connected: Specific Information on Transmission Projects

Chisago Transmission Project
NSP applied for Chisago Project in 1996
Claimed it was for local load in NW WI, but then the WIREs report came out! Chisago = Option 5a/b
WIREs 1998 (scroll down to "WIREs")
WRAO 1999 (scroll down to "WRAO")
Xcel
ME3 Chisago links
ME3 Chisago archive


Arrowhead-Weston Transmission Project MP/WPS applied for in 1999
Applicants: Minnesota Power/Wisconsin Public Service & American Transmission Company
Claimed it was for "reliability" but no reliability studies were done for part of project that was applied for!
Arrowhead-Weston line is WIREs Option 3j, but Arrowhead did not include all parts of 3j
WIREs 1998 (scroll down to "WIREs")
WRAO 1999 (scroll down to "WRAO")
Minnesota Power & Wisconsin Public Service make A-W Application WI & MN
MN - Application to exempt from EQBs PPSA
W.O.L.F. - Appeal
WI - Application for Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity


Mesaba Project - transmission (and generation) 1,000MW+ of coal gasification. Originally proposed as 2,000MW of coal gasification and 1,000MW of wind. The bill gave them exemption from Certificate of Need for generation and "associated" transmission, upgrades without Certificate of Need, $10 million in RDF funds, power of eminent domain for generation and transmission to a private company, a mandated power purchase agreement with Xcel, to be located in JOBZ zones and therefore exempt from corporate taxes and property taxes (scroll way down).
Don't forget that Ray Cox co-authored HF964 (Mesaba 2003) - search Ray's blog site for Mesaba
The plan: Excelsior

MN gave Mesaba $10 million over 5 years from the Renewable Development Fund in the 2003 legislative approval of the project, but many were "shocked and outraged" when the PUC gave them the money recently.

Why? It was in the bill, PUC has authorization to make that grant. Why were those objecting silent in the years this bill was before the legislature??

SE Metro (So. St. Paul, Mendota Heights & Sunfish Lake)
The SE Metro Transmission Line was primarily an issue of EMF, Electro Magnetic Frequencies which are a part of the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. The Power Line Task Force (PLTF) used every venue to raise these issues, from the PUC to EQB to a unique "Steering Committee" formed from representatives of each of the affected cities the line would pass through. PLTF brought in experts to present to the Steering Committee regarding the impacts of EMF, and each of the cities, after hearing the evidence, voted against the permit for the line, finding that it was dangerous and not in the public interest.
Power Line Task Force
Appeal - Power Line Task Force v. PUC re: Duty of PUC to provide safe power

Cities were decision maker - below CoN threshold
Steering committee formed to collect factual evidence and public comment
All decided not to grant permits and two were promptly sued by NSP
The third, So. St. Paul, then reversed its decision
Appeal - Northern States Power v. Mendota Heights and Power Line Task Force
Appeal - Northern States Power v. Sunfish Lake and Power Line Task Force
Appeal - Power Line Task Force v. Northern States Power


SW MN Transmission "for wind"
The SW MN Transmission Project was a collection of many upgrades claimed to be "for wind" but it was proven on the record that it had little to do with wind and more to do with coal energy flowing east. On the 345kV line, there was only one connection from Buffalo Ridge, and into that line with a 2085 MVA capacity, only 213-302MW (worst and best cases) of that 2085MVA is energy coming off of Buffalo Ridge. So what's the line for? Look at the last page of the Lignite Vision study, below - transmission isn't rocket science - the magenta line says it all.
WRAO 1999 (scroll down to "WRAO")
Lignite Vision 21 (pdf) (see p. 5 !!!)
ATC 10 Year Plan
The SW MN line + Lignite Vision 21 + ATC 10 year plan = WIREs Option 9a and 9b
From SD through MN to WI - Huron-Rapid City-Lakefield Jct.-Adams-Genoa- Columbia


SW MN Study (pdf)
Note chart p. 21 of coal projects coming on line:
Public Energy - Buffalo Ridge Transmission Plan (pdf)

Xcel SW MN Application for 4 Certificates of Need (CoN), PUC Application & CoN granted 2002
Three findings and orders requested
- CoN for 4 transmission lines as part of larger plan
- Finding that the 345kV plan is in public interest to increase outlet capacity for Buffalo Ridge
- Rate recovery under 216B.1694 as "renewable" - withdrawn by Xcel after challenge

Order (pdf)
EQB Docket in process NOW

 



Saturday, March 12, 2005

Transmission 1001: It's All Connected
 


If you've been following the energy theme in this blog, here's something you might find of interest:

How our transmission grid works and doesn't work, some pending
infrastructure commitments that shape our energy future, and what
you can do about it, with tips on effective public participation.

Carol A. Overland
Utility Regulatory Attorney

Thursday, March 17 @ 7p

Northfield PPG
313 _ Division, Northfield
(above Jenkins Jewelers)


Utilities would like us to believe we'll freeze in the dark in an incubator without a job, but they're now overbuilding infrastructure, at our expense, to gain greater market control and higher profits. Whatever happened to the "public service" in public service corporation? What path are we on if we make billions of dollars in infrastructure commitments that last for 50+ years? Is this our energy future or are we waking to our energy nightmare?

For more information, call Carol A. Overland (507) 664-0252
or email overland@redwing.net

 



Sunday, March 06, 2005

FEEDLOTS AND EAW Requirements
 
I received earlier today an update from Charles Skinner concerning the importance of following the rules when it comes to EAW requirements for operation of feedlots over 1000 animal units. Gordon Cumming will present information to the County Board regarding the Boards consideration of a CUP (conditional use permit) request without an EAW (Environmental Assessment Worksheet). Gordon represents the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and therefore represents the interests of the people of Rice County. Some of you may remember this issue came up in the last legislative campaign. The concern here is not that the project should be prohibited but that the conditional use process be conducted in a way that the environment is protected.

It appears the proposed 3,300 finishing hog feedlot in Wheeling Township will be approved without an EAW being done for it. There is a discrepancy in animal unit (au)designation for a finishing hog feedlot between our county ordinance (.4 au per finishing hog equals 1320 au) and state (.3 au per finishing hog equals 990 au). The State says feedlots of 1000 au and up must have an EAW, so the producer is hoping the State (.3) will override the county ordinance. Federal designation, is .4. and if the project applies for a federal permit (NPDES for 1000 au and over)then perhaps that would override the State. But environmental review must come BEFORE any permit is given when there is still time to make changes to the plan.

The Planning Commission held a hearing (only near neighbors received a notice) on Feb. 17. The EAW should have been mandatory. It should still be done due to the problem that the proposed development is near a waterway that runs to the Zumbro River, which is impaired.

Here is Charley's note:
Hi Friends,
Below is an important and urgent message about an imminent feedlot issue, regarding matters of concern to residents everywhere in Rice County

Gordon Cumming from CRWP (Cannon River Watershed Partnership) will be going to the County Board, Tuesday morning at 8:30, March 8, to present concerns about the consequences of a feedlot for the Cannon River Watershed, including the Cannon River itself. So this could have consequences for anyone interested in the health of the river and the watershed.

I encourage as many of you as possible to show up to show your support of Gordon and his presentation.
Thanks,

Charley


Following is the information from: Gordon Cumming
Subject: EAW Requirements for operation over 1000 AU

Dear Commissioners,

It has recently been brought to the attention of CRWP that the Rice County Commissioners intend to grant/pass a CUP request allowing construction and operation of a 1,320 AU hog operation in Wheeling Township without requiring an Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

The intent of my email is not to halt the intended operator from constructing and running the intended operation. It is to inform the commissioners of the "triggers" in place that require proper review of the potential impacts and vetting of those impacts prior to awarding a permit.

In reviewing the Rice County Feedlot Ordinance, and other documents, I have provided the following excerpts:

SECTION 727 GENERAL PROVISIONS
- 727.001 Jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of this Ordinance shall apply to all the areas of Rice County outside the incorporated limits of municipalities.

727.003 Application.
a. In their interpretation and application, the provisions of this Ordinance shall be held to be the minimum requirements to satisfy the Intent and Purpose of this Ordinance.
b. Where the conditions imposed by any provision of this Ordinance are either more restrictive or less restrictive than comparable conditions imposed by any other law, ordinance, statute, resolution, or regulation of any kind, the regulations which are more restrictive or which impose higher standards or requirements shall prevail.

728.004 Animal Unit (AU). A unit of measure used to compare differences in the production of animal manures that employs as a standard the amount of manure produced on a regular basis by a slaughter steer or heifer. For purposes of this ordinance, the following equivalents shall apply:
- one swine 55 pounds or more .4 (which is equal to 250 animals)

Here are some concerns about why Rice County MUST require an EAW

The most basic is Rice Ordinance, 727.003(b) requiring the county to use the more restrictive or higher standard regardless of other standards, and according to 728.004 Animal Units (AU) Rice county has a .4 multiplier.

Others include:
These are excerpts from the state "simple" feedlot ordinance book.

The federal animal-unit values for several animal types are different than those listed in this Minnesota rule. If changes are needed to meet federal requirements, owners will be required to meet the requirements for the federal animal-unit values. For example, a swine finishing operation having 900 animal units (based on 0.3 animal units per swine, the Minnesota rule) would have to apply for and obtain an NPDES permit if federal requirements require Minnesota to apply the 0.4 animal unit value. If the change is required, the new animal-unit total for the site would be 1,200 animal units (REVISED FEEDLOT RULES AT A GLANCE, Minnesota Rules chapter 7020, pg. 2).

"A National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit or State Disposal System (SDS) permit is required for all feedlots with 1,000 animal units or more" (REVISED FEEDLOT RULES AT A GLANCE, Minnesota Rules chapter 7020, pg. 5).

Reasons why and EAW may be required
"An Environmental Assessment Worksheet. (EAW) may be prepared for two reasons. Most are required by mandatory categories in the rules, which cover projects of a nature, size, or location which "may have the potential for significant environmental effects" Other EAWs are ordered by governmental units either on their own initiative or as a result of a citizen petition when the facts indicate the project "may have the potential for significant environmental effects."

While it is not determined, either 3,300 or 1,320 swine may have the potential to impact the air, and or water quality in Rice County.

Why we have/use Environmental Review:
"Environmental Review is intended to be used as an information source in the decision-making processes. In order to serve its purpose, Environmental Review must be built into decision-making processes at an early stage, before approvals are given for the project. For this reason, the rules prohibit governmental units from making a final decision to grant any permit or approval necessary until the Environmental Review is completed. However, decisions to deny permits can be made before Environmental Review is completed since these decisions stop the project and eliminate the need for Environmental Review."

Another note on why in this case an EAW is mandatory.

MN Rules, (reference Rule number pulled from Rice Ordinance)
4410.1000 PROJECTS REQUIRING AN EAW.
Subpart 1. Purpose of an EAW. The EAW is a brief document prepared in worksheet format which is designed to rapidly assess the environmental effects which may be associated with a proposed project. The EAW serves primarily to:

A. aid in the determination of whether an EIS is needed for a proposed project; and

B. serve as a basis to begin the scoping process for an EIS.

Subp. 2. Mandatory EAW categories. An EAW shall be prepared for any project that meets or exceeds the thresholds of any of the EAW categories listed in part 4410.4300 or any of the EIS categories listed in part 4410.4400.

4410.4300 MANDATORY EAW CATEGORIES.
Subp. 29. Animal feedlots. The PCA is the RGU for the types of projects listed in items A and B unless the county will issue the feedlot permit, in which case the county is the RGU. However, the county is not the RGU prior to January 1, 2001.

A. For the construction of an animal feedlot facility with a capacity of 1,000 animal units or more or the expansion of an existing facility by 1,000 animal units or more if the facility is not in an area listed in item B.

When reviewing and combining the above data and requirements, and information provided on your agenda the following seem clear:

- Rice County ordinance requires the use of the MORE restrictive standards (727.003 Application.), and that standard is .4 for swine over 55 lb (728.004 Animal Unit (AU)
- EQB documents Table 1 above indicates that a NEW operation with 1000 AU or more requires an EAW.
- In addition this operator MUST apply and obtain an NPDES, and possible and SDS permit to operate.
- State rules above require them as well.


 




An Ignorant People Cannot Remain a Free People
 


To quote Michael Ventura, "Sam Adams, like many of our founders, believed democracy would flourish 'as long as education was extended to the masses.' An ignorant people cannot remain a free people."

No Child Left Behind the President's unprecedented education policy remains the focus of much debate across the country. This was no exception at the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs annual conference in Duluth.


The keynote speaker was William Cala, Supt. of the Fairport, New York School District. He supports the idea of a national diploma based on demonstrated proficiency, not test scores. He has gotten the attention of the Economic Policy Institute and regularly is quoted on Susan Ohanion's website as well as Alfie Kohn's, both past speakers at IALA (International Association for Learning Alternatives) conferences. He strongly criticized No Child Left Behind as a failed policy highly destructive to schools and kids.

My friend Steve Allen and I gave a presentation on surviving change in tumultuous times.


Much of what we talked about drew upon the work of Charles Handy and Carl Jung. But we also talked about our own experience and dialogued with participants about the struggles they faced in their schools with difficult economic times for schools. It seems under the current administration there is declining support for different approaches to working with disengaged students.


An interesting presenter is Joe Graba of Education/Evolving and Senior Policy Fellow at Hamline University, who argues that the biggest mistake politicians make when attempting to implement reform is that they mistake what is a design problem for what they believe to be a performance problem. Our current system was not designed to accomplish the goals of NCLB and doing more of the same will not bring us closer to meeting them. Joe's research leads him to the conclusion that it's nearly impossible to reform the current system from within. He believes that experiments away from and outside of the traditional setting need to be encouraged and given the autonomy and resources to succeed.

Joe's career in public education spans forty years and an impressive array of leadership positions. Education/Evolving's thinking on system questions and legislative policy are influenced greatly by Joe's ability to integrate knowledge gained as a high school teacher, union leader, state legislator and administrator influencing a variety of education committees, national education committee member, and a higher education administrator.

Tom Keating, Minnesota's 2004 teacher of the year gave a keynote address on Friday, and urged all of us to continue to fight for our students and reach out to those often left behind. I had the pleasure this last week to meet with Tom and his staff from Montecello.

Four past presidents of MAAP joined Wayne Jennings current Board Chair of the International Association of Learning Alternatives(IALA) to discuss the necessity of national voice for education reform. Dan Daly cited Bill Gates - new three 'R's, the basic building blocks of better high schools:

- The first 'R' is Rigor - making sure all students are given a challenging curriculum that prepares them for college or work;
- The second 'R' is Relevance - making sure kids have courses and projects that clearly relate to their lives and their goals;
- The third 'R' is Relationships - making sure kids have a number of adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve.



In a recent speech to the governor's association, called "High Schools are Obsolete" Gates added, "The three 'R's are almost always easier to promote in smaller high schools. The smaller size gives teachers and staff the chance to create an environment where students achieve at a higher level and rarely fall through the cracks. Students in smaller schools are more motivated, have higher attendance rates, feel safer, and graduate and attend college in higher numbers." Unfortunately the only R the governor's seemed able to focus on was Rigor. Rigor that is in the form of testing.

We also let people know about the upcoming Annual IALA conference, "We Were Meant to Fly" is scheduled for April 6-8 this year at the Sullivan Brothers Center in Waterloo, Iowa.

If you are interested in attending here is a registration from and conference brochure.

For conference info and lodging click here.
You may wish to visit the IALA website updated by Wayne Jennings, his blog has great information about education from across the country.

IALA is an organization dedicated to promoting innovation and reform in education, with the goal of meeting the needs of all learners. We echoe Joe Graba's concern that too many think the problems of our education system have to do with accountability and testing, when what is needed is the recognition that not all students need the same kind of schools. We believe many models including schools as they currently exist should be encouraged, not a retreat to 'one shoe fits all' method promoted by conservative reformers.

I was alarmed by discovering a recent reprint from the Austin Chronicle in the City Pages called
Slippage by Michael Ventura, no relation to Jesse I understand.


Ignorance is.... A) Guaranteed by the Bill Of Rights; B) Evidence that our schools are working; C) Bliss

Statistics on American education tell a dreadful story, the story of an advanced technological society slipping back to a state of ignorance and superstition. If that sentence seems extreme, consider these facts:

- The United States once ranked first in the world in high school graduation rates. We have slipped to 17th (the New York Times, Feb. 1).
- Respect for the free exchange of ideas is dimming among our young. USA Today, Jan. 31: "One in three United States high school students say the press ought to be more restricted, and even more thought the government should approve newspaper stories before people read them." Which means that our Bill of Rights often is taught poorly or not at all--a very dangerous sign for the future of our liberties.
- The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).
- We rank 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).
- "Our students, a new report has found, are lagging far behind the pace set by scientific whiz kids in Europe and Asia, and the number of Americans choosing science as a career continues to dwindle" (Los Angeles Times, quoted in The Week, Jan. 14).
- One-third of our biology teachers support the teaching of creationism or "intelligent design" (NYT, Feb. 1). Creationism is religious dogma, contradicting literally tons of data. "Intelligent design" claims that the universe was created or designed by a higher order of intelligence--a claim that cannot be tested, and therefore is not science and doesn't belong in a science class. When scientists use the word "theory," they don't mean a hunch or supposition; the scientific use of the word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation and experiment . . . accounting for the known facts." All science is incomplete because "the known facts" are incomplete. There nevertheless are many known facts, millions of them, that demonstrate the evolution of life from simple to complex organisms over eons of time. Yet one-third of our biology teachers don't accept this—a willful ignorance among educators found nowhere else in the developed world.
The result:
- "Only 35 percent of Americans accept Darwin's theory of evolution, while 45 percent prefer the creationist view" (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).
- "In other industrialized countries...80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure, and very few people reject the idea outright" (NYT, Feb. 1).
- Sixty-one percent of Americans "believe the biblical story of creation is literal truth" (ABC, World News Tonight With Peter Jennings, Jan. 18).
- Forty-three states have debated teaching evolution in the last three years (ABC, World News Tonight With Peter Jennings, Jan. 18).
- Surveys show that many high school science teachers simply skip lessons on evolution, even when the material is in their textbooks, for fear of controversy. This self-censorship is widespread, especially in the South, Midwest, and West (NYT, Feb. 1). An interesting note: Two popes, Pius XII and John Paul II, have stated that evolution and religion are compatible; the surveys found no dodging of evolution in Catholic schools.
- "Scriptural literalists are moving beyond evolution to challenge the teaching of geology and physics" (NYT, Feb. 1).
- Bill Moyers reports "nearly half the U.S. Congress...231 legislators in total...are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian rights advocacy groups" (AlterNet.org, Dec. 8, 2004). Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, in a statement supporting "intelligent design," stated that evolution is one of the "big social issues of our time," equal to abortion and gay marriage (Newsweek, Feb. 7).
- The Christian right's influence in Congress is no doubt the source of headlines like this: "Money to Fix Space Telescope May Be Cut by House" (NYT, Jan. 23). The Hubble is our most successful space project to date. Many of its findings contradict biblical myth. The Hubble "established the age of the universe at 13 billion years.... Every week, [the Hubble transmits] about 120 gigabytes of data...the equivalent of 36,500 feet of books on a shelf. More than 2,600 scientific papers based on these findings have been published so far" (The Week, Jan. 21). The Hubble will fall in 2006 if not repaired. That won't sadden the Christian right.
- Hostility to science exists at the highest levels of our government. "With rising intensity, scientists in and out of government have criticized the Bush administration, saying it has selected or suppressed research findings to suit preset policies, skewed advisory panels or ignored unwelcome advice, and quashed discussion within federal research agencies" (NYT, Oct. 19, 2004).

These stats combine to paint the portrait of a poorly educated people seeking to compensate for their ignorance with beliefs that spread such ignorance further--while the rest of the developed world laughs in pity or contempt, and leaves us behind . . . From the highest levels of government to the littlest rural school power-savvy factions are spreading an easy-to-digest but ultimately fatal ignorance. Poorly educated, well-intentioned, fearful people, craving order in a chaotic world, are eating it up. They're no more or less stupid than the well - informed, but they haven't the resources for research and they've no body of knowledge by which to weigh what they're told. The poorly skilled and scantily educated have nothing to judge information by except whether it satisfies their emotions. If it makes them less afraid, it must be right.

 



Saturday, March 05, 2005

The State of the Economy
 
The State of the Economy
"The US economy is headed toward crisis, and the political leadership of the country--if it can be called leadership--is preoccupied with nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The US economy is failing. The afflictions are serious. They could be fatal even if diagnosed and treated. America is losing the purchasing power of its currency and its ability to create middle class jobs."

So writes, Paul Craig Roberts , Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration and coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions in an essay on the Counterpunch website. "The Last Waltz? The Coming End of the American Superpower"

He goes on to say,
The dollar's sharp decline and projections of continuing trade and budgetary red ink are undermining the dollar's role as reserve currency . . . Overnight those cheap goods in Wal-Mart, which are the no-think economist's facile justification for Wal-Mart's decimation of communities, small businesses and employment, shoot up in price.
Interest rates will escalate as the government struggles to finance its endless red ink. Heavily indebted Americans with adjustable rate mortgages will attempt to sell homes just as rising mortgage rates reduce buyers. Real estate assets, the rising value of, which have been keeping the economy going, will give back gains.
The US has lost its ability to create middle class jobs or for that matter any jobs. During the last four years the US has experienced a net loss of 760,000 private sector jobs (January 2001 - January 2005). Think what this means for graduating classes and people coming of age to enter the work force . . .
Americans unable to find jobs in export and import-competitive sectors find themselves searching for jobs in nontradable domestic services, where their inflow into those labor markets is augmented by illegal immigrants and foreigners on H-1b visas. Obviously, the pressure on wages is downward . . .
The dollars' decline will drive up the price of all inputs except US labor which is being substituted out of production functions and replaced with foreign labor.
Oblivious to reality, the Bush administration has proposed a Social Security privatization that will cost $4.5 trillion in borrowing over the next 10 years alone! America has no domestic savings to absorb this debt, and foreigners will not lend such enormous sums to a country with a collapsing currency--especially a country mired in a Middle East war running up hundreds of billions of dollars in war debt.
A self-important Washington establishment combined with a globalized corporate mentality have brought an end to America's rising living standards. America's days as a superpower are rapidly coming to an end. Isolated by the nationalistic unilateralism of the neoconservatives who control the Bush administration, the US can expect no sympathy or help from former allies and rising new powers.
You may want to read the whole essay, which you can do by visiting the website.

Locally, here's an interesting response to the Governor's budget from John Gunyou (click on the title to read the entire commentary. Or visit his website :

Pawlenty pledge simply isn't a core Minnesota value
Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently characterized his no-tax pledge as a core Minnesota value. That's troubling.

The Minnesotans I know value other ideals. The no-tax pledge is not among those values.

Nobody likes taxes, but most folks understand they're the price we have to pay for public investments that enable our state to prosper. They're how we support the real core values that have served Minnesota so well for more than a century. Here are the five values on my list:

A quality education is the constitutional right of every Minnesotan. . .

Generations of leaders have understood that education is Minnesota's one true competitive advantage. Yet, that key to our individual and collective futures is being starved a little more every year. We're like the farmer who decided to save money by feeding his horse less and less each day. The plan was working, but just as he taught the horse not to eat anything at all, the darned thing died.

After several years of stagnant funding, Pawlenty's latest budget funds our school needs at less than 50 cents on the dollar. As a result, next year's school property taxes are projected to soar a staggering 23 percent.

Sustainable economic growth is a core value. Minnesota has long served as an economic engine for the Midwest, but our position is weakening.

One-third of our state's roads are already classified as "too far gone," because our gas tax has remained stagnant for 17 years. Rather than honestly provide recurring resources, Pawlenty's transportation plan relies on borrowing -- with no real way to pay off the debt. We must adequately fund the public infrastructure necessary to support economic growth and job creation.

Sustainable growth is also dependent on fair and stable taxes, but the governor is so irrationally committed to his no-tax pledge he won't even reform our volatile tax system on a revenue-neutral basis.

Minnesotans believe in selfless commitment to community. We understand it's about us, not just about me.

Helping people help themselves is a core Minnesota value. That's why we enacted historic bipartisan health care and welfare reforms more than a decade ago -- reforms that are now being systematically unraveled.

Pawlenty's last budget forced 10,000 kids off child care, and his latest budget eliminates 1,000 kids a month. His previous budget also lopped 20,000 children and 18,000 adults off health care. Now he's reneging on his promise to restore medical coverage for those kids, and also cutting another 41,000 workers, parents and others from what he cruelly labels "health care welfare."

Cutting the legs out from under our working class simply costs us all more in the long run. We must reverse the governor's shortsighted cuts, and restore the landmark reform we all worked so hard to enact.

Environmental stewardship is a core Minnesota value. We must carefully balance our economic and recreational needs with environmental preservation and public health to sustain our state's rich natural resources.

Minnesota has still not implemented programs required under the Federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted in the mid-'70s. An estimated 2,000 bodies of water in the Land of 10,000 Lakes are listed as impaired.

And finally, fiscal responsibility is a core Minnesota value.

We have a long tradition of honestly balancing budgets, spending smarter and investing in the future. The Pawlenty administration is hacking away at successful programs and mortgaging our future. Debt service climbs an astounding 32 percent in his latest budget.

That's not what Minnesota is all about. The governor's no-tax pledge and intergenerational tax shifts are not core Minnesota values.

Education is a core value. Sustainable economic growth is a core value. Helping people help themselves is a core value. A healthy environment is a core value. Leaving our children a better Minnesota is a core value.

These are the real values that make Minnesota the special place I know and love.

On another urgent economic note I received this morning the following message from Working Families e-Activist:
Let's stop Social Security privatization in its tracks. If enough members of Congress pledge now to oppose Social Security privatization, President Bush's proposal will be dead on arrival when it gets to Capitol Hill. Please take one minute now to urge your members of Congress to sign the Pledge to Strengthen Social Security and to oppose privatization proposals that would:

- Cut guaranteed benefits.
- Weaken Social Security by diverting money from the Trust Fund to pay for private accounts.
- Explode the federal deficit.
- Possibly increase the retirement age.

Please click the following link now to urge your members of Congress to sign the pledge.

It's this simple: If enough members of Congress sign the pledge, President Bush's Social Security privatization plan can't survive. It won't be easy, but together we can do this. Your members of Congress were elected to work for you--tell them they must protect your retirement security by opposing privatization.

Every one of us must act to stop privatization and strengthen Social Security because privatization would:
- Cut guaranteed benefits by at least 40 percent--even for people who don't choose to have private accounts. The average retiree would lose $152,000 in guaranteed benefits.
- Leave many retirees in poverty.
- Add a whopping $4.9 trillion to federal debt in the first 20 years alone.
- Open Social Security up to political corruption and Enron-ization because politicians would choose which Wall Street firms can make billions off the accounts.
- Possibly raise the retirement age.

Working Families e-Activist Network, AFL-CIO
March 2, 2005

Read the Pledge to Strengthen Social Security:

I pledge to the people of my district and to the American people that I will work to strengthen retirement security, including Social Security

I will oppose Social Security privatization proposals that would:

1. Require cuts in guaranteed benefits to pay for private accounts.
2. Weaken the system by diverting money from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for private accounts.
3. Increase the federal deficit to pay for private accounts.
4. Increase the retirement age.


Visit the Web address to tell your friends about this.

 



Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Thousands Rally at Capitol for Education
 

I stood at the capitol steps with several thousand Minnesota citizens to pursuade the legislature to fairly fund education. It was cold but people were warmed by the passion and outrage of the speakers. Northfield was well represented with the two bus load contingent. I had a good visit with Rep. Patti Fritz from Faribault.



The Minnesota House DFL caucus handed out "Minnesota 20/20" cards, which said:

Minnesota has always valued adequately and equitably funding our children's education. We must recommit to a clear vision that strengthens and builds for the future. And so, we propose a change in the Minnesota Constitution.

Article XIII Section 1. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a high quality and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions to provide equitable and adequate funding, by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.