Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: Even The Boring Stuff Is Made Terrible by Republicans

 

I admit this image from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is boring. But check out below! Monsters! 

 

Odds are you rarely think of ballast water tanks from ocean-going ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway. God knows I rarely do, and I spend 18% of my waking hours thinking about the Great Lakes. But the water from the ballast, which is scooped up in the ocean or the weird and frigid depths of the Black Sea, contains critters. And when it is dumped to balance out the lightened load from taking off the cargo, those animals escape.

And they kill the whole damn Great Lake system.

See, for thousands of years, the Lakes lived in virtual isolation. Niagara Falls served as a natural barrier from the ocean, which meant any species that somehow made it up the St. Lawrence river, with it’s punishing ocean-going rapids, would hit a wall. That changed with the canal system, and then was blown away when the Seaway opened up and the canals were dredged for oceanic freighters.

 

Image result for great lakes sea lamprey

Lamprey! Ahhh!

 

Lampreys, gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels: all of these have come from ballast, the terrible price of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. There have been heroic attempts to save the Great Lakes from invasive species, and they have largely worked. It’s still uphill, but there has been legislation that regulates ballast to try to keep other unknowns out.

So, of course

The Commercial Vessel Act would eliminate existing legal protections against aquatic invasive species discharged in the ballast water of big ships, according to the letter. In particular, the legislation seeks to preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources, while doing away with existing federal laws that safeguard the nation’s waters against harmful pollutant discharges from vessels, the letter said.

The attorneys general also blasted the legislation as an attempt to jettison the Clean Water Act, the federal law that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scientifically develop and regularly improve uniform minimum pollution treatment standards, and then incorporate them as discharge requirements in permits that are renewed every five years.

“The Commercial Vessel Act takes the radical step of eliminating these vital Clean Water Act protections and relegates EPA — the federal agency with the greatest knowledge and experience in addressing water pollution — to an advisory role,” they said in the letter. “The Commercial Vessel Act vests primary responsibility for controlling vessel pollution with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency mainly focused on homeland security that has little water pollution expertise.”

Between this and the attempted dismantling of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would hurt Trump’s beloved working white class the most, it is like they want to destroy the Lakes. All in the fetishistic lust for letting industry control their own regulatory regimes. It’s madness.

There’s nothing in this world that the GOP doesn’t want to make worse.

(Fun fact! If you were to drain Lake Michigan, you could walk from top to bottom without ever touching the ground. It’s all covered with mussel shells from invasive species over the last half century. Don’t, though. You’d cut your feet to ribbons. Pro tip.)

EPA Replaces Scientists With Industry; Embraces Cartoon Villainy

 

Image result for polluted river america

“Yeah, but those regulations were super onerous…”

 

The phrase “you can’t make this up” is overused, since these days, all you have to do is imagine the worst possible idea being enacted by the worst possible people, and you have a pretty close approximation of reality. Right, NY Times?

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

What’s interesting here is how they don’t even pretend to be talking about citizens anymore. Normally, they say things like “those egghead bureaucrat scientists in Washington DC don’t understand the kind of water that we enjoy here in Mudville. Our citizens are just fine with a little bit of cadmium in their soup.” But that’s not even what J.P. Freire is saying. He’s talking about the “regulated community”, i.e., the businesses themselves. It might be a different definition of “community” than you or I understand, but remember, my friend: corporations are people.

There’s not even anything to unpack here; there’s not even the tribute vice pays to virtue. They are straight-up saying that any regulations will be vetted by the people whose profits are impacted by regulations, and how that is the only concern.

It’s a pretty clear baseline. What matters is the impact regulations have on the bottom line of the company. The baseline isn’t what deregulated pollutions has on the humans who lives around the company. That is, at best, secondary. That’s not the impact that matters.

So it doesn’t matter, just to take a quick jaunt around recent headlines, that:

None of that matters (the attack on indigenous rights might actually be a bonus for these jackals). What we need are fewer regulations, and they should be vetted by the industries themselves.

It’s easy to see the counterarguments. More regulations are job-killing, and these plants and factories and industries are the lifeblood of the community, and if those science pinheads continue to ram their globalist climate-hysteric ideologies down our throats, we’ll be forced to close shop and go pollute Mexico. And why should the Mexicans get all our good pollution?

It’s a seductive argument, except it is also a completely phony one. The choice isn’t between “pollution and jobs”; it is between “pollution or slightly reduced profits.” It’s always been a lie that a company can’t follow simple environmental regulations. They made the same argument when smokestacks were regulated to reduce deadly smog, and industry didn’t collapse. It’s a choice made by companies to chase greater profits by moving to deregulated countries.

Reducing or eliminating regulations doesn’t actually help anyone. There will always be a place that cares even less about its citizens, that slashes regulations, that lets you dump paint right into the well. That the US is rushing to join these countries isn’t pro-worker; it is showing absolute contempt for the worker. It’s saying “you can keep your job, but only if we can lower wages, kill your collective bargaining rights, and poison you and your family, working you until you die young or are too broken to be of use.”

That’s Scott Pruitt’s vision of the future. It’s another reason why this administration has to be resisted at every step. Everything they do is carcinogenic. That’s unfortunately too often literal.

Floodplain Treaty Shows Ridiculousness of Trump’s Mexican Border Wall (and borders in general)

 

Image result for mexican border fence floodplain

As you can clearly see, the wall doesn’t spring forth from the seeded earth. 

 

There are few things more inherently unnatural than a border. We know this on a human level: they are weird and arbitrary lines drawn on a map. We understand this culturally, especially when we look at the Middle East or Africa, at colonial maps that were drawn without concern for how it would impact the people living there, and we are dealing with their legacies. Borders are the result of wars and appropriations and treaties and traditions, and not inherent things unto themselves. They only have meaning because we decide they should.

But step back, and they are even more unnatural. They idea of borders is absurdly recent in human history, which makes it impossibly new on the planet. Borders, geologically, don’t mean anything. Even if a border is drawn to correspond with part of nature, like along a river, well…rivers shift. (Sometimes very quickly!) The land isn’t really interested in political distinctions that only appear on some pencil-neck’s globe.

We’re reminded of this by an NPR story on how the idiotic and immoral border wall proposal by Trump might be stopped by an obscure 50-yr treaty.

Texas-based NPR reporter John Burnett says Antonio Rascón, chief Mexican engineer on the International Boundary and Water Commission, came to NPR with the story.

The commission is both in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and is normally a quiet job about diplomacy and allocation of water, Burnett says. But Rascón told Burnett he was gravely concerned about what a concrete wall would do to the river, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Mexico has been growing more and more alarmed as they see plans for Trump’s wall progress,” Burnett says. “In the west desert on the Arizona-Mexico border we have proven examples that border security fencing has clogged with debris and has caused very serious flooding in places. … These walls, when they get clogged with debris, act like a dam.”

A 1970 treaty signed by both countries says neither side can put an obstruction in the floodplain, unless both countries sign off.

Now, it goes on to explain, we have been putting obstructions there (the fence), much to Mexico’s dismay and protest, but they haven’t really protested much. But if an enormous wall that will be partially underground goes up? A wall that will block the natural flow of water and almost certainly cause flooding on the Mexican side?

It’s almost too perfect. We’ve been using water as a weapon against Mexico for 150 years, whether it has been diverting most of the Colorado and sending them the polluted and salinated trickles, or just dumping pollution in southbound rivers. (And while there has been progress made, that’s in jeopardy now.)  What bigger “Screw you” could there be than to enact a racist, cruel, and dehumanizing border wall that has the added impact of causing flooding? It’s the height of bigoted indifference.

It also shows just how arbitrary and stupid the border actually is. I’m not advocating for “open borders” or anything,  but they are deeply unnatural. The floodplain will exist regardless of what lines we draw or how we pave it over. Water will flow where it flows, and people will imitate that water, crossing and erasing these lines. A wall is nothing more than a vanity-piece for a racist bloated manchild. To even entertain it is to show how fake these divisions on which he’s based his Presidency really are.

Wednesday Good Reads: SETI, El Faro, and Labor

 

FREE BOOKS! | Forever Free | Georgia Pathway to Language  Literacy

“Go to the one about organized labor, Madison

 

A few good reads from the last few days. What’s stopping you? You have nothing to lose, and everything (or, well, three things) to gain.

Searching the Skies for Alien Laser Beams, Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Some scientists believe that the best way to find alien life is to look for pulses of laser beams shot out across the dark eons. While SETI doesn’t always get priority for telescope use (understandably), researchers have found a workaround: poring through data collected by other observations and looking for anomalies. Of course, this presupposes that aliens have seen our planet, want to send some form of contact, and have also decided that laser pulses are the best way, but that makes some sense. It’s easier than sending, like an expedition, and it isn’t really committal (“Oh, jeez, sorry, we were sending that to Rigel 7.”), but there’s something very romantic about it. It’s like being at camp and blinking your flashlight across the lake, wondering if there were campers over there, wondering if you were somehow making a connection through the darkness.

(Granted, I doubt the aliens are hoping, as we campers did, just to make contact with girls, but the general principle holds.)

Democrats and Labor: Frenemies Forever, Erik Loomis, Boston Review

I don’t think there is anyone concerned with labor and with unions (the only thing that can bring back any form of rough economic equality) that isn’t frustrated with the Democrats. Even a very pro-labor government like Obama’s saw labor decline. But as Loomis argues, deciding the abandon the Democrats is ridiculous. A labor-driven third party can’t work, and the Republicans are fully committed to destroying what’s left of unions.

Loomis diagnosis how, oddly, the grassroots/progressive liberal wing helped to strip unions of their power, which accelerated the Democrats no longer needing them as much for votes, and relying on small donors/huge corporate cash, which pushed them toward unfettered free trade, which helped destroy the unions. It’s a complicated story where good guy/bad guy is pretty blurry, but there are ways to get back. The alliances that shattered unions can be used to build them back up.

Other unions have embraced grassroots activism to elect liberal and friendly Democrats. The latter is unions’ best answer if combined with committing as many resources as possible to organizing. Because, paradoxically, unions have little choice but to continue tying their fate to the Democratic Party. Indeed it is even more important now than five decades ago. Even though Democrats have helped create their demise, unions’ only chance against a full-on war with the Republican Party is a moderately favorable relationship with the Democrats acting as a kind of political bulwark.

The whole thing is worth the read.

‘I’m a Goner’: El Faro’s Last Hours as Ship Sails Into StormJason Dearen, AP

The El Faro was nearly 800 feet long and could carry 31,000 tons. It wasn’t one of the neo-Panamax megaliners that are transforming global shipping, but it was a beast. It also had bad boilers which could hurt its engine, and old-fashioned lifeboats that were essentially useless in a big storm. On Oct 1st, 2015, it

On Oct 1st, 2015, it rushed headlong into a big storm. Hurrican Jaoquin, near the Bahamas, a Category 3 with winds up to 130 mph. Battered by waves, unable to turn, the ship broke up and sank, taking its crew of 33 with it to the bottom.

In the AP, Jason Dearen crafts a story out of transcripts recorded on the bridge, and they tell a harrowing story of calm professionalism over growing terror. The list of things that went wrong is terrifying and maddening. The ship listed a bit, which meant the parts that brough oil to the engines didn’t quite reach the reserves, which made the pumps not work, which brought on more water. It couldn’t steer into the waves, and so was pummeled by them, hundreds of feet high. They couldn’t even call for help, since the company that owned the boat (the one that signed off on the boilers and the lifeboats) had an answering service set up after hours. There was no way to contact them directly (though it might not have mattered in the face of a hurricane, that’s still pretty cold).

They do their jobs and try to figure it out. But eventually, there is no way out. The ship is sinking. Some panic, some try to just find the next way to survive. None do. It’s a terrible story, written with a modest and removed reserve, which heightens the true natural terror. And that boat, that human immensity, carrying with it the dreams and memories of dozens, disappears, swallowed unremarkably by a roiling sea.

 

A Couple of Rainy Day Thoughts on How We’ve Altered the Landscape

Image result for chicago rain

It’s been a gloomy rainy sort of day here in Chicago. The White Sox opener has been postponed, which is fine. I don’t mind delaying this 95-loss season another day. It’s not spring yet, anyway.  It’s the sort of April rain that feels like the lingering of March, the whole month of which felt gray and wet, a Smarchian sort of slog.

You look out the windows and see the dull and lumpy sky wrinkle itself in a thousand plinging puddles, and watch the puddles grow and slink off toward the sewer, and its hard to remember that it’s only been a few hundred years that rain has been allowed to land that way. It used to fall on the ground, and slowly make its way across whatever basin it found itself in, if it weren’t used up or simply evaporated, reimagining its particles into invisibility so it could fall again.

But that’s not the way it is, anymore. It’s a profound change, and the short-term effects have been, in some ways, disastrous. To build our cities, we’ve altered to way water has distributed itself around the world. We’ve paved over floodplains and changed rivers. We’ve manipulated drainage.

Look at a very minor example, the North Branch of the Chicago River. Patti Welti of DNA Info has the story.

A total of 1.67 inches fell, a record for March 30.

It wasn’t enough to push the North Branch of the Chicago River to flood, but the water did rise more than two feet during the morning and early afternoon.

How does less than two inches translate into more than two feet?

Before the Chicago area was extensively settled, the river meandered across a marsh-like geography, dispersing water over a greater space. Precipitation was absorbed by vegetation and stored in the ground, wetlands and flood plains, according to the report.

As the area became more urban, green space was paved over, wetlands were drained and the river was straightened to better collect runoff that would have previously seeped into the ground. The result is a watershed with very little stormwater capacity, the report explains.

 So much of urban history has been about how to drain marshes and swamps. There were enormous struggles in England in draining The Fens, which led to political upheaval, revolutions, and other intrigues. These were enormous marshes, the “sink of thriteen counties”, as Daniel Defoe described them. But the English managed to straighten the rivers and turn the Fens into farmland.
Or one could look at the Great Black Swamp that used to cover much of Northeast Ohio, a terrible oozy wasteland that slowed down water flowing into Lake Erie. This was a swamp that was nearly impassable by anyone who didn’t know exactly how to transverse its deep sludgy waters, and was frequently a refuge for natives, who could get through it faster than European-Americans could get around it. Draining it was an enormous accomplishment that led to the creation of cities like Toldeo, not to mention millions of acres of farmland.
Funny thing, though. It turns out the swamp helped keep Lake Erie clean, serving as a natural filter for whatever came through the basin’s rivers. The enormous runoff that resulted, combined with chemicals from the regions farms (which the swamp would have filtered) is one of the main reasons why Lake Erie has died several times. The swamp helped keep away the algae blooms that have decimated the lake.
So we don’t know. We don’t know how these experiments will end. The Chicago River was slow and windy, often more marsh than river. It wasn’t meant to be a straight channel. Maybe straightening it was the price of the city. Maybe paving over its wetlands is how we were built. And maybe it will be fine.
But a rapidly rising and fast moving Chicago River, devoid of any drainage, is, in a very literal sense, unnatural. The short-term effects of how completely we’ve altered our landscape are only beginning to show. The long-term effects are unknown. But, with the rushing clarity of a springtime flood, we know one thing: water always wins.

El Salvador Believes Water is Worth More Than Gold

 

Image result for gold miner

Different people might have different ideas about this picture

 

I was just reading this book that came out last year, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, which isn’t so much a telling of the US from the native point of view, but rather looking at US history as essentially being about Indian removal. There’s a passage where the author, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, talks about the gold rush, and the enormous depredations inflicted on the indigenous people in the European-American rush for gold. Some of the worst slaughters of the Indian Wars were to remove natives from their land, so that the Americans could get gold. (Remember, Custer was in the Black Hills to drive out the Sioux so newfound gold fields would be safe for Americans.)

In talking about the actions of the gold bugs, who brought torture and rape and disease and death to the natives, and who fought and killed each other over it, she mentions, almost as an aside, that for the natives, “gold was irrelevant.” Which is wild when you think about it: it had always been there, but was just sort of an interesting rock, until some other people came for whom it had imaginary value, and then it suddenly became death.

And that’s just the first-level horror. The miners choked the streams with silt, and of course, runoff from mining pollutes water supplies all around, leeching into aquifers, into the bodies of fish and anything that eats fish, and throughout whatever path the dirty water flows. That’s one of the lingering effects of mining, and it is why the US has been trying to regulate the industry as part of the Clean Water Act. That’s going away with the Trump administration, but there are some places which show us it is possible.

In this case, El Salvador.

SAN SALVADOR — Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.

Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.

“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.

Now look: I’m not going to sit here and, you know, romanticize life in El Salvador. In some respects, it seems like a crummy place to live. But that’s sort of the point. Gold is really valuable, and I’m sure it could be used, but El Salvador is looking at long-term (and short-term) consequences of putting profit over elemental needs. It seems like the smart thing to do, and the obvious thing to do, which is why it is all the more bewildering that the dominant political party in the United States doesn’t seem to think so.

It’s essentially a continuation of the consistent project, which has been a 500-yr struggle to turn the indigenous land into capital.  It’s a past and present we can’t reckon with, and increasingly, it makes the future a more shaky proposition.

Monday Quick Hits: Robots, Water, and Keystone

 

robot-1

“So I says to Mabel, I says…”

 

Did everyone have a good weekend? I had a great weekend. Lots of family, and lots of toast to Trump’s and Ryan’s failure to devastate the lives of millions of people. But this victory is, I think, just a pause. The battle will be to pressure Republicans, who seem to be a bit nervous about ruining the lives of their constituents, to make positive changes to the ACA, rather than repeal it.

Admittedly, they’re in a bind. The Times reported some anecdotes about people in GOP districts shocked that their reps would even think about such a thing, and might not vote Republican again. But then, there are also lots of GOP voters who, having been told that Obamacare was basically the forward thrust of creeping Bolshevism, are mad that it wasn’t repealed. So they are caught in a dilemma, namely: how do we do the things we’ve been saying we were going to do now that people have learned exactly what it is?

So now the question for Democrats is: how much should they work with Republicans? They are, thankfully, not eager to make some kind of “grand bargain” in order to help out the Republicans. The goal should be to fix Obamacare, working where you can to lower costs and make sure that insurance companies stay in. The talk of the “death spiral”, always exaggerated, is made possible by the threat of repeal. With that out of the way, for now at least, it could be possible to woo nervous Republicans to fix the bill at the margins, essentially working around Paul Ryan. That’s why the continued pressure from the outside is the only way to heighten their fear, and maybe force their hand to do the right and sensible thing and fix Obamacare.

Or, you could be like the President, who seems eager to watch the whole thing spiral out of control.

The “do not worry” is an especially nice touch.  He’s got a plan!

-Re/Code had a little story today about how PwC estimates, offhand, that the US could lose 40% of its jobs over the next 15 years thanks to automation. While there would of course be jobs created by automation (engineer, repair, etc) most of these will be high-skill jobs for people with advanced education. This is more than an unemployment trend; even if PwC’s numbers aren’t strictly accurate, this is economic devastation. This is something that can fundamentally alter society.

Massive unemployment of that sort needs to be ameliorated with something like a Universal Basic Income, or, failing that, an effort to create new work around infrastructure, tourism, or more. But there needs to be a collective effort grouped around the ideas that 1) the common good actually exists; and 2) that self-government is a good thing.

This isn’t something private markets can fix alone; indeed, it is the private market that will be at fault. There needs to be collective action to help the less educated and more vulnerable people in the new economy–the same ones who have been hurt for decades by market forces. That many of these are your stereotypical Trump voters (though they will be joined by millions of white collar types as well) represents an opportunity to convince them that the government is not the enemy, and that, in fact, this kind of intervention is the heart of the American experiment.

Of course, we’re debating whether or not it is ok if people just, you know, die because they don’t have employer-based insurance, so consensus on this seems a long way off.

-But we do have an answer on Keystone! That answer, of course, is “yes”. Trump signed off on Keystone on Friday, saying in a signing ceremony that:

It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North American and energy independence.  This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families — and very significantly — reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America.

It’s important to note, in the interest of being strictly accurate, that none of this is true. And it is just weird to talk about reducing “our dependence on foreign oil” right before you introduce the President of TransCanada, above and beyond the fact that this isn’t how the oil markets work. The sludge pumped over the largest underground aquifer isn’t going to be shuttled to your car. It goes into the global markets. I honestly don’t know if Trump understands this. I also wonder how he would reconcile the “lower costs” with the fact that, while Keystone was blocked, gas prices plummeted.

It is also good to note that this isn’t a done deal. As the TransCanada President reminded the United States President, they face resistance and lawsuits in Nebraska, where people don’t want a Canadian pipeline bringing dangerous material across their lands and into their water. That led to this exchange.

Trump: So we put a lot of people to work, a lot of great workers to work, and they did appreciate it.  And they appreciated it, Russ, very much at the polls, as you probably noticed.  And so we’re very happy about it.

So the bottom line — Keystone finished.  They’re going to start construction when?

MR. GIRLING:  Well, we’ve got some work to do in Nebraska to get our permits there —

THE PRESIDENT:  Nebraska.

MR. GIRLING:  — so we’re looking forward to working through that local —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll call Nebraska.  (Laughter.)  You know why?  Nebraska has a great governor.  They have a great governor.

MR. GIRLING:  We’ve been working there for some time, and I do believe that we’ll get through that process.  But obviously have to engage with local landowners, communities.  So we’ll be reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’d look forward to start construction.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I’m sure Nebraska will be good.  Peter is a fantastic governor who’s done a great job, and I’ll call him today.

Remember that the head of an oil company is talking about working with local communities and landowners, and the President of the US is saying he’ll call the governor to get it done. That’s a true populist man of the people right there.