Friday, January 8, 2010

Sound Science vs. Special Interest Attack Dogs, Round 98,237...

A group of scientists headed by researchers from the University of Maryland waded into political sticky wicket this week when they published a report [subscription] in the presigious journal Science calling for an end to the destructive coal mining practice of mountaintop removal.

According to numerous news reports, the team led by Margaret Palmer of the UMD Center for Environmental Sciences said that the massive damage done to water quality and public health by the practice - in which entire mountain summits are blasted and then bulldozed into neighboring streams - strongly outweighs its benefits.

Per coverage by West Virginia Public Broadcasting (a network which covers a state whose name is almost synonymous with the practice of mountaintop removal), the report found that the human health impacts of this disastrous mining practice are considerable:
West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine researcher Michael Hendryx was another co-author of the paper. He spoke about the potential impact to human health. His research shows that disease and death rates are higher around surface mining, even when other health risks, like smoking and poverty are factored out.

“We also see that the effects become stronger as the level of mining increases,” Hendryx said.

Hendryx’s research has also found higher rates of low birth weight babies and babies born with abnormalities in communities where there’s surface mining.
The history of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia is replete with horrifying tales of the practice's ill-effects on public health in communities near the mines. In September of last year, we at R?S? posted a New York Times profile of one town's struggle:
Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.
In the face of this mountain (Really? They're doing a "mountain" pun?) of bad press, both now and back in September, how did the coal industry respond?

Well... predictably. Shockingly so.

Almost every article on the scientists' report contains a quote from a coal industry spokesperson launching personal attacks against the scientists. For example, the Baltimore Sun piece:
Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said he had not yet read the Science paper, but based on press reports of it declared that “there’s nothing new here” and called the journal paper “an advocacy piece."
...and the Washington Post piece:
Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association disputed the report's conclusions. "It's just flat-out wrong," Hamilton said, adding that the "so-called lead scientists have a history of activism against mining."
...and the ABC News piece:
NMA spokeswoman Carol Raulston also argues the scientists chose data selectively, ignoring water-quality information that didn't support their theories.
It would appear as if these many coal industry flacks were perhaps - just maybe - working from the same snarly set of talking points. That, or they saw how much play the science-deniers who pushed the phony East Anglia "stolen email scandal" had gotten, and were just a wee bit jealous. Everyone together now:

"Anything Big Oil flacks can do, Big Coal flacks can do better..."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Wind energy is tyranny!"

Did you ever wonder what "Take Your Kid to Work Day" is like at Big Oil's offices?

Take action! Click here to tell your Senators to stand up to Big Oil.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So... FreedomWorks Hates the Free Market?

We'll give them this: the folks at FreedomWorks are making the best of an awkward situation.

Run by former Congressman and snarling attack dog Dick Armey, FreedomWorks has been caught redhanded spreading misinformation about healthcare and cap-and-trade in an effort to smear members of Congress. In theory, it's also a group that advocates for free market principles and corporate entrepreneurship.

So it's a bit, um, akward when FreedomWorks starts organizing protests against the craaazy cap-and-trade conspiracy outside of corporate board meetings at companies that support a clean energy and climate bill. It's part of FreedomWorks' campaign to sink legislation that will (a) encourage entrepreneurship in energy efficiency, and (b) use free-market principles to incentivize reducing carbon pollution. Remarkably, they're even doing it with a straight face:
If you aren't otherwise occupied earning a living, FreedomWorks is looking for some patriots who might be up to a little protesting of cap and trade outside the Edison Electric Institute's board of directors and CEOs meeting Thursday morning at the Fairmont on East Princess Drive.

This is a group of share-holder owned electic companies, many of whom support a cap and trade energy ration scheme because they can get government subsidies and exploit the system at the expense of taxpayers. Ultimately, energy will be more expensive and we'll be stuck with the bill. This is nothing but another taxpayer-funded bailout.
To summarize: If you aren't otherwise occupied earning a living at a company that we approve of (like ExxonMobil, which has given FreedomWorks like a gazillion dollars), then we're looking for some patriots to protest clean energy policies that will put 1.7 million of your fellow Americans back to work, because those companies never gave us a dime. Still not interested? Government government government, rationing rationing, BAILOUT!

In reality, hundreds of American businesses support a comprehensive clean energy and climate plan because it will create new jobs, reduce carbon pollution and bring greater American security - thereby improving America's competitive edge and staving off the worst effects of climate change on our economy. These aren't just energy companies: they're the makers of products we buy every day, like Pepsi, Nike, Starbucks and Apple, and - despite what Dick Armey and FreedomWorks would have you believe - they're not involved in a vast conspiracy to steal taxpayer dollars. (And no, a tinfoil hat won't protect you from their scheme).

Simply put, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation will put a price on carbon pollution -- creating the market certainty necessary to draw investors into clean energy industries, like wind and solar power. Once that investment is in place, millions of new jobs will be created as manufacturers re-hire workers to assemble wind turbines and solar panels. Meanwhile, incentives for reducing energy use will get roofers and carpenters back on the job retrofitting homes for energy efficiency.

Of course, none of this will help oil companies continue to reap record profits...and since FreedomWorks only wants the free market to work for the companies it likes, the rest of us are just outta luck.
Per MediaMatters Action Network, it looks like FreedomWorks is doubling down on its fear-mongering with a round of radio ads as well. The MM title says it all: "FreedomWorks Spreads Old Falsehoods In New Radio Ads." Indeed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Throwback: Time to Brush Up on Your "Pombo Mambo!"

With news that ex-Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Big Oil) is looking to make a comeback in California's "Fightin'" 19th District, we thought regular readers of R?S? could use a refresher course on Pombo's worst offenses while in Congress.

And what better way than doin' the Pombo Mambo?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Whole Foods' John Mackey Bucks Company Values, Disputes Global Warming Science

For the past few months, natural produce chain Whole Foods has had a bit of a John Mackey problem.

First, the CEO and former Chairman of the Board (he resigned last month, with a little encouragement from investors) penned an op-ed over the summer attacking healthcare reform that angered many of Whole Foods' customers and shareholders. Not only did the attack spark numerous boycotts of the grocery chain among its politically-conscious shoppers, but it drew the ire of a shareholder group that believed he had allowed his personal politics to pollute his company's image. In calling for his ouster from the board, CtW Investment Group said (per ElephantJournal) that Mackey “attempted to capitalize on the brand reputation of Whole Foods to champion his personal political views but has instead deeply offended a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base.”

Now it seems that Mackey's politics are again threatening the iconic grocer's reputation for social responsibility. In an extensive profile in the New Yorker, Mackey holds forth about his healthcare op-ed fiasco, his sometimes bareknuckled business practices, and... his denial of global warming science. Here's the passage (a discussion of Mackey's current reading list) that will really cause Whole Foodies to blow a gasket:
One of the books on the list was “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming—the Missing Science,” a skeptical take on climate change. Mackey told me that he agrees with the book’s assertion that, as he put it, “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change; he added, with a candor you could call bold or reckless, that it would be a pity to allow “hysteria about global warming” to cause us “to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty.” One would imagine that, on this score, many of his customers, to say nothing of most climate scientists, might disagree.
For good measure, Mackey also seems to subscribe to the widely disproven (and wildly irresponsible) belief that global warming will be good for the economy:
He also said, “Historically, prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures.”
Mackey's denial of settled science is especially troubling because it flies so clearly in the face of Whole Foods' corporate values: in addition to "wise environmental practices" (which we take to include listening to environmental scientists), the company's seven-part social responsibility statement includes an interesting passage on education:
We can generate greater appreciation and loyalty from all of our stakeholders by educating them about natural and organic foods, health, nutrition and the environment.
Denying settled science is an interesting education strategy, especially since (according to the New Yorker piece) the key variable in deciding where to put new Whole Foods stores is the number of college graduates within a sixteen-minute drive. Given the passionate response from these savvy customers and shareholders in the wake of his healthcare bombshell, we imagine Mackey's latest extracurricular attempt to re-educate the public in line with his own peculiar worldview might be similarly unpopular.

By the way, do you think Mackey - in another splendid moment of candor - might tell you that it was "hysteria about global warming" when his company's board decided to invest so heavily in wind and solar power that the Environmental Protection Agency listed Whole Foods as its #4 "Green Power Partner"?