Friday, October 30, 2009

Senior Citizens Conference Raises Health Care, Taxes and I-1033 Debates - Senator Rodney Tom Says He Would Vote For a Tax Increase


Above: Governor Christine Gregoire addresses the day-long Senior Citizens Foundation Conference in Seattle on Friday.

by Janine Gates

Passions and tensions ran higher and higher as the day worn on at the Senior Citizens Foundation 2009 Annual Fall Conference held in Seattle on Friday.

Health care dominated the discussions as the interconnectedness of senior issues, the national health care bills, the potential impact of Tim Eyman’s I-1033 on Washington State, the pending state revenue forecast and talk of various revenue raising options hit home.

The Washington State 2010 Legislative Session will be grim as the state faces a $2 billion shortfall, and there is a temptation to eliminate state-only funded services such as the Senior Citizen’s Services Act and the Family Caregiver Support Program. Debate ensued on all aspects of revenue and expenditures and there was even mention of a possible state income tax.

Governor Christine Gregoire welcomed 400 health care and senior advocates and agency staff to the conference and when the topic soon turned to health care, reminded the audience that even she, as a recent breast cancer survivor, could be excluded from future health care coverage because of her now “pre-existing condition” even though, she says, “she’s as healthy as a horse.”


Above: The Washington State Council on Aging named Margaret Casey, lobbyist for the Seattle-King County Aging and Disability Services, as a recipient of the 2009Excellence in Action Award for her work and service to senior citizens. Governor Gregoire presented her with her award on Firday.

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler also addressed the group saying, “It is critical that we see Congress act on health care before they recess. If we fail, we’re putting it off for another decade.” This prediction was agreed upon by many health care area experts, legislators, and advocates in the room throughout the day.

One in five Washingtonians do not have health care insurance, equaling one million residents, “but that number doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Kreidler. One out of four don’t have enough money for full coverage and choose between paying their mortgage or coverage. The number one reason people go into personal bankruptcy, Kriedler said, is because of health care costs.

“The ones who are most impacted are those 19 to 64 (years of age). They are working, they are contributing, but they’re the one’s getting shafted the worst. They are supporting us - the rest of the population….We’re in a position right now to bridge the generations….We need change - we need universal coverage. The system is failing and the opportunity is now. There’s a lot of agreement out there that doesn’t make the news…I believe we’re going to have transformational health care reform,” said Kreidler.

Kreidler said he is putting together a commission called, “Let’s Make It Real,” a coalition of 15-20 doctors, advocates, local elected officials and administrators to present recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature about how the state can best implement health care reform. “It won’t be a ceiling, it will be a floor…” said Kreidler.

“When I go to bed at night, I think about what if we (as a country) don’t take this step toward health care reform - we’ll spend $33 trillion dollars in the next decade and look like a Third World country. We’ll be outspending our competitors two to one - that’s a recipe for disaster for the U.S. economy.” said Kreidler.


Above: Washington State Commissioner Mike Kreidler.

Denny Heck moderated two health care discussion panels, saying he too, is not immune to the health care crisis. As a former legislator and chief of staff to Governor Booth Gardner, Heck, 57, says he retired six years ago and has a well-known health care coverage carrier, but has seen his rates go up from $700 a month to $1500 a month for his family of three. “And it’s not a high end plan. Now you know why I’m looking forward to Medicare,” Heck joked.

National HealthCare Debate

There was considerable discussion about the two bills now facing the U.S. Congress in the House and Senate. The House released its consolidated bill today and could be voted on next week. The Senate version is expected to be released soon. And when could a final bill be forwarded to the White House? “If we’re lucky, it will be a Christmas present,” said panelist Lee Goldberg, Policy Director for the Long Term Care Division at Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“Is this really going to happen?” asked Heck.

“If I had a farm, I’d bet the farm that this is going to happen,” said Goldberg.

“With all due respect to Kreidler and the Governor, they are way too optimistic but we’re on the right path…this is the first of a series of efforts and luckily our commander in chief is still a community organizer,” said panelist Aaron Katz, University of Washington lecturer, Department of Health Service.

Ingrid McDonald, Advocacy Director for the AARP Washington, said that there was a delay in the progress of the conversation because "here has been a tremendous amount of fear-mongering to scare seniors - there is nothing in these bills that will cut Medicare benefits,” McDonald assured.

“Anytime you hear ‘The Medicare sky is falling,’ consider the source,” agreed Goldberg. “No matter what, states are going to be the big winners in this health care reform because it will pump money into state programs.”

Representative Sherri Appleton, D-23 District, said she is a big supporter of universal health care and detailed amendments Senator Maria Cantwell dropped into the Senate bill.

Aaron Katz lamented that there is nothing in these bills that will actually reduce health care costs. Ingrid McDonald said cost reduction would require more federal involvement than we would want, saying “unfortunately, there is a financial incentive to over-serve.”

So what can we do? Get in touch with your representatives on a national and local level, write letters to the editor, and emphasize, if you are, a senior citizen and that you support health care reform, panelists suggested.

On the House side, Representatives Rick Larson, Brian Baird and Adam Smith are still hold-outs. “If you live in their district, you need to break their arms,” said Appleton.

“I’m sure you mean that figuratively,” clarified Heck.

“Just don’t break the arm they vote with,” joked Goldberg.

“The only way we’re going to get health care reform is if the people demand it, so get out there,” said Katz.

Washington’s I-1033, Taxes, and the 2010 Legislative Session

The conference's afternoon session got even testier as State Senator Rodney Tom, D-48th District and Vice Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee expressed frustration with I-1033, asking the audience, “If I-1033 passes, do you want me to break the state’s obligation to K-12 or do you want me to break the initative?”

Nora Gibson, Executive Director of Elder Health NW was blunt, saying “People will die if this goes forward - if you whittle down their level of support, bad things will happen.”

“We are a humanitarian society…we need real, non-hysterical, non-finger pointing conversations with the public that says we have to have revenue. What are you willing to pay for? Do you want our most fragile population out in the ice? We have to tell it like it is,” said Senator Rosa Franklin, D-29th District.

“If I-1033 passes, “it will force a tax increase this session,” said Senator Tom.

Tom says he would vote for a tax increase. “We need to get real. We have a lot of corporate loopholes to look at.” Tom suggested that he would close the car trade-in allowance, saying “it’s a $200 million giveaway. That’s real money. The problem with that is there are car dealers in all 49 districts who will say ‘that will put us out of business’ but I don’t think it will make a difference - people will either buy a car or not.”

“If I-1033 is defeated, we are not going to fill the (state budget) hole with taxes. “There will have to be a mixture of loophole closures and sin taxes,” suggested Tom. Tom pointed out that churches and synagogues do not pay property taxes. “We need to look at these loopholes…we are making cuts we’ve never dreamed of.”

Franklin added, “These cuts (we made to the budget) were not easy…there were tears.”

“I’ve committed myself to not be part of an all-cuts budget. We’ve done all the harm we can do. We need to be compassionate. Maybe we can’t have a balanced budget. Maybe we should bond that debt,” said Representative Appleton from the back of the packed room, which caused a major stir of conversation.

“I’m brave but not stupid,” responded Tom. “We have a lot of bonds out there. We have one of the best bond ratings out there and if we change that, they will downgrade…We need to be straight with the public: this is how much government costs, and here’s the revenue…Mathematically, we have to take everything off to get to $2 billion. You are going to see some new revenue.”

“People have to take leadership, overcome fear, say the “T” word (taxes) and have a state we can be proud to live in,” Nora Gibson agreed.

When asked what will happen during session, Franklin said that the Governor will eventually say, “Bring me a bill…." Franklin added, "We have no where to go. We have no money (and) we can not have an all-cuts budget. The Governor has a heart and she will do the right thing.”

“We can’t continue to do what we’ve been doing - we have to bite the bullet and have a real conversation about our state tax situation without the rhetoric and talk show hosts,” Franklin said. This was greeted by applause from the audience. “We have to engage the community: What do you want? What are you willing to pay for, and what are you willing to delay? We have an unsustainable tax structure that does not support the services you expect,” said Franklin.

Asked by Heck to make a prediction on I-1033, Senator Tom replied, “I predict on Tuesday we’ll reject I-1033.”

“We can’t let people like Tim who feed on fear to control what happens,” concluded Nora Gibson.

A State Income Tax?

An audience member asked about a state income tax, to which Tom replied, “We are going to be forced into that conversation. The B&O tax, which is unique to Washington, is 19% of our revenue. Do we lower a business's rate or do they leave the state? They have a gun to our head every time….Microsoft came to us last year asking for a tax rebate in Quincy and we said no and they went to Texas! We’re seeing that more and more - that's what’s going to force this change.”

Another asked about the Boeing decision to take its business to South Carolina. Senator Tom quickly retorted, “I do not believe Boeing left because of the B&O…Boeing is a military contractor. That’s what this is about - this gave South Carolina taxpayers $175 million and Boeing gained two new senators in this deal - it was not about our tax structure.”

South Sound Activists

Ruth Shearer of Lacey, came to the conference as a member of the Senior Citizen’s Lobby to help with registration. “Health care - it’s so important to understand what’s going on. Shearer said one of her grandsons was born with tumors that, at age three, turned cancerous. A treatment was successful and her grandson, now 26, is healthy, but “has a pre-existing condition that will affect him forever.” Her grandson’s health affected his parent’s job choices his whole life because they needed a large enough company that has a group plan, at a high cost for very little coverage, that would cover the whole family and his pre-existing condition.

Former Senator Don Carlson lives in Olympia and is now a lobbyist for the Washington State School Retirees Association. “I have kids and grandkids. Health care is not just an old person’s problem - it’s the young person’s, too. (They) need to protect their children."

Carlson said he is helping to coordinate a health care forum series in Olympia that will be sponsored by all Olympia faith congregations. It will start January 12, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at First Christian Church, and run for eight sessions over a period of two months. “The House and Senate leadership, professionals and advocates will participate, encourage civil dialogue and answer people’s questions about health care,” said Carlson.

Gene Forrester, 81, of Olympia is the immediate past president of the Washington State School Retirees Association. Forrester also served on the AARP National Policy Council for eight years and says he’s most concerned about cost reduction of the health care system.

“I’m a rarity that I don’t have to take any prescription drugs but it’s currently illegal for Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for reduced prices, and that’s something I’d like to see changed in the final bill,” said Forrester.


Above: Olympian Gene Forrester is quite a guy. Besides volunteering with the Kiwanis Club's Food Bank, he just returned last week from Phoenix where he played seven games in the World Softball Tournament. His team, the Northwest 80's" came in third place.

For more information, contact the Washington State Senior Citizens Lobby at www.waseniorlobby.org, or (360) 754-0207.


Above: Senator Rosa Franklin chats with a participant of the Senior Citizens Foundation conference on Friday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Potential NorthPoint Developer Has Not Seen City Sea-Level Rise Maps, Data

by Janine Gates


Above: Former Olympia City Councilmember TJ Johnson speaks with MJR Development partner Mike McClure at an open house at the Olympia Center Wednesday night.

The second of three public open houses was held Wednesday night for a development firm to present its proposal for redevelopment of the NorthPoint area on the Port of Olympia’s shoreline in downtown Olympia. The third and final open house is Thursday, October 29, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Tumwater Comfort Inn.

The Kirkland-based developer, MJR Development, gave a slide show depicting two alternatives for the property that includes a one story restaurant and a three story hotel and/or office-mixed use option.

The public has until November 4 to comment on the proposals. Port staff will compile comments and present the information to port commissioners on November 9. The commission may make a decision on the proposal at its meeting November 23 or in early December.

The open house did not include an opportunity to collectively offer input in a way so everyone could hear the public’s questions or concerns. After the formal presentation, people looked at maps and development concepts and spoke one-on-one with developers and port staff.

The presentation revealed an ongoing, alarming disconnect between public desires and profit-driven out-of-town developers unfamiliar or unconcerned with city issues. Absent a comprehensive vision for the city of Olympia and the port of Olympia, several environmental shoreline management concerns went unanswered in private conversations throughout the evening.

Speaking after the presentation with MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie, who lives on the westside of Olympia, Lahaie was asked how his proposal addresses future city sea-level rise issues. Lahaie responded, “We don’t have a plan for sea level rise - this is very conceptual….” When asked if he has seen the City of Olympia’s sea level rise data and maps, he admitted he has not seen them and asserted, "We haven’t even been chosen yet. The commission needs to decide if they want to go forth."

When asked if he knew that Andy Haub of the City of Olympia was going to give a presentation to the Olympia City Council at its meeting November 10 about updated sea level information, Lahaie said he did not know that either.

According to the City of Olympia, sea level is rising in Olympia by about one foot per century due to post-ice age warming of the oceans, and will increase with global warming. Much of downtown Olympia is at risk, lying only one to three feet above the current highest high tides.

Andy Haub, said via voice mail earlier this week, that his upcoming presentation to the councilmembers on November 10 "will be consistent with past reports and will include more detail and a better analysis of land elevations."

Former Olympia city councilmember TJ Johnson asked MJR Development partner Mike McClure, who lives in Woodinville, about sea-level rise issues. When Johnson asked McClure how he can reconcile his organization’s mission of social responsibility with putting buildings in this location that is going to be impacted by sea-level rise, McClure responded, “I’m not going to get into a debate about global warming…global warming is still a debatable issue.”

McClure said, “We’ve had our eyes on Olympia as a development firm for a long time. We’re bullish on the future.” MJR offered a proposal for the proposed development on East Bay but it did not win. The winning proposal went instead to Taragon.

“These people are out to lunch,” said TJ Johnson later.

Out of 500 Port-issued invitations, only two firms, MJR and another development company, True North, responded to the Port’s request for proposals, which was issued September 10. The deadline for proposals was October 12.

When asked if this was a typical turnaround time for a request for proposals, Mike Reid, Port Property Development Manager, said, “that’s pretty quick.” Reid staffed a table that contained a stack about 10 inches deep of True North’s 18 page application. True North’s application was not accepted, Reid said, because it did not meet the Port’s requests on questions related to community benefits and market analysis.

The community benefit and market analysis questions were answered, but apparently not to the commission’s satisfaction. Both answers clearly state that due to the lack of time given to respond to the proposal, “there must be a discussion with the Port of Olympia before a true scope of project can be developed” and that they will do a “complete market analysis…once the scope of the project is defined.”

When asked why the turnaround time for the proposal request was so quick, Commissioner Bill McGregor said, “Usually it’s a bit longer, but our commission wanted to move forward…we’ve had public comment (regarding this area) in 2004, 2005, 2008, and at a work session August 26. There was a roomful of people so we took public comment.”

When asked why MJR's proposal does not address future sea-level rise issues, McGregor said, “They will have to engineer a solution. The Hands-On Children’s Museum is raising its floor two feet, so maybe that’s something that’s happening here - I don’t know.”

Port commissioner George Barner, who voted against the whole idea of development on NorthPoint at this time, an area that offers beautiful views of Budd Inlet, and the Olympic Mountains, said, “This is ridiculous! We need to slow it down and have a community dialog about what we want this place to look like. So here we are with one proposal! That's not a broad analysis. When I look at these sketches, what jumps out at me is asphalt! How gentrified can NorthPoint become? Look at the parking lots for the restaurant and hotel - they should be integrated into the building. NorthPoint could be a true recreation destination, for relaxation.”

Indeed, both proposal alternatives contain large amounts of impervious surfaces - one parking lot alone is nearly 40,000 square feet, to accommodate parking for the proposed restaurant, mixed-use office building, and/or hotel.


Above: MJR map detailing NorthPoint development Option #1

In describing development alternative #2, Lahaie romanticized his vision for a potential 100 room “boutique hotel," and offered a slide of the Inn at Port Ludlow as a model. “This is East Coast architecture, which I think is interesting....The hotel could offer locals an opportunity to enjoy jazz nights, cooking classes, and discounted weekend getaways, away from the kids.” Development alternative #1 features an office/mixed use option that "would attract engineers, architects, doctors, dentists and attorneys."

The proposed restaurant would be a one story, 5,500 square foot family friendly diner that could offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. This type of restaurant option at NorthPoint would be likely since the area already has the more expensive fine dining experience offered by the HearthFire Grill.

A special events outdoor area could accommodate weddings, community gatherings, outdoor dining events, musical performances, “and be a pocket park when not in use,” said Lahaie.


Above: The view of the Olympics from East Bay Drive, near NorthPoint, at sunset.

For more information, go to http://portolympia.com/about/northpoint or contact Heber Kennedy at 528-8070.


Above: Port Commissioner George Barner takes a few business cards of MJR Development partner Mark Lahaie.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Think Global, Act Local: Climate Action Activities in the South Sound

by Janine Gates


Above: People used various modes of transportation to get to William E. Bush Park on Yelm Highway to bring awareness of climate change issues on Saturday.

October 24 marked an international day of action to bring about a global awareness of climate change, and South Sound residents met that challenge in full force this weekend with several events. The activities were organized to acknowledge climate change and the personal efforts one can do to bring down carbon dioxide levels in the world.

Worldwide activities were organized to highlight the number 350, as in parts per million, which is the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is currently 390 parts per million.

There is an urgency to bring about awareness of the global warming issue before world leaders meet in Copenhagen, Denmark in December to finalize a new treaty on cutting emissions. The draft treaty now includes 350 parts per million as a goal for discussion.

Internationally, 4,500 climate change events were planned in 170 countries - about 1800 of them were scheduled to occur in the United States, in all 50 states - and expected to be the biggest demonstration in terms of number of events in a single day on any issue.

Bike and Walk for Climate Change Action

Many climate change activists walked or bicycled on the Chehalis Western Trail to meet this morning to hear speakers at the William E. Bush Park on Yelm Highway.


Above: Michael Dempster, a recently retired science and music teacher at Lincoln School, arrives by bicycle at William E. Bush Park.

Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero gave an overview about Thurston County’s efforts to help stop global warming.

“Is it politically possible to accomplish 350? You bet it is - it is our board goal in every action we take that we assess climate change," Romero told the crowd.

“Thurston County takes climate change very seriously. We just received a $617,000 grant from the federal government that will be used to hire two additional staff members to develop climate change policy, programs, and projects, perform energy audits on county facilities, develop green residential and commercial development codes, develop the county’s climate change response plan, and make energy efficiency improvements and retrofits to county facilities,” said Romero.

Romero also highlighted Thurston County’s efforts to support grassroots, activist-led organizations such as the Cool Thurston Campaign, which hosts periodic “global warming caf├ęs” to educate community members on personal commitments one can do to make a difference in reducing one’s “carbon footprint.”

The county will also be converting to hybrids as new vehicles need to be purchased. The goal for 2010 is to receive a Green Fleet Certification through the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition and Evergreen Fleet Organization.

In terms of land conservation and prairie protection, Romero mentioned recent efforts to preserve 600 acres of wetlands near Tilley Road, and that the county temporarily changed current regulations to better protect prairies and oak woodlands until permanent regulations can be brought forward with the Critical Areas Update.

“We are walking the talk, by joining Kazakhstan, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, Guyana, Ethiopia, China, Antartica, Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Micronesia, the Maldives, Egypt, and many more, to stop global warming,” concluded Romero.

Several organizations including the Interfaith Works Earth Stewardship Committee, Washington State Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice, and Earth Care Catholics organized the event.


Above: Bernie Meyer, who spoke as Mahatma Gandhi, and Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero on Saturday.

Blue Line March


Above: Environmental activists begin their "Blue Line March" at Olympia's Farmer's Market, tracing the predicted future shoreline along Marine Drive, Plum, State, Cherry, 5th Avenue, past the new city hall, 8th Avenue, Jefferson, Capitol Way, Legion Way, Water Street, 4th Avenue, ending at the Fourth Avenue bridge.

Another climate change awareness event, the Blue Line March, began at the Olympia Farmer's Market with about 200 people walking an outline of downtown Olympia that is predicted to be underwater based on the prediction of a four foot sea level rise during an 18 foot high tide and a 100 year flood.

If this prediction sounds unlikely, it is not. Olympia has had several 17 foot tides, and has had 100 year floods for the past two years. According to City of Olympia sea-level reports, much of downtown Olympia is at risk, lying only one to three feet above the current highest high tides.


Above: Blue Line March activists pass by the new Olympia City Hall, which is under construction on Fourth and Cherry St., and is predicted to be under water according to the City of Olympia's own sea-level rise reports.

Elaine Sanders, who uses oxygen and a walker, walked the Blue Line March, with the help of her partner of 25 years, Mickey Mooney. Asked why she came to the event, Sanders, who has lived in Olympia since 1980, said, "Because they need to hear us - all the world leaders, our Congress - they need to back the Clean Energy Jobs bill!"


Above: Mickey Mooney, left, and Elaine Sanders, participated in the Blue Line March on Saturday.

Barb Scavezze, coordinator for Cool Thurston Campaign, and an organizer and participant in the Blue Line March, said later, "I thought it was a fantastic event - it brought together young and old and everyone in between to show how much they care about taking action on climate change."

Cheryl Crist, who helped tie signs on poles along the Blue Line March, said after the event that she was thrilled with the day's events. "This is a good way to demonstrate what could happen with sea level rise and why we need to change our behavior. I am concerned because we need to hurry up. We lost a lot of time with the Bush administration denying the science. We need a treaty in Copenhagen and the U.S. must participate. No more standing aside as we did Kyoto."


Above: Teresa Mosqueda, left, and Cheryl Crist tie signs on a pole on the Fourth Avenue bridge at the conclusion of the Blue Line March.

What You Can Do:

There are many organizations and activities in the South Sound area to learn more about climate change.

Locally, the Earth Care Catholics and Interfaith Works Earth Stewardship Committee is sponsoring an extensive list of Earth Care videos, conversations, and presentations through next May at Traditions Cafe, 300 5th Ave. SW, from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. For more information, call 459-5825.

The Washington State Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice is holding a legislative conference, which will include the issue of global warming, on Saturday, November 7 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. at Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation. For more information, contact Rev. Carol McKinley at coordinator@uuvoiceswa.org or www.uuvoiceswa.org.

Olympia based organization Climate Solutions urges people to call Senator Maria Cantwell at (206) 220-6400 and Senator Patty Murray at (206) 553-5545 to urge Congress to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Bill and learn more about global warming at www.climatesolutions.org.

A Cool Thurston Cafe will be held on October 27, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., location to be announced. Learn about the "Low Carbon Diet" program to help you lower your carbon footprint, and learn how to form a low carbon diet “EcoTeam” with friends, colleagues, or neighbors, take on “cool lifestyle practices” that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and more. For more information, contact Barb Scavezze at barb@scavezze.com or call 360-878-9901.

Transition Olympia holds regular climate change awareness events. To learn more, go to www.transitionolympia.ning.org.

Andy Haub, City of Olympia Public Works, will be presenting the city's latest sea-level rise information to Olympia City Council members and the public on November 10, 7:00, Olympia City Hall.


Above: The Artesian Rumble Arkestra (ARK) musicians keep things lively during the Blue Line March on Saturday, meeting marchers at various locations along the way.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trans-Alta and Ecology Reach Proposed Mediation Agreement on Mercury and Nitrogen Oxide Emissions


Above: Acting Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park Randy King speaks with Jim Wilcox of Trout Unlimited, after the public hearing last Tuesday evening in Olympia.

The Washington State Department of Ecology held a public hearing last Tuesday night in Olympia about the new proposed agreement between Ecology and Centralia’s Trans-Alta coal-fired plant to reduce Trans-Alta’s mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions. Ecology air quality staff Sarah Rees and Alan Newman were on hand at the public hearing to explain the agreement process thus far and hear public testimony.

Several concerned citizens and representatives of various organizations gathered to comment on the agreement. Public comment will continue to be taken until November 9.

Trans-Alta, which began operating in 1971, is the state’s only coal-fired power plant, and provides enough power for one out of every 12 homes and businesses in Washington State.

The state recently renewed Trans-Alta’s operations contract for an additional five years. A report on the operational permit negotiations was recently heard in a work session of the Washington State Senate’s Environment, Water & Energy Committee in early October. TransAlta materials, distributed to members, highlight Trans-Alta's “sustainability in action” plan and touts its recent investment in a $300 million “flex-fuel” equipment upgrade to reduce its sulphur and nitrogen oxide emissions. The plant also achieved a goal of recycling 50 million gallons of wastewater.

According to the agreement between Ecology and Trans-Alta, the Canadian-owned corporation will voluntarily reduce its emissions, self-report its progress, and reduce its emissions by 50% by 2012. The agreement does not address Trans-Alta’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Several environmental organizations and agencies have criticized the agreement, saying it lacks teeth because it is voluntary and doesn’t go far enough to curb emissions. Trans-Alta is known to be the largest source of mercury pollution and haze-causing nitrogen oxide pollutants in the state, accounting for a full 10% of the state’s global warming causing carbon dioxide emissions.

Organizations such as the Sierra Club say the negotiations were flawed from the start by not including the public earlier in the process. State mediation with Ecology began in 2007.

Several people took advantage of the opportunity to ask staff questions and receive answers prior to the beginning of the public hearing.

Students from The Evergreen State College spoke to the very nature of mercury emissions into the atmosphere. Adam Fleischmann commented that the mercury here in the Northwest comes from Asia, and Trans-Alta contributes to mercury emissions that go to Asia. “Mercury is a bioaccumulative. It strikes me as immoral to put our mercury on someone else.”

Student Maya Face said that Ecology wasn’t doing everything it possibly could to lower emissions, saying “any level is unacceptable." She asked Ecology staff why emissions could not be eliminated altogether. Rees replied, “That would require the facility to shut down altogether and that’s not where we were going with this agreement.”


Above: Washington State Department of Ecology staff member Elena Gilfoil, back to camera, talks with student Maya Face and Adam Fleischmann after the public hearing.

Jim Wilcox, president of the Olympia chapter of Trout Unlimited, agreed with Fleischmann and commented, “Are we not good neighbors in Washington?”

Mark Quinn of the Washington Wildlife Federation, advocated for a clean energy economy, calling coal “the dirtiest source of energy on the planet. Coal filters groundwater. It should stay there.”

Donna Albert of Montesano, a civil engineer, was the first to present testimony, but broke down in tears when she started reading the names of her four grandchildren, citing them as the reason why she was there. Ecology public hearing facilitator Jerry Thielen acknowledged that this was an emotional issue for many people. She completed her testimony later, saying, “we must stop burning coal…coal free energy is possible now.”

Doug Howell of the Sierra Club expressed frustration about the public process, saying he could not get Ecology to even put a phone into the room during the public hearing so people could call in with their concerns.

Randy King, Acting Supervisor of Mount Rainier National Park, testified in uniform and took issue with the description of Trans-Alta using the “best available retrofit technology” (BART) to reduce emissions.

Although Ecology and Trans-Alta agree that Trans-Alta is using the best available retrofit technology, this point is in dispute. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has the final say over state plans and whether or not a proposed technology meets BART standards, has stated that Trans-Alta’s nitrogen oxide burners do not meet BART requirements.

In strongly worded testimony, King said he was also testifying for the superintendents of the Olympic National Park and the North Cascades National Park and expressed concern that the agreement was negotiated without the participation of federal land managers.


Above: Autumn colors of the Cascades in September.

King questioned whether or not the process met the requirements and spirit of the federal Clean Air Act. “…The proposed (agreement) does not require the best technology to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (which is) a key component of visibility impairment at the parks…. King suggested that a selective catalytic reduction technology is the preferred method to improve visibility.

“…A reduction of nitrogen oxides would lead to a direct improvement in visibility at Mount Rainier National Park, as well as contribute to…decreased health effects from fine particulate matter region-wide….(as) we are also concerned with mercury deposition…throughout the region,” said King.

While King made clear that the National Park Service is not asking Trans-Alta to close its plant, he did emphasize that it requests that the Department of Ecology take a “strong leadership role.”

According to King, over 1.1 million people visited Mount Rainier National Park in 2008, creating extensive economic benefits totaling in the millions, throughout the region. Mount Rainier National Park is 50 miles away from the Trans-Alta plant.


Above: Aerial of Mt. Rainier.

“National parks and wilderness areas not only guard the national and cultural assets of our Nation, but they are also our most sensitive gauges of environmental stewardship. Harm to these resources that our nation strives hardest to protect must signal an alarm for other resources and for us,” King concluded.

For more information, or to comment on the proposed agreement, contact Sarah Rees of the Washington State Department of Ecology, Air Quality Program at (360) 407-6823, sarah.rees@ecy.wa.gov or see more information at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/air/TransAlta/TransAltaAgreement.html.

The Sierra Club also has a new website to address the coal-fired energy plant issue at www.coolstatewashington.org.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shiva speaks to South Sound community about food politics


Above: Dr. Vandana Shiva enjoys a cozy potluck and the company of Olympians before her talk at South Puget Sound Community College Thursday evening.

“Never before have we had structured hunger…due to corporate greed…misappropriation of land…and now, climate change,” said Indian physicist, environmental leader and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva at South Puget Sound Community College's (SPSCC) Minnaert Center Thursday night.

Shiva received a whirlwind one day tour of Olympia before she spoke to the capacity crowd of 500 about the interrelatedness of community building, food politics, corporate greed and climate change.

Shiva, who holds a PhD in particle physics, founded a movement in India to promote the use of native seeds and biodiversity. She has authored hundreds of articles both scientific journals and the popular press and several books.

Invited to Olympia by the SPSCC student group BRICK, Shiva started her day with a muffin at Blue Heron Bakery, and later, enjoyed a bountiful potluck lunch in a cozy Westside home filled with about 30 Olympians. An impressed Shiva said during her talk that the potluck “…was a community lunch created mysteriously….where there’s a will to share, and a will to give, things multiply….”

On the topic of food politics, Shiva said, “Cheap food is a lie…it is very costly…on water, biodiversity, and on our bodies....Toxic food is not worth being eaten. Nature never would have produced it....Never trust cheap. Trust quality and trust your community.”

Shiva urged the need for community building and said, “The reason community is so threatening to corporations is because it is ordinary people organizing. That is democracy. Democracy is dead when people stop shaping the present and the future.”

Shiva shared many examples of her efforts in India to organize people against corporate greed and water privatization issues. “The worst dictators cannot take away the right to water, but the largest five corporations can...." In 2002, she helped with an effort to stop Coca-Cola from using so much water out of a village aquifer that there was no water for the villagers. Women sat outside the gates and shut the plant down. “The state has no right to take over a public right....”

Speaking about genetically modified food, Shiva said corporations are trying to patent regular foods as a way to control the market on those products and forcing farmers to use chemical fertilizers. “Free market democracy - there’s nothing free about it. It’s based on taking away working democracies and freedoms."

Shiva described how she helped stop a law that would have made it illegal for Indian farmers to have indigenous seeds. Taking their inspiration from Gandhi’s historic Salt Walk, they created a successful “Seed Walk.” In Tamil Nadu, a law was passed that made it illegal to give training in organic farming. Farmers organized, and that law with withdrawn. Shiva said 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last ten years. The preferred method is by drinking pesticide. “This is a genocide. Farmers are a group of people who produce our food and are being targeted by corporations. Civic action has to shape the response to the crisis, whether it be climate, financial or farming."

In closing, Shiva read a Palestinian poem that says, in part, “You can destroy my village, you can kill my tree…but I do not fear you…I have one seed that I will plant and grow again…”

Shiva said, “Your lived experiences, your trust in your holistic knowledge, and your community has to guide us into the future…Every initiative in your community is a seed - as it grows, so does our fearlessness, our courage, in our love and passion for life. We refuse to be subjugated…by this dictatorship over our everyday lives. The possibilities are limitless, the alternative is extinction.”

Several South Sound community organizations hosted information tables in the lobby, including Transition Olympia, the South Puget Environmental Education Clearinghouse (SPEECH), Olympia Seed Exchange, Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation, Left Foot Organics, Thurston County Progressive Network, and Sustainable South Sound.


Above: Karin Kraft, Executive Director of Sustainable South Sound.


Above: Dr. Shiva and Judy Hollar of Thurston County Progressive Network. Hollar bought Shiva's latest book, "Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis."


Above: Craig Corrie meets Dr. Shiva. Corrie bought Shiva's book, "Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit."