Call Ehlers to Oppose Legislation that will make it Easier to Build a New Coal Power Plant in Holland


I’ve never been a big fan of MoveOn–they are generally way too close to the Democratic Party and are largely unwilling to challenge U.S. imperialism–but they did send out a nice action alert to the people on their West Michigan mailing list asking them to call Representative Vern Ehlers about a measure in Congress that would repeal sections of the Clean Air Act and make it easier to remove roadblocks to the plant.

In the past, has highlighted local opposition to the plant and highlighted how the technology being promoted for it is unproven. Aside from being a good way to help stop the coal rush in Michigan, it’s also a good test to see how Ehlers–who has the reputation of being an environmentalist–responds.

Please take the time to call Representative Ehlers today:

For years, Holland Board of Public Works has been trying to build a dirty, coal-fired power plant in Holland, not far from you. If built, the James DeYoung Power Plant would spew out smog and soot pollution, and you’d be in the high-risk zone for health effects. (1)

Until now, local activists with groups like the Sierra Club have been able to stop this and other plants. Relying on the Clean Air Act and other protections, activists have heroically battled Holland Board of Public Works to keep this giant new polluter out of Holland. (2)

But now, coal industry lobbyists have forced a terrible provision into the new energy bill–it would repeal crucial sections of the Clean Air Act and remove some key remaining roadblocks to Holland Board of Public Works’s plant. (3)

Congress is voting next week. Can you call Rep. Ehlers right away?

You can say something like this: “I don’t want a new dirty coal plant in Holland. Please oppose the repeal of the Clean Air Act provisions in the energy bill.”

Representative Vernon Ehlers

Phone: 202-225-3831

Grand Rapids District Office: 616-451-8383

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

What does this mean in your area? If the coal industry wins, local groups may be unable to stop the James DeYoung Power Plant in Holland. The Clean Air Act provision at stake here requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for global warming pollution for coal plants. Every local coal plant fight is different, but in general it’ll be much easier for coal companies and utilities to get funding to build new plants if there’s no chance the EPA will force those plants to cut their global warming pollution.

How did this happen? For years, George W. Bush refused to use the Clean Air Act to cut global warming pollution. But the Obama administration has taken the first steps toward changing that, so the coal industry is desperate to take away Obama’s authority to limit global warming pollution.

We got Congress’s attention in the last two weeks with a powerful grassroots drive to fix this and other problems in the energy bill. We made thousands of phone calls, wrote letters to local newspapers, and delivered petition signatures in person to hundreds of congressional offices. But we’re not there yet.

The clock is ticking down to the big vote next week, and we need to stop the repeal of this key provision in the Clean Air Act. Can you call Rep. Ehlers today?


1. “Surry coal plant: Just say no,” The (Newport News) Daily Press, June 7, 2009 and “Estimating the Health Impacts of Coal-Fired Power Plants Receiving International Financing,” Environmental Defense Fund, 2009

2. “Stopping the Coal Rush,” Sierra Club and “Taking on King Coal,” Time, November 5, 2008

3. “EPA urged to act on climate, not wait for Congress,” Associated Press, May 18, 2009

Local and Michigan Headlines: How Much Power Does Consumers Need; High Speed Railways in Michigan

Here’s links to a few worthwhile articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that have been published elsewhere on the web. As always, if we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

  • How Much Power Does Consumers Need? – Consumers Energy is under fire both for high fees it is charging for its renewable energy as well as its estimate of the state’s energy needs. A coalition of environmental and citizens groups is saying that the utility company has greatly over estimated how much energy Michigan needs and that it is using flawed numbers.
  • Hoekstra tweets response to court ruling – Earlier this year, Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is running for governor of Michigan–was at the center of a controversy for his use of Twitter and the disclosure of classified information. Now, he’s at it again on Twitter, dismissing Court ruling as “crazy.”
  • EPA downplays dredging risk to Bay City water supply – After citizens raised concerns about the possibility of dioxin-contaminated sediments moving downstream as part of a dredging project in the Saginaw River, the EPA has responded by saying that they won’t test for dioxin downstream.
  • Standing Up Against the Establishment – This post over at West Michigan Rising is from a person interested in running for Michigan’s 20th District Senate seat. However, he says that he was met with opposition from the Democratic Party establishment which is seeking a less progressive candidate. It’s a predictable response from the party, as is the first comment in response to the post in which the commenter attacks the author for deciding to go to the Green Party.
  • Call Conyers to Support His Opposition to Bigger Wars – Michigan Representative John Conyers has consistently voiced his opposition to an upcoming spending bill that would continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging people to thank Conyers for his stand.
  • When workers lead the way – A retired autoworker looks at how the UAW’s leadership and their role in accepting concessions that will harm workers.
  • High speed railways discussed before task force – A summary of a legislative task force’s hearing on a proposed high speed rail system between Detroit/Ann Arbor and Chicago.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Updates on Coal Plants in Michigan; Pete Hoekstra is Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World”

Here’s some interesting headlines covering Grand Rapids and Michigan from the past twenty-four hours:

Local and Michigan Headlines: West Michigan Ready for Wind Power Development; Recycling Improvements Proposed for Kent County

We missed yesterday, but here’s some recent Michigan headlines:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Watered Down Global Warming Bill Advances in Congress


Last week, the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee advanced a 930-page climate bill to the full Congress. The bill establishes a cap-and-trade system to regulate global warming causing emissions, requires an increase in renewable energy, and sets many new energy efficiency standards. It calls for an overall reduction in emissions by 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050.

While the bill is historic in the sense that the Congress is finally trying to do something to address global warming, the bill is inadequate in several key areas.

The emission reductions have been criticized by Greenpeace, who says that substantially larger emissions reductions are needed, saying that at least 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050 are the kind of cuts science demands.

Of the bill as a whole, a coalition of environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said:

As passed through the Energy & Commerce Committee, the American Clean Energy and Security Act sets targets for reducing pollution that are far weaker than science says is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. The targets are far less ambitious than what is achievable with already existing technology. They are further undermined by massive loopholes that could allow the most polluting industries to avoid real emission reductions until 2027. Rather than provide relief and support to consumers, the bill showers polluting industries with hundreds of billions of dollars in free allowances and direct subsidies that will slow renewable energy development and lock in a new generation of dirty coal-fired power plants. At the same time, the bill would remove the President’s authority to address global warming pollution using laws already on the books.

The public advocacy group Public Citizen further criticized the bill saying that it was influenced by backroom dealing and industry lobbyists at the expense of the citizenry. The result? A bill where polluting industries are left off the hook while working people are expected to pay increased energy rates.

Environmental journalist Jeffrey St. Clair and fellow journalist Joshua Frank wrote of the bill:

Not surprisingly, Obama refuses to consider strict regulation let alone a carbon tax to address the country’s big CO2 emitters. Instead, after intense pressure from the pollution lobby, Obama’s approach to attacking with climate change has been whittled down to nothing more than weak market-driven economics that can too easily be manipulated politically. Polluters will be let off the hook as they can simply relocate or build new infrastructure in places where there are few or no carbon regulations.

Moreover, the bill gives away many of the pollution credits which undermines the very market approach they are trying to use, according to Public Citizen:

Europe’s experience shows that when the right to pollute is given free to energy companies, nations fail to meet their emissions caps and price signals in the carbon trading markets are undermined. While we can understand providing some allowances to energy-intensive domestic manufacturing industries that are subject to fierce international competition, the same cannot be said for oil refiners or coal utilities. The bottom line is that this thwarts the very goal of curbing global warming.

The big problem with the bill before Congress is that it accepts the logic that the very “free markets” that caused global warming, can put a stop to the problem by altering their behavior through market-based incentives. According to the “cap-and-trade” plan, companies will have a double incentive to reduce pollution because they will have a limited amount of pollution credits and can sell what they don’t use on a “carbon market.”

These “cap and trade” plans have bee criticized by environmental radicals () who charge that they have not worked in Europe and that they are not strict enough. Along with the “cap and trade” system, the bill also includes funding for carbon capture sequestration (CCS)–an unproven technology that the polluting coal industry clings to as its last lifeline.

Instead of market-based approaches and unproven technologies, real change in our lifestyles and our economy are needed–not just token gestures.

Unfortunately, while that may be true, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in going that route at this point. All too many progressives and liberals are willing to accept a watered down climate bill because they think it is “the best we can get” rather than going the more difficult route of building a strong movement for climate justice.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Supreme Court Overturns Major Michigan Case; Utility Bills to Increase for Wind Power

Recent Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines:

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Democracy Now Headlines: Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal; 17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

Headlines from, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

UN Security Council Condemns North Korean Nuclear Test

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned North Korea for carrying out an underground nuclear test Monday. It was North Korea’s second nuclear test in three years. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, said it is too early to tell if the Security Council will approve a new round of sanctions against North Korea.

Susan Rice: “What we heard today was swift, clear, unequivocal condemnation in opposition to what occurred. The meeting was brief and everybody spoke and everybody essentially took the same view. We are now resolved to work on a resolution. We believe it ought to be a strong resolution with appropriately strong contents, but obviously unless and until we have completed the process of negotiating that resolution, it would be premature to suggest what its contents would be.”

In a statement Monday, North Korea said the nuclear test was intended to “bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way.” Hours after the Security Council vote, North Korea fired two more short-range missiles. In response to the nuclear test, South Korea announced it would immediately join a US-led initiative to intercept ships suspected of carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, component parts or missiles to deliver them. Pyongyang has warned it would consider South Korea’s membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative to be an act of war. At the White House, President Barack Obama denounced North Korea’s actions.

President Obama: “North Korea’s actions endanger the people of Northeast Asia, they are a blatant violation of international law, and they contradict North Korea’s own prior commitments. Now, the United States and the international community must take action in response.”

Afghan Peace Talks Call For U.S. Withdrawal

In Afghanistan, leaders of the Taliban and other armed groups are reportedly talking to intermediaries about a potential peace agreement, with initial demands focused on a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. This according to the New York Times. The discussions have so far produced no agreements, since the militants appear to be insisting that any deal include an American promise to withdraw.

Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bombing

Meanwhile a suicide car bomber plowed into a NATO convoy earlier today, killing three American soldiers and a civilian passer-by on a main road north of Kabul.

Pakistani Civilians Stuck in Swat Valley Facing Humanitarian Catastrophe

In Pakistan, Human Rights Watch is calling on the military to lift its curfew in the Swat Valley where the Pakistani military is battling the Taliban. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said: “The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water, and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban.” More than 2.4 million people have fled the region this month but up to 200,000 civilians remain trapped inside the conflict zone.

U.S. Relies on Foreign Nations To Hold Prisoners

The New York Times is reporting the United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain prisoners seized outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. The current approach began two years ago and has gained momentum under President Obama. Detainees who once would have been taken to secret CIA prisons or Guantanamo are now being handed over to other governments. At least four Middle Eastern countries as well as Pakistan are currently holding men captured based on information provided by the United States.

Sen. Feingold Warns Obama About Preventive Detention Plan

Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has criticized President Obama’s plan to hold some prisoners indefinitely inside the United States without trial. In a letter to the president, Feingold said any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional. Feingold said, “Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”

Proposed Israel Laws Call for Loyalty Oath and Ban on Nabka Protests

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party plans to propose a law requiring residents to swear loyalty to the Jewish state. The party has also proposed legislation to ban the commemoration of the “Nakba” or “disaster,” which many Arab Israelis and Palestinians mark while the Jewish state marks its Independence Day. Under the proposed legislation, those publicly commemorating the Nakba could be jailed. The proposed laws have been denounced by Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Khalaili, Arab Israeli Resident: “First, we as Arabs, and as the remaining Palestinians, refuse this discourse. We consider the Nakba a part of the Palestinian history and culture. Just like we don’t ask the Jews to cancel the Holocaust. Using the same measurements, and the same meanings, it is impossible to cancel the Nakba day because it is an element that can’t be excluded from the Palestinians existence.”

Netanyahu: Israel Will Continue Building Settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will continue to build homes in existing West Bank settlements, defying U.S. calls to halt settlement growth.

400 LA Students Walk Out of Classes to Protest Teacher Cuts

In Los Angeles, about 400 students walked out of classes on Friday to protest possible teacher layoffs. The Los Angeles Unified School District faces up to $131 million in new cuts this year and could lay off up to 2,500 teachers.

17 Arrested At Anti-Coal Protests in West Virginia

In West Virginia, 17 people were arrested Saturday during a series of protests against the coal industry. The protesters marked a new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a campaign to end mountaintop removal mining. The first two arrests occurred when two activists wearing hazmat suits and respirators boated onto an 8-billion-gallon toxic coal slurry lake to unfurl a 60-foot floating banner reading, “No more toxic sludge!” They were charged with trespass and littering. Later in the day eight more protesters were arrested on trespassing and conspiracy charges after they walked onto the Kayford Mountain mine and locked themselves to a giant dump truck. Seven others were arrested at Massey Energy’s Marfork Coal facility. Former West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler took part in the protest but police refused to arrest the 94-year-old former lawmaker.

Six of the anti-coal protesters remain in jail.

Medical Group Calls For Ban on Genetically Modified Foods

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on genetically modified foods. The medical organization warned that genetically modified foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health. Dr. Amy Dean said “Multiple animal studies have shown that GM foods cause damage to various organ systems in the body. With this mounting evidence, it is imperative to have a moratorium on GM foods for the safety of our patients’ and the public’s health.”

Indian Human Rights Activist Dr. Binayak Sen Released on Bail

In India, human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen has been released on bail after being held for two years. Sen is the National Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. He was arrested in May 2007, for allegedly helping the Maoist insurgency in the state of Chhattisgarh.

California Supreme Court To Rule on Gay Marriage Law Today

In California the state Supreme Court will issue its ruling today on whether the state’s gay-marriage ban will stand. In addition the court is expected to address the legal status of some 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California before voters approved Proposition 8, banning same sex marriage.

State Department To Extend Benefits to Partners of Gay Diplomats

Meanwhile Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to soon announce that the partners of gay and lesbian U.S. diplomats will be eligible for many benefits currently denied them and allowed to spouses of heterosexual diplomats.

Liberty University Bans College Democrats Club

And in education news, Liberty University has banned the College Democrats Club from campus. In a letter to the group, a school administrator wrote: “We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University.” Liberty University is a Christian College founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Traverse City Pursues Renewable Energy; Smoking Ban in the State House

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past 24 hours:

  • Bicyclist’s death in crash with city dump truck serves as solemn reminder for those gathered at ‘Ride of Silence’ event – On the day of the annual “Ride of Silence” to commemorate cyclists killed by motorists, a 55-year old man was killed while biking after he was hit by a City of Grand Rapids dump truck.
  • Family at risk of losing home fights fallout from questionable mortgage practices – Michigan Messenger has an interesting look at Bretlin Home Mortgage and its role in the current foreclosure crisis.
  • Traverse City’s Utility Goes Greener – “As three Michigan utilities await decisions on their applications to build new coal-fired power plants, this Up North town’s municipally owned utility is earning high praise for heading in the opposite direction.” Traverse City Light & Power is aiming to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Let’s Eliminate the MBT – The Chamber of Commerce is advocating the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax and Blogging For Michigan asks how they would plan to make up for the revenue. Moreover, they point out that the groups like the Chamber had a major role in shaping the tax, so if they have a problem with it, it is largely their own fault.
  • Closing the Digital Divide – This article from Rapid Growth Media looks at a new Grand Rapids non-profit called ellohay! West Michigan that plans to give away 100 gently-used laptops to individuals who otherwise would not have access to them.
  • Partial smoking ban clears 1st hurdle – A proposed ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, and other work sites is once again being revived in the Michigan House. The bill that is being looked at this year includes exemptions for Detroit’s casinos and cigar and smoke shops across the state.
  • Profiles in Cowardice – the Debbie Stabenow Story – This post from Michigan Liberal points out that Senator Debbie Stabenow recently voted to remove funding aimed at closing the Guantanamo Bay prison. It’s the latest in a series of weak positions from the Senator.
  • Engler wants Guantanamo detainees brought to Michigan – I missed this a few weeks ago (thanks to Michigan Liberal for the reminder), but apparently former Republican Governor of Michigan John Engler wants hold Guantanamo Bay prisoners in the Upper Peninsula. He says Michigan could make up to $1 billion per year on such a deal.

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Ehlers Named Co-Chair of House Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus

vern ehlers

Republican Represntative Vern Ehlers was named co-Chairman of the House Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Caucus. Ehlers was a former Vice-Chairman and Co-Chair of the Caucus. The Caucus formed back in 1996 as a bi-partisan forum for discussing renewable energy. The caucus does not vote as a bloc nor does it lobby for specific legislation. It’s goal is simply education.

In announcing the appointment, Ehlers’ office touted the fact that he is an “environmentalist:”

My background as a scientist and an environmentalist gives me a valuable perspective on the way we produce and consume energy. As Co-Chairman of this caucus, I will continue my leadership in Congress on these issues by advocating for research on renewable energies and energy efficient technology.

Ehlers has a better voting record on the environment than many Republicans, but there has always been room for improvement. looked at his views on the environment a few years ago and found that Ehlers supports nuclear power, has consistently supported trade agreements with limited environmental protections, and has supported legislation that has made it easier to log National Forests.

Moreover, while he has consistently been endorsed by environmental organizations, his actual voting record puts him in the middle of Congressional rankings.

Michigan’s Infrastructure Ranked Poorly in Study


In January–before the Obama administration took office and amidst discussion about the possibility of pouring millions of dollars into the economy for infrastructure improvement projects as form of economic stimulus–the American Society of Civil Engineers released a “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” that found that the United States needs major improvements in its infrastructure.

Now the group has released state-by-state rankings, and not surprisingly for anyone that has driven on Michigan’s roads, Michigan ranked quite poorly with the group stating that “Michigan’s infrastructure is in dire need.”

In a 50-page report on the state of Michigan’s infrastructure, the group rated several key components of Michigan’s infrastructure:

AVIATION: C – Michigan’s 200+ airports generate $4.3 billion for Michigan’s economy each year. The individual components — runway systems, pavement conditions, terminals, weather access, security and pilot and aircraft services — are in satisfactory condition. However, current infrastructure repair, maintenance and expansion needs exceed $1.3 billion over the next five years, a figure well beyond existing revenue. It is imperative that Michigan establish dedicated funding for airport infrastructure.

DAMS: D – Over 90% of Michigan’s 2,581 dams will reach or exceed their design life by 2020. Many dams are abandoned, no longer serve any useful purpose, and pose safety hazards to downstream residents. No funding is currently available in Michigan to help dam owners repair, or remove aging dams.

DRINKING WATER: D – The State of Michigan is in the unique position of being surrounded by the Great Lakes, which offer an abundant supply of fresh water. Yet the State faces crucial funding challenges both in treating and distributing clean drinking water to continue to meet the level of service demands of its residents. Nearly 75% of Michigan’s population is served by a community water system. The current fiscal needs for water system rehabilitation in the State exceed $11 billion.

ENERGY: C – The overall health of the energy generation and transmission system in Michigan generally meets the state’s current needs. However, reliability and security concerns are posed by the state’s dependence on coal and natural gas fueled generation and reliance on fuel supplied by external sources. Congestion limitations and interface limits exist between the State of Michigan’s transmission system and neighboring grids in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and Ontario, Canada. Diversification of energy supply, investments in renewable energy and transmission system upgrades are needed to alleviate congestion and to reduce dependency on fossil-based generation.

ROADS AND BRIDGES: D – Michigan’s extensive network of roads and bridges allows the state’s 10 million residents to safely and freely travel while enabling businesses to efficiently serve their customers. However, Michigan’s network is rapidly aging. 38% of roads are in poor condition, 28% of the bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and U.S. truckers rate Michigan roads as 3rd worst in the country. While road and bridge funding should be increasing to keep pace with rising construction costs, the reality is that revenues are declining. Continuing to shortchange our transportation system will lead to declining quality of life and reduced economic competitiveness in the global economy. Bold action is required now.

STORMWATER: D – Michigan’s stormwater management system provides flood protection, fosters development, improves agricultural production and extends the service life of roads, streets and highways. Stormwater management improves the water quality of streams, rivers and the Great Lakes. Statewide operation and maintenance procedures are inconsistent and the state does not maintain an inventory of its stormwater management system. Funding for continued maintenance, repair and water quality improvement is inadequate and nonexistent in many areas.

TRANSIT: D – Following a national trend, transit use in Michigan has grown faster over the last two decades than any other mode of transportation. The rise in demand is outstripping capacity. Often the money used for the expansion comes from funds allotted to maintenance. As a result, the physical condition of the infrastructure is declining. Some form of public transportation is available throughout the state and in many rural areas, but the capacities of most urban systems fail to meet demand. The presence of efficient public transportation increases property use and value. Improving public transportation services within the state is a key component in reviving Michigan’s economy.

WASTEWATER COLLECTION SYSTEMS: C – The Great Lakes State’s 35,000 inland lakes and ponds, 54,300 miles of river systems and five million acres of wetlands are its greatest resource. Much of the state’s wastewater collection system infrastructure — sewers, pumping stations and wastewater treatment facilities — is decades beyond a system’s life expectancy. The EPA calculates Michigan’s funding requirements at $6 billion to address the system’s replacement, rehabilitation, expansion and process improvement needs. Approximately $2 billion alone is needed to prevent combined sewer overflows.

NAVIGABLE WATERWAYS: C – Michigan’s navigation system includes coastal infrastructure, navigation harbors, channels, locks, and dams. The system contains approximately 90 harbors, 14 waterways or rivers, the significant Soo Locks system, and disposal facilities for depositing dredged material. Annual maintenance and repair costs outpace the limited federal funding from the Army Corps of Engineers, which causes total system needs to grow each year. Because commercial harbors have priority and the needs exceed the available funding, recreational harbors rarely receive dollars for maintenance or improvements.

In each section, the group makes specific recommendations for improvement. These include everything from allotting more staff members to regulatory agencies to increasing taxes to pay for necessary upgrades.

Nationwide, the group calls for more federal involvement in maintaining and expanding the country’s infrastructure.