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

021609-vern_ehlers.jpg

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, MediaMouse.org 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:

http://pol.moveon.org/call/index.html?cp_id=956&tg=FHMI_03&id=&t=14

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?

Sources:

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

Advertisements

Local and Michigan Headlines: GRPS Cuts Approved; PETA Opposes Horse-drawn Carriages in Holland

Here’s some local and Michigan headlines:

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

Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

West Michigan Native Erik Prince has Resigned as Blackwater CEO

Erik Prince–the West Michigan native who founded the private mercenary company Blackwater using money from the Prince family fortune–has resigned as CEO of the infamous company.

Prince announced that he will no longer be CEO of the company, instead he has appointed a new president. Prince will stay on as Chairman but will no longer oversee day-to-day operations.

Blackwater recently rechristened itself “Xe” and is in the midst of a rebranding and restructuring effort following the loss of its coveted State Department contract in Iraq and the continued negative publicity following the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Focusing on Twitter, Missing the Story on Iraq

Focusing on Pete Hoekstra's Twitter Updates from Iraq, Media Misses the Story on Iraq

Over the past week, West Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra’s use of Twitter while on a trip in Iraq, has been all over the local media and the liberal blogosphere. The Grand Rapids Press ran two articles, WOOD TV 8 ran several stories, WZZM 13 covered it, and so did WXMI. While covering what was a potentially serious issue and discussion, many stories opted to use rather tongue-and-cheek headlines such as “Hoekstra tweets set Congress a-twitter” and “Hoekstra’s trip twitters to an end” that made light of the story.

However, what is probably the most frustrating is that for all the coverage Hoekstra’s use of Twitter got, none of the media outlets in Grand Rapids bothered to report on Hoekstra’s trip to Iraq. This is unfortunate, because Hoekstra certainly made claims at a post-trip news conference that would have been worth investigating.

For example, Hoekstra makes the claim that the United States had defeated the “radical jihadists” in Iraq and that now those people–whom he does not define but associates with Al-Qaida–are moving “the focal point” of their efforts to Afghanistan. To that end, Hoekstra is now advocating a “strong military presence in Aghanistan.”

It was also news worthy that Hoekstra–a long time advocate of the US occupation of Iraq–said in the Ludington Daily News that “Everybody I talked to, and everything you saw there led you to be relatively optimistic … Now it’s a matter of how fast you pull down our troops.” Similarly, other Republicans on the trip to Iraq describe the “drawdown” of US troops from Iraq as “justifiable.”

Perhaps, the media looked at Hoekstra’s past statements on Iraq and found that he wasn’t a reliable source and decided not to report on his trip. After all, Hoekstra was the one who claimed in 2006 that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) had been found in Iraq. The claim was quickly dismissed by experts on the topic who said that the weapons were outdated and discarded long before the 2003 invasion.

Sadly, this probably has more to do with the corporate media’s laziness and zest for inconsequential, novelty reporting–for example a politician using a newfangled Internet tool–than a rejection of Hoekstra as an unreliable source.

Hoekstra’s Twitter Usage Leads to Government Policy Review

Pete Hoekstra's Use of Twitter from Iraq is Grounds for a Government Policy Review

West Michigan Republican Representative Pete Hoekstra’s use of Twitter during a recent trip to Iraq has led to a review of government policy according to an article in Congressional Quarterly.

Congressional Quarterly reports:

“A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Cdr. Darryn James, said Tuesday the Pentagon’s policy is to withhold itineraries until congressional delegations reach their destinations inside war zones. The House sergeant at arms and House Armed Services Committee echoed that concern in separate statements Tuesday.

And James said Hoekstra’s actions have led Defense Department officials to review how they communicate those restrictions to lawmakers, who now have access to mobile communications devices linked to global networks.”

The information Hoekstra disclosed was not classified, however, several aides interview in the Congressional Quarterly article said that legislators are routinely told not to disclose details of where they are traveling overseas.

As we reported on Tuesday, Hoekstra has downplayed the controversy. Later that day, he released a document titled “Democrats Claim Disclosing Travel is a Safety Risk–Except when they Do It” that shows several instances when Democratic legislatures have issued statements while in Iraq. However, Hoekstra’s updates via Twitter–which disclosed the approximate location of his delegation–were considerably more specific than the examples he shared with the media.

Pete Hoekstra Uses Twitter to Post from Iraq about Secret Trip

Republican Pete Hoekstra Used Twitter to Violate an Embargo on a Secret Trip to Iraq

Over the weekend, a controversy–started on the Internet and fueled by reporting on the Internet–has surrounded West Michigan Congress member Pete Hoekstra. Hoesktra–who is the Ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and its former Chair–is accused of violating disclosure policy regarding a trip to Iraq.

Hoekstra used the micro-blogging service Twitter to post updates about his trip.

Experienced Politician Violating Security Procedures?

On Friday, CQ Politics reported that Republican Pete Hoekstra had violated an embargo on what was supposed to be a secret trip to Iraq:

“‘Just landed in Baghdad,’ messaged Hoekstra, a former chairman of the Intelligence panel and now the ranking member, who is routinely entrusted to keep some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Before the delegation left Washington, they were advised to keep the trip to themselves for security reasons. A few media outlets, including Congressional Quarterly, learned about it, but agreed not to disclose anything until the delegation had left Iraq.

Nobody expected, though, that a lawmaker with such an extensive national security background would be the first to break the silence. And in such a big way.

Not only did Hoekstra reveal the existence of the lawmakers’ trip, but included details about their itinerary in updates posted every few hours on his Twitter page, until he suddenly stopped, for some reason, on Friday morning.”

Aside from the fact that he violated an embargo on this trip, several bloggers have uncovered an editorial he wrote back in 2006 that derided the release of classified information:

“WE ARE IN the first war of the Information Age, and we have a critical advantage over our enemy: We are far better at gathering intelligence. It’s an advantage we must utilize, and it’s keeping us safe.

But every time classified national security information is leaked, our ability to gather information on those who would do us harm is eroded…

We are a nation at war. Unauthorized disclosures of classified information only help terrorists and our enemies – and put American lives at risk.”

No Apologies from Hoekstra

Despite the heat that Hoekstra has drawn for the Twitter posts, he will not apologize for the posts. He said that his posts did not endanger himself or others on the trip:

“‘It doesn’t say I’m arriving at the embassy at 10 of 5 and this is the road I’m taking,’ Hoekstra said. ‘I think the bad guys already knew there was Blackberry service, and my guess is they probably already knew the Iraqi flag was flying over the palace.’

Hoekstra said he did not post as many updates after the delegation left the international Green Zone and entered the more dangerous areas of Iraq, where Blackberry service was less reliable anyway.

‘I didn’t Twitter that because that’s a different environment,’ Hoekstra said.”

On WOOD TV 8, Hoekstra’s spokesperson–Dave Yonkman–downplayed the messages and saying that Twitter allows Hoesktra to be more transparent.

Yonkman further said that the fact that what the media is missing is that this is a story of success in Iraq. He asserted that a few years ago this would not have been possible and that this is proof that the situation is improving in Iraq.

Hoekstra’s Twitter Debacle: A Success for New Media?

Regardless of what folks think about the role that Hoekstra’s Twitter postings will have on his run for governor in 2010, it does show the success that so-called “new media” can have in pushing stories into the mainstream. What began with an article on a website that many of his constituents likely don’t read, ended up moving into the mainstream. In the end, what began as a concern raised largely by the liberal blogosphere became a subject of mainstream news–and eventually garnered a response from Hoekstra.

Granholm Advocates Expensive, Unproven Carbon Sequestration Technology

Governor Granholm has Advocated Expensive and Unproven Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technology for a Controversial Holland Power Plant

Last week, environmental activists praised Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State Address for statements suggesting that she was opposed in some capacity to several proposed coal plants in the state.

However, a week prior, Granholm made another important statement on coal and Michigan. In a press release circulated by the City of Holland, Granholm expressed support for a “carbon sequestration” project at a new coal plant being proposed in Holland:

“The state of Michigan supports this effort to demonstrate the long-term capability of carbon capture and sequestration technology and will assist the city of Holland in its effort to gain approval and federal funding for this important initiative.”

Holland is currently seeking funds from the federal government to research and develop a mechanism for removing carbon from the plant’s emissions and then depositing the carbon underground.

Carbon Sequestration: A Problematic Technology

The technology is called “carbon capture and sequestration” and it has been proposed by “clean coal” advocates as a possible solution to global warming that would allow coal plants to continue to operate.

However, the technology is unproven and there have been no commercially viable applications. The technology is expensive and it may have unintended consequences, both when injecting carbon into the ground and with greater concentrations of other emissions being released into the air. Beyond that, while it addresses emissions, it does not deal with other environmental problems or pollution associated with coal power.

Greenpeace: Carbon Capture and Sequestration a “False Hope”

In a report on the technology last year, the environmental group Greenpeace called carbon capture and sequestration a “false hope.” The report–“False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won’t Save the Climate“–said that the technology is nothing more than an attempt at “greenwashing” an “irremediably dirty energy source.”

Greenpeace writes:

“The report exposes CCS technology’s woeful inadequacy on numerous points. CCS wastes energy, for one thing, as it uses between 10 and 40% of the plant’s power output just to function. It is also expensive, and could possibly double the cost of constructing a coal-fired power plant, which in turn could lead to the raising of electricity costs for consumers. And despite its exorbitant cost, there is actually no guarantee that storing carbon underground is totally safe or effective – even a very low leakage rate could completely undermine the benefits of CCS. But most importantly, CCS simply can’t deliver on a large scale until 2030, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, whereas the scientific consensus about climate change holds that our greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 if we’re to avoid the worst effects of man-made global warming.”

Prince Connected Entities Funded Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition in Final Months of the Campaign

Holland Michigan's Elsa Prince Was One Of The Largest Individual Contributors To California's Anti-Gay Marriage Proposition 8

Back in 2008, we pointed out that Elsa Prince–a wealthy religious right funder from Holland, Michigan–had donated over $400,000 to California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. Prince ended up being one of the largest contributors to the campaign, just as she was to Michigan’s anti-gay marriage initiative in 2004.

Final campaign contribution reports were released this week and do not show any further contributions to the ballot measure from Elsa Prince. However, two Prince connected entities did give money during the final months of the campaign:

Elsa Prince’s roll in funding Proposition 8 was highlighted in a television commercial aired by Californians Against Hate:

Near Unanimous Opposition to Proposed Coal Burning Power Plant in Holland at DEQ Public Hearing

011309-coal_plant.jpg

Last night the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) opened a two-day public hearing on the proposed coal burning power plant for Holland, Michigan. The plant would cost an estimated $240 million without including the sequestering of carbon produced by the plant.

Before the public was invited to speak, a representative from the DEQ said that they are not interested in how many are for and against the proposed power plant, rather they want to make their decision based on whether or not the power plant would meet “air quality standards.”

Limited Support for the Plant

About 100 people attended the public hearing, but only thirty people offered public comments. Of those thirty, only three were in favor of the proposed power plant.

The Mayor of Holland expressed support and stated that the “coal that will be used for the Holland plant is from states out West,” since he wanted to avoid any association with the negative publicity around coal ash pollution generally associated with coal mining in eastern states. The only other supporters were a volunteer for the Holland Board of Public Works and a resident of Holland.

Extensive Opposition to the Plant: Concerns over Pollution Common

A steady stream of Holland residents stepped up to the microphone to express their opposition to the proposed power plant. Many of them expressed concern over pollution, particularly air pollution that will contribute to increased asthma. One woman, who says she suffers from asthma, was convinced that her asthma is a direct result of the existing coal burning power plant based in Holland. A senior citizen who can see the smokestacks from the current power plant says that he and the other senior citizens “are at risk of contracting respiratory problems” because of their proximity to the coal burning plant. Other Holland residents said that renewable energy should be promoted and produced and that the City of Holland should advocate for a reduction of energy consumption by the residents and businesses of the community.

People from other areas of Ottawa County also expressed opposition to the proposed power plant, as well as people who came from Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. A woman with the Dominican Sisters in Grand Rapids was concerned about the carbon emissions and their contribution to global warming. She felt that “there needed to be a radical change to how we produce energy” and that the proposed plant will only contribute to the growing problem. Another woman expressed her opposition to the power plant, said she spoke “as a mother who has breast fed her children”, and believes that the toxins produced from such a power plant would be bad for all children and nursing mothers.

Environmental Groups Voice Opposition

Several speakers during the hearing were from environmental groups throughout the state. One woman from the Ecology Center addressed concerns about asthma and other air pollution concerns. She argued that data shows many people have died from air pollution, others suffer asthma problems, and thousands of work-days have been lost from people being sick due to air pollution generated from coal burning power plants.

Several members of a local chapter of the Earth Institute and the Sierra Club also spoke against the proposed power plant. The State Director of the Sierra Club said that CO2 regulation is the main issue, even though the DEQ does not include CO2 emissions when making determinations about air quality. She said that Governor Granholm has spoken out for reduction of CO2, but that the Climate Action Council, which is making recommendations on this issue, is made up of “too many special interest groups, not scientists.”

Jan O’Connell with the Sierra Club said that the claim from the Holland Board of Public Works that the existing power plant meets current air quality standards isn’t true. She said that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated both Ottawa and Kent Counties as non-attainment sites meaning there are unacceptable levels of air pollution and particulates for those two counties. O’Connell said that the permit should be denied based on the EPA finding.

Indigenous Community Lends Powerful Voice Against the Plant

Possibly the most compelling speakers during the public hearing were from the Native American community. Each of the Native speakers addressed the issue of mercury contamination that comes with coal burning and said that it disproportionately impacts Native people since they eat more local fish–much of which have high levels of mercury in Michigan. Another Native speaker criticized the DEQ for not conducting “an environmental justice assessment” and said that they felt like this was another example of how the government “does care about the well being of native people.” One Native speaker read from a copy of the permit request and read some of the “allowable” chemicals that the proposed coal burning plant would produce. He said that there are four pages consisting solely of chemicals that the proposed power plant would produce and asked, “How can any of these chemicals be good for our children and future generations?”

Opportunity for Further Public Comment

The public can submit comments to the Michigan DEQ up until January 30 on the proposed power plant for Holland.

You can submit comments through the DEQ or through Clean Energy Now.

Michigan DEQ Holds Informational Meeting on Proposed Holland Power Plant

At an informational meeting yesterday about a proposed coal-fired power plant in Holland, over 50 people asked more than 70 questions of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The questions covered a broad range of topics, although the majority focused on possible effects on public health and global warming.

121708-deq_logo.gif

On Tuesday, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) held a public informational meeting in Holland as part of their process in determining whether or not to grant the Holland Board of Public Works (HBPW) permission to build a new coal fueled powered plant.

The meeting was not to provide an opportunity for people to take a public position on the issue, rather it was designed to provide information based on the MDEQ research and provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions. There will be public hearings on the proposed Holland plant on January 12 & 13.

The evening began with several MDEQ staff presenting information based upon research they conducted after receiving the permit request from the HBPW. Some of the information they presented detailed the permit process and conditions, in addition to a health and environmental safety summary. One of the issues that were addressed were the estimated mercury and lead levels that the proposed power plant would emit. The MDEQ concluded, “these levels would not significantly affect children’s health in this community.” Much of the information that was shared by the MDEQ staff was technical and can be found online, but even that information is difficult to follow unless you have some prior knowledge of the issue.

Roughly 50 people attended the meeting and asked nearly 70 questions. People could address the DEQ directly at a microphone or write down questions that would be submitted to the staff. The MDEQ did go over the allotted four hours in order to respond to every question that was submitted.

Many of the questions that were asked dealt with health and environmental issues, such as mercury levels and CO2 emissions. Those addressing these issues were concerned about the impact on the health of children and senior citizens as well as what impact the CO2 emissions would have on climate change. In response, the MDEQ staff quite often said that they did not know for sure what the risks would be or that, in the case of CO2 emissions, wasn’t relevant to their decision to grant the permit since their was no current state regulation on CO2 emissions.

At one point the Mayor of Holland showed up and asked, “What is the track record of the HBPW with the MDEQ field office in Grand Rapids as it relates to compliance?” The MDEQ said that there was “continually compliance.” The Holland Mayor promptly left after asking this question. One questioner asked if a lawsuit filed the day before by the Sierra Club would have any bearing on the DEQ decision. The MDEQ responded by saying the lawsuit is independent of their decision making process.

Other questions addressed whether or not the MDEQ was considering the cumulative affect of the pollution that would be generated if all the proposed coal fueled power plants in Michigan were built. The MDEQ responded that they are not required to consider the cumulative affect of all the proposed power plants and would not speculate since none of them have yet to be built.

Another person asked if the ” power plant has to demonstrate a need for the expansion?” The MDEQ said that it was immaterial to their decision, they only make decisions about compliance and that “the amount or size of the power plant is up to the company to decide.”

A Holland resident asked if environmental justice issues were being considered in the permit process. “Not at this time, but the Governor’s office is putting together a group to deal with this issue,” said a MDEQ spokesperson. This question was similar to one asked about the relationship between the Native American tribes in Michigan and the MDEQ. The MDEQ stated that the Environmental Protection Agency already has a relationship with Native tribes living in Michigan and has offered to host informational meetings with them. Another questioner asked if the MDEQ considers the environmental and health impact of the coal that is mined and transported to Michigan for the proposed coal fueled power plants. Like most of the answers given by the MDEQ at this meeting, they responded that this was not part of state policy for assessing whether or not a company should be granted a permit.

In speaking to a Sierra Club volunteer after the meeting, they stated that there are huge holes in the MDEQ process for granting permits on such a critical issue. “Until CO2 emissions and other environmental and health issues are included their process will be extremely inadequate.”

A staff person with the Sierra Club also pointed out that a representative from Consumers Power was in the room to monitor process and gather information in preparation for their coal fueled power plant request. MediaMouse.org asked the Consumers Energy person if that is why they attended and they declined to respond.

In addition to the January public hearings in Holland, the public can submit comments to the MDEQ online before January 30th.

The Clean Energy Now effort also has an online letter writing campaign to send a clear message to the MDEQ that “stopping the coal fueled power plants that are being proposed is critical to protecting our lakes, reducing global warming emissions, lowering mercury levels in fish, improving our air quality, and protecting our health.”