Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year! A few of my favorite lions, tigers and bears



Real-life Mowgli kept alive by cats -A one-year-old boy has been found living rough on the streets, apparently being kept alive by cats.

The boy, whose ordeal mirrors that of the character Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling The Jungle Book, was discovered by police in Misiones, in Argentina, surrounded by eight wild cats.
Doctors believe the animals snuggled up with him during freezing nights which would otherwise have killed him.
The boy was seen eating scraps foraged by the animals while they licked him, it has been claimed.
Policewoman Alicia Lorena Lindgvist discovered the child by a canal in the Christ King district of the city.
She said: "I was walking and noticed a gang of cats sitting very close together. It is unusual to see so many like that so I went for a closer look and that's where I saw him. The boy was lying at the bottom of a gutter. There were all these cats on top of him licking him because he was really dirty.
"When I walked over they became really protective and spat at me. They were keeping the boy warm while he slept."
The officer, who noticed scraps of food near the boy, added: "The cats knew he was fragile and needed protecting."
Police have found the boy's father who is homeless and said he had lost the boy several days ago while out collecting cardboard to sell. He told officers cats had always been protective of his son. Telegraph.uk.



From National Geographic's In the Womb series.

 Jasmine, the Mother Theresa Greyhound
In 2003, police in Warwickshire, England, opened a garden shed and found a whimpering, cowering dog. It had been locked in the shed and abandoned. It was dirty and malnourished, and had clearly been abused.

In an act of kindness, the police took the dog, which was a Greyhound female, to the nearby Nuneaton Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary, run by a man named Geoff Grewcock and known as a willing haven for Animals abandoned, orphaned or otherwise in need.


 Geoff and the other sanctuary staff went to work with two aims to restore the dog to full health, and to win her trust. It took several weeks, but eventually both goals were achieved.
They named her Jasmine, and they started to think about finding her an adoptive home.

But Jasmine had other ideas. No-one remembers now how it began, but she started welcoming all Animal arrivals at the sanctuary. It wouldn’t matter if it was a puppy, a fox cub, a rabbit or, any other lost or hurting Animal, Jasmine would peer into the box or cage and, where possible, deliver a welcoming lick.

Read the rest of the story at The Great Pet Net.
 

Finally...although you may have seen this before....Christian the lion was bought as a cub by two men in London.  Realizing after a while that the city was no place for a lion, they brought him to a wildlife sanctuary in Africa watched over by George Adamson.  A year later, the men returned to see how Christian was doing.

Design your own snowflake


Remember when you never were bored?  Go here and create your own snowflake!

Real snowflake image from SnowCrystals.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Springfield City Council to be seated next Monday at noon


With a bit of pomp and circumstance, Springfield's new city councilors will begin their jobs on Monday, January 4, at noon. I do think it's worthwhile for Springfield residents to attend this organizational meeting. Let's let our new city councilors know we have high expectations of their performance.

C I T Y O F S P R I N G F I E L D - City Clerk's Office December 30, 2009

I hereby notify you that at twelve o'clock noon today the following items of business had been filed with this office and can be acted upon at the Organizational Meeting in the City Council Chambers, Monday, January 4, 2010 at twelve noon according to Section 12, Rules and Orders of the City Council.

City Clerk

1. PRECESSION INTO CHAMBERS
2. CALL TO ORDER BY PRESIDENT WILLIAM T. FOLEY, JR.
3. INVOCATION BY FATHER JUAN GARCIA
4. PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

5. ELECTION OF PRESIDENT
6. OATH OF OFFICE TO PRESIDENT BY CITY CLERK WAYMAN LEE

7. REMARKS OF PRESIDENT
8. ELECTION OF VICE PRESIDENT - OATH OF OFFICE TO VICE-PRESIDENT BY CITY CLERK WAYMAN LEE
9. REMARKS BY MAYOR DOMENIC J. SARNO
10. OFFER OF PRAYER BY REVEREND GREGORY DYSON

11. DRAWING OF SEATS
12. ADOPTION OF RULES-2010
13. BUSINESS PROPERLY BEFORE CITY COUNCIL
14. APPOINTMENT OF STANDING COMMITTEES
15. APPOINTMENT OF THE FIRE PREVENTION COMMITTEE

16. APPOINTMENT OF THE MEMBER TO SCHOOL BUILDING COMMSSION
17. APPOINTMENT OF THE MEMBER TO THE DOG ADVISORY AND HEARING COMMITTEE
18. CLOSING BLESSING BY RABBI CHAIM KOSOFSKY
19. ADJOURNMENT

Photo from Steven Jareb's photostream at Flickr.

Battling with bears while smothered by lithium

Poor children four times more likely to be given anti-psychiatric drugs.
Yesterday when I went to visit my friend in the hospital, he had a new roommate-- a young, nice looking Puerto Rican man-- a boy, really.  His illness was not apparent but he seemed low-spirited.  Another addition to the setting was an aide who never left the room all the time I was there.

A few minutes after I arrived,  a young woman with earrings, high heels and a clipboard joined us and started  talking to the boy.

"HI!' she said in a chipper voice.  "I'm Jackie from Psych Services."

I tried not to listen but some words drifted over....Well, the doctors want to make sure you're not going to try to hurt yourself again......Now, what else do you take besides the lithium?

I told my friend I was going to get a coffee from the cafeteria and I'd be back.

Today when I visited my friend, I greeted the young man as well.  We had a different aide, a little chattier, who was trying to get him to order from the menu.

"I'm really not hungry," he said.  "If I was really trying to kill myself, I'd eat this food." He laughed.

Later, commenting on something he saw on television, he said, "I'd like to fight a shark. I'd like to give that a try.  And I'd like to fight a bear, and  a pack of wolves.  Not a stingray, though," he said, "they go straight for the heart."

I wondered if anybody in the psychiatric field had ever spent any time talking to this young man, or was it all drugs, drugs, drugs?   If I knew instantly he was talking about fighting his own demons, finding his own courage and, yes, risking his own life to do it, how could a more skilled  person have used this knowledge to engage him?

Recently the New York Times reported on a government study indicating that children receiving Medicaid-- that is, poor children-- were prescribed powerful anti-psychotic drugs at four times the rate of children who were privately insured.  Of course, it's cheaper for Medicaid to provide drugs than long-term therapy, although given the serious and sometime life-long side effects these drugs cause, it may be a penny-wise, pound-foolish steategy.  One doctor interviewed in the article suggested poverty may cause more mental illness.  Another doctor suggested that children on Medicaid are more likely to receive needed treatment because of higher out-of-pocket expenses than the privately insured.  If we accept that, then we have have to accept that it is appropriate for nearly five percent of all of our children to be medicated.

I've seen this push to medicate children for more than two decades.  I've talked to many mothers who have been told by their child's school administrators that they had to place their child on medication in order for the child to stay in school.  Some mothers fight it and some give in with relief.  Their children get fat, and dopey, and are even more likely to have trouble making friends if they had that trouble before.  Some parents actively seek to get their kids medicated, because they've been taught to believe unreservedly in the magic of pills and  they just don't know what else to do.

Does poverty create mental stress for families and children ?  Damn right!  If you're a kid and you know that you might have to move for the third time in two years because your folks are behind in the rent, you're affected.  If you have to sleep on the couch at night because your apartment is short a bedroom, you're affected.  If there's no quiet place to do homework and your grades start going down, you're affected.  The life around you and eventually your own life may be riddled with economic, emotional and intellectual malnutrition.  You may be tangled like a fly in a spiderweb with myriad institutions meant to help or punish you.  You might actually be in need of counseling and guidance and maybe, just maybe, some medication.  Or you might be just fine.

By pathologizing poverty, society lets itself off the hook.  Why tackle the structural issues when anti-psychotics, prison, addiction, family services and television can accomplish so much?

Tonight, belatedly, whoever is in charge decided the young man deserved some privacy and my friend was moved to a room two doors down.  Will he actually be better off alone?  I don't know.  I'm a bit uncomfortable myself that I'm invading his privacy by telling his story so that I can tell this larger story.  But I wish him well.

Image from smiteme's photostream at Flickr.

Pun sentences (don't groan too loud)


Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

If you don't pay your exorcist you get repossessed.

When the electricity went off during a storm at a school the students were de-lighted.

She was only a whisky maker but he loved her still.

He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

Ancient orators tended to Babylon.

A pet store had a bird contest with no perches necessary.


A toothless termite walked into a tavern and said, "Is the bar tender
here?"

More at t Whimsy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Massachusetts regulators limit churches' ability to shelter homeless


Couldn't they have timed this for Christmas Day?

On December 1, new regulations by the Massachusetts boards of Building Regulations and Fire Prevention Regulations decreed that houses of worship could not shelter the homeless for more than seven consecutive days, and for no more than 35 days total between September 15 and June 15.  They must now also apply for an occupancy permit and then have inspections by the building, fire and health departments.

Other new regulations affecting churches that shelter (or are considering sheltering) homeless people, such as the necessity for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and for an occupancy plan that clearly details aisles and exits, are only common sense and are already in place in most churches.

But what is to happen when a cold snap hits and the shelters are full? And what if the cold snap is longer than seven days?   Are churches-- and homeless people-- really to wait through the often-lengthy occupancy permit process?  Are churches to turn away the homeless on the 8th day?

Some churches said they've already been turning away from directly housing the homeless, focusing instead on working in coalition with more traditional institutions and on prevention and  permanent solutions.  All of that is to the good, but need it be an either/or situation?

Springfield, Massachusetts' Warming Place shelter, when it was operating, rotated each night to a different house of worship; more than two dozen parishes and congregations participated at the program's peak.  Later the program settled down at the old York St. jail. I worked at the Warming Place in its first incarnation and found myself deeply spiritually moved by the generosity and kindness I saw toward the homeless.

Later, however, when assisting the homeless with shelter became fraught with political tension, many houses of worship fell away from this sense of mission rather than feel uncomfortable with those in power.  Others have gone on to play different, significant roles in helping the homeless; some have fallen silent.

Will churches be able to follow their conscience if it contradicts a state regulation?

The Rev. Gregory S. Dyson, pastor of Church in the Acres in Springfield, said churches that would provide shelter for the homeless are not waiting for anyone’s permission and are low-key in their approach.

“They’re sleeping one or two or three people, so it doesn’t become an issue,” he said. Springfield Republican. 
 
Rev. Dyson leads up street outreach and is also looking for more permanent solutions.  Yet in these economic times, with more and more people becoming homeless,  why create restrictions now on emergency solutions?
 
What does it mean to build an institution around Christ and yet forget these words?

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Joy of Baystate

I have a very dear friend who's been at Baystate Medical Center since the week before Christmas after taking a tumble down some stairs.  He has some underlying  health conditions and since entering Baystate he's been in a downward spiral.

Last Wednesday, when I called his room to speak to him, I was told he was in the emergency room!  Apparently Baystate had attempted to transfer him to Wingate nursing home for rehabilitative therapy, but Wingate sent him back because he hadn't moved his bowels in the six days he'd been hospitalized and they said they couldn't deal with it.  By telling the patient advocate I reached by phone that my friend had been inappropriately transfered to Wingate and I wanted to find out what was happening with him (and making sure the patient advocate checked with my friend to make sure I could have access to information),  I managed to get a callback from the head of the emergency room saying, No, he was inappropriately refused by Wingate, and that he'd spoken to  the administrator there and my friend was going to be sent back-- as soon as an ambulance was available, an unpredictable number of hours away.

Shortly after, apparently the Baystate doctors changed their minds and decided they should deal with my friend's situation in-house.  Of course his room had been given away, and he spent a miserable day in the emergency room before he could be re-admitted. After two fruitless days of enemas, laxatives and a colonoscopy, they determined that he had a bowel perforation.  (Before the treatments?  Because of the treatments?) He had emergency surgery Christmas Eve and has been fighting for his life ever since.

I hadn't meant to write all this, but it's the context for a minor thing, a very minor thing, that pushed me over the edge to anger today-- even though I didn't show it.

I went to visit my friend and found him in restraints because he's been having terrible hallucinations (the medication, the nurse told me) and had tried to remove his central line and colostomy bag.  (He's not terribly aware of what's been happening to him, but told me he hallucinated he'd been mutilated-- not far from the truth.)

Next to his bed is a dry erase board where the names of the nurse and assistants for the day are written down.  Near the bottom is the line "Expected Discharge Date" and someone had written "Not soon enough."  I called it to his nurse's attention, and we realized it was written in pen, probably by a former patient.  But I asked her to find a way to remove it lest my friend, who was constantly apologizing for any trouble he was causing,  see it and think it was directed toward him.

I know myself well enough to know that some of my anger toward Baystate, not just for my friend but also for my sister's and  my own experiences, (and I didn't write the half of it) is misdirected fear.  But why does it seem so impossible to Baystate to provide excellent medical care, excellent nursing, great supportive services and a dignified setting all at the same time?  At least one element and sometimes more has been missing every time.

Keep my friend in your prayers.

Tony Bellamy: Come and Get Your Love


Redbone's lead guitarist Tony Bellamy passed away on Christmas Day at the age of 69.  I'm sitting here listening to one of my favorite songs of all time,  "Come and Get Your Love", with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. The embedding  has been disabled, but you need to go and listen to this song right now at
YouTube.
The following press release is from the Native American Music Awards, a wonderful site where you can hear that Native American music is alive and well.


REDBONE'S TONY BELLAMY PASSES AT AGE 69


New York, NY – The Native American Music Awards (N.A.M.A.) organization is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Redbone's Anthony Bellamy, who has died on Christmas morning, December 25th, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada with his family by his side. Anthony, or Tony "T-Bone" Bellamy, who attended the 10th Annual Native American Music Awards and was inducted into the N.A.M.A. Hall of Fame with Redbone in 2008, was a Mexican-American Yaqui Indian who became the lead guitarist, pianist and vocalist for the Native American band.. He was a beloved and endearing friend of the "Nammys" since its inception, and will be greatly missed.

Redbone became established as a Native American rock group in the 1970s. They reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1974 with the hit song, "Come and Get Your Love."

Originally formed in 1969 in Los Angeles, California by brothers Patrick Vasquez (bass and vocals) and Lolly Vasquez (guitar and vocals), the name Redbone started as a joking reference to a Cajun term for a mixed-race person ("half-breed"). The band's members were of mixed blood ancestry.  According to Patrick Vasquez aka Pat Vegas, it was Jimi Hendrix who talked the musicians into forming an all-Native American rock group . The band consisted of Patrick Vasquez, Lolly Vasquez, drummer Pete DePoe and Anthony "Tony" Bellamy.

The group signed to Epic Records in 1969, and released their debut album, Redbone, in 1970. The follow-up album, Potlatch, featured the song "Alcatraz," which dealt with the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island. Their first commercially successful singles were, “Maggie,” and "Witch Queen of New Orleans" (1971) which also became a huge hit in the United Kingdom. In 1973, Redbone released the political, "We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee” which reached the #1 chart position in Europe.

By 1974, Redbone had reached the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts with "Come and Get Your Love”. The Pop/Funk/Disco song was certified Gold by the R.I.A.A for selling over one million copies and is still heard today on radio stations and commercials throughout the country. Drummer DePoe was replaced by Arturo Perez on Already Here (1972). Perez was replaced on Wovoka (1974) by Butch Rillera. (Wovoka contained the band's most successful single, "Come and Get Your Love,") In 1998 members of the group appeared as special guest performers at the inaugural Native American Music Awards and returned in 2008 as NAMA Hall of Fame inductees..

Tony Bellamy grew up in a family of dancers and musicians and learned to play the flamenco guitar as part of his musical education. Before joining the band Redbone, Tony Bellamy had performed with Dobie Gray, and a was a member of the San Francisco band, Peter and the Wolves, that evolved into the psychedelic band Moby Grape.

Born as Anthony Avila, Tony Bellamy died at age 69.

N.A.M.A. and its Advisory Board contingency would like extend their condolences to the Bellamy family. N.A.M.A. will forever honor this legendary performer who has been both a leading force in the mainstream music industry and an inspiration to the Native American community.

http://www.myspace.com/tonybellamyformerlyofRedbone


Sunday, December 27, 2009

New England's (possibly) oldest elm soon to be no more


This morning's Boston Globe tells the story of Herbie, an approximately 235 year old tree in Yarmouth, Maine, which is finally succumbing to Dutch elm disease and will be removed by the town on January 18.  The tree has had the disease for more than 50 years, but careful tending by volunteer tree warden Frank Wright, now 101 years old himself, added another six decades to the tree's life.  Now the tree's time as a tree is ending.  Read more.

The same edition of the Globe has an opinion piece about the  Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's promotion of clear-cutting in our state's forests.  I've learned a lot about clear-cutting recently, but until reading this article, I hadn't also heard that Massachusetts lost its "green certification" from the Forest Stewardship Council.  Hundreds of acres of forest have been clear-cut around the Quabbin Reservoir, which supplies Boston's water but is located here in Western Massachusetts.

Do we have to anthropomorphize trees to save them?   I don't recall ever having named a tree but I certainly have had close relationships with a number of memorable trees throughout my life.   I didn't learn to truly love them as a species until I lived in Maine and began to understand their importance.  But loving a single tree is not a bad place to start.

A hundred years ago, even in a city like Springfield, children could name their favorite climbing tree, and knew where to find apples and chestnuts.  The modest mulberry tree still thrives, but do Springfield children even know their berries can be eaten?

Photo from McPhloyd's photostream at Flickr.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Homeless Memorial Day: remember the living as well as the dead


Tonight is the longest night of the year; today more than 100 cities in the U.S. and Canada are commemorating the deaths of people who died in 2009 without a home to call their own.

If you examine homelessness deeply, you can learn to understand everything that needs to change in our country and our world.  Today, however, we can think of the individuals who have suffered, and we can think about the individual acts of kindness that can make a difference.

Remember the dead:

Most people think of warm summer vacations when they think of Hyannis, Massachusetts but tonight at 6 pm., candles will be lit for a service at the Federated Church for the nine homeless people in the Hyannis area who have died this year.  People in Hartford, Connecticut will be gathering at 5 pm. to read the names of the dead. Springfield, Massachusetts' service took place at 1 pm. today.

Remember the living:
 Annie Gafney in Colorado Springs posted an ad on Craigslist, saying she wanted to spend her birthday distributing hats and gloves to the homeless at an area tent city, and dozens responded with offers of help.    The Help Portrait movement's chapter in Denver, Colorado treated homeless people to a haircut and   shave or makeup session, and then took their pictures that people can share with family who may be far away-- a real boost to people's self-esteem.   Nichola Prested, founder of Wardrobe Refashion, organized a sewing bee to make warm clothing items for an area shelter.


Remember the dead:
 Richard Casper, only 44 years old, was found dead in a field in Macon, Georgia  last week.  The coroner said he died of "natural causes."  A homeless woman in Hoboken, New Jersey passed away recently and the  Hudson Reporter has printed a tribute and apology from a community woman who knew her and felt like the community hadn't done enough to help.  Many of the homeless people who've died this year will die alone.

Remember the living: 13 year old Andrew Mitchell was paralyzed in a drive-by shooting  seven years ago, but that's not stopping him from  collecting 100 sleeping bags and a hundred dufflebags filled with toiletries for a local tent city.   11 year old Casey Rogers in Dallas founded a charity for homeless people three years ago after seeing a homeless man rebuffed while asking for spare change.   A formerly homeless man is walking across Canada from the west to the east coast with his dog to raise awareness about homelessness.

I ask those of you who are fortunate enough to have a home this year to be kind.  What can you do to help a homeless person? 

“There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase 'to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy'. The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution”
-- Stephen R. Covey


Photo of Maria from  the Hudson Reporter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Senate unveils new health care plan


WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) - The United States Senate today unveiled details of its health care plan, tentatively called CompromiseCareTM:

-- Under CompromiseCareTM, people with no coverage will be allowed to keep their current plan.

-- Medicare will be extended to 55-year-olds as soon as they turn 65.

-- You will have access to cheap Canadian drugs if you live in Canada.

-- States whose names contain vowels will be allowed to opt out of the plan.

-- You get to choose which doctor you cannot afford to see.

-- You will not have to be pre-certified to qualify for cremation.

-- A patient will be considered "pre-existing" if he or she already exists.

-- You'll be free to choose between medications and heating fuel.

-- Patients can access quality health care if they can prove their name is "Lieberman."

-- You will have access to natural remedies, such as death.  More here.

From the Borowitz Report.  (Why have I never been to this site before?)

Photo from psyberartist's photostream at Flickr.

Violinists perform for the homeless


Lovely, sad little story by Daniel Wakin at the New York Times this morning.  Artists from the Music Kitchen bring Bach, Brahms and Appalachian tunes to overnight shelters.
The concerts have an air of authenticity and directness that sometimes does not exist in concert halls. Not all the listeners are new to classical music. One woman at a concert said the experience had been bittersweet because it brought back memories of working at the Boston Symphony Orchestra and “how much my life has changed since.
We all have something to give-- a kind word, a dozen cookies, a beloved book.  How about you?

 Photo from Jorge Franganillo's photostream at Flickr.

Cleaner air will save $50 billion in health care costs!


There's always lot of penny wise, pound foolish thinking in government.  A local example: Springfield City Council approved a construction and demolition-burning biomass plant because of the 60 jobs and unknown amount of new tax revenue.  Of course, seeing as property values near biomass plants decline up to 20%, houses' assessed value goes down and the city can collect less property taxes.  If the plant causes a decline in public health, which a number of studies say will happen, then at the least, kids are sick more, parents stay home, and there's an overall loss of productivity-- and that's the least of it.

Apparently the EPA's new director, Lisa Jackson, is not a penny wise thinker.  From Inside EPA, 12/18/09:

Inside EPA - 12/18/2009
Draft EPA Study Predicts Fivefold Boost In Benefits Of Clean Air Act Rules
EPA’s draft review of the costs and benefits of Clean Air Act programs predicts five times more benefits in 2010 of reduced mortality and sickness rates, among other benefits, compared to findings in a 1999 version of the review, which agency staff are attributing to stricter emission controls, new air rules, better data and improved pollution modeling.
The findings could provide a key defense for EPA against industry and others’ attacks on the benefits of air act rulemakings by making it harder to argue that the economic costs of tighter air rules far outweigh the health and ecological benefits of stricter emissions regulations for a wide range of industrial sectors. One agency air office staffer says that the health benefits alone “pretty much pay” for the costs of Clean Air Act regulations.
The draft findings when made final could also boost EPA’s efforts to pursue first-time air act climate regulations and other policy priorities, agency staff told a Dec. 15. meeting of the agency’s Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis technical subcommittee in Washington, DC. The panel reviewed EPA’s draft second Clean Air Act section 812 prospective analysis that weighs the costs and benefits of regulations developed under the air law.
But at least one economist is urging EPA to take a more conservative approach in its estimates of benefits to minimize critics’ ability to attack the veracity of the data -- a step the agency is unwilling to take.
EPA’s draft is only the second time since 1999 that it has conducted a study under section 812, which requires periodic agency analyses of the total costs and benefits of air act programs. EPA officials suggested the high costs and time involved mean the second study may also be the last time EPA performs a section 182 review.
The air law section at issue required the agency to perform a “retrospective” study of the costs and benefits of Clean Air Act rules between the law’s enactment in 1970 and 1990, and a “prospective” study on the anticipated costs and benefits of air programs developed under the air act amendments of 1990 through 2010.
Congress did not mandate a fresh study to update the agency’s prospective study, published in 1999, but EPA “felt there was value in considering the studies,” Jim DeMocker of EPA’s Office of Air & Radiation (OAR) told the panel.
The draft findings in the updated review estimate that based on morbidity, or sickness, alone Clean Air Act programs to cut particulate matter (PM) and ozone will save slightly more than $50 billion in health care costs by 2010, including reduced incidences of chronic asthma, respiratory illnesses, bronchitis, and other non-fatal health impacts, according to a presentation DeMocker gave. That compares to roughly $10 billion in estimated health benefits in the 1999 prospective review, the presentation shows, though this finding does not account for other factors such as mortality or lost work days. Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com.
The preliminary findings also show a similar roughly fivefold increase in the reduction rate for mortality incidences, again based solely on air programs designed to cut ozone and PM pollution. The new prospective study shows 100,000 incidences cut by 2010 compared to the 1999 findings of 23,000 reductions. A chart in the presentation that combines all possible benefits -- including morbidity, mortality, lost work days and other elements -- estimates an $800 billion benefit in air act rules by 2010, compared to the 1999 findings of more than $150 billion.
DeMocker said that agency staff attribute the increase to several factors, including “10 years of additional rulemakings, a significant increase in the number of reduction programs.” He also touted the findings as justifying EPA’s slew of air act rules, saying, “The morbidity benefits alone pretty much pay for the Clean Air Act.”
He also pointed to more extensive air monitoring data, which he says has “improved dramatically,” and more advanced benefits models. DeMocker noted that in the earlier 812 studies, EPA had “limited data” for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and so was required to derive the benefits of PM2.5 rules from coarse particulate matter cost estimates. “We don’t know how much that is contributing to the difference,” DeMocker said.
DeMocker said that for EPA’s purposes, “one benefit of the 812 study” is that the agency can ask experts to review its benefits analysis methodology -- something that can draw criticism for inaccuracy.
OAR’s Bryan Hubbell said that the more feedback the subcommittee gives the agency on its regulatory impact analyses (RIAs), “the more helpful it is, because no doubt, RIAs will be challenged within and without the administration.” External review by experts improves agency methodology and gives it a better defense to those challenges, Hubbell said. “These are economy-changing rules, [for example, on] climate,” he added.
At least one economist at the meeting urged EPA to be more conservative in its estimates of the benefits from its Clean Air Act rules in order to shield the agency from criticism of overestimating the benefits.
Arden Pope, of the Department of Economics at Utah’s Brigham Young University, said at the subcommittee meeting, “I do think we are overestimating these effects,” as EPA has not properly accounted for the interrelationship between different risk factors, and is overstating risks by examining them individually.
EPA staff at the meeting however rejected the suggestion to make the estimates more conservative, saying that the benefits data is the most accurate available, and the methodology underlying it must also serve for other similar work. And subcommittee Chairman John Bailer of the National Academies said what EPA has done is “rationally and readily defensible,” and “I have a pretty good feeling” about the figures in the draft studies.
Members of the subcommittee generally expressed satisfaction with EPA’s methods and data choices, and backed the validity of the agency’s human health effects analysis. However, committee members asked EPA to look into several issues further and include mention of them in the section 812 study, at least qualitatively.
For example, panel members questioned why EPA had focused only on PM and ozone pollution in the studies, excluding other regulated pollutants. They also questioned whether the agency’s estimate of the number of workdays lost due to ozone’s health effects on children was accurate, given its emphasis on lost schooldays -- and hence parents’ workdays -- rather than other factors, such as absence from daycare centers.
They also suggested that EPA’s computer modeling should not use a threshold below which ozone can be assumed to have no adverse health impacts. While certain studies suggest that individuals may indeed have such a threshold, committee members noted that it is not possible to define one on a population-wide basis for regulatory purposes.
The panel urged EPA to clarify the assumptions and uncertainties underlying its benefits analysis, especially where computer modeling is concerned. EPA agreed to provide greater explanation of these issues in its final document. The panel’s review will be considered by the full Advisory Council on Clean Air Compliance Analysis, along with the comments of its other technical panels on additional aspects of the section 812 study for review late next summer. EPA staff say they are aiming to issue a final document by November 2010.
The two prospective cost-benefit reports compare the benefits of reducing emissions of the criteria pollutants listed in the air act, including PM, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide under two scenarios.
The first scenario estimates benefits of reduced emissions as the result of “expected or likely future measures implemented since 1990 to comply with rules promulgated [by EPA] through September 2005,” according to the draft second prospective. The second scenario estimates benefits if the 1990 air act amendments were not passed and emissions controls were frozen at their 1990 levels but population and economic growth continues.
DeMocker noted that the first 812 prospective study “was tremendously useful in changing the the general perception” of the Clean Air Act. It is this prospective study which OAR now believes underestimated for at least the year 2010 the benefits of many of the air act rules that have been implemented since 1990, when compared to the benefits estimates calculated in the second prospective for 2010, the only year the two prospective studies overlap.
Still, DeMocker said the study is “probably the last integrated overall 812 analysis,” prompting Hubbell to tell the subcommittee that its roles would not diminish once the second prospective study is complete, because they will be reviewing EPA’s analyses of the agency’s pending Clean Air Act greenhouse gas regulations.
An agency source explains that a decision to pursue a third prospective study -- or not -- is yet to be made, but points to the large costs and long time required to perform the analyses as a key factor in the decision. “If the modeling tools become nimble and cost-effective enough, maybe,” the source says. “Or if new policy questions arrive through this particular process. That could relate to climate change or new efforts to re-authorize the clean air act.”
The source adds that existing modeling tools do not allow agency staff to “disaggregate” or break out the costs and benefits by industrial sector and by pollutant, which would provide more specific data. -- Maria Hegstad & Stuart Parker

Photo from {Auro's} photostream at Flickr.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

500 million households cook over an open fire


Want to see the climate change calendar set back by a decade or two?  And at a cost of only $15 billion?

Wired magazine reports that those households could use "clean stoves," at a cost of only $30 each.  Open fires produce black carbon.  Black carbon is thought to be responsible for nearl half of the 3.4 degree temperature increase in the Arctic since 1890.

It's not always the "big ideas" that can make a big difference.

Photo from Wayne Dixon Photography's photostream at Flickr.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Homeless children walk the streets in Grand Junction


3,000 families are homeless in Massachusetts. 1,015 of them are living in motels-- that's up from 640 in February. Life isn't easy for homeless families in our state, but at least children aren't walking around in the cold in the daytime, unlike the homeless children in Grand Junction, Colorado.

The family shelter there is only an overnight shelter-- at 8 am. in the morning, you get the boot-- and the day center won't allow children anymore. Granted, mixing children in with homeless adults isn't the greatest idea, especially when the increasing number of laws that regulate where sex offenders live are forcing them into the shelter system.


But it's better than freezing.

You can do something about it! Change.org has has a petition to the Mayor of Grand Junction, asking him to find a solution. Homeless families simply have to have somewhere to go. Take a minute and sign the petition. The more people that know about this, the more likely it will change.

WMA Biomass opponents challenge study's impartiality

Last Friday, Springfield area residents got some good news.  According to a press release from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs,  
Secretary Bowles announced that he has directed MassDEP to suspend review of permit applications for facilities proposing to use construction and demolition materials (C&D) as fuel for energy generation, including the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy facility, until a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impacts of using such materials is completed.. This assessment will include a review of potential for emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants related to C&D, an analysis of level of contaminants commonly found in C&D feedstocks, and a review of the most effective means for minimizing, sampling and monitoring of toxics and other contaminants of concern in these feedstocks. Further, the Secretary has directed MassDEP, in coordination with the state Department of Public Health (DPH), to conduct a review of the potential public health impacts associated with the combustion C&D. 
 What this all means and how we can make sure the study hits all the right bases is the subject for another post.  But biomass opponents in Russell and Greenfield got no such breather.  The following is a press release sent out yesterday:     

 MASSACHUSETTS WOOD BURNING BIOMASS PLANTS ARE STILL BEING PERMITTED
Concerned Citizens of Russell, Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign and Massachusetts Forest Watch and the will hold a press conference on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 5:30 pm in the Rear Parking Lot of the Holiday Inn at 245 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke, MA (Off of I-91, just north of Mass Pike and near the Ingleside Mall) .

 This press conference is in response to the “Massachusetts Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy” study commissioned by the Department of Energy Resources.  Consultants for the state-sponsored study will hold a meeting inside the hotel from 6:30 – 8:30 P.M.

Conference sponsors are alerting the public to misleading media reports that give the impression that wood burning biomass power plants are ‘on hold’ in Massachusetts.   While the Springfield Biomass power plant’s permits to burn construction and demolition debris are on hold pending a health study, the Russell Biomass and Greenfield Biomass plants are proceeding full steam ahead, with Russell Biomass intending to begin construction in 2010.  Both Russell and Greenfield would burn millions of trees annually and could eventually be converted to burning trash and/or construction and demolition debris as has happened elsewhere.
The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has placed a one year moratorium on statements of qualification for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) while the Manomet study is completed.


“This suspension is meaningless,” said Jana Chicoine, spokesperson of the Concerned Citizens of Russell, “The developers don't need those credits until after construction is completed, and that would be years from now. Russell Biomass is full steam ahead with many things in play. They are still getting key support from the state,” she said, citing a recent decision of the Department of Public Utilities favoring Russell Biomass.


According to critics, the study has been framed as “how much” to burn rather than examining the wisdom of increased cutting and burning forests.  They say there is no need to waste taxpayer money studying the “sustainability” of biomass power production when it is already known to be worse than coal for carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming and just as dirty as coal for air pollutants that cause cancer and asthma.
 
Chris Matera from Massachusetts Forest Watch commented,   “We already know that increasing logging and burning will negatively affect the forest, air quality, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, so we do not need to spend $100,000 taxpayer dollars for a study designed to convince citizens that water runs up hill.  Instead of studying how many millions of dollars we should spend burning how many millions of trees in dirty wood burning biomass plants, we should use the money to create truly clean energy jobs such as installing solar panels and insulating homes.”  
  
Meg Sheehan Chair of the Stop Spewing Carbon Campaign agrees. “Over 103,000 voters signed our petition to stop biomass burning and they want to get rid of these plants now.   They don’t want more studies.  Using voter’s money to study incinerators that burn trees is just a political move to lull the public into thinking the state is doing something.  The incriminating facts already show that this is dirty energy.  The Patrick administration is still pushing full steam ahead by continuing to permit the Russell and Greenfield plants even though voters have sent a strong message they don’t want the plants.”


Critics also say the wood “sustainability” study will not be unbiased because the three main consultants to the Manomet study, The Pinchot Institute ( www.pinchot.org/bioenergy) , the Forest Guild ( www.forestguild.org/biomass.html) and the Biomass Energy Resource Center  ( www.biomasscenter.org/services/technical-services/biomass-resource-supply-services.html ) are all proponents of wood burning biomass energy plants.


Additionally, the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences has ties to the timber industry as the advisory board of the Center’s Forest Conservation Program is chaired by Roger Milliken Jr., CEO of a large commercial timber company and former chairman of the Maine Forest Products Council, lobbyist for the Maine timber industry.


“This is a common sense issue,” said Matera of Massachusetts Forest Watch.  “At a time of polluted skies, a carbon overloaded atmosphere and stressed forests, it is pure folly to force taxpayers to subsidize more cutting and burning of forests.”

Photo from Yuyiyuyi's photostream at Flickr.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Calling all bloggers: blog for Homeless Memorial Day

December 21st, the longest night of the year, will mark the 19th Annual Homeless Persons Memorial Day, and I'm asking fellow bloggers to help spread the word about this national tragedy by joining Bloggers Unite and posting about homelessness on December 21st. You can put a badge on your site or just post-- but please participate.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has an organizing manual that talks about the more than 3,200 homeless people who died last year without a roof over their heads.  You can see what some of last year's participating cities have done and and decide how you can help.

Let me give a shout-out to Bloggers Unite and urge fellow bloggers to get involved.  From their website:

Bloggers Unite is a community that cares.

Bloggers Unite is an attempt to harness the power of the blogosphere to make the world a better place. By asking bloggers to write about a particular subject on 1 day of the month, a single voice can be joined with thousands to help make a difference; from raising awareness for cancer, to an effort to better education systems or supporting 3rd world countries.

How It All Began

Back in early 2007 Antony Berkman was the CEO of BlogCatalog.com, a social network and blog directory whose mission was to deliver the most amazing collection of bloggers to the type of audience who love and crave new blogs. With BlogCatalog designer Oscar Tijerina and his brother, programmer Daniel Tijerina, Berkman began working on an idea to use the large network of bloggers for a force of good. The idea was simple, the BlogCatalog team would pick a topic and ask bloggers to participate on a single day to raise awareness about a particular cause. Within a week the BlogCatalog team began creating a landing page and organizing the very first Bloggers Unite Challenge.
On July 18th 2007 the Donor Awareness Campaign became the very first attempt at using the blogosphere to collectively spread the word about a topic for the good of mankind. Seven campaigns and a year and a half later bloggersunite.org was launched to help spread the word even further.
Today, BloggersUnite continues to branch out, giving any user the resources to create and manage a campaign of their own no matter how big or small. We believe that no cause should go unnoticed and we strive to help bloggers find new and exciting ways to use the blogosphere for good because together, we CAN make a difference.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Human Rights Day - what does it mean?


Sixty one years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global declaration of human rights ever made.  The United States has only ratified three of the nine core human right treaties stemming from the Declaration,  which doesn't mean as much as it might seem, seeing as many of the signatories were then and still continue to be major violators of human rights.  But the U.S. is where I've lived all my life, and is truly the only place in the world where I understand what I see and where my life might make a difference.

Tonight I was sitting in my car, drinking coffee and waiting for a building to open its doors for a meeting.  It was finally cold outside, almost a relief, with the inch of snow from yesterday still crisp on the ground.  Across the street, I watched people leave the local market singly and in small groups, carrying white plastic bags filled with food.  Heads down, they were walking toward home.

Most of them were not dressed very warmly.  Maybe they'd been caught unawares of the weather.  But at least they had food to carry.  Whether that food was nourishing or enough was a different question.

Of the people passing, I knew that some were just leaving work and stopping at the market on the way home.  Some were receiving public assistance.  The very old woman who walked by was eligible for Social Security.  Given I was in a poor neighborhood, a majority probably paid for a portion of their purchase with food stamps.   Most but not all were people of color.

There are days when I really celebrate the life force that shines through in people, who get by somehow or other and find joy in being alive despite all adversity. On others days I see how adversity slowly wears away the human spirit and narrows  the window of hope  to a distant sliver of light.

I believe that everyone has a use and a talent,  and that poverty is like a cloud without moisture that hangs over the seeds of our becoming.  Without food, shelter, clothing, meaningful work, health care, education and civil liberties, we cannot fully become ourselves and we cannot create a truly healthy community.  But even so...we survive.

PREAMBLE

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,


Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,


Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,


Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,


Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,


Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTSas a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Photo from Isado's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Biomass" incinerators: where we stand right now in Springfield and Western Mass


I've been flat out the last three weeks organizing against the proposed "biomass" incinerator being planned for Springfield by Palmer Renewable Energy with not even any time to blog.  Fortunately, other bloggers have stepped up and covered recent events, so I'm going to give a quick overview of what's been happening, link to those stories, and try to give an idea of where we opponents of the incinerator, who call ourselves Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield,  need to go now.  For a refresher in why I and so many other oppose this plant, see this post.

On November 18, at our request, the Springfield Public Health Council turned the entirety of its regular meeting over to testimony from opponents as to why PRE's proposal is a threat to our community's health. Even though we'd done a lot of outreach for this meeting, I was still astounded to see more than a hundred people, the majority of whom I didn't recognize, come out to learn more.  The Springfield Institute videotaped much of the hearing, including a power point presentation by Mass. Environmental Energy Alliance's Mary Booth, and has links to much of the written testimony that was submitted both to the Public Health Council and also to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as it was the last day to submit written comment of PRE's Beneficial Use Determination permit.  Springfield Intruder's Bill Dusty also attended this hearing and his post covers some of the history of the forward movement of this plant.

The Public Health Council had already told us that they wanted to hear both sides of the story, and would be hearing from PRE developers on December 1.  Some of our members made that meeting, but most of us were focused on the December 2 air permitting hearing that DEP was having the next day at Kennedy Middle School.  The deadline for submitting comments was, at that time, Friday, December 4.

I met briefly with Vic Gatto, PRE's founder and chief operating officer, on December 1.  I wanted to know if PRE was willing to do a Health Impact Assessment, as called for by the Mass. Department of Public Health, before moving ahead.  Mr. Gatto indicated some willingness to underwrite the study, but suggested Epsilon Associates (the business that did such a poor job of outreach for the plant) and said he was NOT willing to subject himself to the regulations of another state agency, meaning DPH.  I left that meeting feeling that if PRE chose the company to do the health impact assessment, the assessment would be meaningless.



At the December 2 air permitting hearing, I found myself once again astounded by the turnout of area residents.  Some 300 people packed the school's auditorium!  The developers were included among that 300, but oddly, no one from PRE spoke in the plant's defense (no one spoke on behalf of the plant at all).  I must say that that concerned me-- did the developers feel their testimony was unnecessary in order for them to receive their needed permits?  So many people had such excellent comments that I won't even give a sampling, but my ears did perk up when Tim Allen, city councilor-elect and chair of the Springfield Public Health Council, said that the council would be making a decision about the testimony it's taken next week.  Blogger Tony Mateus has covered the hearing very well in his post at In The Valley.

At the hearing,  DEP announced that they had extended the comment period for the air permit until December 18This is important.  Anyone who wants to submit comments can still do so by emailing marc.simpson@state.ma.us.(although on DEP's website, the deadline is still listed at the 4th).

The next day, Thursday, December 5, I called Dave Howland at DEP and was told the very good news that permits for Palmer Renewable Energy were on hold!  Apparently enough questions have been raised about the possible health effects of PRE on our community that DEP wants to see them answered, and believes there needs to be a thorough study.  I expressed some concern that PRE would choose a consultant that was already on their side.  Mr. Howland said he thought thet DEP and PRE needed to take their sense of direction from the Mass. Department of Public Health.  Although DPH would not be the ones doing the study, they certainly know who is qualified to do so.  When I asked how long the permits would be on hold, Mr. Howland said several months at least, "unless PRE is a miracle worker"  and finds a way to answer DEP's questions very quickly.

Also on that same day, The Springfield Republican announced that 5 proposed ballot questions were likely to appear on the ballot next November.  One of those questions, by the organization Stop Spewing Carbon, would set the bar for carbon emissions low enough that biomass plants could not be considered renewable and would therefore not be eligible for Renewable Energy Certificates, making it unfeasible for many of these proposed plants to operate.

What I find very interesting is that on the day before the ballot question announcement, the Mass. Department of Energy Resources let biomass energy stakeholders and the general public know that all applications for these Renewable Energy Certificates were on hold until  a study being done by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, which was commissioned by DOER to study the sustainability of biomass incinerators in Massachusetts, could be completed and evaluated.  Now, we can put this into the "Let's head them off at the pass and defuse the opposition" category or the "great minds think alike" category, but it doesn't really matter, because it's a good thing that the state is asking itself these questions.

BUT HERE'S WHAT'S ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING: When the Springfield Republican's reporter Stan Freeman covered this story, he said that it was a moratorium on biomass!  That is completely incorrect!  His first paragraph:  "The state has formally suspended consideration of any applications to build new biomass plants, including proposals for Springfield, Russell and Greenfield, pending a study of whether energy from the power plants is truly renewable." is wrong, wrong, wrong!  Only the Renewable Energy Certificates have been suspended, and only for the length of time needed to complete and evaluate Manomet's study.  Biomass incinerators are free to continue seeking and obtaining local and state permits for their projects, and if they don't need Renewable Energy Certificates (which are financial incentives) to operate, then this suspension of RECs won't affect them at all.  Palmer hasn't even applied for them.  Mary Serreze at Northampton Media gives a good overview of DOER's announcement.

I'm hoping Stan Freeman will see fit to correct this story.  Meanwhile, I have to give a shout-out here for the local weeklies, the Springfield Reminder, Chicopee Register and Ludlow Register.   These papers have really helped get the word out to area residents about PRE's incinerator.  (The Valley Advocate has been completely missing in action and hasn't returned my phone call about why.) 

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield is meeting again this Tuesday to figure out our next steps.  I'm hoping we'll feel as if we can proceed at a somewhat less hectic pace through December, but we'll see.

Photos from the Springfield Institute and In The Valley. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Miss Lizzie passes away


Lizzie Jenkins, who's been a senior aide with both Arise and Mass. Senior Action, has passed away.  When she didn't come in to work yesterday and today, Arise members were alarmed enough to go to her house and call the police.  Apparently she passed away in her sleep on an unknown day, because Arise was closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving and her taking Friday off was not considered unusual.


Last week, when I saw her for the last time (but didn't know it), she told me she'd just finished taking a computer course!  She made sweet potato pies for my house and Liz's house and gave them to us on Tuesday.  I was planning to give her this picture for Christmas and of course now I'm sorry I waited.

Miss Lizzie just loved Mrs. Clinton, as she called Hilary, and really wanted her to become President, but after Barak Obama won the nomination, it wasn't difficult for her to switch her allegiance.

I will miss her.  The Senior Aide program likes to move people to a new agency after one year, but we just kept shifting her from Arise, to AFSC, to Mass Senior Action and back again so we could keep her.  Now we will have to keep her in our hearts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I have great daughters and a great granddaughter!



My daughter Jess just updated her blog and I'm going to take this opportunity, before turning to more serious things,  to remark that both of my daughters and my granddaughter have blogs.  Jessie's blog came about after she discovered a trove of old writings she did as a kid, including an advice column she wrote at age 13 on an old Smith-Corona typewriter-- this is pre-spellcheck days, mind you.  (I strongly discouraged her from throwing her childhood writings away, and still have a bunch of stuff I rescued from the trash.) She now works in a field where a high degree of literacy is an absolute requirement.




Emily's blog is part of the website for her community acupuncture business in Worcester, River Valley Acupuncture. (I've still got all your old sticker books, Emily.)  Her goal is to make acupuncture affordable for regular folks and she uses her blog to share information and dispel myths about acupuncture.

Melody's blog, which she isn't keeping up right now, is about her trip to Brazil this summer to study Brazilian art songs.  Her post about her master class had me on pins and needles. I'd like to see her turn it into an article, but she's in her last year at UNH and has plenty to keep her busy.

My kids grew up surrounded by books and are all vociferous readers.  Therefore, they are all good writers!  I feel bad for so many of today's kids, who don't know what it's like to be transported to another world without the aid of a computer screen.
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Althsuler

Photo is Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of Night Flight, Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Seven reasons to oppose a toxic incinerator in Springfield.

Palmer Renewable Energy’s proposal to build an electricity-generating biomass plant in Springfield, Massachusetts is moving very quickly, now—the developers need two more permits and then they get the green light.

I myself refuse to call PRE’s proposal a biomass plant: it’s a construction and demolition wood-burning incinerator that will provide a few jobs, create a little electricity, and degrade and pollute our community.  What a trade-off!

Some of us, in a new group called Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, have been working very hard to stop PRE from going ahead.  We need a lot more help because time is so short.  But I will say that I haven’t talked to a single person who, once he or she knows about the plant, is in favor of it, although I’m sure there are some, especially where potential financial benefits may exist—a job, for example, or a neighborhood improvement project.  Well, times are tough and I can’t blame them.  They’re not the one who will be making the big bucks from this project.

The Springfield Public Health Council is concerned enough about the health threats of this incinerator to dedicate their next meeting, this Wednesday, November 18, to hearing concerns. The meeting will start at 6 pm. at the Pine Point Citizens Council, 335 Berkshire Ave.  It’s an open meeting and I hope that people will take this opportunity to learn more .

Then, on Wednesday, December 2nd, the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection will be holding a public hearing on whether to grant PRE an air permit.  This is folks’ chance to hear what PRE has to say, to hear the concerns of Springfield’s residents, and to ask questions.  The meeting starts at 7 pm. at  Kennedy Middle School, 1385 Berkshire Ave.

Air is no respecter of town and county borders.  Here are seven reasons residents of the Pioneer Valley should be against PRE’s proposal.

  1. WE’RE HEALTH-STRESSED ENOUGH ALREADY.  We live in the Pioneer Valley, where air is often trapped like an inverted bowl-- and PRE’s proposed incinerator is only one of five being planned for Western Mass.
 Almost half the population of Hampden County is already considered at risk from the effects of air pollution. Our childhood asthma rate is 50% higher than the state average.  The American Lung Association gives our county an F based on smog and short and year round levels of fine particulate matter (FPM), of which there are no “safe” levels.  Why would we want to make things worse than they already are?

Our children have blood lead levels about twice the state average; PRE’s incinerator will send another ton of lead into the air. Chromium, mercury, dioxin, arsenic, nickel, cadmium, manganese, antimony, beryllium, cobalt, selenium will also be emitted by this plant, all within “safe” levels.  Exposure to pollutants is linked not only to poor health and sometimes fatalities but also to a decline in I.Q.

  1. THE REGULATIONS DON’T PROTECT US.  Somehow the projected emission levels came in just below the threshold that would have required a full environmental impact review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.  Even assuming that the state regulations that apply to this plant can be met, each of the five wood-burning plants proposed for Western Mass. is judged separately—combined impacts are not taken into account.  Emissions from the machines that will run the plant and emissions from the 160 trucks delivering 900 tons of fuel each day aren’t counted in emission totals, either.
 We’re guinea pigs for the rest of the state.

  1. THE PLANT EMISSIONS MONITORING SYSTEM IS FULL OF HOLES. PRE’s fuel will come from third parties that want to sell their fuel and have every incentive to bend the rules.  No one will know on any given day what is being burned; there’s no stack monitoring of toxins and no real-time third-party testing of what comes out of the smokestack.
  1. THE GOVERNMENT HAS NOT BEEN PLAYING FAIR WITH US.  Springfield’s Planning Dept. presented PRE’s proposal to City Council as a “recycling plant” when PRE sought a zone change.  The state defined Springfield as an “Environmental Justice Community” and then didn’t follow its own guidelines for informing the public so we could have real and timely input. 

  1. PROPERTY VALUES AND OUR QUALITY OF LIFE WILL DECLINE.  More trucks, more traffic, more pollution, more noise and a smokestack as high as the city’s landmark Campanile, will, as in other communities lead to a decline in property values estimated by some realtors as up to 20%.          
  1. THE PLANT IS A WASTE OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY.  Without huge state and federal subsidies, this plant would not have been feasible.  All five proposed plants will meet only 1% of the state’s energy needs.  If we subsidized weatherization and conservation instead, we could reduce our need for energy by far more than 1%.
  1. BURNING WOOD FOR FUEL TAKES US BACK TO THE CAVEMAN DAYS.  We banned new incinerators in Massachusetts 20 years ago and with good reason.  Burning wood creates pollution! Trees don’t grow as fast as we can burn them, so they can’t be carbon-neutral. The planet is in trouble and wood-burning incinerators will only make things worse.
 It’s not too late to make a difference.  You can join our group.  (Check out our website at Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.) You can pass out flyers.  You can let our elected officials know how you feel.  Start by calling your new ward councilors; some are already opposed.  Call your state senators and representative.  Then make three more calls: to Gov. Deval Patrick at 888-870-7770, DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt at 617-292-5500, and Secretary Ian Bowles of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs at 617-626-1000.  Tell them: no toxic incinerators in Springfield—or anywhere else in Massachusetts!