Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Kingfishers of Alabama's Mainstream Newspapers

**Updated Thursday pm
In an archived article from Harper's Magazine the problems with Alabama's newspapers is spelled out in pointed language--they are too close to the state's "political powers that be" to function as true news sources and in actuality they're nothing more than the daily platforms of special interests and political operatives.

Nothing's changed from 2007 to the present which makes the Harper's article still relevant today.

Whether it is environmental issues, political ethics issues (often these two are joined at the hip) or simply "general news" nothing seems to go into print without sanitation and outside influence directing the content and the overall theme of  "news stories."

That makes our job at the Confidential even more difficult in attaining accurate information on Alabama environmental issues to deliver to our readers--but we are not without alternate sources to get at the real story despite the concerted efforts of Alabama's newspapers to under-report items of interest to the general public's welfare and right to know.

The long-standing history of collusion and influence in Alabama's press is worthy of some discussion in our opinion.

As we have said before, news organizations have an obligation to their readers to present the news fairly and accurately without hidden agendas and special interests sway of their coverage. Time and time again Alabama's press ignores that basic tenet of professional journalism and continually resists disengaging themselves from certain established political and corporate powers that dominate Alabama.

From the Harper's article "All the King's Men Reloaded";
The major papers in the state (three of which are owned by the same company, S.I. Newhouse’s Advance Publications—though the Newhouse family is famous for letting former local owners continue to run the show even after acquiring them) have the outward appearance of newspapers, with the requisite supply of paper, news ink and photographs. But when you look into their coverage of local politics generally, you quickly get the sense that there’s something extremely foul afoot. They have a very sharply focused political agenda. It not only affects their call about what is and isn’t news; it creeps right into the coverage of the news they report.

The bottom line is that these papers have an amazingly warm and cozy relationship with the current political powers-that-be in the state. I have no idea what they get out of this relationship, but on matters such as this I am far too cynical to think that they’d engage in such reputation-damaging factual contortions without very strong incentives.
The Birmingham News hired a new publisher not long ago and the Birmingham Business Alliance [BBA] welcomed her warmly with an invitation only reception in her honor:
Fom: Birmingham Business Alliance [mailto:laura@birminghambusinessalliance.ccsend.com]  
On Behalf Of Birmingham Business Alliance
Sent: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:37 AM
Subject: RESENDING: BBA working new business investments totaling $1 billion

From the Birmingham Business Alliance's own newsletter----

BBA to welcome Birmingham News Publisher Pam Siddall

Thanks to the sponsorship of Trinity Medical Center, the BBA is hosting a CEO Welcome Reception honoring Pam Siddall, the new publisher of The Birmingham News. This event is an exclusive, by invitation only affair for investors on the Chairman’s Circle, Board of Trustees and members of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee.

"Invitation only affair, exclusive."

We do understand the surface implication of why the BBA did this and don't find it unethical that they would welcome Ms. Siddall to the community. Where we find fault with it is when we look at the history of the BBA and the controversial projects they have proposed in Jefferson County that often require the county to "put up" money in one form or another to help the obscenely wealthy corporations that make up this alliance fund their own projects. The winner in this twisted relationship is always the corporations (along with their political operatives) and we think that is against the basic concept of business--that successful ventures rise and fall based on their own abilities not bailouts and propping up from funding borne by the taxpayers and municipalities.

**And here's the Birmingham News allowing one its business writers to openly attack a commenter (a citizen) in a recent column who does not fall in line with his ideal and that of the BBA's "Blueprint Birmingham";
This is what has held back the Birmingham region forever: People criticize, blast, naysay and rip a plan when they haven't even read it, or at least read it closely. Clearly Sasquat hasn't, or he wouldn't make the claims he's making, unless he's just being dishonest. But that's OK. There will be these loud do-nothings out there.
That business writer is certainly allowed his opinion but doesn't it send the message that the News condones unleashing it's dogs on those who dare to have their own opinions and question the BBA's proposal? Doesn't the acerbic and insulting attitude of the News writer serve to discourage rather than encourage free and open debate on the issue, thereby sending a signal to all of its readers that if they disagree with the "message" prepare to be made a public target by the News?

When you have a major newspaper to "carry your water" then the unsavory relationship of tilted propaganda and active suppression of all sides of the issues begins-- unbiased reporting is not possible in this  incestuous atmosphere between the press and special interests.
No doubt you once read Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and remember how the Kingfish managed newspapermen.
Some traditions are slow to die in the Southland. And the danger is, of course, that many people down in Alabama don’t realize that what they’re getting served up as news doesn’t pass minimal professional standards. On the other hand, the other issue is all the news that the publishers suppress because they’re concerned that it will harm the powers-that-be. 
The Birmingham News should have a recorded message for callers to its offices that goes something like this:
"You have reached the offices of the Birmingham News...press "one" for our department of ignoring news we don't like...press "two" for our department of making stuff up.."three" for the BBA and any other number for BARD."
There's an old saying that goes "never pick a fight with a guy who buys ink by the barrel." Maybe that's true, but in the age of the Internet that long-standing uneven playing field has become more level. When there's a questionable alliance of interests, which we submit this ongoing relationship between the Alabama Press and big business is, the media should expect some fight picking from the Confidential along with a myriad of bloggers and independent papers who refuse to accept the status quo any longer.

So say we the Opinion Board of the Vincent Alabama Confidential

**Editor's note--The Birmingham Business Journal ran a 2009 article about the Trinity Hospital move that took a tone far outside of their normal pro-business to a fault purview and scrutinized this project, raising questions about the political involvement (Governor Riley) at play here. Shocking, but appreciated, however, the Kingfisher News never followed suit and as far as we know nothing like that ever ran again.
*"500 years of news reporting walked out the door in 2 years"
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cement Industry "Thanks" Dr. Robert Bentley With Huge Donations One Day After Endorsement of Elevated Highway 280 Project

 **Post updated September 29 Wednesday morning, see conclusion
The Alabama's Governor's race illustrates the strange bedfellows of toxic industry and good medicine. The Republican Physician candidate who apparently does not understand one of the fundamental principles of the Hippocratic Oath "to abstain from doing harm."  
Do you think they'll call me a 'hippocratic'?
 Dr. Dr. Bentley's large donations from the cement industry, which is one of the most egregious violators of the environment and is responsible for significant dangerous emissions, seems to fly in the face of what an ethical medical doctor would do.
On August 11, 2010 the Birmingham News ran a story entitled: "Robert Bentley Supports Elevated Toll Road For US 280"

This project is highly controversial for a myriad of reasons, some of which we have covered previously, but it will be a boom to the cement industry, along with big business and other corporate special interests, many of whom are BARD members who are eager to have their depleted finances from the nationwide economic downturn replenished.

Bentley is only too eager to prescribe the medicine they seek.

The campaign contribution records for Dr. Bentley show that the very next day, August 12, 2010, that two very large contributions were recorded from Cemex and American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA).

CEMEX Inc, Employees PAC 920 Memorial City Way STE. 100 Houston, Texas 77024  amount: $25,000.00
ACPA Southeast Chapter (American Concrete Pavement Association) 1745 Platt Place  Montgomery, Alabama 36177  amount: $50,000.00
A third large donation from a company that may stand to benefit from the elevated Highway 280 project:
Eddie Lumpkin (Lumpkin Development LLC) 3020 Mt. Brook Pkwy. Bham, Ala. 35223  amount: $10,000.00
And this one from Mississippi's Governor Haley Barbour's own PAC, not from a Republican PAC which would be expected: 
(What's Mr. Big Oil and Gas doing messing around in the Alabama Governor's race for anyway?)
Haley's PAC (Barbour) P. O. Box 1186 Jackson, Mississippi 39215  amount: $2,500.00
That's a real quick $87,500.00 one day after Dr. Bentley announced his support for the highway.

Does it look like he may have been paid for his public endorsement? Reader decide.

**Note: Readers have alerted us that the above link to Bentley's recent filings is going to a "Forbidden--you don't have authorization to access this server"
Interesting as it was working before and they're public records, no matter, here they are:
Bentley Campaign Records
Birmingham, Alabama is buzzing with a series of "projects" allegedly intended to "boost the region's economy and provide much need jobs." (Dr. Bentley's own television spots show what looks like a Cement and Road Building industry promo clip when Bentley touts jobs.) All of these projects have a few things in common, corporate welfare in the form of federal and local taxpayer's money, expenditures of billions of dollars to realize the usual suspects "visions for Alabama" and massive political pressure from BARD members and their allies.

We cannot think of anything BARD and their ilk have been involved in that has resulted in something positive for the environment and productive for Alabama's communities and citizens. Everything they push moves them ahead and leaves Alabama behind. Not too mention "holding the bag," which is empty by the time the fleecing ends and it's too late to get the money back or undo the environmental assaults.

PACs and PAC to PAC contributions are the bane of the political process, and they enable co-opting of elections by special interests by giving them the ability to create a maze of an an almost unnavigable trail of where the money came from, but it's not impossible if you know who and what gives to certain PACs.

Dr. Bentley has become the newest Mule in BARDs stable evidenced by his campaign contribution records from a September 27, 2010 Birmingham News article;:
Business, medical, construction and development interests have poured money into the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Robert Bentley...
Of the $3.3 million Bentley raised since the runoff, his largest contribution came from the Republican Party of Alabama PAC, which put in $435,000 drawn from businesses, other PACs, individuals and other Republican candidates.(We are in the process of recording and detailing the specific PACs tied to Stephen Bradley the creator of BARD and will present that information soon)
PACs operated by Tuscaloosa's Ryan deGraffenried III, which took in money from a variety of businesses including construction and paving, contributed $130,000 to the Bentley campaign. The same amount came from the constellation of business-oriented PACs operated by Montgomery lobby firm *Fine Geddie.(Joe Fine is one of eleven indicted in the gambling probe by the DOJ.)
Montgomery lobbyist Clark Richardson distributed $64,000 from his clients and $50,000 came from PACs operated by Birmingham governmental affairs consultant Steve Bradley.
Trucking industry PACs gave $50,000 to Bentley.
PACs related to the construction and road-building industry gave heavily to Bentley, including $80,000 from cement producers PACS; $50,000 from the Alabama Builder's PAC and $47,000 from the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC. PACs related to the coal industry gave Bentley $31,000.
Of contributions to Bentley $1,000 or greater, $267,500 came from businesses, $979,683 came from individuals and $1.4 million came from PACs. 
This man ran on a platform of a people's candidate when he was facing the Republican challenger for the gubernatorial nomination. BARD and big business were heavy backers of Bentley's opponent. Once Bentley won, he quickly morphed into part of the big business machine that had favored his challenger against him. With a little help from Mike Huckabee.

We would like to know why a Doctor would align himself with big business industries that are so detrimental to people's health and the environment. We would also like to know why a man who presents himself as ethical and claims he will "clean up the corruption in Montgomery" has accepted the big money from certain groups that seem to be the antithesis of ethics based on their behavior in Alabama.

It's bad medicine anyway you look at it.

We were contacted in regards to Dr. Bentley's appearance on a local radio show this morning which involved a Q & A call in segment.
Dr. Bentley talked about his disdain for special interests, their lobbyists, conflicts of interests of legislators and the problem of PACs, along with his continued prominent push for road building as an answer to Alabama's economic and employment woes. Bentley's quote on special interests: "Special interests in general have too much interest. The greatest detriment to government is the lobbyists of special interests groups."
A caller questioned Dr. Bentley about his road building position and pointed out that on that same host's radio show a local, respected by the business community economist had denounced the claims of road building to "stimulate the economy and create sustainable jobs." The caller went on to ask Bentley why he was accepting so much money from the same special interest groups that his opponent in the run off election was heavily criticized for.
Dr. Bentley replied with; "I know the people I have taken money from and I am not ashamed of it. They're fine organizations. We had to get our message out (implying that required money, which we agree it does, but don't see it as an excuse). I know exactly where the money comes from, we have carefully set up our PACs."
He claims he knows "exactly who we have taken money from."
Bentley was on that same radio station, different host and time slot a few days before this morning's show and he was specifically asked about the large contributions from BARD.
His reply was "Never heard of them."
Dr. Bentley has a rather obvious and serious ailment which manifests itself with the main symptom as causing him to demonstrate a glaring inability to tell the truth to Alabama's voters. In short, he lies.

Here's our question to Sparks--Do you really want to be the next Governor of Alabama and move this state forward with long overdue representative and ethical leadership or will you cave like a prize fighter who throws a fight because he's been "influenced" by the power players? If you do want to be the Governor, then fight for it sir because as it stands Bentley is who the people are hearing from in the media.

**Update # 2 Wednesday PM
The following was sent to us by one of our media watchers, more flip flopping and distortions coming from the "honest, open, ethical and I have nothing to hide" Bentley:
Well, I've seen different video clips on different newscasts of the same story, but I don't recall one that sounds like two completely different stories.  That's what I witnessed today, though. 
On the local noon news, gubernatorial candidate Dr. Robert Bentley was shown touring the empty Hwy 280 building and shown talking about how Trinity Medical Center's move there would be a great economic shot in the arm for the area, how not just the building but the future offices could house not just medical meetings but all kinds of events. 
Flash forward to 5 PM newscast on the same station, and the audio says that Bentley isn't taking a stand on the hospital's relocation.  
In that video, Bentley said he "didn't want to make the situation political, that [taking a stand on the issue] just wouldn't be right."
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't believe it.  That's quite some different choice of video footage.

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC-TV) - A Republican candidate for governor has high praise for Trinity Medical Center's relocation to the digital hospital on 280.     
On Wednesday, Robert Bentley toured the building along with Trinity Medical Center officials.
Earlier this month, a state medical regulatory agency okayed (sic) the move. Brookwood and St. Vincent hospitals continue to oppose the project believing it will hurt their medical operations.
Bentley says he is not taking sides but says the relocation will have a huge economic boom for the area. "Not only will we have the hospital, we're building other facilities. We are talking about using all of this campus here. To expand it to use it for medical meetings and all types of meeting," said Bentley.
Trinity CEO Keith Granger tells FOX6 News Brookwood and St. Vincent's may still try to legally challenge the relocation. Granger says within the next 30 days they should be able to announce timetable for getting the hospital up and running.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Canary of Wise County, Texas--Natural Gas Fracking Well Effects Cause One Family to Fly Away

The Wise County Messenger published a story in their Sunday Edition paper on September 26, 2010 that disputes Big Gas claims of the process being "clean and safe"--for this particular family it's hell on earth and their mounting health ailments have forced them to flee their home in order to save their own lives.

They're not alone in their plight because Big Gas' invasive and controversial methods affects communities all across America that are unlucky enough to be victims of Mother Nature's geography that draws the energy giants to destructively assail her and wrest the rich deposits of gas she holds deep in her arms. They aren't kind in their methods and more often than not they cause collateral damage that has grave consequences from their desire to have their way with the earth.

But they'll tell you "everything we do is regulated and completely harmless--the country needs this product and it brings good paying jobs to the local economy." That makes a few casualties and whole range of suffering a fair trade-off in these soulless bastards minds and we are convinced that is precisely what they are the more we listen to their propaganda and see the real effects of what they do.

From the story:
"I started to get a little sick," she said. "I thought I was getting the flu. I was just tired and achy and started going through some little problems. "

"Then I started breaking out in a rash. It literally covered my entire body - my scalp all the way down to the bottoms of my feet,"
Parr recalled. "I made multiple trips to the emergency room. I had six doctors working on me, and they couldn't figure out what it was."

Today, her arms and legs bear pock-like scars from rashes.

Lisa first felt sick in fall 2008. As the immense trees across her 40-acre homestead dropped pecans, Lisa accumulated a host of unexplained ailments. The typical remedies didn't work.

Lisa was treated by eight different doctors over the course of a year. A source of the sickness was never determined. In June 2009, after exhausting everything he knew medically, her internal specialist suggested that something in the environment might be causing her various ailments.

In early fall 2009, she visited an environmental doctor who confirmed the presence of neurotoxins in her blood that matched chemicals used in natural gas production.

Toxic plume

Medical tests confirmed the toxins in Lisa's system matched toxins found in the atmosphere in an air-quality investigation conducted by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) at a nearby gas well site.
On the evening of July 25, 2010, the Parrs smelled a strong odor emanating from a frac tank at a site operated by Aruba Petroleum of Plano. They reported it to TCEQ. Investigators arrived within hours to capture air samples.

Odors were detected up to a quarter-mile from the well site. The investigator, Damon Armstrong, reported that a "plume" wafting from the tank was "visible with the naked eye." The petroleum-like odor was so intense the investigator himself felt sick in the short time he was there, noting dizziness and sore throat.

The analysis found five compounds that exceeded safe values for short-term health effects, and another 20 exceeded safe levels for long-term effects.

The investigation found elevated levels of ethane, pentane, hexane, octane, xylene and nonane, all potentially toxic chemicals.

Four days later, a medical test discovered the same chemicals inside Lisa. 
Her husband and her 7-year-old daughter, Emma, felt sick as well.

"My daughter began having severe nosebleeds," she said. "She'd wake me up at 6 a.m., crying, covered in blood."

Emma was just diagnosed with asthma. She'd never had any respiratory problems. Emma also started breaking out in rashes and having stomach problems.

Bob also suffered from nosebleeds.

"I'm 50 years old and probably haven't had more than three or four nosebleeds in my entire lifetime," Bob said. "All of a sudden I'm getting them three times a week. It was odd."

"I hired someone to do water and air sampling at the home," she said. "The methane level in my daughter's room was at asphyxiation levels. And it was barely lower than what it was outside our home."

She showed the results to her doctor, who told her to leave her home within 48 hours.

"The doctor told me right then," she said, pausing as her voice cracked and a tear streamed across her left cheek, "I had to move immediately. Because if I did not, we would have to spend more time and money on hospitalization, on chemotherapy and morticians for my whole family."

On Saturday, Aug. 28, the Parrs said goodbye to their formerly idyllic home and moved into Bob's office in Denton. They don't know how long they'll have to stay.

"What we are going through is one of the worst things a family could have to go through," she said. "Having to leave this house and explain to my 7-year-old daughter that we've been run out of our house."

Bob and Lisa Parr aren't the sickly type. Bob built his home in 2001. He's enjoyed a long career in stone masonry and raising cattle. His home reflects the rugged, outdoor lifestyle he enjoys. Walls bear the trophies of big-game hunting in the wilds of Alaska. Black bear, mountain lions and elk are mounted on high wooden walls.

"We love it here," Lisa said while sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the back porch and gripping her husband's hand. "We're secluded, private. We just wanted to be left alone, and we've been run out of our house. It's not right. What's even more not right is we thought *TCEQ would come out and help us - they would clean up this mess."
*(The state regulatory and enforcement agency that compares notes on inefficiency with ADEM)

"We've had no help. We have someone who is contaminating our air. It has affected our cattle. We've lost pets. We've lost chickens. We're all sick, and we've gotten no help," she said. "I want them to fix it so we can come home. I just want to come home."
Several doctors had told Lisa for some time she needed to leave her home, but she couldn't convince herself to do it until the symptoms began affecting her husband and daughter.

"It had only been affecting me, so we stayed," Lisa said. "They thought I was super-sensitive. They called me the canary."

"I told them, 'That wasn't funny because eventually the canary died."
It's enough to make one wax nostalgic for the days of the Old West when disputes were settled in much more direct ways and men who caused harm to women and children realized swift justice from a society that gave a damn in more ways than we do today in the Lone Star State.

Commentary from Winger and the Texas team
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Editorial--We've Become A Nation of Enablers

As long as we keep the current system of undue influence "electing" our government officials in place the American people will be kept in the dark because the bottom line is not the truth-- it’s the dollar.

We have became a nation unable to analyze facts by way of logic and reason.

We believe what we are told.

We believe politicians represent us because they tell us they do.

We believe what they say because they tell us what a good guy or gal they are.

Big business and their political accomplices don't want a poor or middle class that can reason for themselves. They don’t want the light of scrutiny turned on in their “houses.”

Is it any wonder we have so few great scientists, mathematicians and conscientiously driven lawyers coming from our universities? The ones that do and intend to embark upon their careers with a purpose higher than themselves are quickly co-opted by the business giants to remain their personal captives for the life of their careers.

"Coal is good, oil is good, industry is good-- it provides good paying jobs and much needed revenues to our struggling economy. It has nothing to do with the fact they paid for my campaign. Honest.…I'm a Christian and I stand for America’s core values why would I lie to you?”

This is the endlessly looped mantra we hear during each election cycle from local to national races, but this year's rhetoric is ramped up by the prominent discussions on coal ash regulation, hydraulic fracturing and the EPAs proposed tighter regulations on the CAA, CAIR and CWA.

This year, more so than subsequent years, the citizens must pay very close attention to who they choose to elect and become active in querying certain politicians about their campaign contributors. Be prepared for mighty resistance and the predictable "political witchhunt" accusations that will be hurled at any person or entity who dares to probe these politician's monetary gifters.

If you question them you are un-American. You’re a liberal. You’re a tree hugger, a no-growth zealot who distorts and misrepresents the facts.  No demonstrable value is placed on being a caring humanitarian and a sense of honor is perceived as a weakness to be “fixed“--a misguided self-imposed character flaw requiring a strong dose of “big energy and big business medication.”

Perhaps the following is closer to the truth and some particularly brazen politicians have attempted to defend themselves using similar language;
"Sure they gave me millions for my campaign, but would a company whose bottom line has always been the dollar really want something in return for their investment? Of course not, they're doing it because they really care about the American people. You record checkers are just being un-American, I voted the way I did because I care about you, it was just a coincidence that the same people who paid for my campaign reaped huge profits from the laws I helped to change. "

We really cannot figure out how we devolved to a nation of people with less logic and reasoning skills than the first humans that started their own fire, but we are well on our way to ensuring our own demise if we persist in blindly assigning our fate to the very culprits who are destroying it by leaps and bounds in the name of profit and power.

So say we the Opinion Board of the Vincent Alabama Confidential 

**Alabama Governor's race campaign contributors in detail will appear on our site soon. The "good" Dr. Bentley-R has some explaining to do and we intend to exert some pressure on him in force.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Perry County, Alabama and the Sins of Albert Turner, Jr.

**Congratulations to the filmmakers for winning the Alabama Award in this year's Birmingham Sidewalk Film Festival**

Filmmakers N'Jeri Eaton & Matt Durning both graduates of UC Berkley's School of Journalism produced the following videos and brought attention to this ongoing TVA Kingston coal ash dumping issue in Perry County, Alabama.

In appreciation of their hard work we present it to you here and invite you to please visit their site linked through in this posting.

Mr. Turner steps away from his father's legacy in a shameful way by turning his back on his own people in favor of greed, influencing elections and a self absorbed penchant for personal profit which seems to have become standard practice among many of the Civil Rights groups in Alabama, including the self-declared "christian based" leadership coalitions such as the New South Coalition and Southern Christian Leadership Coalition.

They're often too intimate with big business and fail to serve as their brother's keepers by choosing the altar of the almighty dollar above solidarity with their own who suffer from the constant assaults of their toxic industry neighbors.

It's a downright dirty shame and a sin of egregious proportions.

PERRY COUNTY is a half-hour film documenting the controversial decision to dump millions of tons of coal ash waste from the 2008 spill in Kingston, Tennessee, at a landfill in this poor, disenfranchised, predominantly black county in central Alabama.

The short-term economic benefits of the coal ash are clear: more than $4 million dollars in dumping fees and 80 new temporary jobs in a region desperate for industry. But the long-term health and environmental risks, wholly dismissed by local politicians, have raised a chorus of concern among local residents who question the true cost of this so-called progress.

The man at the center of the coal ash dispute is Albert Turner Jr., a powerful Perry County commissioner and son of respected Civil Rights leader Albert Turner, a key figure in both the Selma to Montgomery march and the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The film reveals how Commissioner Turner exploits his father’s legacy for personal gain, ignoring the serious concerns of the poor, black residents living around the landfill, one of the same communities his father once fought to empower.

A 2005 incident that resulted in legal charges against Mr. Turner which occurred at the time the deal was being made for Perry County to receive the coal ash waste from the TVA Kingston spill.
Judge Lynn Bright found Albert Turner Jr. guilty of harassment in Perry County District Court 
Wednesday March 30, 2005
Turner was originally charged with Assault III, but the lesser charge was applied after the probable cause hearing showed conflicting testimony as to what actually happened.
According to the complaining witness, Ms.Vinnie Royster, Turner attacked her during a meeting with other Perry County Commissioners regarding comments made by Turner in a radio broadcast the previous Sunday. 
Turner, while promoting the proposed landfill in Uniontown, referred to those black citizens that opposed the landfill as "hanky-head n*****s." 
As Royster played a recording of the broadcast for Commissioner Johnny Flowers and others, Turner came into the room and started yelling at Royster; poking her in the chest. Royster poked Turner back, then according to Royster "the next thing I knew, he hit me with his fist". 
Turner then reportedly grabbed Royster around the throat, and held her to the ground until other commissioners and two deputies pulled him off of her. Royster had to leave the meeting in an ambulance.
Turner was ordered to pay a fine of $400, court costs, and restitution to be worked out at a later date. He's stated he will appeal the case to Circuit Court, where he wants his case heard before a jury. 
Turner is running for the Alabama House Seat in District 72, which includes most of Marengo County.  
It's hard to believe he actually got elected, but he always does through "controversial elections" and he seems hell bent on destroying the "hanky heads" who opposed his plans for his personal enrichment scheme, courtesy of the coal ash dump business he was responsible for, and by doing so, he brought great distress to Perry County, Alabama.

Oppression now comes to these former hotbeds of Civil Rights struggles from inside their own boundaries--but it's still business as usual in the long-standing cesspool of Alabama politics. 

More on Albert Turner, Jr. from Left In Alabama and Facebook discussing the Civil Lawsuit against the Perry County Commission.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

EPA Claims Tougher Stance on Environmental Justice--Press Release September 22, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 22, 2010
EPA Hosts Historic Meeting on Environmental Justice 
Obama administration cabinet members show commitment to healthy environment and strong economy for all Americans
WASHINGTON – Today, for the first time in more than a decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair, Nancy Sutley, reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) in a meeting held at the White House. The meeting, attended by five cabinet members, demonstrates the Obama administration’s dedication to ensuring all Americans have strong federal protection from environmental and health hazards. Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats. This historic gathering marks a recommitment to advancing the mandate of Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, which states that each agency, with the law as its guide, should make environmental justice part of its mission.
The role of the EJ IWG is to guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities. By coordinating the expertise and resources of federal government agencies, the EJ IWG will work to identify projects where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities. The EJ IWG will also seek opportunities to provide green jobs training in communities in need and promote a clean energy economy.
Attendees at the meeting included Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice; Secretary Ken Salazar, Department of Interior; Secretary Shaun Donovan, Department of Housing and Urban Development; Secretary Ray LaHood, Department of Transportation; Administrator Martha Johnson, General Services Administration; Carol Browner, senior advisor to the president on energy and climate change; John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Melody Barnes, director of the White House Office of Domestic Policy; and representatives from the following federal agencies:  Labor, Health and Human Services, Energy, Education, Homeland Security, Commerce, Army, Agriculture and Defense, among others.
“Environmental challenges in low-income and minority communities are barriers to opportunity. Dirty air, polluted water and contaminated lands degrade health and the environment while discouraging investments and economic growth,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We believe that the burdens these communities face are best approached with collaborative efforts, built on the strengths brought by a team of different federal agencies. Revitalizing this workgroup creates an important chance to work together on environmental justice issues that have held back the prosperity of overburdened communities for far too long.”       
“This country was built on the promise of equal opportunity for all of us, yet low-income families and minority communities shoulder a disproportionate amount of pollution and environmental degradation. We cannot and will not ignore these disparities,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. ”As the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, I am committed to ensuring that environmental justice isn’t just an afterthought - it’s an integral part of our mission.”
“In too many areas of our country, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children who live in those communities,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “Our environmental laws and protections must extend to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status which is why the Department of Justice is committed to addressing environmental justice concerns through aggressive enforcement of federal environmental laws in every community.”
“At the Department of Transportation, one of our top priorities has been promoting livable communities in collaboration with HUD and EPA,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Through coordinated investments that improve access to affordable and sustainable housing and transportation opportunities, together we can improve the quality of life for communities across America .”
“As stewards of our natural resources and history, the Department of Interior has a special obligation to protect and promote our nation’s resources for all communities and all persons,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Every American deserves a healthy environment in which they can live, learn and play.”
“HUD joins with our colleagues in the Obama administration to make an unprecedented commitment to combating environmental justice discrimination that all too often affect disadvantaged communities,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “At HUD we are committed to providing equal access to housing, mitigating risks to communities in disaster-prone areas, ensuring homes are free of health hazards, and working to create sustainable and inclusive communities across America so that a family’s success is not determined by the zip code they live in.”
During the meeting, some immediate next steps for the EJ IWG group were identified; these include:
·         Hold monthly EJ IWG meetings, including assigning senior officials from each agency to coordinate EJ activities.
·         Organize regional listening sessions in 2011.
·         Hold follow-up EJ IWG Principals Meetings in April and September 2011.
·         Each agency will be tasked to develop or update their EJ strategy by September 2011.
·         Plan a White House forum for EJ leaders and stakeholders on environmental justice.
Administrator Jackson highlighted examples of EPA’s environmental justice efforts:
·         Plan EJ 2014—A four-year roadmap to help EPA develop stronger community relationships and increase the agency’s efforts to improve environmental and health conditions in overburdened communities. The plan includes three main sections: Cross-cutting Agency Strategies, Tools Development, and Program Initiatives.
·         EJ in Rulemaking Guidance—The “Interim Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of an Action” is a step-by-step guide that helps EPA staff consider environmental justice at key points in the rulemaking process.
·         Sustainable Communities Partnership—A collaborative Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, and EPA partnership to improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide.
The principles of environmental justice uphold the idea that all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and indigenous communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the decision-making process and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. EPA serves as the lead for environmental justice issues in the federal government.
More information on the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice:
View photos from the meeting:

This all sounds real good but if the US EPA doesn't strengthen it's regional offices then this is all talk designed to look like they're doing something about this long-standing problem that they have failed miserably at since their inception.

We have had a few former EPA workers tell us that it is far too often negotiation by the big polluters to weaken rules coupled with political bartering that takes the teeth out of regulations set forth by the EPA. This federal agency seems to act as an enabler to toxic industries rather than doing what the EPA was supposedly created to do and be a watchdog for America's citizens and our environment. 

If the agency does not demonstrate some backbone on tightening the CAA, CWA and  coal ash (the entire coal issue really and hydraulic fracking) then everything in this document is nothing but hot air in our humble opinion.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Alabama Power Gorgas Plant Walker County--Rattlesnake Dam-- EPA May 2010 Inspection

Alabama Power, in response to an EPA inspection, recently released "action plans" regarding the companies' statewide coal ash pond dams that was likely the product of two things; a well designed PR move to feign responsibility from the company which has repeatedly demonstrated strong resistance to in practice, and because of pressure from the US EPA on the ever increasing high visibility issue of coal ash dam spill potential similar to the devastating TVA Kingston catastrophe in 2008.

Paul Hamaker of the Birmingham Science News Examiner wrote an excellent piece on this from May 25, 2010: (linked to above "action plans")
Six comments were received from Alabama Power Company to the original investigation and no comments were received from State Agencies including the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) even though ADEM was present at the investigation.
The reports concluded (according to Alabama Power (APC) that the units were in "satisfactory" condition -- a most favored category. APC also interprets the hazard rating as based solely on the consequences of structural failure not the likelihood of such an event.
A definite difference of interpretation is apparent in APC and EPA versions of the inspection.
APC has complied with the EPA recommendations.
The claim of compliance is from Alabama Power not Region 4 EPA which we contacted about this particular sentence who stated in response; "We have received their (AP) assurances that most of our recommendations would be implemented and we plan to follow up." To repeat Mr. Hamaker's sentence which seems appropriate here too--"A definite difference of interpretation is apparent..."

What's especially troubling as we pointed out in a recent post about Alabama Power is the lack of annual inspections, proper inspections and the lax attitude by ADEM towards a corporate entity that this state "environmental management" and regulatory (E & R) agency is making a great deal of money from in emission amount fees per ton and their permitting fees.

That is the inherent problem with many state E & R  agencies and suggests not only a predisposed concessionary nature to the arrangement but also a compelling, but not illegal conflict of interest going on with the whole scenario which reeks of collusion and is a ripe bed for possible corruption and conflicts of interest to flourish.

And it does.

That has been cited by numerous articles (Anita Archie, former ADEM Director Trey Glenn, etc) and is the basis for a lawsuit filed with the EPA to have ADEMs water permitting authority taken away based largely on their "inability to faithfully properly execute their duties and the major downturn in enforcements."

In the following inspection and engineering report this theme goes on in secrecy and the redaction of large sections  of information that are probably the result of AP, their lawyers (Balch & Binghman's Steve Burns was present at the inspection) and negotiations with the EPA who has been instrumental in assisting these coal cannibals stay under a cloak of secrecy.

The Public Affairs Council's thoughts on corporate transparency;
It seems that everyone - from the institutional investor to the anti-globalization protester - is demanding more corporate transparency.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This legislation made major changes in the rules for corporate governance, financial disclosure, auditor independence and corporate criminal liability. 
One of the key premises of the law is that transparency serves as a deterrent to illegal or unethical behavior. The more information a company is required to disclose, lawmakers reason, the more likely it is that investors will make sound decisions. (VAC Editor's note--this also was part of the AP shareholder resolution)
Activists don't just want to know what a company produces; they want to know how it is produced. Are child laborers used? Are worker conditions safe? Are toxic emissions being released into the air? What is a company doing to reclaim the land it has mined for minerals? 
Just as Enron spurred the outcry for more financial disclosure, scandals (and alleged scandals) dealing with companies ranging from Nike to Royal Dutch Shell have created a host of initiatives to require detailed reporting of company operations around the world.
In this environment, corporate CEOs and their communications and public affairs counselors must ask themselves a series of tough questions:
  • Can we comply with the laws and keep up with the public's expectations?
  • Where is this push toward greater transparency going?
  • Will greater transparency build trust in our company or will it merely open the door to further harsh scrutiny?
Corporate management needs to take on the responsibility for creating an open environment. "Some companies will lean forward into disclosure and make that information transparent to their investors," said NIRI President and CEO Lou Thompson in a recent speech. "Some companies will be leaders. Others will reluctantly comply with these new rules as their lawyers counsel that being too progressive involves too much risk." 
With that in mind should a disaster occur with any of Alabama Power's coal ash ponds the public would perhaps be more open to to the "benefit of the doubt should a crisis occur." But instead the atmosphere that Alabama Power, their lawyers and PR men have created is one of selective information and arbitrarily deciding that they alone know best what is a risk and what is not. They simply will not allow full scrutiny and disclosure on this issue. All published indicators seem to point to that thinking being highly fallible and potentially dangerous to the public health and the environmental destruction that a big spill would cause.

The following document has so much redaction that it deserves to be questioned and certainly should raise some serious red flags to the reader:
Dam Inspection Report--Gorgas Steam Plant Alabama Power Company Walker County, Alabama

Google Map of the Gorgas Plant
Total Coal Ash: 352.9 thousand tons

View Larger Map

Alabama Power is probably the most well-connected political corporation in the state and they wield the mighty kick of the New Mules (BARD) with a ferocity that rivals their oppressive and dominant predecessor the Big Mules. If you have the money and the political connections "The World Is Yours" which was the mantra of the movie Scarface and isn't too far off of what some relationships are between corporate heavyweights and their political money addicts--minus the illegal addictions and guns. It's still about "you got the money, you got the power, you get what you want."

An article published in e! Science News on September 21, 2010 originating from Wiley-Blackwell and based on a study by the journal of Financial Management makes the clear connection between political corruption and corporate connections which occur not only in environmental issues but extends all the way to Wall Street;
"Politically connected firms have higher leverage (in the form of preferential loans), pay lower taxes, have regulatory protection, are eligible for government aid, and have stronger market power. They differ more dramatically from their peers when their political links are stronger, and in more corrupt countries, although these characteristics can be observed worldwide." 
The article has a warning at its conclusion that is all but ignored by every big polluter in the state of Alabama, their bought and paid for political pushers and the law firms and PR men who represent and further enable them;
"Those in leadership at politically connected firms need to think about how their choices affect the long-term operations of their business, and the business and political world at large."
We would say that environmental consequences and the public health are two subjects that should be added to that conclusion, because both of them also have the potential for extreme financial consequences evidenced in many well-known events not just in Alabama but globally. This was the major point of the recent Alabama Power shareholder vote in asking for the strictest EPA classification of coal ash.

But what happens in Alabama is all about a one-sided gain with the biggest profits going to the corporation and the rest to state and local governments who use a disproportionate amount of the funds for the citizens and the state environment--most of the funds are corporate welfare and serve to further fatten the power brokers, amoral politicians and their own self-serving interests.

These corporations know this and can spot an easy mark from miles away. The destruction of Alabama's environment (and our political and legal systems) by the New Mules is based in the way they purposefully set out to find the weaknesses in the state structures and regulation loopholes, align themselves with the politicians that can assist them in exploiting these weaknesses and under the cover of money, favorable legislation and power by proxy dressed out in promises of jobs and increased tax revenues they lay out communities' corruptible leaders out for the kill.

It works every time and they know it-- it has become instinctual to them an ingrained trait that seems to defy outside influence of any kind.

We would like to presume that Alabama Power's seemingly positive step to recognize the seriousness of this issue on coal ash pond dam integrity signals that the company is perhaps rethinking their long-standing attitude of corporate secrecy regarding inspections and monitoring, but we are struggling to see compelling evidence to support this.

From the lack of annual inspections, no apparent groundwater monitoring program *2007, *2008, scant ATRs, APs confidential and proprietary claims in the media and the resistance to adopt a stricter standard for coal regulation in the shareholder meeting earlier this year all roads lead to business as usual.
** Two of only three found in the files from Jan 2000-Sept 2010.

Once again the basic tenants of the Big Mule philosophy refuse to change.

**Editor's note--there are additional links to documents in the Hamaker article that accompany the report presented here.
Gorgas Steam Plant Emissions, Commission for Environmental Cooperation 
SourceWatch Southern Company
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