Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Alabama Mantra? - "No Child Left Unharmed"

Update May 3, 2012 - Acker sentenced to 17 yrs in prison without parole.

An alarming trend is emerging in Alabama and revealing the disturbing patterns with some of the state's school boards. Despite the rudimentary obligation these boards are responsible for upholding, protect the children first, they're emerging as the biggest clear and present danger to Alabama’s schoolchildren.

The case of Daniel Acker, Jr. an admitted serial molester & teacher from the Shelby County area of Alabaster, bears an eerie Sandusky-esque parallel with every revelation that's emerging in the explosive case. Like Sandusky, red flags flew up about Acker years before the real story blew up and charges ensued. No one did anything to stop either of these predatory men even though they knew something was very wrong. Those that could have stopped it, chose instead to ignore the truth - that monsters were in the making with Sandusky and Acker.

The end result is the entirely preventable ruination of dozens of children’s lives.

Forty-nine-year-old Daniel Acker, Jr. started with the Shelby County school system in 1985. He taught 4th grade children for 24 years, retiring in 2009. What transpired in those two decades can accurately be described as the end of innocence for his young victims.

Acker has recently admitted molesting 20-25 children, but the full tally of his victims may climb higher as new developments and additional victims emerge in the case.

The facade of years of denial (and culpability) that surrounded Acker until last week, was like some perverted cloak of protection. It finally fell last week when a girl, now 12, accused Acker of molesting her around 2009. 

This child, and so many more, might not have been a victim if the same local school board had acted way back in 1992 when the first accuser against Acker came forward.

The local community and school board’s response to the testimony of Acker’s first known victim, an 11 year-old girl, described by people who knew her as “a beautiful child from a good family,” was to turn their backs on the child and rally around the predator.

School superintendent Norma Rogers, was the lone voice of ‘I believe you’ on that school board in the early 1990s. At the time, she recommended firing Acker from his position after “listening to the compelling testimony of the child and her mother.” Hiding behind the decision of a local grand jury, the Shelby County Board of Education (SCBOE), after a lengthy and heated behind closed doors meeting, refused to fire Acker citing a “lack of evidence."

After the accusation was made, an attorney currently representing one of Acker’s numerous victims, in addition to Ms. Rogers, claim that a test paper was sent home with the girl that had a note written on it “referencing the child’s underclothing.” Another source gives a slightly different account and states that Acker had placed actual test questions “about the color of the victim’s underwear" on the exam.

The school board and the grand jury both saw that paper and what Acker had written. 

Two of the school board members who “protected Acker” are still on the board today - Lee Doebler (Pres.) and Steve Martin (VP).  Martin’s statement on the 1992 accusation:
“We had no legal authority back then than to terminate or not terminate, and there wasn’t enough physical evidence to the best of my recollection.”
According to the most recent story in the case, published today in the Birmingham News, the child’s family was forced to “move out of the county” after being ostracized and derided by the Acker family, their church and most of the local community, who were staunch defenders of “the good name of the Acker family.”

Daniel Acker, Sr. is a powerful man who has been on the Shelby County Commission for years. The Alabaster Police Department claims that "Acker’s position did not help his son evade accountability," but anyone who lives in Shelby County is well aware of the overbearing power and nepotism that exists within the Shelby County Commission.

If there’s one county in Alabama that wields the biggest influence statewide it’s the power structure in Columbiana, Alabama.  ALEC’s state chairman even hails from the county – Representative Mary Sue McClurkin. The power brokers believe they are untouchable and they walk around with a self-assured strut of arrogance that's hard to miss. 

Has the county gone too far this time? We hope so.

The ‘monster of Alabaster’ and his evil deeds may prove to be the veil lifter of many wide-open, but hidden in plain sight secrets that define the county's modus operendi.

A source in the community, who lived in Alabaster when the first accusation came out, tells us that the local church put the following bible verse on their outside sign as a warning to the girl’s family:
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.”
That church went on to hold a fundraiser for the Acker family anticipating legal costs if the grand jury voted to indict Acker, Jr. Our source also tells us that allegedly a full court press by Acker’s father shut down the investigation as soon as it started.

Acker, Sr. was serving as an Alabaster City Council member at the time of the first accusation, and he had his sights set on a future county commission seat in 1992. We imagine, in his mind, a child molesting son would have been a huge impediment to any future political plans, and the reality of what his son was had to remain hidden.

Not much of notoriety goes on in Shelby County that someone doesn’t know about on some level -children talk, colleagues talk. Parents have been whispering about Acker for years. Why wouldn’t the adults, who could have stopped Acker, ever admit to themselves ‘he’s spending a lot of time with those young girls and it’s not in a professional sense?’

Acker still stubbornly stands by his son today, refuses to resign and continues to claim he “didn’t know” about his son's decades-long twisted proclivities. Their local church is trying in vain to stem the rising tide of public rage by publicly expressing “regret for our actions back then.”

No one’s buying the litany of excuses pouring out of the enabler’s mouths today. What people see is a “Penn State south’ in the making, and just like in the Sandusky case, the groundswell of righteous anger is rapidly spreading outside of the county.

In our opinions, everyone involved with the cover up of these horrible crimes is equally complicit should be held harshly accountable. Some of those same individuals are adding insult to grievous injury by refusing questions and actively participating in a second cover up of trying to make the whole ordeal go away.

These ‘officials who wouldn’t’ continue to cling to their perceived entitlement to remain employed in profitable power positions on the county commission and school board. 

Shelby County Schools creed is "where the learning never ends." We suggest a quick re-write to go along with a couple of resignations on the school board.

The inability of Alabama school boards to act when they are aware of a predator in their midst isn't confined to Shelby County - there's similar scenario going on right now in Tuscaloosa, Alabama:
TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) - In a civil suit filed in federal court, a West Alabama administrator has been accused of sexual misconduct with a former female student.  The student's attorney, Paul Patterson, says the woman was a sophomore at Tuscaloosa County High School when the inappropriate behavior began.  He says the behavior continued and intensified throughout the remainder of the girl's high school career.  The suit also names several Tuscaloosa County Schools employees, including the Board of Education, for failing to take action after the student allegedly approached the school's principals to complain.
Abuse of children can take other forms besides sexual. There are thousands of Alabama schoolchildren live with another known well-known threat every day – toxic exposure.

In a previous article, we detailed who knew what and when they knew it about the Walter Energy contamination in Jefferson County. Minority children in the north Birmingham area of Collegeville have been suffering for years from the inaction of their school board, the county, the state and Region 4 EPA to protect them from the dangerous by-products of big business in their classrooms and on their playgrounds.

The “Deadly Deception” in north Birmingham might not grab the salacious headlines that the Sandusky and Acker’s of the world get, but the parents of children who get sick with cancers are no less horrified by the suffering of their own children. Especially when they realize people knew and did nothing about it until years later.

The pervasive theme that runs through all of these stories is the glaring inability by local school boards, and authoritative officials to adequately protect the children under their purview from clear and present dangers. One incident of failure to act might be chalked up to a tragic oversight – two may show a blatant disregard for a basic duty to adequately protect children from any form of abuse.

More than that indicates there’s a deeper, more widespread systemic problem going on in the state. A sinister pattern of serial abuse indicating the wanton willingness of Alabama to leave its children behind, and go down the road of ‘no child left unharmed’ in pursuit of elected power, profit and public perceptions.

*Update - Doebler and Martin are facing challengers for their seats! Acker, Sr. will remain unopposed.
Photo credit child:: Daly
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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Politics of Mean & PSC Candidate Kathy Peterson - Part Deux

In a previous article, we laid out the venomous nature of Kathy Peterson's campaign against Lucy Baxley in her bid to become president of the Public Service Commission (PSC). Ms. Peterson confirms our premise of 'mean queen' in her latest Internet ad with her gun-toting, Tea Party nut job husband Dale playing the lead role of  'I'll shoot your ass' sidekick.

If you're looking for some of that fabled southern graciousness, or maybe just a little bit of plain old reasonable, clearly the Peterson's aren't it. 

Dale Peterson made big media waves with his own AG Commissioner Internet ad in 2010. It was an ad that put him in the national spotlight. Unfortunately for Dale, that media wave didn't translate into votes in his home state. Alabamians told him what they thought of his 'shoot 'em up style' by handing him his hat (and gun) at the voting booth. Peterson was soundly defeated by fellow republican John McMillan and he wasted no time flipping his gun of support for McMillan.

What does the Peterson approach say about Alabama republican/Tea Party voters? If this is the type of campaigning that works in Alabama, then we deserve the ridicule of the nation as being backwoods, bible-thumping, logic-at-the-end-of-a-gun loon label that's constantly aimed at us by the rest of the country.

Nowhere in Kathy Peterson's ad does calm and steady leadership blast through. In fact, she comes off as an overbearing, mean woman who won't be open to any ideas or suggestions to best serve the public if they're not accompanied by her approved brand of extremism.

Republicans have used the "job killing EPA" phrase over and over as cover for the benefit of their corporate campaign gifters ad nausea. Peterson's ally in this endeavor, PSC member Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, was taken to the factual woodshed over her own inflammatory industry backed rhetoric that mirrors Peterson's. Cavanaugh's 2011 public editorial talking points came directly from an Alabama Power (APCO) 'power point presentation.'  BamaFactCheck roundly exposed her for the Pinocchio-nosed truth stretcher that she is.

In typical GOP fashion, she didn't learn a thing from the take-down. She just doubled down instead and maintains her nonsensical version of facts to Alabama voters in her own current PSC campaign.

What's interesting to ponder is why these two utility shills don't just take a job in the army of lobbyists APCO employs. The pay is much better than a public service job on the Alabama PSC. The perks are quite profitable, and allow for a whole host of unchecked power brokering with political insiders and influencers. 

And it's cushy job when compared with the demands of elected office duties.

In our opinions, there may be a couple of reasons for public office over private lobbying:  elected officials frequently masquerade as public servants first and enter the revolving door after. The path to becoming a lucrative legal briber lobbyist is easier if  'elected official'  is a part of one's resume.

Of course, value to the corporation is measured by the officials political status while in office, the ability to be bought persuaded by the wants of industry, and one's effectiveness in ramming through favorable legislation into law. Some are better at it than others, and if you aren't 'politcally effective,' post elected office lobbying job prospects diminish in availability.

The real reason may be simpler - Peterson and Cavanaugh aren't the sharpest knives in the box and any value they have as potential lobbyists is commensurate with their lack of cerebral firepower. Their value is better utilized on the notoriously corrupt PSC, an agency that has enjoyed the dubious distinction of 'always on' for APCO wants.

Having these 'yes boss' types in office is cost effective from the utility companies standpoint for a more sinister reason that escapes most party-blind-to-a-fault voters - the taxpayer pays the officeholder's salary subsidizing the utility company's roster of defacto lobbyists.

With Lucy Baxley on the PSC, APCO has been denied four rate increases over the last few years. They're not happy about it, and the upcoming election is key to increasing their enormous profits with an official who holds a more favorable view of  "making the utility companies successful."

Kathy Peterson has promised to do just that, in fact, the above quote is directly from Ms. Peterson.

What you don't hear from Peterson is that she will help consumers be successful in staving off the predatory ways of the utility companies. Instead, she alludes to helping the ratepayers in a bastardized style of pointing the finger of blame at EPA regulations and it's those 'damn liberals' fault, not mine, if rates do increase:
"...the greatest threat to Alabama utility rates is the Obama administration with its agenda of Cap and Trade and what Peterson calls “a clever regulatory sleight of hand” known as Utility MACT, short for Maximum Achievable Control Technology."
“Every household in this state will face financial ruin with utility bills exceeding $1,000 a month,” Peterson said. “This is if Obama and the liberals succeed with their agenda of shutting down our coal-fired electric generation plants in Alabama and across America.”  
Peterson goes on to say she's the one who will organize a coalition of public service commissioners (hopefully not armed) to beat back the e-vil Obama administration:

She added that by organizing public utilities commissioners from other Southern and Southwestern states to oppose the Obama agenda would be the first important item on her agenda to protect Alabama consumers and small businesses. “Obama and the liberals have done enough damage to our economy,” she said. “It’s up to us in the states to lead the fight for affordable energy. Washington has four decades to do the job and it just gets worse.”

Pardon us Ms. Peterson but saving the world from liberals is no where to be found in the PSC's job description. What you're doing is pandering to the republican & Tea Party base, with shrill, factually dishonest rhetoric as your only chance at getting elected.

It's disgusting and we wish you would just stop. Politicians who resort to these kinds of tactics are desperate, not qualified, because if they were qualified there wouldn't be a need for all the fear mongering and saber-rattling every time you open your mouth.

The power company has big boys in their employ. They don't need a mean queen fighting their battles for them. Get a grip Ms. Peterson. And you too Ms. Cavanaugh.

We're still waiting for an explanation from Peterson of why those same job creators she's so enamored with have slashed hundreds of meter reader jobs through the implementation of so-called "Smart" meters. The answer is simple if you're aware. Unfortunately for transparency's sake, it's been pushed purposefully outside the ability of public understanding, and you'll never hear Peterson or APCO admit it.

The "inconvenient truth" is that power/gas/water companies make a bundle from "Smart" meters. These devices are not without controversy and some communities are fighting back against them. Not Alabama. Not Ms. Peterson. Or Ms. Cavanaugh or anyone else on the PSC.

They just don't "give a rip" about it. 

APCO, and other utility giants, have been trying to dissolve the meter reader jobs for years. Fewer employees equals more profit to the bottom line. So do "Smart" meters.  They're just another way the utilities use to manipulate state government funds to increase their profit margins. It's a sneaky shell game and a big wet kiss to the generous power brokers from the politicians and commissions they hold captive.

California is a prime example of the problems with so-called "Smart" meters. Alabamians shouldn't hold their breaths that any news outlet or watchdog agency will seriously delve into the true cost of these "Smart" meters in Alabama. If APCO does it in-house, it will result in a predictably favorable outcome to them.

Ms. Peterson also refuses to believe that pollution from power plants is costing the American people billions in increased health care costs. The utility companies she is cheer leading for, namely Alabama Power, have just been pegged the worst of the worst according to the 2010 EPA Toxics Release study.

Ms. Peterson should "give a rip" that Alabama is number one in toxic metal releases because of the 20th century minded coal ash cads running APCO.

We don't doubt she'll continue to run around with her bullet-headed husband, downplaying any danger of air pollution, because APCO tells her too. Industry shills like Andrew Breitbart's Big Government conservative writers will give those lies deflective (and deceptive) cover. The ALGOP will fund and enable Peterson's propaganda-based campaign in their frenzied zeal to "turn Alabama completely red."

And no one will be the wiser because of blind party loyalty. Or maybe just because they don't want to know the truth. We think that's exactly what Peterson is counting on to get her into the presidents chair at the PSC.

There's no doubt in anyone's mind that this year's PSC race is one of the "hottest races in Alabama" and it promises to be an all out war to remove Lucy Baxley, the last democrat elected to statewide office in Alabama. The amount of money that will pour into the race will dwarf the amount Baxley spent on her last election, and could run as high as $750K.

Maybe the nineteen year-old University of Alabama sophomore with "years of experience" Peterson's recently hired as her political director will be able to help her convince the public of her pious moral character. He claims he believes in "honest campaigns" and we'll soon see what he's made of.

And if that doesn't work out, well, she can always call the trigger happy jackwagon Dale. He can just round up the voters at the point of his rifle and force the vote.

Here's something we 'give a rip' about: get out and vote in this election if you live in Alabama. If the PSC goes all the way red, one thing you can count on is that the business friendly republicans will raise your rates. They will look the other way on strict regulation of the utilities under their purview.

Voters shouldn't forget that in 2004, the PSC gave Alabama Power the right to raise rates by one percent a year through 2013, to have ratepayers foot the entire bill for the environmental improvements to their coal-fired plants. One of the very things that Peterson, Cavanaugh and APCO use as a tool to scare voters, rate increases due to required improvements, has already been happening.

The annals of Alabama's history and the PSC prove that this commission almost always comes down on the side of the utility companies.The notorious Bull Connor once ran the PSC and since his reign, corruption and the agency have been closely aligned.  It won't be any different with Peterson, Cavanaugh and Dunn in charge of the commission. In fact, Dunn better hold onto to his stones, because the two APCO 'mean queens' will soon have them in a jar if he isn't careful.

Ms. Peterson's claims of protecting Alabamians from unfair increases in utility rates, along with most of what she says, is just a lot of hot air. From our point of view, her campaign is an endeavor that's loaded with dishonesty, deception and the politics of mean.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Friday, January 6, 2012

BWRK Press Release "Alabama Coal Ash Ponds Receive Most Toxic Metals in the Nation in 2010"

For Immediate Release: January 6, 2012
Contact: Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper: 205-458-0095

New Report: Alabama Coal Ash Ponds Receive Most Toxic Metals in the Nation in 2010

According to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Alabama power plants lead the way in disposal of wastes containing toxic metals into coal ash ponds.

Ten states accounted for three quarters of total pond disposal in 2010, including (in rank order): Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan. Just 20 facilities account for more than half of the toxic metals (57 million pounds) contained in power plant waste and disposed of in surface impoundments in 2010. Four of these are in Alabama, with Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant (Jefferson County) ranked first in the nation in this category. Alabama Power’s Gaston, Gorgas and Barry Steam Plants round out the top twenty.

These figures are based upon information compiled in a national database called the Toxics Release Inventory. Power companies are required to report by volume the toxic chemicals that are contained in coal ash and other coal combustion wastes dumped into surface impoundments, or ponds, every year. 

In 2010, power plants reported disposal of wastes containing 112.8 million pounds of toxic metals or metal compounds, a category that includes arsenic, chromium, lead, and other pollutants that are hazardous in small concentrations and difficult to remove from the environment once released. According to EIP, that reflects a nine percent increase in toxics disposals since 2009, and is higher than the total reported in 2008.

Most of these surface impoundments are unlined, which means the toxins in the ash are likely to seep into groundwater or nearby creeks and rivers. Monitoring data developed in other areas of the country shows this is happening at many coal ash surface impoundments.

Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant (Jefferson County) and Gorgas Steam Plant (Walker County) are both in the Black Warrior River watershed, just northwest of Birmingham. Miller ranked first in the nation for disposing toxic metal wastes into coal ash ponds and Gorgas ranked fifteenth. 

Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke has concerns: “These coal ash ponds discharge wastewater directly to surface waters in large volumes on a daily basis. Miller discharges to the Locust Fork and Gorgas discharges to the Mulberry Fork, two tributaries of the Black Warrior that are heavily used for recreation and fishing. A major concern moving forward is the increase in the amount of toxics being discharged by the coal-fired power plants to these coal ash ponds and ultimately to surface waters due to the addition of scrubbers, which pull some pollutants out of their air emissions and transfer them to our water resources instead.”

Wastewater permits for these plants are up for review every five years, and the next cycle of re-permitting begins soon. Black Warrior Riverkeeper is encouraging residents in the greater Birmingham region and throughout Alabama to insist that ADEM to make Alabama Power's permits more protective of our rivers, lakes, and public health.

Environmental Integrity Project’s coal ash waste disposal analysis can be seen by clicking here.

For pictures of Miller Steam Plant and Gorgas Steam Plant and their ash ponds, click here.

To learn how you can insist that ADEM make Alabama Power's permits more protective of water and public health, contact info@blackwarriorriver.org for more information.


Black Warrior Riverkeeper (blackwarriorriver.org) is a citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper was the Alabama Environmental Council’s 2007 Conservation Organization of the Year and the American Canoe Association’s 2008 Green Paddle Award winner. Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper, won the Alabama Rivers Alliance’s 2010 River Hero Award. In 2011 the Black Warrior became one of America's Most Endangered Rivers.

Additional reading & resources added by VAC:
2009 -  Dam Safety Inspection Report submitted to EPA RE: Gorgas Plant *(note heavy redaction of information)
2011 - Earthjustice report "State of Failure"
2011 - OIG Evaluation Report "EPA Promoted the Improper Use of Coal Ash Products With Incomplete Risk Evaluation"
2011 SEC documents on SOCO proxy filing submission & proper coal ash disposal
2011 Article: "There's Something About Vernon (and ADEM)" How APCO/SOCO lobbyists & state agency insiders convinced the Alabama Legislature to adopt dangerous coal ash legislation, and the epic problems with ADEM.
EPA Coal Combustion & Impoundment Reports (scroll down to Alabama for docs, all states listed)
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