'/> Uncommon Hours: July 2010
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To see what 'clean coal' energy from Holcomb II is really all about, Kansans need only look to the 'costly nightmare' in Illinois

A Tale of Two Coal-Fired Utility Plants
Bob Sommer

As public hearings begin on the question of whether to allow construction of an 895 megawatt coal-fired utility plant in southwest Kansas, it’s worthwhile to consider the consequences for Illinois residents who agreed to a similar plan long ago. While most plans for coal plants have been shelved in recent years due to financial risks, one plant slipped by in Illinois, which is now causing many to second guess the decision to invest in such a risky energy source. Notably, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich played a significant role in promoting the project.

Promised cheap energy from so-called “clean coal,” communities throughout Illinois and the Midwest may find themselves with higher utility bills after costs for plant construction more than doubled from the original estimates, according to a report in The Chicago Tribune. Additionally, the 800 megawatt Prairie State Energy Campus plant will be anything but “clean.” Pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, it will be the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases built in the U.S. in the last 25 years.

Further, most of the new jobs associated with the plant will not be at the utility, but rather at the nearby Peabody Energy coal mining operation. For Kansans this is important for a couple of reasons. There are no similar prospects for mining jobs in Kansas, and the estimated 200 new long-term jobs promised by Sunflower Electric pale before the possibility of thousands of jobs that a clear cut focus on wind and other renewable energy sources might bring to the state. But, if we fill the grid with coal-fired electrons, we impair our ability to develop fully clean energy resources by cutting into wind’s market share.

The close links between mining and energy production are hardly limited to Illinois. Big coal has a big interest in seeing a new Sunflower plant built in Kansas. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a Colorado-based energy consortium that has promised to purchase electricity from Kansas and numbers Sunflower among its members, also belongs to the Western Fuels Association, which owns mines in Wyoming—where coal would be purchased for Holcomb II. And the last time Sunflower attempted to gain approval for this plant through lobbying efforts in the legislature, Peabody Energy, which operates coal mines in Wyoming, Colorado, and the Southwest, underwrote some of the advertising to promote the plant. The takeaways here are that the economic benefits will leave the state, along with most of the electricity, while the costs and environmental damage will remain, and the parties who most tout the plant’s benefits to Kansans have multiple interests in promoting coal over other energy options.

Which suggests another lesson from the Illinois morality tale—namely, that building vast coal-burning energy plants is an investment in the past, not the future. As awareness has grown of the imminent threat that carbon emissions on this scale pose to our environment and way of life, similar construction plans have been scrapped all over the country. A recent survey also revealed that a majority of Kansans favor developing clean energy sources.

The estimates for building new coal-burning utility plants usually fail to include the environmental costs. For example, with diminishing water resources in the Midwest, do we preserve water to grow food in Kansas, or do we use scarce water resources to produce power for Colorado, who will get most of the electricity produced and whom we have fought for years over water? Air quality may also be affected throughout central and eastern Kansas and beyond. And what effect will particulate matter, mercury, and other noxious elements have on soil and crops throughout the state? Finally, with all that we now know about the threat of greenhouse gases to the planet’s health, does it make sense to pursue this backward-looking course when so many alternatives are available, and when the project is not needed in Kansas?

The public comment period for Sunflower's Holcomb Station coal plant runs from July 1 through August 15.

Public comments can be submitted at the KDHE website at any time during that period.

For the time and location of public hearings, click the following links:
August 2, 2010 in Overland Park, Kansas
August 4, 2010 in Salina, Kansas
August 5, 2010 in Garden City, Kansas

Helpful information on the potential impact of the proposed Sunflower plant can be found at these sites:

Bob Sommer is the Political Chair of the Kansas Sierra Club.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pfc. Bradley Manning could go to prison for half a century for the 'crime' of revealing the truth

Charged for revealing the truth
Alan Maass

First posted at socialistworker.org
July 9, 2010

THE U.S. military is pressing criminal charges against a whistleblower for allegedly leaking information to the watchdog Web site WikiLeaks.org, including the video of an Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed at least 12 civilians and caused a scandal for the Pentagon.

Pfc. Bradley Manning faces eight charges, including espionage, and could go to jail for more than half a century if found guilty.

All for the "crime" of exposing the unacknowledged crimes of the American military.

Manning has also been accused of turning over at least 150,000 diplomatic cables from the State Department to WikiLeaks--as well as encrypted video of another air strike, this one in Granai, Afghanistan, which killed 140 civilians. WikiLeaks has so far published only one such embarrassing cable, and it has not released the Granai video.

The 22-year-old Manning, who was stationed at a U.S. base east of Baghdad, was arrested by military authorities in May and has been in detention in Kuwait since. He was fingered to the military by a computer hacker named Adrian Lamo. Lamo claims that Manning started communicating with him online, and admitted to being the source of the WikiLeaks exposé.

But there's reason to doubt Lamo's story--not least because he was convicted of hacking into news and corporate Web sites and served a sentence of house arrest and probation that could leave him vulnerable to pressure by authorities.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Fugitive Days,' by Bill Ayers

Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Antiwar Activist, by Bill Ayers

Reviewed by Bob Sommer
(Originally published in the Spring 2009 print issue of Rain Taxi Review of Booksthis review appears here on-line for the first time.)

The first edition of Bill Ayers’ Fugitive Days had about as untimely a release as a book by someone who participated in planting a bomb inside the Pentagon could have: September 10, 2001. The following morning, a feature article about Ayers appeared in the New York Times under the stark headline, “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” Ayers would soon refute the article, but few New Yorkers spent much time with the papers that morning. Whatever benefit of the doubt readers might have given this compelling memoir vaporized in the day’s events. The Times book review of Sept. 30, 2001, typified much of the commentary that followed: “In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people in Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, readers will find this playacting with violence very difficult to forgive.”

From the wingnuts on the right, to left-leaning publications like Slate and The Nation, to the scores of comments at Amazon.com, the single question that most readers ask is whether Ayers expressed remorse for his role in the Weather Underground, which is the political and literary equivalent of judging a gymnast solely on whether she “sticks” the landing. Many assume that everything he did was morally wrong. During last year’s election, Ayers was downright radioactive; few in either party doubted his guilt, only the extent of Barack Obama’s connection to him. But any marketing wizard will tell you that bad publicity is better than no publicity, so the publisher took advantage of the unwanted attention, releasing Fugitive Days in paperback the day after the election, with a new subtitle, a new afterword by Ayers, and perhaps new hope for a fresh hearing.

This is an extraordinary story told by a writer of exceptional skill, a tour through a world that few people know, rendered sensitively, candidly, and often with a self-deprecating wit that Ayers turns on himself and his group with surgical skill. The book’s effectiveness, too, resides in an easy narrative flow that draws on the traditions of picaresque and bildungsroman novels. It is a story of Ayers’s kinship with many activists of that time. It is also a love story, rooted in Ayers’s grief for the loss of Diana Oughton (who died in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970) and for Bernadine Dohrn, with whom he lived underground and eventually married.