Poor Billionaires and the Environment

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What do Utah, New Mexico, Mississippi, Maine, Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota, Alaska and Wyoming have in common? The answer might surprise you.  These are the only states in the U.S. that do not have billionaire residents.  All the other states can claim at least one billionaire among them, some states possibly several.  MarketWatch published an article with a list of the richest people by state.

Of those in the billionaire club, some of the least wealthy accumulated riches by exploiting their natural environments, which perhaps comes as no surprise. Dennis Albaugh from Iowa made his fortune in the pesticide business. He’s only worth 1.4 billion. The Kentucky billionaire, Brad Kelley, amassed his wealth, about 2 billion, growing and selling tobacco. Bruce Halle is Arizona’s richest resident, worth 4.7 billion.  A guy with an interest in rubber, he founded Discount Tire. Did you know that it takes 2,072 gallons of water to produce just 4 tires? It does. Not exactly an environmentally friendly enterprise, especially in such a dry state.  Arizona is the 4th driest state in the nation and is one of the states at risk of running out of water.  Missouri’s favorite and perhaps only billionaire is Jack Taylor of Enterprise rental car.  By the way, it takes over 39,000 gallons of water to manufacture 1 car.  And Oklahoma’s richest resident is one of our founding frackers, Harold Hamm, worth an estimated 17.6 billion. Recently, there have been reports that buried wells of toxic wastewater created by oil and gas operations in Oklahoma may be responsible for an increase in earthquake activity there.162

I am going to give some free advice to these billionaires – take it easy on the environment.  It’s made you rich, but those riches are dependent on finite natural resources. No one knows this better than Nevada’s richest resident, mega billionaire Sheldon Adelson, whose Las Vegas Sands Corporation has made him 49 billion and counting.  He has invested deeply in greening up his casino concerns. Unless others follow the LEED, Sin City may literally run out of water and simply dry up. And who says it doesn’t pay to go green.

Now if only Sheldon Adelson and the rest of the billionaire club members would stay out of politics.  It would be nice for the Super PACs to dry up, well, all but the NextGen Climate Action Committee.  Billionaires, you can contribute to that one.

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West Virginia Chemical Spill

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West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation, just ahead of Arkansas and Mississippi, and is also one of the most hostile places to the environment.  Coal is king in West Virginia and the coal industry has made sure of that.  It is no surprise that the West Virginia congressional delegation has a dismal voting record on environmental issues.  In 2013, West Virginia Senator Machin, a coal man himself, had the worst voting record of any Democrat, by far, voting against legislation designed to combat climate change, to protect drinking water, to reduce toxic air pollution and green house gases.  Not surprisingly, he was for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  To be fair, fellow Democrat, Senator Rockefeller, had a much better voting record, voting for environmentally friendly legislation 85% of the time.  The West Virginia House delegation of three – two Republicans and one Democrat were downright hostile to mother earth, opposing bills to regulate toxic coal ash and fracking and shockingly did not support water safety measures; there’s some tragic irony there.

In January of 2014, a tank owned by Freedom Industries began leaking toxic mining chemicals into the Elk River, the drinking water supply near Charleston prompting the state to issue an emergency ban on tap water for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning.  The ban was recently lifted but the governor, according to an informative piece on the spill in the New Yorker by Evan Osnos, no one has complete confidence that the water is now safe to use.

West Virginians may be poor on the whole, but they aren’t stupid and in spite of their aversion to heavy-handed government, they do in fact want safe water to drink and clean air to breathe.  And speaking of clean air, despite fierce opposition from West Virginia lawmakers, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-2 decision that would compel coal plant operators in states like West Virginia to reduce their pollution, pollution that often makes its way to neighboring states.  In a bit of irony, as this is International Workers’ Day, the two dissenters – Justices Scalia and Thomas said the ruling was, as reported in the West Virginia Record, “possibly Marxist”.

Power to people and power to the environment!  Winning!!

 

 

 

 

How to Unite the Country

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President Obama’s approval ratings are polling in the low 40’s and that’s not very good for Democrats as the midterm elections approach. It’s hard for me to understand why he isn’t polling better.  Do people really think less of him because he hasn’t agreed to a boxing match with Vladimir Putin?  Come on folks, he’s made good on a lot of promises.  Look, he’s delivered on Health Care reform that a majority of Americans originally supported.  He’s made some progress on Immigration reform (not enough and some of it by executive order), kept the country out of wars and is backing a minimum wage increase. And realize that the administration has taken strong stands on voting rights issues and gun control.  Most of the issues are not controversial or shouldn’t be, although of course, they’ve been politicized and have had the effect of polarizing the country.  But one of the most polarizing topics, and one that should concern everybody is the health of our planet.  However, there are some political “scientists” with an agenda that don’t give a flip about mother earth and most, don’t even believe what they are saying.  They’ve been bought out by “big oil” and are the darlings of the political right who champion them as experts, “experts” who represent the 1% of “scientists” worldwide who profess the view that climate change is a natural occurrence and nothing whatever to do with the actions of men, women, business and governments.  And even conservatives who are vulnerable to this kind of corporate propaganda have begun to see a connection between natural disasters and climate change and accept the fact that the globe is warming.  Some even view it as inevitable and a message from God.  Their idea of action is to pray.  But we may need more than prayer.  Unless we do something about it NOW, it may be too late for the next generation of folks who inhabit our planet.

And this is the issue that the Obama administration ought to be leading on.  This is the stuff of legacy.  Climate change could be the one that defines the Obama administration.  The President was elected on a campaign of hope and optimism for change.  The expectations were high.  He was thought to be a new kind of world leader who could change the world for the better.  And he still can, but first he’s got to do something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Now the U.S. isn’t the worst offender in this regard, but we still offend and depend way too much on the burning of fossil fuels.  The government has not done enough to promote alternative clean energies like wind, electric and solar.  Our power grids are still antiquated.  Instead, there’s a stubborn refusal to stop drilling for oil and natural gas.  And of course as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, there will be a need for conveyance by pipelines that are not equipped to handle nasty stuff like tar sands from Canada.  Just look at what happened in 2013 in Mayflower, Arkansas.  This small southern town is still reeling from a burst Exxon pipeline that produced a sludge spill that flooded the community.  People are still suffering health problems one year after the leak.  And the cruel irony is that just last week Mayflower was essentially destroyed by a series of tornadoes.  It has become a victim of our nation’s energy policy and attitude toward climate change.

President Obama doesn’t need a PowerPoint to demonstrate the problem.  There’s plenty of proof that a problem exists. And it’s widespread.  Killer tornadoes just ripped through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.  Northern Florida is practically underwater, having received 20+inches of rain over the course of a few days.  Hurricane Sandy’s impact was felt all the more because of the rising sea levels.  Severe droughts and wildfires in the West are daily events.  West Virginia and Pennsylvania residents have a unlimited supply of flammable drinking water thanks to hydraulic fracturing.  So what can President Obama do?  For starters, the administration could draft a sensible and sustainable clean energy plan that would restore the reputation of the EPA.  He could put a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline.  He could commit the country to reducing CO2 emissions even more and could put pressure on India and China to do the same.  He could fine energy companies substantially and require them to clean up their mess.  He could also forbid drilling and fracking on federal land.

That climate change is due in part to human activity is no longer debatable.  Preserving the planet ought to be our top priority and were it a higher priority for the Obama administration, his poll numbers might be higher.  By the way, why don’t the pollsters start polling on the preservation of the planet?  And to really put pressure on our political leaders to vote for legislation that seeks to help the environment and to vote against legislation that would do it harm, why not publicize more widely The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) ratings it gives politicians?  Gun loving politicians take pride in their NRA ratings and use it to secure votes.  Why wouldn’t planet loving politicians take pride in their LCV ratings?  Unfortunately, environmental causes are too closely connected to progressives and too often discredited by conservatives who have been purchased by corporate interests who don’t want any regulations that might cut into profits.  In their view, profits are more important than our planet.  Let’s take take politics and profit out of the equation and do what’s best for the planet for a change.