Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sierra Club's Dale Olen Calls For Great Lakes Compact Adoption

Today's Crossroads section in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel features a solid piece by Dale Olen about the need for Wisconsin to adopt the Great Lakes Compact.

Madison Peak Oil: Interesting Energy Blog

Add Madison Peak Oil to your valuable internet reading.

Apparently Environmentalism Causes Religious Decline

So says Patrick McIlheran, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist and blogger, if I'm reading him correctly.

An author he quotes, Frank Furedi, also suggests that God and nature are separate, and again, if I understand their argument - - traditional religions somehow err when they point their flocks towards environmental principles that sound like what's commonly called "sustainability.

Writes Furedi, quoted by McIlheran:

"However, eco-spirituality cannot really compensate for the loss of traditional moral authority. Indeed the very embrace of the environmentalist agenda can only accelerate the decline of institutions that cannot give meaning to the religious doctrines on which they were founded. The shift away from God towards nature inevitably leads to a world where the pronouncements of environmentalist experts trump those of the priesthood. It will be interesting to see what will remain of traditional religion as prophecy and revelation is displaced by computerised climate models."

I'm not seeing how environmentalism accelerates the decline of religious institutions, their philosophies and goals.

Where's the contradiction? Isn't our earth the one that God created, according to the Old Testament?

Don't we have an obligation as the inheritors of the earth to try and help sustain it (at least to do it no harm), and doesn't it make sense for traditional religions' leaders and messengers to encourage that attitude and practice?

Pope Benedict XVI is on board.

Seems to me that the more that institutions and their practitioners, spokespeople or leaders - - whether political, religious, secular: you name it - - respect and steward the land (read: nature), the more credible and relevant that those institutions will be.

Same for the rest of us.

The planet, too.

What's not to like?

No name-calling here on this pleasant Sabbath: I just don't see overall threat, and especially that nature/God division.

A few personal observations.

When I was in Japan, and visited the shrines of nature-worshipping Shinto, I never doubted for a second that I was standing on Holy ground.

I felt the same way hiking through the Black Hills this summer, as I did when canoeing in Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park, or when I first discovered the trails in the Kettle Moraine.

Isn't it possible that environmentalism, resource conservation, call it what you will - - even a small intentional act of care for the earth - - is actually what people of many faiths would call God's will, and is a complement to other rituals of belief and faith that might be more recognizable because they take place in traditional houses of worship?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Will A Nuclear Power Plant Help Extract Canadian Crude Oil Headed To Superior?

It's the energy policy trifecta:

To produce gasoline at an expanded Murphy Oil refinery in Superior, on Lake Superior, crude oil from Alberta must be extracted from the tar sand deposits there.

The extraction of the oil from the sand is an energy-intensive process - - so why not build a nuclear power plant in Alberta, Canada, to do the trick?

That's the buzz north of the border.

Pollution is Down! Oh, Wait A Minute: Pollution ENFORCEMENT Is Down

Just another Bush administration story: enforcement against polluters is down, reports The Washington Post - - not pollution.

Carry on...until January 20, 2009.

Ethanol: Boom, Bust. No Surprise.

The New York Times tells us that the boom in corn-based ethanol is going bust.

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote on this blog about ethanol:

"Not that I'm a glass-empty person, but you have to wonder where this is all headed, given that boom-and-bust has been seen in rural America before, and that even with sufficient rainfall, corn-growing and ethanol-making requires a lot of water and energy as inputs."

The future in ethanol fuels rests in so-called cellulosic, fiberous plants, including grasses, even wood chips, which require far less water, fertilizer and energy to produce.

Doesn't The Hurried-Up Pabst Farm Mall Interchange Need An Environmental Review?

So let's get this straight:

The state transportation department, Waukesha County, The City of Oconomowoc and the Pabst Farms developer all agree to quickly construct a $25 million interchange at I-94 and Sawyer Rd. in Western, exurban Waukesha County to provide the development's upscale mall with easier customer access.

Any parallel move towards a transit connection?

More about that, below, but back to the spiffy interchange being created at warp speed.

With the State using tax money to pay most of the cost.

There's talk of ground-breaking next spring, maybe as early as April.

So the question is:

Can the state and other entities proceed with spending that much money on an Interstate project - - and most of its share comes from state and federal gas tax collections (e.g. our money) - - without an environmental study?

The entire Pabst Farms project is being built on formerly-designated prime agricultural land. Water that flows through the land replenishes the region's underground water storage in aquifers - - something not helped along naturally by the addition of more and more concrete.

There are nearby bodies of water with water levels and habitat that will certainly be affected by the construction of a big-time, so-called "Diamond Interchange," with construction and the addition of sweeping ramps that will eat up raw land.

And there will be traffic counts on that stretch of Interstate highway that will jump with drivers induced to drive to the new mall - - adding an unevaluated impact on future development, land use, highway expansions, and local road usage, to name but a few items that need study.

It's noteworthy that the project and interchange have been labeled as contrary to the area's land use plan for the area produced by Kurt Bauer, director emeritus of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, yet Pabst Farms and now the interchange addition are moving forward, and quickly.

Have we abandoned entirely the concept of studying the environmental impacts of a suddenly-announced $25 million highway project?

Is anyone in Waukesha County or state government still interested in measuring all aspects of the public, common interest?

Update: A related question is being asked in Monday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, too - - how will all the workers at the high-end mall get to their low-paying jobs without a transit connection?

Or to the hospital and other commercial ventures at the upscale city, where apartments and market-rate housing was excluded by design from Day One.

Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, calls it all textbook bad planning, which is not overstated.

$25 million was found in record time to pay for the interchange construction: watch how the planning and transportation double-standard labors to find money for bus connections, which may get as far as the City of Waukesha, but not to Milwaukee.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bush A Believer On Climate Change?

You've seen the stories: George W. Bush wants to do something, or think about something, or get some PR for wondering about climate change and global warming.

How do we assess this phenomena?

One story sums it up, so as we used to say in the newsroom, read to the kicker (the end).

Superior's Future - - The City And The Lake's - - Has An Oily Feel

News and blogger accounts of the probable expansion of Murphy Oil's Superior, WI refinery have been bubbling to the surface.

The Arkansas-based company is seeking a deeper-pocketed partner to finance up to $6 billion of development to bring its 35,000-barrel-per-day Lake Superior refining operation to 235,000 barrels-a-day.

What's fueling such a substantial increase, and along with it, the potential for major wetlands-fillings around the company's existing site and possible pollution to Lake Superior, the cleanest of the five Great Lakes?

Certainly the company wants to make money, but there's a bigger story, and the San Francisco Chronicle's award-winning energy reporter Robert Collier has been all over it.

More than two years ago, Collier went to Alberta, Canada and wrote extensively about the vast tar sand oil resource there, and how squeezing thick crude from the sands requires massive amounts of water and energy.

And where will a lot of that crude be headed?

Down the pipeline to Superior and other US refineries - - construction of which has already led to scores of documented improper wetlands' incursions and violations that does not bode well for its operations once it's up and running.

(Here are some summary facts about pipeline problems in Wisconsin, courtesy of the River Alliance of Wisconsin.)

Why could Superior's future - - both in the lake and in the surrounding land - - be an oily one?

Consider that there is:

* Ongoing instability in the Middle East (say, whatever happened to that post-invasion profitable supply of Iraqi crude oil that was supposed to smooth out the market?), putting pressure on the supply side of the equation;

* An even larger reserve of shale oil in Colorado that is still prohibitively expensive (another solid Collier piece lays that out, here), so more supply-side pressure;

* And no coherent national energy conservation policy in place, thanks to Dick Cheney's secret energy 'plan,' and American consumers' consumption - - thus helping the demand Ying to the supply side Yang.


Count on tar sand crude oil from Alberta continuing to be a hot commodity, with the attendant political and environmental issues landing squarely in Superior and at the State Capitol, too.

Tar sand crude is the same product that led to the outcry along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Milwaukee to Gary, Indiana this summer, when British Petroleum obtained a permit from Indiana officials to dump more of tar sand crude oil's refining pollution into the lake.

The uproar led the company to backtrack on the dumping increase, but the refining expansion is moving forward, because the demand in the US for gasoline seemingly has no limit, even at $3 a gallon, and more.

Wisconsin and its Canadian neighbors who share the Lake Superior shoreline could easily be headed for a confrontation like the one that broke out over BP's expanded refining waste stream at the Indiana facility.

That could happen if - - and I should really say "when" - - Murphy Oil either comes to state officials for permits to discharge refining pollutants into Lake Superior, or to fill in the refinery's surrounding wetlands when siting additional structures, or both.

BP's plans were rolled back because major media, like the Chicago Tribune, and political leaders including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, US Senator Dick Durbin, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and others, got heavily involved.

As did citizens, who signed petitions and began standing with picket signs in front of BP stations.

BP, which advertises itself as the environmentally-friendly "Beyond Petroleum" company, wisely said it could find treatment technologies for its new refining waste stream than depositing it into Lake Michigan.

What will happen in Wisconsin with regard to the Murphy Oil issue, where organizations including Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Wisconsin Wetlands Association, among others, have already gotten involved?

But about which the Wisconsin public still has very little information.

One last note: when the BP issue was front and center across the Great Lakes region, Wisconsin political and Natural Resources Department leaders stayed virtually silent.

With that channel turned down, it's time for others to be turned up.

In China, Growth Above Ground, Water Depletion Below

The New York Times looks at what happens when population growth and resource gorging is totally out of synch with the amount of water that is required to give life to people, and economies.

Anyone see any lessons about water management for governments, planners and politicians in, say, the Great Lakes region?

Waukesha Water Grab Could Dry Up Portions of Vernon Marsh, Expert Says

When the City of Waukesha announced it planned to acquire acreage in the neighboring Town of Waukesha at the edge of the Vernon Marsh to sink some new wells, area residents and Town officials worried that pulling out water for export to the City would damage the Marsh.

The Town hired University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hydrology professor Douglas Cherkauer, and in a report submitted to the Town, but undercovered by most major regional media, indeed found that the plan could dry up portions of the Marsh.

The Freeman, Waukesha's daily paper, did run a story, (some excerpts below that online coding has made editing and pasting difficult. Best to read the entire story at the link.)

“Within a year, drawdowns could be as much as 10 feet under the river and marsh. After 15 years, drawdowns could range from 20 to 25 feet at the nearest private wells, and from 33 to 38 feet at the river and marsh,” the report states."
The report, said the Freeman, went on to say:
“This indicates a very real probability that there will be significant impacts to private wells and northern portions of the Vernon Marsh complex, which need to be fully assessed before the project begins.”
Continuing, the Freeman said: "Cherkauer’s report notes that at the marsh, “areas where water levels drop could literally dry up, ceasing to function as a wetland.”

It's hard to imagine that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would allow the wells to created, given Cherkauer's expertise and standing in the scientific community.

And the newly-formed Friends of the Vernon Marsh could easily organize substantial opposition in both the City and the Town, further diminishing the chances that new, high-capacity municipal wells would ever be sunk where the Waukesha Water Utility wants to locate them.

The City of Waukesha could seize the moment and address its future water needs with greater conservation, but it is more likely to continue with its modest sprinkling water regulations and rate tinkering while it pursues what it really wants:

A diversion from Lake Michigan.

Insurance Industry Recognizes Climate Change

While talk radio know-nothings deny that climate change is a real and growing dilemma - - a "global emergency," as Al Gore correctly puts it - - private sector insurers and the regulators who examine their books know that global warming is happening.

And is getting costlier.

The Daily Reporter has the details, from industry and state fiscal officials, here.

Here's a related question: What's the reaction of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce?

Wisconsin is home to many insurance companies, thus to corporate balance sheets which could indicate some of the early warning signs of global warming.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

October 24th Program To Honor Gaylord Nelson

1000 Friends of Wisconsin will honor Gaylord Nelson at its 2007 Annual Meeting on Wednesday, October 24th, with a program that includes a luncheon.

Registration details are here.

Speakers and honored guests will include Bill Christofferson, author of the Nelson biography The Man From Clear Lake, and Tia Nelson, the environmental activist who is also executive director of the Wisconsin Commission on Public Lands, and Gaylord Nelson's daughter.

Bush To Veto National Water Projects, Wants Eight Times As Much For the War

President George W. Bush has just requested another $190 billion for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - - but will veto $23 billion in improvements for waterways and water systems in every state.

The disasterous priorities of his administration couldn't be clearer.

Annette Ziegler Faces More Questions

There's only one realistic way to read this story:

Bad news for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler in the incompleted ethical disciplinary case pending against her.

The case was created because she had failed to remove herself from a raft of circuit court cases, decided prior to her Supreme Court election victory, that involved a bank to which she had her husband were linked by stock holdings and loans.

Adding to Ziegler's woes: The Wisconsin State Journal, the state's lead daily paper on the story, is editorially calling for a tough penalty.

You can read the official investigative order that is at the heart of this developing story, and that will frame the final sanction against Ziegler, here.

The editorial is aimed directly at the special three-judge panel that will determine Ziegler's fate.

The editors are not the decision-makers in this case. The judges are.

But it's a safe bet that the judges read the papers, run by people who, for good reason, are called opinion-makers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scott Walker's Self-Interest Is Self-Defeating

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker stumbled Wednesday in a too-hurried effort to get, as they say in politics, "ahead of the story."

Fearing a county pension system investigation into an expanding series of scandals and taxpayer rip-offs - - some of which might have occurred on his watch - - Walker announced that some criminal activity might have taken place.

Oh, really?

What did he know and when did he know it?

And to whom did he report it, as is his duty?

By the disclosure, Walker appeared to be clumsily trying to inoculate himself against an inevitable comparison with his disgraced and recalled predecessor, Tom Ament, the man supposedly responsible for all of Walker's financial problems.

Walker got slapped down immediately by District Attorney John Chisholm, the man elected to prosecute wrong-doing, but who was also put into a box by Walker' unwanted and unneeded amateurish lawyering: should no charges be filed, would it be Chisholm who wasn't up to his job, since Walker had suggested otherwise?

All in all: Not a good political or leadership move by Walker, who is up for re-election in April, and doesn't have opposition.


A transparently gratuitous abuse of power like this is just the kind of misstep that can convince an electorate that in the end, despite everything he'd said about Ament, Walker is just another self-interested courthouse pol.

Not a person of substance and stature who is up to running a county with serious problems to solve.

Final thought: Does this fit on a bumper sticker?

Walker Can't Walk The Walk.

Oil Pipeline Damages Wisconsin Wetlands: A Cause For Deep Concern

The construction of the already-controversial pipeline carrying Canadian tar sand crude oil from Superior to St. Louis has led to numerous instances of damage to Wisconsin wetlands, and this is very early in the process.

This is a disturbing development, not only because damaged wetlands take a long time, if ever, to come back to health (and don't believe everything you read about "remediation," or worse, "artificial wetlands" to replace wetlands allowed to be filled), but because the $2.1 billion project has a long way to go.

Not to mention the probability of wetlands damage - - whether accidental or allowed - - that is sure to accompany Murphy Oil's likely plan to ramp up tar sand oil refining at its Superior refinery from 35,000 barrels daily to 235,000.

Wisconsin is going to need assertive management, oversight and regulation by its Department of Natural Resources to save imperiled wetlands from this expanding oil refining and piping binge.

Wisconsin environmental organizations have been raising alarms and bird-dogging Enbridge since the pipeline route was approved.

Wisconsin Wetlands Association has taken the lead. You can check out the fine work of this group, here.

The DNR's enforcement actions along the pipeline route are a good sign that it is keeping an eye on things, but the number of violations suggest that the route is too long and complex for inspections that are preventative in nature.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Doyle Urged To Strip Fired Cops' Pay From State Law

State Senator Tim Carpenter, (D-Milwaukee), correctly asks Gov. Jim Doyle to support a provision in the State Senate's version of the budget that would end an outrageous state mandate:

The requirement that forces Milwaukee taxpayers to pay fired cops even after their convictions in court.

Legislators beholden to the Milwaukee Police Union pushed this Milwaukee-only statute onto the books years ago.

It is a patently discriminatory and meddling law that has transferred millions in lost city tax revenues for salary and benefits to police officers who have broken the law, been fired and were convicted in court - - but stretched out their sentencing dates through appeals, leaving them on the payroll.

While other honest cops were out on the street.

The so-called "Jude cops" alone have received an unjustifiable half-million dollars, and those payments won't stop until the end of November.

Court sentencing dates for the former officers who beat Jude, violated his civil rights and then perjured about it, could even push that payroll termination to a later, more costly date, too.

It's time that state law stopped sticking it to Milwaukee taxpayers, on behalf of rogue cops who hired and entrusted to protect, not victimize, a further-ripped-off public.

Feingold Blasts Weakened Bill On Water Project Spending And Management

A conference committee of US Senators and Representatives has agreed on a major water spending bill, but removed key oversight reforms, according to Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (D).

Details here.

Particularly galling, says Feingold, is that Senate negotiators on the conference committee caved in on agreed-upon changes that would have put the US Army Corps of Engineers, along with major project spending, under better supervision.

Tuesday Night Meeting in Milwaukee To Discuss Bradford Beach Cleanup

A public meeting of the Milwaukee County Conservation Coalition will be held 7:00 PM at the offices of the Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, 1845 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, with discussion of Bradford Beach pollution and cleanup issues on the agenda.

In advance of that meeting, here is a guest posting by Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, with the local environmental organization Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers:

I went to a public hearing on the Bradford Beach pollution issues held in July, and echo continuing concerns among activists that a proposed action plan has some shortcomings.

[A recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story with some background on the Bradford Beach cleanup issue is here.)

Although the same consultants were used for the Bradford and Racine projects (Earthtech), the solutions at Bradford fall more in the “window dressing” and education realm, and I don’t think will address the water quality issues.

The City of Racine was much more aggressive in detecting illicit discharges that contribute human fecal material to the stormwater outfalls, and created a much larger bio-retention facility to deal with the contamination.

The gardens at Bradford also will not be able to contain all rainwater from the outfalls and so any pollutants captured will probably be washed out and down the beach periodically.

When I asked whether or not they had found where the human fecal bacteria were coming from (as identified by Prof. Sandra McClellan of the UWM WATER Institute), they stated that they hadn’t found it, but the County apparently did conduct some dye testing and other televising tests and found no problems, intimating that the City sewer along Lake Drive was the culprit.

They also were saying that they wouldn’t use pervious pavement in repaving the lots because it wasn’t proven in cold climates, which is ridiculous, in my opinion, as there is a ton of research to the contrary.

Tom Chapman from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and I tried to make a case, but to no avail.

They did talk about putting in an engineered device at some of the parking lots that could be more easily maintained than pervious pavement and would still reduce some of the sedimentation and runoff from the parking lots to the beaches.

Steve Keith at Milwaukee County government is the lead, and may be able to talk at the MCCC meeting on Tuesday, September 25th. (His number is 278-4355).

Milwaukee County Parks Director Sue Black spoke at the hearing, saying that she still had a lot of questions about the project, and I’m not sure if there have been any design alterations since the July meeting or not.

Cities Hold The Keys To Fighting Global Climate Change

The greenest environments with the greatest opportunities to fight global warming are cities, according to the Congress for the New Urbanism and a recent report on MSNBC.

To some that would be surprising.

But think about it:

Cities and urban neighborhoods are where you find transit systems, fewer yards, cutting-edge efficient buildings, green roofs, more pedestrians - - thus more sustainable demands on finite energy and water resources.

Data show, for example, that a exurban home can generate a carbon footprint five times that of a city dwelling.

Another report on this subject has also been released by the Urban Land Institute.

Wonder if this comprehensive focus on cities will be considered both at Gov. Jim Doyle's Global Warming Task Force and President George W. Bush's global warming summit?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Must Be Canada Day On This Blog: The Globe And Mail Sums Up The Great Lakes Disappearing Act

An excellent summary of the issues facing the Great Lakes, from a leading Canadian paper.

Taking Great Lakes Issues To Daily Kos

Daily Kos gets a half-million hits a day. Why not use these great new platforms to get out messages about Wisconsin and our issues to a broader audience?

Here's an example...

The Park People Take To The Blogosphere To Spread Their Message

A welcome to the blogging world to The Park People - - the dedicated Milwaukee County activists trying to save our greatest county-wide natural resource.

Check out their new blog and note that the community newspaper platform they are using is available to those who want to use them.

The Park People homepage is here.

Canadians Examine Oil And Water Policies, Don't Like What They See

There are analysts in Canada, according to this website posting from north of the border, that have looked at their nation's natural resource use for various exports to the US - - with implications for Wisconsin - - and don't like what they see.

Note the linkage to the production and export of Canadian tar sand crude oil - - a process that uses substantial amounts of water, which like oil is also a finite resource.

And the tar sands provide the crude oil that will supply the expanded refining capacity on the US Great Lakes at Whiting, Indiana (British Petroleum) and Superior, Wisconsin (Murphy Oil).

It takes three gallons of water to produce a barrel of crude oil for export, with polluted wastewater to deal with in Canada, experts say.

Then it takes more water to refine that crude oil, and produces more waste that has to be dealt with by the refinery - - on the Great Lakes.

BP got permission from the State of Indiana to increase to three tons daily the amount of ammonia and solid pollutants it was permitted to introduce into Lake Michigan as a result of the tar sand refining increase, but bent to public pressure and announced it could treat the waste in ways other than putting into the lake.

Murphy Oil is still searching for an investment partner to finance the expansion at Superior, but will be confronted with similar waste-stream issues and public relations issues as was British Petroleum, especially if the State of Wisconsin approves a pollution permit that increase dumping into Lake Superior.

Some Canadians are making the linkages between their export and energy policies, climate change, water availability. and environmental protections.

And other Canadians want more action on their side of the border to preserve the Great Lakes, too.

Note this new poll data from Alberta.

We'll see if Wisconsin policy-makers and residents, when Lake Superior is at the heart of the question, are willing to demand the highest standards to protect the Great Lakes.

Walking To School Is Good For The Kids

"Back in my day, we walked five miles to school..."

You've heard that old saw, and it turns out that walking to school has advantages over the bus or the car.

Also reminds me of this posting about the growing suburban waistline.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Falling Great Lakes Levels = Falling Cargo Ship Loads

Falling lake levels are costing the shipping companies money and cargo by the ton.

In some cases, 6,000 tons of cargo per trip.

Yet there still has been no remedial action or agreement on a plan by the states or national governments involved.

Kids Can't Vote, Bush Will Veto Their Health Care

A bi-partisan Congressional measure extending health care to more US families and children - - a measure that is also supported in many states managed by Democrats and Republicans Governors - - will be vetoed by Pres. George W. Bush, he says.

Billions and billions of dollars a week for years paid out to military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan - - and even for universal US-paid health care in those countries, too - - but let's limit that kind of assistance back home.

Can't have too many healthy kids here in America.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Guiliani Phone Call Stunts Diminish The Electoral Process

The long, drawn-out Presidential campaign season hits a new low with what looks suspiciously like another staged telephone call 'interruption' to the candidate by Rudy Guiliani's wife.

Taking a cellphone call while making a speech?

Can you see President Guiliani doing that in front of the UN General Assembly?


"Hi, honey. OK: I'll get a quart of milk on the way home. Carryout? Chinese? Sure. Be home by 7. Love you. Smootch/smootch/smootch."


"Now, back to the Darfur genocide..."

The candidates devalue the entire political process and our worth as voters with phony theater like that.

Bad enough Guiliani is busy doing pandering re-writes of his political history (the recent phone call came during a speech to the National Rifle Association, where the former Mayor of New York City who had supported tough gun controls now says 9/11 makes him a Born Again Gun Rights Guy).

The Washington Post suggests that the speech fell flat, and labels the telephone episode "an odd interlude."

The New York Times has its own take on the wierd moment.

Set your DVR's for Monday's Daily Show and Colbert Report.

To sum it up:

Maybe Guilaini failed to use Marriage #3 to charm away his fresh flip-flopping on Constitutional Amendment #2.

Public Relations Firm Clarifies BP's Plans For Lake Michigan

The public relations firm GolinHarris, on behalf of British Petroleum, has sent me clarifying information after reading an op-ed I wrote for The Capital Times about the recent uproar over a plan by BP's Whiting, IN refinery to add more so-called "suspended solids" and ammonia to Lake Michigan.

After the uproar (protests, petitions, a US House of Representatives resolution, pledges of boycotts, hostile local media and the like), BP said it would not use the expanded pollution permission granted to it by the State of Indiana.

Instead, BP said it would proceed with an expansion to the refinery's capacity refinery using waste treatment methods that did not include discharges to Lake Michigan.

I am surprised and disappointed that the good people at GolinHarris don't know the difference between a letter to the editor, and a column, but anyway...the entire e-text is below.

(NOTE: Even if the treated wastewater BP says its refinery produces is 99.9+% "ordinary water," I think I'll pass on a taste test.)

Email Text:

"Oil Refinery Expansion Raises Lots of Questions"
Thu, 20 Sep 2007 16:51:56 -0400
"Dananay, Jason (CHI-GHI)"

Dear James.

We have read with interest your letter to the editor entitled, “Oil Refinery Expansion Raises Lots of Questions,” which appeared in the September 10, 2007 edition of The Capital Times.

We would like to provide clarification on some details in your letter and provide you with additional information on the environmental efforts at BP’s Whiting Refinery.

In your letter to the editor, you stated, “An effort by British Petroleum Co. to expand its Great Lakes refinery in Whiting, Ind., on Lake Michigan led to widespread criticism and BP's retreat from its plan to increase water pollution from expanded refining of Canadian tar sand oil. BP said it would continue with the Indiana refining expansion, but treat the additional toxic wastes on site.”

BP’s Whiting Refinery does not and will not dump waste toxins into Lake Michigan . The water that BP returns to Lake Michigan is just that – water. It has been treated and is more than 99.9 percent ordinary water.

BP recognizes that it is a steward of the lake, and we are committed to meeting the growing energy needs of the community while minimizing the environmental impact of our operations.

We are balancing the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for energy with our environmental responsibilities - and we believe it is possible to achieve both goals.

BP is making investments in the U.S. to provide heat, light and mobility – all which are critical to sustaining the standard of living we have come to expect. For example, in addition to the refinery modernization, which will increase Whiting’s motor fuel production by as much as 620 million gallons per year, BP is investing billions of dollars in alternatives like solar, wind and biofuels.

In order to provide information on the Whiting refinery modernization to the media and the general public, we have developed a website on the project. We hope that you will access this site at You can also learn more about BP’s commitment to the environment by visiting


Jason Dananay

Jason Dananay
Account Supervisor
111 E. Wacker Dr.
Chicago , IL 60601
t 312.729.4221
f 312.729.4027

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sykes Calls Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson "Race Pimps."

Why is it that right-wing talk show hosts have to get into the gutter when they object to African-American leaders' activities?

Charlie Sykes is outraged about the "Jena 6" protests.



But is it necessary to sound like Don Imus, and call Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton "race pimps," as Sykes just did finishing his 10 AM segment today on 620 WTMJ-AM?

Lazich Hints At Litigation To Blow Up Great Lakes Cooperation

This blog has posted numerous items about the efforts of State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) to undermine the Great Lakes Compact.

And this blog has also pointed out several times that Lazich's obstruction of legislation in Wisconsin to implement the Compact is counter-productive to the effort that her home community of New Berlin is making to obtain Lake Michigan water.

The current Shepherd-Express goes over this ground again, but Lazich uses her exposure in the Milwaukee weekly to drop a bombshell: that New Berlin might go to court to try and wipe out the federal law that currently governs diversions of Great Lakes water.

It's not clear just what Lazich means by "New Berlin," since Jack Chiovatero, New Berlin's Mayor, supports the Compact, recognizing that it is the fastest route to a deal for Lake Michigan water.

And he has expressed frustration with Lazich's anti-Compact position - - one that is shared by powerful business interests, including the Metropolitan Builders Association and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce.

But going to court to knock out the federal law is regarded as the nuclear option in the Great Lakes region, the ultimate act of regional uncooperation.

That's because, if successful, the Great Lakes - - all five of them that touch eight states and two Canadian provinces, and that contain 20% of the world's fresh surface waters - - would be left without any protection against wholesale, whimsical, unjustifiable and flat-out greedy withdrawals of water.

And without any conservation planning or requirements that equal amounts of water taken from the Great Lakes be returned to sustain this vast, two-nation ecosystem.

The Great Lakes Compact would have installed a series of rules and procedures for New Berlin to obtain Lake Michigan water that are easier to meet than what is contained in the federal law.

If Lazich truly represented the public interest, she'd have been a leader in getting the Compact adopted.

Instead, she a) helped insure that no bill is moving forward in the Legislature to accomplish that, and b) is talking about wiping out the remaining law which the Compact, in coordination with the federal law, would help make diversion procedures more reasonable.

All to help sustain the Great Lakes. They're the only ones on the planet, and they are held in trust for all the people of all the states and provinces, making stewardship of this resource a shared responsibility.

There has been a spate of stories in recent weeks about damage that the US Corps of Engineers has done through dredging in a key Great Lakes tributary that appears linked to huge water losses daily from the lakes into the Atlantic Ocean.

Congress, the Canadians, and many organizations are marshaling resources to try and pinpoint and repair the damage so that water levels in the Great Lakes can be stabilized.

Imagine if all that political, scientific and engineering work were to finally get launched - - only to have one State Senator from New Berlin, Wisconsin help to blow open a bigger hole in the Great Lakes.

Look back to Wisconsin's conservation history. You'd have the Aldo Leopold Legacy - - defining for the state and country what a land ethic really is.

Then you've got former Governor and US Senator Gaylord Nelson's Legacy - - Earth Day, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, preservaton of the Apostle Islands, and more.

Then you could have the Lazich Legacy - - leadership to litigate, then lower the water levels, in the former Great Lakes.

Milwaukee: Minor League Traffic, Major League Expense-ways: Guest Post

I'm pleased to post this guest essay by Steve Filmanowicz, a former Milwaukee journalist, and now Communications Director at the Congress for the New Urbanism - - CNU, the Chicago urban design organization run by former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist (for whom Steve and I both worked).

By Steve Filmanowicz

What would it take for Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and other state leaders — many of whom are at loggerheads over how to pass a state budget that doesn't raise taxes — to question the need to spend a mind-boggling $6 billion dollars expanding and "enhancing" Southeast Wisconsin's freeway system?

How about the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and top radio talker Charlie Sykes, both of whom pride themselves on their roles in protecting the taxpayers from wasteful government spending?

Well, what if the nation's most authoritative traffic study ranked congestion in Milwaukee 48th among US metro areas — way, way behind gridlock capitals such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas, behind even out-of-the-way locales such as Birmingham, AL and Colorado Springs?

If that were the case, surely the stewards and watchdogs of taxpayer dollars would call for rethinking, scaling back and "value engineering" this colossal public works project. After all, if freeways and major roads in Milwaukee are in or heading towards a crisis, government should by all means step in and fix them.

But if congestion here is already strictly minor league — on a par with Omaha, where the smell wafting from livestock trucks is often a bigger concern than commuting delays — why tax people to the tune of $1,100 per Wisconsin resident to supersize our freeway system?

Why not check the facts first?

The Texas Transportation Institute just issued the latest update of that authoritative study, the 2007 Urban Mobility Report, and it indeed confirms that Milwaukee is already one of the nation's leading traffic success stories — even with its supposedly inadequate 1970s-era highway system.

Even before spending a dime on the $6 billion enhancement/expansion plan.

In fact, the ranking quoted above is from the previous TTI mobility report, published in 2005. The 2007 report ranks Milwaukee even better -- 59th in hours of delay per rush-hour traveler for the most recent year measured (2005). Delays are now worse in Allentown-Bethlehem, PA than in Milwaukee despite what Billy Joel had to say about "closing all the factories down."

And despite what you've been taught to fear about highways being on the verge of filling up, the TTI (a highway-friendly organization, by the way) reports that the actual delays experienced by Milwaukee area travelers have been declining.

In 1995, it was 22 hours per traveler. In 2000, it was 20 hours. And in 2005, it was 19. (This was all before major work began on the Marquette Interchange project, which influenced delays but far, far less than expected.)

At 19 hours of delay per peak-period traveler, Milwaukee is now on par with Tulsa and New Haven, CN.

But hey, if we spend $6 billion more, could we go lower?

For comparison purposes, two metro areas in our population group with lots more highways (and stronger economies), Minneapolis and San Diego, have double and triple the hours of delay per peak traveler and these numbers have generally been growing.

The average Detroit rush-hour traveler experiences 54 hours of delay, despite the region's declining economy and abundance of freeways.

Interestingly, Milwaukee actually subtracted from its highway system slightly -- replacing the .8 mile Park East Freeway with a boulevard and lift bridge -- and saw overall congestion drop.

Whatever measures are used, the 2007 Urban Mobility Report paints a consistently uncongested picture of Milwaukee area traffic. The length of the "rush hour" here was 5.6 hours in the latest year measured (2005), down from 6.2 hours in 2000. The share of congested "lane miles" of highways and principal arterials fell to 25% from 31% in 2000.

Read the report for yourself ( and you'll see that there's next to nothing in it that suggests traffic is a major issue in Milwaukee. In fact, the TTI gives Milwaukee its lowest possible congestion scores (L- and S-), concluding that the region has "much lower" than average congestion and "much slower" than average congestion growth.

Despite being prepared by the top traffic experts in the country, these conclusions differ rather sharply from what was presented to Milwaukeeans by the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) when it debuted its highway plan calling for adding lanes to pretty much every stretch of interstate in Southeast Wisconsin.

The powerpoint presentation SEWRPC used at public hearings is still available on its website and has graphs showing more freeway miles subject to "bumper-to-bumper" traffic (through 1999) and maps showing more and more stretches subject to "extreme" congestion (also through 1999).

SEWRPC typically explains that it takes the long view. Economic fluctuations affect traffic in the short-term. But a check of the TTI archives shows that traffic in Milwaukee has been improving relative to other metro areas for decades.

Milwaukee's ranking in delay per traveler hovered around 40 for much of the 1980s, hit 39 in 1999 and has been heading down towards 59 since then.

SEWRPC has also noted that our aging system needs to rebuilt in some form, so shouldn't it be "modernized" — meaning not just reducing areas of weaving and other obvious problems but broadening existing lanes, lengthening ramps and straightening out curves in order to keep speeds up?

And since we're making room for this footprint-swelling and budget-swelling modernization anyway, why not go the extra mile and add lanes to all of Milwaukee's major highways?

SEWRPC answers these questions without regard for how its plans are funded, creating a bias toward overbuilding, toward paving for a rainy day. The current plan was actually unfunded at the time of its adoption and Governor Doyle has chosen to follow blithely along, stretching the state budget to accommodate it

As a result, we have the Escalade of Cadillac highway plans — the newest and biggest that money can buy. Apologists for freeway overbuilding typically accuse urbanists of wanting to worsen traffic in a vain attempt to force people to live close to the city, but that argument simply doesn't apply here.

Traffic on Milwaukee's major routes is currently at levels that other metro areas would kill for, yet expansion supporters call for spending billions to make it even easier to drive ever longer distances.

As hard as this strategy is to justify today given our Tulsa-sized traffic, it gets even harder when you consider, as Jim Rowen did recently on this blog, that SEWRPC based its future traffic projections on a future with $2.30 per-gallon gasoline. Tight gas supplies and growing global demand will have the power to make these cheap-gas projections look embarrassingly shortsighted.

The decision over how much taxpayer money to plow into freeways — a decision that has admittedly already been made, just without the thorough public review of costs and benefits it deserved — comes down to priorities.

In a region like Milwaukee that is struggling for its economic life in a highly competitive world economy, tax dollars and other economic resources are precious.

If instead of the Escalade highway plan, Governor Doyle were to give Southeast Wisconsin the Camry plan or even the green Prius plan featuring enhanced transit, the couple of billion dollars or so in savings could go to an array of strategically beneficial uses — fixing structurally deficient bridges, making Wisconsin a leader in science and math education from the elementary through university level, or just keeping more money in taxpayers' pockets so they can put it to work themselves.

Or we can build the ultimate highway system and move a few more notches down the congestion list.

After all, we still have Akron and Buffalo to catch.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

County Pension Scandal Reporting Produces An Investigation

Credit Journal Sentinel reporter Dave Umhoefer and his bosses at the paper for having laid out more facts and timelines in the County's continuing pension scandals - - the first, precipitous mess during the recalled Ament administration, and the newer mess that has taken place on Scott Walker's watch - - and forcing a potentially consequential investigation.

I suspect people in media, county government and prosecutors offices will be paying close attention.

Good Media About Midwest Environmental Advocates

Milwaukee's Small Business Times takes notice of the expansion of Midwest Environmental Advocates into the state's largest city.

The business publication has an aggressive online edition, biztimesdaily, a must-read-solid-adjunct to the paper's hard-copy editions..

Climate Change, Global Warming, Arctic Melting.

The New York Times again reports on the stunning melt-off of Arctic Ice - - but there seems to be little appetite for these stories in other mainstream media, other than by NBC Nightly News/MSNBC and its spectacular videos and photographs from a recent reporting visit to Greenland.

(Click on the photographs to advance to the next one. And access an additional set of videos, maps and displays posted by MSNBC, here.)

I suspect that in the years ahead, we will have to answer to our children and grandchildren about what we were doing when we had the chance to leave them with a planet in better shape - - and were too busy with our indifference.

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter IV, Rolls Through Waukesha County's "Cow Corner"

This latest installment of "The Road to Sprawlville" takes us through a central Waukesha County highway intersection known colloquially and accurately as "Cow Corner."

It is to this spot that the Village of Wales (pop. 2,655) has decided to expand a tax increment financing district and use public funds for a sewer extension - - proving again that sewers bring development to exurban and rural America these days as rail lines spread the economy in an earlier era.

The sewer project will facilitate the construction of some commercial buildings, a coffee shop, and a Walgreen's.

That's an upgrade, I suppose, for the highway crossroads that is within walking distance of Kettle Moraine High School and LeDuc's, the locals' excellent frozen custard stand.

Highway 83 is a north-south route, while Highway 18 runs from the west through working farms and new subdivisions all the way east to the City of Waukesha, six miles away.

The highway intersection now boasts a gas station, a supermarket and a drive-in bank; subdivisions and silos share the nearby landscape, as development has carved deeply into the hilly Kettle Moraine and brought heavy traffic to the area.

And sure enough, on the northwest corner of the intersection on a recent afternoon, a half-dozen or so cows and calves were taking it easy at the edge of their ten acres, in a thunderstorm.

The scene was a reminder that Waukesha County had and still has a agricultural component - - though developers and municipalities, in a mutual money-making pact, are converting every agricultural acre they can find to add home inventories, businesses and tax base onto their respective books.

That's been the classic development formula, certainly since the end of World War II - - pushing people and traffic further from existing communities and business districts.

But there are bumps these days along The Road to Sprawlville, where the TIF that Wales is expanding literally through a piece of cow country was created to help launch a major condo development - - a project that has been on hold for a year because the housing market is in the tank.

Maybe the recent cut in interest rates will loosen up the frozen home-building and selling market.

But you've got to think that empty-nesters who might have downsized to a Wales village condo or a unit in downtown Waukesha may stay in the old family homestead if it selling taking a nasty loss into an ugly, down market.

And first-time home buyers, with tighter money and credit in their pockets, may also stay out of the new housing market, too - - continuing to shrink the demand for homes in Waukesha County corn fields or cow pastures that come with an hour-long commutes to city jobs, with gas around $3 a gallon.

All of which could leave the Village of Wales and its property taxpayers holding a TIF District on its books with insufficient development and tax payments to support it.

For the record, earlier posts in my occasional series about Sprawlville, are here, (on the road to Ft. Atkinson), here (in Dousman), and here (somewhat of a detour - - on the $25 million "diamond-design" I-94 interchange planned to service the planned upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms, Sprawlville's Capital City).

Looks Like This Internets Thing Is Catching On

So NBC will offer direct program downloads to consumers who want to watch shows on demand and on a device that is not your traditional TV.

The service will be free for a while, but then will cost money, the way music downloads are on a paid basis.

All in all, the NBC move is more evidence that the media world is changing rapidly, with Internet alternatives supplementing traditional newspapers and entertainment programming

Supplementing, not replacing.

Not yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

National Conservation Leaders Praise MMSD: Right-Wing Radio And Blogs To Go Nuts

The Conservation Fund, Eastman Kodak and the National Geographic Society are giving the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District an award for conservation measures, specifically its program to acquire 1,400 acres of open land to absorb storm runoff and improve water quality.

This is more evidence that despite what you might hear on talk radio, the MMSD is actively helping to improve the environment, and is a net asset in the community.

And leading national conservationists - - middle-of-the-road, establishment types - - are agreeing.

I can just hear inveterate MMSD-basher Mark Belling now;

"Dam* you, National Geographic! And your commie pals at The Conservation Fund, with its NASCAR tie-in!"

More Evidence Of Global Warming - - Will Right-Wingers Chuckle At Its "Irony?"

A few days ago I called out a local righty blogger for his know-nothing superficiality when it came to climate change.

Chalking it all up to his sense of humor, the self-described musing conservative had managed to find something he called "irony" in a weather situation, ignoring the big picture with a blog posting he called "Thank God For Global Warming."

That is so funny.

I know it's wrong of me to drive up the hit count at silly sites like that, but it's always good to understand the people who are standing in the way of knowledge.

You have to wonder what these residents of the right fringes of the Lesser Blogosphere actually think when they see the evidence of genuine climate change, like the meltoff of Greenland?

More irony (sic)? Some more laughs?

Murphy Oil Expansion In Superior, WI, Hits Major Blog

The proposed Murphy Oil expansion at its Lake Superior refinery has landed on treehugger, a international political and environmental blog.

Spread the word.

More On Milwaukee Talk Radio - - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Paul Soglin stirred up the hornets when he found Milwaukee's relentless AM rightwing talk radio a net negative for the region.

As I pointed out in a blog response, there are alternatives, even on the AM dial, such as WMCS 1290.

Wednesday morning, when I was the way home from the airport, I went up and down the AM dial and found my analysis comparing the rightists on 620 (Charlie Sykes) and 1130 (Jay Weber) to the reasonable entertainers on 1290 (Joel McNally and Cassandra Cassandra in the mornings) to have been prescient, maybe even brilliant.

(There's a little joke in there, for you talk radio devotees, but for those of you who are not regular listeners, the righty hosts often describe themselves with Limbaughlic/hyperbolic praise.)

Charlie was discussing an incident at a suburban high school football game, where a coach shoved a player, maybe justifiably, maybe not. The only reason it was being discussed as 'news' at all is because it was caught on video.

No video, no story. While the incident has some local currency, Charlie and some of his callers fell into that right-wing radio trap where everything suddenly has huge social import, and everything has a political context - - in this case, was it right for the parents of the shoved child to bring in the government by asking the authorities to press charges.


(Wednesday night update: It appears as if there will be no charges, and without a legal case to keep this synthetic story alive, maybe it will go away and local media will stop treating it as if Lindsay Lohan had been involved.)

While Charlie was blowing up this trivial episode into a major cultural brouhaha, Jay Weber was droning on about whether Fred Thompson was being unfairly criticized by Dick Morris, the oddball gadfly pundit.

There's another rightwing talk radio flaw, right there: discussing in great detail every stray thought or intellectual burp by or about a Republican. Talk radio inhabits a one-party world, except when one of the Clintons can be dragged in as a straw man/woman.

More yawning.

Then I went up the dial farther to WMCS, and there was Joel interviewing Prince Fielder. Live by phone from Houston. And at some length.

This is when talk radio is at its best: Finding something that the community is indeed talking about - - in this case, the Milwaukee Brewers' pennant run and best baseball in these parts for a quarter-century - - and letting the guest actually talk.

So much talk radio is all about the host. They will cut people off, and forcibly direct the 'discussion' with the admonition to a caller: "It's my show."

Which it is, of course, but to what end?

Joel knows his baseball: I've sat with him at many a game and I know he could talk at length about it.

But he wisely let Prince Fielder speak uninterrupted about playoff baseball, which allowed Prince to talk about the players in post-season games he watched when he was kid, and about the minor league championships he and his teammates and coaches went through just a few years ago.

So you got hear it directly from the expert, who happens to be a national fan favorite. You got a real sense of who Prince Fielder is, how he thinks at the plate, and in the clubhouse.

The interview was professional. The program sounded like fun. It wasn't forced, or about some irrelevant political subject.

So call Joel and Cassandra and their morning show radio relief pitching, 6-10 AM mornings, on WMCS 1290 AM.

And Eric Von's 2-6 PM afternoon show, too, where I have failed lately to show up as a Thursday "Backstory" media roundtable guest.

Corn, Corn, Everywhere? But For How Long?

Farmers in the Midwest are enjoying a great corn harvest, they tell the Daily Reporter, feeding the ethanol boom, rising food prices and farm prosperity, too.

Not that I'm a glass-empty person, but you have to wonder where this is all headed, given that boom-and-bust has been seen in rural America before, and that even with sufficient rainfall, corn-growing and ethanol-making requires a lot of water and energy as inputs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Population Trends Do Not Favor Northern and Central Wisconsin

Check out the national county map from the Daily Yonder. All sorts of implications for Northern and Central Wisconsin, and along the Mississippi River, too.

Such as what's happening with those counties' work forces, school budgets, land values and public revenues - - both incoming and outgoing - - and a host of other demographic and public policy questions factors that are important far beyond the specific counties borders.

Environmental Law Firm Expands To Milwaukee

Support for environmental issues in Wisconsin and Milwaukee just got stronger, as Midwest Environmental Advocates, (MEA) a public interest law firm founded in Madison, announced its expansion into Milwaukee.

MEA has played a leading role in a number of high-profile environmental issues statewide; its presence in Milwaukee meets a real need.

So welcome to Milwaukee, Melissa Scanlan, MEA's founder and former executive director, and best wishes also to Karen Schapiro, who replaces Scanlan as head of the Madison operation.

Soglin Decries Talk Radio's Viral Presence

Paul Soglin has been spending time in Milwaukee lately, and finds our ubiquitous talk radio jocks distasteful.


Best advice: bring along your CD's, listen to FM, or on AM radio, there is 1290 WMCS, with thoughtful talk all day long.

The rightist squawkers do go out of their way to rip Milwaukee to stir up the suburban AM radio base - - for a guy like Belling - - he's speaking directly to his core audience: older white males.

You listen to the callers ID's, and it's this guy from Franklin, another from Mukwonago, or Hartford or Oak Creek.

Relatively few callers from Milwaukee, and not many from women.

So, for instance, when Belling was railing not long ago about the alleged dangers at Mayfair Mall, he was pretty much talking to people who were not going to be headed there anyway to the Abercrombie & Fitch store, or Crate and Barrel.

The shows do have an effect in suburban politics - - the conservative Republican Scott Walker's winning campaigns county-wide are good examples - - but they have far less impact in the City of Milwaukee, where they could not get their beloved County Sheriff David Clarke through the 2004 Mayoral primary.

And where GOP candidates for state and national offices - - Bush, Mark Green, Mark Neumann, et al - - still run poorly against Democrats.

I also sense a change in talk radio programming instituted by management in this market, and followed by the hosts who want to keep their jobs

If you listen even more closely than Paul has chosen to do - and I am not recommending it - - you hear more "lifestyle" topics being launched - - sports, movie commentary, and so forth - - and less of the one-dimensional right-wing, pro-Bush/pro-war ranting.

Even for this market, the Format of the Far Right is getting stale

Most other cities have moved to lifestyle talk radio, and past the Limbaugh-clone-only variation.

And I suspect you will see this trend continue, especially at 620-WTMJ, the state's largest AM station, where Dennis Miller, whose pitch is gentler and comedic, and professional, is now in the non-sports' evening slot.

Righteous Voice From Egg Harbor On The Great Lakes Compact

From Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, a lifelong Lake Michigan advocate speaks out about the Compact, and the need to get serious about protecting Lake Michigan. Thanks to Ed Garvey for posting it on his blog,

Bridge Collapse Inquiry Yielding Information

During my stint at The Milwaukee Journal and Journal Sentinel, I more or less fell into a reporting speciality - - aviation accident investigations - - and I can see similarities in those airplane crash aftermaths and probes to the course of events unfolding after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minnesota.

Similar protocols are being followed (the National Transportation Safety Board is involved in major transportation fatal events) - - and those procedures are less-designed to point fingers than they are aimed at producing spin-free findings to improve public safety.

The bridge collapse investigation process, just like the probe into an airliner crash, will take time, as every clue is analyed and information released on the way to final conclusions, hearings and recommendations.

So the disclosure of major, water-related erosion from bridge stormwater runoff near one of the bridge piers is probably not related to the tragedy, sources say, but the finding could lead to more public awareness and remedial steps - - even if there is no direct cause-and-effect linkage to the collapse.

And it's also possible that while the erosion damage did not cause or initiate the collapse, it may also turn out to be one contributing factor in a chain of cascading events.

That's usually the explanation for a plane crash: one thing leads to another - - human, mechanical or exterior forces that might seem isolated, but are linked in a coincidental, perhaps impossible sequence, advancing to one unforgiving, fatal point.

For example, I remember studying the crash of a commuter airliner crash in Texas when a piece of tail fell off.

A million initial questions? Pilot error? Bird strike? Weather factors?

Or did the plane come from the factory with a defective tail or connected part or system?

After a year or so, the findings were released.

A key tail piece did indeed fall off, but not because of bad production or substandard metal, severe weather, poor piloting, or errant birds .

The tail piece fell off because when it had been removed for maintenance it was not completely screwed back into position.

Failing to reinstall 47 airliner tail assembly screws back is bad enough, but human failings like that are supposed to get caught when a supervisor checks the job in the hangar.

And then the supervisor signs a form to that effect: repair job OK. No spare pieces lying on the mechanics' tables.

But in this case there was slipshod double-checking - - further evidence of internal management problems and of federal regulatory oversight, too - - but the plane went back into service, where the stress of a few more hours of normal flight created enough vibration to rip free the partially-bolted-tail piece free.

That sent the plane into its uncontrollable plunge, killing 14 people.

That's how a cascading failure works - - small things involving people and machines and technology begin improperly, quietly - - and end in disaster.

(I pretty much remembered the details correctly, but went to a federal data base to look it up. You can read the report summaries here.)

When the bridge collapse investigation is finished, the conclusion will surely find a combination of problems and factors, some small, some substantial.

The erosion finding is interesting on its own, and we will learn a great deal more about engineering, construction, inspections, weather, financing and many other circumstances as the investigation proceeds.

And expect many recommendations in the science, technology and human behavior areas, all to prevent a repeat collapse.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin Picks Savvy Board Chairman

Milwaukee attorney Steve Bablitch becomes chair of the trustees' board at the Wisconsin Nature Conservancy.

That's a good pick.

Roberta Gassman Brings "Wisconsin Covenant" To Waukesha

One of the more revelatory story lines in the current political season has been the curious reaction of some Republicans to Gov. Jim Doyle's "Wisconsin Covenant" plan.

The Covenant will guarantee space in the Wisconsin higher ed system, and financial aid, to Wisconsin 8th and 9th grade students who graduate from High School with at least a "B" average, and meet a few more criteria.

Sounds like a good idea - - promoting high school achievement, and keeping good students in-state to enjoy the colleges and universities their parents have supported with their taxes - - right?

Well, the Republicans have been grumbling, as they do about virtually every bit of guvmint spending and planning, unless there is a new lane of interstate highway, or a shiny new water pipeline from Lake Michigan, or a bit of corporate welfare involved.

It's a stunt, they say of the Compact.

The funding isn't there yet. (Same thing could be said for the next $5 billion or so of the Southeastern Freeway reconstruction and widening plan, but that doesn't stop anyone from assuming it will go off on schedule.)

And on and on - - when the truth is, the program is innovative, and forward-looking, and if the Republicans could set aside their partisanship and ideological blinders for thirty seconds, they'd see that this is a winning idea for students, their school districts, parents and the state's workforce and business outlook, too.

Roberta Gassman, Wisconsin's Secretary of Workforce Development, took the message to a Waukesha High School, where critics wondered why this program would be touted in upper-income Waukesha?

Talk about folks having a puffed-up opinion of themselves.

There are plenty of middle-and-working-class kids and families in Waukesha that would love to have college admission questions settled, and some financial aid in the package, too. Based on academic performance.

What's not to like?

It was tactful for Gassman to point when she was in Waukesha that the program was non-discriminatory.

Could it be that the concept of inclusion is farther out of the mainstream in Waukesha than I thought?

OJ's Return Could Play Well

Since on this blog it's occasionally all about me, I will say that I'm not averse to seeing O.J. Simpson's name again in the headlines.

But only because Mr. O.J. Simpson plays an unseen but important role in my snappy, two-act play, "The Modern Workplace," which did receive a reading at the Cornerstone Theater in Milwaukee last year, but has not been produced.

To agents and theater directors, serious inquiries only, and to The Juice, thanks in advance should your return to the news make my timeless work of fiction (well, seven years in the writing to date) even more timely - - and producible.

Now back to politics and the environment....

Putting Human Faces On The Transit Story

Gretchen Schuldt understands the power of visual media and story-telling, posting videos of personal stories about the value of transit to Milwaukee.

Wonder if anyone over in Scott Walker's office, where the knives have come out to hack away county bus routes, has taken the time to watch?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Disappearing Sea Ice Will Change A Climate, And Politics, Near You

Disappearing sea ice in the Arctic continues to make news.

As temperatures rise, the oceans warm up, too, and the ripple effects will be:

Smaller or vanished polar ice caps.

Stronger summer storms.

Higher ocean levels.

Less polar ice means less sunlight reflected, and more sunlight and heat absorbed in the water, meaning less sea and polar ice - - so the cycle continues.

For people living in coastal zones, stronger storms and rising ocean levels will certainly effect daily life due to higher rainfall totals and altered shorelines.

For those of us in the Great Lakes, the impacts are most likely stronger rainstorms and more evaporation from surface waters.

How these factors will interact can't fully be predicted, but it is known that Lake Superior's documented and historic drop is related to warmer air temperatures, less ice cover, and drought.

The heavy rains of a few weeks ago in Wisconsin and Minnesota did not alleviate years of drought around Lake Superior; all the trends are a cause for concern and underscore the need for strong water conservation and resource management planning - - key elements in the pending Great Lakes Compact and certainly reasons for its quick adoption by all eight Great Lakes states.

Minnesota and Illinois have adopted it; Wisconsin is the only state without a bill under consideration.

Ft. Atkinson 'Diet' Helps A City Save The Earth

Kitty Welch, co-owner of the wonderous Cafe Carpe, has helped put the City of Ft. Atkinson on the map again, this time with a model energy-saving community diet.

I'm always glad to plug my favorite small-town music club/restaurant/dessert Mother Lode, and the effective politics of the owners.

Done it before, glad to do it again.

Gathering Steam: The Push For A More Independent DNR Secretary

Bi-partisan legislative forces, led by conservation groups, are making headway in their long effort to undo former Governor Tommy Thompson's annexation of the Natural Resources Board Secretary to the gubernatorial cabinet, notes State Rep. Spencer Black, (D-Madison).

Fifty organizations are urging adoption; the goal is a DNR more responsive to the grassroots and less subservient to State Capitol politics - - the way the Natural Resources Board was envisioned by the great Wisconsin environmental leaders of the past, including Aldo Leopold.

If that happens, score one for environmental reform.

Next up: returning the position of Public Intervenor to the office of Attorney General, and if the thought is too horrifying for the incumbent, J.B Van Hollen, then place it in the Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Kenosha GOP Blogger Show Strong Dislike of...Scott Walker

Jeez: I thought I had been tough on Scott Walker, but check out this mainstream GOP blogger's remarks from Kenosha. Yipes.

Musings Of A Knucklehead

Everytime there is a cold snap somewhere in the world, the wingnuts put down their stone axes on the flat earth and declare that Global Warming isn't real.

Here is a local example.

The Drudge Report, that font of climate science, had a similar story about Chicago, even though cold snaps at this time are barely news.

If it were July 15th, that would be different, but today's September 15th, with Fall just around the corner. In a northern city and climate, a cold night is hardly worth mentioning.

Trends and the big picture are more troubling, though don't expect the knuckleheads to pay much attention.

Because it's more fun to be a Goofy Man with a blog toy, using it to publicize "irony" for your Internet buddies, where there is none.

WEAL: The Alternative Voice In Waukesha

To many people, "Waukesha" means sprawl, annexations, and overuse of water.

What better recent example than the comments of State Sen. Rob Cowles, (R-Allouez), who told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that the state's recently-disbanded study committee on the Great Lakes Compact failed to write a bill because the committee's top-heavy Waukesha presence slowed down and obstructed the consensus process.

So Wisconsin still is the only Great Lakes state without a bill either adopted or under review to implement this historic, regional water conservation agreement.

But there is WEAL - - the Waukesha Environmental Action League - - an alternative, activist voice in Waukesha that is spreading the word from the grassroots about conservation, Smart Growth, and better water and wetlands management.

WEAL has taken a strong position in favor of the Great Lakes Compact.

And its members have helped form a companion organization, Friends of the Vernon Marsh.

The new group is trying to prevent encroachment onto and beneath a major remaining Waukesha County wetlands and wildlife area that is under pressure from developers, and the City of Waukesha, which wants to sink five wells at its edge.

The well sites are outside the Waukesha city limits - - boundaries that continue to spread through annexations that will accelerate if either the Vernon Marsh or Lake Michigan is tapped to fuel the growth.

You can check out WEAL's history and goals, here.

Chicago's River Pollution Is Mind-Boggling

And you'd think from reading everything that comes out of the Great Chicago Municipal PR Machine that Milwaukee is somehow responsible for Chicago's water quality issues.

Apparently not. Chicago just flushes its sewage out of sight and mind towards the Mississippi River - - without disinfection.


State Groups Again Call For Strong Great Lakes Compact

In the wake of the collapse of a state legislative study committee's drafting effort, a coalition of Wisconsin environmental, conservation and community organizations has again urged lawmakers to adopt a strong version of the Great Lakes Compact.

The groups' news release is here.

The Compact would require water conservation by Wisconsin communities and set first-time standards for the approval of limited diversions of Great Lakes water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

The legislative study committee stalled and disbanded after an unproductive year of meetings because Waukesha-area members wanted to ease diversion restrictions enabling their communities to pipe in Great Lakes water - - an outcome that would negate five years of work by negotiators from the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to draft the proposed regional document.

With the committee now adjourned, the door is open to Wisconsin moving more seriously towards adopting a bill that effectively protects the Great Lakes in the public interest.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Journal Sentinel Raises Murphy Oil Profile, Misses A Little History

The Journal Sentinel joins the Murphy Oil refinery expansion story. The glare of publicity is good, following op-eds about this likely major refinery expansion on Lake Superior that have appeared in both the Madison State Journal and Capital Times, and on this blog for weeks.

Murphy has had a pretty bad track record at its Superior refinery, including a finding of willful withholding of air quality data from state permitting regulators a few years ago that resulted in record fines.

You can read the official US Justice Department release on the company's legal problems, along with details of the fines and clean-up orders, here.

And polluted runoff from the refinery into the ground and nearby waters has taken years and more millions to clean up.

You can find the details about the expensive trashing and clean-up of Newton Creek by Murphy Oil on the City of Superior's official website, here.

This history, like the company's air quality performance and legal problems, didn't make it into the Journal Sentinel story - - but somehow, the MMSD did.

No one is endorsing putting pollutants into the Great Lakes - - except the State of Indiana and British Petroleum, which had agreed earlier this summer to allow BP to add more ammonia and sludge to Lake Michigan at a refinery in Whiting, IN.

Public pressure rolled back that plan, as BP figured out a way to treat its refinery waste on-site rather than use Lake Michigan as its industrial toilet. And got itself out of a sticky PR mess up and down the Great Lakes.

What's in store for the streams and wetlands around the refinery property, as well as for Lake Superior, as Murphy plans a six-fold expansion in refining capacity?

Time will tell, but activists and media can help hold state regulators and company officials' feet to the fire when Murphy's expansion plans proceed, since the standard for permits issued to users of Lake Superior water is no new additional pollution.

You'd like to think that we in Wisconsin can count on the DNR to lay down a tough line with Murphy on behalf of Lake Superior, citing the US Clean Air Act, the US Clean Water Act, and the Public Trust Doctrine, which speaks clearly from the Wisconsin State Constitution on behalf of the importance and imperative of state water protections.

But while protests swept the Great Lakes region against the BP plan, Wisconsin's DNR kept silent, perhaps because they knew that Murphy might want a similar arrangement on Superior, the cleanest of the Great Lakes.

After the fight was over, BP had lost and the public had won, a DNR official was quoted saying that what BP had planned to do was not quite the big deal that some critics had claimed.

A word to the wise: keep your eye on the DNR on this baby.

Besting Belling's Banal Blather

It's not a fair fight: Paul Soglin vs. Mark Belling, but you can read Soglin's succinct and alliterative filleting of Our Overmatched Radio Ranger on Soglin's blog, here.

Fine Magazine Profile Of Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson

Erik Gunn has done a nice job profiling, in Milwaukee Magazine, the affable City of Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson.

Court Approves State Vehicle Emission Rules: Wisconsin Should Act

Faced with dirty air in southeastern Wisconsin, and federal clear-air regulations that might extend as far west as Dane County, Wisconsin officials should review a court decision that allows states to regulate vehicle emissions in the wake of federal regulatory failures or disinterest.

And the more that the Congress and White House delay progress nationally, the more the states could and should take the initiative.

Anybody at the State Capitol interested?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Delphi To Close; In Bankruptcy, But With $37 Million For Executive Bonuses

Delphi Corp., the automotive parts business that once was an arm of General Motors, will shut down its large plant in Oak Creek, but executives and management personnel throughout the company are in line for $37 million in bonuses.

The Oak Creek plant closing is part of a larger Delphi 'restructuring,' but is related to the floundering of the American automobile market.

Who says that failure doesn't pay?

Those Darn Internets Take SEWRPC And Our Freeway Fights International

You German speakers should get a kick out of this:

Oil At $80/Barrel - - Regional Freeway Plan Tied To Much Cheaper Gas

World oil prices hit $80 a barrel on Wednesday, suggesting that gasoline prices above $3 a gallon are returning, probably to stay.

Seems they've been there pretty constantly since Hurricane Katrina and the emergence of China as a major world oil consumer.

Some relevant questions, then, for state and regional transportation policy-makers:

1. Will people keep driving as often and as far with these rising prices?

2. Do we still need that big, expanding regional freeway system from the Illinois line to Jefferson County, and into Walworth, Ozaukee and Washington Counties, too?

3. Will predicted traffic congestion actually materialize and require more lanes and bigger interchanges?

4. Has the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission adjusted its driving projections and formulas that produced the seven-county, $6.5 billion freeway plan - - a scheme of rebuilding and adding 120 new miles of lanes that was drafted, and is being implemented, based on gasoline priced at $2.30/gallon?

On August 30, 2007, I raised these sorts of issues in this email to Kenneth Yunker, SEWRPC's deupty director:

"Do I recall correctly that the freeway study used $2.30/gallon gasoline in its driving calculations to support freeway expansion?

"If so, does the commission stick by that estimate/benchmark now that gasoline bounces between $2.90-3.25, with $2.30 now but a Wisconsin motorist's daydream?"

Yunker responded with an email next day, August 31, 2007, explaining why the agency was not changing its forecasts, along with a few other details and observations:

'The forecast gasoline price per gallon used in the 2035 regional transportation plan was $2.30 per gallon in year 2005 dollars. This forecast was unanimously approved by the study advisory committee, and is based on the official long-term forecast to the year 2030 of the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) published in February 2006.

"The Commission staff monitors the USDOE annual updates of this forecast, and their update in February 2007 did not result in any significant increase.

"Also, it is generally accepted that the fuel cost-per-mile of vehicle travel will affect travel, rather than the cost per gallon of gasoline. (The fuel cost per mile of travel is a function of the cost per gallon of gasoline and the motor fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet).

"It is also generally accepted that the motor fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet responds to the price of motor fuel in the medium and long-term, with fuel efficiency expected to increase with increases in motor fuel price, thus moderating and potentially offsetting any potential increase in the per mile cost of travel and thereby moderating also significant effects on travel behavior and patterns.

"I trust the foregoing will help you to present an accurate discussion of this issue. In the further interests of accurate discussion, we would note that the regional plan does not propose “spending $6 billion on more freeway lanes in the seven-county Milwaukee region”.

"As you well know, most of the cost of rebuilding the freeway system is to reconstruct the system as needed as each segment reaches the end of its useful life, and to do so to modern design standards, and not the 1950 or 1960 design standards to which the existing system was built.

"The estimated cost in the year 2035 regional plan to rebuild the freeway system to modern design standards is an estimated $5.8 billion in 2005 dollars, and the cost of additional lanes (one lane in each direction of 120 miles of the 270 mile system) is $750 million, an increase in reconstruction cost of about 13 percent.

"Also, you may find it interesting that the existing long-range regional plan for the Seattle area includes a 33 percent expansion of freeway lane-miles, as compared to a 20 percent expansion in southeastern Wisconsin."

On September 3, 2007, I sent Yunker this response, with two additional questions:

"Thanks. All duly noted, though I wonder if the traffic projections really justify that portion of the plan that is expansion. Can anyone prove that as gas prices go up (and we're talking up to 50% at times since 2005) the fuel efficiencies of the fleet will wash out the effect of the increases?

"Is that the basis of independent studies, or oil company folks pushing their spin?"

No answer to these questions yet.

Note: This posting ended up on a German-language blog, sending SEWRPC, Ken Yunker and our regional freeway boondoggle international.