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Posts published in May 2013

A leak in the Caribou country

mendiola MARK


A version of this article originally appeared in Green Markets.

The Bureau of Land Management has given Monsanto until the end of May to submit a corrective action report in regards to an earthen holding pond leaking three million gallons of water onto a meadow near its new Blackfoot Bridge Mine in southeastern Idaho’s phosphate-rich Caribou County.

The March 29 breach along a spillway conduit in a catch basin created a 150-foot-long sediment plume on the wetland, but recent testing of the water showed no elevated selenium levels, said Randy Vranes, Monsanto’s mineral operations manager. State and federal regulatory agencies were alerted to the pond failure.

Selenium is a toxic byproduct created when water reacts with phosphate waste rock or overburden. The catch basin is designed to allow for the controlled release of natural runoff and snow melt water into the meadow.

The Blackfoot Bridge Mine is expected to start operating later this year with a 17-year life expectancy. In June 2011, the BLM approved the 1,469-acre mine, which will disturb about 740 mostly private acres not far from the Blackfoot River.

About 10 percent of it would be on BLM land. Monsanto’s South Rasmussen Mine is expected to be exhausted this year.

Monsanto uses the phosphate from its mines to manufacture elemental phosphorus and Roundup weed killer at its three-furnace plant near Soda Springs.

An engineering design investigation is under way to ensure the new mine’s advanced water management system functions reliably, Monsanto spokesman Trent Clark said, noting the mine’s comprehensive design incorporates many environmental protections.

Jeff Cundick, the BLM’s minerals branch chief in Pocatello, said the failed settling pond is part of a network of ponds controlling surface water runoff. Initial reports indicate as the pond was filling the buoyant force of a 60-inch pipe caused it to float enough to separate its joint and allow water to flow around the outside of the pipe, washing away the dam’s center part.

BLM is working with other federal and state agencies to assess if any statutory violations occurred and to review Monsanto’s reports and revised designs to ensure similar failures do not recur, Cundick said, adding no waterways or wetlands were adversely impacted.
The company has constructed a temporary berm so the pond is able to function consistent with the approved water management plan.

Marv Hoyt, Idaho director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said he toured the pond failure site with Monsanto managers. He said there was not a lot of sediment that flowed into and covered some of the wetlands downstream.

“On the other hand, it is somewhat troubling that one of the simplest and least complex pieces of a highly complex mine failed,” Hoyt said. “It certainly gives us reason to scrutinize future mine proposals in the region.”
Fifteen phosphate mine sites in Southeast Idaho are listed as Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or Superfund sites, encompassing 15,000 acres, mostly in Caribou County.

The power of organization

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

Contrary to many expectations, Idaho has a good many Democrats, more than a lot of people suspect. More than 200,000 Idahoans voted for Barack Obama for president last year, and more than 200,000 votes in the two U.S. House races in the state went for the Democratic candidates.

Of course – and no minor point – there were about twice as many votes cast for the Republicans in those races, so in Idaho the Democrats lost. Still, the D numbers are something to conjure with.

I bore that in mind last week a report from Lou Jacobson, a writer on politics for Governing magazine who specializes on politics not on the federal level but in the states. His provocative question: Did the Howard Dean 50-state strategy actually do any good for Democrats? Short answer: He says that it did. Idaho relevance: Democrats should pay attention and take heart; and it could matter to Republicans in many places too.

The longer answer, explaining jargon and party history …

During his tenure as national Democratic chair from 2005 to 2009, former Vermont Governor Dean launched an ambitious and, to many professional pols in both parties impractical, effort called the “50-state strategy.” The norm in politics is to tightly target one's efforts in swing areas, and secondarily build up support in the base – and let slide the areas in strong opposition. For national Democrats, that means forgetting about places like Idaho, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nebraska … you probably know the list. (Republicans have their opposing list, too.)

Dean thought this was all wrong, that the national party could, by carefully planting enough seed money and building organization in all 50 states, change the political atmosphere in even the toughest places – maybe not turning red states blue, but shifting them to less deeply red, building a bench of candidates at local levels who eventually could run for, and maybe win, higher office. (more…)

Compensatory details

stapilus RANDY

The View
from Here

On of the advantages of watching the whole Northwest region is the exposure to a range of arguments - and when it comes to Congress, exposure to not just what one side side, and one member, has to say about something, but counterpoints as well. People who stay in the news silos of their states often miss that: They hear their membetr of Congress but often get only a piece of the story.

With that in mind: H.R. 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013, which on May 8 passed the house with a final vote of 223-204. Briefly, it restructures a piece of employment law allowing more flexibility for use of compensatory ("comp") time off in countering for overtime work, instead of simply requiring overtime pay, which most typically is paid at time-and-a-half.

I have some sympathy for the idea.

Years ago, working as a newspaper reporter, I worked erratic schedules covering news events, night meetings, traveling various places. Strictly, I should have been paid overtime on a number of occasions when I wasn't, but what happened in some cases - when the boss and I worked it out - was that my schedule was quietly adjusted and in effect I'd take comp time instead. It wasn't abuse; arrived at through joint agreement, it worked better for me and for my newspaper. On occasion, we'd hear about a regulator cracking down on such practices, and so have to avoid it for a time. But I long considered it unnecessary and counterproductive regulation of something my employer and I were, left alone, pretty well able to use to mutual benefit. Sometimes the comp time was a better answer for me, as well as for the newspaper, than the overtime. Of course, circumstances varied; sometimes I wanted the overtime. We worked it out.

So when 1406 emerged, I wasn't altogether unsympathetic. And as Idaho Representative Mike Simpson, who voted in favor, explained it, it sounds pretty good: “It can be very difficult to balance the needs of family and work. H.R. 1406 offers individuals an opportunity to meet family obligations by choosing paid time off as compensation rather than overtime hours. This is a decision that should be made between employers and employees; the federal government should not be an impediment to those who seek flexibility.”

(You can follo the link for an extended argument in favor of the bill.)

So what on earth could those 204 House members voting in opposition have been thinking?

One of the 204 was Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, who called a it "more work, less pay" bill. Here's her argument:

“If this bill becomes law, a single mom living paycheck to paycheck could work more than 40 hours a week and receive no overtime pay in her paycheck. She still has to pay the babysitter for the extra hours on the job, and she has no guarantee that she’ll be able to take ’comp’ time off when she needs it. She would have to accept the days off her employer offers, or else wait up to a year to receive the pay that’s rightfully hers.”

Although the legislation provides employees with the option of choosing overtime pay instead of comp time, the bill lacks any provisions to accommodate a worker’s schedule. Bonamici and others also argued this would allow employers to offer overtime hours only to employees more likely to choose comp time, closing off an important income stream to working families.

Bonamici highlighted a flawed provision of the bill that allows employers to delay overtime pay for up to a year with no requirement that the pay be placed in an interest-bearing account. When the bill was considered by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Bonamici offered an amendment to require that pay be escrowed and later paid with interest, but her amendment was defeated.

Add all the pieces together, and you get a bill that in basic concept might have had some real merit, but was by the time it hit the floor a bill designed (the protestations of employmee protection, which seem thin, notwithstanding) to give employers considerably greater clout than they have already in this time of a horrendous job market.

Paying attention to the details means looking at more than one side of issues like this.

Minimum standards

rainey BARRETT


The election of South Carolina’s Mark Sanford to Congress raises some questions at our house. But his victory answers only one of them: there IS no moral minimum to be elected to Congress.

Statistically, Republican Candidate “X” would be the odds-on favorite in Sanford’s district, as if ”X” lived in Idaho or Utah. So Republican Sanford had the situation pretty well locked up just by seeing his breath on a mirror. From a party preference point of view, no surprise.

But, as I said, we had some questions. For starters, Sanford is an admitted adulterer and liar. Not just one foolish, drunken time. Or one foolish, drunken lie. But over a period of a couple of years. He lied to his wife – his own staff – his Republican Party – voters – media – everyone. No mere cover-up. Lied. Repeatedly.

His Republican peers in South Carolina government found him guilty of misuse of public funds for financing his first-class affinity for repeated amorous flights to Argentina for his long-term, intercontinental trysts on the taxpayer dime. His wife divorced him and even had to get a restraining order because he kept hanging around her backdoor. His former backdoor. And he violated that court order – more than once – by showing up again and going through that backdoor.

Now, in the little Oregon town where I grew up, any guy like that in elective office would’ve been lucky to have escaped a lynching and would’ve been bounced out of office by some irate voters. Oh, he might have been the center of attention at one of the logger bars for awhile. But, even there, he would have eventually slid into well-earned oblivion.

But – sizeable baggage and all – not in the First Congressional District in South Carolina. Not the heavily Republican-dominated First District.

Which brings up another question. As an Independent, I’m often derided by Republican friends for not having an “official” set of beliefs – political, philosophical and/or moral. Not true, but they keep saying it. In other words, as someone who moves back and forth with my vote, I’m accused of being susceptible to the “changing popular tide” and not following “Party precepts.” Not “standing for something permanent and good for the country.” No “moral code.” You know the B.S. (more…)

More on ed reform

carlson CHRIS


In April I listed ten suggested reforms that would assist learning by students from the student perspective. This week I’m offering thoughts on suggested reform actions from the standpoint of teachers and school administrators.

1) Allow teachers to maintain discipline. Teachers are in the classroom to teach, not baby-sit. If a student is being disruptive and a teacher tosses the person from the class the supervisor or principal has to back the teacher up. Zero tolerance for disruptive behavior and no second chances. Teachers should instill in students that public education is a privilege not an entitlement.
2) Significantly decrease the load on teachers that comes from having to fill out too many “process forms.”
3) Provide teachers with more “prep time.”
4) Require teachers to take more pre-teaching college classes in history and the humanities and fewer classes in educational theory or psychology.
5) Since Idaho does not and probably never will pay its teachers a decent salary, mandate that every teacher, including coaches on the teaching faculty take a fully paid sabbatical every fifth year to recharge the batteries. Teaching, done correctly, is very demanding and draining. Burnout can occur frequently. This would at least give Idaho a unique offering with which to attract new teachers. Which leads to the next item;
6) Strengthen teacher recruiting and retention programs.
7) Require teachers to participate with each of their “homeroom” students in a semi-annual review of the student’s Planned Path to the Mastery of Common Core Knowledge.
8) Evaluation of a teacher’s skill and success in teaching should be based on extensive in-class observation and not on test results.
9) Evaluation of teachers should require above the 7th Grade a student evaluation component and allow for but not require parental input.
10) Campuses should be weapon-free environments except for police hired to provide security in their “spare time” or a hired and trained armed security force. Neither teachers nor students should be allowed to carry on a school campus.

Here are my suggestions for public school administrators: (more…)

National shame

rainey BARRETT


Wayne LaPierre is a driven guy. Finishes what he starts. No quitter. He’s single-handedly determined to become the most hated S-O-B in America. With one more NRA national convention under his belt – or maybe one more appearance before a congressional committee – he’ll likely achieve the dream. Trump – the distant second – isn’t even close.

It’s no secret Wayne doesn’t speak for responsible gun owners. Hasn’t for years. His overblown salary is paid for by firearms and ammunition companies – not dues from responsible member shooters. His job is to be the lightening rod keeping public attention and anger off the industry while killing any legitimate effort to craft responsible gun legislation by anyone. Takes a special kind of guy – one willing to subvert personal morality and conscience to the demands of people who don’t give a damn about the rest of us. Or him, either, when he finally leaves the job.

Following daily insights into the gross affairs of last week’s NRA convention, I was struck – make that grossed out – by two items. Not that there weren’t several dozen others to turn responsible stomachs.

First item: the exhibit booth of Zombie Industries which – hang on to your lunch now – sold life-sized targets that bleed when shot. Yep, give it a good “kill” shot and the damned things gush red “blood.” If that’s not gross enough, one on display for conference attendees to try their aim on was – I hate to use the words – a dead ringer for President Obama. I’ve seen the picture in all it’s gory glory and you ain’t gonna see it here.

In a fit of uncharacteristic “conscience,” someone from the NRA asked the Zombie folks to take it down. But only after the media had taken pictures and many folks had literally taken their “best shots.” When the operator of the grizzly exhibit was told the bleeding target looked like Obama, he said “Let’s just say I gave my Republican father one for Christmas.”

Second item: LaPierre’s annual speech and the lies therein. All of it could easily be classified as morally disgusting. But he really hit the lowest note when he got to the Boston Marathon tragedy. While the event itself was gruesome enough to stay with us the rest of our lives, Ol’ Wayne had to take it down further.

“How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago” he asked? “Imagine living in a large metropolitan area where lawful firearms ownership is heavily regulated and discouraged. Imagine waking up to a phone call from the police at 3 a.m. warning a terrorist event is occurring outside and ordering you to stay in your home.” A lie, of course.

Shouts from the crowd of “disgusting” and “outrageous” responded to his crazy premise that some citizen militia was prevented from forming and taking to the streets in the name of justice. Authorities did NOT tell people to stay off the streets. And many did not.

Well, let’s take his crazy premise into reality. Every law enforcement group – every emergency outfit within 100 miles of Boston – was somehow involved in the aftermath of the killer explosions. Media was running rampant with facts, speculation and hearsay. Authorities were asking people to “stay in place.” Not “ordering” but “asking.” (more…)

Jobs evaporating in Indian country

trahant MARK


Wall Street celebrated last week’s jobs report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that unemployment fell to 7.5 percent and that 165,000 new jobs were added in April. The report also revised its numbers from the past couple of months, saying that the job creation was stronger than first glance.

But the same numbers are lousy in Indian Country. If you read the full report there’s a number (and a trend) that is concerning: Government sector employment continues to drop. In the technical language of the BLS, “Employment in ... government, showed little change over the month.” Little change was a minus 11,000 jobs. But if you pull back and look at the longer trend government employment continues to shrink.

A report by The Hamilton Project last year detailed this larger trend.

“Total government (i.e., the sum of state, local, and federal) employment has decreased by over 580,000 jobs since the end of the recession, the largest decrease in any sector since the recovery began in July 2009. State and local governments, faced with tough choices imposed by the confluence of balanced-budget requirements, falling tax revenues, and greater demand for public services, have been forced to lay off teachers, police officers, and other workers,” the report by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney reported last August. This is the lowest public-sector employment in 30 years.

But go back even further and the trend is even more stark. Between 1950 and 1975 government jobs accounted for 1 in every 4 jobs created “contributing to widespread public belief that government, especially the Federal government, is too large,” said a 1981 BLS report.

There is no national data on the growth of tribal governments just after this time frame, but there should be.

The post-1975 growth of tribal government services is stunning, drive around any reservation and the visible evidence is overwhelming. Tribes created programs, took over the management of Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service, built schools and colleges.

The California Indian Gaming Association reported in 2003, for example, that “tribal government economies have for three years lead the state in job growth, with employment more than doubling since January 2000, when there were 17,200 workers on tribal payrolls.” (more…)

Demographic ripple effects

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

UPDATE: Belatedly, I heard the original source for some of this analysis was a report by StateImpact Idaho, by Emilie Ritter Saunders. So noted.

A piece of demographic analysis reported widely a week ago, about shifting tends in the makeup of Idaho's population, deserves some serious thought well beyond the thumb-tacked issue it highlighted.

That reason, as KTVB-TV's web article said, was that it is “a change that's alarming some jobs experts.” That's not wrong. There's a good reason the shifts in Idaho age groups – the state is losing younger people and attracting what is referred to as a “gray tsunami” - ought to concern those analysts; it really does have an effect on the labor force, which in turn affects business development.

Longer-term trend lines weren't immediately available, and that would have helped nail down the point. But there is some evidence things are moving in this direction; labor analysts found that in March another 1,400 people left the Idaho labor force.

But surely (to reiterate here the point again, albeit that some of the numbers came from the state Department of Labor) there are concerns that range well beyond those of business executives.

The analysis grew in large part out of a look at data from the state Transportation Department records, mainly drivers and other license information, to figure out where adults (and some teenagers) come from to Idaho, and where they go from the state. Historically, those numbers have been interesting, but larger conclusions are difficult to draw. They're not so difficult this time,

The report said that in 2012, net outmigration – people moving away from Idaho as opposed to moving in – was at higher levels, higher than in more than a decade. Bob Fick of the Department of Labor, which also tracks these kind of statistics, said “That's the first time we've had an outmigration from the 80s. … Will we have the labor force to man a recovery?”

The reason for concern is not so much the overall numbers but the age cohorts: People in their 20s were disproportionately moving out, and people above 60 disproportionately were moving in.

One impact, Fick suggested, is a slowing the “goods” (partly, manufacturing) economy, which generates relatively high-wage jobs, and more service jobs – reflecting what younger vs. older consumers tend to buy. That may translate to lower overall wages (Idaho ranks high on the percentage of workers at the minimum wage), and a softer consumer economy.

Let's look at this through a political lens. (more…)

Ain’t gonna happen

rainey BARRETT


When asked if there’s a likelihood Republicans can take the White House in 2016 – or even 2020 – I have two answers. “No” and “I hope not.” Most often, that starts a verbal tennis match – sometimes resulting in my parentage being questioned.

I’ve voted for a lot of Republicans over the years and have absolutely no animosity toward the brand. None. Historically, many fine folk among the elephants – many who’ve served the nation well. But today’s GOP variety pack is less political “health food” and far too many salty “nuts.” Until the recipe is re-mixed to provide a more balanced philosophical diet, they’d be unhealthful and should be avoided in the nation’s – and our – best interests.

The evidence of unfitness to serve is everywhere. But let’s just focus on these stories of Republican political activities in just one 24-hour national news cycle. For the record keepers reading, that would be April 30 – May 1, 2013. You can fact-check anything herein.

Huffington Post Headline: “GOP Census Bill Would Eliminate America’s Economic Indicators.” They’ve introduced a bill to bar the U.S. Census Bureau from conducting nearly all surveys except the decennial population count. That would end government’s ability to provide reliable estimates of employment (or unemployment) and nearly every other Census Bureau tabulation at every level of government, most national businesses, statistical professionals, immigration, economy, academics.. It’d cripple health care, manufacturing, education, law enforcement and nearly everything else..

Washington Post Headline: “Lamar Smith: Science Peer Review Process Would Improve Political Oversight.” The GOP Chairman of the House Science Committee introduced a bill to require political oversight of ALL scientific work done by the National Science Foundation. Every conclusion of every scientific study by the Foundation would have to be reviewed AND APPROVED by politicians before being published. Legitimate scientists would be barred from contradicting any outcome of the political oversight.

Salon.Com Headline: “Republicans Embrace Conspiracy That DHS Is Buying Up Ammo.” Sen. Inhofe and Rep. Lucas introduced bills to stop Department of Homeland Security from “buying up the nation’s supply of ammunition as a way to take over the market and institute gun control.” They have Republican co-signers. Only Republican co-signers.

Huffington Post Headline: “Arizona Silver & Gold Bill Passes State Senate.” Claiming a “lack of confidence in the international monetary system,” the Arizona Senate approved a House-passed measure to make gold and silver legal currency in the state. It should be noted Idaho and Utah Republicans have tried this for many a year. It never goes anywhere but they keep trying. But in Arizona, it got very close to being law. Should the GOP ever be in a national position to pull this off, the resulting calamity around the world can’t be overstated.

Huffington Post Headline: “Pat Toomey: Background Checks Died Because GOP Didn’t Want To Help Obama.” Sen. Toomey (R-PA) tells the world fellow Republicans told him they voted against background checks to weed out unfit purchasers of guns because they “didn’t want to be seen helping the President.” When faced with a simple, greatly watered-down bill to take one small step to help assure national safety – and possibly avoid more mass executions by madmen – nearly all Republicans and four Democrats just couldn’t put national priorities above their own self-interest. (more…)