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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: Eye on the rabbit

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There’s an old hunting expression, “keep your eye on the rabbit,” that former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus would invoke when a staff person would get “off message.”

In the current debate over Gov. Butch Otter effectively abrogating a key clause in Idaho’s heretofore ironclad agreement with the Federal government NOT to store even a minimal amount of commercial nuclear waste, even that used for research purpose, on an interim basis, it is Andrus who is keeping his eye on the rabbit.

The 1995 agreement was altered by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in the early years of the first decade of this century to allow a minimal amount of commercial waste for research purposes. Gov. Andrus, who initiated the negotiations that led to the 1995 agreement finalized by Gov. Phil Batt, lent his support but suggested that once the research was completed the research waste had to be shipped right back to its point of origin.

The premise for all of this was that all waste would be removed by 2035 and stored at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Years and billions of dollars later it is clear Yucca Mountain will never be opened let alone operational. Likewise, there’ll be no other high level repository anywhere in the nation.

One quickly concludes any waste brought to the INL site will not be leaving for generations to come. This conclusion is inescapable and warrants the warning flag Gov. Andrus has raised. Candidly, the orchestrated campaign by the defenders of the Department of Energy to minimize the Gov.’s warning (it’s been called exaggerated, simply not factual, etc.) confirms that the four-term governor hit the bull’s eye dead center.

Unfortunately, the fact the governor even had to raise the flag speaks to the sad but steady decline by the State in carrying out its oversight responsibility.

Gov. Andrus enjoys a high standing in the minds of Idaho voters astounding for one who has not held elective office for 16 years. Idahoans know, though, they can trust him to look out for the public interest, that he measures his words carefully and his intellect as well as political instincts remain razor sharp especially for one who will turn 80 years young in August.

He began monitoring the activities at the site in the early-70’s and quickly recognized the potential danger posed by poorly stored transuranic (mid level) nuclear wastes. Almost single-handedly he forced the old Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agency, the Department of Energy, to commit to a schedule for removal of this poorly stored waste from above Idaho’s Snake River plain aquifer and repackaging for storage at properly constructed salt caverns in New Mexico.

When the AEC put out a document that was a preliminary effort to find and identify a storage site for accumulating commercial nuclear waste, he appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of distinguished Idahoans to study the matter, hold hearings and respond. The response was overwhelmingly against Idaho becoming a waste repository for any nuclear waste especially that generated by nuclear power plants.

After returning to the governorship in 1987, he ordered the Idaho State Police in 1988 to place a squad car across railroad tracks just inside the state line with a burly state trooper standing in front with folded arms. The subsequent picture ran in newspapers nationwide, delivering the message to DoE that Idaho was not about to accept any waste from Rocky Flats. DoE got the message and dropped its plans.

Things are different now say the defenders of DoE. Yes, to a degree because of the agreement Andrus started negotiating with the federal agency and Batt finished negotiating in 1995. When Andrus says he fears that agreement has been effectively abrogated by a legal precedent opening the door even a crack to importing more commercial waste allegedly only for interim purposes, Idahoans should sit up and listen.

Since Gov. Kempthorne’s amending of the agreement, the Idaho National Laboratory folks have taken a couple of subtle steps designed to get the state to lower its guard. This includes hiring Gov. Kempthorne’s former press secretary as the site’s communications director and the lead contractor at the site also hired as its chief Boise lobbyist Gov. Kempthorne’s former chief of staff. Those are not coincidences, my friends.

It’s a far cry from 1988 and a sad commentary on how easily some people do not let history be a guide. Andrus, though, knows otherwise. Ten years ago he concluded a chapter on nuclear waste in his book “Politics, Western Style” saying:

“But I still reserve the right to raise hell. My role is that of a kind of human monitoring station on the Department of Energy’s performance. I will be back on the hustings if the federal government welshes on any of the work it has committed to perform.”

With the connivance of the state’s current Gov., the DoE has committed a calculated breach and Gov. Andrus, stepping into the breach, is keeping his eye on the rabbit n which could start to glow much sooner than any one realizes.

Carlson: “A thing that money could buy”

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some readers may recognize that line from an old Peter, Paul and Mary song that continues, “the rich would live and the poor would die.” Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to it: Wealth does allow the rich to live longer than those who do not have sufficient money, not to mention what’s left of the increasingly squeezed middle class.

“Income inequality” is a phrase news media and politicians alike want to avoid. They duck phrases deploring language that elicits thoughts of “class warfare.” The stark fact is income disparity, the difference between the super rich and the average worker, is at its greatest chasm in history (with the possible exception of 1928).

Yes, many of the wealthy (households with combined annual gross incomes more than $250,000) pay taxes. And, in a society that long ago institutionalized graduated tax rates, they usually pay more than those who earn less. But many of the super rich, the top two-tenths of one percent, don’t pay any taxes.

I once heard a member of the super rich say flat out “only stupid people pay taxes.” They retain attorneys and accountants to find shelters and write-offs to ensure they don’t pay a cent.

Yet they gladly take the protection of the American military in an unsafe world as an entitlement. They still expect their social security check when they “retire.” It makes me more than a little angry.

I mention this because, for all the rhetoric being tossed around regarding the need to repeal the historic passage of Health Care Reform because of problems and unintended consequences, the fundamentals of more government involvement in this gargantuan consumer of much of America’s wealth will remain in place.

Why? Because it is viewed as an equalizer that provides the poor and the stressed middle class more accessibility to more affordable health care and more protection against catastrophic illness that can financially ruin a household in a heartbeat. (more…)

Carlson: Good stewardship?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

On January 7, before the High Noon formal and ceremonial swearing-in to a second term as Governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter and his wife Lori had a Mass of Thanksgiving at Boise’s St. John’s Cathedral.

The Gospel reading was taken from the New Testament Book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14 through 29, the well-known “Parable of the Talents.” The homilist did a marvelous job of relating the reading to the trust being placed in the governor’s hands and Butch’s obligation to be a good steward of the state he will lead for another four years.

The homilist, however, had no idea how appropriate his homily was, nor how much this listener felt Governor Otter already had stumbled badly in his stewardship right out of the starting gate of his second term.

Unbeknownst to the homilist, indeed, unbeknownst to hardly anyone, with little fan fare and no public process, the day before Governor Otter signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that will be the crack in the door which quite possibly will swing wide open and turn Idaho into the nation’s new Yucca Mountain, bringing tons of nuclear commercial waste into this state for the first time ever.

With one stroke of his pen Butch turned away from a bi-partisan policy followed by every governor since Cecil Andrus negotiated a commitment from the Federal government to remove all of the poorly stored transuranic waste sitting above Idaho’s sole-source aquifer and ship it to a site in New Mexico’s salt caverns for repackaging and storage.

And since the early 70’s the thousands of canisters containing this waste has been shipped out of the state away from the precious Snake Plain Aquifer. Now, Idaho will start to take in commercial nuclear waste, allegedly for utilization in various research projects.

Calculate the math on how much will start heading this way and one quickly concludes it is far more than is reasonably needed for research. Not to worry say the Feds and the governor. The Department of Energy says it still intends to honor the section of the 1995 agreement started by Andrus and finished by Phil Batt which says ALL nuclear waste will be removed from Idaho by 2035.

Sadly for Idaho, Governor Batt broke ranks with Governor Andrus and chose party over principle, questionable promises from the Feds over real-life experience, and his friendship with Otter over his friendship with Andrus.

Somehow that promise rings pretty hollow and the logic of saying what’s being brought in will be removed, just “trust us,” is mind-boggling and stupefying.

So surely Governor Otter got something for Idaho out of this Faustian bargain? More jobs? More money for the National Engineering and Laboratory site west of Idaho Falls? Nope, my friends. Nada, nothing. No new jobs will be generated and no new appropriations are promised.

Even loyal supporters of the newly-sworn in governor are going to be hard-pressed to defend this indefensible, incomprehensible action.

There has been absolutely zero transparency. There are hundreds of questions begging for answers. Where will this waste be stored? How will it be stored? How can the public be assured that there’ll be no leakages down into the aquifer that provides the water for many southern Idaho crops not the least of which are potatoes?

How will it be transported? What are the security arrangements? Why was the public kept in the dark? What did our Congressional delegation know and when did they know it?

No less a great Republican president than Ronald Reagan once said “Trust, but verify!” How will Idahoans be able to obtain verification, especially when this was conceived in secrecy, born in the dark, and sprung on Idaho’s public shortly before the media’s attention was totally focused on Butch’s swearing-in?

I sincerely hope Governor Otter started pondering the real meaning of the homily on stewardship because in this observer’s opinion he quite possibly has so marred his legacy that prospects for his hearing the words “well done thou good and faithful servant” are just about the same as those of the Feds removing what they will be bringing to this state that will bear all the risk and have gained nothing for it. - Chris Carlson

Carlson on zealots

What follows is a column (previously appearing in the St. Maries Gazette-Record) by Chris Carlson, now living at Medimont, Idaho. He was one of the founders of the Gallatin Group and was from 1989 until last year its representative based at Spokane. His Gallatin bio also notes that he was "a former press secretary to Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris directed the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Public Affairs during the governor’s four-year term as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Following his position in Washington, D.C., Chris was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council by Idaho Governor John V. Evans. In 1984, he became regional vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane." And he was a journalist before all that. He'll be contributing occasional columns in this space.

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

We’re all familiar with zealots, true believers who go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention for their cause, hoping the coverage will generate new interest and fresh contributions.

In Idaho most of the zealotry we experience relates to differing visions regarding future use of natural resources and the wildlife on public lands. Thus, we sometimes see civil disobedience activities by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies or Defenders of Wildlife, protesting wolf hunts, timber sales or mining projects.

While at the Interior department serving as the director of the office of public affairs (1987-1991) I had my epiphany, my revelation about how best to handle the zealots that constantly besieged the agency. The key was to deny them the media coverage they seek.

Shortly after this insight, opportunity to apply it arrived in the form of Mitch Snyder, a self-styled social activist who had taken on the plight of the homeless people in our nation’s capital as his cause. He decided the best way to draw attention to the cause was to stage a sit-in of homeless people in D.C.’s stately Union Station.

Having just arrived home one evening, I received a call from an Interior assistant secretary, who said the Park Service police were reporting that Snyder had led 50 homeless people into Union Station and were conducting a sit-in until arrested and forcibly removed.

He wanted to know what I thought should be done. Once I ascertained they were not blocking the passage of commuters and customers to trains, I told him to direct the Park Police to do nothing until midnight.

Why midnight, he asked. Because, I explained, it was the news media picture of police carrying the homeless to paddy wagons that Snyder wanted and we weren’t going to let him have it.

At midnight, after the late evening news is over, I instructed, have the Park Police “gently” pick up demonstrators and carry them out of the station. No arrests. End of story. And that’s what happened.

Shortly after midnight, however, the assistant secretary called again to say the homeless had promptly lain down in the street in front of the station. The Park Police wanted to know what they should do now.

I said they should do nothing more. The street was the responsibility of the District’s city police, not Interior’s, and it was the city’s problem. Within minutes he was back on the phone saying the Situation Commander for the D.C. police on the scene was asking if we had any advice.

I said they ought to block off the street and leave the homeless there. It was below freezing that night and once they realized they would not be arrested they would leave before the sun rises. And that’s what happened.

Nothing ever appeared in the news media on this incident and there was no bad publicity for the Interior Department.

Fast forward a few years to the first part of this decade. Another opportunity arose for display of the principle in action when the public affairs firm I founded was retained by the president of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) to devise a strategy to counter tree-sitters occupying some of the spectacular Redwoods it owned.

Vexed by the long sit-in held the previous year by “Julia Butterfly,” he was determined not to be held hostage again. He asked for a counter-strategy. Our company’s game plan worked perfectly.

First, we had the client recruit and train several folks who could quickly scramble up the trees, surprise the tree-sitter, truss them up and bring them down n with removal activity happening after midnight long after reporters had gone home. We had each tree-climber wear a helmet with a small mini-camera affixed to it to record the removal and rebut any false claims (which there were) of “brutality.”

Secondly, tree-sitters were informed that by climbing a Redwood they were signing the tree’s death warrant rather than saving the tree. Any tree they scaled and perched in would immediately have a band cut around its base, much as a porcupine does, starting its demise.

The company only had to do it once and the tree-sittings were discontinued.

The key is denying zealots the attention they crave. Without it, they often wither and retreat.