It's your turn. Closing out:
* LEGISLATURE TODAY: Lots of business, though little of high importance. At last check, the House had passed over a scheduled consideration of SB 587, to move school elections to the same date as the general election. The Walton school reform crowd is pushing this bill. It would produce more votes in school elections. The backers hope this would translate into more votes against tax increases (it's hard to win school tax votes that depend on people with no stake in the schools) and more votes against candidates promoted by people within the school district, particularly teachers.
* THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATURE: A lawyer tells me that work is in progress on lining up plaintiffs and preparing lawsuits to challenge the voter ID law and the pending Dustin McDaniel/casino-backed legislation to make it harder to circulate ballot initiative petitions. Add these to abortion law challenges. And lots more. Some of that future growth revenue that Republicans are counting on to pay for tax cuts may be headed to attorneys' pockets instead.
* DONE YOUR TAXES YET? Tax return season could be a WHOLE lot easier if the U.S. would implement — as other countries have — "return-free filing." The government would estimate your tax bill based on reported income and you could just choose to pay it, no filing required. Or, you could go through the process if you thought it more advantageous. This report from Pro Publica and NPR shows that it hasn't happened here because 1) the software company that makes Turbotax has lobbied strenuously against it and 2) Grover Norquist doesn't like it.
* PROTECTING OUR DRINKING WATER: I've written a couple of items about the fact that the Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed and thus poses a risk to Central Arkansas's water supply. A former watershed manager for Central Arkansas said he didn't know what advancements had been made in talks with Exxon since he retired about reducing risks in the watershed.
Graham Rich, CEO of the water utility, gave me a quick update today, something that JP Phil Stowers requested after news of the Mayflower spill from the same line broke Friday. The pipeline was built before the lake was built in the late 1950s, but Rich noted that a portion of the line was relocated because of the advent of the lake, a stretch that otherwise would be below the existing lake. But, he said, there obviously will always be a potential for damage to the lake as long as the line is in the watershed. Thus, he said, the board of the utility is looking at the possibility of relocating the pipeline outside the Maumelle watershed. That would be an expensive proposition. So, too, would be alternative safety measures, such as building an earthen berm around the lake to prevent any spills from reaching the like. The berm would require maintenance and if construction wasn't careful, it could create runoff into the lake of its own.
Rich noted that the use of the pipeline had changed since it was built. Where it once took domestically produced petroleum north, it is now used to transport more environmentally dangerous heavy Canadian crude south to Texas refineries, where products are made for sale overseas.
Rich said the oil company had purchased a couple of devices to contain spills should they occur. One is a stationary boom that is placed in water to prevent drift of oil. Another is a mobile unit that could move an oil-blocking boom to different places. It also has installed one valve and plans at least one more that are used to isolate areas where spills occur. The Water Commission is going to review the history of the lake, Exxon's steps to mitigate risk and possible action April 11, including a discussion of relocation of the line. "There are always going to be risks until it's relocated," Rich said. "That's the only zero risk we've been able to think of."
ALSO: The Mayflower oil spill has reached the White House, which is under pressure to rush approval of the environmentally risky Keystone XL pipeline, under pressure from Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin and Tom Cotton.
Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to a question:
"I haven't spoken about this incident with the President. We obviously have a system in place where the EPA, in this case, is the federal on-scene coordinator when you have a spill, an event like this and they are working with and have been working with state and local officials as well as the responsible party as they respond to this incident. In this case, the responsible party is Exxon Mobil. You know, we obviously take the safety of our many pipelines in this country very seriously and we have an agency that is dedicated to the task of making sure that those pipelines operate safely and in cases like these that investigations are undertaken and steps taken to both mitigate the damage and hopefully avoid them in the future."
FURTHERMORE: On the jump, Central Arkansas Water's John Tynan, now managing the watershed, provided the following update for Pulaski JP Phil Stowers on work to address potential impact from the pipeline:
Thank you for your email.
Over the last few years, Central Arkansas Water has taken a number of steps to both prevent a rupture from occurring in the watershed and, at the same time, establish preparations should a rupture occur. I have provided a summary below of a few key points that discuss both prevention and response efforts. In addition, CAW staff will be making a detailed presentation regarding the pipeline at our upcoming board meeting on April 11 and you and others are more than welcome to attend.
Spill prevention efforts
1) CAW staff currently inspect the entirety of the Exxon line in the watershed on an annual basis, usually broken in to 3-4 inspections. Any areas of concern where pipe is exposed or other concerns areas are reported to Exxon for them to address as part of their maintenance and improvement efforts.
2) CAW is aware of capital projects from Exxon that either have been completed or are planned for the near future that are aimed at reducing the potential for a significant spill in watershed. These actions include valve installation and valve control improvements.
Spill response efforts
1) CAW staff routinely monitor the watershed for any pollution source, including oil. Our routine inspections include key pipeline locations along Hwy 10, Hwy 113, and Hwy 300. Staff also complete visual surveys from the lake on a routine basis in order to identify potential pollution sources.
2) CAW has completed a Risk Mitigation Plan for the Maumelle Watershed and has completed numerous exercises pursuant to that plan. This includes a table-top exercise for a rupture of the Exxon that was completed in partnership with Exxon and other emergency responders. We have also completed a field-exercise to implement the Risk Mitigation Plan, focusing on a rupture of the Exxon pipeline. Exxon was also in attendance for this exercise. Finally, we have completed other exercises pursuant to the Risk Mitigation Plan that did not focus on a rupture of the pipeline, but did focus on spill containment in the watershed.
3) In partnership with Exxon, CAW installed oil boom housing and other emergency response equipment at the former North Shore Marina on the north shore of the Lake. This allows for quick response in the event of a spill in the remote north shore of the lake.
4) CAW is nearing completion of a mobile response facility for quick and efficient deployment of spill containment equipment and staff elsewhere in the watershed. This mobile response facility has been in the works for some time and is a clear indication of our continued efforts to increase our preparedness for any spill in the watershed, whether it is from the oil pipeline or other source.
5) Finally, we are aware that Exxon completes a fly-over of the pipeline on a weekly basis to monitor for any rupture or activities of concern that may occur near the pipeline. We have received calls from Exxon when they document any activities of concern.
As you can see from the items listed above, we continue to increase the amount of resources and capacity available to respond to a spill in the watershed. We have stayed in contact with Exxon and the DOT (who has federal regulatory oversight of pipelines) through the cleanup process in Mayflower and are seeking to partner on any local or regional follow up efforts that will ensure protections for the pipeline in the watershed. In addition, we plan to submit a formal request to Exxon to relocate the pipeline outside of the watershed as well as request that Exxon delay any restart until assurances can be provided that the line in the watershed has been deemed safe.
Thank you again for your inquiry and interest in protecting the quality of our drinking water supply. I hope that this addresses your questions. Feel free to contact me any time with additional questions or comments.