by Max Brantley
The line is open. Some final notes:
* TODAY AT THE LEGISLATURE: STEEL MILL ADVANCES: The Big River Steel project, authorizing millions in state bonds to provide incentives for construction of the private project, was approved on a voice vote in a Senate committee this afternoon and then later approved in the Senate itself by a 26-6 vote, despite continued strong opposition from an existing competitor in Mississippi County, Nucor. The six nays were Republicans Bledsoe, Hendren, Hester, King, Sanders and Williams. Not voting were two Republicans, Hickey and Irvin, and one Democrat, Chesterfield. This was the enabling legislation. The appropriation, which will come later, will take 27 votes. UPDATE : Roby Brock at Talk Business reports that the Beebe administration slipped appropriation authority through earlier in a broad Economic Development agency bill now in the House.
ALSO AT THE LEGISLATURE: A $25 million tax break on gas and electricity sales taxes passed out of a House committee. (No, silly. Not the common people's sales taxes. Manufacturers sales taxes.) The House again passed over a vote on a bill to move school elections from September to the November general election.
* JUDICIAL NOMINEES: Black legal and community groups — NAACP, Legislative Caucus, Ministerial Alliance, Flowers Law Society — have scheduled a news conference Wednesday on federal judicial nominations. It's easy to conclude the point is to apply pressure to President Obama to choose a black lawyer for nomination to two federal district court openings in Arkansas. Sen. Mark Pryor has sent a slate of candidates for judgeships in the eastern and western districts of the state. His choices include one black candidate, Derrick Smith of Little Rock, for the eastern district. Scuttlebutt has made Circuit Judge Jay Moody the favorite for that appointment, at least on Pryor's end, depending on the president's wishes. The president rejected initial choices for a previous judicial openings in Arkansas, but didn't pick a minority candidate. There's currently one black judge among the state's district judges.
* A GUIDE TO EVOLVING TOLERANCE: Another Republican senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, announced support for gay marriage today and the Democrats in opposition dwindled to a handful, including Sen. Mark Pryor. Not that he's likely to evolve, but Talking Points Memo offered a guide on how other senators have moved in that direction. Careful on suggesting anything to Pryor. As he's made very clear on another hot button topic recently, HE IS ARMED!
* RAW MILK: Another vote could happen this week on legislation to allow farm sales of small quantities of unpasteurized milk. Government and business lobbyists don't like the idea. But add to the supporters the well-known chef, Lee Richardson, who outlines the reasons at length in an article now on our Eat Arkansas blog.
Arkansas Times readers became acquainted with Letty when we published an excerpt from "Dearest Letty: The World War II Love Letters of Sgt. Leland Duvall," a University of Arkansas Press book edited by Dumas. The trove of letters she kept when Duvall began courting her by correspondence during the war told the tale of a self-taught farm boy who became a columnist and editorial writer for the Arkansas Gazette and his love of a girl he met at a Methodist church on Crow Mountain.
Duvall left manuscripts of a couple of novels that Dumas is now also preparing for publication. Ernie tells me that Letty kept the full manuscript he'd prepared of all her late husband's letters and read a few daily in her final years. Leland Duvall died in 2006. Humphrey Funeral Home in Russellville is handling arrangements.
*POLICE BEAT: ROBBERY SUSPECT SOUGHT/BURGLARIES INVESTIGATED: Police think the same gunman is responsible for robberies of two Subways, one Friday at 1 Stagecoach Heights and just before midnight Monday at the Subway at Markham and Van Buren. Also from the LRPD: cops are searching for leads on spate of residential burglaries in Hillcrest and the Heights, homes on North Lookout, Stonewall, Fillmore, Buchanan, Tyler. Doors broken in during daytime while homeowners away and stuff taken — from wine and booze to sterling silver place settings.
* WHO PAYS FOR OIL SPILLS?: This was an amazing piece of news to me. Pipeline companies pay into a fund that is used for cleanups when disasters happen. EXCEPT ..... that fund will be used in the Mayflower disaster but Exxon will not have contributed any of the money in the fund being used for that line. A tax on oil moved through the lines does not apply to unconventional materials such as the tar sands heavy crude being moved in the Exxon Pegasus pipeline. Said a group opposing the Keystone pipeline, which would also enjoy the same tax loophole:
“The great irony of this tragic spill in Arkansas is that the transport of tar sands oil through pipelines in the US is exempt from payments into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Exxon, like all companies shipping toxic tar sands, doesn’t have to pay into the fund that will cover most of the clean up costs for the pipeline’s inevitable spills. In other words, Exxon is about to cash in on the ‘please spill tar sands oil in my kid’s playground’ subsidy.
"Tar sands pipelines like the one spilling in Arkansas and the proposed Keystone XL are the definition of a lose-lose situation— we get stuck with toxic spills in our communities and extreme weather from the climate change it causes, but get little of the gasoline destined for foreign markets. In light of yet another spill, it’s time for President Obama to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.”
On the jump, a joint statement from the Sierra Club and others on the higher risk posed by transportation of Canadian tar sands, whether in Arkansas or by the proposed Keystone pipeline
Arkansas Tar Sands Spill: A Tragic Warning
On a press call this afternoon, tar sands spill survivors and experts discussed the Arkansas tragedy and the dangers of transporting additional tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline.
Glen Hooks, a spokesman for Arkansas Sierra Club, described a once-quiet Arkansas community now filled with cleanup crews, government officials, and chaos.
“You could see thick, viscous tar sands oil floating through yards. But the one thing missing from the neighborhoods was people. They’ve been evacuated because it’s not safe to be in their homes.”
“I spoke with folks this morning whose lives have been upended by this. They have a lot of questions. They want to know when they can go home, and they want to know if there’s going to be a home to come back to.”
“We are concerned with the climate change impact, but as the situation in Mayflower shows, we’re also concerned about spills—and the effects on the environment and human health.”
“The oil companies have made it clear that their priority is not safety, it’s profit margins. Why should we trust oil companies when they say their pipelines are safe when there have been spill after spill?”
Susan Connolly, a resident of Marshall, MI near the Kalamazoo tar sands spill, made the connection between the two tar sands spills. In both cases, the oil companies were slow to release the chemical makeup of the oil or the total amount spilled.
“We are still impacted by the cleanup to this day. It is quite haunting to hear about the recent tar sands spill and the communities who will be impacted for an indefinite amount of time. As we’ve been saying for nearly three years since the Kalamazoo spill, it’s not a matter of if, but when—when there will be another spill and where.”
Anthony Swift, Attorney and NRDC’s International Program, gave a detailed explanation of why tar sands are so dangerous and difficult to clean—and what this spill means for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
“The Arkansas tar sands spill is a tragic warning of the danger of industry’s reckless plan to expand the transport of tar sands across American communities and sensitive water resources. While details regarding the cause of the rupture and the magnitude of the spill are still coming in, it’s clear that the Pegasus pipeline spilled tens of thousands, and potentially hundreds of thousands, of gallons of heavy tar sands crude into a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas.”
“At about a tenth of the full capacity of the Keystone XL tar sands pipelines, the Pegasus pipeline rupture offers us a small sample of the risk that tar sands pipelines pose to American communities. In 2010, a similar tar sands diluted bitumen spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River watershed demonstrated that diluted bitumen spills were significantly more challenging to clean up and damaging to the environment, particularly water bodies, than conventional crude. After nearly 3 years and a billion dollars spent on cleanup, and 38 miles of the Kalamazoo river are still contaminated with heavy tar sands bitumen.”
“The Pegasus tar sands pipeline rupture adds to growing evidence that tar sands pose additional risks to our nation’s pipelines and communities.”
“Keystone XL, an export pipeline that would bring tar sands through the US on its way to the Gulf Coast where much of it will be refined and exported, is a project with great risk and little reward for the American public. As the federal government considers TransCanada’s application for Keystone XL, the Pegasus tar sands spill brings the real costs of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline into sharp relief for the American public.”
“TransCanada’s Bison and Keystone I pipelines had special conditions that were supposed to make them safer, they were described as state of the art pipelines that wouldn’t have spills. The Bison pipeline exploded in Montana. The Keystone I pipeline had to be shut down in its first year after having 14 spills. TransCanada is currently undergoing a sweeping investigation on the Canadian side from documents brought forward from a whistle blower who is alleging that TransCanada cut corners in the building of its pipeline. Looking at the differences between reality and rhetoric, TransCanada’s claims that this pipeline will be different don’t add up.”
Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel at National Wildlife Federation, spoke to the serious risks associated with transporting toxic tar sands, and highlighted a recent petition asking PHMSA and the EPA to create separate regulations for pipelines that transport tar sand oil.
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the victims of this spill.”
“This spill really drives home the unnecessary risk of transporting tar sands. The SEIS has stated that we don’t need additional tar sands for national security reasons, energy security reasons, or economic reasons. These tar sands pipeline are a move towards exports.”
“This spill is a reminder that the current rush to build out pipeline infrastructure is putting our resources at risk, people at risk, and wonderful communities at risk. The price is way too high for any benefit. This is a tragic reminder that Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.”
“Fifty-five signers have filed a petition asking PHMSA and the EPA to develop stronger safety standards for tar sands oil pipelines. We don’t need to be carrying tar sands at all, and we certainly don’t need to be carrying tar sands with a regulatory system that doesn’t even begin to protect communities. We’re asking that the administration put a hold on new or expanding tar sands projects and go through a rulemaking process to create new rules that deal with the unique risks of tar sands.”