by Max Brantley
The Friday morning warmup:
* THE RUSH TO ADJOURN: "Deliberative" is not a word that applies to the death rattle of the Arkansas legislature — not when the Senate rushes out, with virtually no debate, $150 million or so in tax cuts on everything from baling wire purchases to multi-million-dollar windfalls on unearned income for corporate capitalists.
* THEY CALL THIS ETHICS: The same complaint about lack of deliberation applies to the rush to firm up the constitutional amendment lineup.
If a lawsuit isn't in the offing over the so-called "ethics" amendment, I'll be surprised. Get a look at the 21-page monstrosity that will be grafted onto our Constitution if voters approve in 2014. The legislature subtitled it:
THE ARKANSAS ELECTED OFFICIALS ETHICS, TRANSPARENCY, AND FINANCIAL REFORM
Nowhere in that title do you see the legislative pay raise mechanism that is one of the driving forces behind legislative approval.
Nowhere in the title do you see the term limit-loosening provision, which would provide a 16-year run in the House or Senate. Actually it would provide an 18-year run for senators lucky enough to draw a two-year term after decennial redistricting.
Nowhere in the title do you see the constitutional protection extended to special interest banquets and travel junkets for legislators.
Nowhere in the title do you see the protection extended to corporate campaign contributions to legislators through cutout conduits — political party caucuses and corporate PACs, for example.
There's some good in the measure on the elimination of direct lobbyist gifts and direct corporate contributions to campaigns. Had it fixed the open sore of use of legislative campaign contribution gifts to other legislators, I perhaps could have taken some comfort that the legislature had given up SOMETHING. In the final analysis the measure adds too many words on too many topics with too many inclusions of matters that should be left to statutory law. Particularly since the same legislature is attempting by amendment and statute to make the ballot all but unreachable by grassroots groups that might want someday to close the many new loopholes this amendment will create for devious legislators and lobbyists. In the future, if the legislature prevails, only the very richest interest groups will have meaningful access to the ballot by petition. Which is the idea, of course.
* ARKANSAS A LEADER IN OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION: On the other hand, many headlines nationally are noting the Arkansas legislature's approval of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare by Republicans, at least those not among the group that favored its implementation in Arkansas this session.
I was driving up from Little Rock this afternoon. I stopped at a Exxon Express [in Greenbrier]. A white truck and a pull behind trailer...[workers] Wearing white coveralls and hats ( oil stained ). Anyway, I watched them throw away their white jump suits ( oil stained ) in the dumpster at the back of the station's lot. ... They pulled through the station just to use the dumpster. This kinda stuff stinks.
I have no idea if the oil-fouled clothing was related to the ExxonMobil pipeline disaster cleanup. But it's a healthy notice. Average Arkansas are concerned and they are watching. Exxon can hire all the local cops at fat pay to shoo or even arrest people who get too close to filming unpleasant scenes. It can unleash an army of PR experts to downplay the ill effects of thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sand equivalent oil diluted with who knows what (stuff that is more and more targeted for shipment across the U.S. because British Columbia people don't want the Alberta crude coming through their territory.) It can claim you can use oil booms to prevent migration of unseen elements of this nasty stuff from spreading throughout a related lake, wetland and ecosystem. But all the fracking dollars in all the world and all the enabling political stooges in all the world won't deter whistle blowing average Arkies who know an oil slick (and an oil company slicker) when they see one. Nor can they make a Mayflower home owner believe it's safe to move back into his home improvidently. Nor make them believe only homes where oil visibly spilled on the ground were "directly impacted."
Speaking of tar sands: Is it tar sands or is it not, but merely "Wabasca heavy crude"? The Pulitzer Prize-winning Inside Climate News reviews the question in great detail. Bottom line, the distinction might not have much difference. And it's nasty stuff either way.
In its letter to EPA, Exxon submitted a Material Safety Data Sheet prepared by Cenovus, which said that in terms of chemical composition and density, Wabasca Heavy is the same as four dilbits and two non-dilbit heavy oils. Its list includes Cold Lake, the type of dilbit that spilled out of ruptured Enbridge Inc. pipeline in Marshall, Mich. in 2010. After that spill, the diluents began evaporating and the bitumen sank to the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, where it is still being removed today, almost three years later.
Like the other dilbits, Wabasca Heavy contains bitumen blended with a hydrocarbon diluent, usually natural gas liquids; benzene, a known human carcinogen; and hydrogen sulfide, a corrosive and poisonous chemical compound, according to the Cenovus MSDS. Wabasca Heavy also contains at least eight other hazardous constituents, including N-hexane and naphthalene, according to a separate data sheet that Exxon provided to cleanup workers in Arkansas.
Why is Exxon trying so hard to downplay the use of the term tar sand?
Anthony Swift, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who studies pipeline safety issues and who wrote a blog post in the wake of the Arkansas spill called "The Tar Sands Name Game," said he believes Exxon and other industry players are trying to confuse public opinion on Wabasca Heavy. The goal, he said, is to avoid bad publicity about tar sands oil at a time when the industry is trying to dramatically increase the amount of dilbit brought into the United States through expanded, repurposed and new pipelines, including the proposed Keystone XL.
In time, study of lake bottom will determine if some of the bad stuff sunk to the bottom.