A slow start this morning. A couple of things popped up:the New York Times has it right, the tide has turned on the battle to require on-line retailers to collect local sales taxes just as others must do. The unfair advantage given on-line retailers; the might of people like Walmart (and, more recently, Amazon) is incalculable; the needs of state and local governments deprived of income — all these contribute to the prediction that the legislation will pass the Senate shortly and maybe even the Republican-controlled House as well.
This would be a giant defeat for Grover Norquist, the Republican Party puppeteer, who insists voting for this legislation violates the no-tax pledge required of all Republican candidates. (Technically speaking, it doesn't constitute a tax increase because, in theory, retail customers are voluntarily supposed to be remitting these sales taxes themselves, but almost nobody does.)
Republicans have become emboldened on the subject of supporting tax collection. For example, see the U.S. representative from the 3rd District of Arkansas, home to Walmart, the leading proponent of the measure. It collects taxes on-line because it has tangible operations in all 50 states, a significant disadvantage against many competitors. And the Republicans who've left the fold could be important in more than this particular battle. A loss here could weaken Norquist and his allies on many issues because it would show they are no longer invincible.
For years, conservative Republican lawmakers have been influenced heavily by the antitax activists in Washington, who have dictated outcomes and become the arbiters of what is and is not a tax increase. But on the question of Internet taxation, their voices have begun to be drowned out by the pleas of struggling retailers back home who complain that their online competitors enjoy an unfair price advantage.
Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, calls them “the hardworking men and women who have mortgaged their homes to buy or to rent a little brick-and-mortar shop.”
And each time Mr. Norquist and others in the antitax lobby take a loss, they start to seem more vulnerable, Republican lawmakers acknowledge, with ramifications for the continuing fights on the deficit and the shape of the tax code.
“I have a lot of constituents saying to me, ‘Grover Norquist did not elect you,’ ” said Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas and the author of the Internet tax bill in the House. “Members that come to Washington and kowtow to special interests end up contributing to this very polarized government. These are tough decisions we have to make up here.”
Noted: Reps. Tim Griffin and Rick Crawford are co-sponsors with Womack on the legislation to collect sales tax on Internet sales. MIA is the Club for Growth's Tom Cotton.
* OILY BIRD: A promoted Twitter feed this morning drew my attention. The Oily Bird uses the sort of wildlife we've seen near Mayflower in recent days to go after the oil companies in the name of promotion of alternative fuels.
The website includes a good video.
Speaking of oil spills:
On the one month anniversary of a devastating pipeline rupture that sent tar sands spewing through a residential neighborhood, residents of Mayflower, Arkansas are launching a new “Remember Mayflower, Arkansas” effort with a press conference call at 1pm CT/2pm CT to raise awareness of the spill and to tell elected officials to stand with Congressman Griffin in saying that tar sands oil and water don’t mix.
The coalition—composed of local families and leaders—will release new poll findings about tar sands pipelines and unveil a new web ad.
came up at a Eureka Springs council meeting last week, where Alderman James DeVito noted the line would be an aesthetic blight on views from the famous Thorncrown Chapel and other scenic points in the region. From The Independent in Eureka:
The impact on some of our most treasured visual features cannot be overstated,” alderman James DeVito said. He mentioned a proposed route for the 150-foot tall towers would make them visible from Spring Street, Thorncrown Chapel, Inspiration Point and Beaver Lake. “And that is just the visuals, not to mention the impact of herbicide-spraying. The fact that the line is not in city limits does not mean it won’t affect us.”
He went on to say the proposed northern route for the transmission lines showed “a callous disregard for the assets of the community.”
A Facebook page to fight the power line route, using the Thorncrown Chapel as an emblem, has been established to encourage objections to the Arkansas Public Service Commission. The page says the line will "encroach" on the chapel's landscape.
The latest report raises questions about the federal government's decision so far to leave it to two Arkansas state agencies to assess environmental damage and guide corrective action.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission are in charge of surveying the damage to oil-hit wildlife, wetlands, soil and groundwater along the mile-long spill site.
The two agencies told InsideClimate News they have little experience in handling a major oil spill like the one in Mayflower.
The state agencies are acting, but speed is important, the report says.
The state Game and Fish Commission plans to hire a private consultant in the next few weeks to quantity the damage to wildlife and Lake Conway and create a plan to restore the ecosystem. The work to restore the environment is expected to be paid for by Exxon, according to commission spokesman Keith Stephens. He said neither Exxon nor federal agencies would have a say in the decision on the consultant.
The Department of Environmental Quality will do its own damage assessment. Ryan Benefield, the agency's deputy director, said about 10 engineers, geologists and water scientists will soon begin "extensive sampling" of sediment, soil, groundwater and surface water in areas where much of the oil has been cleaned up.
Time is not on their side, however.
Collecting data on oil-damaged areas is critical in the first days after a spill because the oil is still visible, said Jeffrey Short, a scientist at Oceana, a conservation organization.
"You lose information at an exponential rate after an incident occurs" as oil settles and is absorbed in the surrounding ecosystem, said Short, who worked for 31 years as a NOAA research chemist. For much of that time he was involved in damage assessment for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Not long after the oil spills, "there's a blackout period where things are happening in the environment and you can't see them," he said.
Lots more there, including a discussion of complications presented by the type of oil pushed through the pipeline and chemical elements that will remain in the ecosystem after oil is blotted up. The oil contains contains "at least 10 types of hazardous constituents, including benzene, a known human carcinogen, as well as polyaromatic hydrocarbons that can disrupt the hormone systems in animals and humans."
Folks in Benton and Carroll Counties are upset by a proposal by SWEPCO to build a 48-mile 345 kV power line from a plant under construction, the Shipe Road Station near Centerton, to the utility's proposed Kings River Plant northwest of Berryville. To do so, the utility company will have to exercise its power of eminent domain. Carroll County News reported [subscription required] that more than 100 people showed up at a meeting of Save the Ozarks to address the proposal. Residents say SWEPCO project will enable it to sell power to Missouri.
SWEPCO filed for a certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for both plants — including the one it is already building, in true utility company fashion — on April 3. Residents have until May 2 to weign in SWEPCO's filing with the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Save the Ozarks has information, maps, links to documents filed with the PSC and to the PSC's online public comment page.
A Sierra Club release yesterday, based on independent findings of a maker of oil spill cleanup material, suggested oil from the ExxonMobil pipeline break could have found its way into the main body of Lake Conway. We mentioned that here. Other media have reported on the findings and the tester's belief that his findings of chemical came from testing of water "columns" at different depths in the lake, rather than surface or lake bottom samples.
The news seems to have prompted this lengthy response from the state Department of Environmental Quality, detailing the various places it has taken water samples. Bottom line:
Based on an analysis of all samples taken to date the department has no evidence upon which to conclude that oil from the spill has reached the main body of Lake Conway or Palarm Creek. In the cove of Lake Conway the Department continues to monitor water quality and the effects of the spill on the aquatic community.
The ADEQ statement was released eight minutes after a release from the "Joint Command," an Exxon-run public relations operation, that continued to reiterate: "Water sampling confirms the main body of Lake Conway remains oil-free." Here's the full release, which says cleanup efforts are transitioning from an "emergency" response to "the longer term work of remediation and restoration."
The full ADEQ release is on the jump:
Shelli Russell at mysaline.com, a website that focuses on Saline County, decided to go up to Mayflower for a look around the oil spill neighborhood.
She turned up a surprise scoop:
She encountered musician Neil Young, a devoted environmentalist, touring the area in his vintage Lincoln convertible, reworked as a fuel-efficient hybrid. It was outfitted with a camera to photograph the passing scene.
Are you not yet following Inside Climate News, the Pulitzer Prize winning watchdog of the pipeline industry?
Bookmark it. This article is all about the federal inspection of the causes of the ExxonMobil pipeline rupture that poured Canadian heavy crude — tar sands in generally accepted lingo — on a Mayflower neighborhood.
The article notes that the National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted a thorough independent investigation of a 2010 spill, is not investigating the Mayflower deluge.
"We just don't have the resources to investigate everything," Keith Holloway, an NTSB spokesman, told InsideClimate News. Holloway said the agency investigates only when there is significant loss of life, extensive damage to the environment, or if the incident is something the agency hasn't seen before. The final decision on whether to investigate is generally made by the agency's Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials, he said
You have heard that another federal agency is at work. Yes, but ....
When the NTSB passed on investigating the Arkansas spill, that task fell to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation that is responsible for developing and enforcing regulations for 2.5 million miles of pipelines.
While the NTSB's primary responsibility is to conduct investigations, that isn't the case with PHMSA. The agency's primary goal is setting regulations, not investigations.
Having PHMSA rather than the NTSB looking into the spill has raised concerns about the objectiveness of the final report.
"PHMSA could have the best of all intentions, but its role in the pipeline regulatory process means that it is susceptible to influence from industry and lobbyists," said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a pipeline consulting firm based in Redmond, Wash.
A 2011 investigation by the New York Times revealed that PHMSA is underfunded and understaffed. Some of the agency's employees also have professional ties to the fossil fuel industry. PHMSA administrator Cynthia Quarterman, for example, served as legal counsel for Enbridge, the culprit in the Michigan spill, before moving to her current position at the federal agency.
Do you feel better knowing the lab that will study the burst pipe was chosen by ExxonMobil? That the federal agency no longer has anyone on the ground in Arkansas? That the agency won't answer questions about the extent of ExxonMobil's involvement in the investigation? (It's enough for me to know that the supposed "joint command" issuing information in Arkansas is, to every appearance, a wholly Exxon-run operation.) There's much more, including detailed reporting on discrepancies in the time ExxonMobil first became aware of problems on the pipeline. Federal records indicate that came two hours earlier than Exxon claims.
Read Inside Climate News.
The Sierra Club has distributed a news release that says new information indicates oil of the type spilled in the ExxonMobil pipeline break in Mayflower has been found in Lake Conway. So far, Exxon has said the main body of the lake is free of oil, though a cove, with supposed blocks in place in connecting conduits, does contain oil from tar sands-like heavy Canadian crude shipped through the pipeline to Texas refineries. I've sought a comment from Exxon. The Sierra Club statement:
At today's Faulkner County Earth Day town hall meeting (focusing on the ExxonMobil tar sands spill in Mayflower), Mr. Scott Smith of OPFLEX SOLUTIONS presented preliminary results of water sampling in Lake Conway.
Smith's preliminary findings indicate the presence of tar sands oil in Lake Conway—both in the "cove" of Lake Conway and in the larger lake beyond the cove. These findings directly contradict repeated statements by ExxonMobil that Lake Conway is uncontaminated by the oil spill.
Smith stated: "Preliminary results show that the tar sands are not only in Lake Conway, but are moving beyond Lake Conway and toward the Arkansas River."
Smith's preliminary findings show numerous chemicals present in Lake Conway that are consistent with those contained in the tar sands that spewed from ExxonMobil's ruptured Pegasus pipeline on March 29th.
Smith can be reached at 508-776-2995 or by email at SSmith@Opflex.com.
In response to Smith's findings, Sierra Club issued the following statement from Glen Hooks (Senior Campaign Representative):
"If confirmed, these preliminary findings are alarming and of great concern. ExxonMobil, along with our state and local officials, have consistently denied that the tar sands spill reached Lake Conway. We now have scientific sampling that seems to show otherwise. It's time for ExxonMobil to level with the community and own up to the full extent of the damage it has caused."
Hooks said Smith is CEO of a company that makes a product used in oil spill cleanup. He's in Arkansas at his own expense. Hooks says has offered his product to Exxon for its use here free of charge, but the offer was declined.
In response to your recent inquiry, water sampling confirms the main body of Lake Conway remains oil-free. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality continues to monitor water samples. Further assessments also show there is no oil in Palarm Creek, which is located south of Lake Conway. Water data are posted on the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s website and updated as it becomes available.
Protectors of the Buffalo National River are up in arms about approval of a permit for a factory hog feeding operation along Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo. There's fear that manure spread on land nearby could migrate into the tributary to the Buffalo, a major tourist attraction for its clear, free-flowing water. We posted Don Nelms photo essay on the subject yesterday.
Which brings us to waste of another sort.
The state Parks, Tourism and Travel Commission reportedly discussed this morning a gripe reported to me yesterday.
Several years of flat federal budgets have led to a reduction in many federal services, including National Park Service operations. Here's the Park Service alert of the impact on facilities along the Buffalo River. A number of restrooms have been closed, including at several popular canoe launch spots, including Ponca and Pruitt.
Mike Mills of Buffalo Outdoor Center has been circulating word of unhappiness at what he's found at launch spots on account of closed restrooms. If effluent from hogs is a concern, so is effluent from humans.
Kevin Cheri, superintendent of the river, has heard roundabout about Mills' complaint and says he wished Mills had talked to him. He says the National River has lost more than 60 percent of maintenance staff as a result of flat budgeting and the rise in fixed costs, such as utilities. Despite that, he thinks the staff has done a good job of keeping up, through strategic closures and other means. But he says that everyone needs to pitch in, including through concession operators letting their customers know about closures and making preparations, such as restroom stops before heading to launch spots. Both Pruitt and Ponca are near still-operating restrooms, for example, Cheri said. Cheri also said he Park Service was working with some private groups to provide volunteer help, such as the adopt-a-highway litter cleanup programs.
"We're doing our best with what we have," Cheri said, "but we're asking users too to be more sensitive."
Don Nelms, a former Fayetteville auto dealer, political candidate, environmentalist and photographer, has taken up a roost near Jasper overlooking the Buffalo River. He circulates daily photographs of the natural wonders around him.
Today, he ventured back into politics, with a photo essay and commentary inspired by the recent approval of a 670-acre C&H Farms hog feeder operation on property near Mount Judea in the Buffalo River watershed. He's given me permission to reprint the slide show (on the jump) with his descriptions. He writes by way of introduction:
For the many years that I have sent out photographs, I have always treated this list as an extension of my photography and nothing else, with the exception of a few times that I sent out pictures of my grandchildren.
Today I'm going to break my own rule. I took a trip to Mount Judea, Arkansas, today to look at the Cargill hog operation. I was shocked that the emotional impact it had on me. Cargill will be placing over 6000 pigs in the Buffalo National River watershed. Every time I tell someone that this is happening outside of the local area they almost always have the same reaction: "I can't believe that's happening!" The Buffalo National River is arguably the most beautiful pristine area in the central United States. To think that Cargill would place the hog factory in the watershed is beyond belief.
Dr. Neil Compton is considered by many to be the father of the Buffalo National River. John Paul Hammerschmidt, Sen. J. William Fulbright, Sen. Dale Bumpers, Sen. David Pryor and many others worked tirelessly to preserve this national treasure. Today we have the Compton Gardens located contiguously with Crystal Bridges, the newest incredible treasure of Northwest Arkansas given to us by the Walton family. Alice Walton in her wisdom chose to pay tribute to Dr. Compton and his accomplishments by including his legacy into the Crystal Bridges landscape.
Unfortunately Walmart will be in the uncomfortable position of having to sell Cargill meats in extraordinarily large quantities all across this country.
This morning I woke up and stepped out on my back porch to take a picture of the extraordinary view that I have been blessed with. And as I punched the button of my Nikon I realized that in the lens I can see Mount Judea and in general the location of this hog factory that Cargill has chosen to put in a beautiful valley of Newton County.
So I invite you to go along on this journey with me through the photographs that I took today.
The Log Cabin Democrat has the rundown on a letter ExxonMobil has sent residents of the Mayflower subdivision where a pipeline ruptured and spilled thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude from Alberta tar sands.
* $10,000 for inconvenience.
* A home cleaning
* Up to a year of rental for people who move out.
* Exxon purchase of homes sold during a three-year period, with a price set by appraisers that doesn't reflect the impact of the spill on home values. "Directly impacted" homes can be sold now to Exxon. Third-party appraisals will be paid by Exxon.
Exxon said the payments wouldn't affect other claims homeowners might have.
UPDATE: Today's report on the cleanup effort.
I think this Twitter from Austin Kellerman at KARK just about says it all about Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin, the pipeliner's friend:
But could we also persuade Tiny Tim to move the Keystone XL pipeline away from that sensitive aquifer in Nebraska before it starts pumping the same dangerous tar sands crude down to the Koch refinery in Texas? I think not.
(CAW is Central Arkansas Water, which has 13 miles of the ruptured ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline passing through the watershed of its main water supply, Lake Maumelle.)
Here's more on Griffin's letter to Exxon.
Nice picture from Josh Berry of Channel 4 on Twitter of work to remove the split section of ExxonMobil's pipeline from the Mayflower neighborhood were a major rupture loosed thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sand crude. He reports that a "drip pan" was used to catch any oil remaining in the length of pipe removed. It is going to be studied as part of the investigation into the cause of the rupture.
Berry reports that a 52-foot section was removed.
One of many unanswered questions about the Exxon Mobil pipeline rupture at Mayflower is when, exactly, were troubles first noted on the pipeline. What time did the rupture begin? When was the flow stopped in the affected portion of the line? How much oil spilled during that time? And so forth.
Some day a thorough report will be forthcoming.
In the meanwhile, any number of alternative media outlets are in pursuit of the questions. Heres one, Inside Climate News, with some timeline reporting based on calls to local law enforcement officers and some information available from federal sources.
Exxon has said it shut the pipeline down within 16 minutes of learning of the spill. The Faulkner County sheriff's dispatch records, in this account, show it received its first report of leaking oil at 2:44 p.m. on Good Friday and Exxon was first called at 3:19 p.m. At 3:46 p.m., local officials said Exxon told them the line had been shut.
But read the link. There's a welter of conflicting information, but the reporting there indicates a federal agency is standing by its records that indicated Exxon reported a problem on the line as early as 1:15 p.m. and that Exxon's own reports, contradicted by a spokesman, show oil may have been released for as long as three hours.
More puzzle parts. Among many. The point?
The Exxon oil spill in Arkansas once again brings to the forefront issues of pipeline safety as President Obama weighs a decision on permitting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would bisect the nation from Canada to Texas. If built, TransCanada's Keystone would carry almost ten times more Canadian heavy oils and dilbit than the Exxon pipeline that burst in Mayflower. It would also be buried in the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest and most important sources of fresh water for drinking and agriculture in the nation.
It is not an easy task for pipeline operators in control rooms hundreds of miles away to identify leaks and ruptures from digital data flowing in from many kinds of sensors on the line. Even if an alarm is triggered, analysts examine the data to determine the cause.
Thanks again to Tree Hugger for useful roundups of many sources of information on the ongoing storyl
More interesting video above from the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that is looking at the impact of the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline break.
At the 4:49 mark in the video, you'll see an interesting exchange with a Faulkner County sheriff's deputy — a nice, patient guy it would seem — taking questions about his off-duty work providing security in public uniform for ExxonMobil, including the duty of keeping onlookers as far as possible from the cleanup work. In the name of safety, of course.
No conclusions drawn except one that was also easy to draw from the fine Benjamin Krain aerial photo in the morning Arkansas Democrat-Gazette of cleanup work in the Bell Slough Wildlife Management Area. If you haven't been on the ground, you might be led to think the spill damage — bad though it is — is localized near the pipeline break and the subdivision of 22 homes evacuated as a result. The lost oil, thousands of barrels, has migrated over a great distance and the wetlands and relatively flat terrain don't lend themselves to ready containment.
UPDATE: A Game and Fish Commission spokesman writes to say the aerial photo in newspaper this morning was of territory not in the Wildlife Management Area, but in a cove of the Commission's Lake Conway separated from the main body of the lake by Highway 89 and a bit north of Bell Slough. He said that no oil has been found in Bell Slough. That doesn't diminish my point that the spread of the oil into wetlands, in Bell Slough or nearby, is wider than many might assume based on the focus on localized damage in the Mayflower subdivision, which sits a good distance, separated by a freeway, from where oil has been found. Reporting also indicates oil continues to leak. From somewhere. Much — much — remains to be known about pipeline maintenance, the cause of the break, the amount of oil lost, where all that oil went, what other chemicals migrated, how damaged parties will be made whole and what the pipeline break will, or should, mean for future oversight of these and other pipelines.
The breadth of the unknowns would seem to a reasonable person to support caution in hasty building of another pipeline to carry the same kind of tar sand product through a sensitive Nebraska aquifer for transport to a refinery making products for overseas shipment. U.S. Rep. Tiny Tim Griffin has not been receptive to this point of view to date, however. Build the Keystone XL, he says, and build it now. A few dozen jobs will come. Future Mayflowers? Well, didn't somebody say this was creating a little economic boomlet from feeding and housing disaster workers and hiring moonlighting security and people willing to put their own health at risk to clean up the mess? Griffin and Sen. Jason Rapert ought to pose for some photo ops with the cleanup crews. Smells like money.
Long-term, but within five years, the utility board said it wanted Exxon to relocate the line, which runs through 13.5 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed, including skirting the edge of the reservoir, a primary water supply for Central Arkansas customers. The resolution asks for a report on relocation within six months.
The board resolution also requests a demonstration of the integrity of the pipeline before it begins operating again and free of any defect that might have caused the Mayflower rupture. It also asks a range of steps within 12 months on risk mitigation, including emergency response plan and training updates, more frequent monitoring activities and "pipeline redundancy and integrity improvements."
Here's a copy of the resolution adopted today.
I've sought a response from an Exxon PR official. The pipeline carries heavy crude from the tar sands of Canada to refineries near the Texas Gulf coast. It carries material very similar to the Canadian tar sands crude projected to be delivered by the proposed and hotly controversial Keystone XL pipeline through the Great Plains.
UPDATE: An e-mailed response from Exxon:
ExxonMobil Pipeline Company informed Central Arkansas Water that the company could not attend today’s meeting because company officials were fully focused on the clean up and recovery of the Mayflower incident. We informed CAW that we would participate in one of their future meetings.
In the Abrams murder, I have no idea of any other than most sketchy details…
Their school administration is senseless, but we have to remember it was the voters who…
Who is in charge, Mayor Stodola? ExxonMobil or our elected officials?
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings