West Avenue Redux

September 24th, 2015


The 20 mph flashing sign hasn’t been very effective, so we’ve had this serious traffic calming regimen coming up the hill, and yes, people ARE slowing down!  Well, it’s either that or break an axle.  So they do, and wind around doing the serpentine, one yahoo ran over a barrel and left a big chunk of bumper in the street, DOH!  How do you not see an orange barrel with reflective stripes?!?!

Today they’re filling them in, blocking off one lane of road, ratcheting it up to a “traffic stopping regimen” which is great.  But when College Ave. is closed for utility tree cutting, and the intersection of Putnam and Pine is tore up to fix the huge cavern under the side walk and equipment lined up along Pine, it’s kinda hard to get from here to there today!

Will the fix the bank over the Great West Wall?


Muller: Time to think about…

August 23rd, 2015


Commentary by Alan Muller, Green Delaware, in today’s Delaware State News:

Commentary: Time to think about Delaware’s Peterson, Coastal Zone Act

Delaware’s a mess. The water is rising. We are a major destination for bomb trains. One of the most leaky and dangerous nuke power complexes threatens and pollutes the state and is trying to expand with new reactors. The air and water are polluted. The economy is stagnant and the political system corrupt. The public schools are under attack. The court system is openly dedicated to protecting corporate crime. A tale of woe, to be sure.

Some of it is self-inflicted, like the reopening of the mega-toxic Delaware City Refinery and the resulting routing of bomb trains to Delaware.  Some, like global climate change and sea level rise, is mostly beyond the ability of Delaware to do much about. On the other hand, it could well be argued that little three-county Delaware has done way-out-of-proportion damage to the world, has been a damaging leader in the “race to the bottom.”

What is the cumulative damage to individuals and families done by out-of-control credit card “banks?” Would that have happened anyway, with or without Delaware’s shameful Financial Center Development Act?  Would so many electric ratepayers been screwed over so much without the hundreds of Enron subsidiaries incorporated in Delaware? Maybe they would have just been set up somewhere else.  Would there have been so many bogus bankruptcies and stolen pension plans?  Would the US, or the world, be in better shape without Delaware?  Alternative history can’t be much more than speculative, but there is a case to be made.

Is it possible to imagine a better Delaware? A place to be proud of rather than ashamed of? A Delaware, for example, where John  Kowalko is Speaker of the House rather than Pete Schwartzkopf?  A place where the University of  Delaware symbolizes intellectual freedom rather than civil liberties violations and the worship of capital at the expense of labor?

Well, yes, actually.  There  have been better leadership and better political times in Delaware, within my memory.

Russ Peterson died in 2011.  (Here’s his obit in the New York Times.) Peterson was a significant figure in environmental matters in Delaware, nationally, and sometimes globally.  But it seemed to me that most of what was being written about Russ was the same old stuff, regurgitated for the umpteenth time and not giving us much new or insightful to think about.

Now, three years have gone by, and Delaware’s rulers are pursuing another major attack on the Delaware Coastal Zone Act, the centerpiece, the masterpiece, of  Peterson’s public policy work in Delaware.   So, this seems an appropriate time to think about Russ Peterson.

Peterson was likely the most significant person ever to operate out of little Delaware.  But he didn’t walk on water and he wasn’t God.  He was both more flawed and more interesting than one might see from most writings about him. He deserves more thoughtful commentary than he’s so far received.

Peterson, first of all, not a “Delaware Native.”  He was born, raised, and educated in Wisconsin, and was a product of the relatively progressive atmosphere, at least at that time, of the Upper Midwest.  (For factual information on Russ Peterson see this Wikipedia article.)

If Peterson had grown up in the plantation culture of Delaware, and learned his chemistry at the University of Delaware, would he have made the same contributions?  Maybe, but it’s doubtful.  In general, the human intellect does not seem to blossom in Delaware.

Russ was educated as a chemist and was recruited by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company as a research chemist.  He rose to be director of Central Research and Development.  This would be considered, at least at the time, high in the pecking order of the technical world, or at least its industrial side.  Peterson was a smart man.

Peterson’s interests eventually shifted out of DuPont.  My favorite story of Peterson and DuPont:  At one time he was in charge of a suburban office/lab site known as Chestnut Run Plaza.  At the time, in DuPont, black people could generally have only menial, broom-pushing jobs.  Peterson set up a program to enable and encourage black workers to move up. DuPont’s response was to schedule Peterson for an interview with “the company psychiatrist.”  Mental illness was suspected.

In any case, Peterson got involved in reform efforts in Delaware, notably prison reform. Being of an analytical turn of mind, he figured out how to organize such efforts: a committee in every Representative district, and so on.   Some years of this work gave him good, if imperfect, insight into the workings of Delaware politics.

He wasn’t without his critics.  Tom Colgan, long time campaigner against housing discrimination, used to say “Russ always showed up when the fighting was over.”  Perhaps so.  But Delaware is a place with a narrow intellectual and political space, where perceptions of non-mainstream views generally relegate people to a gadfly role.  In a sense, Russ Peterson’s achievement was to keep close enough to the political mainstream to achieve, at least briefly, real power, yet he was not co-opted from the neck up.

In 1968, Peterson resigned from DuPont and ran for Governor as a Republican.  At the time, the DuPont Company was behind him.  I recall, as the teenage son of a DuPont manager, being turned out to flyer for Russ Peterson.  He won.

But, after the enactment of the Coastal Zone Act in his first term, DuPont turned on him, and told its 25,000 Delaware employees–there are way fewer now, or course–to vote for Democrat Sherman W. Tribbitt, a hardware store owner in the small town of Odessa.  Peterson was out of office after one term.

There were other factors in his defeat, including budgetary miscalculations that required the state to “claw back” spending.  Whether this was a genuine screwup or a trap set for Peterson has never been entirely clear to me.  The budget shortfall was five million dollars.

Peterson also pushed a transition from Delaware’s “commission” form of government to a “cabinet” system.  Traditionally, many governmental functions had been run by citizen commissions.  Some still are, such as utility regulation by the “Public Service Commission.”  The members of these commissions were mostly appointed by the governor but were not, afterwards, directly under his control.  On the other hand, departments of the Executive Branch were. and are, headed by officials reporting to the Governor.  This increased the power of the governor; it made for a more centralized decision-making process.  Like most change, it was resented.

This centralization of power continues:  a disturbing example is the shift of power over schools from elected district school boards to a state Department of Education controlled by the governor.  Many people these days feel that Governor Jack Markell is using this power to attack the fundamental features of public schools and public education, and to implement privatization of the public schools to the benefit of for-profit “education” companies.

After Tribbitt’s one term, hard right winger and special interest servant Pierre S. du Pont IV was installed as Governor for two terms.  DuPont shut down the state planning office and, in general, tried to reverse many of the Peterson reforms.  Many people see his two terms as the time during which Delaware abandoned real representative government and adopted the “Delaware Way” of governance.  The “Delaware Way” could better be called the “Dirty Deals Behind Closed Doors” approach.

So what about this Coastal Zone Act?  What makes it special and worth preserving.

It was based on an understanding that coastal areas, that is, where the water meets the land and the air, are crucial from an ecological perspective and need special protections.  The wording of it is pretty clear:


It is hereby determined that the coastal areas of Delaware are the most critical areas for the future of the State in terms of the quality of life in the State. It is, therefore, the declared public policy of the State to control the location, extent and type of industrial development in Delaware’s coastal areas. In so doing, the State can better protect the natural environment of its bay and coastal areas and safeguard their use primarily for recreation and tourism. Specifically, this chapter seeks to prohibit entirely the construction of new heavy industry in its coastal areas, which industry is determined to be incompatible with the protection of that natural environment in those areas. While it is the declared public policy of the State to encourage the introduction of new industry into Delaware, the protection of the environment, natural beauty and recreation potential of the State is also of great concern. In order to strike the correct balance between these 2 policies, careful planning based on a thorough understanding of Delaware’s potential and the State’s needs is required. Therefore, control of industrial development other than that of heavy industry in the coastal zone of Delaware through a permit system at the state level is called for. It is further determined that offshore bulk product transfer facilities represent a significant danger of pollution to the coastal zone and generate pressure for the construction of industrial plants in the coastal zone, which construction is declared to be against public policy. For these reasons, prohibition against bulk product transfer facilities in the coastal zone is deemed imperative.

The immediate tactical driver for the bill was an attempt to build a second oil refinery in Delaware.  Shell had bought the land, designed the refinery, and survey monuments were in the ground.  The threat was immediate.  The damage being done by the existing Delaware City Refinery, one of the dirtiest in the world, was obvious.

It’s worth noting that Peterson and the leaders of the General Assembly were Republicans.  The President of the US was Richard Nixon.  The Nixon administration wanted to increase oil imports and wanted a lot of it to come up the Delaware River and be refined alongside it. So, in effect, Peterson was not only defying Delaware’s fat-cat industrial establishment, and many labor leaders, he was defying the US federal government and his fellow Republicans.

“U. S. Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans accused Peterson of being disloyal to his country.  Peterson famously replied, ‘Hell no, I’m being loyal to future generations of Americans.’” (Man and Nature in Delaware.  Williams, 2008)

There were, however, flaws in the Coastal Zone Act, like most legislation a product of compromise.  A key weakness is that the Act covers “industry” but not residential and commercial activities.  Over the years, as coastal industry has tended to contract and sprawl development expand, the CZA has increasingly failed to control many of the greatest threats to the Coastal Zone including runoff and sewage.  It has been obvious for many years that the scope of the Act needs to be expanded, but the vision and leadership to accomplish that has been lacking.

Another weakness is that regulations implementing the act we not adopted for many years, and when they were adopted they were inconsistent with the purposes of the act and tended to weaken it.  Thus, interpretation of the Act has mostly been left to Delaware’s courts, with unpredictable and increasingly bad results, as the quality of Delaware’s judiciary has declined.

But, despite these issues, the Delaware Coastal Zone Act was groundbreaking, whether one regards it as primarily a “land use” law or an “environmental” law.  It came about because a visionary governor was supported by a generation of reform-minded legislators and a relatively-active “environmental community.”  Where are the visionary governors and the generation of reform-minded legislators when we need them now??  Gov. Jack Markell is certainly not cast in that mold.

Peterson went on to serve as President of the National Audubon Society, Chaired the federal Council on Environmental Quality, and worked with various commissions, environmental organizations and projects.  He never again held elective office or a high position in the business or scientific worlds.

Peterson stayed, at least episodically, involved in environmental politics in Delaware, until his death in 2011 at the age of about 95.  He was, for example, a supporter of the Bluewater Wind project, which eventually collapsed but potentially could have been the first large offshore wind project in North America.  He usually popped up when the Coastal Zone Act was being attacked.

But in the end Russ Peterson was diminished by two things:

Advancing age.  Anyone remaining active into his mid-90s is likely to be remembered for things he or she did when no longer at the peak of their powers, and

His love-hate relationship with the chemical industry.  Perhaps Peterson never got over being pushed out of his job as Governor by DuPont.  It seemed to me that he carried deep and legitimate grievances, and of course he knew intellectually that the policies pursued by big corporate interests were destroying the planet.  On the other hand, Peterson had money, identified socially with the powers-that-be, and seemed to crave forgiveness and acceptance from the leaders of DuPont, etc.  Thus, he could and did alternate between sucking up and lashing out.  He wasn’t always reliable or predictable.  He could and did make serious mistakes and publish stupid things, such as an endorsement of a bad waste incineration company.

Russ’ key mistake was to be politically seduced by “Toxic Tom” Carper.  Carper was elected Governor in 1992, with the naive support of some Delaware enviros.  At that time, a long Coastal Zone Act negotiation between enviro types and Chamber of Commerce types had been in progress under Gov. Mike Castle and was coming to conclusion.  Carper came in with a pure “Chamber of Commerce” agenda and one of his first actions was to call in the enviros and tell them to yield to the Chamber on Coastal Zone issues.  Initially, they resisted.  So Carper went after Peterson, knowing that if Russ yielded, inevitably the mainstream enviros would go along.  Peterson fell for it.  I remember him yelling at me that Tom Carper and Chris Tolou, then Secretary of DNREC, were “great environmentalists.”  He hired a bogus “neutral facilitator” shop called the “Consensus Building Institute” to give the enviros cover for their sellout.  In the sad end, the enviros–many controlled by DuPont–wimped out and rolled over.  They signed an agreement essentially abandoning the clear language of the Coastal Zone Act in favor of “environmental indicators,” “offsets,” and other excuses for abandoning the plain meaning of the Act.  It’s been mostly downhill since.

There have been some high moments.  John Hughes, as Secretary of DNREC, denied a permit for a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Logan Township, NJ.  This he could do because at that point Delaware owns the Delaware River all the way across.  The case went to the US Supreme Court and Delaware prevailed.  At the time, the oil and gas people were saying that more gas imports were essential.  Now, of course, they are saying that gas exports are essential…..

So what’s the relevance of this to 2015?  Delaware faces more severe threats now than when Peterson was governor.  The land is sinking, the sea is rising, and much of Delaware is subject to flooding.  How is the state reacting to this? So far, with nothing but words.  Decades of pandering to business interests, without foresight or planning, have left Delaware’s economy in bad shape and our quality of life degraded.  Compare Peterson’s visionary Coastal Zone Act, which kept a Shell refinery out of Delaware, with Jack Markell’s dirty backdoor deal to reopen the Delaware City Refinery, and bring bomb trains into the state.  Delaware is the big loser.

How do we (re)open Delaware’s political system to visionary leaders?  Or at least people of intelligence and good will?  Who will step up, or be pushed forward, to run for Governor?

Alan Muller is Executive Director of Green Delaware.


Last post on this, Paul Krugman says it all.  Really…. well… probably…

In yesterday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman says very clearly what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around.  Cliven Bundy is a moocher, no doubt, I’ve called him a “welfare queen” too, but the hatred Bundy spews is… is… well, read what Krugman has to say, he puts it all together.

The anti-government mindset is indeed a problem.  Just Friday, I ran into it when a friend repeated the mantra, “You know what’s wrong, it’s the government, the government is too powerful,” when we were attending a hearing focused on utility power (“why do you think they call them power companies”), where it was a utility trying to take someone’s land.  HUH?  How is that an example of problem with “government?”  The landowner in the middle of the fray clearly stated her take, “It’s the utilities, the corporations have too much power.”  Yup, my take too.  How does it become an issue of “too much government?”  This highlights the failure of our individuals and schools to foster critical thinking compounded by the acceptance of the non-stop media regurgitation of false and twisted information.  But hey, that’s just another display of corporate power.

The only thing I’d change?  Where Krugman says it’s a perversion regarding “freedom of the wealthy,” I think it’s more freedom of ANYONE, and so I’d make this edit:

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.


Here are Krugman’s thoughts:

High Plains Moochers

It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.

For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.

Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.

It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.

And this in turn means that treating Mr. Bundy as some kind of libertarian hero is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. Suppose he had been grazing his cattle on land belonging to one of his neighbors, and had refused to pay for the privilege. That would clearly have been theft — and brandishing guns when someone tried to stop the theft would have turned it into armed robbery. The fact that in this case the public owns the land shouldn’t make any difference.

So what were people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, who went all in on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, thinking? Partly, no doubt, it was the general demonization of government — if someone looks as if he is defying Washington, he’s a hero, never mind the details. Partly, one suspects, it was also about race — not Mr. Bundy’s blatant racism, but the general notion that government takes money from hard-working Americans and gives it to Those People. White people who wear cowboy hats while profiting from government subsidies just don’t fit the stereotype.

Most of all, however — or at least that’s how it seems to me — the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates.

Read the rest of this entry »


Red Wing’s Mayor, Dennis Egan, is the voice of frac sand mining.  Yes, it’s true, and here is his email so you can tell him what you think: dennis.egan@ci.red-wing.mn.us



What’s the big deal?  Well, it’s a simple matter of whose interests the mayor represents.  It’s about ethics.  The Mayor’s job is to public represent the City of Red Wing, the “titular head” of the city.  Can he spell C-O-N-F-L-I-C-T?

The City of Red Wing recently spent a year addressing frac sand in the City, first enacting a Silica Sand Moratorium and then an Ordinance.  This remains a major issue at Goodhue County, and in the entire state of Minnesota.

It appears that organizing his “Red Wing 2020,” an “Advisory Committee to the Mayor” and having this “Advisory Committee to the Mayor” host a frac sand mining promotional love fest wasn’t enough, nooooooooo, now he’s officially, publicly, and professionally promoting frac sand interests, and he’s being paid for it.  While he’s Mayor of Red Wing?  Can you believe it?

A recent Politics in Minnesota article laid it out, that he’s “Executive Director” of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, which is a lobbying group to promote frac sand mining and associated interests.  Here’s the scoop that relates to Mayor Egan:

Mining industry mobilizes

The sand mining industry has recently gotten organized as well. The Minnesota Industrial Sand Council was formed about three weeks ago, with Red Wing Mayor and Capitol lobbyist Dennis Egan as its executive director. The council, which is part of Aggregate & Ready Mix of Minnesota, has hired the Minneapolis-based Larkin Hoffman law and lobbying firm as its lobbyists. The group includes sand-mining companies as well as railroad, trucking and petroleum interests.

“We’ve got mining operations that have been in Mankato and Shakopee and St. Peter and Winona. These are Minnesota folks,” Egan said. “When they hear their operations and their livelihood potentially is going to come to a screeching halt, they said: ‘We need a voice at the Capitol, because that’s now where the conversation is going.’”

The group is stressing to lawmakers that the sand is used in industries ranging from sand paper to fiber optics, and calling attention to state and federal regulations that hold the industry in check, Egan said. He said the group is also putting together a best practices document.

“We want this industry to be safe and healthy, not only for those for those who work in the pits but for the communities that surround it,” Egan said. “Truck traffic, dust issues that comes from mining, we recognize there can be concerns, so how do we best address that?”

FYI, Mayor Dennis Egan’s facebook pages says he “lives in St. Paul.”  Curiouser and curiouser!




Gov. Mark Dayton rolled out the plan early in his term — GUT environmental review and protection.  What do Minnesotans think?  This week we got a chance to tell him.

Surprise!  The first meeting about the state’s environmental review was standing room only, when we got there a line started at the door going back and winding in.  They’d supposedly expected 30-40 but got about 200, 175 signed in and I’d bet quite a few didn’t.  Keep in mind that this was a meeting held at 9:30 a.m. on a weekday.  Suzanne found a spot with just enough room for us to stand.  As it was getting started, I noticed, DUH, that there was a white board behind me, so because there was no designated way to make comments other than holler, well, of course I did that too, particularly regarding FUNDING, because there was no mention of funding and how all the agencies are hurting to the point of being unable to regulate, anyway, a few of my comments (click photo for larger view):


There were meetings this week, and there are more the week of December 10 — SHOW UP AND LET THEM KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THE STATE’S JOB ON ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW:

Blue Check Mark December 10 – Worthington, Worthington High School 3:30pm – 6:00pm

Blue Check Mark December 12 – St. Cloud, Stearns County Service Center 5:30pm – 8:00pm

Blue Check Mark December 14 – Moorhead, Minnesota State University 3:00pm – 5:30pm

I’ve posted before about Gov. Dayton’s brown environmental initiatives — right off the bat he muzzled and prodded MPCA and DNR to ram permits through:

Dayton’s Executive Order 11-04

And then he announced plans to “streamline” environmental review, and we all know what “streamline” means”

Executive Order 11-32

So at these meetings ostensibly about “environmental review” we were funneled into a “multiple guess” exercise about the “Environmental Report Card” and nothing about “Improvement of Environmental Review” or “EQB Governance and Coordination” which were reports that, in addition to the “Environmental Report Card” were approved by the EQB on November 14, 2012.  There was a “comment” opportunity at the EQB, but there were maybe 5 people who commented, utterly ineffective solicitation.

EARTH TO MARS!  With the EQB approving those reports November 14, BEFORE the public meetings, there was pretty much ZERO input into those reports.  Although it’s heartening to see that there’s been some pull-back from the overt gutting of the EQB laid out in the draft report, and maybe, MAYBE, pull back from reframing the whole intent of environmental review, it’s a problem where the fix is in and where the important policy documents are done before we’re invited to join the game.  Thanks, guys…

Here are the reports:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, someone like Bill Grant, formerly Izaak Walton League, now Dayton’s Deputy Commissioner in charge of Energy Facility Permitting, the guy who facilitated the CapX 2020 transmission buildout, and who promoted coal gasification, he has no business being involved in siting of utility permits.  He has an egregious conflict of interest, having been part of energy project promotional efforts, and needs to be fired.  Here’s Grant eing interviewed before the program started:


At two recent frac sand mining meetings in Red Wing and Wabasha, I handed out at least 270 flyers, , posted info on this blog and sent info out on lists.  I’m hoping that had something to do with so many turning out.  Frac sand was a major topic, I really stressed the need to fund the state’s regulatory agencies so they can do their job, and others way over across the room were not happy with how the discussion was an exercise in control of discussion.  It’s safe to say that they got an earful.


Rep. Denny McNamara came in and worked his way back to a tiny open spot by us, he ended up next to Alan, and Alan quietly said hello and noted that they’d first met at a meeting in Cottage Grove regarding the 3M incinerator, and he gives Alan a nasty look and makes a gratuitous snide comment about “Oh, did you get a haircut?” and looks at the back of his head.  EH?  Alan said something in his oh so nice way, and I piped up from behind, “At least he doesn’t dye his!”


Denny McNamara’s trainer better put a muzzle on him.  That guy is supposed to be representing the people in his district, and in that case he represented the interests of 3M, notorious polluter of the water and air, and he has the nerve to be a defensive jerk when there’s no need to be.  If mere mention of meeting him at a hearing regarding the 3M incinerator elicits that brand of obnoxiousness, oh my, he must be guilty of more offensive rolling to corporate interests than suspected!

A google pops up this article right at the top:

McNamara plans big refashioning of LCCMR projects

Rep. Denny McNamara tonight plans to take an axe to a swath of proposed environmental projects that are paid for by Minnesota Lottery money.

McNamara, R-Hastings, is planning to initiate a challenge to about $8 million worth of projects that were previously recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The total bill recommends $52 million in projects that are paid over a two-year period out of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is built up by Lottery proceeds.

Check out that post… Hey Denny, how about addressing the extreme environmental issues around Hastings?  So glad he’s been ousted as Chair of the House Environment Committee.