How to be both angry and sad at the same time

For the past 17 months and six days, people have said that I am handling suddenly being widowed with grace. Being furious and raging wasn’t going to unwind the fact that a careless driver killed my husband while he was riding his bike. I have limited reserves of energy, and I knew that walking around being angry wasn’t going to get me very far.

Last Thursday I was both angry and sad. If David Cummings was alive, I would have put down whatever work project had my attention in Atlanta just before 2:00, gotten in my car, and driven back to Sandersville, Georgia to celebrate with him. As I have told friends before, it was David who helped me connect the dots not too long after the boondoggle Plant Washington was announced.

I didn’t know much about energy production before the end of January 2008 when Dean Alford was presented to the business leaders of Washington County in an invitation only presentation at the Washington EMC. As I learned more, I became very concerned. It’s handy to be married to a geologist who can explain the water tables and such when a coal plant is going to draw down 16Million gallons of water per day, and your household water source about eight miles from the plant site is also drawn from a well in that same geologic plain.

FACE Board members and earliest supporters with certificates of recognition from President Obama

I’ve always credited David for helping me find my way on responding to Plant Washington. On one of the first beautiful spring days in 2008, the kind that makes you want to find any reason to go outside, I told David I wished there was someone who lived near the proposed plant site that I could talk to, because surely they would be concerned about the threats of coal ash emissions, access to water, safety, and property values. He casually said that long-time family friends Randy and Cathy Mayberry had a cabin adjacent to the site, that maybe I should talk to them.

That sunny afternoon I went out to walk, and after about an hour, sweaty and kind of worn looking, I knocked on the Mayberry’s front door. Cathy answered, and while I told her I didn’t want to interrupt their day, and I surely wasn’t fit to sit down with anyone to talk, maybe sometime we could have a conversation about the risks posed by Plant Washington. From the living room Randy called out, “Come on in.”

From there Cathy and I met on someone’s porch with Lyle Lansdell, Pat, and Sonny Daniel, Paula and John Swint. Jennette Gayer came drove down from Atlanta. Seth Gunning, a student at Valdosta State who was light years ahead of the rest of us about energy and the environment, drove up for a meeting. Larry Warthen, whose church was founded after the Civil War, where unmarked graves of enslaved and free people are just yards from the plant site perimeter, stepped up to help lead in the work. The lawyers and partner organizations came to us to teach us, guide us, and become champions for our community too.

David was a certified stream monitor for the Ogeechee Rverkeeper. Our grandchildren Chase and Ella went with him one afternoon to learn about stream monitoring.

David didn’t go to those early meetings, but he listened to me, counseled me when I thought my head would explode as I learned more about the convoluted way coal plants are developed, permitted, and financed. He signed the petitions and went to the hearings. He phone banked when volunteers across the state came together to help return Cobb EMC to the rightful control of the member-owners. He used a few vacation days to attend court proceedings and EPA public comment sessions. Later he agreed to serve on the board of the small grassroots organization, the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE), that came together after the first few community meetings. Because he grew up fishing, canoeing, and swimming at our family’s farm on the Ogeechee River, he became a certified stream monitor.

Summer vacation in Maine, 2010, as I was beginning to realize fighting Plant Washington was the work I needed to do full-time

In the summer of 2010, when I knew to my core that quitting a job as a rural health advocate, where I excelled, instead of working nights, weekends, and burning through vacation days to fight Plant Washington, was my true calling, David supported me. When I worked 12 hours a day, he walked the dogs and cooked dinner. When I had cancer and was exhausted from radiation treatments, and the work required to fight Plant Washington totaled at least one thousand hours each week among our partners, he supported me. When Plant Washington’s funders backed out, and the truth in what FACE and our partners had said all along became clearer and clearer, David celebrated with me. And when the work of fighting Plant Washington wasn’t a full-time job any longer, because winning meant I would work my way out of a job, David supported me while I looked for work that would tap all the passion and experience I had garnered since 2008. He was always there.

Thursday evening I had plans to meet Atlanta friends who don’t know me as coal-plant fighting activist. One of them said she wanted to hear the story of my work as we began walking through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. I told her I couldn’t compress it well at the moment, as it began in 2008 and changed me forever.

So we toasted a long-awaited victory, one they know matters to the health of the small rural community where my husband and children grew up, where some of my grandchildren live now, the community that helped FACE leaders become the best and truest versions of ourselves.  We toasted to doing work that matters and benefits everyone on this one planet, and to those whose bodies have been returned to it.

 

The arc of justice is long

Dean Alford

Earlier this afternoon the Atlanta Journal Constitution sent out a news alert concerning the resignation of Dean Alford, a member of the Georgia University System’s  Board of Regents. Alford was recently reappointed to the Board by Governor Brian Kemp.

The newspaper details that the Georgia  Attorney General and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation issued arrest warrants for Alford for creating a fraudulent invoice submitted to the state, and for forging the signature of a university employee.

What did Alford do?

The paper’s coverage includes, “Alford is accused of creating a fraudulent invoice acknowledgement form, dated Sept. 24, to submit to a company called Versant, state officials said. The document is alleged to have falsely asserted that the University of Georgia would pay Versant $487,982.88 to satisfy a debt owed to Alford’s own company, Allied Energy Services, LLC, located in Rockdale County.”

That’s not the biggest amount of money, according to the AJC. The article continues with, “He’s also suspected of transmitting fraudulent documents to Versant to make the company believe he had legitimate purchase agreements and accounts receivable with various entities, state officials said. Alford was attempting to sell such accounts receivable to Versant in exchange for $1,798,327.06, investigators said. ”

Alford purchased Allied Energy Services for pennies on the dollar when a judge ordered Cobb Energy holdings, a private shareholding company spun off from the nonprofit Cobb EMC, to be dissolved. Alford’s “haul” at Cobb EMC, the electric membership co-op in the north Atlanta suburbs, was close to $18Million according to 2015 news coverage.

But there’s more. Much more.

Allied Energy Services was awarded a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington, a $6Billion proposed coal plant that soaked up millions of dollars from EMCs in Georgia under the umbrella of Power for Georgians. The electric co-op in Washington County, Washington EMC, sunk $1Million of member-owner dollars into the boondoggle plant, slated to be built just miles from my home, and the homes of a small group of local citizens who became the Fall-Line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). Alford never secured financing, power purchase agreements, or customers. FACE has never wavered in its grassroots committment to protecting our natural resources and the health of our families and friends.

January 25, 2012

The adventures of FACE, and those of others in Washington County, have been detailed on this blog since Plant Washington was proposed in January 2008. The saga involves seeing fellow citizens for who they truly are, or are not. FACE leaders earned the rights to our story through hard work and selfless determination.

I’ll close here by adding that FACE and our partners have waited years to throw the biggest celebration to ever happen in Washington County. We’ve got a party to plan and invitations to send to those who stood with us.

Driving dirty air

The Republican Party, which is now Donald Trump’s Republican Party (DTRP), has long heralded itself as the party of less big government and more local control. They’ve argued that states, cities, and counties know what is best for them and they should set standards.

DTRP dislikes car emission standards set by California’s elected leaders  so much so that a court battle looms over the state’s ability to set standards for vehicles, which California began doing in 1966.

In fact, the emission standards have worked so well that 13 states adopted California’s standards, meaning that car and light truck manufacturers have already designed their products and factories to meet emission standards which keep air cleaner. It also means consumers are buying these cars and trucks. Tough emission standards didn’t serve as a death-blow to auto sales in those states.

The same can be said for gas mileage standards.  DTRP wants to reduce mileage standards for vehicles, but that doesn’t mean consumers will race out to buy something new to drive. Consumers expect and demand good mileage, safety features, and low emissions.

Manufacturers couldn’t, and wouldn’t, retool their factories in an afternoon to produce gas-guzzling, dirty emission spewing cars just because the DTRP says it is ok. In fact, just two months ago, four manufacturers agreed to meet  continue to meet California’s vehicle standards.

A quick survey of the popularity of electric vehicles, hybrids, and high-efficiency gas fueled cars and trucks, would remind manufacturers that consumers want and expect cleaner running, higher mileage, vehicles. Both domestic and foreign car companies continue to offer best selling models with hybrid versions, and are also re-introducing retired versions of hybrids, because if they don’t, customers will drive past those dealerships on the way to others who offer what they want.

Donal Trump’s Republican Party can deny all kinds of reality and science, but car dealers won’t deny the reality of their bottom line. Profits are increasingly driven by consumers who buy cars using less or no gas, and emitting as little air pollutants as possible.

Car standards aren’t set at the White House any more; they are determined by consumers with their wallets in dealer showrooms and at gas pumps.

 

 

How We Have Failed Since September 11, Redux

First posted here on September 10, 2014

How We Have Failed since September 11

Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.

Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.

Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:

  • fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
  • failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
  • allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
  • granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
  • making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
  • subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
  • denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
  • deporting children
  • complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
  • sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
  • being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
  • we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
  • too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all

We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.

 

Can Governor Kemp deliver for rural Georgia?

Today marks a new era in Georgia, one that follows a contentious race for the governor’s mansion. Will Brian Kemp and the GA Legislature deliver on promises to rural voters?

Rural hospitals are fragile, while access to care is difficult in regards to insurance coverage, number of providers, and transportation. Will legislators swallow hard and request a waiver so much needed federal dollars can make their way to rural citizens and providers?

Will rural residents, and by rural I mean the ones who live on dirt roads or outside any semblance of a crossroads or town, begin to see a solution to high speed, affordable internet access? This infrastructure impacts businesses, schools, and the attractiveness of living in rural communities.

How will Kemp and the legislature handle districting when the census is completed? This issue didn’t get a lot of coverage during the campaigns, but it will impact rural Georgians in big ways as populations continue to shift to more urban areas. What about safe and secure voting?

The clock starts today. When the 40 day session ends, what will wait until 2020, or arrive on Gov Kemp’s desk to be signed?

If your plane has been hijacked….

This saying has been circulating since the election, and I understand the thinking behind it.

It also reminds me of the passenger-heroes of Flight 93, who overtook hijackers on their September 11, 2001 flight, forcing the plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field instead of its intended metropolitan target.

If your plane has been hijacked, and you know it is on a suicide mission, do you sit by idly? Or, do you organize and try to regain control of the plane, putting it on its right course?

Last night’s greatest hits

As a historian, I am a believer in hearing things for yourself and reading primary documents. Ezra Klein has excerpts from last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Ford Motor Company had to fact check Trump on September 15th (below),
followed by some of the greatest hits from the debate:

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And perhaps my favorite

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And the winners are…..

Current leadership in the Georgia General Assembly never fails to disappoint. This year’s session has been a catalog of hate-baiting legislation against LGBTQ citizens and people of faith (and no faith). Rape victims have been dismissed, and Georgia’s Guns Everywhere mentality threatens campuses across our state.

Creative Loafing Atlanta didn’t wait until the end of the session to announce this year’s Golden Sleaze Awards. If you want to hear keen political analysis of this year’s General Assembly session in Georgia, tune in to GPB’s Political Rewind at 3:00 this afternoon.

 

Still waiting on a call from the EPD (but Georgia Power has been on the phone)

Yesterday (Wednesday, January 6) The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) asked if they could repost R&P’s post from Tuesday, January 5th about Georgia Power pumping water from their Plant Branch coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair over the weekend.

They reposted, and Georgia Power picked up the phone and set up a conference call with SACE and Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper who discovered the pumping last weekend.

SACE has added this to their reposting of my original blog:
Subsequent to our posting of this article, Georgia Power contacted us to clarify that emergency overflow pumping was taking place as part of their emergency response plans, consistent with the facility’s permit, due to unusually high rainfall. The overflow is designed to prevent water over-topping the dyke and damaging it through erosion. While overflow water comes from the surface of the pond and has less exposure to toxic ash, which settles to the bottom, we remain concerned about the risks of wet ash storage demonstrated by this episode. Georgia Power aims to publish closure plans for all its ash ponds in Spring 2016 and we look forward to reviewing those plans to ensure they keep ash in lined facilities away from waterways.

Like SACE and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, I am very concerned about both the storage of wet coal ash so close to Lake Sinclair, and the pumping of  water from their ponds into Lake Sinclair.

Georgia Power should have been proactive in sharing information with the public about their actions. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) should have been on site in the “emergency” situation Georgia Power is claiming (The record rains weren’t a surprise, and the proximity to Lake Sinclair isn’t new at Plant Branch either).

But that’s not all of it.

Georgia Power and the EPD told Hilburn they were testing the water.

Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch
Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch

But Georgia Power and the EPD don’t test for heavy metals and toxins found in coal ash waste. They test for oil and grease, pH, and sediment/particulate concentration.

If you don’t test for coal ash toxins, then you surely won’t find them.

Hilburn was told by Georgia Power that it will continue pumping water from their coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair.

And the EPD?

As of 6:30 this evening, the Altamaha Riverkeeper says she is still waiting for phone messages to be returned from her weekend calls about Lake Sinclair and Plant Branch.

Georgia Power doesn’t seem interested in calling me, and that’s ok, but apparently they have read Rural and Progressive.

 

 

What was Georgia Power doing at Plant Branch on New Year’s weekend?

Georgia’s coal ash monitoring laws are awfully easy on power companies. The companies get to monitor their heaping piles of coal ash waste piles and ponds themselves.

Thank goodness the Altamaha Riverkeeper (aided by Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper) checked up on the coal ash ponds at Plant Blanch, which abut Lake Sinclair, last weekend.

There was a lot of activity there on Saturday, with large trucks in and out at the ponds and generators buzzing due to the tremendous amount of rain recently.

What was flowing into the lake just didn’t look like normal runoff, so Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK),  put in a call to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Hilburn said in a press release, “I am deeply concerned about what sounds like pumping of water into Lake Sinclair.  If this is coming directly from the coal ash ponds into the lake, it could pose a threat to our community on the lake as well as many others who utilize its waters. Georgia Power appears to be delibrately dumping coal ash waste directly into the lake. I am surprised that no-one I spoke with on Lake Sinclair had been notified in anyway by Georgia Power of their activities”

coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times
coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times

Coal ash ponds are notorious for leaking, or worse, collapsing, as they did in Kingston, TN on December 22, 2008. That community was flooded with 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry from a TVA coal plant. Coal ash waste also contaminated the Dan River on the Virginia-North Carolina state line in 2014 as a result of nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act by Duke Energy. 

How risky are the coal ash ponds at Plant Branch?

Since 2010 Plant Branch’s coal ash ponds have been considered “High Hazard” for contamination or failure by the Environmental Protection Agency. Did Georgia Power try to avert a pond breach or overflow by  pumping the coal ash waste into Lake Sinclair? I’m anxious to learn what the EPD says in their findings.

While ARK, and concerned citizens, wait to hear back from the EPD, the Riverkeeper is advising that no fish be consumed from Lake Sinclair until more is known about the safety of the water.

What can Georgians do in the meantime?

Our General Assembly convenes next week. Ask your state legislators NOW to require stricter monitoring of the coal ash waste landfills and ponds that pepper our state. Even though wind and solar are becoming a larger part of our fuel resources, the heavy metals and toxins in coal ash waste are forever. As last weekend demonstrates, shuttering a coal plant like Plant Branch doesn’t solve the problem of safely storing the contaminated waste it has left behind.

Allowing Georgia Power and other coal burning companies in our state to self-monitor their toxic waste isn’t working. The Georgia General Assembly can do something about that beginning next week.

 

And the world took note

The Friday Photo
November 6, 2015

photo credit 350.org
photo credit 350.org

Keystone XL has been cancelled, at last. I was lucky enough to be at Forward on Climate, which, until a year ago, was the largest climate action in the United States. My story of that incredible event almost three years ago is here.

The needle hasn’t moved much since last year

This was originally posted last year on September 11. We continue to be a badly broken country in too many ways. No photo today.

How we have failed since September 11, 2001

Tonight President Obama will address the nation about ISIS and any actions that we may take in response to the horrific murders of Americans and innocent civilians at the hands of terrorists.

Tomorrow there will be an observance in my community, and many others, to honor the thousands of lives lost to hate and terrorism, and to support the families and friends who knew someone they loved would never return home again.

Since September 11, 2001 we as a country have talked a lot about being kinder to one another and being a better country. Yet 13 years later this is what consumes us as a country:

  • fighting about allowing two consenting adults of the same-sex to legally marry each
  • failing to take care of the thousands of veterans who have defended our country, many of whom returned with horrible wounds from the Middle East since September 2001
  • allowing private corporations to decided which forms of legal birth control they will cover for employees through company based health insurance because some corporations should have the same privileges as churches
  • granting corporations the same rights as citizens so businesses can pour money into elections and our representatives’ pockets
  • making it harder for citizens to exercise their right to vote
  • subsidizing corporations with huge tax breaks while their employees working full-time never earn enough to break the poverty barrier
  • denying the hard facts of science because profits should come before cleaning up the mess we’ve made of the entire planet
  • deporting children
  • complaining about failing schools while slashing teacher pay and testing our children to death
  • sitting by silently while racism and sexism are displayed proudly
  • being sure we can take our assault rifles into the grocery store
  • we pay for and support violence on playing fields, in the movies we watch, video games we buy, music we listen to, and television shows we watch, but we react with horror when students are sprayed with bullets in their classrooms, women are drug from elevators by their hair, students are bullied, children and women are raped as well as being forced into prostitution
  • too many among us are convinced that their brand of faith should be followed above all others, and if necessary the rights of other citizens should be denied because they choose to worship differently, or not at all

We absolutely should remember and honor the victims of September 11th’s violence. I’m just not convinced we are a country that is a better reflection of the democratic values and freedoms which terrorists intended to destroy 13 years ago.

Another hurdle for “dormant” Plant Washington

The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.

The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.  Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards

Dean Alford
Dean Alford

But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.

Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.  But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.  The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.  Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”

But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
 

The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.

So Plant Washington is not an existing source.  But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.  Well, on this point, EPA punted.  Why?  Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.  In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”

Ouch. 

EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —  before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.

P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.  In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.  Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.

Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.  But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.  EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.    These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline. 

And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.

The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.  The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.

Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock

Sunday reads

Just some of the news I’ve been catching up on today:

Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraph  has an article about last Monday’s carbon pollution rules and the shift already underway towards renewal energy sources in Georgia.

Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitution points out that the world didn’t come to an end years ago when Atlanta’s air quality was classified as “non-attainment” and the city was required to take action to reduce smog and other problems (the article concludes behind their pay wall).

The AJC is doing a series of articles on climate change and the impacts already seen on Georgia’s coast called “A rising tide of concern.” The articles are behind a pay wall and include this: “David Stooksbury, the former state climatologist, said the unwillingness of leaders to address climate change is dangerous.’I don’t think that most of our elected officials understand the long-term seriousness of what climate change will do to the agricultural economy, public health and the environment,’ Stooksbury said. ‘It will be much cheaper and better for the state if we follow a well-developed plan starting now rather than waiting until we must respond.’ ”

Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources is quoted too, stating, “Last month the wildlife resources division of the Department of Natural Resources issued its State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, which states unequivocally that “climate change presents unprecedented challenges.”

The AJC reports that Governor Nathan Deal had no statement on climate change. Senator David Perdue, who lives in a mansion on one of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, Sea Island, told the AJC, ““the scientific community is not in total agreement about whether mankind has been a contributing factor.”

The rising tides will eventually wash away the sand Perdue and others have their heads buried in on this subject and many others.

 

Sleeping with the Enemy

The Friday Photo
June 26, 2015

Not a photo this week, but a fond remembrance, in two parts, of a campaign where a picture and few words told the story (It won a national marketing award for “Best Villian.” I wish I could claim the idea as my own.)

Sleeping with the Enemy frontSleeping with the Enemy back

The Fat Lady is looking through her sheet music

After 8.5 years, a lot of questions about Plant Washington, Cobb EMC, and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company created by Dwight Brown while he ran the state’s largest electric co-op, have been answered after a forensic audit conducted for Cobb EMC was released by Channel 2 News in Atlanta last week. (A forensic audit is a type of financial audit that is conducted concerning possible fraud or misconduct.)

The document, which includes a 150+ page Executive Summary, also shines a bright light on Plant Washington, which Washington EMC leaders spent $1Million pursuing. Allied Energy Services, run by Brown’s crony Dean Alford, holds a no-bid contract to develop Plant Washington.

The audit includes some big numbers. Dwight Brown and his wife Mary Ellen, received over $20Million in payments, loans, benefits, and preferred stock from Cobb EMC and Cobb Energy, a for-profit company, established in 1998 under Brown’s directive.

Brown’s private business partner and Vice-President at Cobb Energy, Dean Alford, hauled in about $18Million in payments and benefits, according to the audit.

Alford was selected by Brown to serve on the Cobb Energy Board. From there Alford landed CEO appointments to Allied Utility Network and Allied Energy Services, both owned by Cobb Energy. The auditors wrote that they, “found no evidence that Cobb Energy reviewed or approved any business plan for any of the businesses it acquired or created.” The audit states that, with the exception of perhaps two entities, neither of them being Allied Energy Services of Allied Utility Network, “all of the Cobb Energy spinoffs lost money, some on a grand scale.”

Cobb Energy gave Allied Utility Network $5.9M by moving money from the nonprofit Cobb co-op to Cobb Energy, the for-profit company that, according to the audit, was anything but a profit generator. The audit reports that Cobb Energy general ledger entries totaling $4M appear to have funded Allied Energy, but the bookkeeping isn’t precise (lack of clear bookkeeping records is just one of the many criticisms raised in the audit).

So what about Allied Energy Services, Plant Washington, and the group of co-ops, including Washington EMC, that organized Power4Georgians (P4G) to support Plant Washington (and another coal-fired plant to be located in Ben Hill County) that Brown and Alford were touting years ago?

Allied Energy Services, led by Alford, secured the no-bid contract to develop coal-fired Plant Washington, even though, as the audit states, “neither Alford nor Allied had any experience building or developing a coal-fired power plant, and witnesses indicated he was hired on the basis of a recommendation by Dwight Brown.”  Alford also heads P4G, which continues to promote Plant Washington even though all of the original EMCs that made up the consortium have ceased funding the project. P4G has already dropped plans for the second facility, which would have been called Plant Ben Hill.

Large tracts of land for both coal plant sites have been bought or tied up in contracts by several companies in amounts that totaled in the millions.

Where all that money came from is among the audit’s more interesting findings.

Monies paid to Cobb EMC by its members went to more than the for-profit companies owned by Cobb Energy. Both Alumni Properties LLC, which was involved in land acquisitions for the Ben Hill coal plant, and Buster and Brown, LLC, another private real estate venture, are linked to Dean Alford and his boss at Cobb Energy, Dwight Brown.

But there were even more land companies, including Ben Hill Timberland, LLC and Washington Timberland, LLC. Washington Timberland, LLC, as readers of Rural and Progressive may remember, has a history of late property tax payments in Washington County.

Dean Alford and P4G cancelled Plant Ben Hill over three years ago, but the audit raises questions about whether it was ever a real project.  The audit says that “Senior Cobb EMC officers…advised that Plant Ben Hill was a ‘decoy” designed as a subterfuge to keep land prices lower in Washington County.”

Which raises troubling questions about Plant Washington and whether it was ever a viable proposal, or merely a scheme designed to enrich P4G.  In January of 2012, Cobb EMC Board members ceased funding Plant Washington following a presentation by Alford, during which he said, “P4G never intended to build Plant Washington” and that, “P4G’s goal has always been to obtain the permits needed and then sell them to any interested party that could build the plant.”  Unfortunately, it took many more months before Washington EMC followed Cobb EMC’s lead.

I happened to attend the invitation-only announcement for Plant Washington at the end of January 2008. The event was attended by former Washington CEO Frank Askew, then CFO and now Washington EMC CEO Wendy Sellers, Washington County Industrial Development Authority Chair, and Sandersville Railroad stockholder Hugh Tarbutton, and other Tarbutton family members.  At that time, Alford was clear in stating that Plant Washington would be built, owned, and operated by P4G members to provide affordable power to co-op members.

“Senior Cobb EMC officers interviewed advised that Plant Washington is now dormant,” according to the audit.

There’s a lot of information to digest in the 150+ page audit, which was requested by the Cobb EMC Board members elected after Brown and his cronies were ousted from the electric co-op almost four years ago. Last week Cobb County Prosecutor Don Geary told Channel 2 News in Atlanta that additional criminal charges could result from the findings.

The audit concludes with this statement, “This report has clearly demonstrated that how the former CEO made business and accounting decisions from which he and his friends profited. There was no effective compliance and ethics program and no oversight on the part of the Board of either entity, Cobb Energy or Cobb EMC to stop the activities perpetuated by the former CEO.”

It is time for Washington EMC leaders to come clean with its members and the larger community about the waste of member resources that Plant Washington has been from the beginning. Members expect and deserve the truth. We must hold them, and all our county leaders, accountable for the boondoggle they signed us up for over 8.5 years ago.

Two boxes, 8.5 years

The Friday Photo
May 29,2015


We’re downsizing today. These two boxes are filled with documents spanning 8.5 years (and counting) of some of the most difficult, rewarding, and meaningful work I will ever do.

Where’s The Friday Photo?

I didn’t post a photo last Friday because I didn’t think I had anything that was worth posting. What I did think about a good bit on Friday, and other days, was about putting Rural and Progressive on hiatus to figure out if I should continue.

It takes me A LOT of time to crank out posts that are heavy on politics. Fact-checking, reading a variety of sources, double checking, proofing, maybe asking for a review before posting, and triple checking take time. When I worked at home and my schedule was flexible I could pick up and put down posts throughout the day.

And then today Hillary announced. So I signed up and donated to her campaign.

This election isn’t about electing the first woman POTUS (even though we’re behind the curve on electing women to national leadership in America). This election is about children, women, seniors, people of color, my LGBTQ friends and family, the middle class, the working poor, our veterans, energy production, peace, public schools, rural communities, national infrastructure, the arts, health care, housing, food shortages, and our natural resources.

So I ‘m figuring out what Rural and Progressive will be in the future.

Got a suggestion? I’d love to hear it.