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

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.

 

The groaning board

The Friday Photo
March 27, 2015
food

My mother-in-law died peacefully this morning before breakfast.Homemade food began arriving in time for lunch.This photo captures most of what arrived after 5:00 pm.

In the rural South no one ever wonders what they’ll eat when they
have to plan a funeral.

Plays with matches

The Friday Photo
March 20, 2015

FullSizeRender (2)

This pendant was made for me by Life is a Verb Camper Jen Land. I wear it everyday as a reminder to be invested and to speak up. And to choose carefully when using matches.

Gov Deal’s band-aid approach to health care

Hancock County, Georgia’s poorest among our 159 counties, is getting much needed help with access to health care via technology, community leaders, and innovators in delivering care to patients.

Right now people living in Hancock County have to drive to a neighboring county to see a doctor for any and all medical concerns. Even something as simple as an ear infection requires a drive of at least 25 miles to another county. Getting to the doctor can be a huge expense and feat of logistics for Georgia’s rural citizens, including those in Hancock County.

A new program, with a price tag of just $105,000, will now bring state of art health care to Hancock County’s citizens. Patients, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), and doctors,  connected through secure technology, will work to determine medical problems and where a patient needs to receive care. Emergency room trips and the cost of care should be reduced, while patient health outcomes, and the establishment of medical homes for patients, should improve.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of this program for Hancock County, which has Governor Deal’s support.

But it is important to understand that  making access to health care easier and more affordable for Hancock County’s citizens via technology, isn’t  enough to address the failure to provide affordable health care to all of Georgia’s citizens.

And a  pilot program announced by the Rural Health Stabilization Committee last week won’t either. The Committee  will create four hub and spoke type health care delivery sites. Dcotors and EMTs, along with the patient and technology, will assess medical problems and get the patient to the appropriate place for care.

Using technology to care for patients isn’t new in Georgia. Telehealth has effectively been used for emergencies, specialty consultations, and mental health care in our state for years. What these programs offer should increase access to very good health care, reduce costs, save time, and improve patient health outcomes.

But these programs aren’t going to solve the bigger problems of delivering health care to Georgians and making it affordable. The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee wasn’t convened to address Medicaid Expansion. Gov Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson has been clear about that.

Governor Deal remains a staunch opponent of saving our state millions of dollars with Medicaid Expansion and improving access to health care for underserved Georgians.  Instead, he and his buddies in the Georgia General Assembly, chose to constrict access to health care via Medicaid Expansion. That also means our elected officials have redirected the federal tax dollars Georgians send to Washington every year to states who have chosen to expand care and reduce costs with Medicaid Expansion.

Hancock County’s new telehealth program, coupled with the hub and spoke pilot program designed by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, are big pluses for a few communities.

Governor Deal and the General Assembly can do more for Georgia’s citizens who need access to health care. We need more than a lick and a promise.

 

 

Only 276 pages left

only 276 pages left
only 276 pages left

One on the highlights of the year for me is joining a group of women, most of whom I see only once a year over lunch, for conversations encompassing a wide range of topics. The only time there is quiet around the room is when we share noteworthy books we’ve read in the past year.

My list is always the shortest (these women are serious about reading). Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit” was on my list, to which my friend Sue kindly pointed out, I’ve been reading that one for years (She’s right, it was on my list last year. I’ve still got hundreds of pages to go).

Rural and Progressive came up in the discussion last Saturday, and I made a point of saying I haven’t been posting much recently as I continue to dive into a new job. That doesn’t mean I’m not following politics, so don’t count me out on posting about politics, especially while the Georgia General Assembly is in session.

GPB has added three in-house produced programs focused on state politics and issues that are worth a listen. “Political Rewind” on Friday afternoons includes a balanced group of pundits/consultants/journalists/former politicians. I’ve heard it in full more than “On Second Thought” and “Two Way Street.” All three programs cover a range of issues and topics pertinent to our state. They are worth a listen.

It is worth noting that GPB has added these programs since disgraced Georgia State Representative Chip Rogers was fired last year. Shame on the network for producing good content and failing to make it available by podcast.

I’m a stickler for fact checking and supporting data. Consequently I really like Fact-check Friday on the AJC. 

If you are curious about what I am reading that is newsworthy, from my perspective in rural Georgia, like Rural and Progressive on Facebook. I share things there almost every day. My Twitter feed includes links to news items too (events like the State of the Union address are ideal for Twitter). Those platforms, in addition to the comment section here, provide a chance to weigh in on the posted items with your thoughts.

Please join the conversation.

 

 

When TV is on the Internet

I posted this on my Facebook page and some interesting comments followed. I’m reposting my original post here:

In case you wonder why I keep posting about the importance of making high-speed internet access available in rural America, think about it this way: last night not one network (except for PBS) got an award for their programming. All the awards went to online formats like Amazon Prime and Netflix. And ESPN is adding some type of streaming option this year as well.

What this means is that rural folks can’t participate in things that begin to be a cultural/educational part of American life. I’d love to watch “Transparent,” and would pay for an Amazon Prime subscription to do it. Or “Orange is the New Black.” Or “House of Cards.”

Sure, its “only TV,” but when you can’t begin to be part of the conversation due to a lack of technology infrastructure, it is more than that.

Home Office

The Friday Photo
November 14, 2014

Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia
Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia

For over four years I’ve worked from a home office. There are a lot of great things about working from home: laundry gets done, soup simmers for lunch, no one walks by and distracts you from the task at hand, and the dress code is pretty flexible. There are still deadlines, meetings, and convincing the printer to print, but working from home has been a really good situation for me.

I’m still working from a house, but not the one I live in. Just as Life Is a Verb Camp approached, the place where I hoped to figure out the questions to finding a job for life after fighting Plant Washington, I was offered a job.

Now I’m working from an above ground basement office in a fabulous Greek Revival house built in 1852, Rose Hill, surrounded by Lockerly Arboretum, a public garden in Milledgeville, Georgia, as the Executive Director.

I’m no less committed to stopping Plant Washington, but due to the determination and success of FACE and our partners, the demise of the ill-fated coal plant is now a matter of time. No one who opposes Plant Washington is letting their guard down, but the writing is on the wall and our work locally will continue as it always has.

Being an environmental activist in a small community has been one of the most difficult, and exciting, things that I have ever happened upon. I knew if we won, one outcome would be working myself out of a job that had changed my life for the better.

I didn’t make a habit of inviting people to come see me in my home office, but I’d be glad for anyone to stop by and see the house where I am working in now.