What is missing from all the noise about breast cancer funding?

Last week when the country erupted over Susan G. Komen’s decision to yank funding for Planned Parenthood, one key element was missing from all the shouting: how many cancer organizations are talking about the very real dangers and causes of cancer resulting from how our food is produced, and what is in the air and water we rely on?

Genes play a part in one’s proclivity for disease in many cases, but what we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink play a large part in our health. Exercise does too, but if you have asthma or respiratory problems, being outside on a bad air quality day isn’t an option.

Why aren’t more health and disease focused groups insisting that these contributors to poor health status be addressed? Before quitting my job as the Executive Director of the Georgia Rural Health Associaction (GRHA), I made mention of my volunteer work, more than once, with the Fall-line Alliance for a Clean Environment (FACE). My “hobby” fighting coal was just that, a volunteer thing I did on my own time and dime.

I would go to meetings with state partners fighting three proposed coal plants in Georgia and folks would ask why, if GRHA was working on behalf of better health for rural Georgians, wasn’t the organization speaking up to protect the air and water sheds in the threatened communities? That remains a mystery to this day.

Standing up to new coal, AND talking about the problems already plaguing rural communities from existing coal plants, would have been appropriate and right. I couldn’t make my personal agenda GRHA’s, but it still begs the question: why aren’t more health care advocacy organizations speaking up for what lies at the root of so many health problems? The silence from the Department of Community Health in Georgia is stunning.

While so many of us focus on how Komen let politics get in the way of delivering preventive      health screenings to undeserved women, we shouldn’t forget that our environment and access to healthy foods play a part in good health too. When you consider where to donate, think about what isn’t being said publicly. Better yet, ask them why before you sign the check.


(Read a 2011 post asking if any state agency in Georgia is protecting citizen health here:  http://ruralandprogressive.blogspot.com/2011/10/why-isnt-department-of-public-health.html)

HB 475 lets the fox run the hen house

Just to give folks a quick perspective on some things that are concerning to some taxpayers in Washington County, GA where I live: my General Assembly Representative in the House, Mack Jackson, who was clearly raised to be polite and considerate, ushered a bill through the General Assembly after Plant Washington ( a proposed $2.1B+ coal fired power plant which lacks a pro forma estimate) was announced. The bill allows for a public facilities authority to issue bonds on projects without taxpayer input at the polls.

That means county bonds could be issued for Plant Washington, as well as other projects, putting all taxpayers on the hook should the bond-funded project go belly up. At that time, and today as well, the Industrial Development Authority is chaired by Hugh Tarbutton, and his nephew Ben Tarbutton III, serves as the Secretary. The Tarbuttons own considerable tracts of land near the Plant Washington site, with, unless things have changed recently, Hugh owning a large chunk of land where the plant would be built.

One might think the sale of thousands of acres would be motivation enough for supporting a coal plant located almost 30 miles from the river that Power4Georgians hopes has enough water in it to keep the plant operating (16M gallons of water a day is a lot).

But the 120 rail cars of coal required each day to fire the plant have to get there somehow. Fortunately Washington County has a shortline railroad which is privately held. The President of Sandersville Railroad is Hugh Tarbutton. Ben Tarbutton III is an assistant Vice-President. Other officers include Ben Tarbutton, Jr. as Vice-President,  and Charles Tarbutton, assistant Vice-President. (What doesn’t come in by rail will be trucked in. If you own a railroad why not diversify and own a trucking company too?)

Which brings us to the vote in the Georgia General Assembly on HB 475 on Thursday, which Mack Jackson supported (he also serves on the House Economic Development and Tourism  Committee where the bill originated although he is not listed as a co-sponsor). In a nutshell, HB 475 allows industrial development authorities to issue bonds to finance projects that involve private developers. Projects can include railroads used for cargo and freight transport.

And then it gets even scarier. HB 475 provides a development authority “unfettered authority” to define projects involving public and private entities, its decisions about projects “shall not be subject to review”, and the development authority shall have the authority to issue bonds. That seems like a lot of power rested in the hands of people who are not elected by the citizens at all, but rather appointed.

I wondered who in the transportation industry might have supported Mack’s campaigns. In 2008 Ben Tarbutton (no indication of Jr or III) contributed $500.00, Hugh was good for $300, Ben III weighed in at $250.00 and Charles added $250.00 to Mack’s campaign funds.  In 2010, during a three day period, Ben Jr, Ben III, and Hugh each contributed $250.00 to Jackson’s campaign coffers. During the session legislators can’t accept campaign donations (although they are free to be entertained by lobbyists) so who knows what the 2012 campaign reports will tell us.

HB 475 is so far from good legislation that late this afternoon Tom Crawford quotes one legislator saying, “they could be contributing to ‘the biggest scam going in the state of Georgia today.’ Crawford’s article quotes Representative Mark Hatfield (R-Waycross) saying, “It’s the biggest scam in the state of Georgia today. We know it’s going on all over the state.” (Hatfield is the attorney trying to have Obama removed from the Democratic primary ballot in Georgia because both of his parents weren’t natural born citizens. His argument is that the Framers of the Constitution really meant the President must be at a minimum second generation American).

Should I be afraid, or consoled, that Mark Hatfield thinks HB 475 is a bad piece of legislation? Politics makes for strange bedfellows. My goal is to avoid being run over by a train.

Senate Bill 269: Georgia’s rivers and streams for sale to lowest bidder

One would think that if an elected official, like Jesse Stone of Senate District 23, had an opportunity to introduce legislation that would create stronger safeguards for the already polluted rivers in his district, he would. But in fact, as a co-sponsor of SB 269, he hasn’t.

The Ogeechee River, which experienced the largest fish kill in our state’s history last year, meanders through Stone’s district. Reedy Creek and Brier Creek also pass through the district, and both were recently polluted with spills (the Reedy Creek spill happened over New Year’s weekend).  Stone sits on the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, so he certainly has access to and influence on a committee that should be attuned to clean air and water issues.

SB 269
, which Stone co-sponsored, as written now, would allow the director of the Environmental Protection Division (sometimes referred to as the Environmental Pollution Division among citizens) to negotiate a settlement with a polluter (both private companies and local governments) rather than imposing a stiff fine or penalty. SB 269 would allow the EPD director to notify “any person” (i.e. the polluter) and offer to negoiate an agreement    In short, the polluter and the EPD director can ignore penalties and just settle on some type of corrective action.

The director may also extend the period of time for clean up in six month increments with no limit on the number of extensions allowed.

So who has Jesse Stone’s ear? Of local interest were Stone’s campaign contributors Ben Tarbutton, Jr and Hugh Tarbutton, both donating $500.00. Hugh Tarbutton chairs the Washington County Industrial Development Authority. (The Tarbuttons have been advocates for coal fired Plant Washington, organized by Power4Georgians since it was announced over four years ago.)  Ben Turnipspeed, an engineer who has worked for the cities of Sandersville, Davisboro, Deepstep, and Louisville, donated $200.00 to Stone’s campaign.

The citizens of Georgia know that the EPD failed completely and absolutely to conduct proper inspections at King America Finishing during a five year period when the company dumped unpermitted fire retardant chemicals into the river. The EPD tucked its tail between its legs and entered into a $1M consent agreement with King Finishing, when the penalty could have been as high as $91M. And now Stone supports giving the EPD even more freedom to negoiate way our natural resources?

Right now I don’t have a lot of confidence in the inspection and oversight conducted by the EPD, or its ability and willingness to pursue companies and local governments responsible for spills and dumping which endanger the drink water supplies of both municipal water systems and home and farms depending on well water in the aquifer. Drinking water alone is a reason to have and uphold the highest regulations and penalties possible. Add the damage to wildlife, recreational areas, and businesses connected to the rivers, and the damage is even greater. Georgia can’t afford to have dirty water.

I called Stone’s office and left a message that will leave no doubt in his mind how disappointed I am in this bill and his support of it. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee. Citizens across the state are contacting Rules Committee members Jack Hill, Buddy Carter, and Johnny Grant by phone and email to urge them to VOTE NO on SB 269. These three senators know and value the rivers in our state. We are counting on them to stand up for clean water for all Georgians. Apparently we can’t count on Jesse Stone to do that.