Friday, October 31, 2008

The Wealth Production America Needs and the Election

Throughout the last year, the author of this piece has been an insightful addition to CARE. Not a member of our staff, just a member of CARE, he has presented ideas that have been reflected in many of the opinion editorials written by CARE’s Executive Director Marita Noon. While he prefers to remain anonyms, going by the moniker Stranger in a Strange Land, we believe you will benefit from his view. An American, he has spent most of the last 40 years living overseas. His outsider perspective of the country he loves provides a fresh look at the current situation. We hope you’ll check this out and expect this to be just the first of many postings.

Forty years ago, America was a superpower, both revered and feared. The change has been gradual, filled with subtle shifts—imperceptible to the average citizen so close to the situation that they cannot see the big picture.

Attitudes would be different if everyone could take a step back and, through the filter of history, look at what made America the great nation it once was and compare that with our country today. People would be slamming on the brakes, insisting that we rethink our direction and revise the plans.

I am a stranger in a strange land. Born and raised in America, my attitudes and opinions were shaped in the Heartland.

My professional journey has kept me overseas for the last forty years. With pockets full of cash, I’ve returned—intent on investing my profits back in the homeland.

Washington wants foreign money to come back to America—and America badly needs the economic boost. Yet, the roadblocks to wealth creation are myriad.

I’ve spent the last several months nosing about in coffee shops, bookstores, bars, and malls throughout the West and Midwest. I’ve had the luxury of conversing with Americans from diverse ethnicities and ideologies. I’ve watched the television news intently and followed the election process. With the view of an outsider and the concern of a citizen, I am shocked at what I have learned. I fear the whole country is going the way of California.

California has a plethora of wealth-creating resources, yet it is hopelessly in debt. It depends on other states for their electricity and motor fuels—though blessed with resources to provide both. Despite the dilemma, they continue on with the policies that got them into this mess—seemingly refusing to change their philosophy.

Here’s where history comes in. Formerly, we were taught the principles from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. We understood the basic premise that there are two kinds of work: productive and unproductive. The new wealth comes from productive work and the unproductive, depends on it. For example, mining creates new wealth. Processing, shipping and selling the earth’s bounty are part of that effort and therefore create jobs. The government jobs that assist in regulating are unproductive. Without the productive jobs the unproductive would not exist. Both are important. The problem comes when the two are out of balance.

America used to be a “can do” nation where an individual was encouraged to create wealth. We became the wealthiest nation in the world.

The government regulators have erected roadblocks and created unproductive jobs with the sole task of saying, “do not.” The balance is weighted to the unproductive side. Wealth creation is stifled. The negative effects this imposes on our nation’s economy has brought us where we are.

The government is too big and too unhelpful. It has too much power over the citizens.

Fueled by pseudo-documentaries, such as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”—filled with lies and misleading information, bureaucrats regulate, litigate, excoriate and tax vast supplies of essential resources into oblivion. (They must sit around and think up the next problem.) Today, those who want to “do” are considered guilty until proven innocent. We have to prove that nothing bad will happen if we proceed in extracting the resource.

The free market is prevented from functioning. Government control is flourishing.

Overseas, people see this as a ploy to get uneconomic systems, i.e. “alternative energy,” up and running at a higher cost while putting more and more problems in front of existing and effective systems. Thus, prices are forced up and fill government coffers with hidden taxes, creating more unproductive jobs that do not create new wealth and, in fact, hinder production.

Rather than encouraging production, the only way to stimulate the economy seems to be to print more money. Government must love this approach as it creates committees and more nonproductive jobs. But nothing gets better.

Those perpetuating this plan must come from a Marxist school of thought as they just want to take the wealth we have and redistribute it. They’ve been troubled by America’s dominance on the world stage and aim to knock us down. They revel in the economic crisis as we are rapidly rolling down hill toward being on a par with other countries—no longer a world power.

Can anything be done to turn it around? Fellow citizens, you have a choice this election. When taxes are taken and given to the unproductive, the overall wealth declines.

I am watching and waiting—keeping my wealth in my pockets. I may be better off to take it back to where it came from. Though I am an American, the land I have come home to is not the one I left. I am a stranger in a strange land.

“Stranger in a Strange Land” is a geologist who frequently shares his views with CARE. He is a member of CARE and supports CARE’s energy advocacy efforts. For more information on CARE, visit

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nuclear Power Reality Check

Since Roy Innis caught the vision of energy’s impact on the poor, as articulated in his book Energy Keepers - Energy Killers, he has become a staunch advocate of abundant, reliable, affordable energy--which is the mantra of CARE. We have posted several of his previous opinion pieces in the past. (If you have not read them, please type his name in the search box to retrieve them all.)

CARE is a strong supporter of nuclear power. So when this piece arrived in our in-box, we had to share it with you. Roy has effectively brought up the prominent arguments against nuclear power and rebuffed them with sound data. If you affirm America’s push toward nuclear power, you’ll want to read this so you have the answers to the obstacles in mind. If you are opposed to nuclear power, you need to read this! If you are still not convinced, tell us why.

Nuclear Horror Stories and Alternative Energy Visions Often Bear Little Resemblance to Reality
Abundant, reliable, affordable energy makes our jobs, health, living standards and civil rights possible.

Remember that when you read about people losing their jobs or having to choose between heating, eating, paying the rent or mortgage, giving to charity, or covering healthcare, college, car or retirement costs. Remember it when Congress makes more hydrocarbon energy off limits – or puts more obstacles in the path of nuclear power that generates a fifth of America’s electricity.

I recently visited nuclear power plants and a fuel reprocessing plant in France, which gets almost 80% of its electricity from uranium. And I’ve read some shockingly ill-informed claims about nuclear power and its supposed alternatives. Here are some essential facts.

Reliability. Nuclear plants generate electricity over 90% of every year, shutting down only occasionally for maintenance, repairs and changing fuel rods. Wind turbines can be relied on just 30% of the time, on average – and just 10% of the time during hot summer days, when air conditioners are on high, but there’s barely a breeze.

Operational safety. Three Mile Island was the “worst accident in US history.” But it injured no one and exposed neighboring residents to the radioactive equivalent of getting a CT scan or living in Denver for a year. It led to major improvements in nuclear plant management, operation and training.

The Chernobyl disaster was due to its shoddy design, construction, maintenance and management. According to the World Health Organization, “fewer than 50” people died as a direct result of this massive meltdown and fire, and nearly all were employees and rescue workers.

Storage of used nuclear fuel. The Energy Department spent 25 years and $10 billion studying the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, before concluding that it will meet all safety standards. In fact, the largest expected annual radiation dose for someone living near this geologically stable site would be less than 1 millirem – compared to 1,000 millirem from an abdominal CT scan.

America’s 104 nuclear plants generate enough electricity for nearly 75,000,000 homes – and produce about 2,000 tons of “spent” uranium fuel annually. So Yucca will be able to hold all the used fuel from the past 50 years, plus another 35 years of used fuel, without expanding on the original design.

Spent fuel and other wastes (high-level defense wastes, plus low-level wastes like protective clothing) are solid materials. There is no liquid that can leak into rocks or groundwater. Liquid wastes, like water used in reactors, are treated and reused.

Transportation safety. Shipping containers are constructed from layers of steel and lead, nearly a foot thick, and carried on trucks or rail cars. (The 25 to 125-ton containers are too heavy to go in airplanes.) They’ve been slammed into concrete walls at 85 mph, dropped 30 feet, burned 30 minutes in 1475-degree fires, and submerged in water for hours. They haven’t broken or leaked.

Over 3,000 shipments of spent fuel have traversed 1.7 million miles, with no injuries, deaths or environmental damage. Only one significant accident occurred. A semi-truck overturned while avoiding a head-on collision, and the trailer and attached container crashed into a ditch. No harmful releases of radioactivity ever occurred.

That hasn’t stopped imaginative writers from saying “catastrophic” accidents could put “millions” of Americans at risk of exposure to “deadly radiation” or even death, especially if an airplane crashed a cargo of nuclear wastes into a city. They’ve been watching too many Hollywood movies, where every car accident becomes a raging inferno.

Theft and terrorism. The notion that spent (or even fresh) power plant fuel could be stolen and turned into a powerful bomb is likewise more Hollywood than reality.

Those pesky little atomic numbers and enrichment levels are confusing, but important. Weapons grade materials are plutonium, uranium 233 and highly enriched (better than 20%) U235. Power plant fuel is slightly enriched (under 4%) U235. Spent fuel is U238, which cannot cause a chain reaction.

Turning spent fuel into a bomb would require sophisticated reprocessing facilities, which terrorists are unlikely to have. Even a “dirty bomb” (radioactive materials around a non-nuclear explosive) would cause more fear than actual damage. And the US nuclear industry’s commitment to safety applies to plant design and management, shipping and storing wastes, and guarding against theft and terrorism.

The bottom line? We need the electricity that nuclear power provides, and we can get it safely. Just try to imagine life without all the things that require electricity. Remember the pain, inconvenience and financial losses you or people you know suffered when storms or blackouts knocked out the electrical power.

Consider the warnings of experts: We are dangerously close to experiencing major brownouts and blackouts in many parts of the United States, especially in our western states, because we haven’t built the power plants and transmission lines we need for a growing population that depends on electricity 24/7/365.

We need to conserve more, install more insulation and better windows, and use more efficient light bulbs, computers, servers, heaters and air-conditioners. We need more wind and solar power, where those sources make economic, practical and environmental sense. But we also need a lot more affordable, reliable electricity from nuclear power plants.

Ponder how far our heating, cooling, communication and other technologies have come in just 100 years – and where we’re likely to be 50 or 100 years from now. However, we’re not there yet.

Futuristic technologies – like solar generators orbiting above the Earth, beaming electrical power to urban receivers – for now are pure science fiction. They’ll be reality about when Scotty beams Captain Kirk back to the Enterprise. We need to work on them. But we need real energy for real people, today.

Otherwise, homes, factories, offices, schools and hospitals will go dark. Bread winners will go jobless. Energy prices will soar even higher. Families won’t have basic necessities, much less luxuries. And poor and minority citizens will see civil rights gains rolled back, because only energy and a vibrant economy can turn constitutionally protected rights into rights we actually enjoy.

Roy Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (, one of America’s oldest civil rights organizations, and author of Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Environment and Elected Officials: A Conflict of Interest?

Shamefully, we at CARE have been remiss in getting you up-to-date information on current energy issues—as is the goal of our Blog. We have not been lax. There is just so much going on regarding energy and the elections that we have been busy writing opinion editorials. Last week we had three different ones posted in three different papers in New Mexico. Today, one of our commentary pieces was sent to the top 500 papers in the US and that same piece was posted on Heartland’s site. So, we have been getting the word. Just not through our own Blog.

We have several relevant items to post. Just not the time to post them. And then this one landed in the in-box. We just had to stop everything and share it with you! While it specifically addresses New Mexico, our home base, similar activities are probably happening in other states. This is especially enlightening in relation to the upcoming elections. Please let us know if you know about any comparable cases. This could start an interesting nationwide study.

Elected Officials on the Payrolls of Environmental Groups
Every special interest group that seeks to influence public policy pays lobbyists. There is nothing remarkable in that observation. Manufacturers, hospitals, insurance companies, banks, even churches pay lobbyists to transubstantiate their agenda into laws, money, and regulations. But some environmental groups in New Mexico have gone where no interest group has gone before. They have three elected officials directly on their payrolls.

Deanna Archuleta is Vice Chair of the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners and Southwest Regional Manager for The Wilderness Society. State Representative Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces is the Southern New Mexico Director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA). Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Small is also on NMWA’s payroll as a “wilderness protection organizer.”

The mission of these groups is to influence public policy to preserve wilderness and other public lands. Their work has expanded to include fighting the oil and gas industry as a general principle. Their fight against oil and gas drilling has taken them from the Rocky Mountains to the depths of the oceans.

The Wilderness Society has been one of the leaders in opposing opening the Outer Continental Shelf and areas in the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration and production. NMWA has led the opposition to natural gas drilling in Otero Mesa, a sprawling desert emptiness on the Texas border. Blocking energy production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been at the top of the agenda for The Wilderness Society for a generation. Even though the Arctic plain is thousands of miles distant, with a climate, flora and fauna unlike anything in New Mexico, NMWA has joined that fight.

Both organizations want reintroduction of large predators in New Mexico, expansion of their range and restrictions on human activities that come in conflict with the animal’s needs and behavior. These groups have worked aggressively for reintroduction of wolves in southwest New Mexico. They also want to see reintroduction of the jaguar. The current executive director of NMWA has called for releasing grizzlies in New Mexico even though that might cause an “inconvenience” for human beings. Both organizations also participate in litigation to stop human activities, from recreation to natural resource extraction, which they deem contrary to the interests of selected wildlife species.

The programs of these organizations adversely impact the oil and gas revenues that constitute a third of the New Mexico state budget and support schools around the state. These organizations’ wildlife policies also place them into direct conflict with agriculture, one of the major employers and sources of income and taxes in rural New Mexico.

Opposition to developing ANWR, the OCS and other federally owned energy deposits has the added consequence of reducing federal revenues critical to New Mexico’s economy and contributes to the nation’s increasing dependence on foreign sources of oil.

The Wilderness Society has headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it does not pay taxes on its income. According to its 2006 report to the IRS, The Wilderness Society earned $37.5 million in income. It claimed assets of $53.9 million, including an investment portfolio of $27.6 million. Its top executive officer earned nearly $300,000. It has more than 85 employees who earn over $50,000, about twice the median income of a New Mexican family of four.

Though it is much smaller, NMWA has offices in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Carlsbad and Santa Fe. Its budget in 2005 exceeded $750,000. Its 2006 budget was $427,000. Its executive director makes more than $50,000. Details on other staff salaries are not public information.


(a) Nondisclosure and Misleading Disclosure

Under state and federal law, a person paid to influence legislators and their staffs is required to register as a lobbyist, disclose their clients, and report gifts, meals and trips provided to legislators and staff.

Environmental groups, like industry groups, have teams of lobbyists that work Capitol Hill and the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Certain New Mexico lobbyists, such as Gregory Green and Linda Siegel, specialize in representing environmental groups as part of a “progressive” advocacy practice. A search of lobbyist disclosure records reveals the identity of their clients. A search by organization, conversely, reveals the lobbyists each organization has retained.

No similar disclosure requirements apply to the three elected officials on the payrolls of The Wilderness Society and NMWA. The on-line legislative profile of Jeff Steinborn describes his occupation only as “land conservation.” That information is so inadequate it is misleading. The occupation of “land conservation” could equally apply to a range scientist working with ranchers and farmers. Much of the work of Steinborn’s employer, on the other hand, is intended to, or has the consequence of, adversely impacting agricultural activities. Steinborn’s employer’s idea of “land conservation” is removing land from all uses except sitting idle as wilderness.

Steinborn’s vague occupational description fails to reveal that he works in direct opposition to the state’s largest private employer, the oil and gas industry, and the largest single pillar upholding state government’s budget. NMWA fights the industry throughout the state. Sometimes those battles swirl around remote areas like Otero Mesa. But NMWA has also jumped into the fight to prevent oil drilling in the Galisteo Basin outside Santa Fe. This area has been so impacted by human activity—subdivisions, roads, utility corridors, mining—it would never qualify for wilderness designation.

NMWA also injects itself into controversies about oil and gas operating regulations. NMWA has endorsed tighter and more costly restrictions on oil and gas operations that, by their very nature, do not take place in wilderness but in existing production areas.

Neither Bernalillo County nor the City of Las Cruces requires very detailed financial disclosure information from elected officials. The nature of the employment of Archuleta and Small is not described on those governments’ websites.

Because so little information is publicly available about the work and financial interests of these public officials, the author e-mailed four questions to each of them at the address of their environmental employers. The questions were identical for each official:
1. What are your duties and responsibilities for The Wilderness Society [or NMWA]?
2. How do you separate your role as County Commissioner [State Representative, City Councilor] from your role as an employee of The Wilderness Society [or NMWA], particularly how do you prevent your public office and title from benefiting The Wilderness Society’s [or NMWA’s] work?
3. Do you perceive any conflicts of interest between the interests of The Wilderness Society [NMWA] and the interests of your constituents? If so, please explain.
4. What is your compensation from The Wilderness Society [NMWA]?

None of the officials would answer these questions.

(b) Separating the Special Interest from the Public Interest

The New Mexico State Legislature is a volunteer legislative body. Legislators receive only a per diem while in session or performing committee work between sessions. Their occupations range from lawyer to rancher. Many are educators. Many are retired. A few work for non-profit organizations or tribal governments.

No legislator but Steinborn works for an organization whose sole reason for existence is to influence public policy and law through political action, grassroots pressure and lobbying.
Bernalillo County pays commissioners just under $30,000 for what is supposed to be a part-time job, but sometimes balloons into a full-time calling. The Commissioners have other jobs in real estate, broadcasting and education. None but Archuleta works for an organization that exists to bend governmental policy to serve its organizational objectives.

The Las Cruces City Council is composed of volunteers. Only Small is employed by an organization that also lobbies the Council.

Other legislators have occupations and trades. Why does it matter that these elected officials work for organizations that exist to influence governmental action and policy?

Consider more closely Nathan Small’s dual role as a Las Cruces City Councilor and a “wilderness protection organizer.” He and Steinborn have spearheaded a multi-year, costly campaign by NMWA to persuade Congress and the President to designate about 400,000 acres surrounding Las Cruces as federal wilderness and National Conservation Areas. The wilderness designation is the most forceful tool in the preservationist’s toolbox. It imposes the most stringent, sweeping restrictions of any federal conservation measure. No building or road construction may occur and no motorized vehicles or mechanical equipment may be used in wilderness. Flood control authorities may not use bulldozers, the lame cannot use wheelchairs, and policemen would have to get out of their vehicles and chase on foot or horseback a criminal driving—illegally—into a wilderness area. The implications of these restrictions for life in a large urban area have triggered opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, community leaders, off-road vehicle recreationists, and law enforcement.

One of the strategies of the campaign directed by Small and Steinborn has been to seek endorsements from local governments to demonstrate for Congress local support for the wilderness proposal. Before Small was elected, he lobbied the City Council to win its endorsement for wilderness. Since Small’s election, opposition to wilderness has exploded and the Council is being asked to join other local governments in reversing its position. The Las Cruces City Council has yet to schedule that vote.

During City Council consideration of any matters involving wilderness, Small makes a show of excusing himself. But a theatrical departure from chambers cannot completely insulate council from his influence. Legislation is a process of compromise, negotiations, trading favors and storing up payback. At some point, a fellow council member will need Small’s support on a close vote for roads, sewers, playgrounds and public improvements in their council district. Legislators remember favors granted and favors denied. Small may be out of the room when wilderness is being discussed, but he is never out of the picture.

Tom Cooper of Las Cruces is co-chair of People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, a coalition of ranchers, industry organizations, and hundreds of businesses opposed to NMWA’s wilderness proposal. Does Small’s recusal from chambers while wilderness is being discussed satisfy Cooper? “Absolutely not,” Cooper says. “It is difficult to take seriously. He constantly works on wilderness. That’s his job. We’ve been told many times he works behind the scenes.”

A second problem is that the elected office and title held by these individuals cannot help but benefit their employers.

Small cannot seem to keep his NMWA role separate from his official duties when he is in the public eye. He led a rally on June 24, 2008 in support of the wilderness proposal. The story earned a banner across the top of the front page of the Las Cruces Sun-News. Small’s photo occupied the upper right hand corner. He was identified as a city councilor speaking in support of wilderness.

Hatch is an agricultural village in Dona Ana County north of Las Cruces. Small sought support for NMWA’s campaign from its village trustees and chamber of commerce. He was identified in those proceedings as a Las Cruces City Councilor. Hatch Village Trustee David Sment says he did not know Small was being paid by NMWA until sometime afterwards.

Then there is the battle over Otero Mesa.

Otero Mesa is located about 150 miles east of Las Cruces, across the Organ Mountains, White Sands Missile Range, and tens of thousands of acres of other federal land. It can only be reached by rough roads with a well-earned reputation for destroying tires, as this author has personally experienced. Otero Mesa contains large groundwater reserves that are currently being tapped for agriculture across the border in Dell City, Texas. The El Paso metropolitan area is the most likely recipient of that groundwater if it is ever mined for municipal use.

Ranching is the sole industry on Otero Mesa. This shadeless, windy steppe offers little recreational value to a distant urban population. It has no developed visitor sites, campgrounds or trails. If you visit Otero Mesa, bring your own water. The only potable water is inside the few isolated ranch houses. A person who comes unprepared will have to decide if they are thirsty enough to slurp the muck from earthen stock tanks.

Since Small’s election, the Las Cruces City Council has discovered Otero Mesa. This year City Council voted to endorse NMWA’s proposal to block gas exploration and production in Otero Mesa.

Bob Gallagher, President of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, points to the curious interest of the Las Cruces Council in an empty patch of New Mexico in another county as evidence that Small’s status as a city councilor is being exploited by NMWA. Except for the fact that Small is a member of that body, asks Gallagher, “What the hell does the Las Cruces City Council have to do with whether some gas drilling takes place on Otero Mesa?”

Gallagher also points to Steinborn’s record of fighting his industry in the State Legislature and the administrative agencies of New Mexico government. “I don’t think it’s right that Steinborn is a legislator employed by NMWA. It has absolutely hurt our ability to work with the Legislature. Every day I hear from legislators who don’t want to cross him by supporting our industry, or I receive warnings that he’ll somehow use his office to hurt us.”

Kent Evans, a Dona Ana County Commissioner, is challenging Steinborn for his seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives. “To me,” says Evans, Steinborn’s employment “is an issue. He’s trying to pretend he doesn’t work for an environmental group. It is a clear conflict of interest. He has a definite agenda, and that is forcing wilderness on the community.”
“And,” continues Evans, “just the fact that he works for the wilderness group is enough. It is clear where he’s coming from, who pays him, and where his interests lie.”

In researching this report, inquiries were made as to whether any industry advocacy group has any elected official on their payroll. No elected official on the payroll of an industry advocacy group could be identified. Gallagher says he’s never heard of it. Michelle Frost of the New Mexico Cattle Growers/New Mexico Wool Grower’s Association laughed. “We have only two people on staff, period. Me and our executive director.”

Coincidental or not, every one of the elected officials on the payroll of these environmental groups is a Democrat.

By placing on their payroll politicians with no other significant source of income, these environmental groups can effectively subsidize a political career. As that career advances, the politician is in a better position to repay, if not simply remember, who their patron has been.

U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released in September 2008 a report on the increasingly indistinct lines between tax-exempt environmental organizations and prohibited partisan political activity. Entitled, “Political Activity of Environmental Groups and Their Supporting Organizations,” the report details the myriad creative ways environmental organizations have been using tax-exempt money to engage in electoral politics. New Mexico may be on the cutting edge of a disturbing new development in this area.

Jim Scarantino is an investigative reporter with the Rio Grande Foundation. A nationally recognized political columnist, Scarantino appears as a regular panelist on KNME-TV’s weekly public affairs program, “In Focus”. Scarantino also was executive director of The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance in 2003 and served as Chair of the Coalition for New Mexico Wilderness from 2000 to 2004.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who is Manipulating Oil and Gas Prices Now?

It seems like only yesterday that Congress and all manner of people who are ignorant of basic economics were bashing oil and gas companies for their supposed efforts to manipulate prices and keep them high. Now, with the global economy on the skids, crude prices are plummeting right along with the stock market and are likely to keep dropping.

So, the question must be asked: where are the speculators and manipulators? If Exxon has an iron lock grip on the prices it charges for its product, why aren't they keeping them high or at least stabilizing them? The simple fact in is that they don't control prices; they are "price takers."