Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Environmental Astro-turf - Strange Bedfellows of the Right

Last February I submitted the following letter to the editor of the Herald Time Reporter documenting the strange relationship between right wing industrialist Sheldon Lubar and the environmental movement who in some ways were duped into engaging in a competitive war ultimately seeking to benefit Lubar's business the Lake Express.
See htr article here:

What I didnt know at the time was that Lubar is an even bigger hypocrite than even I expected.
It seems that Lubar is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry and recently attempted to drill in a Michigan State Forest!

Sheldon Lubar (NASDAQ:HNRG)  owns a 45% equity interest in Savoy Energy, L.P., a private oil and gas company ...

Federal Judge Blocks Oil Drilling in Michigan Forest

A federal judge has overturned a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow oil and gas drilling near a forest and a river in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson of Detroit ruled Thursday the agency had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in 2005 by giving Savoy Energy LP of Traverse City a permit to drill an exploratory well near the Au Sable River's south branch.
The proposed wellhead would be located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest about three-tenths of a mile from the Mason Tract, a 4,679-acre wilderness area prized by anglers and other outdoor recreationists.

Read more:,2933,381254,00.html#ixzz2Ol108OwP

Feb 27, 2013 Letter to th editor.
During last year’s Assembly primary I attempted to raise the alarm over political meddling in the fortunes of Lake Michigan Carferry’s Badger. LMC’s application for a stimulus grant had already been shot down. So was its designation as an historical landmark. The EPA’s exemption for coal ash dumping was ending.Why? Now, a pending issue of Outer Boundary Magazine brings it to light. Lake Express owner Sheldon Lubar has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbyists feigning environmental concerns while also blocking sensible government aid that could have corrected it in order to gain a monopoly on lake crossing services.From the article: “The SS Badger is a competitive threat to Lake Express and launching an expensive environmental campaign is a great way to eliminate competition without looking like an angry toddler, upset with someone else playing in the sandbox.”  Through it all freshman state Rep. Paul Tittl has ignored it. He touts his support for our crumbling transportation system by supporting a $6 billion road budget even while breaking his pledge not to raise fees or taxes. The Manitowoc to Ludington route has long been designated an extension of Highway 10, yet there is not a dime for the Badger.  
Republicans like Tittl call that “picking the winners.” This week while waiting to hear its fate LMC has optimistically announced its spring schedule, starting two weeks early in order to haul Manitowoc made wind towers to Michigan. At the same time Tittl has introduced a bill that proposes to reclassify nuclear power as renewable energy, effectively negating wind development in the state.
What district does Paul Tittl represent? The winners he has picked appear to live somewhere else. Without legislative support there is only one winner and that’s Sheldon Lubar of Milwaukee, the same place Tittl’s new taxes will be spent.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Golden Fleecing of Wisconsin

The late Senator William Proxmire was famous for presenting his "Golden Fleece" awards to government agencies guilty of waste fraud and abuse.  The Manitowoc Democratic Party has long held their fundraiser dinner in honor of Proxmire and so it seems entirely natural that this year we decided to reinstate the award.  I was particularly honored to present the first award!

The following are my notes for the presentation.
Golden Fleece traveling trophy
  • Where did the WEDC come from? The Republican legislature is always loath to levy new taxes so taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another has become a fine art!
  • The WEDC has a special herritage within this state and a connection to our fine Wisconsin environment. Under AB-35 WEDC's initial funding was “converted” from the State's RECYCLING FUND and derives its primary funding from THE RECYCLING SURCHARGE which was RENAMED the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SURCHARGE!
  • Yes, you heard that right! The State's newest quasi private agency was quite literally built on a pile of garbage!
  • We all know that a private entity can never lose money right?
  • creating a private agency to hand out cash to questionable start ups would be a FOOL PROOF plan!
  • Walker appointed as its head former Green Bay Mayor Paul Jadin because who knows more on running a private company than a man with a degree in political science and never held a job in the private sector? These things run themselves, right?
  • Jadin was the obvious choice.
  • After all, all of Walker's other top picks were already facing felony charges.
  • Time for some new blood!
  • Accompishments of Mr. Jadin
  • Offering special tax breaks to Skyward Software of Stevens Point IF Skyward won their bid on school software.
  • Too bad that's illegal huh?
  • Side note: Skyward lost that bid to a Minnesota company and is now threatening to leave the state! How's that for economic development?
  • On being notified that the WEDC had lost track of $8 million in loans Governor Walker called for a full investigation and radical changes!
  • Wait! I thought the WEDC was radical change??????
  • The investigation showed that the number was actually $69 MILLION! (Daoh!)
  • But where one door closes somebody jumps out of a window!
  • In evidence of a true meritocracy Mr. Jadin has now moved on to the Madison Chamber of Commerce economic development organization known as ---- THRIVE!
  • And he landed on his feet!
  • He has gotten a very substantial raise from his state salary of $120,000.
  • OH... those poor people..... :(

  • Having run out of cash the Republicans proposed that the state invest another $200 million in new funds because if a little is good, A LOT is better!
  • That 200 MIL was to be “borrowed” from THE STATE EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT FUND!
  • A ground floor investment opportunity in misplaced loans!
  • With garbage for collateral!
  • Nobody runs out of garbage!
  • Especially not the Republicans!
  • Why.... It could make up for Act 10!
  • Somebody tell Leehman Brothers!
  • Daoh!
  • When asked why the retirement fund – new CEO Reed Hall said “I THINK WE NEED TO RESESABLISH OUR CREDIBILITY...”
  • I guess the Milwaukee County Veterans fund was all tapped out, huh?
  • Daoh!
  • Then..... Republicans planned to continue the agency's environmental legacy by dumpster diving for 40% of the anticipated Penokee mine revenues.
  • Whenever that happens...
  • (yeah sure... right!)
  • However, it seems they decided it would be about as valuable as taking it out into the middle of Lake Superior and dump it there because that idea has been trashed too.
  • With a little luck maybe some day we can just recycle the whole idea.
Time to take out the trash!
Dan Ariens - charter WEDC board member now appointed CEO
Yeah, that'll fix it!  :P

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Its Still About The Biology

You cant fool mother nature.  Biology and doing herd counts still matter despite Dr. Deer telling us that opinion matters more.  Opinion still needs to be based on facts and science is the only way to obtain them.

Here are some notes I made after listening to the DNR presentation on the deer herd at Reedsville Sportsman's Club this week.

The notion that wolves live in Manitowoc County was pretty much debunked. While the biologist said that there is probably "not a county in the state that has not had a lone wolf passing through..." No wolf packs have been established outside of the northern range. The "northern range" was defined as north of highway 64.

In discussing deer ability to regenerate he said that deer in the southern range can explode their population by 70% in a single season.  Keawaunee County was sited in particular.  In northern ranges its more like 40%. Fawn mortality studies show that while about 38% die in their first year in the south in northern ranges as many as 70% are killed or die from starvation and such. Much of it has to do with harsher winters as well as predation but state wide coyotes remain the #1 predator state wide largely debunking the idea that wolves are decimating the herd. In the north the deer herd is in decline because the forests are maturing again after the total clear cutting of the northern forests in the 19th and 20th centuries. Deer do very well in young forests but not so well in mature woods where there is less cover and forage. (I see this in my own woods) Its also interesting that this was mentioned in the Krohl report which seemed to advocate increasing cutting of timber as a deer management tool. Never mind that the Krohl supporters have considerable backing from the Kochs who happen to own paper interests like Georgia Pacific. The herd in the south is by far the more numerous which is the total reverse of a century ago.  Farming practices that keep the land open and food available along with less severe winters were sited. 

The second thing that jumped out was that much of the recent count study has been funded by a windfall in revenue owing to the 11% excise tax on firearm sales because after Obama's election gun sales jumped yielding over 2 MILLION in wildlife conservation funding. The tax was put in place over 100 years ago by sportsman to fund such things which lead to the formation of the DNR and the ultimate resurgence of the deer herd in this state. The speaker smilingly speculated on a second windfall with all the new guns sales springing from the Newtown and other shootings.

 While the Krohl report discounts the value of deer herd counts a lot of count data was presented that showed why a lot of deer hunters might be convinced that there arent any deer. I.e. deer tend to localize. In one county example a helicopter count in a 1 mile grid of an entire county showed that in any given mile you could have as many as 146 deer while a bordering grid point could have none at all!  Yet the Krohl report says that opinion should trump counting in deciding deer policy.
Go figure!

What it all comes down to is that its still about the biology and opinion matters not at all.  However, if this forces hunters to consider the biology instead of making rash claims about how there "aint no deer" then maybe some good will come out of this in the end.

You still can't fool mother nature.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mining For the Truth

UPDATE! March 18th WMC Meeting
Chinese Consul General Zhao Weiping in Madison
"The Capitalists will sell us the ropes to hang them with!"
Comrade Lenin
Updated 3/31/2013 (see photo and caption link)

When the Republicans came out with the new/old mining bill the reaction of Senator Bob Jauch in who's district the Penokee range lies called it a "hoax".  Much was being made over environmental issues, conflicts with tribal rights and Federal regulations but as time moves on a story has been developing that was not entirely made clear in the weeks leading up to the vote.

The first hint we got was a series of rumors that Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) - has no real intention of ever putting a shovel in the ground up there.  That's kind of a stunning claim given all the talk about investment and  high paying jobs.  The assumption many were working off of (including myself) was that it was merely a political stalking horse intended to distract from this Governor's stunningly bad jobs record.  By pumping the sunshine of thousands of jobs that would at best amount to perhaps 1% of the promised 250,000 jobs that have yet to materialize from Walker's worker's paradise it was possible for Republicans to posture themselves into the image job creation warriors.  Political straw men have their value.

Think about it.  In the last election Republicans pounded hard at the bad economy blaming Dems like Jessica King for worker's desperation.  Never mind the mine would have (and still will) take years to even begin.  Imagine the political gold that a passed State bill would yield that was then shot down by the Federal Government (EPA or Army Corp of Engineers) or worse yet - the tribes!  Heaven forbid a white man's fortune should be forbidden by a red one.  The political red meat would feed conservatives interests for a decades or more.  No mine.  No environmental damage.  But real profits none the less.

But, since the bill's passage a different motive has evolved and its a good deal more troubling.  It could well result in real digging and by forces that may well be out of reach of any sort of accountability even at the State level.  The first hint we got of this was from Esquire's politics blog about Walker's seeming winning streak.  It points out some interesting things about the mine...
Last year Walker travelled to Dallas to meet a contingent of Chinese investors, and he is scheduled to travel to China on a trade mission next month.  [...]
Quoting someone named Hansen (Dave?) it states, "China is the world's largest producer of iron ore and as one of the world's largest markets they have the ability to affect supply and prices. China has also recently begun expanding its mining operations outside of its borders, including opening the massive Sino Iron project at Cape Preston, in Western Australia's Pilbara region." 
Read more: Scott Walker Wisconsin Lawsuit Dropped - Wisconsin Gets What It Voted For (Twice) - Esquire
 A single blog does not a conspiracy make.  But there's more!  This showed up on the Minnesota public interest blog ...
Whether it's iron, grain or now airplanes, it's interesting to see how China, India and other emerging nations are shaping the future of northern Minnesota's economy.

India's Essar Steel is a large potential player in Iron Range mining. Chinese steel production and demand is now a central indicator in the global steel industry. One little hiccup and Hibbing Taconite, MinnTac or the others go on temporary shutdown. Or they hire 100 people tomorrow.
See article here

Finally a letter to the editor in the Rhinelander Star Journal points out some important information missing from the discussion to this point.  It seems that the land and mineral rights were previously owned by the biggest iron interest in the country, U.S. Steel which in 2003 had agreed to sell it to the Nature Conservancy which through the Forest Legacy Fund which would have committed the entire area to a logging and recreation in perpetuity.  Only the deal fell through for reasons no one has fully explained which eventually lead to the land falling into the hands of GTAC - a company which is a sub of another company which itself has never mined anything and the parent has never mined iron ore.

The letter asks...
In 2003, one of the largest steel-producing companies in the world was willing to sell a conservation easement for its 16,000 acres on the Penokee Range, knowing that mining would be prohibitive. Yet in 2013, our legislators insist there is profit and jobs to be had in those same hills. Facts suggest otherwise. We have been duped. To what end?
See full article here:

 To what end indeed?  What are we dealing with here?  We know that the quality of the ore in that deposit is low grade.  It is hard to get as because it runs deep,  And, it is close to the largest single body of water in North America and a good deal below its surface.  The amount of water that will have to be pumped daily to keep the pit dry is staggering.  To make a long story short - its expensive iron.

It makes sense that the Chinese could be involved.  They are the kings of cheap.  With no mores for their own environment much less ours its possible to imagine any sort of anti labor practices that would significantly water down the glowing images of prosperity in the north.  One might even wonder if the jobs themselves (certainly top jobs) might end up going to Chinese workers and not Americans. The bill already lays off millions in development costs on local towns that should be picked up by the company.  With the state already teetering on the edge of Right To Work pushed by Walker's owners, management will not have to be Chinese in order to act like it.  Its also open to question whether or not Chinese employees of a Chinese company would even be subject to US (much less State) laws.

In the end it is all about the money.  The interests that have invested heavily in the Republican Party are not fools. They do not part with their cash without expecting a return.  The question is:  Where is the payoff?  Is it in the mining of the ore or of public opinion?  If this is about finding profits in a high cost hole by going cheap then it could be just what it appears to be.  Cut labor, cut taxes and assessment, cut corners and dont worry about the filth.  But it if is a hoax like Jauch charges the real mining has been in political gold refined from the quick silver of false promises and ground from the hard rock of blame for its predestined failure.  That could well be where the real payoff is - in a vein of voter gold.

UPDATE:  3/11/2013 - The Manitowoc Herald Times reporter is today reporting on the pending Chinese trip and potential Chinese investment in the state.
From the article:  "Walker will also be on the hunt for Chinese companies interested in investing in Wisconsin companies, seeking to build on a meeting last fall when he hosted a group of more than 50 investors from Handan, a northern Chinese city. Scott Mosley, foreign direct investment manager at WEDC, said Chinese investors are seeking to invest millions with Wisconsin businesses."
 See full article here!