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Rep. John Kline blocking diesel/cancer report on behalf of mining interests

Note:  This originally published in the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Feb 6, 2012

Rep. John Kline represents the 2nd Minnesota congressional district.  Well, he’s supposed to, but he actually represents the interests of those exploiting the 650 thousand humans he’s supposed to be representing.  He believes, quite sincerely I suspect, that government should protect special interests, while human citizens should sink-or-swim.  To some this might seem like partisan political rhetoric.  I just ask you to withhold judgement for the few minutes needed to read what follows.

Most people already know diesel engine exhaust is highly dangerous to health.  Much of it is made up of tiny particles coated with heavy metals and organic toxins.  The particles carry these through the lungs into the bloodstream and into the brain.  Strokes, heart attacks, and cancer, among other health problems, result.

If it’s unhealthy to live hear a road or to operate a diesel truck, just imagine how unhealthy it must be to work in an underground mine alongside diesel-powered machinery.  In the confined spaces the pollutant concentrations are much higher.  The Center for Public Integrity reports:

“In arguing for a diesel exposure limit in 2001, the mine safety administration said that diesel particles spewed by front-end loaders, generators, air compressors, and other underground equipment could carry with them up to 1,800 other organic chemicals, including carcinogens. Median diesel concentrations in mines, it said, were up to 180 times higher than the average exposure in heavily polluted urban areas and eight times higher than in other workplaces.

‘When there is uncontrolled diesel equipment in an underground mine, it is like working in the tailpipe of a city bus,’ said Mike Wright, health and safety director for the United Steelworkers, which represents 15,000 miners.”

A regulation finally went into effect in 2008 but is only a partial solution.  New diesel engines are much cleaner than old ones but this only happened after years of foot-dragging and corrupt practices by engine makers.

Underground mining was very extensive in Minnesota up until 1961.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources–in a project incomplete for lack of funding–has mapped over 200 underground mines on the Iron Range.  Of course, not all of these would have used diesel engines, but on the other hand, many other digging/tunnelling operations all over the state have resulted in similar exposures.  Proposed sulfide mining projects could bring underground mining back to Minnesota.

So one might expect a Minnesota congressman like Mr. Kline to strongly favor full understanding of diesel health hazards so past and future miners can be protected and compensated.

But no, Kline is acting to block release of a report on diesel/mining health hazards in the making since 1992.  The scenario seems similar to actions by the chemical and incinerators industries, etc, to block an EPA report on dioxin.  Without the reports documenting the hazards, regulations won’t be tightened and people will continue to be harmed.  Again, from the Center for Public Integrity:

“The epidemiological study of workers at so-named metal and nonmetal mines was launched in 1995 by the National Cancer Institute and NIOSH to build on studies that suggested a link between diesel and lung cancer in truck drivers and other workers exposed to diesel particulate matter. The study’s results will offer a ‘state-of-the-art evaluation of diesel,’ said Kyle Steenland, a professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and a former NIOSH epidemiologist. ‘It should provide a very important piece of information about whether diesel is a lung carcinogen. Unfortunately, it has been delayed and delayed for years. It’s high time that the public and the scientific community get to see the results of this study.'”

The tactics of the mining and diesel engine interests has been to use the highest-powered lobbyists and lawyers to obstruct at every point.  In this fight they’ve been repeatedly aided by the rulings of Bush-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Richard Haik of Lafayette, La. And Kline.

The mining interests demanded that the draft report and underlying data be given to THEM to review, and to the House Education and Labor Committee–now the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and chaired by Rep Kline–but withheld from the public.  Haik agreed and has found the US Department of Health and Human Services in contempt.

“‘We are troubled by the continued failure of NIOSH to produce the draft publications, data underlying the research reported in those draft publications, and other documents the Committee should be receiving based on instructions from the court,’ Kline and [Republican Rep. Tim] Walberg wrote on July 8.” (direct links not accessible)

Of course, when industrial interests and their legislative stooges like Kline are allowed to interfere in scientific publication this way, nothing good happens.  Nothing good for the public or for science, anyway.

“Rep. Miller, the Democrat, sent his own letter to Howard on Aug. 16. ‘The requirement for a pre-publication review by an interested party ­ and the insinuation of a congressional committee in such review ­ appears to deviate from the normal scientific process and threatens to undermine the integrity of these studies,’ Miller wrote.”

For more details see these stories:

Landmark diesel exhaust study stalled amid industry and congressional objections

Diesel dangers: Mining companies get first look at government cancer study

Diesel report’s publication delayed as industry demands to see documents first


No one from Rep. Kline’s offices or the staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce has so far returned my calls, so if there is an interpretation of these events less unfavorable to Kline, we weren’t given it.

The Center for Public Integrity does great work, but is hard to work with.  Many of the links in the two stories go to a document source not available to the public, and contact information for reporters is hard to come by.

ACTION:  Call Kline and tell him to stop fronting for mining interests with cancer-causing pollution to hide:

Washington, DC office:  202.225.2271

Burnsville , MN office: 952.808.1213

Alan Muller

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“Governor Dayton Moves to Simplify Minnesota’s Environmental Review Process”

This is a press release from Gov. Mark Dayton.  The wording of it, and the reasoning behind it, is so appalling one hardly knows what to say.

Does the Governor really think Minnesota will benefit by giving out environmental approvals like airline peanuts, without regard for the consequences? During the campaign I heard Dayton refer to the MPCA as the “Minnesota Pollution PROTECTION Agency.” There was sarcasm in his voice and most of the people in the green-oriented audience probably assumed he was referring to a problem needing a fix. I sat there wondering if he perhaps meant something different and more menacing. This question now seems answered.

Could this be a bribe offered legislative leaders to promote approval of a football stadium scam Gov. Dayton seems very anxious to impose on the state?

Note also that the EQB no longer has an independent staff. The senior staffers have retired and the small remainder merged into the MPCA’s environmental review shop. Continue Reading →

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“Art” in the service of evil.

Is art supposed to be about truth, or only about ways of manipulating our emotions?  This question has been discussed for thousands of years and has no simple answer.

The “Northern Spark” event in Minneapolis, Minnesota this coming Friday and Saturday–June 4 th and 5th is “a free, all-night festival of public art and performances ….”  The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul have issued a joint proclamation saying:

“WHEREAS, more than 60 public art projects will turn= Minneapolis and Saint Paul into all night cities of light; an d WHEREAS, Northern Spark expands the boundaries of contemporary a rt by transforming the urban environment into a city-wide art gallery; ….”

Northern Spark is sponsored by Covanta, the evil garbage incinerator company, and the HERC garbage burner itself, listed separately, and the Minnesota State Arts Board, a state agency dispensing tax revenues.  Plus the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Uptake (shame) and others.

“Presentation of Waste Not at Northern Spark is made possible in part by a grant provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board, through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.”  (Board members here.)

At the core of this event is “greenwashing” the HERC garbage incinerator in downtown Minneapolis.  The owner, Hennepin County, and the operator, Covanta, are trying to expand garbage burning at the HERC.  Community-based organizations–those not bought off–are, of course, opposed, and want the burner shut down.  The HERC is listed as a “partner ” as well,  giving the burner people three bites out of this corrupted apple.

In a May 13, 2011 press release, Hennepin County boasts:

“The Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC) in downtown Minneapolis will become a giant projected light display as part of the Northern Spark Art Festival. … Artist Christopher Baker will use video projectors to cast light and images reflecting his project “Waste Not”  giving spectators a glimpse into the otherwise hidden energy production processes at HERC and creating awareness about energy consumption and waste generation.”

See, at this link, a video filled with lies and misrepresentations, many spouted directly by Carl Michaud, Director of Hennepin County Environmental Services.  As just one example, the video repeatedly refers to the smokestack emissions of the incinerator as “air.”  Of course, it isn’t air, it’s many hundreds of thousands of pounds per year of health-damaging pollutants.  Need we say there is not one word about the ongoing community struggle to prevent the expansion of, and ultimately close, this burner?

The “artist” behind this is Christopher Baker. The title, “Waste Not” is a perverted misappropriation of a term usually associated with recycling programs and suchlike.

“Christopher Baker is an artist whose work engages the rich collection of social, technological and ideological networks present in the urban landscape. He creates artifacts and situations that reveal and generate relationships within and between these networks. Baker recently completed his Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Media Arts at the University of Minnesota. He is now the senior artist in residence at the Kitchen Budapest, an experimental media arts lab in Hungary. In his previous life as a scientist, Christopher worked to develop brain computer interfaces at the University of Minnesota and UCLA.”

Baker has not responded to our efforts to find out what if anything he actually knows about the garbage burner.  We don’t have any reason to think he made the propaganda video referenced above.  But the themes of his own “Waste Not” project sound very similar.  “Director” Steve Dietz didn’t respond either.  (Requests were passed through Elle Krause-Lyons, a press type who would not give us direct contact info.)

Some people wrote to the Arts Board objecting to its funding of incinerator propaganda.  For instance, Jan Greenfield of Neighbors Against the Burner, wrote, on March 4, 2011:

“Art is being used to “pretty up” a very toxic operation; using art to “greenwash” is an immoral act & a disservice to the public interest.  Please do not use your resources to support this so-called “art” — in reality P.R. spin for HERC — at the upcoming Northern Sparks Festival.”

The Arts Board didn’t respond to Greenfield.  Executive Director Sue Gens told us the Board funds projects based on “artistic merit” without regard to “point of view.”  The Arts Board will probably have to provide copies of the grant paperwork and it may be interesting.

What’s the truth about the HERC garbage burner?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently reported to Rep. Frank Hornstein that the HERC belched out 1.3 million pounds a year of health damaging “criteria” air pollutants in 2009.  The is about 20 percent of all the smokestack air emissions in Minneapolis.  In 2005–toxics are only reported every three years–the HERC belched out 112 thousand pounds of “toxic” air pollutants, including 87 thousand pounds of hydrochloric acid.  These pollutants go into the air of neighborhoods already suffering from more than their share of pollutants and resulting health problems.  Neighbors Against the BurnerMore on the HERCIncinerators: Myths vs. Facts.

But our real point here is not that garbage incineration is bad.  That’s easy to show.

One can have a lot of fun setting up, or attending, an event like Northern Spark. Does it matter that the core of it is a big, flagrant, toxic lie?

Apparently that doesn’t matter to the Arts Board, or Mayor Rybak, or Mayor Coleman, or many, many others.  Did anyone check this out and have the integrity NOT to participate?  If so, we’d like to hear from them.

Blogger Erik Hare just did a post on “different kinds of lies that surround us.” It’s worth a look.

How much does it matter that we are swimming in a sea of lies so pervasive that the very concept of truth sometimes seems elusive? That so many of our “artists” seem to get their truth directly from the clients’ checkbook?

The elected officials most responsible for the overall HERC scam are the Commissioners of Hennepin County:  (And the most guilty of these, it seems to me, is Peter McLaughlin:  A fanatic, even a crank, on the subject of incineration, and inclined to bully those who disagree.

Alan Muller

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