Da Beers!

Da Beers!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jordan Cove: Complete Failure of Public Imagination? Or a Developer Skillfully Hiding the Ball?

A Canadian company is close to obtaining permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build a massive LNG export terminal in tiny Coos Bay, Oregon.  Then it will be entirely up to Veresen, Inc. of Calgary to decide if starting construction makes economic sense (although many locals think the Canadians actually plan to peddle the permitted project to another developer once FERC issues its Order).

Many local residents are dead-set against this project, but they have been rudely shouted down at public meetings by union organizers brought in from out of town to lobby for the few years of construction jobs this ill-conceived project would provide.

While it wouldn't mean much to those outside agitators and Canadian corporate fat-cats, the graphic below should resonate with local residents.  It depicts the size relationship between just one element of this huge project (one of the two currently planned 160,000 cubic meter LNG storage tanks), the Marshfield/Tioga Hotel building in downtown Coos Bay, and the FAA control tower at Southwest Oregon Regional Airport (OTH) in North Bend.

So what?  Sure, the Marshfield/Tioga Hotel and control tower at Southwest Oregon Regional Airport are the tallest buildings in Coos County.  But public records show they are also the two tallest buildings anywhere on the U.S. west coast between Seattle and San Francisco!

Nevertheless, these two landmarks will be dwarfed by the Jordan Cove project when it's built.

The Scale of Things to Come

Talking to people here on the Oregon coast, I find that few of them have any concept of just how enormous the proposed Jordan Cove LNG facility will be, and how completely it will dominate our beautiful landscape if it's ever built.

Here's what most people we run into seem to be picturing when they try to envision the 160,000 cubic meter tanks that will be the centerpieces of the project on our bay.

A relatively small natural gas storage tank

And here's what the massive 160,000 cubic meter tanks planned for Coos Bay will really look like.

Dragon LNG storage tanks under construction in Wales, UK

The tanks above are precisely the same capacity as the two LNG tanks proposed for Coos Bay.  Note the flatbed tractor-trailer in the red box to get a sense of the scale!

According to the FERC Final EIS, the top of the two domes here will be “about” 180 feet above grade – roughly the equivalent of an 18-story building – and 267 feet in diameter.

By comparison, at nine stories or about 100 feet tall, the historic Tioga/Marshfield Hotel in downtown Coos Bay is currently the tallest building anywhere on the Oregon coast.

Marshfield Hotel in downtown Coos Bay

Mass-wise, the comparison is even more striking: you could fit almost a dozen Tioga/Marshfield Hotels into each of the Jordan Cove LNG tanks.

The FAA control tower at Southwest Oregon Regional Airport is about the same height as the Tioga/Marshfield Hotel, at 98 feet tall according to a story in The World. You could fit almost 120 of these structures into each of the Jordan Cove LNG tanks!

FAA air traffic control Tower at North Bend

What else?

Four "Refrigerant Shelters" near the LNG tanks will each be 72 feet high … small compared with the behemoth LNG storage tanks, but still massive compared with other local structures.

The sign boasts this is the "World's 1st Preassembled LNG Plant"

And what else?

The South Dunes Power Plant -- carefully excluded from the FERC FEIS through skillful manipulation of its power output by the developers -- is another massive feature planned for the North Spit. Its Steam Turbine Generator enclosures are “only” about 50 feet tall, but the power plant will have several stacks “about” 100 feet tall. (There are lots of “abouts” all throughout this project’s design literature.)

The South Dunes Power Plant will be similar in scale to the Indiana Dunes/Michigan City power plant shown below.

Similarly sized gas turbine powerplant

Last but not least, this LNG operation will require the complete closure of Coos Bay to boats and ships by the Coast Guard while enormous LNG container ships arrive to load their dangerous cargo -- ships larger than the Titanic, and each carrying the energy equivalent of 55 nuclear bombs.

It's almost impossible to imagine just how enormous these LNG ships are. To help, here's a YouTube posting of a BBC documentary hosted by Top Gear's Richard Hammond.

BBC presenter Richard Hammond dwarfed by LNG tanker's propeller

So let's close now with the Canadian developer's cartoon-like rendering of what the bayside components of this massive brown-energy project will look like.

Almost cute, no?

But based on the information above ... Do you think it's an honest depiction?

Artist's rendering of Jordan Cove LNG with berthed super-tanker (left), and South Dunes Power Plant (right)

Jordan Cove Meets Tribal Sovereignty and History

The Old Ones

For possibly 9,000 years or more, bands and tribes of Native Americans (hereinafter “Indians”) have thrived along the coast of Oregon. For most of that time these peoples lived in a world of temperate climates, with an abundance of food and natural resources, and in relative peace with their neighboring tribes and bands.

All that changed when Russians and Europeans “discovered” the Oregon Territory, and it changed most dramatically in the 1850s when American citizens who had been drawn to southern Oregon by gold, shifted their attention to Coos Bay and the rich hinterlands surrounding it.

By 1860 the coast of Oregon had been effectively cleansed of all free Indians. All those who could be rounded up, had been removed to a “permanent” Coast Reservation that ran from near the Siltcoos River in the south, to near Cape Lookout in the north, and a dozen or more miles inland.

Still, while this Great Coast Reservation was large, it was not the homeland of most of the people forced to settle on it. Many had been sent there with just the clothes on their backs – some from as far away as the Upper Rogue River Valley near Medford. Canoes, hunting and fishing gear, and housewares had mostly been left behind when soldiers marched the people away from their homes at gunpoint. Food was scarce, and medical care inadequate. Many people sickened, then died.

The Great Coast Reservation originally contained nearly 1,700 square miles – over one million acres of some of the richest, prettiest land anywhere to be found in the West. You can probably imagine how popular that was with the neighboring White people.

At the demand of the growing numbers of Whites flooding into Oregon, the Great Coast Reservation was cut in half by order of the president in 1865, and a large swath of land to the north and south of Newport measuring about 150,000 acres was opened to White land claims and settlement.

Bending to public demands, the now not-so-great Coast Reservation was again reduced, this time by Act Congress, in 1875. This remnant reservation was only about 150,000 acres in size, and was located on the rugged, windswept coast from around Devil’s Lake in the north, to near Agate Beach in the south.

Finally, what little was left of the once-great Coast Reservation was almost entirely stripped away in the 1890s as federal Indian policy shifted to the termination of Tribes through a policy of “allotting” their remaining reservation lands to individual Indians, and then throwing open the so-called “surplus” lands to White settlement. As proclaimed by President Teddy Roosevelt in his first State of the Union message to Congress in 1901, the General Allotment Act was intended to be a “mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass.”

By the 1890s, however, many Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw people had already abandoned the remnants of the Coast Reservation. But when they returned to their former homeland, they found White people had built houses where their villages had stood for millennia. Whites were also cutting their forests at a breakneck pace, mining their rivers for gold, and farming their ancestral lands.

For many years soldiers and bounty hunters tracked down and retuned captured Indians to a life of captivity and privation on the Coast Reservation. Those who eluded capture eked out a subsistence living supplemented by low-paying backbreaking labor in the forests, cranberry bogs, and sloughs. According to modern-day archeologists like Dr. Scott Byram, the upper North Spit of Coos Bay appears to have been one of the places where these Indian families found refuge from the brutal conditions on the Coast Reservation.

In 1917 Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians banded together politically to form the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians with the primary purpose of pursuing land claims. Those hopes were dashed, however, when the United States Court of Claims ruled against the Confederated Tribes in 1938, and when the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. Further efforts before the Indian Claims Commission were similarly rejected. Nevertheless, every other tribe in western Oregon – having learned how not to pursue a land claim by watching and learning from the trailblazing Confederated Tribes – did receive money settlements for their lost ancestral lands.

Then came the so-called Termination Era of the 1950s under the Eisenhower Administration. All the other tribes that had signed the patently unfair and never-ratified Coast Treaty of 1855 dutifully passed resolutions endorsing tribal termination. But the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians again stood firm. Nevertheless, in 1954 the Confederated Tribes were lumped in with all the other costal tribes as Public Law 588 terminated their federal recognition.

Over the next three decades, the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw peoples continued to remember who they were and where they came from. They remembered their ancestors, honored their elders, raised their children to know the traditional ways of living, retained their languages, and continued to meet as members of a unified tribe. This dogged perseverance was finally rewarded when Congress restored federal recognition to the Confederated Tribes by enacting Public Law 98-481, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in October 1984.

Since 1984 the people of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians have worked hard to build upon the victory of restoration. Slowly but surely they have acquired a small tribal land base, have built successful businesses, and have created a tribal government that has assumed most functions of self-governance from the federal government.

Looking forwards, the people of the Confederated Tribes hope to continue building on these successes to foster an even better future for future generations with a focus on improved health and healthcare, educational opportunities, cultural preservation, and entrepreneurship training.

At the same time, the people of the Confederated Tribes deeply understand that they owe all they now are, and ever will be, to their ancestors – to those who lived here during the halcyon days before any non-Indian ever laid eyes on Oregon, and to those who suffered so grievously after the Euro-American settlers came and stole their land. And it is the bones and worldly possessions of those ancestors which rest in the ground in Jordan Cove, in the South Slough, in Barview, and in countless other places here in Oregon.

The Newcomers

The 160-odd years since the Coos and Lower Umpqua people were herded at gunpoint north to the Coast Reservation is just a blink of the eye compared with the 9,000 or more years their ancestors inhabited these lands. But despite the relatively short time involved, the Newcomers have successfully stripped and despoiled the lands of coastal Oregon.

Before the Newcomers, old growth forests blanketed the Oregon coastline and ranges, dominated by ancient Cedars and Douglas Firs hundreds of feet tall and up to a dozen feet thick. In most places these trees were felled in the early days of White settlement, to be replaced by farms, towns, roads, and groves of plantation tree farms. Watersheds laid bare no longer protected spawning salmon, lampreys, and other fish. The beavers that once altered and dominated the landscape were virtually extirpated by trappers, and most other kinds of wildlife became much scarcer.

Before the Newcomers, the waters and skies of the Oregon coast and mountains teemed with ducks, salmon, lampreys, and shellfish. Within a few decades, however, overfishing for the cannery trade had depleted much of the fish stock, and "unmerchantable" species were all but rubbed out.  Over-the-top hunts depleted both game and non-game bird populations.  Industrial metals (arsenic, chromium, mercury, nickel, etc.), tributyltin, petroleum, and other chemicals are now found in toxic concentrations blanketing the floor and shoreline of Coos Bay.

Courtesy Cornell Lab Bird Academy

To add more insult to injury, it turns out that for at least the past 16 years the City of North Bend has been dumping human sewage sludge on top of another ancestral Indian burial site in a place known appropriately as Graveyard Point up at Catching Slough.  The city has a virtually perpetual water pollution permit from Oregon DEQ that allows them to conveniently dump human sludge during the dry summer months, then see it washed into the bay during the rainy season.

Local oysters anyone?!  

But all that pales in comparison with the latest engine of environmental and social destruction to be visited upon coastal Oregon by another round of Newcomers:  Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). 

For all the people of modern-day Coos Bay – and even more so for the peoples of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians – the LNG problem is overwhelmingly complex.

We don’t know now who was involved, or where it happened, but there was apparently a decision made on-high at some point that there had to be an LNG facility somewhere on the West Coast of North America to suit the market and energy requirements of our new economic overlords in Asia. But California, Washington, and British Columbia all adamantly rejected the idea. Which left poor little Oregon to bear the brunt. The result is a very, very bad idea that goes by the name of Jordan Cove Energy Project.

Many rural Oregonians in remoter areas like this are weary from decades of watching their living-wage jobs drift away as the timber industry has shrunken away. And these poor souls have been skillfully sold a bill of goods ... that Spotted-owl driven environmental laws foisted on them by the evil Feds are the whole reason they've become so impoverished here on the coast (at least compared with their city cousins up in Portland and Eugene).

In reality, however, the bigger problem is that that most U.S. forest jobs have been replaced with enormous machines that do the job of dozens of workers with just one driver/operator. And that was only made possible because huge companies like Weyerhaeuser which now dominate the timber industry have ample cash with which to replace people with multi-million-dollar machines. Pre-monopoly small operators never could have managed that changeover from people to automation.

In addition, these huge forest products operators long ago closed most of the labor-intensive sawmills in Oregon. Instead, they started shipping raw logs to Japan and China where Oregon’s high-quality logs are turned into high-value wood products. The Feds have made a dumb show of banning whole-log exports from public lands. But the big timber firms ... aided by absurdly low property taxes on Oregon forest lands ... now just shift logs around in a bewildering blizzard of paperwork that environmentalists and agency watchdogs have no way to effectively track or audit.

Anyhow, it seems like there was another conscious decision on-high that if an LNG terminal was going to built in Oregon, then throwing poor, dumb little Coos Bay under the bus was the best solution. In a rural state full of poorly-informed people, our local "leaders" are some of the most parochial found anywhere. And they’re apparently among the easiest to buy off with a bit of schmoozing and talk of Jobs!!!

In addition, almost every other town on the Oregon coast has invested heavily in Disney-type scenic districts complete with shops, lodging, and restaurants to attract rich weekend tourists from the Big City. But not Coos Bay. Having held the line for years against such tomfoolery, we're quite ripe for re-industrialization here in our little town.

Against that political backdrop, the Confederated Tribes must walk a very thin line. If they could speak freely, most tribal members would say they are adamantly against the Jordan Cove Energy Project. But they can't afford to officially take that position. Doing so would surely alienate powerful business interests needed to support business operations and other tribal programs.

Since even in this day and age American Indian tribes continue to survive at the pleasure of Congress, neither can the Confederated Tribes afford to alienate their Congressional masters, some of whom – Senator Ron Wyden for example – have very publicly hitched their political wagon to the Jordan Cove LNG project.

That said, the Confederated Tribes have recently learned that the Jordan Cove developers have been seriously hiding the ball ... that a major component of their project is planned for an area where we now know there are many pre-contact graves and village sites.

And to make matters much worse, the Jordan Cove developers have quietly schemed to use a construction technology known as “vibrodensification” to solidify their seismically shaky site. In the process, the developers will violently shake all the underground artifacts and burials at Jordan Cove into millions of small pieces, then ingrain those shattered bits within a newly created layer of artificial bedrock. And all of that will conveniently happen sight-unseen since nothing will ever be “dug up” as it were. Instead, the tribe’s ancestors and history will be destroyed in place, then locked away forever (or at least until the North American plate finally slides over the Juan de Fuca plate at some unforeseeable future date.)

Now, you'd think anyone who saw the movie Poltergeist would know better than to build on top of an Indian graveyard,  But because this is land the developer now privately owns, and because the developer really wants to build )or at least get permits for) this project, they're playing games with the regulatory agencies to avoid federal and state laws protecting Indian burials and cultural resources.

And because the regulatory agencies are effectively "owned" by business interests ... to an extent even my jaded self never fully understood before we came here ... it's a daunting uphill battle for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians as they work tirelessly to protect the remains and artifacts of more than 300 generations of their ancestors.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Corn-pone Crackpot Constitutionalists

UPDATE 26-Jan-2016:

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and three of their merry misfits -- Shawna Cox of Utah, Ryan Waylen Payne of Montana, and Brian Cavalier of Nevada -- were arrested today at in a traffic stop in Harney County.

Another miscreant -- reported to be LaVoy Finicum who had emerged as de facto spokesman for these criminals -- was killed when shots were reportedly exchanged.

Peter Santilli of Cincinnati, and Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy of Cottonwood, Arizona, were arrested later in Burns.  

Remote coward John Eric Ritzheimer turned himself in to police in Peoria, Arizona.  The Oregonian reports that Ritzheimer, 32, a "key militant leader," rose to fame complaining on a video about the delivery of dildos to the refuge in response to pleas for supplies.

Absurdly, the group was reportedly on their way to yet another off-site press opportunity about 70 miles away in John Day, Oregon.  Local media reports that roadblocks had finally been set up to limit access to the occupied wildlife refuge.

I'd like to believe these assholes went out in a final blaze of stupidity -- exercising their rights as "sovereign citizens" to use public highways that they feel no obligation to help pay for.   

The Times reports that these nitwits face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.  But I could come up with a dozen or more additional charges if the U.S. Attorney needs help.  Call me!

It'll be interesting now to see if the federal government that Ammon Bundy and crew don't "believe in," will have the cajones to prosecute these fools and put them away for a long, long time. 

Now it's time to clean out the rest of the rat's nest at Malheur and call in the CSI and refuge folks to figure out just how much economic damage these fools can be charged for.

From top left, booking photographs of Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier and Shawna Cox. From bottom left, Ryan Waylen Payne, Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy and Peter Santilli. Credit Multnomah County Sheriff

UPDATE 13-Jan-2016:

Nancy Langston, a professor of environmental history at Michigan Technological University, has a great op-ed in the NY Times that walks us through the difficult history of Malheur NWR.  Her conclusion:
When mythic histories supplant the complexities of the past, the results can be lethal. Equitable futures for Western public lands won’t be achieved when ideologues swagger in, brandishing guns and taking over federal buildings. Rather, they develop from the hard work of collaboration, like the 2013 effort that brought together the local community, tribes, conservation groups and the state and federal governments to develop a new management plan for Malheur. These are the efforts that best respect the region’s history while pointing the way to a sustainable future.
Meanwhile, we sincerely hope Billy Williams, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, is working on indictments for Ammon Bundy and all the other 20-odd fools staffing the barricades in Voltage-Princeton.  These people should be going away for a very long time, and should also be forced to reimburse taxpayers for economic losses -- including the $100,000+ per week in salaries their tomfoolery is costing us.

But we're not holding our breath about that either.   As pointed out by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the armed seizure of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a foreseeable outcome of the utter lack of a coherent response to earlier confrontations with anti-government extremists.    A July 2014 Homeland Security assessment entitled “Domestic Violent Extremists Pose Increased Threat to Government Officials and Law Enforcement” supports that view, correctly predicting that the “perceived victory” of the Bundy stand-off with BLM in Nevada “is galvanizing some individuals – particularly militia extremists and violent lone offenders – to actively confront law enforcement officials, increasing the likelihood of violence.”  The DHS assessment went on to link the murder of two Las Vegas police officers to this ongoing policy failure.

UPDATE 11-Jan-2016:

Unlike the Bundy-type legally futile efforts to hand federal and back to the "original owners" (which, again, we assume does not mean the Paiute tribes), the New York Times reports on an effort that could achieve real results ... especially if a Republican or Republican-type takes the White House in 2017.   

One of the well-heeled lobbying groups leading this charge is the American Lands Council, and Utah-based group funded by donations from county governments, and by Americans for Prosperity (the group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers).

The American Lands Council is a non-profit organization founded in 2012.  Their mission is to "secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States."

Sound great, right?  The only problem I can see, based on my years in government service, is that the morning after this hoped-for transfer occurred, states – and primarily their county political subdivisions – would find themselves responsible for environmental management, law enforcement, fire protection, and a host of other jobs federal agencies now do.  And there'd be no additional money in state coffers to cover any of these costs.  It would be the classic case of being 'land-poor'.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what would happen next.   The states and counties would quickly move to sell off their newly-gained lands to raise money.  The pretext would be to raise money to pay for managing all these lands.  But the temptation would be extreme to also use the money to lower or eliminate other taxes – which would of course appeal greatly to the same teabagger types.
So who would have the ready cash to bid at auction for these former federal lands?   Transnational corporations.  The Koch brothers, and their one-percenter country club pals.   Chinese and Russian Mafia billionaires. In other words, the same people who currently own most of everything in this country except for those much-coveted, resource rich federal lands.
Long story short, if you live in the American West, and if you've always taken for granted access to millions of acres of public lands for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, birding, etc. – well, prepare for a whole new reality if lobbyists like the American Lands Council get their way.  Within a generation, it'll all be gone.   These lands will lie behind gates with big "No Trespassing" signs.


As of 06 January 2016, we're hearing that Ammon Bundy and his misguided stooges will go home as soon as all federal land is "returned" to ranchers and state governments.

Sadly, this simple-sounding idea speaks volumes about the ignorance of these poor saps.  The federal lands can't be "returned," because in the case of almost all Public Lands, these lands have been owned by the 'sovereign' (first the king, then the U.S. federal government) from the moment the first white man stumbled ashore and planted a European flag.  If you doubt that's true, just ask any Indian tribe -- including the Northern Paiute whose land Malheur NWR and the rest of Harney County once was -- whose land ownership was stripped away by the federal government under the so-called Papal Doctrine of Discovery.

Long story short, if it never belonged to you, it can't be "returned" to you.  Right?

Any land in the U.S. now owned by a state, county, city, corporation, individual, or Chinese billionaire, was at some point in the past 'patented' out of federal ownership by the General Land Office or BLM under authority of some federal law or another (e.g., homestead laws, donation land acts, statehood organic acts, etc.).

That said, we here at BAVOB don't condone the growing demands for these protesters' blood.  (Search Twitter for “Oregon” and “drone strike” and you'll find tons of people proposing to give the Malheur activists the Abdulrahman Awlaki treatment. TV host Montel Williams tweeted that the authorities should “put this down using National Guard with shoot to kill orders.” “I hope they pull a M.O.V.E. on those terrorists in Oregon,” wrote the author Jess Nevins, alluding to a black militant group whose Philadelphia headquarters were bombed by the police in 1985, killing 11 people and destroying dozens of homes.)

No, these guys aren't terrorists in the sense of ISIS or Al Qaeda.  They're just really poorly misinformed by the faux-lawyer leaders of this crackpot "movement" like the Bundys ... uber-crackpots who seem to have spun this crazy idea into another full-fledged family cottage industry.

And that just seems to call for better education and more collaborative federal land use policies, not for execution by drone strike. 


You all know I respect anyone’s right to get thoroughly moosed up over just about anything … even if they clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.  But I draw the line when they seize public property, and when they take to disrupting and endangering people’s lives like these “Sovereign Citizen” jackasses are doing out east in Harney County, Oregon.


As amateur ornithologists who have birded and supported Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, we also have a personal dog in this fight.  So I'm taking the gloves off. 

*  *  *

As a bit of background, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt – hardly a raving socialist in anyone’s book – by setting aside “unclaimed government lands” as a “preserve and breeding ground for native birds.”  (Let’s skip for now the fact that this land had actually been “claimed” by the Northern Paiute tribes since time immemorial, that Malheur was once part of a “permanent” 1,778,560-acre reservation guaranteed eastern Oregon’s “wandering” Indians in 1872, and that the reservation was stripped away from the Paiute less than four years later at the demand of local stockmen and ranchers who thought all that scrubland was being wasted on “savages.”) 

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was the 19th in a line of 51 unique and irreplaceable national wildlife refuges created by Teddy Roosevelt during his presidency.  I guess executive action is only categorically evil if committed by a black Democrat?  But again, I digress.

And what an amazing place Malheur is, being a crucial stop along the Pacific Flyway that offers resting, breeding, and nesting habitat for millions of migratory birds, as well as habitat for local flora and fauna.

Nor would this important wildlife resource likely exist today without federal efforts.  As the Great Depression roiled the nation, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933.  With the purchase (not condemnation) of the Blitzen Valley portion of the Eastern Oregon Land and Livestock Company holdings, the Malheur Refuge became an ideal location for CCC people and projects that improved the refuge and supported local businesses through the worst years of the Great Depression with the ongoing purchase of vast quantities of food, fuel, construction materials, and related provender.

Allow me to anticipate the rebuttal here: that just like they've been harassing the poor Hammond family (who didn't arrive on the scene until 1964, and who knew full well they were buying their small ranch right next door to an operating wildlife refuge), the feds must have intentionally driven Eastern Oregon Land and Livestock Company out of business in 1933 so the evil feds could grab their land for their nefarious purposes.  Maybe as a secret landing field for black UN helicopters that the feds secretly knew would be invented in a few decades?  Well, since American national politics during the decade leading up to the Great Depression were dominated by the Republican Party, which controlled both the White House and Congress right up through the 1932 election, it's pretty tough to maintain that proposition.  But I'm sure some will!

Anyhow, where were we?  Oh yeah  – with Ammon Bundy and 100-150 other thugs occupying the public's CCC-built refuge headquarters.  Which is costing us all thousands of dollars daily as Burns area federal employees sit home out of concerns for their personal safety.

Now, I’m not surprised Ammon Bundy can’t articulate what his group of trespassers actually hopes to achieve.  When asked what it would take for the protesters to leave the refuge headquarters, Bundy reportedly replied: “The people will need to be able to use the land and resources without fear as free men and women.  We know it will take some time.” 

Alrighty then … clear as mud!

And I’m not surprised because, having waded through thickets of hair-brained rhetoric in an effort to understand what the entire “Sagebrush Rebellion” gang wants … well, I still have no clear idea.  And it sure ain’t for lack of trying on my part.

Best as I can tell, however, what it all seems to boil down to is a legal theory – I'll dignify it with that label that the intent of the nation's founders and 225 years of constitutional jurisprudence aside, we’ve got it all wrong about the federal government.   

In a nutshell, these well-meaning folks don't believe in the existence of a federal government with authority to own and manage land, or to enforce laws.  Speaking to radio host Dana Loesch, Cliven Bundy once said he believes in a “sovereign state of Nevada,” but that he doesn’t “recognize the United States government as even existing.”   Where did they come up with such an idea?  No idea.

Flowing from this hogwash, Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay upwards of $1 Million in BLM grazing fees and fines in Nevada is very loosely grounded in Bundy’s notion that the land around his 160-acre Nevada ranchette belongs to the state of Nevada, not to the federal government.  Never mind that the State of Nevada itself lays no such claim to that land!  

No word on the Bundy family's stance on Santa Claus.

*  *  *

While no one would accuse the BLM of being some kind of environmental angel, the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” seems to be a reaction to significant federal land-use policy changes in the 1970s as a more environmentally-oriented federal government began imposing use regulations on its vast holdings in the West.  This policy sea-change was based in laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – referred to by some as America’s “environmental Magna Carta” – that was signed into law in 1970 by none other than that liberal political firebrand, President Richard M. Nixon.  Still, many westerners chose to point the blame instead at President Jimmy Carter, who they accused of using Nixon’s environmental laws to target states that didn’t support Carter’s presidential run.  Okay.  Maybe.

So how did we get here from there?

Near as I can tell, all this “Sovereign Citizen” thinking comes from people talking exclusively to other folks who look and think exactly like you do and from otherwise ignoring, you know, ‘reality’.  Which always tends to cause problems.

The one thing I do know is that if these corn-pone intellectuals like Cliven Bundy could have an audience with this country’s founders … well, they’d be laughed right out of the room.  Because if there was one thing America’s founders universally shared, it was a healthy fear of and disdain for an ill-informed, hyper-excited, well-armed rabble like these f-tards now occupying Malheur. 

That’s why the founders included the term “well regulated Militia” in the Second Amendment – their idea of “well regulated” being leadership by landed and educated “gentlemen” who knew precisely what time it was. 

And it’s why the founders separated the rabble – i.e., you and me! – from direct election of the President (think ‘Electoral College’), the Senate (up until the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, U.S. senators were elected by state legislatures), and Supreme Court justices (while many states elect even their highest judicial officers, our sage founders chose instead to have ALL federal judges appointed by the indirectly elected president, and confirmed by the indirectly elected senate.)

While we’re on the subject, let’s also clear up this business of a ‘non-existent’ federal government.  That too would shock and awe any Founding Father presented with such a crazy notion.  Because that was a main point of the U.S. Constitution.  As soon as the American colonists had struggled free of King George III, the first thing they tried to do was establish their own strong national government.  And they kept trying until it finally "took" in 1789.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the modern so-called Tea Party movement is on no better footing than the Sagebrush "rebels."   America’s founders weren’t against government, and they weren’t against taxes.  They were just dead-set against non-representative government (which they considered “tyranny”), and they were dead-set against “taxation without representation” (which was the sole reason for the Boston Tea Party of December 1773).  Otherwise, the founders knew full-well that there were some things that could only be done by a strong central government, and they devoted themselves to creating one of those from the earliest days of the American republic.   

Sorry Cliven.  Sorry Ammon.  You’re both on the wrong side of history.

*  *  *

That said, is there any real oppression going on in this country?  Oh, you bet there is!   

But it’s not orchestrated oppression by wildlife refuge civil servants trying to improve and protect habitat for migrating ducks and geese.  And it’s not by BLM range managers charged working to ensure that private users of the public domain (like Cliven Bundy) pay for what they use, and that their cattle don’t destroy the public’s range lands in the process.

No, the real oppressors of today are the so-called one-percenter mega-rich (both Americans and foreigners) who control America’s tax codes, property laws, and land use regulations through their wildly disproportionate influence over the political process through paid lobbying and virtually unregulated campaign finance. 

The true oppressors of today are also the mega-corporations (both Americans and foreign) which collect any small tax burden they pay from us, their customers, as part of their product or service pricing structure.  And which collect what amounts to an "existence tax" from all of us, daily, through legally-sanctioned monopolistic practices that allow these transnational corporations to set and maintain the prices we all pay for the necessities and amenities of modern life:  food, fuel, shelter, clothing, health care, education, internet access, and virtually everything else our paychecks or pensions go towards.

Still, as long as these real and true oppressors of the people can keep us common working stiffs distracted – by trumped up fights between Republicans and Democrats, Blacks and Whites and Mexicans, Christians and Atheists, Hippies and Patriots, Sovereign Citizens and Federal employees – then won’t any of us have the time or energy to think about them.  And that’s all the true oppressors really need to keep on keeping on, right?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Jordan Cove juggernaut

We attended a talk last night in Coos Bay by Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.  Among other things, we went because we continue to hope there's some way the horrifically awful Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project can be stopped before it completely ruins our little seaside community.  The event was eye opening in several ways.

Right out of the chute, we got what appears to be Mr. Lizney's standard road-show talk on the subject of American democracy.  I can't do it justice in writing, but Mr. Lizney's key points were:
  • The American Constitution was designed primarily to empower the movers and shakers of the day to exploit the natural resources of continent as quickly and efficiently as possible (which it did amazingly well
  • While our system of Constitutional government was unarguably great for overriding state, local, or tribal opposition to unbridled economic development in our nation's early years, those same Constitutional features, together with the empowerment of corporations (see, e.g., corporate personhood, Citizens United, etc.), now frustrates almost all efforts to control our fates at the community level when some corporation comes to town with an industrial hog farm, landscape-scale fracking, or LNG export project  
  • Four decades of environmental activism within this Constitutional framework have accomplished little except to allow the large environmental non-profits to collect billions of dollars in donations, and to at best delay projects while they force corporate proponents to go back to dot i's and cross t's in their permit applications
  • Going forward the only way community's can hope to truly control their destinies is to attack the problem at the Constitutional level through efforts in concert with other concerned communities
Mr. Lizney's talk was the perfect combination of tough love and inspiration, adroitly delivered.  Then after he sat down, a woman from our local Coos Commons Protection Council stood up to deliver rambling, unfocused comments that added nothing to Mr. Lizney's talk, and which only served to illustrate just how screwed we are at the local level.  With all due respect, we just had to get up and leave before this well-intended woman could render us suicidal.

The good news is that the Coos Commons Protection Council is gathering signatures to put The Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future on the May 2016 ballot, and we sincerely hope they succeed.

But getting that proposition on the ballot is far from a guarantee of success -- not in our little community where local sympathizer-apologists are daily serving as (paid?) mouthpieces for the Canadian corporation behind the Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project.

If you have any doubt, just compare the amateurish Coos Commons Protection Council PR effort with the slickly produced and well-funded "Boost Southwest Oregon" website.  You can't help but me reminded of the way the Nazis would so skillfully employ local collaborators to serve as the public face of their oppression while they lurked in the shadows and worked the puppet strings.

At the end of the day, Mr. Lizney's talk only reminded us that under our system of state-, federal-, and corporation-dominated governance, the only thing that will stop the Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project will be a business market determination that its owners won't make money on it ... just as a lack of commercially exploitable natural resources was the only thing that could finally stick a fork in Shell Oil's decade-long arctic drilling mechanations.  Everything else is just eyewash.

No one is sorrier than me that I can't be more encouraging.

Monday, June 1, 2015


A House committee cut about a fifth of Amtrak’s funding on a party line vote the day after the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. Presumably this was meant to punish Amtrak for the horrific accident that killed 8 and injured more than 200 with some in critical condition.

The problem with this pretzel logic is that Congress voted in 2008 to implement Positive Train Control (PTC), a computerized system that would have slowed this runaway train.  Sadly, however, Congress has never actually funded PTC. Does that mean all this blood is actually on the hands of Congress?

All the other civilized/industrialized nations (China now included) understand the value of a modern rail system, and they’ve put their money where their mouths are.  Meanwhile, the US continues to underwrite air travel with billions of dollars in subsidies … but won’t spend a few million on rail safety technology that would save lives.

Follow ups:

Has a train engineer ever used a passenger train to commit suicide a la the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525?

Has Congress ever stopped the billions in tax dollars that subsidize air travel in this country (more than $155 billion as of 1999 according to a secret Congressional report)?

Federal Direct Spending on Aviation, 1918 to 1998
federal aviation subsidies

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oregon 2020 ... Oh, so that's what all those empty "Hotspots" are about

Our Baker County blitz crew, after finding 189 species and generating 675 checklists for eBird and the Oregon 2020 project, in a single weekend in June, 2014.

Baker County blitz crew, after finding 189 species and 
generating 675 checklists for eBird and the Oregon 2020 
project, in a single weekend in June, 2014

Oregon 2020: A Benchmark Survey Built on eBird

Humans change the land, sea, and climate. Birds respond to such changes. We are the first generation of humans to realize we are partly responsible for climate change, to know that we are altering the habitat of Earth’s biodiversity, and to have the technological capability to map, measure, instantly share, and electronically archive our observations of nature.

The Oregon 2020 project recognizes our unique position in history and uses eBird to create a benchmark survey of Oregon’s birds. Oregon 2020 aims to provide high quality data on the distribution and abundance of birds across Oregon as we approach the year 2020. Working together, we create an information legacy that will allow future citizens and scientists, decades and centuries from now, to compare bird populations in their time with those today.

Oregon 2020 relies on contributions from birders using eBird and the eBird Northwest portal. Birders have amazing skills that provide useful data when they simply collect and archive their observations. eBird is about more than managing our own species lists. It is about legacy. We want that legacy of data to be high quality. To support that, Oregon 2020 is conducting workshops and creating online tutorials to train birders in best practices when identifying, counting, and mapping birds and we coordinate County Blitzes on long weekends to socialize, explore, and count birds in relatively poorly studied portions of our state.

County blitzes are a lot like a Christmas Bird Count, except we count during the breeding season. The areas each person or team covers fall within a county. Each team visits 2 to 4 of our Hotspot Squares during the day, in addition to birding wherever they want. Then we rendezvous at the end of the day and share results and stories. In 2015, we have scheduled five breeding-season County Blitzes – join us here:

23 and 24 May: Sherman and Gilliam counties
30 and 31 May: Columbia and Clatsop counties
6 and 7 June: Wheeler County
13 and 14 June: northern Malheur County
27 and 28 June: Wallowa County

If you don’t like exploring too far from home, there is probably a Hotspot Square near you. Observations any time of year are valuable. So if you are headed out to your favorite local birding spot, check to see if there is a Hotspot Square nearby and make a few counts there, too. Even contributions of feeder birds are valuable. Most of us discount the value of our daily observations of common birds. Consider this: if you knew someone had counted birds at your favorite hotspot or in your current yard 300 years ago, would you take a look at those data to see how things have changed? Of course, you would! eBird allows us to make our observations today available to future birders. What’s normal and boring to you now may be very interesting in the not-so-distant future. Just log into eBird Northwest and report your observations.

Please contact us at Oregon2021@gmail.com (yes, that’s Oregon2021, not a typo) or visit our web site (Oregon2020.com) if you are interested.

Article by  W Douglas Robinson

Monday, January 19, 2015

The “LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act”: How to Destroy American Communities at a Breakneck Pace?

Gabrel Collins at the mega-law firm of Baker Hostetler has a story about the consortium of federal legislators from gas-producing states who want to force FERC to make much faster decisions, and issue permits much more quickly.

Proponents include Senators John A. Barrasso (R-WY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). 

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced H.R. 351, an identically named bill with virtually identical legislative language, in the House on January 14, 2015.  Co-sponsors in the House include Kevin Cramer [ND], Henry Cuellar [TX-28], Bill Flores [TX-17], Gene Green [TX-29], Mike McCaul [TX-10], Pete Olson, Pete [TX-22], Tim Ryan [OH-13], and Michael Turner [OH-10].

Who is missing from the list? 

Right.  These bills haven't a single sponsor from states like Oregon and Washington -- states that will bear the brunt of environmentally destructive mega-pipelines and massive accumulations of the liquified gas in the midst of existing communities.

While state and local governments may be briefly able hold the line against such political forces under state environmental and land use laws, they will ultimately be overwhelmed by the force of federal supremacy -- especially if a Republican takes the White House in 2017 as is widely expected.

* * *

For a rundown of all the things that are wrong with the LNG technology, the Sierra Club has a good informational website.

LNG Tanker
Liquefied Natural Gas Tanker

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Urban Crows

A recent report on Oregon Birding On-line (OBOL) about an urban Peregrine Falcon in Salem, Oregon got me to thinking about an urban PEFA we were lucky enough to spot in downtown Portland, Oregon in early December of 2014.

It seems beyond ironic that as the population of PEFAs seemed to have rebounded, the American Crow seems to have has replaced the feral pigeon as the most common urban bird in many American cities.

Here's an interesting 2001 UW article on the subject by John M. Marzluff, Kevin J. McGowan, Roarke Donnelly and Richard L. Knight.


To the extent that the American Crow seems far too large and aggressive to provide good aerial prey for PEFAs, the odds of seeing these amazing predators in places like downtown Portland seems less likely than ever.

Here's a nighttime picture of just a few of the thousands of AMCRs that were roosting on SW 6th in Portland in early December 2014:


Undisclosed Location

Mike Patterson makes an excellent case for why it's not a God-given constitutional right for birders to invade people's neighborhoods, post their addresses, and generally make asses of themselves (and all other birders by reference).

But a word of warning.  Birders -- especially those of the Big Year ilk -- don't like to hear this message.  I innocently suggested the same idea a few years ago on the infamous (and now defunct) San Diego Bird listserve when hordes of birders had invaded yet another quiet residential neighborhood in search of some rarity. 

All I managed to accomplish then was to set off a torrent of seething vitriol that led me to quit posting anything on that listserve.  Or on any birding listserve for that matter.  Who needs the grief and kickback?

Nowadays I list all our birds -- from mundane to uber-rare -- on eBird.  If someone's looking for such a bird, the data is there for them to access.   But the last thing I want to do is to enable some self-serving fool who may jump in their car and blaze across the state, hoping to tick off that bird on their Big Year list.