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Philip Bump's Posts


Youngstown, Ohio, could turn to fracking to clean up mess left by steel industry

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company.

I went to high school near Youngstown, Ohio, well after the end of the two dynasties that made the city vibrant: steel and the 49ers. The story of the decline of steel is well-known. Less well-known is that Youngstown was home to Ed DeBartolo, the former owner of the football team, whose glory reflected in the region for years after the Niners had stopped shining on field. By the time I lived there, Youngstown was already what it is now: empty and looming.

In 2010, the city had 20 times the number of vacant buildings as the national average. With such a glut, city leaders attempted a radical plan: intentional shrinkage. Youngstown began to slice off abandoned homes, razing ones closest to entries to the city to boost a sense that it was getting back on its feet. Homes that had been vacant since the last steelworkers moved away vanished.

Now a new problem. The city doesn't have enough money to continue to pull down the eyesores, to continue its retraction. So it's considering a new revenue stream. From the Columbus Dispatch:

The Youngstown City Council is debating a proposal to combat blight by leasing the rights for oil and gas drilling under public land. The city has enough money to raze only 260 houses, with more than 5,000 other structures vacant or ready for demolition, Mayor Charles P. Sammarone said.


Comically evil coal honcho could face investigations into fundraising trickery

Robert Murray
Reuters / Danny Moloshok
I mean, how great is this photo?

Our old friend Robert Murray -- the coal company CEO who made his miners go to a Romney rally and appear in a Romney ad instead of working for pay and who makes his managers donate to his political action fund — is in the news again. This time, it's because people are suggesting that maybe it is not legal for Robert Murray to force his workers to be in political ads or to donate to his PAC.

The Huffington Post reports on the backlash from a New Republic exposé on Murray:

The Ohio Democratic Party has requested a criminal investigation of the Ohio-based Murray Energy, after the coal company allegedly told employees to donate to Republican politicians including Mitt Romney.

The alleged coercion of political donations from employees may have "involved extortion, money laundering, racketeering, and other violations of Title 18 of the US criminal code," Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach on Monday.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, again citing The New Republic's report.


U.N.: Global hunger not as bad as we thought, but it’s still bad

The sort of food that is not helping things.

Here's a good news / bad news sort of thing. I guess we'll start with the good news, because that won't take as long.

Good news
In 2009, the United Nations announced that 1 billion people around the world experienced on-going, persistent hunger. The good news is: that estimate was high! From the AP:

The United Nations said Tuesday its 2009 headline-grabbing announcement that 1 billion people in the world were hungry was off-target and that the number is actually more like 870 million.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization blamed flawed methodology and poor data for the bum projection, and said it now uses a much more accurate set of parameters and statistics to calculate its annual estimate of the world's hungry. ...

And the good news, FAO said, is that the number of hungry people has actually been declining steadily - rather than increasing - over the past two decades...

Good news! 130 million fewer people living in hunger than we thought!

Bad news
870 million people around the world live in hunger.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Despite the end of summer, Iowa’s drought hits a new low

It's Oct. 8. Autumn. Here in New York, it hasn't gotten above 55 degrees today. Leaves are turning. It's snowing in Colorado and Minnesota.

Click to embiggen.

And the drought persists. In Iowa, it's as bad as it has been all year. From the Waterloo Courier:

Three-quarters of the state is now experiencing at least D3, or extreme, drought. Portions of five counties in western Iowa remain in D4, or exceptional, drought. No part of Iowa improved.

The degradation from D2, severe, to D3, extreme, affected an additional 10 percent of the state.

The primary ingredient necessary to alleviate the situation -- rain -- was once again in short supply across the region.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Meet the members of Congress who’ve invested the most in the energy industry

The Washington Post has a nifty tool that allows you to see the investments of members of Congress. Which is not to say that a congressmember will necessarily act on behalf of the companies and industries they're invested in. It is, instead, to say that if a congressmember did take action on one such company’s behalf and the company’s value increased as a result of that action, the congressmember would see direct benefit.

It is also to say that, yes, it happens.

A California congressman helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.

A Wyoming congresswoman co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.

And a Pennsylvania congressman co-sponsored a natural gas bill as Exxon Mobil negotiated a deal that paid millions for his wife’s shares in two natural gas companies founded by her great-great-grandfather.

Those lawmakers were among 73 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Seventy-three of the 535 members of the House and Senate. That's 13.6 percent.

The Post breaks down investments by industry. Below is a graph of investments in energy and natural resources -- but see the interactive version for much more data. The size of the bubble is the amount of investment; the color denotes political party.


Obama says clean energy is not a socialist plot: A play in one act

empty stage

Scene: Interior, leadership chamber, underground Socialist headquarters, deep beneath the Department of Labor. Long table in dimly lit room. Around the table sits a very diverse group of people.

STAFFER runs in, holding a sheaf of papers. The assembled people look at him, expectantly.

Staffer, catching his breath: Well. He denied it.

(Murmurs. A few soft "no"s.)

Nancy Pelosi: What'd he say?

Staffer, reading from piece of paper: "President Obama quipped Sunday night that energy efficiency initiatives are not a 'socialist plot' ..."

(Groans, mumbling.)

Pelosi: And the report is accurate?

Staffer: (Nods.) Agent Clooney was in the room. It gets worse. He also said, "I’m big on oil and gas, and developing clean coal ..."

(Immediate wailing.)

Al Gore, crying out: His chip has failed!

Staffer: That was my thought.

Eyes turn to Steven Chu, who anxiously stabs at the buttons of a device with a lot of blinking lights.


Chickens raised in New York backyards lay polluted eggs

The plan to raise your own chickens in New York City seems like a good one until you realize that the chickens are not bopping around a verdant field lined with oak trees. They are in Queens.

And, lo:

Preliminary results from a New York State study show that more than half of the eggs tested from chickens kept in community gardens in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens had detectable levels of lead, unlike their store-bought counterparts. While lead is a naturally occurring element that gets ingested in a variety of ways, it has been well established to be harmful to humans, even in very low quantities. …

Individual homeowners who keep chickens in their backyards have little way of knowing whether their eggs might be contaminated unless they have them tested themselves. The researchers tested only 58 eggs from community gardens because those eggs were accessible and that was the number of eggs that met the criteria of their study.

That's the Times revealing the obvious. You are putting chicken feed on the ground in the Bronx. Of course the stupid bird is eating horrible things.

I don't know why someone at Grist created this photo of Ryan Gosling holding a chick, but I think it works here.
Read more: Cities, Food


Gas prices hit new high in California yesterday and today and probably tomorrow

And what's the deal with airline food?!

Oop. Sorry. Hang on. Wrong script.

Gas prices, am I right? Here is a page of dumb jokes about gas prices that I found by Googling "dumb gas prices jokes."

This weird person uses the controversial "two hands" approach to pumping.

But, seriously. Gas prices in California have just hit an all-time high for the third day in a row, reaching $4.67 a gallon. Which is pretty crazy. It means that you can get a day pass to Universal Studios Hollywood for only … 17 gallons of gas. (Goddamn, that tour's expensive.)

Why? The Los Angeles Times explains -- and has some good news.

California drivers may soon catch a break.

The Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, which shut down Oct. 1 in a power outage, resumed operations Friday. Analysts blamed the closure, as well as reduced production this summer at a major Northern California refinery, for much of the state’s price hikes.

"Reduced production this summer" refers to that Bay Area refinery that exploded in August. Like how there was reduced production in Hiroshima in 1946.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


BP sells disaster site to pay bills from another disaster

In 2005, a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded. Fifteen workers were killed, 150 others were injured. That refinery is in the news again today because BP has finalized its sale -- so that the company can pay legal costs from its most recent deadly accident.

From The Guardian:

BP has agreed to sell the Texas City refinery, where 15 people died in an explosion in 2005, to Marathon Petroleum Corporation for $2.5bn (£1.55bn).

The sale includes part of BP's retail and logistics network in the south-east US. The deal forms part of a $38bn selling spree BP embarked on after the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The company has now made disposals worth more than $35bn, which will help pay for liabilities and fines related to the Deepwater Horizon spill. BP has also been keen to scale down its refining operations where profit margins are thin.

SOLD: One refinery, partly exploded.


Plans to ship coal to China face a hurdle: The West Coast

Coal companies are in a bit of a bind. Well, a few binds, really, but let's just focus on one at a time, shall we? Demand for their product domestically has dropped significantly of late, as prices of natural gas have remained low. But demand remains high overseas: In Europe, certainly, but particularly in Asia. So if you are running a coal company (which, if you are: Hello!), there's an obvious solution. Take all that coal and ship it to China and India.

Or maybe it's not that easy. From The Hill:

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Wednesday that coal exports rose 24 percent in the first six months of the year. Exports to Asia experienced a small increase, but insiders said that is largely due to the lack of Pacific Northwest export terminals.

And there's the problem. The route from Montana coal deposits to the furnaces of Beijing must pass over a high barrier. Not the Rockies. The liberal West Coast.