Sunday, December 25, 2011

A gift and a story rooted in timeless teachings

My daily world doesn't include young teens anymore, but I am fortunate to know a young man in Sandersville who I consider to be my friend. Cody is a voracious reader and loves animals so for several years I gave him a subscription to National Geographic Kids for Christmas. A couple of years ago I switched to a young adult type literary bi-monthly which didn't take off like wildfire with him (and Cody was very gracious when he told me it wasn't the right fit for him).

This year I thought about a new magazine subscription until I ordered an anniversary edition DVD of "To Kill a Mockingbird" for my daughter's birthday. I checked and found out that Cody had not seen the movie or read the book, so today he unwrapped copies of both.

Harper Lee's story of deep racial prejudice (as well as economic and social injustices) holds just a true today as it did when it was published in 1960, in September 2011, and today. But perhaps what makes Lee's novel an appropriate Christmas gift, is that it teaches a timeless lesson of kindness and respect for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, how much money they make, where they go to church, or how far they got in school. In fact, it seems to be grounded in many of the teachings of the man whose birth is celebrated by millions around the world today.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Because it is the season (my killer eggnog recipe)

I was never a fan of eggnog until visiting Sandersville over the holidays before I married my husband. We were invited to have eggnog with a neighbor on New Year's Eve and the sweet whipped version that was served made me a quick convert. I have made this with Kahlua instead of bourbon and it works nicely for a coffee/chocolate variety. I tried a chocolate eggnog once but it wasn't worth the effort. My husband has pasteurized the eggs when we were serving it to someone whose immune system was perhaps weakened by illness.

New York Times Cookbook Eggnog        

12 eggs separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup bourbon
1 cup cognac
½ teaspoon salt
3 pints heavy cream
Grated nutmeg (optional in my opinion))

In electric mixer beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and lemon colored. Slowly add bourbon and cognac while beating at low speed. Chill several hours (in a hurry? an hour works find but overnight is o.k. too)

Add salt to egg whites and beat until almost stiff or until beaten whites form a peak that bends slightly. Whip the cream until stiff. Fold the yolk mixture into the whipped cream, then fold in the egg whites. Don't mix it in too hard or it will lose some of the fluffiness (directions call to chill mixture one hour, but I don’t).

Serve in small cups along with a spoon. Top with nutmeg if desired.

¼ recipe serves six people who really love eggnog

2 people (or one who REALLY needs some eggnog) 2 eggs, 1/8 cup each of sugar, bourbon, cognac, 1 cup whipping cream, pinch of salt

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Co-op members expect more than a pat on the head

Washington EMC co-op members may have been pleasantly surprised when they found dividend checks in the mail this week. The checks come two weeks before Christmas, and while it isn't a large check (just under $35.00) I am glad to have the extra cash before the holidays.

But the check didn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy, despite its unexpected arrival in the mailbox. It kind of feels icky, like the Board knows the members are really unhappy, and we aren't going to tolerate the way things have been done in the past. Did they send us a dividend just before Christmas to take the edge off member unhappiness with the Board's interaction with members? Is the check a pat on the head like the Grinch gave Cindy Lou Who when he gave her a glass of water and sent her back to bed so he could continue to steal every bit of Christmas from her house?

Just simple coincidence to arrive 12 days before Santa gets here? How would we know? Board meeting minutes and financials aren't readily available to the members, so we don't know if the Board felt the hot breath of the members on their necks and decided to distract us with a little money just before Christmas.

The members are not easily fooled or placated. Our eyes are wide open.We turned a corner at the October Member Meeting and the Board knows it too. WEMC leaders can embrace better governance now and lead the way among EMCs in Georgia, or they can dig in their heels and hide behind a closed door. The choice is theirs. And Santa is watching to see who is being good.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Longleaf fight brought tears to my eyes this morning

The longest active fight to stop a proposed coal plant came to a close today with a huge victory for the health of Georgia's citizens and our fragile natural resources. As soon as I realized what the call was about (we had no idea why we were asked to participate) my eyes welled with tears. Stopping this 1200MW proposed coal plant is a HUGE VICTORY for grassroots organizers across the country.

Bobby and Jane McClendon have taken lots of grief from their neighbors in Early County while opposing Longleaf, but they remained steadfast in their determination to stop a coal plant that would ruin the air they breathe, the water they drink, the fish swimming nearby, and the health of their friends and family (now and future generations). With the help of Colleen Kiernan at the Sierra Club, Erin Glynn with the Beyond Coal Campaign, Justine Thompson at GreenLaw, and a very long list of other organizations, individual citizens, attorneys, experts, and funders (remember, no one on the coal plant opposition side of the equation is billing $750+ per hour for legal work to stop these nightmare plants, philanthropic groups play a vital role in this work).

What does this mean for Plant Washington? It should serve as notice to the leaders of P4G, my local EMC Board, co-op members, AND the citizens who are fighting Plant Washington that in fact coal can be stopped in Georgia, despite the high priced lawyers and experts, and millions of shareholder dollars that are sunk into a project like this.

In one day's work this summer individuals shut down the phone system at LS Energy, the developer of Longleaf, with calls opposing the plant. That day was one of many spent during the past 11 years developing opposition to this pollution spewing plant. The grit and determination, skilled work and strategy, and long hours (and funding) have resulted in a victory that serves as a model for work against Plant Washington. I hope it is the last proposed coal plant that must be defeated in our country.

That sounds ambitious, but with Georgia being one of the few states still issuing new coal plant permits (never mind that our rivers are already full of mercury, we don't have enough water to power new plants, our air quality is declining, and the health of our state's citizens is impacted negatively in both the long term and short term pictures), we still have work to do.

With the news today about  Longleaf, I've rolled my sleeves up a little more. If you want to make a difference right now in the work that I am doing via FACE, please consider joining or making a contribution here. I love a good fight, and I am in this one to win.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Let's call the EPD what it really is

When I started learning about coal and the impact a coal plant would have on my community, someone with many years of experience in environmental work referred to the Environmental Protection Division as the "Environmental Permitting Division." As a novice, I thought that was pretty clever. It isn't now, unfortunately.

Almost two months ago in this blog I asked if ANY state agency/department in the state is protecting our health. There are no searchable news releases from the Georgia Department of Community Health concerning the impact of coal plants on the state's citizens (there are from other health organizations such as the American Lung Association). That begs the question of why, with high asthma rates among children, and  high cardiopulmonary disease rates in adults, DCH isn't at the front line on coal plant emissions in the state (both existing and proposed).

It is for sure we can't count on the Environmental "Protection" Division to protect our health by reducing pollutants spewing into the air or dumping into our waterways. Based on his support of adding new coal plants in the state, Gov. Deal isn't an advocate for our health. He allowed Allen Barnes to continue as Director of EPD after the state's largest fish kill occurred on his watch, followed by the EPD's overdue admission that it hadn't properly monitored the company responsible for the dumping that killed the fish. Another fish kill happened on Brier Creek, and another was reported in Commission Creek. And yet Deal was happy to allow the E"P"D leader to continue.

Allen Barnes has left his job at E"P"D and his replacement, Jud Turner, a lobbyist, opened the door for a warm welcome from environmentalists by saying just after his appointment was announced, that he will “adopt the policies of his predecessor in trying to keep economic development coming into the state while regulating its impact on the environment.”

My comments submitted to the E"P"D during the last air permit hearing on Plant Washington included this:

The EPD’s mission is:
protects and restores Georgia’s environment. We take the lead in ensuring clean air, water and land. With our partners, we pursue a sustainable environment that provides a foundation for a vibrant economy and healthy communities.

Your vision statement includes:
Georgia’s environment is healthy and sustainable. Natural resources are protected and managed to meet the needs of current and future generations.

Your principles include:
EPD serves the public by implementing state laws, rules, and policies to protect human health and the environment.
EPD applies and enforces environmental laws and standards in a consistent, fair, and timely manner. 
EPD is proactive and results-oriented, and helps develop new approaches to meet Georgia’s environmental challenges. 
Georgians have a right to and a responsibility for a healthy environment and the conservation of our natural resources. 
Georgia’s environment consists of diverse ecosystems of interrelated and interdependent components, including people, plants, animals and their habitats, as well as air, water, and land. 
Environmental stewardship, protection of human health, and economic vitality are compatible and mutually beneficial goals. 

Several concerned citizens joined me that night and said the E"P"D's job is to protect the natural resources in our state and the health of the people who live here. Economic vitality is mentioned in the last part of the department's vision, but it seems that the Department has narrowed its work to solely focus on the economic vitality of a few private companies and their shareholders.

While I was out of the office earlier this week (and mulling over any number of topics for an update to this blog) the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer was working on an editorial which was quickly picked up and circulated today by the very people (environmentalists) that Turner should be courting. Tom Crawford thought it was worth quoting in full (and I agree):

Jud Turner, Gov. Nathan Deal’s choice to head the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, will officially succeed EPD Director Allen Barnes in the new year. At Wednesday’s meeting of the state Natural Resources Board, Turner pledged, as reported by Morris News Service, to “adopt the policies of his predecessor in trying to keep economic development coming into the state while regulating its impact on the environment.”
The reaction of Georgia’s environmental community was almost certainly less than enthusiastic. And that skepticism might ultimately have less to do with Turner’s qualifications and values (or with those of his predecessor) than with the years-old conflict inherent in the agency he has been tapped to lead.
Barnes, who has led the EPD for slightly more than two years after succeeding Columbus native Carol Couch, acknowledged his conflicts with environmentalists but said part of the office’s responsibility is “to find that balance between a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment.” Turner echoed the observation: “There is a balance, as Allen has talked about, between economic sustainability and environmental sustainability.”
Of course such a balance is essential, in Georgia and everywhere else. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that while both economic development and environmental protection are critical, an agency officially titled the Environmental Protection Division should be primarily — perhaps exclusively — concerned with the latter.
The fact that Georgia’s top-ranking environmental watchdog is expected to concern himself/herself with economics, beyond the obvious responsibility of managing the department’s budget, goes to the chronic structural dysfunction of this part of state government. And that structural problem goes all the way back to the Carter administration. (That’s Jimmy Carter the governor, not Carter the later president.)
As part of a well-intentioned and efficiency-minded reorganization of state government, EPD was placed under the Department of Natural Resources, largely an economic development agency. As the decades have gone by, the tension between industrial and environmental interests — a familiar tension, but in Georgia one that plays out under the same bureaucratic roof — has made the merger look more and more like a shotgun wedding.
Environmental protectors should be protecting the environment … period. Surely there are ample forces in Georgia government to effect that balance to which the current and future EPD directors alluded. (Rest assured that in the Georgia General Assembly, business interests will be devoutly represented.)
Turner, like Barnes before him, would have a tough enough job just protecting Georgia’s precious and beautifully diverse environment. Having to worry about economic growth as well shouldn’t be part of his mission. But until Georgia leaders rethink the role and importance of environmental protection, EPD is destined to remain a second-tier bureaucracy.
In this time of budget crunching and nickel squeezing, will the Governor's next spending reduction suggestion be to simply roll the E"P"D into the state's Department of Economic Development and let them pursue and permit more companies to degrade and poison our environment? At the current pace, it would be in keeping with the state's safeguarding of our natural resources and our health.