12/15/13

Ames Embraces the Natural Gas Boom

My latest story, published in the Sunday edition of the Ames Tribune, takes a look at the city council's recent decision to satisfy new and anticipated Environmental Protection Agency regulations by converting its main power plant units so they burn natural gas instead of coal. Ames' electric department didn't get into the fracking debate, athough a few residents did, but both were generally on board with an "interim" switch to a less polluting fossil fuel, a departure from decades of dependence on coal:
In 1896, Ames residents voted 298-40 in favor of a $12,000 bond to establish a city-owned power plant. 
By the turn of the century, the plant served 175 customers. Now it serves around 28,000. 
Throughout those nearly 120 years, one thing has remained constant: The plant has always used coal as its primary fuel. 
But that’s all changing now, in Ames and cities confronted with similar dilemmas around the United States. Strict EPA standards proposed in September have coal producers worried that building new coal-fired plants will become cost-prohibitive, while new regulations for existing plants could lead to an increasing number of cities abandoning coal for natural gas, as Ames is doing. 
In a fight for survival, the once-dominant coal industry has aggressively lobbied against the EPA regulations. In coal-rich states such as Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky, many blue-collar workers see coal not as a climate antagonist but as a guarantor of their livelihoods.
Read the rest here.

12/12/13

No, Not All of Iowa's Legislators Are ALEC Members

There's a hyperbolic story floating around the internet this week repeating a false claim that every legislator in Iowa is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential political organization that drafts model legislation for state legislatures on a range of controversial conservative issues.

That claim originally came from ALEC itself, which the Guardian revealed last week by posting a leaked agenda from the organization's 40th annual board of directors meeting in August. The agenda mostly got attention for exposing schemes to woo back lapsed corporate members and create a 501(c)(4) lobbying arm, and for a so-called loyalty oath proposal for state chairs that ALEC said board members never adopted. But on page 39 there's a state-by-state breakdown of legislative membership that claims Iowa's is at 100 percent.

12/8/13

Another Cityview Conspiracy: Fluoride Is Poison

I wasn't going to touch this one but...can't help myself: Last Wednesday, Cityview published another classic conspiratorial story by Amber Williams, this time on the Des Moines Water Works' public forums on water fluoridation. Like in her past stories on 9/11 and vaccines, Williams extensively parrots the claims of someone with no expertise—in this case a "local artist and activist"—to give a veneer of legitimacy to junk science.

I'm not going to dissect the entire article this time, but to summarize, the activist makes a litany of serious claims, many of them misleading or false, that Williams only occasionally qualifies (mostly by lifting words from the American Cancer Society).