Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

For Immediate release:

Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust
to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

When: Monday, November 25 at 1:00 P.M.
Where: The Liberty Bell Memorial near the back steps of the Capitol Building.

“Blasting mountaintops to mine for coal has been controversial in Appalachia since the 1970′s when it was first introduced. We believe it has never been legal or regulated. It destroys the streams that are the headwaters for our nations great rivers. The communities that live here have fought in every war since the American Revolution yet they are being dishonorably displaced and even their cemeteries are being desecrated, blasted, and buried in toxic mining spoils. Most importantly, new studies have shown that breathing the blasting dust can be fatal. It is past time to end the blasting,” said Mike Roselle, director of Climate Ground Zero
“If this does not stop, and stop soon, our next actions will be on the blasting sites.

At present, two million pounds of explosives are detonated every day, save Sunday, in Appalachia.

No one should have to live under this,” said James McGuinness, one of the protesters with Climate Ground Zero.

End Mountain Top Removal

End Mountain Top Removal

Additional background information available at climategroundzero.org
Contact: Mike Roselle Climate Ground Zero cell: 205 999 8391

cell: 304 854 7788 (office)

 

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

 

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

By Max Fisher, Published: August 29 at 12:50 pmE-mail the writer

 

syriaForMax (2) The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.

Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Read the rest of our “9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask” series here

1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s about the same size as Washington state with a population a little over three times as large – 22 million.  Syria is very diverse, ethnically and religiously, but most Syrians are ethnic Arab and follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Civilization in Syria goes back thousands of years, but the country as it exists today is very young. Its borders were drawn by European colonial powers in the 1920s.

Syria is in the middle of an extremely violent civil war. Fighting between government forces and rebels has killed more 100,000 and created 2 million refugees, half of them children.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.

Fighting escalated from there until it was a civil war. Armed civilians organized into rebel groups. The army deployed across the country, shelling and bombing whole neighborhoods and towns, trying to terrorize people into submission. They’ve also allegedly used chemical weapons, which is a big deal for reasons I’ll address below. Volunteers from other countries joined the rebels, either because they wanted freedom and democracy for Syria or, more likely, because they are jihadists who hate Syria’s secular government. The rebels were gaining ground for a while and now it looks like Assad is coming back. There is no end in sight.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

That’s a complicated question, and there’s no single, definitive answer. This is the shortest possible version — stay with me, it’s worth it. You might say, broadly speaking, that there are two general theories. Both start with the idea that Syria has been a powder keg waiting to explode for decades and that it was set off, maybe inevitably, by the 2011 protests and especially by the government’s overly harsh crackdown.

Before we dive into the theories, you have to understand that the Syrian government really overreacted when peaceful protests started in mid-2011, slaughtering civilians unapologetically, which was a big part of how things escalated as quickly as they did. Assad learned this from his father. In 1982, Assad’s father and then-dictator Hafez al-Assad responded to a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising in the city of Hama by leveling entire neighborhoods. He killed thousands of civilians, many of whom had nothing to do with the uprising. But it worked, and it looks like the younger Assad tried to reproduce it. His failure made the descent into chaos much worse.

Okay, now the theories for why Syria spiraled so wildly. The first is what you might call “sectarian re-balancing” or “the Fareed Zakaria case” for why Syria is imploding (he didn’t invent this argument but is a major proponent). Syria has artificial borders that were created by European colonial powers, forcing together an amalgam of diverse religious and ethnic groups. Those powers also tended to promote a minority and rule through it, worsening preexisting sectarian tensions.

Zakaria’s argument is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines. He compares it to the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, after which a long-oppressed majority retook power from, and violently punished, the former minority rulers. Most Syrians are Sunni Arabs, but the country is run by members of a minority sect known as Alawites (they’re ethnic Arab but follow a smaller branch of Islam). The Alawite government rules through a repressive dictatorship and gives Alawites special privileges, which makes some Sunnis and other groups hate Alawites in general, which in turn makes Alawites fear that they’ll be slaughtered en masse if Assad loses the war. (There are other minorities as well, such as ethnic Kurds and Christian Arabs; too much to cover in one explainer.) Also, lots of Syrian communities are already organized into ethnic or religious enclaves, which means that community militias are also sectarian militias. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has developed along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in Zakaria’s view, this is a painful but unstoppable process of re-balancing power.

The second big theory is a bit simpler: that the Assad regime was not a sustainable enterprise and it’s clawing desperately on its way down. Most countries have some kind of self-sustaining political order, and it looked for a long time like Syria was held together by a cruel and repressive but basically stable dictatorship. But maybe it wasn’t stable; maybe it was built on quicksand. Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a coup in 1970 after two decades of extreme political instability. His government was a product of Cold War meddling and a kind of Arab political identity crisis that was sweeping the region. But he picked the losing sides of both: the Soviet Union was his patron, and he followed a hard-line anti-Western nationalist ideology that’s now mostly defunct. The Cold War is long over, and most of the region long ago made peace with Israel and the United States; the Assad regime’s once-solid ideological and geopolitical identity is hopelessly outdated. But Bashar al-Assad, who took power in 2000 when his father died, never bothered to update it. So when things started going belly-up two years ago, he didn’t have much to fall back on except for his ability to kill people.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Yeah, Russia is Syria’s most important ally. Moscow blocks the United Nations Security Council from passing anything that might hurt the Assad regime, which is why the United States has to go around the United Nations if it wants to do anything. Russia sends lots of weapons to Syria that make it easier for Assad to keep killing civilians and will make it much harder if the outside world ever wants to intervene.

The four big reasons that Russia wants to protect Assad, the importance of which vary depending on whom you ask, are: (1) Russia has a naval installation in Syria, which is strategically important and Russia’s last foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union; (2) Russia still has a bit of a Cold War mentality, as well as a touch of national insecurity, which makes it care very much about maintaining one of its last military alliances; (3) Russia also hates the idea of “international intervention” against countries like Syria because it sees this as Cold War-style Western imperialism and ultimately a threat to Russia; (4) Syria buys a lot of Russian military exports, and Russia needs the money.

Iran’s thinking in supporting Assad is more straightforward. It perceives Israel and the United States as existential threats and uses Syria to protect itself, shipping arms through Syria to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas. Iran is already feeling isolated and insecure; it worries that if Assad falls it will lose a major ally and be cut off from its militant proxies, leaving it very vulnerable. So far, it looks like Iran is actually coming out ahead: Assad is even more reliant on Tehran than he was before the war started.

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

Oh man, it gets so much worse. But, yeah, let’s listen to some music from Syria. It’s really good!

If you want to go old-school you should listen to the man, the legend, the great Omar Souleyman (playing Brooklyn this Saturday!). Or, if you really want to get your revolutionary on, listen to the infectious 2011 anti-Assad anthem “Come on Bashar leave.” The singer, a cement mixer who made Rage Against the Machine look like Enya, was killed for performing it in Hama. But let’s listen to something non-war and bit more contemporary, the soulful and foot-tappable George Wassouf:

Hope you enjoyed that, because things are about to go from depressing to despondent.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Because it can’t. There are no viable options. Sorry.

The military options are all bad. Shipping arms to rebels, even if it helps them topple Assad, would ultimately empower jihadists and worsen rebel in-fighting, probably leading to lots of chaos and possibly a second civil war (the United States made this mistake during Afghanistan’s early 1990s civil war, which helped the Taliban take power in 1996). Taking out Assad somehow would probably do the same, opening up a dangerous power vacuum. Launching airstrikes or a “no-fly zone” could suck us in, possibly for years, and probably wouldn’t make much difference on the ground. An Iraq-style ground invasion would, in the very best outcome, accelerate the killing, cost a lot of U.S. lives, wildly exacerbate anti-Americanism in a boon to jihadists and nationalist dictators alike, and would require the United States to impose order for years across a country full of people trying to kill each other. Nope.

The one political option, which the Obama administration has been pushing for, would be for the Assad regime and the rebels to strike a peace deal. But there’s no indication that either side is interested in that, or that there’s even a viable unified rebel movement with which to negotiate.

It’s possible that there was a brief window for a Libya-style military intervention early on in the conflict. But we’ll never really know.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

Okay, you’re asking here about the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle signals that it wants to launch some cruise missiles at Syria, which would be punishment for what it says is Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

It’s true that basically no one believes that this will turn the tide of the Syrian war. But this is important: it’s not supposed to. The strikes wouldn’t be meant to shape the course of the war or to topple Assad, which Obama thinks would just make things worse anyway. They would be meant to punish Assad for (allegedly) using chemical weapons and to deter him, or any future military leader in any future war, from using them again.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

You’re definitely not the only one who thinks the distinction is arbitrary and artificial. But there’s a good case to be made that this is a rare opportunity, at least in theory, for the United States to make the war a little bit less terrible — and to make future wars less terrible.

The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century. The institutions that do this are weak and inconsistent; the rules are frail and not very well observed. But one of the world’s few quasi-successes is the “norm” (a fancy way of saying a rule we all agree to follow) against chemical weapons. This norm is frail enough that Syria could drastically weaken it if we ignore Assad’s use of them, but it’s also strong enough that it’s worth protecting. So it’s sort of a low-hanging fruit: firing a few cruise missiles doesn’t cost us much and can maybe help preserve this really hard-won and valuable norm against chemical weapons.

You didn’t answer my question. That just tells me that we can maybe preserve the norm against chemical weapons, not why we should.

Fair point. Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is. But the reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror. In a world without that norm against chemical weapons, a military might fire off some sarin gas because it wants that battlefield advantage, even if it ends up causing unintended and massive suffering among civilians, maybe including its own. And if a military believes its adversary is probably going to use chemical weapons, it has a strong incentive to use them itself. After all, they’re fighting to the death.

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

That’s why the Obama administration apparently wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria, even though it won’t end the suffering, end the war or even really hurt Assad that much.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Short-term maybe the United States and some allies will launch some limited, brief strikes against Syria and maybe they won’t. Either way, these things seem pretty certain in the long-term:

• The killing will continue, probably for years. There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen.

• Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It’s very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it’s hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

• Russia will continue to block international action, the window for which has maybe closed anyway. The United States might try to pressure, cajole or even horse-trade Moscow into changing its mind, but there’s not much we can offer them that they care about as much as Syria.

• At some point the conflict will cool, either from a partial victory or from exhaustion. The world could maybe send in some peacekeepers or even broker a fragile peace between the various ethnic, religious and political factions. Probably the best model is Lebanon, which fought a brutal civil war that lasted 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and has been slowly, slowly recovering ever since. It had some bombings just last week.

More from WorldViews on Syria:

The one map that shows why Syria is so complicated

The first truly heartwarming video from Syria in a long time

Here’s why Obama is giving up the element of surprise in Syria

Subscribe to get the WorldViews daily e-mail delivered to your inbox.

This post has been updated.

Max Fisher
Max Fisher is the Post’s foreign affairs blogger. He has a master’s degree in security studies from Johns Hopkins University. Sign up for his daily newsletter here. Also, follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
 

U.S. Stay out of Syria! It will just fuel Al-Qaeda

Why the U.S. Should Stay Out

The Long War in Syria

by GARY LEUPP

Two years ago, Barack Obama announced that Syrian President Bashar Assad must “get out of the way.” “The time has come,” he declared on August 18, 2011, “for President Assad to step aside.”

The Al Nusrah Front, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting in Syria, in October 2012 released two photographs of the execution of Syrian soldiers reportedly captured in Aleppo. One of the photographs is reproduced above.

Needless to say, Assad ignored him. He was probably not surprised at Obama’s demand, given the unrelenting U.S. hostility to his regime, and that of his father, Hafez Assad, for several decades. This is due mainly to Syria’s close relationship with Iran and its support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Palestinian organizations including Hamas, and the deployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon to 2005. U.S. hostility to Syria (listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism) reflects that of Israel, which illegally occupies Syria’s Golan Heights.

The proximate reason for Obama’s call was that Assad had fired on his own people. One must question Obama’s authority to make that moral judgment, given that police in the U.S. fire on unarmed people, especially young black men, all the time (especially in Chicago, L.A. and Philadelphia); and that the U.S. arms security forces in countries including Egypt and Bahrain that fire on their people as well.

Obama was simultaneously (from March 2011) accusing Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi of “attacking his people” and planning mass slaughter (a charge many analysts questioned, there being little evidence for it). It was just another Big Lie, comparable to the Big Lie that the Taliban was in bed with Osama bin Laden and complicit in 9-11. Or that Saddam Hussein was aligned with al-Qaeda and producing weapons of mass destruction.

But it served as the pretext of U.S.-NATO intervention on behalf of armed rebels and their western-trained front men, who have plunged Libya into chaos and made it fertile ground for al-Qaeda-linked groups since the fall and murder of Qaddafi in October 2011.

On the other hand, the Obama administration did not call on Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to step down even as his forces fired on the people, killing 850 in 2011. It delayed giving Mubarak his marching orders until February, when the mass upheaval had become so powerful, and the U.S. so despised for its complicity in repression, that it became impossible to extend the Egyptian dictator further support. And it has never called upon the Bahraini king to step down, even as he attacks his own people. Many people paying attention see some hypocrisy here.

If Obama thought that Assad would be driven from power, or step down at his arrogant command, he was badly mistaken. David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now says the conflict in Syria will likely last “many, many months to multiple years.” (I don’t believe he indicated, in a talk at the Aspen Security Forum, whether or not further supply aid from the U.S. would likely shorten the conflict. Imagine a proxy war going on a decade, like the U.S. proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.)

There are several reasons for this projected long duration. Assad’s forces are stronger than Obama expected and have scored some notable victories lately against the rebels. The opposition is divided into about 1,200 groups. The strongest rebel military force is the al-Qaeda faction, the Al-Nusra Front. If the U.S. and its allies want to strengthen and use the non-jihadi forces (whom they are aiding with weaponry, and who may or may not wish to create a western-friendly, non-Islamist “democracy”) they will have a lot of work to do since even the “moderates” seem to appreciate the superior fighting skills of the Islamist fighters. And Russia and China stand behind Assad, promising to veto any UN resolution such as the one used to legitimate the assault on Libya, ostensibly to “protect” its people.

Nicholas Burns, a George W. Bush-era undersecretary of state, writing in March 2011 about U.S. support for anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya, noted, “This is the first time in American history when we have used our military power to prop up and possibly put in power a group of people we literally do not know.”

(The world has since come to know them, through such events as the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi; the repeated resignations of ministers in the dysfunctional, impotent cabinet in Tripoli; the persecution of blacks and Tuaregs; inter-tribal clashes, etc.)

But it seems Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry would like to do this a second time—that is, take a risk and place in power people they don’t know. One wonders what their real reasons might be. Surely Israel plays a major role in their reasoning, but Israel may be ambivalent about U.S. arms to rebels who might be as hostile to it as Assad. And Assad has in fact offered to recognize Israel following the return of the Golan Heights. Israel appreciates the fact that he has maintained peace along the border, even importing Golan-grown apples. His secular, religiously tolerant Baathist regime is preferable to an Islamist one.

Surely a key U.S. goal is to weaken Iran, and the Syria-Iran-Hizbollah alliance. But if that goal were to be obtained through handing a central Arab state to al-Qaeda, would it be worth it?

Al-Qaeda once seemed scattered, vitiated, defeated. But then the U.S. invaded Iraq, and al-Qaeda which had never been there before mushroomed overnight in Al-Anbar province, causing the occupation big headaches. Libyan jihadis flocked to Iraq, and returning home created a new Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda, which in turn spawned a Sahel branch now causing mischief in Mali. The majority of the al-Nusra fighters in Syria seem to be arriving from Iraq.

Meanwhile U.S. missile strikes on Yemen build sympathy for Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula—totally counterproductive.

The lesson is, U.S. imperialism (which once worked alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan; and which alienated bin Laden through its unlimited support for Israel, its support for hated Arab regimes, its sanctions on Iraq which killed half a million children, etc.) positively nurtures al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Even as the interminable terror war justifies the limitless expansion of the surveillance state, unprecedented prosecution and abuse of whistle-blowers and the continued practice of torture.

The more the U.S. and its allies get involved in Syria, the more jihadis will likely get involved. Al-Qaeda has proven that it thrives on U.S. interventions. This is just one reason to demand the U.S. stay out of Syria.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

Coal Ash Ponds will Leak and Kill our Fresh Water!

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View Duke Energy well contamination in a larger map

Illegal discharges of toxic heavy metals also have been detected seeping from the ash-laden ponds into the nearby French Broad River.

For environmentalists following the issue, those are reasons enough for state regulators to take immediate steps to address the pollution.

That’s also why they are dismayed with a proposed settlement of a lawsuit against Duke by the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

The consent decree announced last week calls for more testing of problems already well-documented and little in the way of stopping the contamination, said Hartwell Carson, French Broad Riverkeeper with the Asheville-based environmental group Western North Carolina Alliance.

“It’s basically a way to drag this out as long as possible,” Carson said. “This is definitely a deal to study this almost indefinitely, when what we know is there are violations of the Clean Water Act and state groundwater standards.

“And everyone knows where it’s coming from. It’s coming from the unlined hole in the ground that’s full of toxic coal ash.”

State officials contend that while the proposed settlement outlines a series of steps to assess the contamination at the Lake Julian plant and Duke’s Riverbend facility in Gaston County, it also requires the utility to develop plans for addressing the problem.

“You have to determine the extent of the contamination before you know what it is you have to do to clean it up,” said Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We’re doing our due diligence to do just that. We have to act within the guidelines set forth by state law, and that’s what we’ve done.”

New attention on old problem

North Carolina has 14 plants that burn coal to heat water, creating steam that turns turbines to produce electricity. About 10 percent of what is burned becomes ash — a black, powdery material that is sluiced into holding ponds.

The Asheville plant has two ponds. One built in 1964 covers 45 acres, and the other constructed in 1982 is 46 acres.

At spots, the ash is 60 feet deep, and together the lagoons can hold some 450 million gallons.

The issue of coal ash grabbed the nation’s attention in 2008 when an ash pond at Kingston Power Plant in Tennessee ruptured, inundating homes downhill with some 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash slurry.

Despite the age of Duke’s coal ash ponds near the French Broad, the state first required groundwater testing three years ago. Those tests found levels of contamination well above state health standards with toxic heavy metals associated with coal ash.

Carson also collected samples from seeps and springs flowing into the French Broad next to the plant that tested positive for many of the same toxic substances. Such unpermitted discharges violate the federal Clean Water Act.

In addition, a study by the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment released last year found that the facility discharges arsenic, selenium, cadmium and thallium in concentrations above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

“There really is no question about the contamination,” said D.J. Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville. “We have no doubt there is enough confirmation of the contamination to require action.

“They are kicking the can down the road when it comes to fixing the source.”

Frustrated by a lack movement on the state’s part, the law center, representing several environmental organizations, in January filed notice of intent to sue Duke Energy over violations of the Clean Water Act.

That was followed in March with the filing of the state’s suit in Wake County Superior Court against the utility.

The complaint contends continued operation of the plant in violation of groundwater standards “without assessing the problem and taking corrective action poses a serious danger to the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state of North Carolina and serious harm to the water resources of the state.”

In addition to groundwater contamination, the lawsuit claims inspectors discovered seeps of materials making their way into the river. The chemicals include thallium, a highly toxic element associated with nerve damage, along with boron, selenium, iron and magnesium.

The proposed settlement includes a timeline of required actions to address violations or threatened violations of state statutes and rules for water quality protection. It also calls for an initial fine of $99,112.

Failure to comply with provisions of the order also would subject the utility to fines of $1,000 per day for the first 30 days and $5,000 per day thereafter for each violation.

Lawsuit a first

Erin Culbert, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the utility has complied with the conditions of all its permits and that water quality in the French Broad is good.

“We all share the same objectives in protecting water quality, which is reflected in this agreement,” she said. “Key provisions in the agreement call for more rigorous information gathering, monitoring and reporting of discharges to groundwater and surface waters.”

Gerken said the settlement is inadequate. The state already has the information it needs to force immediate action, he said.

“The state submitted a sworn statement saying there is contamination, and instead of taking action they are looking to study what they already know,” he said. “There are no firm deadlines in this agreement.

“There’s all of this study and analysis. Meanwhile, we have coal ash in unlined lagoons that we know is still contaminating groundwater. They are still dumping coal ash into these ponds.”

But Kritzer noted the lawsuit is the first in history filed by the state to address unpermitted discharges from coal ash ponds.

“The lawsuit talks specifically about the cleanup of the pollution,” he said. The settlement requires not only “a thorough assessment of the extent of the contamination, but a corrective action plan for how this problem will be addressed going forward.”

Gerken said he believes the state filed its lawsuit as a means to circumvent the Southern Environmental Law Center from lodging a complaint with the court.

“The notice we issued was for a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act,” he said. “The way the law works, if the state within 60 days files a lawsuit, we can’t file a second lawsuit on the same claims. Instead, we have to intervene in the state’s case.”

Gerken said his organization has filed a motion with the court to make it a party to the case, and a judge has yet to rule.

The public has until Aug. 14 to submit comments on the proposed settlement.

“We recognize this is a matter of great public interest,” Kritzer said. “We are striving to be as forthright and as transparent as possible.”

EPA proposed regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste in 2010, but no action has been taken.

According to the Duke University study, the burning of coal to generate electricity produces about 130 million tons of ash each year in the United States. It found that discharges from coal ash ponds “lack consistent monitoring and limit requirements that are relevant to composition of (ash) effluents.”

 

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Cancellation of Gas Leases and Drilling Plans in NE Pennsylvania

Unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurs near homes of some of fractivism’s most effective mobilizers.

Photo Credit: Pincasso/ Shutterstock.com

July 19, 2013  |

Certain powerful images really stick with you when you watch Gasland or Gasland 2. First is the shot of the tap water on fire. Equally powerful are the images of the film’s director Josh Fox on his porch strumming his banjo, in the woods on his property, walking by the local stream, and celebrating the pristine beauty of the nearby Delaware River. The film keeps returning to the land that Fox treasures, cluing us in on why he turned down a sizeable offer to lease for gas drilling, and what drove him forth with his camera on a fact-finding journey that culminated in the first Gasland, the film that ignited the fractivism movement.

The offer on the table in Fox’s corner of Wayne County, PA was part of the first incursion of fracking into the Northeastern U.S. The arrival of landsmen— the gas company representatives offering quick and easy money with no downside if people signed away the mineral rights to their land, had already been going on in the Western U.S. As it plays out road by road, town by town, and state by state, fracking baldly reveals the downsides of the myth of American individualism. Americans prize the right to do what they want on their property. But other people’s rights wind up violated when what Neighbor A chooses to do contaminates the water supply, impinges on the quality of life, or destroys the property value of Neighbor B.

And that cross point—one person’s rights to drill versus others’ rights to protect their homes, community and water supply is central to every community’s divide over fracking.  It’s science’s job to assess benefits versus risks. It’s government’s job to mediate my rights versus yours.  When science fails to study, when government fails to monitor, it’s neighbor against neighbor.  When millions of dollars spent on ad buys and lobbyists assure that marketing slogans like “energy independence” appear everywhere from Superbowl commercials to State of the Union talking points, then local battles erupt in places like Wayne County. Since 2007, when leasing began in Wayne County, Fox’s once idyllic rural community has been embattled. And so is a nation divided at a crossroads of energy choice and climate change.

But over the last few weeks, that changed for Wayne County. Hess and Newfield, the two major gas companies leasing land there, decided to cancel their leases in Marcellus shale, and move out of Wayne and much of northeastern PA. The companies sent letters stating that they “have elected to release your lease, thus your lease will not be continued to the development phase,” terminating approximately 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

“I can’t believe it and I can’t stop crying,” Fox said, adding that he is deeply grateful for this “amazing victory.” “This proves that people passionate and organized can actually win sometimes. We won’t stop until we win everywhere.”

It’s no happenstance that the unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurred in a region that is home both to Josh Fox, fractivism’s heroic Pied Piper, and to the first fractivist organization founded in the Northeast U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)— making it a triumph both for Fox and for the dedicated grassroots effort by a community of neighbors that began in 2007.

Fox was inspired to film his investigation of fracking’s impacts on average citizens in 2008 after attending a local public event hosted by DCS co-founders Joe Levine, Jane Cyphers and Barbara Arrindell. The first Gasland film is dedicated to them. When faced with the shared threat of fracking, this trio pooled their skills to organize. Levine is an architect conversant with land use, zoning, and local ordinances and officials; Cyphers is an educator; and Arrindell has a background in science, which made it easy for her to grasp the geological complexities beneath the marketing phrases.

 

Welcome to Portage County, the Fracking Waste Disposal Capital of Ohio

A small part of Ohio has secured the ignominious honor of becoming the most successful frackwater dumping ground in the state.

Welcome to Portage County, Ohio, the biggest dumping ground for fracking waste in a state that is fast becoming the go-to destination for the byproducts of America’s latest energy boom.

As fracking—pumping a briny solution of water, lubricants, anti-bacterial agents, and a cocktail of other chemicals into underground shale formations at high pressure to fracture the rock and extract trapped natural gas—has expanded in the Midwest, so has the need for disposing of used fracking fluid. That fracking waste can be recycled or processed at wastewater treatment facilities, much like sewage. But most of the waste—630 billion gallons, each year—goes back into the ground, pumped into disposal wells, which are then capped and sealed. A bunch of it ends up underneath Portage County.

Nestled in the northeast corner of Ohio, about halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown, this 500-square-mile county pumped 2,358,371 million barrels—almost 75 million gallons—of fracking brine into 15 wells last year, driving enough liquid into the ground to fill a train of tanker cars that would stretch 37 miles. Most of the waste came from out of state.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, almost 58 percent of the waste injected into Ohio wells is trucked in—much of it from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. More than 200 disposal wells dot the state, which has looser regulations than its neighbors. The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that Ohio injected just over 14 million barrels of fracking waste into disposal wells in 2012, and more than 8 million came from other states—an uptick of 19 percent from 2011. And despite Republican Gov. John Kasich saying he’s not thrilled about the amount of waste crossing state lines, federal commerce protections prevent the state from barring legal substances from being shipped in. Because Ohio regulates its own disposal wells, the waiting period to get approval to drill a new well is about five weeks, compared to upwards of eight months in Pennsylvania, where the feds are in charge. That might explain why Ohio has more than 20 times as many wells as its neighbor.

“People are concerned,” says Maureen Frederick, one of three county commissioners for Portage, “and rightly so.” According to Frederick, the county not only has no say over the wells, but it also doesn’t see so much as a cent of the revenue collected. Well permits cost $1,000, and the state charges $0.20 per barrel for out-of-state waste and $0.05 for in-state waste, meaning the state collected roughly $2 million for the 14 million barrels of frackwater that were pumped into the ground in 2012.

Portage, which is home to Kent State University, was mostly a farming community 25 years ago, and it has benefited from the growth of ancillary industries that come with fracking. But Frederick, who lives less than a mile from a disposal site, said she wasn’t aware of any economic boon that has followed the injection wells. Local realtors, on the other hand, were “observing the difficulty of people wanting to buy property, and those looking to sell being worried about their property values,” as residents’ concerns about groundwater contamination and earthquakes have grown.

There are good reasons to worry. The dozen earthquakes that rattled Youngstown at the end of 2011 were thought at the time to have been caused by fracking. A new study connecting underground injection to earthquakes seems to confirm those suspicions, and there is growing evidence that the practice is linked to methane leaking into water supplies. (See the GIF below for more.) There are problems with the wells used to store the used fracking brine, too. The wells that this waste is pumped into—called Class II disposal wells—are subject to softer regulations than other disposal wells (there are six classes in all). The EPA estimates that the chance of a given injection well failing is around 1 in a million. But 680,000 injection wells—some 170,000 of them Class II—dot the country, containing about 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid.

Many of the wells in Ohio are repurposed oil and gas wells that are grandfathered in and exempt from current standards, and government regulators raised concerns about disposal wells contaminating groundwater as far back as the 1980s. At the time, the EPA knew of 23 cases nationwide where drinking water was contaminated by Class II wells. But a recent ProPublica investigation found another 25 cases of alleged contamination from Class II wells between 2008 and 2011 alone. In 1989, the Government Accountability Office, then called the General Accounting Office, filed a report that “says that we have some problems with Class II wells,” says Briana Mordick, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They actually wrote up proposed improvements to the regulations, but those regulations have never been updated.” Even perfectly sounds wells have leaked after waste was injected at higher pressure than the rock formations holding it could bear. In southern Ohio, waste from one well migrated up through 1,400 feet of rock.

The injection-well boom has led to rising community tensions. At an open house back in May, a mostly middle-aged crowd of about 50 people, many of them academics at Kent State, were surprised to be met with 14 armed Ohio Department of Natural Resources police officers and a police dog, according to the Portage County Record-Courier. An ODNR spokesman told the local paper that the show of force was in response to an earlier problem with protesters, but an octogenarian who attended the meeting told the Record-Courier he’d “never been to a public meeting so oversupplied with armed people.” There have also been recent problems with disposal. In February, Ben Lupo, who owns D&L Energy, an energy production and marketing company based in Youngstown, was indicted on charges of ordering more than 20,000 gallons of brine into the Mahoning River. The company had racked up 120 violations, but didn’t suffer serious consequences until an anonymous tip exposed the illegal dumping.

Two of the three members of the Portage County Commission have voiced their support for a recent bill that would ban injection wells, but even the bill’s sponsor doesn’t think it will get traction in the GOP-controlled state House of Representatives. “I abhor having the distinction of being the injection well capital of Ohio,” Frederick says. But there’s not much she can do about it.

Thomas Stackpole

Thomas Stackpole is an editorial fellow in Mother Jones’ Washington, DC, bureau. He has also written for The New Republic and MSN News. Email him tips at tstackpole [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can follow him @tom_stackpole.

 

 

This Is What Fracking Really Looks Like

By

Posted Friday, July 19, 2013, at 1:13 PM

Jodie Simons  demonstrates how her sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.

Jodie Simons demonstrates how her sink water, full of methane, lights on fire. Simons’ household’s water was pristine before gas drilling started, but now they’ve been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.

Nina Berman/NOOR

Photographer Nina Berman had just started focusing on climate and environmental issues when she read an article about fracking and its connection to the possible contamination of New York City’s drinking water. Berman resides in New York and knew very little about how the controversial process of drilling for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing worked and decided to head to Pennsylvania for Gov. Thomas Corbett’s inauguration in 2011.

“I knew there would be demonstrators (opposed to his support of natural gas drilling), and I wanted to learn what they were screaming about,” Berman said. After researching the issues, she then had to figure out how to document them in a visual way.

“It’s a very hard subject to photograph,” Berman explained. “You see a drill, and you don’t know what that means, and then it disappears. What does that mean? It took me a while to figure out how to approach it.”

To do that, she spent time in part of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region, a hotbed of fracking controversy, producing a series titled “Fractured: The Shale Play.” Berman began calling activists, hoping to get a sense of the communities and knowing the people who feel they have been violated are those “interested in having their story told.”

Protesters against gas drilling and the technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) outside Pennsylvania's Department of Enviornmental Protection (DEP) office where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.

Protesters against gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing gather outside Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, where the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was holding a meeting.Nina Berman/NOOR

Shale Gas drilling rig on dairy farm property

A shale gas-drilling rig on a dairy farmNina Berman/NOOR

Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere demonstrate how their sink water lights on fire.  It is full of methane.   Their water was pristine before gas drilling started.  Their neighbors' water is also contaminated by the state Department of Environmental protection has not determined the source of the problem.  They have been without clean drinking or bathing water for months.  Their animals also became sick and they now give bottled water to their horses.   A methane vent rises from their property.

Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere’s animals have became sick, and they now give bottled water to their horses. A methane vent rises from their property.Nina Berman/NOOR

“What struck me very personally as an outsider was how any kind of industrial activity feels like an enormous intrusion, almost like a creature from outer space; these drills at night are almost supernatural,” Berman said. “I looked for points where the industrial activity impacted these quiet rural landscapes, and I found at night was when things came alive, so I combined those pictures with more conventional documentary [style of ]subject-driven photography about people who were having serious health impacts.”

Fracking’s health impact, specifically its impact on water, is one of many controversies surrounding the process of drilling into rock in order to release gas.  While some argue it is an alternative to dependence on oil, the methods of drilling involving water, sand, and chemicals to break up the rock has also been argued as the culprit for contaminated water.

“Those of us who are used to clean water have no concept of what that feels like when your water coming from your well on your land is destroyed and you can’t do anything about it,” Berman said.

Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere home.  THey say their water was contaminated by gas drilling operations.   The DEP has taken several months and still has not made a determination.

Water from the kitchen faucet of Jodie Simons and Jason Lamphere’s home. They say their water was contaminated by gas-drilling operations. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has not determined the source of the problem.Nina Berman/NOOR

NICK  DeREMER, 22,  Kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River.  He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration

Nick Deremer, 22, a kayak tour operator, shows where methane has been bubbling in the Susquehanna River. He attributes it to gas drilling and wants to leave his home state because of the the shale exploration.Nina Berman/NOOR

Part of the way Berman is sharing her experience is through the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.” Started in November 2011, Berman and five other photographers documented how communities in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region have been affected by natural gas drilling.

With a nod to the Farm Security Administration’s program assigning photographers to document communities during the Great Depression or the Documerica project during the 1970s that looked at how environmental concerns were impacting Americans, the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project”  focused on the impact of fracking on the lives of Pennsylvanians. The exhibition is currently on view at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York through Aug. 18.

Berman said for now she has done as much as possible in Pennsylvania but would be interested in documenting areas around the country that have also been affected by fracking. Until then, she has been exhibiting and touring with the “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project” and feels the impact has been positive.

“That is how I like to work in many ways, to be a part of bigger things,” she said.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack free in a memorial tribute to his wife Lucinda Hart Gonzalez who died of breast cancer.   Environmental activists from across the region attended to honor Lucinda and participate in the release of her ashes.

Dr. Stephen Cleghorn declares his farm forever frack-free in a memorial tribute to his wife, Lucinda Hart Gonzalez, who died of breast cancer. Environmental activists from across the region attended the gathering to honor Gonzalez and participate in the release of her ashes.Nina Berman/NOOR

Methane Flaring from gas drilling wells

Methane flaring from gas-drilling wellsNina Berman/NOOR

 

Vincent Makes the News

Will Work for Change: Activists say their work might not be lucrative, but it’s fulfilling

“It sounds noble but in reality, I’m broke.”

by

Mel Packer with Marcellus ProtestPhoto courtesy of Mel Packer

Mel Packer with Marcellus Protest

Someone has been shouting “get a job!” at Vincent Eirene since he was a little boy.

The thing is, he does have a job. Eirene is a lifelong activist, plying his trade at protests, speeches and actions, and running a house for the homeless supported from his own pocket and community donations. But, like many protest pros around Pittsburgh will tell you, his calling comes with a price, financial and otherwise.

“It’s like the Catholics: We take a vow of poverty,” says Eirene, 60. “It sounds noble but in reality, I’m broke.”

Supporting oneself by supporting a cause is rarely a lucrative career move. One year, for example, Eirene said he was “lucky” if he pulled in $8,000.  Helen Gerhardt, an organizer for Pittsburghers for Public Transit, gave up her apartment to live at Occupy Pittsburgh’s Downtown encampment last year, and has lived in her car between organizing jobs. Joyce Wagner, former board chair of the national Iraq Veterans Against the War, has found herself facing foreclosure.

Others, like peace and social-justice activist Celeste Taylor, do their own fundraising and compete for paying jobs in the organizing field, while working other gigs: Taylor’s work history includes stints as a floral designer and administrator of the Friends Meeting House.

And while there is little financial security for those whose work-day tools include a protest sign, few can imagine pursuing any other way of life.

“I always thought it was honorable work and you should be good at it,” says Taylor, who most recently served as the regional coordinator for the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition. “It’s not a place to plunk yourself down and make money.”

Jodi Hirsh, sole founder of JustAction LLC — an Edgewood-based consulting agency whose work includes advocacy and grassroots campaigns — agrees. “I’d be miserable doing anything else,” she says.

Hirsh has faced financial uncertainty, the anxiety of not knowing when her next paycheck would arrive. “As an independent contractor, you never know what’s coming,” she says. “I spent all of November and December nervously biting my fingernails.”

Contracts eventually came, enough to stay afloat with the help of her partner’s full-time job and health benefits, which also help cope with the responsibility of raising two children under the age of 4.

Having young kids can complicate advocacy work in other ways, since meetings and actions often take place on evenings and weekends. “People will say something is kid-friendly, but there’s nothing for kids to do,” says Wagner, who has a 3-year-old son. “You often find meetings start at times when children need to sleep or eat.”

When Wagner was single, “I could scrape by with less,” says the North Side resident. “Now I have a lot more responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter another person.”

Wagner has taken some time off from activism, which allows her to work as an ironworker apprentice, and to spend time with her son. As an activist, burn-out is an occupational hazard, she says: “You’re ineffective unless you’re taking care of yourself and your basic needs are met.”

Taylor agrees that there are times activists get overwhelmed, and that balancing family considerations can be difficult. “Sometimes I wonder if I should have made different choices so I could have done different things with my children.”

“A lot of activists’ families probably feel rejected and not given the same kind of weight or importance that political causes are,” says Gerhardt, of Wilkinsburg. Gerhardt has held a handful of organizing jobs since serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard; her work week sometimes eclipses the 60- or 70-hour marks.

Her current contract with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, paid for by the Amalgamated Transit Union, is only temporary. And she admits, “I often think about getting a stable, professional job and just doing this part time,” adding she plans to re-evaluate within the next year.

Even so, Gerhardt says, activism “is a tight-knit community,” offering work that is “incredibly interesting and satisfying.”

Activists believe that kids with activist parents  enjoy some benefits, too — like being exposed to different ideas and people. Mel Packer, a Point Breeze veteran protester who just retired as a physician’s assistant, worked part time to help take care of his family. Taylor, a mother of four, recalls taking her twins to a rally in Topeka, Kan., on the anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Activism has also brought families together. Packer, for example, met his wife, Emily De Ferrari, through political organizing.

Such personal rewards, activists say, transcend having elaborate lifestyles. Eirene, for one, says he deliberately lives simply. For 35 years, he supported himself through his light-hauling business, which he started in 1977 and stopped two years ago when he got on disability for injuries sustained after getting struck by a vehicle.

Eirene protested on behalf of various causes in college in the 1970s: the United Farm Workers, rebuilding Bach Mai Hospital in Vietnam, and racial equality. And while the cost of living was cheaper with a $75 apartment rent split three ways, he says, even then “it seems like it was always a struggle” to get by.

In 1977, he started a house to take in homeless people in the community, which he financed with personal funds and contributions for the next 35 years. While limited income was due in part to Eirene’s activism, it was also partly by design.

“I thought that my activism would be more effective and unlimited, if I wasn’t being paid by someone telling me what to do. Nobody can tell you what to do when you’re hauling garbage.”

Coupled with more than 70 arrests for civil disobedience, and having spent more than two-and-a-half-years in jail all told, Eirene’s finances are complicated, to say the least. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It just didn’t add up, yet everything was fine,” Eirene says. “You have more money in your account if you don’t check it.”

 

10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down

10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down

Fact-checking some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments shows they’re full of holes.

—By

| Thu Jan. 31, 2013 3:01 AM PST

By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments are full of holes.

Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.
Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you’ll rest easy knowing that America’s roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.

gun ownership

Sources: Congressional Research Service (PDF), Small Arms Survey

Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.
Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements.

ownership vs gun death

Sources: Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5

Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.
Fact-check: Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun.
• For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm.
• In one experiment, one third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a handgun pulled the trigger.

Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.

Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun that women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Myth #8: “Vicious, violent video games” deserve more blame than guns.
Fact-check: So said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what’s up with Japan?

United States Japan
Per capita spending
on video games
$44 $55
Civilian firearms
per 100 people
88 0.6
Gun homicides
in 2008
11,030 11

Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Small Arms Survey (PDF), UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners.
Fact-check: More guns are being sold, but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
• Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.

Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check:
Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks. 40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.

This article has been updated.

Icons in gun ownership chart: Handgun designed by Simon Child, rifle designed by Nadav Barkan, shotgun designed by Ammar Ceker, all from the Noun Project

Front page image by konstantynov/Shutterstock

 

One Man’s Mission to Combat Pollution in Bejing China – Crazy Bad Air!