By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
It is always instructive to note that while President Bush and his conservative buddies rail against government meddling when it comes to ecological matters, they are more than eager to have the government meddleat great expense to taxpayerswhen it comes to footing the bill for industries that can rip off consumers and ruin the environment.
The latest proof of this comes in Bush's new energy plan, released last week. Making short shrift of conservation and green sources of fuel, Shrub calls for stepping up our use of natural gas, a product whose increasing popularity has already caused a big jump in prices. As gas bills continue to rise, a second part of the proposal kicks in: leaning on nuclear power for cheap, clean watts.
Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, a public interest group based in Washington, D.C., argues the economics of this scheme are not as attractive as they might at first appear.
Bush's energy plan calls for removing regulatory hurdles to speed the construction of about 400,000 megawatts of electric-generating capacity, much of it from plants fired by natural gas, over 20 years. However, the capacity for 90,000 megawatts is already being built and should come on line over the next year and a halfwithout loosening environmental regulations.
Mariotte points out that the Department of Energy itself has said heightened efficiency could provide the equivalent of 180,000 megawatts; renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could provide another 50,000. Improvements are also being made in electrical production and in pipelines. Thus, instead of an expanding and profitable market, the energy industry may actually face a glut of electricity, leading to the fall of natural gas prices and making nuclear once more uncompetitive.
To head off this downturn, the Bush team wants to "streamline" the process, shutting out public input and paving the way for such things as the construction of a second high-level radioactive-waste dump. The first one, at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is still under construction and will cost at least $50 billionif indeed it ever is completed. The last time anyone tried to find a place for a second site was during the Reagan administration, when, because of intense public opposition, the government eventually just gave up.
We may also see a push to renew the Price-Anderson Act, which since 1957 has limited the liability of the nuclear industry. "No utility would build or operate a reactor if it were not shielded from the potential liability that could be accrued from a nuclear accident," says Mariotte, citing potential damages upward of $300 billion. "No other hazardous industry enjoys such liability protectionan indication of just how dangerous nuclear power is."
None of these proposals will help California, now in the grips of a power shortage masterminded by the energy lobbyists who wrote the state's unworkable deregulation law and the Texas companies that have made a killing on soaring prices. The latest turn in this saga occurred late last week when Loretta Lynch, head of the state's public utilities commission, said her agency was working with the California attorney general to investigate cases where an energy "cartel" was deliberately taking power plants out of service, not producing electricity, and thereby creating "artificial shortages."
The nation's so-called energy crisis is of course a complete phony, just as it was in the mid 1970s. Back then, Big Oil used public anxiety to pressure Washington into abandoning regulation of natural gas prices. This time, the even more transparent crisis is being used to justify the rip-off profits and to rationalize environmentally dangerous expansion.
Federal Prisoner Dies Under Restraint
The Voice has learned that a male inmate locked in an Atlanta federal prison died nearly two years ago while in four-point restraints. In four-point, a prisoner is tied spread-eagle to a bed, sometimes for days.
Thomas M. Fitzgerald, who died December 9, 1999, had been charged with bank robbery and sent to Atlanta for a 45-day psychiatric evaluation. Sources familiar with the case say that by the time Fitzgerald's body was discovered, rigor mortis had set ina process that can take six hours. Mike Binion, the spokesman at the prison, provided Fitzgerald's name but said he couldn't comment further. The matter is under investigation.
Meanwhile, reports of four-point in facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons have steadily come into the Southern Center for Human Rights. Inmates across the country report being held in four-point for anywhere from four to 20 days. One man in a federal prison medical center says he filed a lawsuit against the facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, for "restraining me on four-point for nine days at a time for nearly four months . . . with no clothes, only a diaper."
Sven Jones, a bureau spokesman, defended the practice. "These restraints are simply used for safety and security concerns," he said.
Complaints collected by the Southern Center tell another story. One federal prisoner claims that on April 6, 1999, he was locked in a cell with others after he protested overcrowding. According to the complaint he filed, the inmates "each had blood on their arms and legs from wearing the handcuffs and leg irons for four days." The man remained under restraint until May 31, when he agreed to room with three others. By then, his limbs were "covered with scabs from the handcuffs and leg irons."